Where fine and frugal come together


Recently, speaking with some of my co-workers about budgeting and getting debt-free, the statement was made to me “we aren’t even ready to start a budget.” My question is if you are in financial straights, how can you not budget??? Believe me it is hard — very hard to get started, but to get on the right financial path it is absolutely necessary.  The very first thing you have to do to be successful is do a reality check with yourself about what you really owe.  Remember — no debt is good debt, no matter what you may have heard.

Three years ago, when I sat down and looked at my world — I was shocked.  I didn’t think I was doing too bad in life. I had just gone through a divorce and had a little more credit card than normal. I also had a surgery a few months before and had some doctor bills. But they were on a payment plan and I was not having any trouble making the payments.  I had a car loan (for a brand new car), but everyone has car loans — right???  When I sat down and put all of the outstanding balances together, along with the monthly payments — I was dumbfounded.  I was $40,000 in debt (with no house debt).  How in the world did it happen.  All my life I felt I was living within my means, making payments on time, had good credit — where did I get astray.

Let me say, it was easy to say it was because of the divorce.  It is because of all the extra expenses I have had recently.  Everyone has debt. I’m doing fine.  But it wasn’t — I was $40,000 in debt and 50 years old.  I decided now – not later, was the time to fix this problem.

The first thing I did was get organized and look at what I really “needed” to spend in a month.  I then split this into two parts.  I get paid two times a month, so at the top of the page I wrote what my income was and then subtracted everything due in the first of the month pay period.  I then took what was left over on paper and added it to my income for the end of the month and subtracted everything I needed to pay the second half of the month.  The first thing I noticed was the amount of money I had left over.  Part of this is likely because I forgot a bill here or there.

The bigger part is because I was not controlling my money and it was dribbling out of my hands without even noticing.  What I did to really help myself get on track is write down everything I spent — no matter how small the amount.  I also switched to cash for my “allowance” which includes eating lunch out, personal care, stuff I just want — those type of things.  Before this exercise I rarely had cash — it was easy to just pull out the debit or credit card.  I also switched to paying cash for groceries. I was very disciplined — if I ran out of cash — I couldn’t spend any more money.

It was amazing to see where all of my cash was going, looking back over the years I was really not very good with money (even when I thought I was great).  By controlling exactly how much I was giving myself to spend, I was really able to get a handle on all of those little drips in my cash.  Even though I am now debt-free, I still manage my cash the same way.

After doing this for a month, I was ready to really budget — and really start the journey to debt-free.

Feeling Motivated

I hear and see on social media (a lot) from people who say they can’t eat healthier because it cost more, or they can’t exercise because it cost too much to join a gym, on and on.  I realized this weekend, just like all MY excuses — this is exactly what you are hearing excuses.

This time of year is the BEST time of year to eat healthier.  Even if you don’t grow your own garden — all the fresh fruits and vegetables are in season.  Also, in addition to your local farmers market (a big trend in all areas) — lots of communities now have community gardens (even in big cities).  We; however, do grow our own favorite vegetables and supplement others we want occasionally from the Market.

So now we have our veggies…let’s talk about what else we are eating.  Meat — we as Americans love meat.  The thing about meat is it is helpful to us in small portions (3 ounces or less).  We have gotten so used to huge portions, we don’t even know what three ounces is any more. Below is a good image of what 3 ounces looks like (photo credit to: community.ihealthlabs.com)


Also, at least in my part of the Country (the heartland) — meat has gotten very, very expensive.  So to counter-act the rising costs and in the hope of eating better; we have not only reduced the amount of meat we are eating we now try a couple of times a week to have a “meatless day”.  So for instance, last night we had some peppers and onions from the garden we needed to cook.  I took the peppers, onions, a can of mushrooms and sautéed in butter (yes real butter).  I added a bit of taco type seasoning.  We then ate this on the Aldi brand of Fit and Active flatbread, with a little grated cheese and a little low-fat sour cream.  This whole meal (including butter, cheese and flat bread) was about 264 calories and tasted delicious (wish I had taken some pictures).  My point is this meal was good, feeling and healthy…we had plenty to eat and it cost us less than $5 for the total meal.

This afternoon, I’m going to spend some time cleaning vegetables and putting them in nice containers so I have healthy choices at hand for my lunch and snacks all week.  I am also working on the quality of the foods we buy and as I have brilliant finds and ideas, will share more.

If you eat local, in-season and cut down your meat — this should not impact your budget too much.  You do need to trade some of those packaged foods for fruit and vegetables.  Look online for recipes — I have found lots of recipes I can through together in less than 20 minutes and have a much healthier, more delicious meal.

The next excuse is the dreaded “EXERCISE.” Believe me, I am not by nature an athletic person.  However, I know if I want to live a healthy life into my elder years I need to get healthier and more fit.  I also know from experience, the only way to get fit and feel better is to exercise (which has the added benefit of making you feel better).  Again, this time is a great time of year because you can get all the exercise you need without any gym equipment or much added expense.  You can walk.  Funny thing about walking, you can do it anywhere — big city, out in the country, small town — anywhere. You just to make time, not excuses.

I am fortunate, in the community I live there is a “rails to trails” trail-way.  It is close to our house and from where we start to the heart of our City it is a little over three miles.  We also are very lucky to have a great park systems with lots of paved trails, making walking easy.  When we first started the healthier journey, I was lucky to be able to do 1.5 miles.  However, over the last month we have greatly stepped up our game and this morning we pushed ourselves to the wall and did 6.1 miles.

Because it is the end of July, it is blazing hot and 99% humidity. So, to make sure we didn’t get to hot or dehydrated we started our walk around 8:00 in the morning.  Although it was hot when we finished, we did finish.  We also took water with us and stayed very hydrated.  There are also water fountains along the trail where you can refill your water if you need.

To track what I am eating and exercise, I am using My Fitness Pal.  It is free and very easy to use.  MFP has lots of tips, a huge database of foods and makes it easy.  You can either use it on a computer or on your phone.  Again this is FREE at http://www.myfitnesspal.com.  There are other similar sites, but this is my favorite.

So the point of all this — just get started, NO EXCUSES.

No More Excuses

No Excuses2

With the beginning of the last half of the year, I decided this is a time to recommit to several things important in my life. I am very much like many other people in it is easy to make an excuse for why, why, why. One of the things I have let go to the wayside is this blog. I have made the decision I am going to write what is in my heart and if you enjoy reading what I write it is a good day for both of us. I have also made a recommitment to get healthy and lose some weight. This post will be mostly about this decision, what I am doing and why I really don’t have an excuse to not make myself healthier.

My story started five years ago when I was a year away from my 50th birthday. My kids were grown and I really wasn’t happy with my life. The day before my 49th birthday me and my husband of almost 30 years decided to part our ways. I moved from a long commute to 2 miles from work. The first few months I floundered a bit, but found my footing.

I then made the decision it was time to get healthier. I worked very hard and lost 25 pounds (yeah me). I turned 50 to great celebration and three weeks later met the man of my dreams. At first, I kept up with the exercise and even though I wasn’t always eating great, I did it enough it wasn’t a big deal. Then as I got deeper in the relationship, I began to find excuses for us not to work out. Instead many evenings, we would go eat somewhere. As we all know eating out is never as healthy as cooking at home.

Then I decided to marry this man of my dreams and move 50 miles from my day job. Now I was really able to make excuses (I get home too late, I’m too tired, it has been a long day…on and on and on). So here I am 4 hours later and have regained every pound I lost.

Then — the worst thing ever happened. My dear father died rather suddenly and all at once mortality became a real thing. So at the beginning of the new half of this year, my dear husband and I decided we were really going to get healthy.

So you may be asking yourself — what exactly does this have to do with being frugal. Well over the next few weeks, I will tell you exactly how I am losing weight and getting healthier without adding any more to our budget. Just like the exercise and eating right — this post is to get me back on the right track of doing something I love — writing about what is important to me and how to do it as cost-effectively as possible.

How Does Your Garden Grow


This morning when I woke up it was 5 degrees in the Midwest.  So like all crazy mid-westerners I thought today would be a great day to start planning our garden.  We moved last summer, so this year we will start from scratch at our new home.  As we are planning the new garden space, the very first thing we need to do is call about where all of the underground cables are on the property.  Anytime you are starting a new garden space, this needs to happen so you don’t accidently hit a utility line.  You can call 811 from anywhere in the United States to get this information.  Once this is done, we will plot out where the garden will be.

We will have two distinct garden plots.  The first plot will be our vegetable garden.  For this plot, we will have an “early” garden.  The early garden will consist of lettuce, radishes and onions.  We sow the lettuce and radishes directly in the ground.  We will buy the onion sets.  These are great early vegetables as they prefer the cool nights we have in the spring.  I found this great chart online with a calendar for planting in your particular area http://www.burpee.com/gygg/growingCalendarNoZipCode.jsp.

Soon, we will also start some seedlings inside for transplanting later in the Spring when they will be ready. We did this last year for the first time and had some success.  I am planning on starting some herbs (basil and cilantro), peppers, broccoli and cauliflower.  We did not have great luck with tomatoes so we will likely go to the local greenhouse and buy the plants.

The second garden area will be my herb garden.  This will be our fourth year for an herb garden and I finally have the basics.  I am starting to do more on a personal level with herbs and natural remedies, so I will expand.  In the meantime, I know we will at a minimum have basil, cilantro (lots of cilantro), rosemary, and oregano.  I have begun researching other herbs that have historically grown well in our area and will expand.  At our previous home, I did the herb garden as a raised bed and thrived.  The picture at the top of the post was my very first herb garden right after it was planted.  I will probably do the same thing here.  We will also need to figure out some squirrel deterrent as there are tons of squirrels in our new neighborhood.

As the days grow longer, I know there won’t be too much more brutal weather like we are having now. I am looking forward to the warm sunshine and getting my hands in the dirt again and seeing my garden grow.

menu planAs part of my concentrated effort to pay off my car, my dear husband and I are going back to basics of saving at the grocery store.  The first thing we did was go through the freezer and make sure our freezer inventory was up to date.  There a several ways to keep track of your inventory.  The easiest is probably to just keep it in a handwritten notebook and update as you use up the contents.  This gives us a starting place.

With the inventory in place, I now begin the week’s plan.  Normally on Sunday, we will have a larger piece of meat.  We will then take the leftovers of this and reuse in a different meal later in the week.  In this way, we don’t waste the leftovers and it doesn’t feel like we are eating leftovers every other day.

For instance, this week I am going to make roasted chicken and vegetables for Sunday’s dinner.  On Tuesday, we will take the leftovers of the chicken and make a chicken vegetable soup.  Roasted chicken is one of my favorite leftovers as there are so many ways to reuse.   This week we are making chicken vegetable soup, but we could have also used the leftovers to make enchiladas, grilled chicken for salad, chicken tacos.  The chicken I choose is a six pounder, so we will likely have enough to freeze even after we make the soup.  Any leftovers of the soup will also be frozen and I will take them in my lunch in the next 6 to 8 weeks.  Because it is still cold, we will also have chili this week.  When we make chili we make a huge pot.  My dear husband shares with friends and relatives, we will eat leftovers and we will freeze some for later.

At our home, we plan the menu together and make our grocery list based on the plan.  We also keep a list on the fridge of staples we are low on so we don’t forget, or worse get to the grocery and say “do we need _____” and end up overspending buying stuff we don’t need.  If there is a really good deal on a staple we love, we will stock up a bit.  However, we try not to have too much more than we will use in a month’s time.  We like to shop together, as this makes us more accountable.  We never ever go hungry — we always overspend when we are hungry.

During the week my dear husband does all of the cooking, following the plan. Using a dry/erase marker, I put the menu on the fridge for him.

I made a magnetic border for the fridge using duct tape and magnetic strips.  I don’t think it is Pinterest quality, but it does the job.

tools for menu board


The Power of Cash


Three years ago, I started a journey to get debt-free.  All of my adult life, I have had some sort of debt.  It was the “normal” debt (credit cards, auto, mortgage).  When I began my journey as a newly single lady, I knew I had to get more control.  What I have found on this journey is that many of us seem to live just a little above our income.  This puts us in a vicious circle of paying one thing, creating new debt, paying it down and on and on.  When I met my dear husband, I found there is a better way to live.  So for the past three years, not only have I been living below my income level — I have been dumping debt.  I am now to the point I will be debt free in three months.

When I started the journey, the first thing I did was sit down and see exactly how much debt I had.  I was shocked when I saw the real numbers.  Although I had always knew about what my bills were, I really wasn’t doing much to get out of debt.  Debt is normal and everyone has it, right???  The number scared me — I didn’t even have any mortgage debt and I was almost $40,000 in debt.  A large part of this was my car which I had just purchased — brand new.  I also had multiple credit cards I had used throughout my divorce.  This turned out to be about $10,000.  It was time to get serious.

The first big change I made is I started using cash for most purchases. What I found is I didn’t spend nearly as much money when I really saw what things cost.  The other thing we do each month is put our budget in writing.  As a part of this budget process, I notate the cash line items.  I get paid twice a month, so I break our budget into two parts.

Before beginning my debt-free journey, I used to eat out every day.  Most days, this was at a “sit-down” restaurant.  I was averaging $15 a day for lunch.  This is more than $300 a month — just for eating out at lunch.  Once I realized this, I stopped doing this immediately.  I still occasionally eat out, but it comes out of my “personal” budget.  This is the same budget I use for hair care and any other pampering.  I on purpose made this dollar amount as small as possible to make me think before I do.  This extra money went directly to paying down the debt.

Groceries were another weak area for me and frankly my dear husband, who is more frugal by nature than I am.  We both felt we were a little out of control on grocery spending, so we came up with a monthly dollar amount comfortable for both of us, but less than we were spending.  I divided this number two and it is the amount of cash I withdraw each month for this category.  For both of us, our grocery spending went way down because we had a finite amount of cash.  Again this “extra” money goes toward debt.

As you all know, not every month is the same and there are some months where you know you are going to spend more.  How we managed this is any cash leftover at the end of the month stays in the envelope.  We then use the extra cash on months we have bigger grocery expenditures.  In our case, we had a nice little amount built up as we went into the holidays.  We also budgeted a little bit extra in December for all of the holiday gatherings and parties.

We do still use a card for gas purchases.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, when you go to get gas, it is so much easier to pay at the pump.  The other reason is we really track our gas purchases and adjust our budget on a monthly basis.  I have a very long commute to my full time job and it is important to stay on track.

Just by realizing what I was really spending and changing it to a cash mentality, I was able to add this “extra” money to my debt.  As the months turn into Spring, I will talk more about how I dumped all my debt and got to where I am today.  I hope you enjoy my journey.


As we are all putting our houses back in order from the 2014 Holiday, this is a good time to begin thinking about 2015.  There is one thing for certain in life — birthdays, Christmas and other celebrations comes at the same time every year.  As we were doing our goal setting for 2015, we set aside a budget category for gifts and vacations.  We started with birthdays.  We wrote down everyone we give a gift to on their birthday and wrote down the amounts.  We then looked at Christmas.  We set the amount we were going to spend on each person on our list and then added it up, this became our gift budget.

Next we looked at vacation.  We know how many vacations we plan on taking in 2015 and set out budget amount for each of these vacations.  After this was completed.  We took the total amount and divided it by 12.  This is the amount we need to set aside each month.  By doing it this way, we always have money available for birthdays or other celebrations.  This makes the holidays and vacations much more stress free.

The reason we combine these categories is two-fold.  First, we try to not make our budget too complicated.  We feel by having more general categories it gives us more flexibility.  The reason it make sense to combine these two categories is this is the first area we would cut if we needed to tighten our budget in any way.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.