Category: Living Frugally

Day Twenty-Five: I’m Thankful For…Dave Ramsey.

Preface: Last year I decided to express my thanks during the month of November for something new each day, as so many others have done before me. I never finished this series, so that’s my goal this year. I am re-posting the ones I wrote last year and adding new ones. This one is new. :)

In January 2009, my church offered a class called “Financial Peace University” by Dave Ramsey. I had never heard of Dave, but I was in desperate need of financial peace. I had a lot of debt (both credit cards and student loans), I didn’t budget, and I was always uneasy when it came to money matters.

I can truly say that this class changed my life. 

Throughout the thirteen weeks of this class, we learned about the importance of having an emergency fund of at least $1,000, how to budget, how to prioritize our debts to pay them off in what Dave calls a “Debt Snowball” (smallest to largest debts), what types of insurance we should have, how to save for retirement wisely, and many other practical tips.

We learned that it’s important to “Live like no one else (meaning to make sacrifices now) so that later you can live like no one else (debt free and able to do whatever you want!).” This simple phrase makes it easier to sacrifice things that we may want right now for the long-term goal of being debt-free.

My favorite lesson was the last one, the one that focused on giving. Dave emphasized that the greatest thing about being debt-free is the ability to “give like no one else” because you don’t owe anyone anything. 

Since going through FPU, our financial outlook has changed completely:

  • We LOVE budgeting and the peace that it brings. Seriously. We tell our money where to go – we don’t wonder where it went.
  • We have NO credit card debt (paid off our last one in August 2012) AND no credit cards!
  • We were able to buy a house last year.
  • We are hoping to be completely debt-free in a couple of years (if we sell our house, we can pay off our student loans with the profit).
  • We give so much more than we did before, and it is such a blessing to be able to do so.

If you haven’t taken the opportunity to take one of Dave’s classes or read his books, please do so TODAY. He’s having a huge sale from now until Christmas (I believe) and most of his books are drastically discounted. It will be the best investment in your financial future that you have ever made!

Practical Products I Love: eMeals

 eMeals - Dinner Done

About a year ago we decided to finally try eMeals – a meal planning program that Dave Ramsey endorses as it saves time and money while also simplifying the meal-planning process.

“Food is the biggest budget buster of all. I’ve wanted someone to create a practical solution to the “beans and rice, rice and beans” dilemma. Finally… eMeals has done it! Now thousands of my listeners subscribe to eMeals. You will save a ton of time and money.”

— Dave Ramsey

We used it the past two weeks exclusively for the first time and were SO pleased! Granted, we don’t eat every meal they create simply due to our tastes/likes (i.e. I don’t like fish), but everything that we tried was fantastic!

We’re currently using the “Slow Cooker Clean Eating” plan for two people, and this has saved us SO much time, energy, and money already because we’re only buying what we need, dinner is ready when we get home, and I don’t have to spend extra time planning out what we’re going to cook and what we’ll need to make it. It has also helped because our plan is for two people so the portions are appropriate and we don’t have extra food.

How does it work? Each week you will receive an email with the week’s recipes AND shopping list. They come in .pdf format so that you can keep them forever. Even better–if you have a smart phone, download the eMeals app and it gives you full and easy access to everything; plus, with the app, you can “skip meals” that you won’t use and it modifies the shopping list for you! Brilliant! You can change your plan once a month and there are plenty to choose from.

Click on the banner below for more details and start saving time and money!

eMeals - Easy Meals for Busy People!

Full disclosure: if you sign up with my link I get a small commission (available to all subscribers!) for referring you.

We Bought A House!

As many of you know, Brennan and I are now homeowners. After renting small apartments (less than 600 sq. ft) for the first two years of our marriage (in an effort to live frugally and eliminate our debt), we are now the owners of an 1,800 sq. ft house! It isn’t a perfect house — it does need some “love” in a few areas–but it is perfect for us and for our future family.

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During our home inspection, the inspector continually smiled at us as we expressed our gratitude for the things the house offers that we have missed and appreciate so much…things like:

  • a dishwasher
  • a laundry room (no more laundromats!)
  • central air conditioning/heat with a thermostat
  • the ability to buy a refrigerator with an ice maker
  • our own backyard and deck
  • ceiling fans in every room!
  • bigger closets than we’ve had thus far in our marriage

It’s truly the little things in life that are worth celebrating.

It doesn’t take much to make us happy because our contentment isn’t found in “stuff”–it is found in immaterial things. We don’t need a brand new house that is perfect from the beginning–all we need is a place to call our own and to make our own. God has blessed us with a house that was a tremendous deal (worth far more than what we paid for it), and it’s one that we can easily afford (only slightly more than our rent now) on just Brennan’s income. We are so blessed and so excited to transform this house into our home!

Day Seventeen: I’m Thankful For…Mystery Shopping.

Preface: I thought it was fitting to express my thanks during the month of November for something new each day, as so many others have done before me. I’ve never taken the time to do this, and it will be a challenge to blog each day, but it’s so important to recognize the blessings God has given us! 🙂 These are in NO particular order…

In early 2011 I began mystery shopping, and it has been such a blessing to us.

It all started when Brennan came home and mentioned that the Hotel Hershey had been evaluated by mystery shoppers from Forbes/AAA recently and they had just received their scores. I couldn’t believe that someone could get paid to get a massage! 🙂 I was familiar with the concept of mystery shopping because my mom and grandma had done it when I was younger; so, I decided to look into it for myself and have found it to be a really fun hobby!

Mystery shopping provides us with abundant “free” date nights. We can mystery shop movie theatres, tons of restaurants (ranging from fast food to fancy), hotels, sporting events, concerts, etc. This has been such a blessing to us because we strive to live as frugally as possible and this allows us to still “date” each other frequently (which is very important)!

On the practical side, we hardly ever pay for oil changes, brake inspections, shipping packages, etc. anymore. There are so many ways to get paid for things you need to do anyway! This has saved us so much money in the past two years!

Mystery shopping is challenging and requires a lot of detailed observations; but, once you get the hang of it you develop a system. Brennan is a great help on these shops because he can help me remember the details when it’s time to enter the shop into the system and he really enjoys it as well.

Finally, mystery shopping has been a way for me to bring extra income to the table which has allowed us to pay off our credit card debt so much faster. Since I only work part-time currently, it has made me feel like I am contributing to our family finances more, which I love.

I’m very thankful that God has provided this opportunity for us to date, live frugally, and have fun through mystery shopping!

(To read more about how to get into mystery shopping on your own, read this post.)

Our Budget Plan…

I was asked by a friend how we do our budgeting, so I thought it would be a great blog post! I’ll try to keep it short and sweet.

First of all, we love the teachings of Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University. We cannot recommend him enough! Because of his wisdom the only debt that we have left is our student loans.

We maintain two spreadsheets: Our budget, and our “Special Expenses by Month”

The first one is our budget. Every other Wednesday, I (Lesa) enter the amounts that are due for this pay period. We always budget to “zero”–meaning that every dollar is accounted for. We use cash for food, necessities, clothing, date nights, etc. so we pull out the cash on pay-day. The line items below often change based upon our needs for that pay period (i.e. if we need clothes, we’ll add that line item).

We have our spreadsheet set up to automatically calculate things, so once we enter our income (we usually know by Thursday morning all of our income for that pay period) into the purple section it tells us how much we are over/under budget so that we can adjust accordingly.

When you are trying to get out of debt, it is important to use any extra money that you have to make extra payments. That is how we paid off our credit card debt so quickly–it requires sacrifices, but it’s so worth it.

(Click on the image to make it larger)

And our Special Expenses by Month looks like this:

This spreadsheet helps us to never be surprised by a bill that is coming up. It allows us to plan for them and be prepared! It would make it very easy to total up your special expenses to divide by the number of pay periods per year so that you could save little by little, as well.

Because we get paid twice a month, we do our budget twice a month. However, you have to do what works for you! This has been such a blessing to us because we always know exactly what we have to spend. We pay all of our bills on pay-day for that pay period which also reduces time and stress because we never forget to pay a bill.

If you have additional questions, please let me know! Budgets are not constraining–they are truly freeing!

Emptying the Storehouse: Update

I have been terrible about blogging about this experiment! It is the last day of April and I haven’t said a word about it in weeks.

Well, we made it through the month of April without grocery shopping (with the exception of fresh produce and milk)!

I will admit that I did have to pick up some cheese because we ran out. But, other than that, we really did well with sticking to this goal, and we STILL have a lot of food left! That’s partially because we did a few mystery shops this month, and we were at MHS for one weekend (where we are fed). And, one of the meals made enough to feed us for three nights, so that used even less food!

We’re thinking that we might just keep this going until we’re out of food completely, but we’ll see. We are out of chicken and beef, and out of cheese except for the little bit that I bought the other day, so I’m having to be more creative (which is challenging given our schedule right now).

If nothing else, this has helped me to step away from the thrill of couponing (which is easily addicting) for a while. I will still use coupons, of course, but I never want to have a stockpile like many people I’ve seen in news articles. I only want to have what we will use or give away.

I’ll keep you posted on what we decide to do next!

 

Emptying the Storehouse: Week Two

This is the second week of us cooking and eating only what we have in the house–no grocery shopping (except for fresh produce)! I decided to call it “Emptying the Storehouse” because it sounded better than “Eating from the Pantry” or anything else that came to mind.

I should have known that I wouldn’t end up sticking to a specific daily menu plan. 🙂

So far, we’re only out of a few things (such as plain frozen fruit, which I use for smoothies) and running low on a few others, so the creativity begins!

I will post links to recipes whenever I have them–some are from cookbooks that I only have in print.

Actual Dinner Menu for Week One:

Sunday: Breakfast burritos and smoothies for brunch; dinner at church

Monday: Easy Garden Bake

Tuesday: Hungry Girl’s macaroni and cheese (added broccoli) and “Corndog Millionaire Muffins” (Hungry Girl)

Wednesday: Mexican Pulled Pork Tacos with black beans

Thursday: (I honestly can’t remember what we ate)

Friday-Saturday: Lancaster County get-away

Sunday: Chicken and black bean quesadillas for lunch; Sautéed fresh vegetables (asparagus, zucchini, grape tomatoes, onion) and spinach berry smoothies for dinner.

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Planned Dinner Menu for Week Two:

Monday: Chicken Tortilla Soup (family recipe–crock-pot)

Tuesday: Strawberry Spinach Salad and some kind of baked bread

Wednesday:  Pasta with steamed vegetables (we love Ronzoni’s Garden Delight pasta) 

Thursday: Dinner out (mystery shop)

Friday: Leftovers from the week

Saturday: Out of town (Disaster Relief training)

Sunday: Applesauce Chicken (crock-pot) with steamed vegetables and quinoa/rice

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Breakfasts consist of any of the following: cereal, smoothies, breakfast burritos, baked oatmeal, etc.

Lunches during the week (for me) are either leftovers, smoothies, or salads. Brennan is able to eat at work.

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Emptying the Storehouse: Week One

This is the first week of us cooking and eating only what we have in the house–no grocery shopping (except for fresh produce)! I decided to call it “Emptying the Storehouse” because it sounded better than “Eating from the Pantry” or anything else that came to mind.

We are excited about this challenge and I think we are prepared. I made a potential meal list the other day based on what we have in the house, and we made one last trip to Walmart on Saturday to pick up a few things. We did, however, forget to pick up some mayonnaise (we threw ours away when our refrigerator died), which will make tuna sandwiches difficult (unless we cave and buy it). I’m also nervous about our cheese supply–we don’t have as much as I had thought, so this will require creativity.

I will post links to recipes whenever I have them–some are from cookbooks that I only have in print.

Dinner Menu for Week One:

Sunday: Breakfast burritos and smoothies for brunch; dinner at church

Monday: Easy Garden Bake (changed my mind–updated at 4:37pm)

Tuesday: Skinny Baked Broccoli Macaroni & Cheese  (plenty of leftovers from this!)

Wednesday: Mexican Pulled Pork Tacos with black beans

Thursday: Dinner with friends

Friday: We will be spending the weekend at a “Bed and Breakfast” in Lancaster County, so we won’t be home until Sunday.

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Dinner Menu for Week Two:

Monday: Italian Sausage Soup with Zucchini

Tuesday: Leftover soup from Monday…

Wednesday: Applesauce Chicken (crock-pot) with steamed vegetables and quinoa/rice

Thursday: Chicken Taco Chili over brown rice

Friday: Leftovers from the week

Saturday: Out of town (Disaster Relief training)

Sunday: “Corndog Millionaire Muffins” (Hungry Girl) with salad (healthy, believe it or not!)

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Breakfasts consist of any of the following: cereal, smoothies, breakfast burritos, baked oatmeal, etc.

Lunches during the week (for me) are either leftovers, smoothies, or salads. Brennan is able to eat at work.

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I’m really looking forward to growing in my cooking and substituting skills (if substitution becomes necessary), and more importantly, I’m looking forward to an empty pantry. We have an over abundance of food thanks to the savings we’ve had from couponing, and it’s time to sit back and enjoy the “fruits of our labor” and not shop for a month!

Updated: So, you want to try mystery shopping?

(updated on 11/16/2012)

I completed my 422nd mystery shop yesterday (since March 2011), and since I’m always getting questions about this field, I thought I’d update this blog post and repost it. 🙂

First of all, it is a real thing. The most common question I’ve been asked is, “That’s real? I thought it was fake!” It is real. There are tons of scams out there, of course, but there are hundreds of legitimate companies.

You should NEVER pay to join a company! That indicates a scam. Any company asking you to wire money is also a scam.

How do you know if the company is legitimate? Go to the MSPA’s website and find out. MSPA is the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. They represent all of the real companies and list them on their site for your convenience.

They also offer certification levels which help you, the mystery shopper, receive better jobs and often higher paying jobs, because the certification shows that you are serious. I have the MSPA Silver Certification and am thinking about achieving Gold status simply because I’ve seen the benefits of silver, so I know that gold must be great!

Secondly, don’t expect to get rich, but DO expect to eat lots of free meals (after reimbursement) and experience new things! We’ve made about $6,800 so far (not including reimbursements), and it has been a tremendous blessing. These shops often turn into date nights because Brennan is my “partner in crime” whenever he is allowed to go with me (some shops stipulate that you must go alone).

Now that I’ve done over 400, I know which shops I like and which ones I will only do if they offer me bonus pay or beg me. I know which mystery shopping companies I prefer (out of the 50+ with whom I am registered), and I know which ones are a pain to work for (there are a few). I have done shops in retail, fast food, fast casual food, hospitality, auto sales and service, etc. And each one has taught me very different skills. I’ve test driven a Mercedes, shopped for TVs, and eaten a lot of great food. 🙂

Favorite shop so far? Getting to see U2 for FREE. It was also the hardest shop that we’ve done so far, but totally worth it! We’ve also done hotels (where we get to stay for free), football games (next week, actually…college football on Black Friday!), movie theatres, etc.

I have also learned what various retail establishments require of their employees when it comes to customer service, and I have much higher expectations now for how I am treated and how I am helped.

It is very helpful to sign up with multiple companies simply because each one has very different clients, and depending on where you live, it may be helpful in getting shops to do. In Central PA, there aren’t as many opportunities as Southern California, for example. Most companies send out emails when there are shops available in your area, so you don’t have to check daily for opportunities. I am signed up with 50+ companies, but only actively shop for about 10. I just like having more options available to me.

Here are a few companies I would recommend starting with (in no particular order):

Corporate Research International: http://www.mysteryshops.com 

CRI has you watch a video presentation on how to do effective mystery shopping that is actually entertaining and incredibly helpful. I just signed up with them this week and had to watch it, and it even helped me–an “experienced” shopper! Honestly, this company annoys me with their process, but their training is good and they have a great variety. Their commissions start REALLY low, so wait until they are raised before doing the shops.

Market Force: http://www.applymarketforce.com 

Intelli-Shop: http://www.intelli-shop.com

BARE International (if you want to sign up with them, send me your email address and I’ll refer you. They offer bonuses for referrals!)

Reality Based Reports: http://www.realitybasedreports.com/index.norm.php 

Ritter Associates: http://www.ritterassociates.com

Bestmark: http://www.bestmark.com

Second-to-None: http://www.second-to-none.com

As you get more involved, you’ll learn which companies service which retailers/restaurants, etc. I can’t tell you which ones they do (confidentiality), but you can figure it out!

If you have any questions, please let me know. It is a lot of fun, it sharpens your memory and observation skills, and you’ll earn a little extra cash. 🙂

IMPORTANT NOTE: You will have to pay taxes on earnings over $600, so I advise that you keep a detailed spreadsheet (ask to see mine if you are serious about this) detailing where you shopped, when, your expenses (reimbursed and non-reimbursed), mileage, which mystery shopping company, the date you were paid. This also helps me remember when to do shops and to make sure that I get paid for each one of them. And, it will help at tax time. So far this year, because of mileage (which is $0.555 cents per mile credit per the IRS as of 07/01/11), I’ve profited $200 according to the IRS. 🙂