For anyone that has not seen this toy, simply do a search for flying slingshot monekys and you should find a multitude of sites selling them, many with videos showing how they work. They are basically small toy monkeys with stretchy hands/arms. You launch them into the air and they fly through the air like a slingshot and make a screaming sound as they do so. I have a goofy sense of humor and I am dying to get some of these as gag gifts for friends and family. I had seen these in catalogs for pricing in the range of 3 for $30.00 plus shipping. It did not occur to me to do a web search until yesterday. Imagine my delight to find them priced much more reasonably all over the web. My problem is now my DH who runs a side business/hobby selling things at flea markets. He would call it a business since he has good cash flow. I would call it a hobby since the cash goes right back out for more merchandise. He wants to order them wholesale and sell them for the holiday season. I found a decent price but am loathe to purchase without having the money already set aside. To me, it is just one more thing he will be spending money on and running up credit card bills. He has no problem with this - I have huge problems with this. However, I concede that he is right about the timing - before the holidays is the time to be selling them. They could be sold for about $5 and would make a great small gift for a child or a great gag gift for an adult (okay, one like me who has a weird sense of humor. I prefer to think of it as a playful sense of humor but then I am also known to hide rubber cockroaches in my kids rooms to "surprise" them.) Anyway, I am trying to decide to buy or not buy 100 flying slingshot monkeys. It would cost about $200 max including shipping and I could get him to sell them for $5 each. There would be no additional outlay as he is already going to the market anyway. So, to buy or not buy, that is the question.
After a nice Thanksgiving Dinner, I joined the Black Friday madness, with a twist. I was working, not shopping! My DD 16 recently started a job at a big new "Premium Outlet" center about 15 minutes from our house. The outlet center just opened the first week in November and had a slew of opening week sales. Traffic was insane that first weekend. You would think nobody had ever had a place to shop before (instead of being about 20 minutes from a huge mall - one of the largest on the east coast). Anyway, the stores were opening at 12:00 am on Thursday night/Friday morning and they needed people to help out. DD could not work since she is not allowed to work that late according to PA state child labor laws. Must be over 18. Many employees at many stores are 16 and 17 yo teenage girls so many stores were doing the same thing - recruiting friends/family to help out with the overnight shift. They were offering $10/hour, paid in cash immediately after the shift so I said, what the heck. I figured it would keep me from even being tempted to get up early to join the madness. My plan was work from 12:00 to 8:00 am, go home and sleep til 2:00, thus missing all chances to join the crazy early morning madness.
I was not sure what traffic would be like that night so I got there a bit early and just waited in my car. I got there at 11:30 pm and the stores were not opening til 12:00. I had not trouble parking and the lot was about 1/4 full when I got there. By the time I went into the store at 11:50, the lot was 3/4 full and traffic looked like it was backed up for miles. I worked til 3:30 am and was released to go home early due to the rush dying down and them having over scheduled people. No problem for me since I did not really relish the idea of staying up all night. When I left at 3:30 am there were still plenty of people milling around the mall and the lot was about 1/2 full. Every available space had been taken at one point and people were still parked all over any additional space like grass, islands etc. All I can say is people are crazy. My dd went with me to meet some friends and they left around 1:30 am. She did not even buy anything and said the deals were not really any better than they had been around opening weekend. Yet, people were lined up outside the stores before they opened. The Coach store was apparently having a 20% off sale and people were driving an hour or two just to get there. Wonder if what they spent in gas and coffee, snacks offset any savings they may have gotten? Again, people are crazy. I just found myself saying that over and over on Black Friday watching the madness. I went home at 3:30 and went to bed - I did not even want to be tempted to shop. (Although I must admit to getting up before noon and hitting two sales for holiday gifts that were already planned for.)
This weekend was thankfully way less expensive than last week. Friday I did do some holiday shopping but it was all with money I had already set aside for gifts. I am about 1/2 way done with shopping for my 4 kids but since we celebrate Hannukah at home (DH is Jewish) I have to hurry up. I have already started wrapping things. I find (with credits to Flylady) that I am much less stressed if I start wrapping things ahead of time and just wrap two or three things a night. I can fit this into a five to 10 minute block of time and by the time the holidays are here, everything is done. No last minute, late night wrapping session in a panic to get it done. Also, having things wrapped is a great way to thwart those who would like to sneak and peek to see what their gifts might be. I also go out of my way to wrap things in unusual ways, use unusual containers, boxes etc. to help prevent guessing. My two oldest DD's are teens and prefer to pick out many things themselves. I have no problem with this but I think it is less fun if you know what most things are before you even open them. So, I cleverly disguise things so that they are still surprised. For example, I might put books in some sort of round container and wrap that, put small things in larger boxes, stuff shirts etc. into small boxes - anything to disguise what things really are. My DD 16 picked out some boots she really wanted and I said I would put them away for a holiday gift. I am going to do my best to disguise them. I might even just wrap a piece of paper with the word boots on it and put it in a tiny box. She is expecting me to try to trick her so I will have to really use my imagination on this one. I love to see the look of surprise on their faces when they think they know what something is and then they unwrap it, only to find that it is something else entirely.
I realized this morning that yesterday marks one year ago that I started this blog. This time last year we were worried about DH finding a job (took til end of April to find a decent job) and living off of savings. This year DH has a decent job, health benefits again (we were paying $1000 a month COBRA last year) and we are working on building savings back up rather than spending them down. We do have some debt incurred as a result of his long unemployment but I am slowing working on paying that down. Anyway, things are definitely better this year than this time last year. With that in mind and next week being thanksgiving, here is just a short list of some of the things I have to be thankful for. I find this really helps me when I am feeling sorry for myself, discontented etc. - to focus on what I do have as opposed to what I do not.
1) DH and 4 healthy children
2) My mom
3) My mastiff babies
4) A warm, dry safe home
5) DH is employed with benefits and a regular paycheck!!!!!
6) Savings for emergencies and unexpected bills (like extra tires and a truck cap!)
7) My basic frugal nature - we would not have made it thru this last year without this.
8) This community of like minded people - it really helps to know others out there are on the same wave length and you are not fighting the fight alone.
There are many more but I'll save that for some other time.
I took my car in on Friday to get new tires. I had planned ahead, priced them out and got a deal for buy 3, get 1 free. I might have done a bit better if I really shopped around on price but I got them at our local STS tire place where I have had good service in the past, plus they come with guarantee on free rotation, free patching etc. I had gotten my last set of tires from them and found this well worth it. Plus, they are close by and will usually squeeze me in when I have any sort of emergency. So, I like to give them business when possible. Anyway, I had known I needed new tires, had gotten an estimate a few weeks ago and set aside the money. Well, DH also turned out to need two new tires. I knew he needed them but did not think they were as bad as they were. My plan was to price out the new tires and set the money aside again and get them in a few weeks. Well, turns out that his were worse than mine and so we also had two new tires put on his truck. Of course, tires for his truck are much more expensive than for my van so that was money I was not expecting to spend this week. I have plenty in savings to cover it, I am just trying to slowly rebuild savings so I hate to have to take it out if not absolutely necessary. I much prefer to preplan and save ahead. That alone would not have been so bad but DH also discovered this week that the vinyl trundle cover for his truck bed is tearing and leaking. He decided that he MUST have a cap for his truck NOW! I was not of the same opinion but he did manage to find a used fiberglass cap which fit his truck and got it installed for a little less than $600. A new cap of the same type would run over $1200 plus installation so I am glad that he was able to find a used one and was more than happy with it. It gives me hope that perhaps my money habits are rubbing off on him after all. After 21 years of marriage, one would certainly hope so! Anyway, it was not great timing with the holidays coming up and gifts still to buy but we will make it work out without taking too much out of the savings account. I already have the money set aside for my tires and when I get paid this week it will cover his tires. Now all I have to do is save the extra $600 for the cap. Easier said than done but I can always put my next cleaning check towards that and all will be covered. I just now need to buy the rest of our holiday gifts out of our regular household budget or wait til I get my check at the end of November. Either way, I am glad we are in a much better financial position than we were this time last year so I cannot complain.
I know I am not as good at this as some but there is nothing I like better than getting things I will use for free. I have greatly increased my ability to do this by doing the following:
1) Clip coupons for all groceries I would use, even if it is not something I would buy all the time. If I would use it if the price was right (ie. free) then I will clip it. I file my coupons alphabetically and this takes less than 1 hour total a week. I do it while I am watching TV.
2) Scan the grocery store sales circular weekly and see what is on sale that I would use,and that matches coupons I have. I also keep a running list of things I need to buy and try to match coupons to that also.
3) Bring my coupons with me. I have them in a little index card file box and always take the whole box to the store. This way, I can always take advantage of a surprise sale.
4) Shop stores on double or triple coupon days if available. My regular store doubles coupons up to $.99 every day - I love it.
5) Keep my eye out for unmarked sales on items I use regularly and also try to combine with a coupon.
By using these 5 steps, I usually can net a few free items each week as a part of my regular weekly shopping trip. For example, Betty Crocker Scalloped Potatoes (yes, from scratch is better but the kids love these and I have been known to make them) on sale $1.00 each. I combined this with a coupon for $.50 off which doubled to FREE. Another example, Fleischmans Yeast 3 pack strip, on sale for $1.50. I prefer to buy jar or even from the natural foods store but combined with $.45 coupon, doubled to $.90 plus register coupon for $.50 off next grocery order brought my cost down to $.10 for the strip. Not free, but not bad at all.
I have never been a believer in getting into debt for holiday gifts but with money being tight these last few years I am finding it even more important to fund my holiday shopping without resorting to credit. That is not to say that I don't use some credit cards to purchase on-line etc, just that they are paid in full so there is no lingering holiday debt come the new year. Here are just a few of the ways I accomplish a debt free holiday:
1) Commit to spending only what you can afford. If you will be tempted to overspend with credit cards, don't use them at all. If you cannot afford it, don't buy it just because someone else tells you that you should.
2) Start setting aside small bits of money each week or so during the summer or even earlier in the year if you can. If you can take 10, 15 or 20 dollars that you would otherwise spend on something else and set it aside (I transfer it to my ING account) do so - you can easily have a few hundred dollars set aside before you even need to begin shopping.
3) Take all small amounts from sources like rebates, survey sites, rolled coins and add them to your stash. This easily gives me at least another $100.
4)Plan out your gift needs. I poll my 4 kids and try to find out what they want, what they need and what I think they will really use. If it is really expensive, they know I won't be buying it so no personal computers, personal cell phones, etc. for my kids. We have bought a new family computer, PS2 and other larger gifts but they were family gifts and were bought during years when we could afford the extra expense.
5) Shop the sales, look for coupons, rebates, on-line deals etc. My youngest daughter loves crafts. Last year I got her several craft kits, all purchased at 40% to 50% off with coupons from Michaels, AC Moore or Joannes
6) Participate year round in retailers loyalty programs and use your credits/coupons to purchase gifts. I have a credit card which gives me gift certificates to Toys-R-Us. I only use it for purchases that require a credit card and it is always paid in full but I have managed to accumulate $30. I will be able to use this to buy a few gifts and hopefully combine this with store sales. Many other stores have this type of program. Even if you only net a few gifts this way, it is that many less that you need to pay for.
7) Do your research and try to make sure you are purchasing at the best price. Some things I like to see in person before I buy them. I pre-research on-line and then hit the stores. If I like it and the store price is good, I buy it while I am there. If it is significanly cheaper, I buy it on-line now that I have seen it and know that I really want it.
8) Talk tactfully to family and friends to cut back on gift giving. Last year DH was unemployed. I spoke to several family friends who we routinely has exchanged gifts with "because we had always done so". With several it had gotten to the point where we really did not know what to get their kids and they really did not know what to get ours. Both sides were more than happy to retire the gift giving tradition with no hard feelings.
9) If you are talented in a particular area, get creative and give a gift that makes use of your talent. I like to sew and do crafts so I have given my nieces presents in past years that were handmade and cost less than if I would have had to buy them.
10) Most important, remember the spirit of the season is what is important, not the size of the gift or the price tag.
Although money is tight this year, I refuse to ignore the need to save for retirement. I am using money refunded to us for healthcare expenses to fund this years IRA contribution. My DH has a flex benefits account that reimburses us for out of pocket health costs. Since we already spent the money, I take the refund checks and earmark them for our retirement savings. It is money we do not miss since is has already been spent. With 4 kids and 4 people in the family, between glasses, contacts, dentist visits, doctors office co-pays etc. we should have no problem meeting our plan max of $2500. That means I will have $2500 to add to the retirement savings without having to further stretch our budget.
I feel like I go thru weeks where nothing on great interest is going on financially so I get lazy about blogging. Actually, I should find the fact that things are chugging along much more exciting given the fact that this time last year DH was unemployed and we were living off our emergency fund. We still have debt to pay off from his unemployment period but otherwise things are back on track, bills are getting paid, small amounts are going to savings etc. I think the biggest challenge for me is to keep paying in cash for large purchases. I don't mean literally always cash, but putting the money aside before making the purchase. Right now my car needs four new tires sometime in the next few months, and DH's call will need a major tuneup and 2 tires. I have no problem remembering that these things are coming up but I keep having to remind DH and play the budget bully and it is a role that gets tiresome. My oldest DD wants to go for her drivers license soon but we want her to complete a driver's ed course - both for her safety and for the insurance discount. It runs about $400 for the on-the-road portion. His response, just call and sign her up. Mine, after I have the money set aside and by the way I am still trying to put aside money for the tires, tuneup etc. Oh yeah - and the holidays are coming up and I insist on only paying cash for gifts so I still have to deal with that. Her drivers ed might just have to wait a month or so. It is not like we have a third car for her to drive whenever she wants so I am not sure what the hurry is. That is another sore subject. He feels (and of course she adds her agreement - not that she should have a say in it) that we "need" to get a third car so that she will have something to drive. My response - she will have something to drive when she saves up the money and buys it! Argh! And on it goes. Sometimes is feels like I am the only responsible adult in my household. I don't expect it from my 16 yo DD but is it too much to expect from the 44 yo husband?
I made some really yummy and really inexpensive vegetable soup about two weeks ago. It was so good and the weather right now is perfect for soup so I am planning to make another large pot this afternoon. It is easy to make and one of those things that you can kind of throw in whatever veggies you have on hand and use up stuff that might have otherwise gone to waste. Another plus is it is low in calories but really filling and healthy - all at the same time. Who could ask for more!
The basic recipe is to take a cup each of carrots, celery and onion and saute in a bit of olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add a clove or two of garlic. Simmer another few minutes but don't let the garlic burn. Then when everything begins to get a bit soft, add chicken stock (a quart or even two, depending upon how much soup you want to make). Also add a can or two of whole peeled tomatoes, but breaking them up with a spoon or your fingers before putting them in along with their liquid. Bring to a boil and add whatever other veggies you want. I used about 1-2 cups of green beans and shredded cabbage - about 3-4 cups. I let this cook a while longer til the beans and cabbage started to soften and then added a bag of baby spinach leaves. My dh and kids took one look and went - EEEW! Their loss and my gain but I will work on converting them anyway.
These days I feel like I need a time machine. Not to go back or forward in time but to somehow make more time in the day. Primarily, I would like to spend it sleeping but really I always feel like I have so much else that I could/should be doing. I feel like my weekends, which should be spent relaxing and recharging, are spent running kids around and doing things around the house. So, I never quite seem to get to the things that would relax me, the things that I really want to do like sewing, quilting or scrapbooking. And, when I ever do have the time, I don't really want to spend the money on the materials so I am basically driving myself crazy, spinning myself in circles. I feel like my dogs must feel when they try to chase their own tails. Almost got it, almost got it, then they fall over dizzy from trying. Lately I have been wanting to find an extra source of income but that gets me right back to the issue of time. If I don't have enough time as it is, how will I find the time to generate additional income. I am basically ranting to myself here so feel free to ignore. I think it comes down to me just feeling stressed out and stretched at both ends. I really need my DH and kids to kick in and help out more but getting them to do that seems like another whole project that I do not have time for. ARGH! I guess what I will have to do is attack this situation one step at a time. The first step should really be to start with myself and see what I could be doing better. I know I waste time in the evenings. I go upstairs to get the youngest two ready for bed and end up laying on my bed watching TV while waiting for them and almost falling asleep. Once I get into that zone, it is a hard place for me to get myself out of. I think my first step will be to limit the amount of TV I watch to 1 hr a day. That way, if there is something I really want to watch, I can but I will stop the mindless zoning out which puts me into a very non-productive mood. So, tonight, Grays's Anatomy and nothing else. I will see if I feel like I accomplish more and feel less stressed. This other thing I will try to do is analyze the chores I have to do on a regular basis and see which can be turned over to the kids as part of their chores/allowance. Feeling better already. Sometimes a good rant is just what the doctor ordered. But, if anyone has a spare time stretcher that they would like to donate, I'm still interested.