#fruglife Does your state have a tax-free holiday for back-to-school shopping? Check the map!

Indeed, Oklahoma has a tax-free holiday tied to back-to-school shopping.

Does your state?


Continue reading #fruglife Does your state have a tax-free holiday for back-to-school shopping? Check the map!

6 Aldi experiences, demystified

Aldi is a no-frills grocer that lacks the perks Americans are used to. You will not find glistening towers of intricately interlacing vegetables. You will find utilitarian stacks of boxes and bags containing weird off-brand products.

“Ah, so this is how the communists shop!” *sips organic pear brandy from snifter*

Aldi is more than different. It’s the best damn grocer on the continent.

My family started shopping at Aldi in a continuing effort to batten down the money hatches in order to save and be responsible, which is boring, so we motivate ourselves with adventure carrots, like an upcoming trip to Florida.  Aldi with its cardboard box offerings scared me a little at first. But then it had me. It had me at $1.19 special on sweet potato chips.

Here are six Aldi quirks I’ve experienced in recent weeks.

1.  #$%^ I need a quarter.

Aldi requires a quarter deposit per cart. I have thus far twice been caught sans quarter and had to rely on the kindness of quarter-wielding strangers in order to procure my shopping vessel. I paid it forward with acts of Aldi kindness at the cart return. For death, taxes and the fact I will forget my Aldi quarter again are the only certainties in life.

2. Wait…why is that 8-year-old kid snagging empty boxes from the milk section?

First I see an elderly cat in a beret snag a box. Then a portly 8-year-old appears out of NO WHERE and runs off with an empty milk box. Oh, oh oh oh oh. I get it. You have to purchase bags at Aldi. Plastic bags are 6 cents a pop. Snap, those empty boxes are lookin prime to hold my Aldi organic 2 percent milk. *eyes empty shampoo box, power walks toward empty shampoo box, side eyes left, side eyes right, procures empty shampoo box, victory is mine, ahahahahahaha*

4. BTW, the check-out belt doesn’t stop

I figured out the check-out lane belt is about twice as fast as belts elsewhere the hard way. The woman behind me put her items on the belt before I was done placing mine. So her stuff collided into my stuff, and I started to unload my groceries like VHS fast-forward, and I’m sweating and she’s confused, and we were both like, “Uh, can you slow this thing down?” and the check-out gal said “No. We’re evaluated on speed and it can’t be slowed.”

Then I bought the other shopper’s iceberg lettuce by mistake.  It was 89 cents and I really didn’t care, but the check-out girl refunded my coins straight away in the face of this grocery collision flap.

5. Bag it yourself

This is how it works: The cashier rings in your items and drops the items into an empty cart to her side. You pay. You give the cashier your empty cart and take the full cart of purchased items to a big shelf. There, you bag and box ’em yourself.

6. Ya want your quarter back? Return that cart, ya lazy lout.

The store operates in this way by design in order to keep prices low by saving on labor.

Aldi doesn’t fit into the U.S. grocery paradigm, where the expectation is low-wage workers will pick up your slack.

At first, I didn’t get it.  I adopted fast for the prices.

I’ve fallen in love with Aldi.

Did you know Aldi is Trader Joe’s minimalist brother? Aldi, I knew I liked you.

Have you been to Aldi to shop for groceries? Why/why not? Will you give it a go? Aldi is in 32 states.

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Eli, media mogul

you crazy moms
you crazy moms
My pal Rachel Calderon over at News9 featured Eli being adorable and cute, along with a story about stuff we’re doing to plan and save.

But srsly I look at the video and I just keep rewinding to him getting on his beloved truck.

Ooooh so cuuuuute.

For real though: Rachel worked up a 30-day financial challenge series for her station and asked us to participate! She reads my blog (Hi!). She was having a hard time sourcing a family finance story, probably because the only time people want to talk about money is when they’re showing it off! PAHA!

Not us! Oooh let me take you to Goodwill in the ’97 Ranger we bought with cash. Maybe after we get back we can have some Ramen! Yes? No? Doesn’t work?

Thank God Rachel knows what she’s doing, or who knows how this story would have turned out.

My family’s part in all of this was to do some number crunching, share the numbers with a financial planner, take to heart any criticism, listen to tips and implement them.

It was great to have an expert cast her expert eyes onto my budget and an expert journalist cast her eyes on our story. And it was easy, oh so easy — maybe too easy — for me to blather on about our goals on camera.

Rachel did a great job telling our story and included in it context and additional facts about financial challenges faced by families with chronic disease.

Here’s a link to the piece.

I’ll let you read and watch Eli being adorable surrounded by some facts about money.

In the mean time, we’ve begun rolling out new financial plans as we roll on into 2015.

We’ve implemented a few, but not all of them.

A few of our savings/spending goals are:

-Space out auto-deductions into savings account throughout month; save more to account for occasional purchases like clothes, electronics, gifts and auto repairs. Use cash for those occasional, yet expected, costs.
-Save more for fun dreams, ie, we want to take my kids to the ocean in ’15
-Invest in fun for ma and pa; it’s OK. It’s really OK.
-We’ve knocked out our December and Christmas budget; creativity in gift-giving shall commence now.

First of all making a budget, and second of all sticking to it, is a challenge.

2015: Bring it.

I try to write about our effort to save, survive and thrive each Monday in the category Money Madness. Cold, hard green. Bookmark it bay-bay.

What are your savings and investment goals leading into 2015? Leave a comment below or send a note!


3 ways to shed stuff and save

Mark and I have been brainstorming along the lines of de-cluttering our lives and saving cold hard cash, and here are a few things we came up with that we just might try.

1. Garage sale
It sounds so simple, so quaint: “Let’s have a garage sale.” Anyone who has held one of these events knows setting up a shop in a yard or garage can be a pain at best and an episode of “Hoarders” at worst. Mark and I have been like rolling stones these past few but we’ve gathered a whole bunch of moss: stuff. Kid stuff, sentimental stuff, stuff, stuff stuff. Also, in the past four years, I’ve had two kids and been in more pants sizes than you can shake a stick at. It’s not like I think pants are a hot seller, but I’m saying I have clothes to sell. Jewelry to offer up. Books like Infinite Jest that I’m not going to have the time to read any time soon, so I might as well stop kidding myself, sell my copy and visit the library if the mood to crack that one open ever strikes. We’ll pick a date for early spring and see how this goes.

Shed stuff and save.
Shed stuff and save.

2. 1-week spending freeze
The TLC show “Extreme Cheapskates” gave me this idea. For that show, on which people dumpster dive for gifts for spouses and wipe bums with washcloths to save on TP, a one-week freeze seemed pretty moderate. I saw the episode with a spending freeze a while back. Come to think of it, though, the guy with the idea also ate road kill to save money. Last week, my friend Erika suggested I read a blog post from a gent whose family does a *month long* freeze and give it a try. I don’t see how a month would be possible for my family, but I can envision a week of no spending. For a month, I suppose you’d have to stockpile throughout the year with that idea in mind. It would also help to live somewhere with good public transit and/or biking-to-work options. That does not describe OKC. Any way, I’m willing to try a one-week freeze, though we’d have to freeze some recipes and stockpile diapers to do it.

3. Experience over stuff
This is more of a philosophy, a pre-emptive strike on stuff. Mark and I have been budgeting a little bit each month for our personal discretionary funds — I’m talkin $50 to $100. That means he can’t hassle me when I show up with the occasional fashionable thingy. I can’t get sassy when he gets fancy and … OK, he doesn’t do anything fancy. The poor man just wants to have lunch with his friends now and again. Maybe instead of getting *things,* *I* could save up for an experience — and Mark and I could get to a movie together now and again. We could apply this theory in different ways beyond our meager personal budgets. Tighter budgeting all around yields more savings. We want to carve out cash from our savings for experiences — namely, vacations. Because while we want to save and have more peace of mind about our financial well being, we want to live, too. We want to get out into the world outside our home, where there are no laundry piles or dirty dishes, just fresh air to breath and new places to see and memories to take home.

Thanks for reading! My family is trying to save more and knock down around $40K in student loans and another $5-6K in other debts. I try to write about our effort every Monday in an effort dubbed Money Madness.

How much cash did a garage sale yield for you? Was it worth it or were you driven to the precipice of hell and back? What do you think about a spending freeze — would you try this or is this something you have tried? Are you a stuff person or an experience person? Let me know if any of these ideas worked for you. If you have another to add along these lines I’d love to hear it.

Big pimpin’ on a budget

Budget, fools.
Budget, fools.

A few weeks back, Mark and I finally sat down and made a monthly budget.

To think, it only took us 5 years!

We made an appointment. Then we both forgot about it. Then, we sat down, a week late, and knocked it out.

My news workplace offered a Dave Ramsey (the ‘We’re debt free!’ guy) course to for free, so I signed up. One of the first thing Ramsey recommends is to get on the same financial page as your spouse.

Then he tells you to save a thousand bucks in an emergency fund and make sure you agree as to what constitutes an emergency.

He warned his viewing audience that that would mean a money fights.

At our first budget meeting, Mark and I didn’t really fight. OK, maybe we had a disagreement, sure, but fight’s too strong a word.

We knocked out a budget. Then we “discussed” the concept of “fun” money. We agreed we could each have $100 a month to put toward fun of our choosing.

“My fun’s almost been spent,” I confessed. “I bought two winter tops for work.”

We started to bicker about whether clothes should be a budgeted necessity or considered “fun.”

Then we realized something. We had already made a budget. We had forgotten to add any “fun” at all to the budget. So, we were fighting about dollars that didn’t actually exist.

I remembered I had $50 from my new waitressing job stashed in my wallet. I impulsively got a second job because Dave Ramsey told me to do it.

I mean, it’s not like I “needed” winter shirts. I wasn’t going to freeze without two brand spanking new stylish shirts.

“I guess this is yours,” I told Mark.

We plugged it into the Ramsey budget as “Fun-Mark.”

We next realized Mark had become my pimp. I turned over my cash earnings to him.

All in a day’s work. While I’m out slinging Spaten Dunkels and Bitburgers after my 9 to 5, he’s feeding and putting to bed two adorable-yet-high-maintenance under 4’s. Ya know who pays him? No one. Unless you count as currency Eli’s poo poos and Laila’s schemes to stay up later. Then we’re rich.

The good news is that we agree on core financial things, though Mark is more of a cheapscape minimalist than I am.

What constitutes an emergency? We agreed on three main things: car break down, appliance breakdown, and a medical emergency. And, ya know, natural disasters, but that’s a given.

Ramsey said it’s fine to keep saving once you’ve got a K in the pocket if you want something like furniture, etc. etc.

We want a vacation. I don’t care that we haven’t paid down our college loans and buddy’s medical bills. We need something to look forward to. Perhaps New Mexico. Or the ocean!

I asked Mark what was on his “savings wish list.” I found out one of his dreams was to fix our van door. Yes, we dream big. We have a trashy-looking door I wrecked while I raced to the ATM to get cash for our very first nanny, imposter Mary Poppins. Imposter Mary Poppins faked a lice scare on my daughter’s birthday to get me home early so she could quit. I wanted to pay her extra because I didn’t realize she was a psycho Mary Poppins imposter from hell. Thus, I raced to the ATM. Bolts in the ATM lane scraped the hell out of the van door. It has remained that way since. Classy.

We’d also like a new/used car – a little mini SUV. Something safer than the tin can that is our second car.

Budgeting was a good exercise for us. The course I’m taking makes it easy, with an online budget tool that forces you to give each of your dollars a destination.

It also forced us to review our spending for the first week of the month. We need to stretch a little a lot better, ’cause we blew half of our food and supply budget in a week.

There is room for improvement, but it’s a start!

Having a kid with a chronic disease shook us alive in a lot of ways. One of those ways has been the way Mark and I think about money. Instead of thinking things like “Oh, s***, we’re outta money!”we are making plans and stashing dollars. Along those lines, I attempt to write about money each Monday for a series called Monday morning money madness, which is usually in place by midnight. Check back in! Has the Ramsey way worked for you? Do you have any issues with the program? Any tips for dumpin’ debt and saving more? Let me know!

Reader mailbag: 4 more tips to boost monthly savings

I’m dippin’ into the reader mailbag for today’s post. I have one of those? Why yes. Yes I do. In this day-late (but not a dollar short) post on savings and money, I wanted to share a few tips readers sent me after last week’s post on 5 things that have helped us save about 10 percent of our take-home income.

I got distracted yesterday and strayed from Monday morning money madness — with errands and Dancing with the Stars…Amber Riley for the win…

Mark and I are continuing to save. We’re also targeting waste in food and supplies. It’s hard. We feel like we’re already living minimally, down to the nitty gritty. But are we…really? I slipped up and threw down almost $5 on a pumpkin spice latte the other day. Busted! Savings fail. That’s the kind of stuff we’ve been trying to cut out. Things are stretched. We’ve got two young children, all the fees and extras that come with two young children, plus a pile of medical bills relate to Eli’s cystic fibrosis and two hospital stays and surgeries. So stuff like lunches out and coffees, which were no-brainer “I deserve it” purchases before we started taking a little time each week to think money, have *mostly* gone by the wayside in favor of more savings, with the occasional slip-up. I totally busted Mark for Taco Bell. HAHAHA. After September, I want to see if we *actually* improved our habits or if I’ve just been blowin’ smoke.

“What else might we try to save cash,?” I asked readers. Here are some of their responses:

Continue reading Reader mailbag: 4 more tips to boost monthly savings