Thursday, February 28, 2013

Getting Started...

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
~ Mark Twain

We all know we need to save, especially for retirement, but it's sometimes getting started that is the hardest part.  For most of us, retirement seems soooo far away but the years go by in a flash.  Anyone with a college age child (yet another thing we need to save for) will tell you how fast those first 18 years go by. 

A 401k is a great place to start if your employer (or your spouse's) offers it.  Many companies also match a certain percentage- say you put in 3% of your income your employer will match that.  There's usually a limit so check with your HR department and try to put in up to your company's match.

If a 401k isn't an option check into an IRA. There are limits as to how much you can save in an IRA as well as income limits but it's a great way to save for retirement.

If you need help deciding how you should save for retirement there are loads of books out there (check your local library) & websites to assist you.  If you're looking for a financial adviser ask a friend or relative you trust (and is financially secure) for a recommendation.  There are some unscrupulous people out there so be careful who you trust with your life savings.  Dave Ramsey says you should look for someone with the heart of a teacher, not a salesman.  

Get an idea how much you need to save for retirement using a  retirement calculator - there are many on line - just Google 'retirement calculator.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tell your money where to go...

I'm sure if this blog post was titled 'Budget' no one would have read it.  But ask anyone who is financially successful (not just appears successful because they drive a Mercedes, carry a designer bag and go on European vacations every year) and I'll bet they'll tell you they create a budget that tells their money where to go each month.

Every financial expert will tell you that you should make a budget.  Some even tell you how.  You don't need any fancy software, although there's plenty of that out there.  Start with a notebook - the same kind your 3rd grader uses or open up an Excel spreadsheet (I like this option because it will do the addition for you) and list out each of your expenses. Don't forget to add categories for spending money for you, your spouse & children - it doesn't have to be a lot but I have found that this is a key to making a budget work - everyone needs a little pocket money - something they don't have to be accountable for if they want a Starbucks or the latest paperback.

Start your list with the most important items first- things that absolutely must be paid - like your mortgage/rent.  Your categories may look something like this:

  • Mortgage/Rent
  • Food
  • Gas/Electricity/Water
  • Telephone
  • Savings (emergency & for goals like a new car or house)
  • Car Payments
  • Insurance
  • Student Loans
  • Spending Money (allowances)
  • Credit Card Payments
  • Kids' sports/activities
This is by no means a complete list; every family is different.  If you have a gardener/pool guy/cleaning lady don't forget those.  If you help care for a relative don't forget to list the amount of money you send them each month.  Be sure to remember the quarterly expenses you may have such as life insurance. Looking through bank statements for the past 2-3 months will help you out.

We have found that having a separate checking account (if your bank offers this free with another account) for quarterly expenses helps - if you have a quarterly life insurance payment that is $300 have $100 a month automatically deposited into this account and when the bill comes due the money is there.  Works fabulously! (A side note:  if you have a family and don't have life insurance, please read this.)

We adjust our budget monthly.  I have found no two months are exactly alike and looking at it often helps keep things in check.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on budgeting...

Monday, February 25, 2013


Your goal should be to pay off your credit card bills in full at the end of each month and set aside money toward your emergency savings.
~Suze Orman
Save for a rainy day.  Pay yourself first.  Set aside 10% of your income.  Feed the pig(gy bank). 
We all say it in a different way but the bottom line is that having an emergency fund is an important financial tool.  An emergency fund keeps us from pulling out the credit cards when the car breaks down, the roof leaks, an accident lands you in the emergency room or a job loss occurs. 
Knowing you need an emergency fund (EF) is one thing, creating one is a little harder.  The financial experts have different ideas as to how much you need in your EF but generally 3-6 months of living expenses is a good start.  If you are in a stable job, three months is probably good.  If you are self-employed or in a less stable job, aiming for six months (or more) is a smart idea.
If you are in debt (credit card, car payments, student loans) it might be hard to wrap your head around paying down your debt AND building an EF.  I love Dave Ramsey's idea of a $1000 baby emergency fund.  The idea is that you will have $1000 set aside to take care of small emergencies in cash and not use a credit card. Take every extra penny you can find to put towards your $1000 EF.  
Some ideas for starting your emergency fund:
  • Use your tax refund.  Most of us will be receiving this soon and this may be all you need to make it to that $1000 mark.
  • Skip the morning coffee.  $5 a day is $25 during the workweek. 
  • Brown Bag it. $10 a day for a lunch out is pretty standard.  Imagine have $50 at the end of the week for your EF.  
  • Pay minimums on your credit cards.  If you've been paying $300 on a credit card that has a minimum monthly payment of $50 and just pay the $50 minimum one month you'll have $250 to put in your EF. Once you've reached your $1000 goal you can go back to paying the extra on the credit card.
See how fast it grows?  Most of us have some extra money to put in the bank if we really look around. 

And when the emergency hits (and it will) you'll have a feeling of satisfaction knowing that you have the cash to cover it.

Friday, February 22, 2013


We're on the downhill slide of our No Spend February.  Just a few more days and we'll be done.  Does this mean we'll go out and buy all those things we wanted to buy but said 'no' to during the last month?  Not hardly.  To be honest, I'll keep these frugal habits for a few more weeks since I'm kind of in the no spending mode. We've done fairly well this month and haven't spent on anything that was not really necessary, have used much of what's in the pantry and have saved a bit more than usual.

It's really easy to put off purchases that are purely wants when you make an effort. And that's really the purpose of a no spend month, in my opinion.  When more thought is put into a purchase,  I usually come to the conclusion that while I may want something I certainly don't need it.  Sometimes I only want it for a little while.

America Saves Week starts on Monday and is the perfect ending to our no spend month.  I'll share some ideas each day on how to save a little extra, kick start retirement or kids college, pay down some debt and share some fabulous resources for making these things happen.  I'm no Dave Ramsey but I'll share what I know and what works for me.

Monday, February 18, 2013

February Menu Planning - An Update...

Well, it seems as though I forgot that Lent started in February when I was doing my February Menu Plan.  Which explains why I had hamburgers on the menu for Friday night - a no meat night - or as we call it around here "Fish Friday".

It is widely known that Catholics must abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent.  We try to follow that here at September Acres.  So I have switched around my menu for this week so we'll have salmon for dinner.  This past week was a bit tricky since I just realized my error Thursday night.  Now, don't judge me but I headed out to Safeway Friday afternoon and found the fish stick aisle and purchased our fish.  LM had a basketball game so it was a nice, quick meal to put together before the game.  It's been a couple of years since we've had fish sticks - LM was thrilled but my husband was just reminded of his childhood when they had fish sticks every. single. Friday. night. Thirteen kids means there's not a lot of lobster or shrimp on Fridays.

Even with a well thought out menu plan we're bound to need to make some changes here and there.  But rest assured that I will be better prepared for Friday nights during March.  No fish sticks, I promise.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Easy DIY desktop accessory...

We have graduated from Pottery Barn Kids to Pottery Barn Teen around here.  LM loves perusing the catalogs and when it was time to get new bedding she chose it from PB Teen.  The newest PB Teen catalog is full of fun inspiration like the little jars below.  I didn't see that they were for sale in the catalog but I knew I could make my own version of them for little or no money.

Pottery Barn Teen
I used a jar I had on hand along with chalkboard and craft paint.  I painted the inside of the jar with white craft paint and the lid with Martha Stewart's 'pool' craft paint.

I painted a square in the front with the chalkboard paint.  After letting the paint dry I was ready to use this little container on LM's desk.

I only made one of these but I think it turned out so cute that I'll make a few more.  I had all of the supplies on hand so I spent no money on this. 

I'm linking up to Frugal Friday at the Shabby Nest & Weekend Bloggy Reading at Serenity Now.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Don't Break the bank this Valentine's Day...


 I was watching a local lifestyle show the other day and saw a segment about Valentine's Day gift giving.  The first gift shown was a diamond necklace for $100 - very pretty but a bit pricey for a Valentine's Day gift.  Next up was a Bose iPod docking station for the man in your life for - get this - $299.  (note: my husband thought this sounded like a great gift for him!)  These are both lovely gifts but it got me thinking about Valentine's Day and how it's almost turned into a mini-Christmas.

I've always thought of February 14 as a day to show those we love a little extra affection, not buy them another huge gift.  If you are young without a mortgage and college tuition to pay, it's one thing, but for the rest of us I think it's really easy to go overboard and try to keep up with the masses.

So, what's a girl to do if she doesn't want to spend a king's ransom on the one she loves?

I'm a fan of some good old 'lovin' from the oven'.  Like these heart shaped brownies.  You can make your own brownie mix or use a boxed one - they all taste good.  Bake them like normal, let them cool and cut the heart shapes with a heart shaped cookie cutter (check your local dollar store).  Bonus: you can munch on the scraps that are left after cutting the shapes!  I don't know anyone who doesn't love a little homemade treat.

Most people I know (especially men) love a homecooked meal.  Skip the busy, over-priced restaurants on Thursday and eat in.  It can be as simple as spaghetti and salad or very elaborate.  But you definitely don't need to break the bank.

A fun breakfast is also a hit.  Heart shaped pancakes. Heart shaped biscuits. Strawberries. I pretty much cut everything into a heart shape on the 14th.

I think it's fun to have a little treat waiting at the breakfast table for the kids.  Some fun ideas that won't break the bank:

  • Small toys: yo-yo's, bubbles, Polly Pockets, matchbox cars, crayons, watercolors.
  • Candy: just a bit though as most Valentine's the kids give out these days include a piece of candy (why??) and I don't want to turn this into Halloween.  I usually buy a big bag of the holiday M&M's and put some in a cellophane bag tied with a pretty ribbon.
  • Gift cards: For older kids.  A $5 or $10 card from the local ice cream shop is really fun.  We love itunes around here and I will get the pack of 3 $10 cards and divvy them up between the husband and LM.  (he gets two cards, she gets one).  
  • Coupon books: Make your own with coupons for things like a day at the park, a no chore day, you pick dinner night, pajama day, etc.  You can be really creative and spend no money and the kids (husbands too) will love this!

There are a million ways to show your love and not break the bank.  And your loved ones will be just as happy as if you had spent oodles of money on them.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Semi-homemade Valentines...

Valentine's Day is less than a week away so we are heading into the official 'last minute' phase.  It's high time to get any cards you need to mail to the post office.  Everyone loves a homemade card, right? If you've thought of making them but then realized that you're running out of time, this is the project for you.

These are 'semi-homemade' valentines.  I picked up this set of chevron note cards at the Target $ spot (for $1, natch).  I thought they would make the perfect cards for valentines but they just needed a little something.

I got out some ribbon, paper and stickers and went to work, creating four unique but similar cards to send to friends and family.  I made my cards fairly simple but the sky's the limit here.  It's the perfect way to use up extra paper and ribbon as well as leftover stickers.

Happy creating!

Linking up to Tuesday's Treasures at My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Valentine Tree

Last night LM worked on Valentine's for her classmates while I worked on this little Valentine 'tree'.  I mentioned the project here, knowing my tree would be completely different from the original.  And it definitely is.  When I spotted the inspiration piece I thought the tree was made out of clothes pins (yeah, I don't know what I was thinking, but it was before I got my new glasses) and I had it stuck in my head that I would make a tree with clothes pins.  So that's what I did!

I had the red glitter & pink clothes pins on hand.  The red and white ones are regular old clothes pins to which I mod podged scrapbook paper.  The hearts are made from some scrapbook paper scraps.  I attached the clothes pins to a lolly pop stick (the kind you buy to make your own pops).  I bought nothing new for this project - you have to love that - well at least I do!

I think the thing I love the most about this project is that after the holiday I can disassemble  the entire thing so I don't have to store it throughout the year.  I like that because I do like to make new things each year and if I don't want to use this next year I don't have to feel guilty about it.  If I do want to use it I'll recreate it - either exactly the way it is or change it up.

For the next week or so though, I will really enjoy this.

I'm linking up to the Inspiration Party at the Craftberry Bush, Show & Tell Friday at My Romantic Home and Frugal Friday at the Shabby Nest.

Monday, February 4, 2013


Over the weekend I worked on my version of the 'XO' letters I saw at Tatortots and Jello.  I fell in love with the vintage looking Valentine paper at Hobby Lobby and knew that's what I would use for these letters - even though it was nothing like what I had in my head.  I painted the sides with red craft paint (Tuscan red, that is) instead of using a different paper as I originally had planned.  I mod podged the paper after painting the sides and added some ribbon & a glitter mini-clothespin (which I got at our now closed Michaels).

This is a super easy project and one that the kids can be involved in as well.  It took me about 30 minutes to complete plus drying time (which wasn't more than another 20-30 minutes here in dry Arizona).  And the possibilities for colors, letters and accessories are endless.  It goes way beyond Valentine's Day.

  • Initials for new babies or birthdays.
  • 'Hop' or 'Egg' for Easter.
  • 'Love' for a wedding (or Valentine's Day)
  • 'Boo' for Halloween

It's also a relatively inexpensive project.  I purchased all of the supplies before we started our No Spend Month or they were things I had on hand.  Here's what I bought:

  • Letters - $2.47 each less 30% = $1.73 each
  • Craft Paint - .79 
  • Paper - .59 X 2 sheets less 30% = .41 each
  • Glitter clothes pins - $3.99 for a pack of 12 = .33 each
So I spent $5.40 total for this little project.  And there's still plenty of paint left for other projects.

Friday, February 1, 2013

I heart February....

I guess I'm at the age where every month I say "I can't believe it's already (fill in the month here).  Where does the time go?"  So, once again I ask "where did January go?"

January seems to be full of pressure.  Pressure to keep those resolutions (one reason why I didn't make any this year), pressure to get everything cleaned up after the holidays, pressure to get back in the swing of things after time off, pressure to tie up any loose ends from the prior year.  I also feel like January should be this relaxing, laid back month to snuggle up in front of a fire and read.  That never happened last month - it was go, go, go here at September Acres.

Hello, February!  I love this month because is signals that January is behind us.  I find it a more relaxing month.  There are fun things to look forward to with Valentine's day - especially when you have kids.  Getting the little Valentines together for classmates and filling the house with cute red hearts is just fun.  I'm getting out all my red and pink decorations this weekend and even making a cute little decoration for the house.  I see sugar cookies in the future to share with friends and family.

I've come across a ton of cute crafts and decorating ideas this year.  I'd like to share my favorites
with you on this first day of February.

I LOVE this Valentine Love banner from Jones Design Company.  She has a printable for the hearts which is really cute.  Or you could make your own hearts.  So many possibilities.

 I saw this cute little Valentine tree here. Again, so many possibilities.  When I first saw this I thought it was made from clothes pins but it appears to be paper.  I still think I could make something really similar using clothes pins.

This Valentine vignette from Tatortots and Jello is chock full of fun ideas.  I will be working on my version of the XO modpodged letters this weekend.  Check back on Monday for the finished product.

How cute is this?  Myra at My Blessed Life used an empty frame she had on hand to create this love-ly picture. I love the pink and brown together.

These felt coffee-cup sleeves are so adorable and the perfect gift for the coffee lover in your life.  I'll be digging out my felt for this one.  Directions can be found here.  This is one of Martha Stewart Living's Good Things this month.

And because February is our No Spend Month you can be sure I'll be making my crafts with supplies I have on hand.  And that's a good thing!