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Friday, July 25, 2008

Money Matters

It seems everyone around me is trying to find ways to cut down on expenses these days, since the expenses seem to be rising, so I thought I would write about what I do to keep my budget in order.


 


First of all, we should not be listening to the media and accepting the fear they’re handing out.  Ultimately, God is my source of prosperity and I will not panic when the economy around me is looking grim.  The economy will bounce back; it has had these ups and downs throughout our whole nation’s history.  Our economy runs on bubbles and the next bubble is brewing.  We are coming out of the housing bubble, before that there was the dot.com bubble.  I have heard that alternative energy could be the next bubble.  So we shouldn’t live in fear that our country could sink into another great depression.  We should, however, be WISE with our money in times like these (for that matter, all the time).


 


In general, it is not wise to make large, unnecessary purchases in times like this.  Wait to buy that toy when the economy is doing better.  It is also a general rule to have (at least) three months salary saved up in case of layoffs or job loss.  You would want to put money into this fund BEFORE your IRA or retirement fund.  If there was a layoff or job loss situation, you wouldn’t want to pull your money out of retirement funds and have to pay the penalties and extra taxes.  In general, in good times and bad, you should be saving 10% of your income.  This is your rainy day fund; you never know when you need a new dishwasher, oven, or washing machine.  Most importantly, get out of debt, if you have any.  Debt is bondage; the Bible tells us that the borrower is SLAVE to the lender.  I’m not talking about house debt here, which is widely regarded as an investment, but all other debt that is typically on items that depreciate (lose value), like cars, televisions, appliances, and of course credit card debt.  If needed, get some help, check out someone like Dave Ramsey.  And above all, don’t stop giving!  (Luke 6:38)


 


If you don’t have a budget, you need to sit down and write one out.  Many people feel that a budget will restrict them, but in reality it does the opposite, it brings freedom.  With a budget you no longer have to live paycheck-to-paycheck, you won’t have the stress of wondering how you will pay for that car repair.  You can go and buy fun stuff, guilt-free, when you have a budget.  There is a Biblical principle at work here, too.  If you are believing for financial prosperity and increase, now is definitely the time to budget your money, control your spending and manage your money wisely.  When you are faithful with least, you will be blessed with increase.  When you are UNfaithful with the little that you have, you won’t be able to handle increase and therefore won’t be blessed with increase.  (Matt. 25:21 & Luke 16:10) 


 


When you write out your budget, think of EVERY category that you spend money on, not just the basics, like house, gas, and food.  If you have a once yearly expense for termite protection on your house, split that expense into 12 monthly payments and set that money aside.  Then when the bill is due, you have all the money to pay it.  Set aside a certain amount for car repairs, house repairs, household decorations, dining out, entertainment, and even an allowance of sorts.  This allowance, one for you and one for your spouse, allows for frivolous spending without guilt.


 


We started doing an envelope system.  Each month we divide our paycheck into various envelopes, like oil changes, car tags, lawn spray service, groceries, gas, etc.  With my utility bills I figured up what my average was, using my last 12 bills.  If my current bill is below the average, then I set aside the difference, in cash, in the envelope.  If it is over, then I pull the cash out of that envelope and put it in the bank to cover that bill.  So as far as my budget is concerned, my utility bill stays the same every month.  I hope that makes sense.  Every so often we do need to re-evaluate those utility bills and adjust our budget.  I noticed recently that the rates had increased on my electric bill.  Now, if you really need some discipline in this area, stick to cash only and use your envelopes.  Take groceries, for example, figure what you SHOULD be spending and take your cash to the store.  Don’t let yourself use the debit/credit card or checks, only spend what cash you brought.  I brought my calculator to the store with me for several months until I got in a good routine.  I would add up my items as I shopped so that I knew what my total would be before I got to the checkout.  Then there is no embarrassment when you need to put certain items back if you are over your limit. :)


 


Now if you write out a budget and realize that you can’t save 10% of your income or your expenditures exceed your income, you need to find ways to cut back.  There are many ways to cut back that most people don’t think matter, but it’s the little things that add up.  You can cut out the daily Starbucks, take a sack lunch to work instead of eating out, cut back on dining out in general, cut out the tanning, nails, gym membership (workout at home), housekeeper, and expensive haircuts and color (go to Sally’s and do your own color).  Review your bills and see if things can be changed.  Are you on the right cell phone plan?  You can cut back from digital cable to basic cable, or cut out cable altogether.  We cut out our land line years ago and just have cell phones.  You can increase your deductible on your insurance to save on the monthly fee (but be aware that if you have to make a claim, you will pay the higher deductible).  Organize and clean out closets and cupboards.  You will realize there are things in your house that you forgot about and thought you needed to buy.  Have a garage sale or post your items on eBay.  Visit your local library to checkout books, CDs, magazines, and DVDs.  Skip the theater and wait for the DVD, it only takes four months now to be released.  Can your Netflix be downgraded?  They have plans that start at $5.00 now.  Also, check out Redbox, an automated rental vending machine system in local grocery stores.  You can go online and reserve your movie and then go up to the local store and pick it up.  The best part is, their movies are ONLY $1.00 each!


 


Often, cutting out the above-mentioned unnecessary items makes a big difference, but what if you don’t spend money on those items and you still need to cut back?  Now you need to get into FRUGAL mode.  I will tell you ways I am frugal, but you can get a lot more ideas from a publication like The Tightwad Gazette, it’s available at the library.


 


First get rid of temptations, don’t go to the mall if you can’t handle it.  I HATE shopping, so the mall isn’t a temptation to me, but I did like to ogle over catalogs.  This created wants that didn’t exist before.  My mental list of things just kept growing and growing.  I finally recognized the problem with this, so I started throwing away the catalogs the minute they came in the mail and the funny thing is, they don’t come any more!  I didn’t think junk mail EVER stopped.  I didn’t even have to protest like Kramer did.  :)  Seriously, turn off the TV, do whatever you have to do to get rid of the temptation to spend money.  I realized this was an issue with the weekend newspaper, too.  We cancelled it because the coupons didn’t justify the purchase of the paper and then I recognized that each week I was looking over the sale ads, it just made me spend more and want more.  It’s certainly okay to buy things you want, but DON’T let advertising MAKE you want something!  I especially watch this in my children, they only get to watch a fraction of the commercials on TV and we are always discussing marketing on packages.  I really only used to screen commercials for the clean/family viewing factor, but one day we were watching America’s Funniest Home Videos and a pharmaceutical commercial came on.  I didn’t bother to switch the channel because there wasn’t anything lewd on it.  Then, all of a sudden, my son said, “I need that.”  I looked up and realized it was an ad for a sleep aid for insomnia!  My 8 year old does NOT need to THINK that he needs a drug to help him go to sleep.  I had to explain to him that commercials are temptations; they make you THINK you need things when most often you don’t!  A legitimate advertisement informs you of a service or product WITHOUT trying to appeal to your flesh (sex sells), your eyes (think about the shampoo commercial that shows the woman with super-shiny, thick, lustrous hair), or your ego (think car commercials).


 


This brings me to my next point; identify your needs and your wants.  Cut out the wants.  This can be hard, sometimes, often our wants look like needs.  For example, I have a gas grill in my backyard that is about 11 years old.  The handle on the front has broken off, the flame isn’t consistent; it has hot spots, and the starter button has broken; we have to use a lighter to ignite it.  Many would say that I need a new grill, but I don’t.  I could stand to buy a new set of the ceramic “coals” and a new burner (to get a consistent flame), but I can live with lighting it with lighter and I use an oven mitt to open the lid.  All this will cost less than $50, rather than a new grill averaging $400.  Sure, I want a new grill, but it is WAY down on my list.  I don’t actually need a new grill.  So sit down and identify what REALLY are your needs and your wants and start cutting back on the wants.  It is CERTAINLY okay to spend your money on the wants, BUT if they are putting you in the hole or keeping you from saving your 10%, then you have GOT to cut them out.


 


Here is my list of frugal tips.


·         Turn off lights – this is one I’m trying to get better at.


·         Use washcloths instead of paper towels (I do keep paper towels on hand for certain jobs like cleaning up grease or cutting up a chicken, but that’s about it) and use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.  When I do need a paper towel, I think of the least amount I need for the job, often that’s a piece only a few inches square.


·         Cut out the chemical cleaners – I almost exclusively use baking soda and vinegar for cleaning and it has saved me a LOT!  I do keep rubbing alcohol on hand to cut the kitchen grease that builds up on cabinets and the top of the fridge, but that is also much cheaper than cleansers.


·         I use half the recommended dishwashing powder, I only fill one cup instead of two.


·         I buy the cheapest laundry detergent I can find, Xtra.  It’s only about $3.00 for a bottle that says it does 50 loads.  I think I use less than the recommended amount.  I add 2 tablespoons of baking soda to each load to boost the detergent’s power.  So for each load I pay .06 cents for the detergent and .03 cents for the baking soda, for a total of .09 cents.


·         Buy some foaming soap pumps.  This has saved me a lot in hand and dish soap.


·         Save on gas – stay home!  I am serious.  :)  We had to make do with one car for 5 months, so I got in a good habit of only doing errands once a week.  If you do have to go out, drive the speed limit or even a little under, it does make a difference.  Plan your route to conserve gas.  Have your spouse run an errand or two on the way home from work, rather than making a special trip on the weekends.


·         Never go shopping without a list and plan your meals for the week.  Set a specific shopping day and stick to it.  The more often you shop, the more you spend.  Each time you will buy some impulsive items, so if you can cut out the middle of the week trips you will save.  As stated before, you will save money if you take a calculator to the store and add as you shop.


·         Cut out packaged food (have I said that before?).  :)  You’re just paying for extra packaging, handling, and shipping charges.  When you go to the grocery store, think ingredients.


·         I cut out deli meats; since they are more processed, they are more expensive.  The cheapest is about $3.00 a pound.  I can buy chicken for .88 cents a pound and cook the breast meat for sandwiches instead.  We were buying a pound a week from the deli, now that we’re not I’m saving $9 a month.  Plus, my husband says it tastes SO much better!


·         Buy cheese in the block and shred yourself.


·         Deny yourself the steaks and shrimp for a while.  Hey!  Eating chicken more often is better than eating rice and beans!


·         Check the local grocery ads and see if your store will match the prices so you don’t have to drive all over town.


·         I buy whole chickens and cut them into parts for our different meals, I save an average of $22 EVERY week by doing this.  That’s $95 a month!!!!  Who couldn’t use an extra $95 a month?!?  That is definitely worth the few minutes it takes to cut them up.  See below for instructions.


·         Make more things from scratch.  I cut out granola bars and just keep homemade muffins in the freezer now.  I haven’t done the math, but I can bet the muffins cost mere pennies compared to the granola bars.  So if I saved $2.50 on a box of granola bars a week that would be $10 a month.  It does seem like a little here and there, but you must realize these things really do add up.


·         Choose cost-conscious meals.  I don’t do casseroles, but we do a lot of soups.  This stretches the dollar and saves me nights in the kitchen.  Some dollar-stretching meals that come to mind are Chili, White Chili, Chicken Pot Pie, Chicken and Dumplings, Spaghetti with Marinara (meatless sauce), Macaroni and Cheese, and homemade pizza.


·         Cut back on eating out.  If you’re going to be out, think ahead and pack a little cooler with some sandwiches and snacks, rather than grabbing fast food.  I cannot remember the last time I ate fast food; really, it’s been years.  Instead of going out for pizza, make a great tasting one at home.  Make a batch of my French Bread dough, let rise, then roll out on a pizza stone, cover with Marinara and various toppings.  Bake at 400°F for 15 to 30 minutes (depending on how many toppings).


·         I have simplified my beauty regimen, including facial products, hair products and lotions.  I used to spend $60 to $90 for a line of facial cleansers, toners and moisturizers.  Now I spend under $10 AND, my skin has never been clearer.  See here for more info.


·         Do you really need the salon shampoos and conditioners?  Again, identify the needs versus the wants.


·         Eat less.  Okay, now I’m reaching.  But, seriously, if you need to lose some weigh, cut back on your portions, it will save you some money!  J


 


I will include another piece of advice that has been working for others.  Clipping coupons.  I have tried this in the past, but haven’t been able to save much.  Either I don’t buy enough packaged food items or I’m not doing something right.  Some are coming out of Walmart with $100 worth of groceries, but only paying about $20 after coupons.  I am going to check this out again.  See these websites for more information.  http://www.moneysavingmom.typepad.com


http://www.moneysavingmom.com/


 


Just remember, every little bit helps.  Pray and ask God for wisdom in your finances, He will give you ideas.  I believe that it’s important to step out in obedience to God, first, and practice self-control in our spending.


 


How to Cut a Chicken



 




 

 

 


Rinse the chicken and lay on cutting board.  I like to put some paper towels down to soak up juices.  Make sure your knife is sharp.  I like to start with the breast, so I have it breast up.  It’s easiest for me to have the legs facing away from me.



 




 

 

 

First cut in the middle of the breast.  You will encounter the breastbone (sternum); you will need to cut along side this bone.




 


Keep cutting down along side the breastbone and the rib bones.  I pull the knife toward me in long slicing motions; I don’t use sawing motions here.



 

 


 




 


You will not be cutting through any bone, if you encounter a bone, just cut around it.  There is a small ligament to separate the breast meat.  Then the breast meat just pulls easily away from the skin. 



 

 



 



Next I turn the chicken 90° so that the legs are to my right (I’m right-handed).  Do the same on this side as the last, cutting on the other side of the breast bone and down along side the ribs.






Next, I grab the chicken by the wing and hold the wing up.



 

 




 


In this picture you will see that I am cutting the wing off of the chicken.  I cut with my knife (this time in sawing motions) under the wing pit, looking for the joint.  You won’t have to cut through bone; you should find the joint and cut right between the two bones.



 

 




 


Now that the wing is off, I lay it on the cutting board and cut off the tip at the joint.  Again, you won’t be cutting through bone, just between joints.  I save the tips for broth.



 

 




 


Now I have the remainder of the wing, I will hold it in my hand and pull the knife up between the joints.



 

 




 


Now you have two parts of the wings, the little drumstick and the other piece.



 

 




 


Next I flip the chicken over, breast side down.



 

 




 


Grab hold of the leg and bend it backwards to pop the joint out.



 

 




 


Now cut the leg off at the thigh along side the body.  You won’t cut through bone, you will see the thigh joint and just cut between the joint.



 

 




 


Now you have the leg and thigh piece.  Sometimes there is excess skin to cut off.  I leave the leg/thigh pieces together.  If you want your drumsticks separate from the thighs you can easily cut them apart at the joint.  Most recommend looking for the line of fat that runs under the skin between the leg and thigh, but that is never a guarantee for me.  Instead, I press with my thumb to feel the indentation of the joint, and then cut at that point.



 

 




 


Now I am left with the carcass, I will put this in a freezer bag along with the wing tips to save for chicken broth.  I freeze the breasts in separate bags, freeze the wings together in a bag, freeze the leg/thigh pieces together in a bag.  Then we can pull out the breasts for such meals that call for boneless, skinless breasts, we can have a wing meal (like hot wings or teriyaki wings) when we have a couple of bags saved up, and we roast up the leg/thigh pieces in the oven or put them on the grill.  If I do a soup I will pull out some carcasses and cook up some broth and then just cook a whole chicken for the meat of the soup.


 


I hope this helps.  Happy saving!  Share your any tips you have for saving money.



 

 


 



2 comments:

  1. I just thought of another idea, I'm going to start doing this - pay your savings account first! This helps ensure that you don't spend what you should be saving!

    ReplyDelete
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