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Friday, February 28, 2014

Seven Things I Don't Really Need: Part 2

Batman paraphernalia is always on my radar
Yesterday, I recapped Dave Ramsey's "Buyer Beware" lesson from Financial Peace University, which was all about how to guard ourselves from clever advertisers who try to entice us into buying tons of products we don't really need. (Click here to read about it if you're awesome.)

I gave you Dave's list of seven common things people buy that they don't really need, and I promised to give you mine. So, without further ado, here are the seven things that Jacob Grant finds difficult to resist.

  1. Eating out. It's not just the food I like, but the experience of going to a restaurant, being served, and not having to do the dishes. I love being given a menu and examining all the various foods to eat, whereas if I stay home and open my fridge, my options are a little less varied. Dani and I have decided not to spend a lot of money on restaurants right now and instead pour every dollar we can into paying off our mortgage. The sacrifice has been... unpalatable.

  2. Movies. I'm a movie nut. I love watching movies. I love collecting movies. When it comes to buying my favorite flicks on blu-ray I prefer to get my hands on whatever multi-disc, specially-packaged, extended director's cut with tons of special features that I can. I've had to significantly cut down the number of movies I purchase, which means I'm much more careful about which ones I buy.

  3. Coffee. I'm not a huge coffee drinker, but I do enjoy specialty lattes and those warm, minty drinks that Dunkin' Donuts serves up at Christmas time. I splurge every now and then, but not as often as I'd like.

  4. A super-powered cell phone. I think, today, cell phones do for a person's prestige that luxury cars did twenty years ago. Before the cell phone, a car was one of the best ways to identify someone's status in society, but today I think the cell phone has taken over. Nowadays people walk around with their cell phones out, texting or browsing the web, just to show off. I had a smart phone once. I loved it! It was a cool little device, but all the bells and whistles that it provided just weren't worth what it was doing to my wallet. And I didn't need a phone threatening to augment my ego.

  5. Jackets. My wife has come to believe that jackets are to guys what shoes are to women. I didn't realize this until I got married and starting asking my guy friends about their inclinations toward jackets and the general consensus was, yeah, guys dig jackets—like, a lot. It's silly, but whenever I see a cool jacket I get this little surge of impulse spending within me.

  6. Batman stuff. As much as I dig movie stuff, I dig Batman stuff even more. For the past 10 years or so I've been working on a collection of 1:6 scale action figures. I have several Batmen and a large section of his rogues gallery, but there's so much more! Every now and then I scout out some prices and add a figure to the wish list, but it's been a while since I've actually purchased one.

  7. Junk food. Ooh-ho! There's nothing I like more than buying a package of Oreo cookies along with a new blu-ray and throwing myself down on the couch for some good ol' movie-watching-Oreo-dunkin'-R&R. Junk food is not only bad for my wallet, but bad for my physical well-being, but still, even that double-edged sword of logic doesn't keep me from indulging every now and then.

So, now that I've aired my dirty laundry, what's yours? What products do you easily succumb to purchasing?

Keep pinchin' :-)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Seven Things I Really Don't Need: Part 1

Dani and I have approached the halfway mark in our facilitating of Financial Peace University at our local church. The Bible-based money management program has attracted about 60 participants, some of whom are beginning to experience some success in their battle against debt.

This week's lesson was about the marketing gimmicks that companies and advertising gurus use to lure us into buying tons of junk we don't need. Think you're immune to their schemes? Think again. A lot of their tactics are subliminal and extremely, extremely clever.

Back in 2006 USA Today reported that some stores have experienced an increase in sales by manipulating people's sense of smell. The Sony Style store, for example, pumps the subtle fragrances of vanilla and mandarin oranges into the store to make you feel so relaxed that you let your guard down. Bloomingdale's uses the faint whiff of baby powder in the baby section and suntan lotion in the summer aisles to help entice people into buying related products.

Companies do extensive studies to figure out how best to hit you. A study of credit card use at McDonald's found that people spent 47% more when using credit instead of cash. It's easier to spend more with a credit card. Plain and simple. And companies are doing surveys and focus groups and other studies every day to learn how to target us—you!—and make you buy stuff.

Repetition. Product placement. Logos. Radio. TV. We all like to think that those advertising schemes are tricking other people, but just because you may be aware of their methods doesn't mean you shouldn't be on your guard.

Dave Ramsey—the guy behind Financial Peace University—lists seven things that people are continually tricked into purchasing that we really don't need. I'll list his seven things, and then I'll list mine (things that are pitfalls for me that I know I don't need, but I sometimes end up buying anyway).
  1. Luxury cable TV packages.
  2. Private schools.
  3. Elaborate vacations.
  4. Eating out.
  5. Expensive gadgets.
  6. Name brand clothing.
  7. Expensive hobbies.
Dave doesn't deny that the above things are fun from time to time—a vacation on the beaches of Florida sounds nice, doesn't it? So does a round of golf with the guys!—but when you're struggling to get out of debt there are sacrifices you have to make. Those seven unnecessary things listed above are great places to start. You don't have to sacrifice them forever, but if you don't start taking the right steps toward financial freedom then you'll simply never get free.

Now, for me, I don't watch a lot of TV, and neither does Dani, so we don't have any kind of cable or satellite TV package. There's a few shows that we like to watch, but we can usually find them online. Neither of us are really into expensive gadgets or brand name clothing, and we don't have any expensive hobbies. But we're not without our pitfalls. Trust me! Want to know what mine are?

Tune in tomorrow!

(You're hooked now aren't you?)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Being Content When Life Isn't As Easy As I Want It To Be

When Life Isn't So Easy
If you remember our crazy lawnmower story from last week, it's easy to see how sometimes God decides to make things a little bit easier for people. Dani and I had spent a lot of time in prayer over our lawnmower situation, and God answered in a big, big way. Today, instead of pushing around an ancient little mower, we are blessed to have a brand new riding mower that was given to us by a very generous anonymous donor.

It's winter now, and for some reason God has decided not to miraculously bless us with a snowblower in the same way—imagine that. As any hardened New Englander will tell you, a snowblower is needed almost as much as a lawnmower up in these here northern parts, but God hasn't answered. It's not like we're expecting another giant yard appliance to simply fall into our laps, but to be offered a good deal on one would be nice, or maybe an affordable plow for the lawnmower. Something. Anything but shoveling it all by hand.

Alas, nothing. Nadda. God hasn't seen fit to answer us in that department.

It occurred to me on my way to work yesterday that whenever I pray for God to bless us with a snowblower, what I'm really asking Him is, "God, please make my life easier." That's what we usually pray isn't it? I mean, really, deep down, it's what we're asking—God, help me earn more money; provide me with a better car; give me a good night's sleep tonight.

Don't get me wrong, these are all good prayers—God wants us to verbalize our every need to Him, and He delights in fulfilling those needs—but I think sometimes we need to take a step back and accept the fact that maybe making our lives easier isn't always God's main objective. Maybe, for now, He wants me out there toiling in the snow by hand. Maybe it's His way of keeping me fit. Maybe He just wants me outside away from the computer, the TV, the phone, and all the other distractions of every day life. Maybe it's His way of spending some time with me.

And I've squandered it all away because I've been too busy moaning over the lack of ease in my life.

I think I'm going to be shoveling snow differently now. I think if that's what God wants me to do then there must be a good reason for it. We'll get a snowblower someday, I'm sure, but for now God wants me out in the snow with a shovel in my hand. I'll try to just trust His judgement and not complain so much... well, I'll probably still complain. A little. But not as much.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pinwheels For Spring!

Recently we had a bit of a warm spell, so I felt the need to transition our home from Winter to Spring. Unfortunately I don't have many Spring decorations, but I figured I could come up with something. I decided to make pinwheels in fun spring colors to decorate the mantle in our living room and the wreath on our door. I had made pinwheels before as part of the grand send-off at our wedding, so after a quick refresher I was on my way.

To make pinwheels you will need colored paper, scissors, a ruler, pins and tape. First I cut out different size squares, for some of them I used scissors that cut with designs to add to a little fun.

Colored paper, scissors, ruler pinwheel

Then you need to cut a diagonal line from each of the 4 corners toward the middle, but don't cut all the way through!

Cut diagonal lines toward the center of the square

Then fold the left corner into the middle and continue until you have 4 corners in the middle. I then placed a pin through the center of the pinwheel and, with a pair of needle-nosed pliers, bent the pin in the back 90 degrees to hold it in place. For some of my pinwheels I layered two different size pinwheels on top of each other to create some texture—if you choose to do this be sure to put the pin through both pinwheels and then bend it.

Fold every other corner piece into the center.

I taped the bent pin down in the back to secure it and then used a piece of florist wire to attach my pinwheel to my burlap wreath.

Pinwheel on a wreath.

For the garland I taped the pin down in the back and then punched a hole through the tips of two of the petals on the pinwheel to feed the yarn through.

Pinwheel garland.

I made too many and so I ended up attaching some of them to craft sticks to display in a vase on top of the mantel and the rest I propped up against picture frames. 

The whole project took me a little over an hour from start to finish and it added a nice splash of Spring to the house! Here's to hoping Spring isn't too far off!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, February 24, 2014

It's OK to Reward Your Hard Work

Back in the fall, Dani and I decided to axe our restaurant budget. We enjoy the pleasure of eating out just as much as the next person, but in our effort to pay down our debt we decided that we could live without going to restaurants for a little while. In doing so, we've saved about $60 a month, or more. That's about $720 a year, which is about one whole mortgage payment for us.

We did our taxes this month—a task I gladly let my more math efficient wife handle—and, though most of our return is going toward the mortgage, we decided to take some of it and treat ourselves to a new restaurant in town. When we got the bill we remembered why we don't go out to restaurants very often, but the momentary splurge was worth it. The restaurant was great. The food was delicious. And we had a good time.

It was a good reminder to us both not to be too stringent when it comes to this whole penny pinching lifestyle. There are times when you've got to open the wallet and just enjoy yourself. There's nothing undisciplined about that. In fact, it's good practice.

In week two of Financial Peace University, Dave Ramsey's daughter, Rachel Cruze, gives a great example of how NOT to be too strict when it comes to your financial rules. Rachel describes a woman who came up to her after a seminar and told her how well her son had been doing saving money. Apparently this 10-year-old boy had saved up $300 of his own money to buy a game system. Unfortunately when they went to the store to purchase the game system, the boy had forgotten about tax. The total came to more than he could afford. So what did the parents do? They walked out of the store.

Rachel says the parents took some of what they had learned in Financial Peace University far too literally.

"I thought, 'Your 10 year old saved up $300?! You pay the tax!'" Rachel says on the week two DVD. "So, remember parents, your little kids don't have to be soldiers marching around. ... Too many rules is just legalistic, but too much grace is enabling."

Just like there's no excuse to go overboard with your spending, there's no reason to go overboard when it comes to saving. Don't get me wrong, if you're neck-deep in debt you've got to fight for your life to get out of it, but do take time to smell the roses... or try out a good restaurant.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Friday, February 21, 2014

When You Want To Throw A Tantrum

Last week I wrote about how I don't cry at the grocery store anymore, and though that is true I said nothing about throwing a tantrum! Haha!

Today I went to get a "few things" and yet it still came out to almost my whole weekly budget, yet I felt like I walked away with so little. So what's a girl to do? BAKE and COOK! It's a simple solution to making your husband believe there really is food in your house.

Here are a couple of recipes for you that have been stamped with the hubster's approval:

Hot Dog or Hamburger Rolls

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon of instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 egg
    • In a small bowl, heat milk, water and butter in the microwave for about a minute, or until butter is melted and you can place your finger in the mixture without feeling like you would burn yourself.
    • In a large bowl, mix together 1 3/4 cup flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Mix milk mixture into flour mixture, and then mix in egg. Stir in the remaining flour a 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Or you can make it in your KitchenAid mixer and knead for a couple of minutes.
    • Place dough in greased bowl, cover and let rise in your cold oven for one hour.
    • Divide dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape into smooth balls, and place on a greased baking sheet. Flatten slightly. Cover, and let rise for another hour in the oven. Take out of the oven to preheat and brush egg yolk or melted butter on top.
    • Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown.
    • For Hot Dog Buns: Make sure to roll the dough out into a rectangle, and then roll dough up along the long side. Pinch ends to seal shut. This will more than double in size when you let them rise for an hour, so make them very skinny, but long.
    I chose to make both hot dog and hamburger rolls out of one batch—because there are only two of us—and I came up with six hot dog rolls and 10 hamburger rolls. 

    Homemade buns and granolla bars

      Then I made yummy chewy granola bars:

      No-Bake Chewy Granola Bars

      • 2 cups quick cooking oats 
      • 1 C rice crispy cereal
      • 1/4 C shredded coconut
      • 1/4 C butter
      • 1/4 C honey 
      • 1/2 C brown sugar
      • 1/2 tsp salt
      • 1/2 tsp vanilla
      • 2 tbs peanut butter
      • 1/2 C mini chocolate chips
      • In a large mixing bowl, mix together the oats, cereal and coconut. Set a small saucepan over medium high heat and melt the butter. Add the honey, brown sugar and salt to the melted butter. Stir together then leave it alone as it comes to a boil. Once the boil has reached all the way around the edges of the pan, begin timing. Allow this mixture to boil for 2 minutes and 15 seconds. During this time, you may need to turn the heat down a bit so it doesn't overflow, but be sure it keeps boiling.
      • Add the vanilla and peanut butter then pour the mixture over the oats, using a rubber spatula to get all the sugar mixture out of the pan. Mix the ingredients together until the oats are completely coated. Add in chocolate chips then press very firmly into a lightly greased 9x13" pan. If you like your bars thicker, you can use a smaller pan. If you do not press firmly enough, the bars will fall apart when you eat them. Place them in the fridge for 20 minutes then cut to size and wrap individually if you want.
      For more variations of this recipe and to see the original check out My Kitchen Escapades.

      Keep pinchin' :-)

      Thursday, February 20, 2014

      Advice To "Free Spirits" Who Have to Live with A "Nerd"

      How to live with a nerd
      Yup, I'm the "Free Spirit." Dani's the "Nerd." Sure, she can be free-spirited, and I can be nerdy, but when it comes to money she's the one who wants to budget and plan and save and invest and IRA and frugality and whatnot and whatever, whereas I am, well... I lost interest in this whole sentence a long time ago.

      But here's the thing, my fellow Free Spirits, I think you've got the harder job because, let's face it, you're the one with spending habits that need to be curbed. You're the one who needs to exercise a little discipline during the regular budget meetings. Granted there are many things that Nerds need to learn as well—like how not to keep such a tight grip on the financial reins, and that, yes, sometimes you actually have to spend money to have fun, and that that's OK.

      But here's the thing, a Free Spirit has to realize that it is possible to have fun on the cheap too! You just got to get your head in the game. Here are a few things Free Spirits should be doing... scratch that... need to be doing in order to make a partnership with a Nerd work in the best way possible. Otherwise you guys will never get ahead financially.

      #1 Learn to have fun on the cheap
      Sure you can spend $50 and have a great dinner date with a movie and bowling, but there are other things you can do to have fun that don't cost as much. You just have to keep your eyes open. Check around for deals on free or discounted opportunities. Surprise your spouse with something fun at home—maybe even get a little romantic. I think you'll find that planning the surprise is half the fun. Just stay within the budget so as to ensure you'll meet your money goals.

      #2 Rise above the "Whatever" response
      The person who just says "Whatever" to budgetary matters is not taking control of their money. Furthermore, they're just frustrating their Nerd. Don't be so dismissive. You've got to communicate with your Nerd to help them understand what's important to you. You're both going to have to do a little compromising, but that starts with communication.

      #3 Stick to the plan... mostly
      A Nerd is going to look at your budget as a financial Bible. Once the two of you get a working budget on paper, in the Nerd's mind it might as well be carved onto stone tablets. So what does the Nerd feel when you then go out and blow the budget all willy-nilly style? Disrespected. Granted your Nerd has to realize that the budget is not set in stone, and that it should be flexible to some degree, but you've also got to understand what it means to them. If there are changes you want to make to the budget you've got to communicate them first.

      Living with a Nerd isn't easy, Free Spirits, but look at it this way: in a year's time you're going to have more money and be better off financially WITH your Nerd than you would be without them. So appreciate them. Love them. Work with them. They need you just as much as you need them because, let's face it, unless they're living with a Free Spirit, Nerds don't get to do much living at all!

      I love you, honey!

      Keep pinchin' :-)

      Wednesday, February 19, 2014

      A Childhood Memory

      When God Makes an Impression
      Dani here. To expound on Jake's story from yesterday about our lawnmower, yes, we both prayed for God to give us a new lawnmower. I distinctly remember my prayer—"Lord, if You could just GIVE us a lawnmower, that would be great!"—and here's why.

      When I was a little girl, probably not more than four years old, my family struggled with finances. We lived in town and had only a small yard to mow, however we didn't have a lawnmower. I don't remember if our mower broke or what happened to it, I only remember that whenever it was time to mow the lawn my dad would walk down the street to my grandparents's house and borrow theirs. He'd push it down to our house and return it when he was done. I don't remember how many summers this went on, but I clearly remember what happened next.

      One Sunday after church our family drove into our driveway to see a big box waiting for us. Inside the box was a brand new lawnmower. As I recall, there was a note on the box that read simply: "From God."

      I always thought that this story was so awesome, not just the fact that someone would meet a need we had, but that they would choose not to reveal themselves and instead let God get all the glory. These are stories I want my imaginary kiddos to grow up hearing about. I want them to know that God meets our needs and our wants and that He uses His people to do it.

      Some day I hope that Jake and I are in a place financially that we can do something similar—bless someone we know that has a need or a legitimate want, but meet that need in such a way that God gets the glory for it. That's part of why we penny pinch. It's why we are on this journey to debt-free living. As long as we have debt we have something that is hindering us from being fully used by God, and I don't want debt to have that kind of power over us.

      So I will keep pressing onward, through the good and the bad in order to be free from the enslavement of debt.

      Keep pinchin' :-)

      Tuesday, February 18, 2014

      The Crazy Story of Our Lawnmower

      A brand new riding lawnmower
      In our pursuit of the "American Dream" Dani and I bought about four acres of property. About one whole acre of that is occupied by two things: buildings and lawn. Lots, and lots of lawn. The lawn isn't flat by any means, and, moreover, it's interrupted in numerous spots by trees, bushes, stones, and other large objects. So when it comes to mowing it can be quite a chore.

      When we first bought our property, my grandfather generously gave us an old Lawn-boy push-mower—the very same mower that I cut my teeth on as a teenager helping him take care of his grass. The thing was pretty old and it smoked like a chimney, and with only an 18-inch blade it took about four or five hours to mow all of our property. As hard as it was mowing everything on that ancient little push-mower, it was harder on my body. But that didn't matter, because a new lawnmower wasn't in the budget. So, alas, I resolved to just continue to use that little Lawn-boy until I had run it into the ground... that is, if I didn't have a heart attack first.

      Dani and I had started to pray about our lawnmower situation, asking God to help us find a good deal on a lawnmower that would A) be large enough and durable enough to handle all of our property, and B) have a decent amount of horsepower to take care of some of the other tasks we had in mind, like gardening, hauling leaves and wood, and pushing snow.

      Now, we're not sure which one of us prayed the following—Dani remembers praying it, but I also remember laying in bed next to her one night, staring up at the ceiling in our bedroom, just comically calling out to God, "And Lord, if you could just GIVE US a new lawnmower that would be awesome!"

      Two weeks later.

      I was sitting at my desk at work when I got a call from Lowe's. The gentleman on the other line said he apologized for the inconvenience, but they were very busy with deliveries and wouldn't be able to deliver my lawn mower until the following week.

      "Um, but I didn't order a lawn mower," I said.

      "Oh," came the reply. "Is this Jacob Grant?" He read off my address.


      "Well, I've got a brand new John Deere D-140 here with your name on it."

      He went on to explain that the lawn mower had been bought and paid for, but he didn't know by whom. We arranged a delivery date and time and then I hung up, still a bit confused. I called Lowe's directly and asked to speak with the gentleman again just to be sure it wasn't some kind of scam, but, no, it wasn't. There was indeed a brand new $2,000 John Deere D-140 riding lawnmower, bought and paid for, sitting at Lowe's with my name on it. Twenty-two horse power. Forty-inch cutting radius. Full length welded steel frame. *insert Tim Allen grunting here* In short, it was a beautiful lawn mower, and it was more than enough to handle everything we had in mind.

      We never found out who gave it to us, but we have our suspicions. Ultimately we decided that since the gift was given anonymously it would be disrespectful to the giver to attempt to find out who it was.

      In the end, we have to give God the glory. We prayed, and He answered. What's interesting to note is that our prayers weren't any kind of long elegant discourse. We weren't bowed on our knees, and I don't even think my eyes were closed.

      "Lord, if you could just GIVE US a new lawnmower that would be awesome!" That's what was said. We simply cast our cares upon Him, stepped back, and let Him work. As usual He chose to work through His servants by impressing upon someone's heart to meet this need for us. It was awesome to be the recipients of such a generous gift, but even more awesome to be able to tell this story again and again and give the glory to God the provider.

      Keep pinchin' :-)

      Monday, February 17, 2014

      My Greatest Partner In This Crazy Journey To Debt-Free Living

      Sorry, but penny pinching sometimes really sucks. It can wear you down at times and be really discouraging, which is why it's so key to have a partner who is with you in the battle.

      I'll admit, I wasn't on board with this whole "Dave Ramsey plan" thing at first. It took about three months for me to see that, A) the plan works, B) I can trust Dave Ramsey, and C) this is a really smart way to live because even though it hurts now in a few years we're going to be leagues ahead of other people our age.

      Up until that realization, however, I'm sure my attitude toward savings was really hard on my wife. In fact, I know it was. But after much communication with each other, and much prayer to our Heavenly Father, our vision for our financial goals was both unified and solidified. Now that we're together on this, it makes it all much, much easier—when she's feeling the pressure of massive oil bills or expenses, I'm there to remind her that, in the long, this is just a minor setback and we'll be OK. When I'm feeling down because we don't have a lot of money to eat out or go to the movies, my wife is there to spoil me in other ways and remind me that this isn't forever.

      Having conversations with your spouse about money—be it savings, spending, general management or whatnot—is never easy, but it is so, so, so essential to your success in developing and maintaining a good budget.

      We're interested in hearing what sorts of difficulties other couples have faced in this area. When you get feeling down about your financial circumstances, do you give up and give in, or does your spouse come alongside you to help you pick your chin up? Maybe your spouse needs a "chin up" moment right now. What could you do to lift their spirits?

      Keep pinchin' :-)

      Friday, February 14, 2014

      A Valentine's Day Suprise

      Happy Valentine's Day from the Penny Pinchers
      Two years ago the hubby and I were engaged when we celebrated our first Valentine's Day together. Not only was it a special day because we were engaged, it was also the very first Valentine's Day that I had ever celebrated in a relationship with a guy. So Jake knew it had to be good.

      He told me he was going to plan everything, and talked it up for weeks. He would drop lines like, "I know the chef at the exclusive restaurant we are going to, and he's really great." All along I kept telling friends that I wished we could just make dinner and stay in because we were getting ready to have a wedding and were considering buying a house, but I was prepared to accept whatever special thing he did for me.

      When the night arrived, I got all dressed up and drove over to his grandparents house where he was living at the time. I walked in, talked to his Grandma who was making Chicken Parmesan, and then Jake came downstairs and we set off. We hopped in the car and then prepared to drive to this "exclusive restaurant," so exclusive, he said, that you needed to know the owners to get in. I was a little bummed that we would be spending all this money on a dinner for one night, but I wasn't about to say anything because I didn't want to spoil it for us.

      About halfway down the driveway, Jake stopped the car right next to his grandparent's front porch. He pretended like he had forgotten something and jumped out to go back inside. Instead he walked around to my side of the car and opened the door. "I didn't know they had valet service here," he said in a surprised tone.

      He took me inside and upstairs to the apartment area where he was living, a space he had transformed into a dining area for two. "See," he said, "I told you: a restaurant so exclusive you need to know the owners to get in."

      The room was filled with candles, a table for two, a dozen roses, and romantic music. His grandmother wasn't the one making Chicken Parmesan. It was him. He had cooked for all four of us, and though his grandparents enjoyed their Valentine's Day meal downstairs, Jake and I enjoyed our "exclusive restaurant" treatment upstairs.

      After dinner we enjoyed attempting to learn how to dance for our wedding to an instructional DVD that Jake had bought, and then we spent lots of time cuddling. It was the perfect first Valentine's Day. I wouldn't have had it any other way.

      Happy Valentine's Day from the Penny Pinchers!

      Keep pinchin' :-)

      Thursday, February 13, 2014

      How Not To Cry When Grocery Shopping On A Budget

      Groceries on a budget
      I remember when we first started our budget. I thought $40 a week on groceries, toiletries and household products would be enough. The first few trips were like a game—I would add up each item to make sure I stayed on budget. It was pretty easy. Then we began to run out of things like razor blades, toilet paper, meat in the freezer, and it wasn't a game anymore. There were trips to the grocery store that made me want to cry because I wasn't able to purchase all the things I had on my list, and it seemed like I never was able to get anything extra to build up a pantry.

      I'm sure if I had asked for more money my hubby and I would have found a way to get a few more dollars in that account, but I was determined to make it work. Slowly, I got better at knowing what was a good sale and what wasn't. I made some big purchases—like buying enough razor blades for a year—and even went without groceries one week in order to save a lot by buying in bulk. Eventually I was able to build up a little pantry of go-to items, so if one week there was a bigger expense we would still have plenty of food to choose from.

      Last summer we raised four chickens and three ducks that currently live in our freezer... um, yeah, they're dead. I also froze zucchini, squash, green and yellow beans, carrots, celery, and pumpkin from my garden. Having those frozen veggies has been a huge help this winter because I'm able to use my frozen vegetables instead of buying canned ones. I've also been able to build up a good supply of frozen meats as I have found them on sale throughout the year.

      I still only shop with $40 a week, but over a year later it has become much easier. I no longer feel like crying when I go to get everything on my list, because I know if I can't purchase something one week I have plenty at home to make up for it, and I can always get it next week.

      So, if you are new to budgeting, and groceries or something else seems impossible to buy, just stick with it. You may have to increase your budget some because you didn't take into account all that you were going to need to purchase, but, then again, maybe you just need some more practice. Maybe you will have to choose to cut back on store bought snack food and frozen dinners in favor of homemade. It can work, and saving money on groceries can help a lot with paying off debt and living debt free.

      Keep pinchin' :-)

      Wednesday, February 12, 2014

      That Great Feeling When A Vacation Doesn't Follow You Home

      A Vacation Paid in Cash

      One of the reasons I brought some debt into our marriage was because of some of the extravagant plans I had made for our honeymoon. I was eager to impress my new bride and so I scheduled some hotel reservations that cost a little bit more than I should've spent.

      I was also spending some money I had earned through some photography jobs before I had actually earned it. As luck would have it, one of those photography jobs fell through, and as a result I got stuck with a larger credit card bill than I was hoping for. I ended up bringing more debt into our marriage.

      Plus, it wasn't all that pleasant when I was on our honeymoon to pull out the credit card and wrack up more debt, knowing that even though I was making life fun for the moment, it was going to be hell later on.

      "Vacations would be completely different if they didn't follow you home," is something Dave Ramsey said this week during Financial Peace University.

      I remember hearing this the first time we took the course last year. Dave advocated for saving your money and paying for a vacation out of your own pocket, not taking out a loan or using a credit card.

      This prompted Dani and I to establish a vacation budget. We began setting aside a little bit of money every month until we had a pretty good chunk of change. Then, this past summer, we loaded up the car and went camping at Old Orchard Beach in Maine. It was a relatively cheap vacation—I don't even think we used half of our vacation money—but it was such a different experience than our honeymoon because this time the vacation didn't follow us home.

      I think Dave's right about going back to old-school ways of doing things. All these cool new "book now, pay later" vacation schemes are just ripping people off. You don't need a loan or a larger credit limit to have a good vacation. You need some patience and a little self-discipline. It worked for our grandparents. I'm sure it can work for us too.

      Keep pinchin' :-)

      Tuesday, February 11, 2014

      Three Steps We Took Toward A Unified Financial Vision

      A Unified Financial Vision

      Dani's a nerd. I'm a free spirit. I don't say that to be mean, those are just the categories that we fall into in Financial Peace University. One isn't worse than the other, they're just different.

      And they don't work together very well.

      One of the things that frustrated Dani and I early on in our marriage is that both of us were relating with money differently—me as a spender/free spirit and she as a saver/nerd—and neither of us were making any headway with our financial goals. Rather, she wasn't making any headway with her financial goals because I didn't have financial goals at all.

      After we went through FPU, however, and learned about the differences between savers and spenders—nerds and free spirits—a light clicked on. We realized why we were irritating each other so much. When I was able to set aside my selfish spending habits and see why saving was important to her, and once she was able to see how much enjoyment I got out of spending some of my hard-earned money, we reached an understanding. And then things started to change.

      It was rough at first because we both had to make sacrifices. I had to recognize that I had a lot of unhealthy spending habits that were holding us back from paying off debt. She had to realize that some of her financial goals weren't realistic with a partner, and that she couldn't forge ahead with her own financial plan, that we had to work together. There was some pushing, some pulling, some compromise, and after about six months we began to get pretty proficient at budgeting.

      If I had to boil it down, I'd say there were three main things that helped make us successful when it came to creating a unified vision for our finances.

      1. We spent a lot of time in prayer. We asked God to unite us in our financial plan. We prayed for wisdom in knowing where to spend our money.

      2. We communicated. We came up with a plan for buying things and kept weekly accountability with each other. We shared, and still share, a bank account, so there were no money secrets. And we decided that any expenses over $100 would need to be discussed before acted on.

      3. We followed Dave's plan. Financial Peace University gave us a common language when it came to talking about money, and it also gave us a good starting point. Dave's baby steps were a solid "first step." Once we were telling our money where to go, we started seeing results.

      Keep pinchin' :-)

      Monday, February 10, 2014

      Free Dates For A Year - Drive-In Movie At Home

      50's Date Night Diner Burgers, Fries, Milkshakes
      For those of you just tuning in, one of the things I've been blogging about is the "Year of Free Dates" that I gave my husband for his birthday back in October. Since then we've been enjoying some great times together every month. It's been a blast to see how creative we can be, how silly we can be, and just how much fun we can have when we put our heads together to come up with something entertaining.

      Our very first Free Date Night turned out to be super fun, and I thought I'd share it in case anyone else likes the idea. The idea is to have a "theme night"—outer space, Alice in Wonderland, celebrities—and center all of your activities for the night around that theme.

      Jake chose the 1950s, so I made diner-style cheeseburgers, fries, and chocolate milkshakes, which we ate with 50's rock tunes playing in the background.

      After dinner it was time for a movie!

      Someone had given us a DVD copy of that wonderful 50's classic, "An Affair to Remember," with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. We decided to watch it "drive-in style." Jake set up a projector and movie screen in our backyard, along with some comfortable seating where we watched the movie accompanied by an appropriate amount of necking. Cause, come on, who ever went to the drive-in just to watch a movie?

      1950s-Themed Date Night
      1950s-Themed Date Night
      1950s-Themed Date Night

      Thursday, February 6, 2014

      Free Family Fun Date - Winter Olympics

      Free Family Fun Date
      The other day a Mom, who is going through Financial Peace University with us, made a comment about how hard it is to cut back on spending when it influences your kids so much. When it comes to things like going to the movies, theme parks, sporting events, restaurants, it can be quite hard to convince your children that it's worthwhile to let go of these things—even if just for a period of time.

      Not having kids of our own I don't know what it's like to be in this position, but as I was doing the dishes today I was thinking about the "Free Date Nights" I've been doing for my husband and wondered, "Why not come up with a bunch of 'Free Family Dates?'" So, I'm going to try to post at least one idea for a family fun night every month for all those parents out there who need some affordable entertainment alternatives to enjoy with their kids.

      Since we're in the middle of winter at the moment, I thought it would be fun to kick things off with some Winter Olympics. This family fun date can be just for your family, or you can invite a few other families to join you, or even host it at your church. The idea is to create easy games to compete in, with possible prizes or medals, with the ultimate aim of simply having tons of fun.

      Game Ideas:

      • Sled Race - Time each member of the family coming down the same sledding hill.

      • Obstacle Course - Create some sort of course that would involve jumping over things, crawling under things, and winding your way through things. Again, time each participant to see who can do it the fastest. This could also be done as a relay pairing older children with younger ones to even out skill levels.

      • Long Jump - Mark a spot in the snow for each participant to jump from to see how far they can leap. Measure each jump to see who is the longest.

      • Speed Skating - If you have access to an outdoor free rink or a body of water you can have skating races, all members could skate at the same time so you wouldn't have to time it.

      • Target Practice - Line up cans or bottles and give each member the same amount of snowballs to knock them down. You can change the distance based on the age or ability of each member.

      • Snow Sculpture Competition - So long as the snow is conducive to sculpture making, divide your family up however you see fit and see who can make the most impressive snow sculpture. Set a time limit to keep things exciting. Have grandparents or neighbors be the judges. Or you could simply give each sculpture an award based on the funniest, most original, scariest, etc. 

      Those are just some ideas to get the creative juices flower. You can always take to Google to find activities that are more suited to your family.

      If you decide to have a Winter Olympics with other families some additional ideas could be:

      • Cardboard Sled Race - Have each family build their own cardboard sled using only duct-tape and cardboard. They could either construct their sled at the event or do it at home as a family project. Time them down the same hill and see whose design is the fastest.

      • Family Flag - Have each participating family bring a "family flag," which they can create to represent their family at the games.

      • Have an Awards Ceremony - Acknowledge each athlete or the winners of each game, and present them with a medal, which can be as simple as string with a round piece of construction paper with 1st, 2nd, 3rd place on it, or as elaborate as you want it to be.

      To end your games consider serving hot cocoa and cookies or have a bonfire and make s'mores. If you decide to host a Family Winter Olympics tell us all about the fun you had doing them!

      Keep pinchin' :-)

      Wednesday, February 5, 2014

      My First Attempt at Freezer Meals

      A couple of weeks ago I mentioned wanting to try out freezer meals. I decided to try out the 12 Freezer Crock Pot Recipes at, which I liked because they didn't have "Cream of" anything in them, and they looked like healthier meals. I decided to make just one batch because I wanted to make sure we were going to like these meals before I made multiples. Plus, with just Jake and I in the house, I'm guessing we will probably get around 24 to 30 meals out of them, which is a lot more than a normal family. Below is a picture of some of my ingredients.

      Ingredients for freezer meals

      It took me about three hours to get all of the ingredients out, chop/cut everything up, label the bags and then put them together, plus clean up.

      I figured I spent about $70 to get all the ingredients on this list, which was available on lovingmynest's blog with the recipes. I did omit a few ingredients that Jake and I don't care for—such as onions and peppers—however I did use some onion powder for flavor. In the Pork and Veggies meal I omitted the mushrooms, then to beef it up I added some celery, corn and green beans.

      Below is a picture of some of the freezer meals all bagged and ready to be frozen.

      Freezer meals

      Overall the process of creating these freezer meals was fairly easy, and because I was using someone else's plan I already had my shopping list and recipes figured out, which I'm sure saved a ton of time. 

      What I really love about these freezer meals is that because I made them from scratch I know what's in them, I know they're healthy, and they taste pretty good too! The hubby and I had the beef stew last night and both of us were raving about it. I'm now looking forward to trying them all!

      Have you tried doing freezer meals? If so, do you have a favorite recipe you would share with us in the comments below?

      Keep pinchin' :-)

      Tuesday, February 4, 2014

      New Year's Resolutions - One Month In

      I can't believe the first month of the year has already gone by. Is it just me, or does time go by faster and faster the older you get? I've continued to plug away at my goal of working on "Faithfulness" throughout this year, and while I don't always do as well as I would like, I guess even being aware of my goal can be helpful.

Faithfulness in our finances. I have been able to pick up a few babysitting jobs and Jake has some extra work lined up. We are continuing to attack our mortgage like crazy people, and I think for the most part we are staying on budget.

      Faithfulness in living a healthy lifestyle. The exercise goal has been hard recently. I seem to go a couple days doing really well, and then "forget" about it for the rest of the week. I got in a few good workouts, including a day of boarding at Bretton Woods—courtesy of an awesome friend—and I ran/walked three miles last week. My goal this next week is to walk to work and back as often as I can, since my job situation has finally moved closer to my home—just a few minutes away by car! As far as healthy eating goes: I worked on making healthy freezer meals last week so that way when I don't have time or energy to cook anything we aren't having to eat some processed junk.

      Faithfulness in my spiritual life. I've missed a few days of doing my personal quiet time because the devotional I was using was only a 30 day trial. I think I might get the full subscription though because it's been good for me. I've continued to read Beth Moore's "Believing Day by Day," and I am hopeful that Jake and I can get back to doing our couples' devotional on a regular basis now that my work schedule is a little less crazy.

      Faithfulness in being good stewards of the homestead God has blessed us with. We have been discussing whether or not we want to begin renovating the upstairs of our house, which we currently don't live in. The timing is good, but it costs money, so we're still in the praying and considering phase.

      Faithfulness in being the wife my husband needs me to be. For February I decided to do a couple of special things for the hubby. The first is to write a reason I love him on a heart leading up to Valentine's Day. It's been fun to think about different things I love about him. The other thing I've been doing is writing a cute little love note that goes with an item—e.g. like "I have CRUSH on you" with orange Crush soda, or "You're the APPLE of my eye" in his lunch bag alongside an apple. He seems to be enjoying these little notes and it's fun to write them.

      Any progress on your resolutions or word for the year? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

      Keep Pinchin' :-)

      Monday, February 3, 2014

      It's A Man's Responsibility

      Time for Men to Step Up
      There's a Bible verse that gives men a charge to provide financially for their families. Oddly enough, even though I grew up in a Christian lifestyle, I never once heard that verse that I can recall. In fact, it wasn't until I was in my thirties that I came across this verse, and when I did it hit me like a ton of bricks.

      "But if any provide not for his own, especially for those of his own household, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." —I Timothy 5:8

      How could I have missed this? Are parents just not teaching this? Are pastors not preaching about it? Or is my generation so wrapped-up in its petty self-absorption that verses like this just go in one ear and out the other? I mean, "worse than an unbeliever"? That's what God calls men who don't provide for their families, and that's a pretty grievous statement.

      I've come to believe that it is incumbent upon me as the man to lead in the area of our finances. I can't just step back and leave it up to my wife, but nor do I want to lock her out of the process either. I, and all men, need to step up, take the reins, and lead the way.

      The Bible says that men are to model Jesus Christ to their wives, that they are to "love her as Christ loved the church" (Ephesians 5:25). Christ has promised to provide everything that we (the church) need, and so, as men modeling the behavior of Christ, it is our duty to do our best to meet the needs of our wives.

      Marriage is a financial venture and the husband has a responsibility to finance/support/provide for his family. As a husband, I need to realize that when it comes to money my earnings are not my own. They belong to my wife and my (someday) children.

      Keep pinchin' :-)