Like most couples, Bryan and I spend every Holiday trying to balance our two families. We both have parents and siblings that we would like to spend time with, and Bryan has two adult children. Up to this point in our relationship, we’ve mainly taken the “Divide and conquer” route: He goes and spends time with his family, and I go spend time with mine. Our families are too far apart geographically for us to see everyone on the same day together. It’s worked out in the sense that neither of our families feel that we’re leaving them out. But then, we don’t get to spend the Holidays together. And, since the Holidays are when most people get together, it means neither of us has really had a chance to get to know and interact with the other’s family as a whole. There’s also the issue that Bryan’s children haven’t exactly warmed to the idea of him being in a relationship with someone.

Bryan and I have a great life together. But, integrating our families into that life hasn’t exactly been seamless. I think our age difference also plays a role in that; In day-to-day life, and even among friends, it’s a complete non-issue for us. But my parents (and siblings) have a harder time adjusting to me dating someone my parents’ age. And the opposite is true with his family and children. Then we get into issues of boundaries, and lifestyles, and… Why are families so hard?!?

After nearly 4 years of going our separate ways, this year we’ve decided to do something different. Instead of seeing one family or the other for Thanksgiving, we’ll be spending the time together. Alone. On a beach.

I know, I know! The Holidays are about family, and togetherness, and blah.blah.blah. And in years past, I’ve felt the same way. I’ve never missed a Thanksgiving with my family. I’m understanding of people who have to miss a Holiday with one family to spend time with another. But, I’ve always felt that, even if you don’t want to, you show up for the Holidays (Except in truly dysfunctional family situations). That’s just what families do! It’s part of being family!

You certainly don’t skip Thanksgiving to go on vacation!

But this year, that’s exactly what Bryan and I are doing. I found us a great deal at a resort on the beach. It won’t be swimming weather, but at around 70 degrees, we’ll still be able to walk on the beach and enjoy a warmer climate. The 12 hour drive is a little ridiculous for only 3 nights away. But, at least gas is cheap this year! We plan on eating out, enjoying the outdoors, and just spend some time relaxing together.

With everything that’s happened, 2015 has not been a good year. Work has been a disaster for me all year, and I haven’t felt right taking time off for a real vacation. Actually, the only time off I’ve taken this year has been for family emergencies, which there have been way too many of. Bryan has found a good place with an employer this year. Now that he’s once again an hourly employee, he’s worked all the hours he could, which has included almost every Saturday since June. He hasn’t wanted to rock the boat by requesting time off. And he’s been told there’s a good possibility he’ll work at least part of the winter, which is rare in construction. We both have a four-day weekend for Thanksgiving. If we want to take a vacation together, this was our chance.

Oddly enough, we’ve both taken vacation since we’ve been together, just not together. Excluding a few weekend trips, we’ve never gone away together. He’s taken numerous fishing trips with his friends. I’ve taken several trips with my Mom and sisters. But we haven’t really gone away together. Weird, huh? Granted, this trip isn’t a long one. But, it’s the longest one we’ve done, both in the amount of time and the distance from home.

The Holidays are about family. Bryan is my family; He’s the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. I think many times my relationship with my family overshadows that. I feel like, this year especially, it’s important that we invest a little more into each other. We need to rebuild a solid foundation in each other. And then, over the course of the next year, we can figure out how to build our families in around that. And, maybe by next year, we’ll have a better idea of how to approach the Holidays as a team.

Of course, we’ve yet to decide how we’ll approach Christmas this year. But for Thanksgiving at least, we’re indulging our urge to run!

  • Cindy W.

I’ve been terrible about posting lately, so I thought I should do a short check-in to let everyone know I’m still around.

I’d love to say that things are finally starting to calm down and get back to normal. No such luck! First the dog was sick; At 14-16 years old (she’s a rescue, so we really don’t know for sure), we were convinced this was the end. The vet said it was either an intestinal infection, or she was dying of cancer. I kind of chuckled at how “WebMD” that answer came across: It’s either something really simple, or you’re dying! It ended up being really simple; A few pills later her symptoms completely disappeared! She’s still on medication for the rest of the week, and a bland diet (which she despises!), but other than that we’re in the clear.

As soon as the dog started feeling better, I started feeling bad. End of last week I came down with what I assume is a cold. This week it’s still going strong! I hate being one of those people that brings my germs into work, but since everyone there is already sick, and there’s so much that needs to be done, I’ve kept chugging right along. I’m tired, and cranky, and gross! I have cancelled plans outside of work, so as not to spread my sickness to the rest of the world, and also so I can get some rest.

Work has been super busy! And rumor has it that changes are coming. As of right now, the changes aren’t being made to my job, but will directly affect how I do my job. It is what it is, and I have no choice but to take things as they come. For now, anyways. But all of this will come into play as Bryan and I are making plans for the future. It’s a good reminder of how important it is to get rid of the car loan!

On top of all that, the Holiday Season is officially upon us! I can’t believe next week is Thanksgiving! I’m so not ready for any of this. For now, I’m trying to take things as they come, and stay on top of us much as possible. I’m also working on reminding myself that I’m not perfect, and sometimes good enough is, well, good enough.

  • Cindy W.

I was a little shocked when I put together my spending figures for October: All said and done, I didn’t spend as much as I expected. I had a lot of things going on in October, so I was expecting to see much higher numbers. Of course, being so busy and out of our normal routine made some of the numbers much lower than they’d typically be. For example, I missed two usual trips to the grocery store this month. It worked out, as we lived more out of our pantry/freezer than we typically would. And I wasn’t home as much as I normally would be. In the end, my spending in October was one of the lowest since I started tracking in June:

Where the money went - October 2015

Where the money went – October 2015

Reminder: Since Bryan and I keep separate finances, this does not include any of his spending!

I spent $2,542 this month, with an income of $3,212. As a reference, this is what my spending has looked like since I started tracking in June:

June 2015: $4,813
July 2015: $2,179
August 2015: $3,456
September 2015: $2,726
October 2015: $2,542

Looking at the totals, I was a little shocked at how much I spend each month. Over that 5 month time period, it averages out to about $3,143 each month. Which is $37,716 a year. Yikes! But then I realized, a big chunk of that is going towards paying off the car. In October alone I put a total of $1,400 towards car payments. The rest of my spending only makes up $1,142. When you take away what went towards the car each month, my spending is a little more reasonable:

June 2015: $1,763
July 2015: $1,579
August 2015: $2,276
September 2015: $1,666
October 2015: $1,142

That’s better! Sure, the spending each month would look better if I was just paying the $360 monthly payment on the car. But then I’d be paying on the loan FOREVER. I’ll be much happier once that loan is history, and I can concentrate on other priorities.

Most of my expenses for this month were pretty normal. There was a $5 charge on my debit card that for the life of me I can’t figure out what it was for, so I’m just calling that “Unknown”. I also took out $150 at the ATM. I took the money out because Bryan needed cash, and couldn’t get to the bank. He paid me back a few days later. Where did the cash go? Well, if I’m being honest, a big chunk of it probably went towards Fast Food. When the shit hit the fan, I hit the drive-thru. The rest of it? I really don’t remember. That’s the problem with cash: It can easily slip away, without any trace of where it has gone.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room: Grief Expenses. I didn’t know of a way to explain and group these expenses, so I just put them all together. It covers everything from Starbucks, sodas, food and toothbrushes that were purchased at the hospital, to baby clothes and other items that were picked up along the way. Some things, like the flowers for the funeral, didn’t hit my bank statement until November, so they’ll carry forward into next month. Most of this money came out of my weekly spending, but I also pulled some money out of my savings for “Holiday Spending”. Since the baby was due December 1st, I had added money into my Holiday budget to buy a big gift for my sister closer to his birth. I’m going to play it by ear as we get into the Holiday Season as to whether or not I need to replace the amount that I took out of that savings.

I’ll be honest, I could have very well spent less this month. Resorting to fast food when I’m overwhelmed and sad isn’t good for the budget or the waistline. I’m working on it. Yes, we could have saved money by bringing more things to the Hospital from home, instead of spending the ridiculous prices at the gift shop and vending machines, or simply not drinking so many sodas and Starbucks. But when you’re going on 40 hours with no sleep, in a situation you did not expect to be in, and someone you love is suffering an unimaginable loss, and doesn’t want to be left alone, or have the baby laid down for even a second, well, you do what you can, and saving money is the least of your worries.

Given the situation, I’m okay with my spending in October. I’m expecting my spending to increase in November and December; After all, there will be food to buy, and gifts, and travel. I’m working to be more mindful of what and how I am spending my money on during the Holidays. In the past, I’ve had a tendency to go overboard, and I’m trying not to do that this year!

  • Cindy W.

Another month of 2015 has come and gone. I’ve been absolutely amazed at how my finances have worked out this year; Even when the markets were dropping, and my 401k plan was taking a hit, my net worth kept chugging right along. I always had cash when I needed it, and even spendier months didn’t seem to impact my overall financial picture. Some months I even found myself scratching my head and wondering how exactly the money had worked out.

Financially speaking, October was an awesome month. Stock prices started coming back up. I continued paying down on the car loan. I somehow managed to hold onto a little more cash.


Net Worth update as of October 30, 2015

Net Worth update as of October 30, 2015


Chart of net worth growth since the start of time (or the start of this blog)

Chart of net worth growth since the start of time (or the start of this blog)

The money took care of itself. And thank goodness, because I didn’t have the capacity to deal with anything else.

On October 24th, in the wee hours of the morning, we welcomed my nephew into the world. My Mom, my sister and I had gotten the call almost 24 hours before, and at my sister’s request, were by her side for one of the most difficult and heartbreaking things any woman will ever experience. He was beautiful and perfect in every way. But he would never take a breath in this life.

Losing a child is one of the most difficult things a parent will ever experience. Losing a child after losing your partner? Unimaginable. My heart breaks for my sister, and everything that she’s been through this year. I can’t even begin to comprehend the pain she must be feeling right now.

As heartbreaking as this experience has been, we are thankful to the many people who have been able to help us through every step. Especially the wonderful nurses at the hospital. Yes, her doctors were wonderful. But our interactions with doctors were brief and infrequent. It was the nurses who were there by our side day after day, hour after hour. They were the ones who answered our questions. They told us what to expect, and didn’t shy away from the difficult conversations. They were compassionate and flexible. They laughed when we laughed, and cried when we cried. They made phone calls and gathered information, and went above and beyond on so many things. And they held the baby, and called him by name, and treated him with compassion and respect. I can’t imagine the strength it must take to do what they did, and yet they did it all without ever flinching. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

I’ve started and deleted numerous posts over the past week. There’s so much that I’ve wanted to say. But I also realize that this is an experience that no one wants to hear about. The death of a baby is such a horrible thing, no one wants to talk about it. You don’t realize how many people you know have experienced the loss of a child until you are going through it yourself. The past week I’ve heard so many women tell stories of their own babies, some women that I’d just met, and others I’ve known for years, but never knew of their loss. What a lonely experience it must be, to go through such a heartbreaking loss, but feel that you could never talk about it.

It seems weird posting about money and grief together. Money doesn’t stop bad things from happening. Life isn’t fair, and we’re dealt the things we’re dealt. But having my money in order meant one less thing to have to deal with. I didn’t have to give a second thought to all the trips to the hospital lobby for Starbucks and sodas to keep us going through the long, sleepless nights. I chipped in for fast food and cafeteria meals without pause. I didn’t have to worry about the budget when I ordered flowers for the funeral, or picked up a backup outfit for his baptism. I didn’t have to worry about the financial implications of taking time off work (I still have PTO remaining, but it wouldn’t have been an issue even if I didn’t). Money didn’t stop the bad things from happening, or the grief that would follow. It was just one less thing I had to worry about.

I keep saying I’ll be glad when 2015 is over with. It’s been a terrible, heartbreaking year for my family. But time is somewhat abstract when you think about life. It isn’t as though the end of the year will erase the memories and heartache that took place. Time marches on, and you’re forced to carry it all with you.

  • Cindy W.

Three quarters of 2015 are now gone, and it’s time to check my goals for this year.

1) Grow my net worth by $10,000 ($21,696 total net worth). Done!
2) List the house. Sold!
3) Pay off the student loan. Done!
4) Invest $3,000 in a retirement account.
5) Earn $500 in “Side Income”. Done!
6) Pay off car loan.
7) Grow my net worth by $10,000 ($31,696 total net worth).

I started 2015 off with 5 goals. It wasn’t long before I was re-evaluating, and adding more goals. I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about goals, and what they mean to me. When I started this blog, I didn’t have a real direction of where I was trying to go with my life. I knew that I wanted a better financial future. I also knew that, if I wanted to move forward, setting goals and pushing myself to reach them was necessary. So, I started setting goals at the beginning of each year. It was a great way of keeping myself on track, giving myself something to work towards, and measuring the progress that I was making.

I’ve always seen goals as rigid, inflexible commitments. You either reach the goals you’ve set, or you’re a failure. I’d love to say that’s a motivating way to set goals; After all, who wants to be a failure? But instead of pushing me to reach goals, the fear of failure has always kept me from setting goals to begin with. If you aren’t sure if you can do something, isn’t it better not to try, then try and be labeled a failure? In the end, you still haven’t done it, but without even trying, at least you haven’t also failed.

Despite the possibility of failure, I decided to set goals anyways. But I’ll be honest, some of my goals are a bit arbitrary in nature. Like growing my net worth each year by $10,000. In 2014, that goal was a real struggle for me. In 2015? I made it less than halfway through the year, and am working towards my next $10,000. But what’s the real point in growing my net worth by $10,000? Sure, I’m paying off debt, and growing my investments. But those are goals in and of themselves. Is growing my net worth by $10,000 (or $20,000) a year enough?

A lot has happened this year: I sold my house. I paid off my student loan. I’m a good ways into paying off my car loan. I have a fully funded $5,000 emergency fund. As I make big life changes, what I want out of life starts becoming clearer. Bryan and I have a much better idea of where our future is headed today than we did on January 1st. And as our ideas develop, my goals change. My priorities start shifting as I start to realize what I need to do in order to move towards the life we want.

At the start of this year, saving for retirement seemed like a very important goal. And every personal finance professional would agree that saving for retirement is very, very important. When I’d paid off my student loan, I could have easily put $3,000 into a retirement account, and been done with the goals I’d started off with (#1-5). But somewhere along the way, I realized that having my freedom now was more important than having my freedom somewhere down the road. Paying off my car loan was a way to “buy” some freedom now (or early next year).

I’m still saving for retirement: As of September 30th, I’d put $1,405.88 into my 401k plan. That doesn’t include the money my employer has put into the plan, or any interest/dividends/growth the plan has seen. That puts me 47% towards my goal of $3,000. I won’t make that goal this year, but I’ll still keep socking away money in the plan. I have other priorities for 2015.

Paying off the car loan took priority in the second half of this year. How am I doing? Well, I started the year off owing $18,724. At the end of September, it was down to $11,347. I’m 39% of the way to this goal. Not too shabby, considering I didn’t really start pushing to pay the loan off until June. Will I be able to make it to $0 by December 31st? No. It may be Spring before the loan is finally gone.

In the past, I would have felt like a failure for not being able to make the goal. Now? I’m super excited at how far I’ve come! Every day, I’m a little bit closer to freedom. A little bit closer to being able to design life around what I love. Does switching gears make me a failure? Not at all! Being flexible means that I can take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. It means that I can continue growing and learning as a person. It means I can take my time figuring out what I want, and what’s important to me. I know more now than I did on December 31st of last year.

What about that second $10,000 net worth goal? Well, I ended September with a net worth of $26,303. That’s $14,607 ahead of the $11,696 I started the year with. I’d love to be further ahead, but my 401k is really taking a beating this year. And, you know what? I’m okay with that. I’m continuing to buy stock every week, which means I’m getting a great deal for the money. The money I have invested in my 401k plan isn’t money for the near future, it’s for someday in the very distant future. I’m not too worried about what it’s doing right now. It’ll be there when I need it. Do I think I’ll still be able to make my goal of $31,696 in net worth by the end of the year? Maybe.

What if I don’t make my goals? Well, nothing. It’s not like there’s some big prize for getting there! I don’t lose anything for trying. Actually, I’ve gained a lot this year. Not just in net worth, but also life experience and personal growth.

It’s been a year of lots of ups and downs. Lots of changes. And lots of possibilities. No matter what comes along, I want to be ready!

  • Cindy W.


I’ve been up since 4:30 am, which, if you knew me, is highly unusual. I’m the type of person who reluctantly crawls out of bed every morning at 6:30 (maybe 6:45) and sulkily goes about my morning routine. I’m NOT a morning person. But today, I’m wide awake and ready to go. Blame it on the stress.

And stressed I am! Work has been hell for the last month. The person who took over my position when I was promoted has left the company. In the long-term, it’s a good thing; She was a terrible fit for the job, and creating more issues than she was solving. In the short-term, it’s been a very, very bad thing for me. I’ve been doing the job of two people, and at a very busy time of year to boot. I’ve been close to tears on more than a few days. And I’m back to having nightmares about forgetting to accrue something in the system, which makes total sense in my dreams, but I can’t put my finger on once I’m awake. So then it bugs me all day long.

I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to figure out how to handle the situation. Yes, being short a team member is a temporary issue. But what lead to being in this position is not. I haven’t been happy for some time with my position (or the position I held before this). Would demanding more money help? Should I start looking for something else?

This weekend, Bryan and I finally had a serious conversation about what was going on, what our goals were, and how we should handle the situation. Yes, I’m stressed out. Yes, I hate my job. But, I need to be honest about who I am, what my (our) goals are, and what I want.

One thing I’ve realized over the past year is that I only have a “shelf-life” of about 2 years at most jobs. I start a job, and everything is fabulous. About one year in, I start becoming disgruntled. And at the two year mark? I’m pretty much done. Sure, I stick it out longer. Sometimes for many years longer. But I’m miserable.

It isn’t that I’m a bad employee. And I’m definitely not lazy. I just get very wrapped up in what I’m doing, and very frustrated with how things are being run. I’m more than willing to dedicate myself to my job, and working for what’s in the best interest of growing the company. I think I just become too emotionally invested in what I’m doing. That quality makes it difficult to work in a corporate structure. But it’s an ideal quality for a freelancer, or someone running a small business.

So the discussion this weekend was about how to proceed. Do I look for another job, knowing it isn’t going to last more than a few years? Or, do I stick it out where I’m at? We’ve discussed our future career plans, but always in somewhat vague terms. But when you’re reaching the end of your rope, you need a concrete plan to hold onto, not vague ideas.

In the end, we decided my best course of action was to stick with this job for one more year. If things continue to go as planned, I’ll have my car loan paid off by Spring of 2016. From there, my expenses decrease considerably, and I should be able to start socking away some cash. Once the Winter weather hits, things will slow down at work, and I’ll have some breathing room. Not only will I be able to catch up and de-stress, but I’ll also be able to use up some of the vacation time I’ve been socking away. I’ll start to have a little more free time to be able to work on my plans for the future.

By the end of this year, Bryan should have a better idea of what his future holds. He’s not sold on what he wants to do career wise; Stick with his union job as long as possible, or retire into a business of his own. Sticking with my current job for another year gives him a chance to consider his options. He’s really liking the idea of moving to another state. In a year, we may be in a position to take the plunge.

So, I went into work this week with an end in sight. And you know what? It really did make things better. I was still overwhelmed and working long hours, but I no longer had the same sense of frustration and defeat. All of this was temporary. I just have to stick with the financial plan, and start working towards my future. The current job is just a means to an end.

And I can do anything temporarily.

  • Cindy W.

Gardening is one of Bryan and my favorite shared hobbies. Which makes it seem odd that I’ve barely mentioned our garden this year! This season has been one of the craziest I can remember: The “April Showers” lasted well into June. Then it got hot. And dry. Then cold. And sometimes wet again. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the weather each day. Our hostas got so confused, some of them bloomed twice! The inconsistency was terrible for most of our garden.

But, oh, the Jalapenos!

Jalapeno Pepper PlantsIn 2014, we planted a couple of jalapeno plants, and a sweet and hot banana pepper (along with other veggies). They did okay, but couldn’t keep up with our consumption. We love stuffed jalapenos! Cut them in half length wise, remove the seeds and white membrane, stuff them with cream cheese, wrap them in half a slice of thin, cheap bacon, stick a toothpick through it to hold it all together and throw them on the grill (or in the oven) until the bacon is cooked to your liking. We did the same with the banana peppers, although we mainly grow those for a friend. Sometimes we varied it up, adding spices, chopped green onions, or shredded chicken to the cream cheese. Mmmm!!!

We ate a lot of jalapenos in 2014. And, since our garden couldn’t keep up, that means we bought a lot of jalapenos. So this year, we decided we needed to plant more! We planted 6 regular jalapeno plants, one Mucho Jalapeno, and one Nacho Jalapeno. FYI: We still have no idea what Mucho or Nacho Jalapenos are. They pretty much turned out just like the other jalapenos.

And, as luck would have it, 2015 was a great year for jalapenos for us! Maybe a little too great…

We started getting (and eating!) jalapenos very early in the year. At least once a week we were cooking up stuffed jalapenos. We had parties and made stuffed jalapenos. But no matter how many we ate, the jalapenos kept coming. We gave them away. We ate more. And more! But there are only so many jalapenos that the stomach can handle. Eventually it became clear: We’d planted WAY TOO MANY JALAPENOS!

We were running out of options. So, I took to the internet! What exactly does one do with what was quickly multiplying into hundred of jalapenos? I found an answer: Jalapeno Jelly!

Never heard of jalapeno jelly? Me neither! It sounded totally weird! But, I needed something to do with all the extra jalapenos. And the jelly could be canned, and used over the next year!

Making jalapeno jelly

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t raised in a home where canning happened; My Mom was a modern woman, who rarely cooked things that didn’t come from a box. I was taught that canning was an exact and delicate science: One wrong move (or ingredient!) and you’d wind up killing your friends and family with botulism. The FDA exists for a reason! But, desperate times call for desperate measures. I couldn’t let our jalapenos go to waste!

In case you’re interested, I followed the recipe at Mel’s Kitchen Cafe for my jalapeno jelly. To the letter, because, you know, botulism!

So, what exactly do you use jalapeno jelly on? Well, pretty much anything! I started putting it on Triscuits with creamed cheese.

Jalapeno jelly on TriscuitWe also used it as a dipping sauce for grilled pork. We gave some away to friends. At first, they all thought we were crazy. But then they started trying it on a variety of things: Cheesecake. Chicken. Spoons. Seriously, it’s like crack!

Unfortunately, it only takes 10 jalapenos to make a batch. I had hundreds of jalapenos. Hundreds! There was no way we’d ever use that much jelly! I needed another idea.

Next I tried these pickled jalapenos from Leite’s Culanaria. They kind of have an Asian twist. I liked them, although, if I made them again, I’d probably remove some of the seeds: They were a little spicy for my taste! Unfortunately, they aren’t “shelf stable”, and eight peppers made a little over a pint and a half. Not a lot of help for my hundreds of jalapenos!

Then we tried Candied Jalapenos (AKA Cowboy Candy from Tasty Kitchen). The recipe used 3 pounds of jalapenos! And they could be canned! One batch made around 4 pints. But it took a while to know how they turned out: You’re supposed to wait 2 weeks to 1 month for them to “mellow” before opening.

And? They were pretty awesome! I gave a pint to my sister and her husband, which they (he) polished off in a week. Honestly, they were a little spicy for me. So last weekend I made a second batch, and removed the seeds and white membranes from half the peppers. I’m hoping that will make them about perfect!

The second time around I decided to process them in half pint jars. That way, we can give them away, and people will have an easier time eating them without worrying about them going bad. Have I mentioned my paranoia about killing people off?

But, even with a recipe that called for 3 pounds of jalapenos, we still had a lot left. How much? About four and a half pounds. Plus 3 pounds of banana peppers. As good as the Candied Jalapenos are, I can’t see us eating them all the time. Luckily, I had one option left: Plain, old-fashioned canning. I used the Ball Canning website to find a recipe that would work for both jalapenos and banana peppers.

Sliced peppersI spent a lot of time slicing peppers. We have enough jalapenos and banana peppers to last us, well, FOREVER. We’ll definitely be giving these away. Christmas presents, anyone?

So, I canned peppers. Lots, and lost of peppers. I processed the peppers in a variety of ways, and used everything from quarter pint to pint jars. Some of the jars we already had, but we did end up buying several sets. Which explains some of our grocery/household spending this Summer. And it went pretty okay! And, so far, nobody has died!

Canned peppers

Of course, we still have peppers left; We’ll probably get 50 more jalapenos before the frost hits. Of course, the plants are still blooming, so who knows? Maybe I’ll have to do another round of canning before the season ends?

Anybody want a jar of peppers?

  • Cindy W.


I know, I know! It’s only October, and I’m already thinking about the Holidays!

If I’m not going to break my budget, I HAVE to start thinking about the Holidays now. Between food for gathering, Christmas gifts, and a few birthdays between November and January, it ends up being a pretty expensive time of year for me! There isn’t a lot of extra room in my budget, so I have to make a plan for how much, and where, the money is going to come from.

Last year I set aside $800 for Holiday spending. This year, I’m cutting back to $700. I keep going back and forth on how much to budget. I’m really, really bad at overspending when it comes to gifts. I’m just one of those people who always equates gifts with showing someone how much I care. I’ve been trying to work really hard on rethinking how I spend on gifts; After all, it isn’t how much I spend that matters. At 36 years old (almost 37!) this is a lesson I’m still trying to learn. By setting my budget lower this year, I’m hoping to force myself into really thinking about how I’m spending my money. I’m also hoping to force myself into thinking ahead, instead of doing the usual last-minute shopping, which inevitably leads to expensive impulse buys.

Luckily, I already have $600 of my $700 budget saved. Some of that came from extra money I had left in my weekly spending. Some from reimbursements I got. A big chunk came out of my expenses account; Since Bryan is back to paying half the rent, there’s an “extra” $350 a month that I’d been setting aside. In the next week I should have the full $700. Then I’ll switch to putting my extra money towards the car loan.

Here’s a rundown of the expenses I have coming up:

  • Birthdays: Mom, sister, nephew, and mine
  • Birth of a new nephew
  • Food for Thanksgiving Dinner
  • Food for Christmas Dinner
  • Christmas Gifts
    • 1 Grandparent
    • 2 Parents
    • 1 Partner
    • 3 Siblings and 1 In-Law
    • 3 Nephews
    • 3 (+) Co-Workers

So, how do I plan to keep costs down?

I’m talking to my siblings about doing a birthday dinner to celebrate my sister and my birthdays together. No gifts, and everyone pays for their own meal. My birthday is at the beginning of November, and my sister’s is at the end of November. Combining them into one celebration saves everyone money. Hey, my Mom ALWAYS threw us a combined party as kids! I don’t see why we haven’t continued that tradition as adults! That just leaves a birthday gift for my Mom and nephew.

My company usually gives us each a gift certificate to a grocery store for Thanksgiving. It’s more than enough to cover any money I spend on food items for Thanksgiving Dinner (we all bring a couple of dishes), and probably enough to cover part of Christmas Dinner as well. I’m trying to plan out what I’m bringing in advance, so I don’t do my usual last-minute grocery store panic.

The last few years my siblings and I have put a cap on gift spending for each other. I know a lot of families stop giving gifts to each other as adults; We haven’t crossed that bridge yet, but we have limited things to about $20 each. It makes gift giving a little more affordable for everyone.

With my nephews, I’m trying to buy experiences, rather than gifts. They get so many gifts that a lot of things are soon forgotten. They’re also at an age where their tastes are very particular, and wants tend to be pricey! The last 3-4 years I’ve gotten them a gift certificate to Great Wolf Lodge. It’s been a huge hit! But Great Wolf keeps raising their prices, and it’s gotten to the point that a one night stay costs more money than I’m willing to shell out for a Christmas gift. My sister isn’t exactly in the position to pay for the difference, so I let her know last year that the tradition would be coming to an end. I’m thinking this year of maybe buying a one year pass to the Zoo or Children’s Museum. It’s something they could enjoy multiple times throughout the year, and would be easier on my sister with the new baby. A family pass for either one is right around $150, so it’s just a matter of figuring out which they’d get more use out of. I usually get each boy a small, inexpensive ($5-10) gift to open on Christmas morning.

The co-workers I typically buy for each year are all female, so I’m trying to combine rewards and special offers to cover those gifts this year. I’m a rewards member at The Body Shop, and recently earned a $15 reward. I should get another $10 reward for my birthday. I plan to combine the rewards to purchase small jars of their body butter to use as gifts. I usually give each person a small gift and a $5 gift card to Starbucks. I’m using Swagbucks, and taking as many surveys as possible, to try to get those gift cards for free. I’m at 1,018 points right now, which buys me 2 of the $5 gift cards. This week I’ve started using my lunch break everyday to complete some surveys and earn other Swagbucks points. I should definitely be able to cover all the gift cards for work. If I try really hard, I may be able to earn even more gift cards, which I’d use towards family gifts.

The last thing on my list is a gift for the new baby. My plan is to wait until right around his birth, to see what my sister still needs. I want to buy her one big gift, and make sure it’s something she’ll get a lot of use out of. Her late fiance’s family has been sending her a lot of gifts from out-of-town, so there aren’t too many things she has left that she really needs. The baby is due early December, but she’s having a lot of issues with pre-term labor, so he’ll likely be early. I should have a better idea of what I’ll be buying her in the next month, and then will start working on bargain shopping.

It isn’t a perfect plan, but hey, it’s still early in the season! And this is the first year I’m attempting to really cut costs, instead of just sticking to a budget. I consider this a learning year; Hopefully I’ll learn some important lessons, and be able to do even better next year! I definitely think I’ll start sooner next year on the Swagbucks! I don’t know why I didn’t put more effort into earning points earlier this year.

Any suggestions on how to save during the Holidays? What are you doing to keep Holiday costs down?

  • Cindy W.

The month of September is officially gone! I’ll be honest, spending was a little higher this month that I would have liked. But then, there was a wedding. And a few other big spending items, both expected and otherwise:

Where the money went - September 2015

Where the money went – September 2015

Reminder: Since Bryan and I keep separate finances, this does not include any of his spending!

My first reaction when I ran the numbers was complete confusion: How did I spend more than I made?!? AGAIN!!! I spent $2,726 in the month of September. I earned $2,569. That means I spent $157 more than I earned. How is that possible? Then I realized that some of my spending had been planned and saved for in advance. Looking at my September net worth chart, I saw that my “Liquid Assets” had decreased by $224. Which then made me realize I have $67 worth of spending that is unaccounted for this month.

Admittedly, my tracking system is imperfect. And, with lots of people in town for my sister’s wedding, and several family events going on, there was a lot of cash changing hands. I’d put something on my card, and someone would give me cash. Then I’d pay for something else with cash. And, of course, there was alcohol involved. Where did the cash come from, and where did it go? I have no idea!

Back to the spending!

Bryan’s feeling a little better about his financial position, so I’m back to paying only half of our rent. I’ve shifted the “saved” $350 into a holding account for Holiday Spending. I’m working towards $700 this year. Somehow, I’ve managed to put $600 into it already! Once that account is full, that extra money will get funneled into the car loan. Our grocery spending was also the lowest it’s been since I’ve started tracking! I did have some restaurant spending this month, but it was all related to my sister’s wedding, so I tucked it into “Wedding Related Expenses”. Is that cheating? I don’t know. Maybe? But, those meals were saved for as part of the wedding, so that’s how I’m categorizing them!

As life tends to go, Bryan met me at the “non-rehearsal dinner” the night before the wedding and greeted me with the unexpected “Your dog has worms.” I pretty much just stared at him in disbelief.

What?!? How?!? Eww!!!

The first thing I did Saturday afternoon when I got home was call the vet. Apparently, the vet’s office doesn’t feels that worms are the emergency I felt they should be. But they managed to squeeze us in for an appointment that Tuesday, and went ahead and scheduled all of Hannah’s annual wellness stuff at the same time. She had a tape worm, which was easily taken care of with 2 magical little pills taken 3 weeks apart. The worm cost us ~$65. Vaccines, heart worm testing and prevention, and physical exam made up the remaining $200. I’ve never batted an eye on spending money on Hannah’s health, and as such, that spending is part of my annual plan. Owning a pet is not cheap! But I think she’s worth every penny!

Health & Beauty was a mix of different things I spent money on this month. When I look back, it was mainly related to moisturizing: Face lotion, eye cream, body butter. Winter is coming, people! More than half of that was on body butter: $61 to be exact. I have a hard time finding products that don’t contain something I’m allergic to. Honestly, not itching like crazy every day has been amazing, along with not having to explain the red welts and blotches, so I’m more than willing to spend more money on the products I use. There was a buy 3, get 3 free deal at the place I buy the body butter. Plus I get 10% off. Plus I got a $15 gift card (which I’ve decided to use towards Christmas gifts), which made it a pretty good deal. And that amount of body butter will last me a really, really long time!

I would have liked to have spent less, but overall I’m comfortable with my money choices in September. I still managed to meet my goals, like the extra $700 towards the car loan. I even amazed myself by getting ahead on Holiday savings. It isn’t perfect, but I’m definitely happy with the progress I’m making!

  • Cindy W.

I’m in a bit of a time crunch, but, as it is officially October, I wanted to go ahead and get my numbers out for September:

Net Worth as of September 30, 2015

Net Worth as of September 30, 2015

The market was rough again this month. I actually thought that I’d end the month flat, but between contributions and a slight upswing in my 401k, I’m ending September $570 ahead of August in overall net worth. Not exactly where I wanted to be, but overall not bad. A gain is a gain!

Of course, month over month, my 401k has lost value. But, in the long run, that’s a good thing. I’m still in purchasing mode, so right now I’m able to buy at a discount. Someday I’ll be thankful for all of the little downturns throughout the years.

I’m also continuing the upward trend for this year:

Chart of net worth growth since the start of time (or the start of this blog)

Chart of net worth growth since the start of time (or the start of this blog)

Every little bit helps!

  • Cindy W.