How We Shaved Our Budget

October 30, 2014

This is a new and somewhat unfamiliar season of life for us, to be honest. It's a season of saving pennies and stretching dollars - something we didn't have to do quite as carefully our first three years of marriage. In an effort to be mindful of our resources and not be too overwhelmed, we shaved the money off of specific areas in our budget.

1. We cut cable.

We were DVR addicts. I recorded so many seasons of reality shows just because I could. And then I would binge-watch those shows or become overwhelmed that there was not enough time to ever catch up on those shows. And when Chris and I would be home together at night, we would find ourselves watching TV just because it was right in front of us. 

Since cutting cable, we shaved $100 off our budget. Instead, we kept wi-fi and purchased an Apple TV for $99 (a one-time cost that we were already spending on one month of cable anyway). 

We are also able to pick up a few local channels without having paid cable. Now, with those local channels and the Apple TV, we are able to watch the shows we like and be more intentional with our downtime.

Cost savings: $100 a month

2. We got down to one car.

We recently became a one-car family. Besides the automatic savings of close to $500 a month, it has continued to make our time together more intentional and has allowed us a lot more time together, whether it's in the car or out running errands. We now rely on specific schedules, our synced iCalendar, and the light rail/bus system. I completely understand that getting down to one car doesn't fit everyone's schedule and commute, but it's working for us at the moment, so we're going with it.

Cost savings: $500 a month

3. We use coupons and search for great savings.

I've been using coupons for a few years now, both for groceries and activities. I save around $20-30 per grocery trip with just the coupons alone (not including additional store savings or sales). We get a lot of our toiletry items for free this way - toothpaste, toothbrushes, soaps, shaving creams. I cringe just thinking about paying full price for those items. In fact, my husband also joined the Dollar Shave club where he receives high quality razors every month for just $6 flat. We were spending that same amount on razors almost every two weeks - even with coupons!

I also make sure to clip any coupons for restaurants. You know the ads that come in the mail that we typically just toss? There are so many buy-one-get-one-free coupons in there, which make our date nights a lot more reasonable.

Cost savings: At least $25 a week

4. We meal plan.

By planning out our meals for the week and creating a grocery list, I am able to stick to our grocery budget. Instead of wandering into the store grabbing anything that looks good or reasonable, I stick to the list and come home with food I know will be put to good use. I attribute a savings of at least $25 a week to meal planning, because we are not running out to grab food last-minute or throwing tempting items in the basket.

Cost savings: $25 a week

5. We just say no.

A big part of saving money is learning how to say no to things that are just not doable at the time. We have had to say no to trips, vacations, eating out, big purchases, not-so-big purchases, and outings. Some things we have said no to is because by the time we add up the gas, hotel cost, and food cost, it's just not within our means. It makes you think twice about what really goes into the night out or the weekend away.

Cost savings: Priceless

What are areas you have had to shave to save money?

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Three Places, Two People, One Car

October 16, 2014

Since becoming a one-car family, we've had to get really, really good at scheduling and planning and balancing our busy schedules so that we can all successfully get to the many places we have to be. 

Usually, we're on it. "I have to leave for work at 7:30, and you don't finish work until 7:30, so why don't you take the bus to Starbucks and I will meet you there to hand off the car so you can go to your appointment? But just make sure to pick me up at 4 and then we can run home and get dinner before we need to take you to work again at 6:30 because I'll need the car in the morning to be at work by 8. Oh, and while you're there, can you drop off the car to get the oil changed?"

It's like our daily Sudoku puzzle with all the thrill when you figure out the solution.

One recent morning, Chris had class and left on the bus by 6:45 a.m. Liam and I got ready for the day (which is a feat in itself including diapers and milk and changes of clothes and lots of don't-touch-thats), and then we came downstairs around 7:15 to throw our bags together and catch a few minutes of downtime before we were out the door by 7:30. As I sat on the couch, I had one of those striking realizations where your stomach drops and your eyes get big and your brain freezes.

The car keys were in the diaper bag which was in the car and Chris had the other set on his body which was now residing one hour away via bus and light rail.

(You know when you're gone in the evening and you're so tired and you want to be home that you just say, "Oh, I'll just grab that bag tomorrow." Yeah, don't.)

In other words, I had no physical way of getting to work aside from walking. And I wasn't really up for that option since it was still nearing 100 degrees outside despite it being October.

I sat there frozen on the couch while frantically texting Chris, hoping some solution would pop up even though there really was no realistic way of him getting keys to me. He actually suggested I go check and see if the car was even locked, even though I obsessively make sure it's locked every night, but in my desperation, I checked anyway. Shocker: it was locked.

Liam's daycare is just down the street from us, and it threw in another factor: getting him to daycare safely, securely and legally.

I decided to call on a co-worker that I knew had a car seat in her car for her grandkids. Unfortunately, she was going in late that day, so that option was null and void pretty quick. I then called another co-worker whom I knew would be passing my house on her commute. She quickly agreed to come pick us up and I quickly put my wheels in motion about Liam's ride.

At the very top of Liam's room is a storage area where we have kept his infant car seat for the last 9 months. After climbing on top of the crib, and carefully grabbing the car seat down while balancing on a two-inch rail, I had a safe (and heavy) option in hand. 

When my co-worker arrived, we installed the infant car seat in her car and I placed my large toddler in the back. He was extremely confused about why he was back in that car seat, what car we were in, and who we were in the car with, but he just sat super still in his reclined, confused state of mind.

Sweating, I hopped in her car and she drove us to the daycare where I checked Liam in. We then drove to work where I walked in proud that we accomplished a major setback.

That is, until I realized my purse was also locked in my car.

You win some, you lose some, right?

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On Becoming a One-Car Family

October 15, 2014

About four months ago, we sold one of our two vehicles. 

When my husband changed career paths at the end of last year, ultimately deciding to go back to school, we realized that our expenses were a bit more than our day-to-day jobs could provide for. We sat down and took a close look at our budget. Which expenses were necessary? Or could be negotiated? Or even cut out completely? 

After determining we for sure needed to keep a house and groceries on our must-have list, we realized that the cable bill and second car expenses added up to what we needed to recoup. Once we saw it on paper, it made the decision a lot easier.

First, cable was cut. We called the cable company and after a back and forth conversation of, "No, we really do want to cut it," and "No, we don't want an upgrade," and "No, we really do just want internet," and "No, we're not crazy," it was cut, saving us at least $100 a month. (We had a similar conversation when DirectTV knocked on our door one evening trying to sell us a package. They didn't know how to respond when we said we actually chose not to have cable.)

Second, we listed the car. What we realized when looking at our budget was that a car is much more than just the car payments; it's the car payment, car insurance, maintenance and gas, all rolled into one. By cutting out the one car, we were saving at least $500 more a month. And once we saw that number, it seemed completely necessary to let it go.

Once the car sold, it was kind of surreal to only have the one option. I work full-time five days a week, and Chris works three night shifts a week with class two days a week. Trying to juggle who has the car when was (and still is) the trickiest part of it all. 

But you know what surprised us the most?

Having one car has been incredibly beneficial for our family life.

We go places together now - like, all the time. Because we HAVE to. And if you choose not to, then you're stuck at home alone. Liam and I take Chris to work on the nights he is scheduled, and he takes me to work on the days he has off. On the weekend, when there are errands to run, we all jump in the car and get out together. (Because, like I said, you're stuck if you don't.) 

Chris has even become friends with the Metro system, taking full advantage of the bus and light rail on the mornings he has class and I have to head to work. And I have even tied up my tennis shoes and walked down to the park with Liam on the weekends Chris is working, braving heat and mosquitoes. (Seriously, y'all. What is up with the mosquitoes?)

It's our new normal. And it's a much more simple normal than either of us ever expected.
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A Few of My Favorite Toddler Items

October 13, 2014

What feels like many moons ago, I shared my favorite baby items that made life with a new little one a bit easier. Now, 18 months in to that little one's life, we have a crazy, busy, wild, loud toddler on our hands. Here are a few of my favorite items for the toddler stage, so far.

Take and Toss CupsThese cups are super cheap and awesome for the daily cups for milk and water. You can get them for less than a dollar a cup, which makes it easy to buy enough to get you through a couple of days. Just throw them in the dishwasher and you're good to go. We use these for milk in the morning, afternoon, and evenings, and sometimes water when we can't find his usual water bottle.

Camelbak Water BottleAnd speaking of water bottle, we started using this one at the request of a friend. I bought so many different kinds over the last six months or so, and each one would leak or break. This one holds up well, is dishwasher-safe, and Liam knows how to open and close it by himself.

InchBug Name LabelsI've received these as gifts a couple of times, and we love them. With Liam in daycare, these were especially helpful for his bottles his first year, and now I use them on anything we take out of the house. They're a great personalized gift!

Carter's Diaper BagWhen Liam was little, I used a Petunia Pickle Bottom backpack diaper bag. I loved it then, but as he got older, I needed something that was easier to get in and out of, and could hold a lot more things - like snacks and toys - as well as my own personal items since it doubled as a purse. I love this bag! It looks like a fun tote bag, but it has a ton of pockets on the inside and outside, and isn't over-sized or bulky like so many diaper bags out there. 

Disposable PlacematsThese are a lifesaver when we are out and about and want to grab a quick bite. I keep a pack in my diaper bags so we can always have one on hand for restaurants.

MegaBloksLiam loved building, and he will sit - actually SIT - for minutes at a time with these building blocks. We have two sets which fills up a small basket in our living room. He loves pulling them out to play!

Fisher Price Stacking ToyI got this for Liam when he turned one, and over the last few months he has become obsessed with stacking the rings in order. Now, he actually says the color of the rings as he stacks them! It's a cheap toy that provides lots of entertainment and learning skills.

Little Tykes TruckTo keep Liam in tune with his Texas genes, my sister got him this truck for his first birthday. He loves everything about it - sitting in it, honking the horn, pulling the tailgate up and down, opening and shutting the gas tank, and of course, going on rides.

Do you have any favorite toddler items to add to this list?

Most links are affiliate links through Amazon.

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October 10, 2014

It's October. It's actually almost mid-October. The first nine months of the year have been a tad crazy and I feel like I am just now settling into 2014. And we're almost done. 

2013 began with a pregnant belly playing host to a baby girl or baby boy (we didn't know), a residence in a rental house in a part of town we just love, and two stable jobs. 2013 ended with a very active baby boy, a smaller residence in a more unfamiliar part of town, and one stable job and one complete career change.

2013 was a full year of change. Baby. Moving. New career. New family schedule.

Learning how to be a family of three and moving to a smaller place just one month in while balancing night classes and new roles of parenthood and new roles in our marriage and a new career path and a tighter budget - it's been a challenge for all three of us.

2014 has been a a year of getting used to that change.

But in all the change and challenges, we've seen snippets of big grace given to us to get over the mountains.

We have a baby-turned-toddler who sleeps so well and is beyond easy-going, making working full-time and solo-parenting throughout the week a bit easier.

We have jobs that allow us flexibility when a sick baby or a trip or life pops up.

We have friends with little ones who invite us over to dinner and for play dates and who get this stage of life we're in.

Now, with the holidays right around the corner, we've gotten used to the mountains and it's a little easier to breathe. We're still holding hands walking down the rocky slopes.

I am still working full-time outside of the house and Liam is loving his school while I'm away. Chris works a job that requires night shifts, and is preparing to go back to school full-time at the start of the year by taking classes along the way. We've trimmed and clipped and realized one car would be just enough for now, so our days require a bit more planning.

We are tired and stretched, but our time (and spending) has become so much more intentional and prioritized, which is what we were missing all along. 

And even with all this change, our love and life feels bigger and simpler and a little more calm.

(I plan on being back here more often, I promise.)

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