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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Frugal Living - December Part 2

Here is an update on our past month adventures in side hustles and savings!

Health Insurance:  

This is my 3rd year of working as an independent contractor and paying my own health insurance.  I could write a much longer post on my thoughts on the Affordable Care Act and how it has impacted us in both positive and negative ways and I will write this post, but for now I simply want to say we got a bill from Evergreen Health that was set to increase our premium by $300!  I had no intentions of pay this steep increase and immediately started looking for alternatives.  A friend at church suggested Samaritan Ministries.  For $440 per month, my husband and I could pay into a system where Christians pay each other's medical expenses. It's not insurance, but it's legally accepted on tax returns to act in place of insurance.  

$440 is about $200 lower than our 2016 monthly premium and the additional savings can be put aside for medical needs not covered by Samaritan Ministries such as regular office check ups and some prescriptions.  I did the math and in theory we should have more money in our pockets by end of year.  

To be honest, it's a huge leap of faith and it feels weird to not be covered by traditional insurance!  I don't know if it's a safety blanket or what but it was a tough decision to make.  I did a ton of research and couldn't find a compelling reason to NOT give this a try so we are on board.

I kept the kids on the Maryland plan because for $66 per month, it covers all their doctor visits, vision, dental, etc.  I'm so happy with this plan.  If and when it goes away in the upcoming years, I'll have to more carefully budget for their needs but for now, we will enjoy this plan for as long as it lasts.  

Consignment Sale:

Despite my disappointment in the last sale, I found another one that was doing a Christmas sale at the beginning of December.  I thought it might be nice to gain some extra money for the holiday's so I put in my due diligence and updated all my winter items that didn't sell at the last sale to the pricing tags for the new one.  I have to say this one was even more of a disappointment.

I sold 84 items and made $136.74.  The process to find all remaining items that didn't sell took me over 3 hours!  The shoes were such a mess that I found one boot of a pair, the clothing was a bit disorganized so it was very hard to find my items and I must have checked the toy section half a dozen times and couldn't find certain items.  When I was leaving, I made copies of my paperwork and highlighted all my missing items.  They promised to call me back once they found my items but I never heard back from them.  They were also late in sending the check or didn't send it at all.  I finally managed to get it on the 30th right before leaving for Asia.  

The space was an entire ballroom and it was just massive.  Maybe I had tried to hit too many categories?  I don't know but it was an exhausting experience.  I much prefer the other sale that I had done twice in the year.  It's a much smaller room and I've never had such trouble finding my things or getting a check in the end.

The Penny Hoarder and Money Saving Mom:

Both websites have given me some very interesting things to do with my spare time but they can be extreme time sucks.  I think they are wonderful websites with lots of great advise but some of these apps and websites are time consuming with very little return.  I have to be more careful in the future to not go overboard in things that are not adding enough value.

Here are a few examples:

  • Swag Bucks - I know some people swear by this site but for me it's a big time suck.  The inbox suggestions lead to online gambling, medical things, watch movie trailers for a few points, etc.  You can also buy things through SB like Ebates and it will add reward points.  I've tried cross comparing between the two and I think it's like airline miles.  You need to find one and stick with it to get the biggest balance of points on one account.  I think I'm going to stick with Ebates because it's easy and I don't have time to click on a hundred websites to earn points.  I just want to get a small discount when I do online shopping and Ebates meets this need.  
    • The Swag Bucks app has survey's but I've found that 100% of the survey's I've tried to do say they will give you big points but as soon as I try to take them I get a notice saying they've exceeded the number of people who can do the survey or I don't qualify.  Well update your system to not show the survey if you've got enough applicants!  That's just irritating so I've stopped even trying to do these survey's.
  • Free stuff comes with a price of extra emails in your inbox and quite a few tricks to achieve the free result.  Case in point - I got a free Play Doh set from Toys R Us through Money Saving Mom but I had to pay full price and was supposed to get reimbursed.  I don't think the reimbursement came through.  I don't know who to chase for that and I don't have time.  So stuff like that is too time consuming to get something for free.  I will budget for what I need.  I'm not going out of my way to get a free item.  Time is more important to me than free stuff.
  • MySurvey - last month I contemplated ending my relationship with this company and after a month of ignoring them the emails piled up to over 60!  I tried doing a few more survey's and I'd only get a few points per survey.  After two months I'd not even accumulated enough for one gift card!  I'm out! 
  • Shop Tracker - my phone hated this app.  I had to turn on an exception to get it to work and it caused other problems.  Then I realized that Pinecone Research (which I love) already uses the same bot to track my spending on Amazon so I couldn't use both.  I deleted Shop Tracker.   
In summary, there are some great ways to save and earn money but the trade off is time!  Is my time more valuable in spending it with family?  Cleaning my basement of clutter?  Studying our eating habits and finding healthier ways to live on our food budget?  There are so many distractions in this world.  To me the biggest budget impacts have been big decisions like switching our health insurance to Samaritan Ministries, that $200 savings will have a far greater impact with less monthly time investment in earning that!  So I'm at a point where if I find a great app or website like Pinecone Research, I'll work it into my routine but the other stuff has to go.  My time is more valuable spent elsewhere.  

Friday, December 30, 2016

Frugal Living ~ December Part 1

December is a two part series.  The first is dealing with Christmas and all it's associated expenses and the second will be about how our extra money saving and earning adventures are going.

Christmas Gifts:
Last year, in an attempt to combat the sheer volume of excess toys in our house and to curb over-spending, I talked to my entire family about getting the kids family gifts and less individual presents.  Somehow, we've ended up with the only children on both sides of the family so they are doted on by all!  My husband is an only child and my two brothers do not have kids.  My kids are so lucky!

I also find that when they get too many individual gifts in one day, they fight!  And that drives me crazy.  So I thought more family gifts and less individual gifts would solve that particular issue.

I settled on one really great toy for each child, one lego, one book, clothing needs and a full stocking.  In addition, we did one big box of family gifts that included a Fiesty Pet, Rock and Sock Em Robots, Play Doh, movies, snacks and more lego's.  This list was shared with family.

Many of the family box gifts were bought throughout the year when I got a good deal.  I got cousin and family gifts this way as well so it wasn't so hard on the budget in December.  It was actually kinda fun to open the box of saved presents and wrap everything in one day!

My mom got the kids a big play house from Cracker Barrel to share; my older brother didn't get the memo and got them individual toys and my younger brother brought games and movies for all to share.  My cousin got them small arts and crafts which they enjoyed.

I was very pleased with the end result.  The kids were told well in advance to not expect a massive pile of presents but to be honest it still felt like we were blessed with so much.  I'm very thankful for my loving and giving family, they really love and treat us so well.

Having a set formula of toy, lego, book, clothing, family gifts and stocking helped me organize the search of items for 4 children and not go overboard on additional items.  Many many things that they asked for were set aside for future birthday's.  I try to take them to the store one time in the Christmas season to get their reaction to toys and determine what will be the best toy and then I try to avoid the stores with the kids at all costs!

We didn't travel anywhere this month.  I really wanted to go back to Texas but we were asked to do a play at church and then there were several other church events that we supported.  I think it can't be a spontaneous decision, next year it will have to be pre-planned and announced well in advance so we don't end up with commitments that conflict with possible travel dates.  I'm going to set aside a budget in 2017 for summer and Christmas travel because it's been 3 years since we've had Christmas in Texas and I'd really like to do this again in 2017.  I think that by starting a discipline of less toys in 2016 it will be easier to afford a trip next year.

I think every December my food bill goes over budget.  We eat out more, host small gatherings, buy more expensive foods for Christmas and New Years.  This year we went over our normal food budget by $242.50.  I think that's to be expected but next year I'll try to plan for this.

We have a rule to buy one family ornament per year,  We did not buy any new decorations this year other than this one ornament.  I wanted to get one of those outdoor lighting systems that shines a pattern on the house but we were so busy this month with the play and work commitments that we did the bare minimum on house decorating with stored supplies.

Stocking Stuffers:
I think I went a bit overboard in this area.  I spent $25 at Toys R Us and $10-15 at Dollar Stores plus about 3-4 hours in both places trying to find interesting things that weren't even played with because they had so many other gifts.  Maybe next year I'll bake a special cookie or treat for each stocking.

Overall, December is a month that will test even the most resolved budget.  It's the ultimate test of discipline because it is so easy go go overboard with everything.  I find that if I write it out in detail, I will read this next year and refine my approach further.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Evie's 2nd Birthday - Tears and Joy! Exactly what you would expect of a two year old!

Evie's day started with me running out the door to get a mammogram.  It was my last chance to get it for free before ending my relationship with an actual health insurance company.  I arrived home to find her happy and playful.  It was almost 11am and everyone seemed hungry so I suggested Chick Fil A for lunch.

I failed to realize that Evie's birthday falls on a holiday week (between Christmas and New Years) meaning lots of kids out of school and available to eat at CFA.  It was so crowded we couldn't find seats!  There were so many kids that Evie and Vi huddled close to mom and dad.  We took our food and ate at home, no big deal.

After lunch I went downstairs to blow up balloons and wrap presents while dad made the cake.

We decided on a unicorn cake because Evie was born year of the horse.  It was spectacular!  Family arrived and she shrieked over every person.  It was a shriek that continued throughout the day!

Presents piled up in a corner and food was presented on a pink table cloth.  Evie was positioned at the front of the table with the cake and candles.  As the entire family launched into the Happy Birthday song Evie screamed "NOOOOOOOO" and emphatically demanded we all stop singing.  It's all on camera for her to enjoy when she gets older.

I have to say, this is the first child who has screamed "NOOOOO" during his/her birthday song.  Other than hating her birthday song, she seemed to enjoy the remainder of her day, although she continued to scream "NO" every time she caught me taking a photo (sorry for the blurry shots, it's about all I have to represent the day)