Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Whole Wheat Corn Muffins

If you are looking for an item from the "grain food group" to put on your table, look no further than this simple and tasty whole wheat corn muffin recipe.  It is from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Tassajara Bread Book.  It pairs well with soups, quiche, or a plate of fruit and cheese.  I prefer to make them with my mini-muffin pan.  In just under 25 minutes (prep and bake time) you can have 2 dozen on hand.  Serve them at a party or toss 3/4 in the freezer and pull out when needed.

Combine 1 cup whole wheat flour; 1 cup fine cornmeal; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 2 teaspoons baking powder.  Add a dash of spice (Cumin, chili powder, etc).

Combine 2 eggs, 1/4 cup oil or melted butter; and 1 1/4 cup milk (I use soy).  Mix.

Combine the dry and wet, dish into mini-muffin ban, regular muffin pan, or a dish for corn bread.  Bake at 400 degrees (15 minutes for muffins, 15 minutes for bread).

Monday, January 30, 2012

Homemade Pizza - A Success!

Inspired by a recent lunch at a friend's house, where we made pizza with 3 toddlers, I decided to give it another whirl here at our frugal home.

First, I made a whole wheat pizza dough in our bread machine.  I'd seen fresh dough at our gourmet grocery store at a cost of $2.98 a bag.  This recipe will cost you pennies because you probably have most of the ingredients at home.

  • 3/4 cup water, 80 degrees F
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast or 1 1/2 teaspoons fast rise yeast
Add the items, in order, into the canister.  Create a well in the middle for the yeast.  It took about 1 hour in the machine. I kneaded it for 1 minute, let it "rest" for 15 minutes. I then divided it in half and rolled out two crusts. The recipe says to let it sit for 25 minutes.  I got distracted, which is common when cooking with a 3 1/2 and 1 1/2 year old.  But it turned out just fine. 

I sprinkled some cornmeal on the pizza stone, added the dough followed by sauce.  I used some from a jar, but our friend simply used tomato sauce and oregano, creating the most divine pizza.  Add your toppings and shredded cheese.  Bake at 425 degrees for about 12 minutes.

Hands down the best pizza ever to come out of my oven.  Yes, it is work.  But the quality was superb, the cost minimal, and we had fun in the kitchen.

Thanks for the inspiration to give this another try -- what a success!

Photo credit: www.sxc.hu - free image

Blogger note: no, this is not a photo from my kitchen.  I loved the warmth this offers.  We gobbled our food up before I remembered to snap a photo.  Next time.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Frugal Women Leaves $1.7 Million to Charity

Have you ever been called "frugal" and it sounded like a four-letter word.   I've been asked repeatedly why I would opt to live on less than I make.  Loyal readers know my response -- it allows me to fund things that are important to me.

And earlier this week I read a wonderful story of another women of the frugal nature, who upon her death at age 96 was able to leave $1.7 Million to St. Vincent de Paul.  If you are looking for motivation, this is a great story.  It does not say how the women earned a living, but it appears that she amassed the money on her own -- there was no windfall to her.  And her frugality is allowing her legacy to continue well beyond her years here on earth.  How can that be a bad thing?

Photo credit: www.sxc.hu - free image

What about you -- why are your frugal or why are you trying to become frugal?  I'd love to hear your stories.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hidden Cost of On-Line Coupons

I'm a skeptic about coupons.  There is a reason manufactures hand them out; they get you to spend money.  Now that does not mean I avoid coupons, I just don't think couponing as it is now called is that wise.  My husband recently shared an article with me from Bankrate.com, Printing Coupons Can Waste Money.  If you print out a lot of on-line coupons, read this article.  Why?  Companies have brilliantly shifted the costing of printing those coupons to the consumer.  Quick -- how much does it cost to print one sheet of paper on your computer?  No idea?  Do you print colored coupons too?  Any idea what that costs?  Depending on the printer and required ink, it could be as high as 0.10 cents a page.  And if you don't use the coupon, then it is a pure waste of time, money and resources.

Coupons -- make sure you use them wisely instead of being used by them to increase profits.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tax Software vs. An Accountant

1099s are showing up in the mail box, it is Tax Time!  Loyal readers may be surprised to read that in our home we send our taxes out to a CPA for completion.  This will be our third year of using a CPA, and it took a lot for me to convince my number loving I-can-do-anything engineer of a husband to agree.  The fee is usually about $300.  We still have to gather all the necessary paperwork, but no longer do we spend an entire weekend with Turbo Tax.  Our life just got too complicated.  We are both self-employed, I have an office assistant, we have household payroll for the nanny, and on and on.

Photo Credit: www.sxc.hu - free image

Yet, this past fall I attended a continuing legal education course on tax law and a very prominent tax attorney said "it is amazing how often software can save you, I would have never thought of that offset on my own!".  Hmmm, maybe software isn't that bad.  We'll see how this year goes.  Will the accountant come up with some things we would have never thought of?  I don't necessarily want to go back to an entire weekend of tax forms, but Turbo Tax worked very well for us previously.  In my year devoted to reduction, reuse, and recycling, my accountant needs to perform.

How about you?  Are you do-it-yourselfers with taxes?  What is your favorite program?  Or, like us, do you outsource?

Happy Tax Season everyone.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Broken Dishwasher, a Budget, and Staying on Track

I hit the START button, but it didn't start.  Ever happen to you?  The uncooperative appliance was our dishwasher.  Not an essential home appliance, but one I had grown to enjoy.  Hmmmm. I press the button again, nothing.  I poked around a bit, but it was clear there was no power.

Photo credit: www.sxc.hu - free image

In our home power problems are handled by my husband, an electrical engineer.  He came over looking for a breaker switch (whatever that is).  None.  He checked the circuit breaker in the garage, nothing tripped.  We stared at it a bit and decided we'd call the Home Warranty Company in the morning.

We bought our home in November 2010 and it came with a home warranty.  We used it several times that first year:  the garbage disposal broke as did the garage door opener.  As we approached the one year mark we were given the option to extent it for one year, at a cost of $425.  We'd have to pay a $85/event deductible.  We took a gamble because our furnace has reached its life expectancy, and the air conditioner has exceeded its.

The gamble paid off.  When the appliance technician came out for a look it was determined that the control panel and touch pad system, essentially the brain, were gone.  Total repair bill would be $398 but for the insurance.  We could either pay the $85 deductible and have it repaired or take a credit of just over $300 and get a new system.  I told him we'd think about it and get back to him.

Initially I leaned towards a new dishwasher; if this had broke, what was next?  But then I thought about tossing this otherwise very nice dishwasher in the dump.  I also thought about our budget goal for this month.  Did I want a couple hundred dollars to go out for a dishwasher or go towards our savings goal?  Plus, even if it did break in the future it is possible to live a while without a dishwasher. Repair it was.

Currently we are waiting for the part to come in, it is on back order.  I feel very happy with our decision.  It seems like the modern approach would be to toss it, use the credit, and get a new machine.  But that seems so wasteful.  Time is short at our home, and do I really want to hire a sitter to go and look at appliances?  No.  I am happy we are salvaging this one, and wonder how many years we'll get out of it.  I also wonder, will the furnace go this winter too?  If so, what a gamble we took!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Homemade Granola

If you enjoy a good granola, you'll love this recipe.  It was past on to me by a friend who had given me a jar of this delicious treat as a housewarming gift.

  • 4 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats (not quick or instant)
  • 1/3 cups sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened apple juice
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup (the real stuff, not imitation)
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp sald
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 cup raisins
In a large bowl combine the oats and almonds.

In a small sauce pan combine the apple juice, syrup, oil, cinnamon, and salt.  Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring.  Pour over oat and nut mixture.

Take a baking pan, spray, and spread mixture in evenly.  Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.  Stir every 10 minutes.  Let cool completely.  Add coconut and raisin.

Feel free to toss in other nuts and dried fruits: walnuts, pecans, cranberries, apricots, etc.  It is a very flexible recipe.  I keep my in a sealed container, stored in the fridge.

This is great with fruit and yogurt.

Enjoy homemade granola -- far less expensive than store bought versions, and easier on the sugar too!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Saving Money for the Future: Can't vs. Won't

It was several years ago when a relative of mine made an odd statement, one that has rattled around in my head  ever since.  "I don't understand, we are wealthy by most standards, but we just can't save for college."  It was one of the moments where I was puzzled at first, and then decided it was not a conversation I wanted to explore. Why?  I would challenge her on the word can't.  I'd offer that she won't save for college.  There is a difference, a big difference.

College savings is a sensitive issue for me.  I am a huge proponent of saving for college.  Within 24 hours of receiving the Social Security Number in the mail, both of my children had 529 plans set up.  For those who do not have young children or haven't set up an account, a 529 is like an IRA, but for college.  Money going in gives you a tax break, it grows tax free, and so long as it is used for "college" it comes out tax free.  529s -- I studied those more than any other baby gadget item or accessory.  Why?  Paying for college is very, very important to me. Even if it is not something important to you, this post can be applied to any number of financial goals -- paying off the mortgage early, saving for retirement, etc.

It all started on a fall day in September of 1973.  My mother held her newborn daughter in her arms and said "you are going to the University of Wisconsin."  She herself had finished high school, my father, a trades program.  Higher education was not something common in my family tree.  Seventeen years later I moved into the dorms and began a nine year odyssey through higher education.  I left with a B.A., a Masters in Public Administration, a law degree, and $97,000 in student loans.  Throughout those years I worked various jobs, sometimes more than one at a time, to keep the debt as low as possible.  When I sent in my final student loan payment I vowed that my children (should I ever have them) would never be saddled with that much debt.  It limited my career choices far too much!

When people here I am a lawyer with a solo practice they wrongly assume that my father had been an attorney, and I am following in his footsteps.  No he wasn't an attorney.  First he worked in construction, and then after an injury eked out a living as a used car dealer.  My mother cared for other children in our home until I was about 12, and then she took a job in a plastics factory.  There were some lean years, sometimes we lived at the federal poverty level.  I appreciate the role model my parents set of running your own business and working long hours. But, like my relative above, they often said "we couldn't save for college."  

In fact they could have saved for college.  At age 5 I had a princess canopy bed with two matching dressers.  I didn't ask for them, my parents thought they were nice.  Over the next five or six years each Christmas and Birthday brought an infusion of the latest Barbie merchandise -- my mother insisted I have them: the  mansion, corvette, store, camper, styling head, two Barbies (Ken and Skipper), even the damn dog.  The stuff was eventually placed in the den closet where it sat until I sold it in 2005, on Ebay, putting the proceeds towards my student loan debt.  In reality my parents chose not to save for college.  Instead, they chose to purchase consumer products.  They also chose things that they enjoyed.  I won't deny them the right to enjoy t-bone steaks every week, or cigarettes, or lottery tickets.  I will, however, deny them the ability to claim they simply could not save for college.  Am I too harsh?  Possibly, but sometimes recognizing the truth is harsh.  

Whenever I see a headline declaring "Jury Finds So-and-So Innocent" I cringe.  The person was found "not guilty", innocent is not the same thing.  The same goes for hearing people say "I can't save for retirement".  Really?  How about you?  Are you claiming that you cannot save for something?  In some cases that may be very true.  However, it may also be that you value something else more than what you would like to save for, but haven't.  Living frugally allows people to have more money to put towards savings.  But it helps to know what your true priorities are.

Please come back Monday when I'll have a much lighter post -- my recipe for homemade granola.  Enjoy your weekend dear readers!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Any Size Coffee for $1 at.....McDonalds

Regular readers will know that I am a coffee fan.  Not a coffee snob, but a coffee fan.  And I am delighted to share the news that any size coffee, small, medium or large, can be obtained from McDonalds for $1.  I have no idea when the offer will end, but I am enjoying it while it lasts.  With the cold days of winter (not as cold as normal here in Madison, Wisconsin, but still cold), small children, and drive-thrus, I am lovin' my $1 McDonalds' coffees.  A far better price than Starbucks!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Frugality and Big Box Stores

Last week a regular reader posted a great comment on my blog post about free liquid syringes at Target.  A Target shopper herself, she posed the question "how can we balance our desire to save money with our desire to avoid supporting the Big Boxes?"  I think it is a great question, and doesn't not have an easy or perfect answer.  Here is my approach.

Decide which one you want to frequent.  Yes that says "one". I do not routinely shop at Big Box stores.  Doing so would not keep with my frugal philosophy.  The frugal upside is not just about saving money, but about saving time and resources as well.  Driving to the edge of my city to save a few bucks isn't worth the gas or the time.  Target caught my frugal eye with its baby supplies (diapers, wipes, formula) and became a constant because it is located within a mile of my home.  It is possible to walk or bike there, and we have on many occasions.

Avoid "retail therapy" where you simply wander around a store to "see what they have".  Never shop without a list created before you left home.  You need to use the store for your own agenda, don't let them use you for theirs.  My list is almost always the same: diapers, wipes, medications, cat food and litter, and a few boxed food items.

Treat the Big Box as though it were a locally owned store.  I have routinely asked my urban Target to get paper bags.  Unless it is a "Super Target" they won't offer paper.  I still ask though.  Until they do, I bring my own re-usable bags....and they give my 0.05 cents off for each one I use.  The market can be tough, and some Big Boxes are willing to make adjustments to fit the needs and desires of the neighborhood.   Change may be slow, but it can still happen.

And finally, articulate your priorities.  In our household that is financial health.  We live below our means so that we can save aggressively for retirement and college.  To achieve this we spend about $5,000 a year at Target.  Knowing this makes it easier for me to decided where to shop.  Promoting locally owned is great, but securing mine and my children's future is a little more great.

In the end, my opinion is that it is not so much where you shop, but how you shop that has the biggest impact on the earth.  Thanks for the question.  Please keep the comments coming!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Waiting For Property Tax Refund

For the past few weeks my husband has routinely played this song on YouTube -- I Want My Money Back.  Why? We are eagerly awaiting a refund check owed to us by the City of Madison for excess property taxes paid.  Yes, a refund. We bought a house in 2010 for $80,000 less than assessment. When we got our property tax bill we successfully challenged the assessment and it was lowered to the purchase price.  However, the escrow taken as part of our mortgage payment could not be adjusted.  At the end of 2011 the mortgage company mailed us a check, payable to us and the City of Madison. The amount exceeded what we owed by about the same amount as a monthly mortgage payment.  I paid the taxes as soon as possible, and now we wait.  We were told it would take about 6 weeks.  I hope it comes soon...this song is getting old fast!

Frugal lesson from this story -- challenge assessments and other prices set by others.  You never know when you'll find some big savings!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Beware of Mortgage Debt to Save on Taxes

Until 2010 I was a renter.  This seemed to annoy quite a few people.  I am not sure why, but it did.  Some wanted to sell us a home, others wanting to sell us debt to buy a home, and those who believed home prices would continue to soar.  We did buy, once we found a home where the cost per square foot was slightly less than we were paying in rent.  We moved 4 blocks.  No big change, just a decision driven by the numbers.

During those years as a renter we kept hearing the same old question "but don't you want the tax write-off?"  I was always surprised that those asking the question did not really seem to understand what the write-off was.  Sure, they knew that interest on a mortgage and property taxes were deductible from their federal income tax.  What they didn't seem to know was that we already got a write-off.  It was called the "standard deduction".   In order for a home purchase to actually save me money, my mortgage interest, taxes, and other itemized deductions would need to exceed the standard deduction.  In most cases that translated into a hefty mortgage payment on a home with high property taxes.  I'm frugal, and that was not my plan.

If you are currently a renter and are considering a home purchase, keep the following in mind.  The 2012 standard deduction is $11,900 for a married couple, $8,700 for head of household, or $5,950 for a single filer.  That means in 2012  mortgage interest, property taxes, and other itemized deductions (charitable deductions for example) need to exceed $11,900 for a married couple to "save money".  Even if it does exceed that amount, the savings may not be that great.  For example, a couple earning $80,000 that has $15,000 in deductions may save $620 that year, or $50 a month (using back of the envelope calculations).  I can think of several ways to save $50 a month that do not involve taking on mortgage debt.

To be frugal means you need to be skeptical.  If someone is telling you that a purchase will save you money, remember, that person makes a living off of what they sell.  They are biased.  Run the numbers yourself and determine if it really saves you money.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Casual Hypermiling

If you live in southern Wisconsin you are probably familiar with the steep decline on I-94 as you approach Milwaukee.  Last year on our annual pilgrimage to Ham Fest (don't ask) both my husband and I said the same thing as we descended "put the car in neutral to save money".  For those who know us, this is not a surprise.

We do not own a hybrid vehicle, although we like to pretend we do.  How?  We use a casual hypermiling approach with both cars, a 2005 Honda Civic and a 2003 Mazda. 

Hypermiling consists of various techniques used by drivers to gain better fuel efficiency.  On the extreme end are those who drive with the windows up, never use the air conditioning, and turn the car off before stopping.  My husband is closer to that end than me.  My main hypermiling technique is to put the car in neutral and coast.  Why?  Coasting does not require your foot on the gas pedal, which means you're using less fuel.  It takes a little getting used to, but becomes second hand in no time.  This is especially true if you drive a stick shift and are used to changing gears.

Other approaches I follow are making sure the tires are properly inflated and to avoid caring extra weight in the car.  With two small children I have a double stroller.  It is on the light end, weighing about 30 pounds.  Unless I need it, it stays parked in the garage.  No need to cart it around town.

Are there any other casual hypermilers out there?  If so, what is your favorite way to increase fuel efficiency?

Photo credit: www.sxc.hu - free image

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Frugal and Gas Mileage

It was New Year's Eve and we had just taken the kids to see the Fantasy In Lights display in Madison, a very low cost way to say good-bye to 2011.  On the way home we stopped for gas.  As usual my husband hopped back in the car, pulled out his phone and calculated the gas mileage.

"Hmm, you got 27.5 miles to the gallon" he said with a twinge of annoyance.

"Is that a bad thing?" I responded.

"No.  I got 26.3 in my car...have you been hypermiling again?"

"Of course -- I'm trying to save money and resources".

"Hmmmm.....you're better than me at this".

For an engineer I think that was difficult for him to admit.  And I'm certain that he is hard at work trying to get better gas mileage in his Mazda.  If you are trying to live a frugal life, then I'd urge you to monitor your gas mileage (assuming you drive a car).  Math is not my passion, so I don't really watch this as closely as my husband, but I hope to in the year ahead.  If you've never done this before, here are a few tips on how to calculate gas mileage:

  • fill up your gas tank;
  • set the trip odometer to zero;
  • drive as usual;
  • when it is time for gas fill up, writing down both the gallons put into the car as well as the miles you recorded (the back of the receipt is ideal).
  • set the trip odometer to zero again;
  • then do the math -- divide the miles by the gallons.
Why bother with the math?  Personally, I find that monitoring numbers, data, etc. helps motivate me to be more efficient, more frugal, etc.  It can also help you detect if you need to add air to your tires, get a tune up,  and other routine maintenance.  If you are competitive it is great feedback.  

As for my "hypermiling", check out tomorrow's post for that story.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Plan Ahead, Save Money

Without question, I am Type A.  Several years ago at a professional development seminar I took a test on personality, I was the strongest Type A in the room....a room of 100 people.  Being Type A has its downsides, but it has its ups as well.  It proves to be a great asset in my professional wold -- my estate planning clients appreciate my organized manner.

As a parent, Type A habits can be troublesome.  But those habits can also save money.  Type A means I am not only organized, but a planner.  Here are two recent examples of ways I've saved money because of my natural tendency to think ahead and organize:

  1. Took a neighbor of my mother's up on an offer to take a kids bike from her garage....her husband had recently died and she was cleaning house.  We found numerous bikes, all used by her grandchildren.  We decided on a small red bike, which will become our son's once he is a bit older.  The only expense we'll have is getting it "tuned up" and some training wheels.  For that we'll go to Dream Bikes in Madison; great prices, quality service, and a non-profit! and
  2. Purchasing next summer and winter clothing for the children now, with a 20% off coupon, and the second hand store Savers.  On the last day of 2011 I did my monthly "thrift store" shopping.  I opted for that day because I had a 20% off coupon that expired on 12-31-11.  Coupon in hand I found brand new 4T snow pants.  A lovely light gray, they'll be perfect for our 3 year old next winter and our daughter in the years to follow.  The cost was $8.  They are cleaned and tucked in the 4T bin I keep in the basement.
Even if you are not a natural type A, you can predict some future expenditures.  Keep a list of items you will likely need, then watch for them at second hand stores or end of the season blow outs at retailers.  Set aside a spot in your home where you can store them, and you'll be on your way to frugal savings in no time.  The key, plan ahead and have a organizations system so that you can easily find those savings when you need them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pay With Cash, Live Frugally

Reduction, it is the first part of my new years resolution to reduce, reuse, and recycle more this year.  After a recent shopping trip this past weekend, I feel like I am accomplishing my goal.  And using cash was key.  Last week I took $120 cash out of the bank and earmarked it for groceries. On Friday I used $82 to pay for groceries, leaving $38 in my wallet for food we'd need over the week.  Sunday I realized that we were running low on whole milk and that I was out of olive oil.  I started putting together a list and planned to run over to Woodmans, our local warehouse grocery store.

With my son along for the trip I entered the store with list in hand.  After a glance I thought "I'll never get out of here spending only $38 -- this place always runs me close to $100 -- I guess I'll have to use the debit card.  Wait, wait, this is not how I want to shop. I have $38 and that is what I'm going to spend".  Even with a 3 1/2 year old shopping partner, I was able to focus on my list, cross of things that I would not really need before my next weekly shopping and find a few bargains.  For example, instead of picking up a loaf of bread that I normally pay $3.99 for, I decided to make a loaf at home (ingredients all on hand) if I really wanted bread.

We set a shopping record that day, leaving with two bags of items and spending $29.  I purchased 1 pound of organic hamburger (on sale for $3.99), pasta sauce, organic whole milk, olive oil, toilet paper made from recycled materials (8 rolls for $2), and V8 juice.  I still have $9 left, which will easily pay for the dozen eggs and yogurt I'll pick up mid-week at the store near my office.

Cash -- it made me pay attention, prioritize, and take control of my spending.  I was not on auto pilot.  I bought far less than normal.  Yes, I need more of this in my spending habits.

How about you -- do you spend with cash, debit, or credit?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Free Liquid Syringe from Target

As a parent of a teething toddler, I love the invention of Ibuprofen.  Actually, I love the fact that Target makes an off brand of the drug and sells it for half the price.  We opt to use the liquid version rather than the infant.  The infant formula is more concentrated, so a smaller amount goes farther.  But it also costs more.  So we use the liquid and need a syringe.  After several months of dosing several times a day the markings had worn off the  syringe.  It was one I had purchased at a pharmacy, paying something like $2 or $3.  We now have two new syringes and paid nothing for them. They were handed out for free by the pharmacy at Target.  Oh how I love Target these days.  So, if you have little kids, pets, or any other situation that calls for 10 ML or less, I encourage you to ask a pharmacy for a free syringe rather than paying for one.  Free, my favorite four letter word.

Friday, January 6, 2012

To Be Frugal: A New Year, A New Budget

Whether you are just now sticking your toes into frugal waters or hoping to take your frugal habits to new depths, a budget may be necessary.  Yes, a budget.  How many of you have one?  I mean a real budget.  One that is written down on actual paper or a spreadsheet.  It is completed prior to the month starting, and includes your project income and a direction on how that income will be spent.  When the month ends you reconcile, determining if you really did "stay within" budget.  A family budget has been apart of my marriage since we were engaged.  We each brought our own budgeting style to the relationship and now have a system that works well for both of us.  We often joke that our family finances are more like a business than a typical family.  The upside, we have our thumb on financial matters.  We control the money, money does not control us.
Photo credit: www.sxc.hu - free image

As we ushered in a new year we also ushered in a new spread sheet.  This year we are using Google Docs because we can both edit the document and monitor it to see if we are spending appropriately as the month progresses.  Along the top are the twelve months.  Down the side are expenditure categories.  First come the fixed expenses: housing, transportation, groceries, medical, child care, repair and replace, one-time charge, and fun.  The end of the list contains our various savings goals: health savings account, retirement, 529 plans, emergency fund build up, and extra towards the mortgage.

The way we control our money is as follows.  We enter the expected revenue for the month.  Since we are both self-employed there is a bit of guesswork involved, but we have a pretty good idea of what to expect.  Then we enter the anticipated expenses for the fixed categories; this is always less than our projected revenue.  The remaining balance is then directed at a savings category.  This year we've elected to max out our health savings account first.  Then tackle our retirement amount.  And so on as we work our way down the list.

A budget not only helps us control our spending, but it also reminds us of our goals.  Minutes before putting together the January budget I had been talking about an appealing new CSA I had learned about.  The cost was $300, and we were leaning towards a purchase.  After putting together the budget I had changed my mind.  We are serious about knocking out our savings goals so that we can pay down more of our mortgage.  I'd rather have a debt free home than a CSA.  I will still enjoy locally grown veggies this summer, I am just going to pay for them then and not now.

And that is how a budget helps this frugal person stay frugal.  How many of you do a budget or are willing to start?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Free Tax Advice From the IRS' Taxpayer Advocate

Death and taxes; two things no one escapes. I know that we are just a few days into a new year, but in my opinion it is never too early to start getting yourself organized for tax season.  If the idea of tackling your taxes sends shivers up your spine or causes you to want to bury your head in the sand, take a deep breath and know that you are not alone out there in the world of IRS publications.  Have you heard of the Taxpayer Advocate?  If not, keep reading.

Last fall, while attending a continue legal education seminar (I am an estate planning attorney as well as a writer on frugal living), I became aware of the Taxpayer Advocate.   Apparently there is a branch of the IRS devoted to giving you a voice, free of charge, with America's most hated federal government office.   In a few weeks you will be finding end of the year tax forms in your mail box.  And while we are in the depth of winter the clock is ticking towards April 15th - tax day.  Included on the web page is a list of low income tax clinics.

Photo credit: www.sxc.hu - free image

And for the social networking set, you can follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube -- I am NOT joking!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Frugal Swiffer Inspiration

It's 2012 and I am focusing on reduction, reuse, and recycle.  Towards the end of last year I received a message from a middle and high school classmate who reads my blog.  She thought I might be able to work the following post into my blog.  Thanks -- I really appreciate suggestions from readers.  While I do not use Swiffer products in my home, I really love the savvy behind LittleHouseInTheSubburbs.  If you use a Swiffer, check out her post for ways to make your own pads and solution.

My floor cleaning arsenal consists of a broom, dust pan, and a shop vac for heavy duty cleanings.  I've found the spritzing the broom with a bit of cleaner or water helps grab the dust bunnies the travel across our hardwood floors.  Very simple -- that is my motto.  

Photo credit: www.sxc.hu - free image

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Frugal Person's New Years Resolution

Welcome to 2012!  As we set off into a new year, my hope is to up my efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle.  Let me be more specific.  I want to set priorities.  Number one, reduce consumption of processed items.  Number two, reuse said processed items.  And number three, recycle the remaining processed items.  In that order.  Why?  Adjusting my life style will be good for my wallet, my health, and the earth.  What else could I possibly want?

Whether you've just stumbled upon this blog for the first time or have been a loyal reader, please share some thoughts on areas to reduce, reuse or recycle!  I could use some inspiration going into a new year.  Here is a great kids song by Jack Johnson to get the creative juices flowing.