Category Archives: Budgeting & Frugality

Guess What We Did Yesterday…

More importantly, guess what my husband did yesterday! Check it out:

That’s my husband Mike front and center (in the blue shirt) at the New York Stock Exchange, ringing the closing bell to celebrate Foot Locker Inc’s 100th year of trading. No big deal.

(OMGSOFREAKINGAWESOME!!!!!!!!!)

While he was doing that, the kids and I engaged in our own shenanigans. We window shopped at the Lego Store, ate from a Halal cart, rode subway trains galore, hunted for dinosaurs and whales at the American Museum of Natural History, and hit up Toys R Us & the Disney Store in Times Square.

Oh hi there, polar bear! The Hall of Ocean Life at AMNH might just be my children’s new favorite place on the face of the earth.

Once Mike was done, we caught up with him to eat dinner at Junior’s and then headed over to the High Line, a 1.5 mile long elevated park built on an old freight rail line. How I’ve never heard of the High Line before, I’ll never know, but one thing I do know is we’ll be back there every time we go into the city. If you’re ever in NYC, be sure to check it out and take a beautiful little urban hike.

Sunset view from the High Line.

We had such a fun time and managed to keep our day trip mostly frugal: total travel, food and purchase costs were under $150 (half of which was our dinner splurge rolleyes). As a family we don’t go away on “big” vacations  (although we do try to visit Cape Cod for a few days in the off-season), but that allows us to fit smaller “staycation” outings like this one into our budget. Also, we’re lucky to live in an area with so much to offer, such as trips to NYC, the beach, camping, etc. There’s something really cool and fun about taking the time to discover what your own backyard has to offer.

Do you “staycation”? If so, what are some of your favorite local things to do for fun in lieu of going away on vacation? Share with us in the comments section below!

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Help Me Choose a New Pair of Eyeglasses!

I need a new pair of prescription eyeglasses. I have only one pair, and with two rambunctious young kids the reality is it’s only a matter of time before they Hulk-smash that baby into bits and pieces (yes, it’s happened before… twice).

I picked my friends’ brains over Facebook one day for an affordable source of secondary spectacles, and my brother offered up the socially responsible warbyparker.com. He said he’d seen them featured on a news report and learned that for every pair purchased they donated a pair to the less fortunate. I was intrigued by this, and checked them out. Here’s a summary of what they do (from their Facebook page):

Warby Parker sells boutique-quality prescription eyewear for $95 exclusively through our website, www.warbyparker.com, and donates a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair sold. Polycarbonate prescription lenses with anti-reflective and anti-scratch coatings are included in the price and we offer free shipping, free returns and free home try-ons every day.

We believe that everyone has the right to see. Unfortunately, millions of people around the world today don’t have access to proper vision care. To help address this problem, we partner with renowned non-profits, such as Restoring Vision, to deliver one pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair that we sell. In doing so, we enable you to share the gift of vision with someone who can’t see today and give them the opportunity to read, to work and to live a fuller life.

If you want to check out the whole shebang, you can click HERE and head over to their website for all the deets.

I have a diamond shaped face, which is notoriously difficult to find appropriate frames for. I sort of need to try on frames before I buy them, but I didn’t want to go to a brick and mortar shop and pay up the wazoo for new glasses (since my insurance doesn’t cover another pair for about 15 more months).  You might be thinking “Whoa! $95 isn’t exactly cheap when you could get a pair for $10 bucks”… I knew I could get a pair cheaper online, but I didn’t want to gamble my money on glasses that may or may not look good on me. And considering my last pair of glasses was over $200 after insurance, $95 doesn’t seem so bad. AND considering that someone less fortunate is gaining a needed pair of eyeglasses at my minor expense is totally worth the slightly “higher” cost.

One of my favorite things about Warby Parker that sets it apart from other online prescription eyeglass retailers is their Home Try-On program. You can order 5 pairs of frames that you’d like to try on at home (you get five days to decide, with no obligation to buy!) and it includes free shipping both ways. So that’s what I did.

Now I need your help, as I’m redonkulously indecisive about these kinds of things and it’s kind of a big deal for me to pick the right ones since they’ll be on my face every. single. day. Below are the four frames I’m stuck on – one pair was definitely a no-go, so I didn’t bother including it. Check them out, and help me decide which nerd goggles I should order! And before you say anything, I know I look kind of, um, dweeby. I’m no good at taking pictures of myself, especially in poorly lit bathrooms (or anywhere else for that matter). But I can take comfort in knowing that no matter how lame I look at least there’s no duckface action going on in my photos.

Frame #1: "Winston"

Frame #2: "Bensen"

Frame #3: "Sinclair"

Frame #4: "Preston"

Which pair of frames do you think I should choose? Let me know what gets your vote in the comments section below.

(ps- I’m not being compensated in any way for gushing about the awesomeness of Warby Parker. I just think they’re that awesome.)

Plan Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Part 2): DIY Decorating on a Budget

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’m seeing more and more cars driving down the street with Christmas trees on their roofs. You know what that means… time to decorate for the holidays. It’ll only be a matter of time before your crazy neighbor is using up enough wattage in Christmas lights to power a third world country, so why not jump on the bandwagon and crank out some awesome budget friendly decorations of your own! Here are some of my favorite DIY Christmas decorating ideas/projects, complete with links to the tutorials to get you started:

Gum Drop Pomander Ornament via myblessedlife.net

1. Gum Drop Pomander Ornament: These are awesome. I detest the taste of gum drops, but they are so pretty and festive that I love to see a functional use for them other than bedazzling the sides of gingerbread houses (or eating, blech). As I was cruising the web I came across a great tutorial for a gum drop wreath also. Check it out. I never realized that gum drops could inspire such awesome, dirt cheap projects!

Paper Stars via themagiconions.blogspot.com

2. Hanging Paper Stars: All you need is some thick square paper (the packs of scrapbooking paper you get at craft stores are perfect!), scissors, glue and ribbon to make these. I have them hanging in my home year-round, they’re a great way to add color to our home and an inexpensive way to decorate.

ROY G BIV Wreath via kojodesigns.blogspot.com

3. ROY G BIV Wreath: Cut, poke, hang. Love it. I imagine it can probably be made with felt instead, since we don’t all have piles of colorful woolen felted sweaters just laying around waiting to be repurposed.

Baby Sock Advent Calendar via marthastewart.com

4. Baby Sock Advent Calendar: Holy cuteness, batman. I already have the advent calendar from my childhood that my mom gifted to us a few years back, but if I didn’t, don’t think for a hot second that I wouldn’t be using this as an excuse to hang 25 adorable itty bitty baby socks in my home.

Cedar Wreath "Chandelier" via marthastewart.com

5. Cedar Wreath “Chandelier”: Oh Martha, you went and did it again, you made me swoon. The queen of craft made hanging a bunch of dying branches over your table look elegant. This is why, no matter how much she gets under my skin, Martha Stewart and her posse of glue gun-wielding goons will always have a place in my heart.

Pine Cone Garland via twigandthistle.com

6. Pine Cone Garland: Although I’m a total technicolor addict, I adore the look of simple, natural decorations. This garland couldn’t be easier, and if you live near a wooded area you can make use of mother nature’s free supplies!

Pompom Pine Cone Forest via letsgoflyakiteuptothehighestheight.blogspot.com

7. Pompom Pine Cone Forest: Speaking of pine cones, THIS. And I’m pretty sure I need some rad little retro fawn figurines in my life…

Pine Cone Trees via momtastic.com

8. Pine Cone Trees: Just how many things can we do with pine cones? Like, a gazillion, fo’ realsies. Pine cones were born to be craft-assaulted. This one reminds me of the project we did in preschool involving paint and glitter. Spray paint makes this a grown up version of that childhood project, but I personally think it could use a little glitterizing also. Just sayin’.

Orange Pomanders via thatartistwoman.org

9. Orange Pomanders: My mom always did these with us for Christmas. I’m pretty sure she still does them to this day. Orange pomanders scream “it’s the holiday season!” and they smell amazing to boot. We always had ours in a bowl on tabletop, but I love how Gail from thatartistwoman.org hangs hers.

Salt Dough Ornaments via diyalert.com

10. Salt Dough Ornaments: No DIY Christmas decorating list is complete without mentioning salt dough ornaments. I’ve done these the past two years in a row with my kids, and it’s becoming a favorite holiday decorating to-do. They also make great keepsakes for young kids to make and gift to the grandparents.

Do you have any great budget-friendly DIY Christmas decorating ideas? Share them with us in the comments section! And if you’ve got any cool Christmas craft tutorials on your blog leave your link below so we can check them out!

You can find part 1 of the “Plan Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” series HERE. Stay tuned for upcoming posts on frugal holiday entertaining and gift giving ideas. Don’t forget to sign up to follow the blog and receive new post notifications via email.

Plan Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Part 1): The Budget

"Hey old man, who the heck are you?"

As I write this, there are 8 weeks left until Christmas. I know I know, how dare I mention Christmas when we haven’t even made it past Halloween! It’s getting pretty hard to ignore when my weekly trip to Costco gives me front row viewing to the giant wall o’ wrapping paper and inflatable Santa-themed yard decorations. A quick run to Walmart with the kids was instantly detoured so that the goobers could check out strings of blinking lights and artificial Christmas trees. My cashier at the grocery store was humming Jingle Bells the other day. Whether you want to hear it or not, Christmas is 8 weeks away.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve fallen privy to the Christmas mad dash: last-minute gift shopping, excessive baking, wrapping until the sun comes up… and then there’s the subsequent credit card bill that always seems to hit the mailbox by December 26th. Just the thought of it all gives me heart palpitations. With a little planning though, you can bypass that holiday anxiety and give yourself the gift of a peaceful Christmas.

There’s so much to do during the holiday season; shopping, decorating, baking, traveling, parties… the list goes on. But none of that is possible without a budget. Ideally you’ve socked away money here and there throughout the year to put towards your holiday spending, but fear not if that minor detail slipped your mind over the past 10 months. Regardless of how much (or how little) you have, the goal is to spend less than what you’ve got.

1. Make a list. 

In this case, Santa knows best. Make your list and check it twice, but don’t limit yourself to the gift-giving kind. Grab a pen and write down all of the expenses you anticipate this holiday season: gift giving, decorations, food, new outfits, travel costs, correspondence (i.e. cards and long distance phone calls), charitable giving and whatever else might suit your holiday needs. Try to be as thorough as possible so you aren’t caught off guard by unexpected spending.

2. Figure out how much you can afford.

How much you can afford to spend on Christmas  should not be dictated by the spending limit on your credit card. Unless you have the money saved up to pay off your holiday spending at the end of the month, don’t put yourself into debt buying gifts with borrowed money. And don’t dip into your emergency savings to fund your Christmas; a holiday that you’ve known about for the past 365 days is NOT an emergency. Be honest with yourself over how much you can afford to spend. Just like in everyday life, if your holiday expenses exceed your income then you either must trim back your expenses or find an additional income to finance your spending. If your wallet is feeling a little light this year, don’t worry; there are plenty of ways to enjoy the holiday on a tight budget (stay tuned, I’ll get into more detail on that in upcoming posts). Once you’ve figured out what you need to buy and how much you can afford, take that list from step 1 and assign spending limits to fit your financial needs.

3. Track your holiday spending.

Hold onto your spending to-do list and use it to keep track of how much you spend on your seasonal purchases. You can jot it all down right on your list, or if you really want to be organized scribble up a simple worksheet containing 3 columns: your expenses, your projected budget for each expense, and what you actually spend. If you end up spending a little extra on Grandpa Pete’s gift than you anticipated, no worries, you can cut back somewhere else in your budget to compensate. Keep yourself updated on where you stand financially through the holiday season, and don’t be afraid to tweak your budget to accommodate any changes

4. Pay with cash.

One of the best ways to spend within your limits is to only pay with cash. It’s simple really, you spend what you have on hand and when it’s gone, it’s gone. You can incorporate a cash-envelope system for the holidays, labeling envelopes with each category you spend in (such as gifts, food, decorations, etc.) and placing the designated amount of cash in each envelope. When you need to shop you take along the appropriate envelopes in lieu of credit cards, effectively avoiding the post-holiday debt hangover. The cash-envelope system comes in particularly handy for receipt organization also, as you can keep your receipts in those same designated envelopes just in case you need them for returns.

5. Don’t wait until the last minute!

We’ve all been there before: aimlessly wandering the stores at 5pm on Christmas Eve, grabbing gifts now and figuring out who to give them to later. Christmas Eve impulse shopping might just be the biggest holiday debt offender, sending us over our budgets as we grab frivolous gifts off the shelf with no particular recipient in mind. Planning out your shopping and doing it well before December 24th will help you save money and your sanity.

Do you create a Christmas budget or just wing it? Let us know how you plan to handle your holiday spending season in the comments section below!

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on frugal holiday gift giving, decorating and celebrating ideas. Don’t forget to sign up to follow the blog and receive new post notifications via email.

Budgeting 101: Menu Planning

Menu Planning

Weekly menu plan & company (Emma insisted that her friends make an appearance in the photo shoot)

Once upon a time, I used to stop at the grocery store on the way home from work 2 or 3 (or 4 or 5 or 6) times a week to pick something up to make for dinner. And on the nights that I didn’t stop at the grocery store we ended up at a restaurant or getting takeout for dinner. Granted my husband and I were DINK (Dual-Income-No-Kids) and could afford it at the time, but we were also living paycheck-to-paycheck and the word “savings” was a foreign concept. Money earned was money spent and we never batted an eyelash at a $50 restaurant bill because I was too lazy to pick up $5 worth of ingredients at the store. It wasn’t until I ditched my job to be a stay at home mom and some quick napkin math proved that we couldn’t maintain our fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants lifestyle anymore on a single income that I had even heard of menu planning.  After hours of googling “how to eat on the cheap”, I came across an article on the parenting website cafemom.com on how to save money by planning a week’s worth of meals at a time. And bonus points, it was written by a fellow stay at home mom, so automatically her words were golden to me. It was bumpy at first and required a good deal of determination, but I heeded her advice and soon enough I was a meal planning ninja. Enough backstory, I know you came here looking for the meat of this blog post. So here it is, the basics of menu planning:

What is menu planning? Simply put, it’s planning the meals you’ll be cooking ahead of time.

Who should menu plan? Everyone. Menu planning is an essential tool for following a personal budget. If you eat and you provide your own meals, you should be implementing a meal plan into your routine.

Why plan your meals? In the name of frugality, meal planning is an ultimate budget saver. It allows you to create a grocery list around the exact ingredients you will need to prepare your meals, saving you money in the form of wasted food. It streamlines your grocery shopping trip so you’re not wasting your time and your money. Menu planning can help you buy what you need, not random impulse purchases as you meander the aisles. Also if you’re gung ho about couponing you can use menu plans to coincide your meals with upcoming sales and coupon offers to really maximize the savings potential on your purchases. Planning your meals can help you take advantage of fresh, seasonal produce (which is both a financial and health benefit!). It also eliminates the 5 o’clock scramble to decide what’s for dinner that many times results in a last minute trip through the drive-thru.

How do I menu plan? It’s easy, really. Here’s what I do:

  • Write down my schedule for the week. If I’m having a particularly hectic day, I’ll make sure our meal is quick and easy. This alleviates the craziness of trying to prepare an elaborate dinner when I have only 30 minutes to spare.
  • Shop my pantry. I tend to buy things like meat in bulk when it’s on sale and freeze it, so chances are if I’m planning a meal that calls for boneless chicken breast I can avoid purchasing it at a premium price. I also keep our pantry stocked with the regular-use essentials (like grains, beans, spices, etc) that I try to purchase on sale for the same reasons as the meat. Having a well stocked pantry allows me the convenience of shopping my kitchen and meal planning around food we already have on hand if our weekly budget is tighter than usual.
  • Check the sales flyers. We receive the weekly sales flyers for two major grocery stores in the area that I shop at. Before I make a definitive plan, I always check to see what’s on sale. We try to avoid processed foods to help keep our costs down, so my usual pit stops include the front page (where you’ll find the loss-leaders: these are items that are marked down to the point where the store may not make a profit but it relies on them to stimulate more sales), the meat sales, and the produce sales. If something is on sale at a particularly attractive discount, I make sure to incorporate it into our meal plan and more often than not purchase an excess amount to store away and use at a later date.
  • Write down my menu for the week. First I start with dinners. I choose a main dish for each day, and then a complimentary side dish to go along with it. How do I know which dishes to choose? Is broccoli on sale this week? Then I might google dishes with broccoli and try a new recipe. Or I might pull a tried and true broccoli recipe from my brain/recipe box/cookbook and add it to the menu plan. If it’s an easy recipe I’ll pencil it in for a busy day, or if it’s more involved I’ll make sure I can devote a good chunk of time to getting it ready. I reserve the simplest dishes for when my husband is working a night shift: eggs/veggies/toast, english muffin pizzas, no-cook tomato pasta, etc. I make sure that I don’t do similar dishes two days in a row (you’d be surprised how frequently pasta dishes find their way into our weekly menu plan in the name of convenience). The one major prerequisite for dinner is that a vegetable must be present (unless we’re having breakfast for dinner, green beans don’t exactly compliment the waffles!). Once I figure out dinners, breakfasts and lunches are a piece of cake. My family doesn’t eat cereal 98% of the time as we find them either loaded with sugar or too expensive. We get the most bang for our buck health-wise with oatmeal, eggs or homemade yogurt, so those are the most frequent choices on the menu. Lunch is usually sandwiches with raw fruits or veggies, or leftovers from a previous night’s dinner. As for snacks, I make sure to load the shopping cart with tons of fresh produce for the kids to nosh on, the most perishable being purchased in smaller quantities and consumed first, with longer lasting items like apples or carrot sticks hanging around to be eaten later in the week. I leave the breakfasts, lunches and snacks open ended as far as what is eaten on what days so that we feel like there’s enough wiggle room in our menu plan without wasting food. When the menu plan is done, I write it down in my daily planner. This not only helps me keep track of my menu plan if I lose the original one, but I can plan ahead if I need to prepare a portion of the meal earlier in the day (i.e. preparing vegetables, using the crockpot).
  • Create a grocery list. Once I know what we’re making, I do a quick scan of the pantry again, jot down whatever we don’t already have for a particular recipe, check the grocery list against my menu plan and do some quick math to make sure that we’ll stay in our budget for the week, and it’s done. Monday is my grocery shopping day, so I make sure to have the grocery list completed by Sunday evening. That way I’m not rushing around to throw a meal plan together at the last minute.
My personal agenda to mold each and every one of you into a Gingerly Homemaking minion aside, menu planning is important as it ensures that your (and your family’s) nutritional needs are being met, as well as it helps in the management of your grocery budget. In the beginning it might take awhile as you become familiar with planning ahead a week’s worth of meals, but stick with it and you’ll see how easy and convenient it is. If you haven’t already, I urge you to take the leap and start planning your meals ahead of time. Your wallet and your waistline will thank you!
Stay tuned: if you need ideas, I’ll be posting my weekly menu plans on Monday mornings. And if you have any questions or comments about menu planning feel free to ask in the comments section below!