Our (Stupid) Boiler.

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I hate this thing.

Aside from the fact that it’s way down in the dark dirty basement, the thing is a relic.

Recently, looking to maybe buy some replacement parts and patch the thing up before we replace it, we discovered that it was most likely made in the 20’s (yes the 1920’s) and the company that manufactured them has been out of business since the 60’s. So in reality, its nothing short of a miracle that it even works at all. And though I don’t have any cold hard numbers, I imagine its not super green or efficient.

Note: The structure of our house was built in 1832 (as far as we can guess based upon the earliest paperwork we can find on it), but because it didn’t have plumbing, it wasn’t considered a proper dwelling and deeded until 1850.

Periodically it coughs itself awake for long enough to heat up enough water for a 7 minute shower (in the heart of winter its more like 3 minutes) or to fill up a bath for the kids. All other times, we get to treat ourselves to a room temperature shower or to a half an hour process of boiling water on the stove top and dumping it into the tub to wash the children.

For four. Long. Years.

Personally, I’ve had enough. Mama likes a hot shower in the winter.

Every year on New Years Eve we set financial goals for the year. This year we put “replace boiler” on the list. Obviously we could have done this at any point. We could have thrown it on the credit cards years ago. Or maybe taken out a small loan, used home equity. But that’s not what we’re all about anymore. Three years ago we resolved that all major purchases would be done with cash. Hence the budget etc etc.

So now that it’s almost October, the pressure is on to get this thing in. Its getting colder up here and I don’t know if I can do the whole take-a-bath-like-Laura-Ingalls-Wilder thing for another year.

But luckily, I have a plan. I call it Operation October. Mostly because Sam’s “favorite month” is October and he’s been talking about it for weeks.

Basically it entails zero spending. Nothing. Tightening up the belt so that nothing additional is spent all month, just the basic necessities. Utilities, mortgage, groceries. No take out, no special trips, no tokens or toys for the kids. I do plan on visiting Old Sturbridge Village this month because I take pictures of the kids there every year, but luckily its free admission for us because Jeff is a military veteran.

All month I plan on posting about how we’re doing, everything we’ve spent and tips to avoid spending, as some of us (this family included) might benefit immensely from using this “button down” technique for a month or more to help turn our finances around. Let’s go!

Bailey Family Summer Vacation

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Well another summer in the books. Tomorrow is the first day of fall.

Because Sam was in school all summer (due to developmental delays and sensory processing disorder that I’ll write about later), we really didn’t get away that much. Which is really ok with me because we weren’t tempted to spend bags of cash on vacations, which is SOOooo Temptinnnggg!!!!!

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We did make one day trip to the beach and then a long weekend the second week of September. Just enough to get away and enjoy the ocean. And eat a lobster roll. And have ice cream for supper.

The big kids love the beach so much. We get down there from the hotel by 8am. For real. I actually don’t mind the early wake up calls on vacation because early morning and after supper hours are my favorite times on the beach. So Jeff and I finish our coffee and the kids play, and Ben snuggles. Usually all with sweatshirts and blankets on (its cold up here!).

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The beach is so good for Sam. He can run and jump, roll around and crash into things, feel the cold water and splash. Usually he rubs sand in his hair and all over his body. Its such good sensory stimulation for him and he’s usually so incredibly calm and relaxed after a beach day.

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That being said, who would I be if i didn’t give my Vacation Money Saving Tips?

  • Budget for Your Vacation– and stick to it. Decide how much you’re willing to spend on a trip before you even book it. Then account for it in your monthly budget as if it was a bill that has to be paid.
  • Go Off-Season– We never do anything during peak season; too expensive and too people-y. Vacationing even a few days before or after can be huge savings.
  • Do a Long Weekend– vs. a week or more. This one just makes sense; less days in a hotel, less dining out, less time off work. You still get to get away. Remember you have a goal you’re working towards.
  • Brown Bag It-Going out to eat is expensive. Plan to bring at least 2 meals per day along with you. If your hotel has free continental breakfast, all the better. I usually plan and bring breakfast and lunch. Just make sure to call ahead and make sure you have a fridge, or fridge and microwave would be ideal.
  • Get Your Discounts– Military, AAA, student ID, check the discount policies for where you’re staying and see if you’re eligible. Then don’t forget to ask for it once you get there! Most discounts can only be applied at check in so don’t forget and leave money on the table!

But First, Coffee

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I love coffee. So much. Especially now that it’s fall in New England, a delicious hot pumpkin spice Great One with skim and sugar from Dunk’s would be an ideal start to my morning.

It’s not even really for the caffeine (ok maybe a little bit). I just love how it tastes. It’s nice and warm. Perfect way to wake up.

But its SOOOoooo expensive! I just can’t justify spending a couple of bucks every day on coffee. Plus, with that delicious coffee always comes a beautiful muffin… or an egg white flatbread.. donut for the kids… It ends up being $5-7 every. Day. Thats $35 a week.. $140 a month? Think of what you could do with that. I’ve written before about how I gave up drive-through coffee and bought a new couch. What Do You NEED Really?

Thankfully there’s a way to have your coffee AND meet your financial goals.

Most major coffee house chains have a take-home version that cost $6-10 a bag. My favorite is Boston’s Best, which at around $4 is so reasonable. A bag lasts me about 2 weeks and according to the lines on my pot, that’s 5 cups (I know, FIVE) per day.

There’s also a million different kinds of creamers in every flavor under the sun. Seasonal ones, classic ones, Dunkin Donuts even has a line out that mimics how you order at the window. International Delight is $3.19 a bottle and I get 2 for 2 weeks.

So I can have my coffee every day, a 5 cup large size, flavored exactly like or better than the window, for 74 cents per day. CENTS. A commercial cup is over $2.

Not convinced? This may be the one time you ever hear me say this but: Treat Yourself.

Buy a cute mug. A new coffee maker. A mug cozy. If you don’t feel like you’re depriving yourself you’ll be less likely to give up. I pour my iced coffee in a big mason jar all summer and drink it with a reusable straw. Frugal doesn’t have to be boring.

In this one instance, you’ll save so much money, that any new mug cup or cozy will be paid for in a week or so. Even if you buy a new mug every month, that pales in comparison to how much you’re used to paying at the counter or window.

Like a fancy drink? Get inspired with all these copy cat recipes on Pinterest. So tempting.

Surviving the Grocery Stores

survivingthegrocerystoreOnce upon a time we weren’t so smart with our money. Especially when it came to food shopping. I never made a list, ever. I bought food that I wanted at the time with no foresight into what we were actually going to eat. We spent a lot and threw away most of it.

Further on down the road, still no regard for expenses, I was buying whatever looked good at the store and still throwing out a ton of food that spoiled before we even ate it. Except this time it was for a family of four instead of just for a newly married couple. One day after doing the bills, Jeff said to me “we can’t do this anymore, we spend 1000 to 1200 dollars a month on food!” Talk about an aha moment. I felt so guilty since I was the one doing the food shopping.

I immediately started trying to figure out how to cut costs and get the food spending under control. I went through denial, “that’s just what food costs babe!” Then a weird coupon phase after watching that Extreme Couponing show on TLC. Followed by a whole bunch of things that were just time consuming and discouraging. I’ll spare you all my legwork and just talk about what finally actually worked.

Track It

Sit down and figure out exactly what you’re buying and what you’re using. What are you not using? What are you running out of? What do you need to have in your house all the time? This should take place over at least a month or two, so you can really get a good picture of where your money is going. Make sure to include household items like paper products, sponges, cleaning supplies, and personal items like soap, shampoo, diapers and wipes. Also keep your receipts for later.

Meal Plan

Honestly, I’m horrible at this. When Jeff first suggested it all I could think was “how on earth am I supposed to know on Saturday what I’m going to want for lunch next Thursday??” Some people are meal plan masters, and have their whole week (or two) planned out before they even go shopping.

I like a little spontaneity in my meals. When I meal plan, I figure out how many days I’m planning for (usually two weeks due to my work schedule) and then bang out one breakfast lunch and dinner for each day. Then I keep that list and cross off what I’ve made as we go through the week.

Its better to have a general idea of what you’re going to eat than to just buy what looks good in the store at the time, OR to be spending money a few times a week on ingredients for something that you thought you have but don’t. Because who buys JUST the one thing they go into a store for? That’s right, no one.

Master List

The best thing I’ve done is make one master grocery list.

After you’ve tracked what you’re buying and using, make a list of what you routinely use every single week. Type it up and save it in a document you can print for every trip. This is what mine looks like. Honestly it could use an edit because a lot of things on here we don’t use much anymore like hot dogs and chocolate syrup. Feel free to tweak it to for your own needs and print it out:

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This is where you fill out what you need for the meals you’ve planned, plus anything else you need for the household (duh right?). I print mine out and stick it right on the fridge so as we run out of something, I just hi-light the item on the list. Or, if I bought something that I’m not going to rebuy the next time I go shopping (like cleaning supplies, toothpaste, things that generally last a while), I can cross it off the next trip’s list to avoid buying multiples of things (like the month where we had three maple syrups in the pantry). This saves me a ton of time the day BEFORE grocery day too, because the list is usually half filled out.

Tweak It

This is where your saved receipts come in. On an otherwise blank list, write down the prices of the items you consistently buy and shop around. How much are the same items at another store. Is your usual grocery store the best value? If not, switch!

I was shopping at WalMart, thinking I was saving a ton of money over regular stores. Then I brought my list to the discount grocery store Aldi. I was shocked. Changing stores saved me HUNDREDS of dollars.

Check out the difference between the two stores on this simple shopping list:

WalMart:
12 Eggs $1.88
Gallon Milk 2.85
White Bread 2.78
Cereal 2.97
Peanut Butter 3.32
Jelly 2.50
Chips 2.48
Juice 2.98
Bag of Apples 2.94
4 Pack Toilet Paper 2.28

Total: $29.98

Aldi:
12 Eggs $ .59
Gallon Milk 2.29
White Bread 1.89
Cereal 1.29
Peanut Butter 1.49
Jelly 1.29
Chips 1.49
Juice 1.79
Bag of Apples 2.89
4 Pack Toilet Paper 1.99

Total: $17.00

Pretty significant difference.

The ‘Tweak It’ stage should be ongoing. Example: for a while, cheese was cheaper at Walmart than Aldi so I was buying it there (since I still go to two stores to get everything we need). Then this spring, I noticed it changed and the price of cheese at Aldi dropped significantly. Pay attention to the prices you pay for items you buy frequently because they do change.

So this is basically my process in taking charge of our monthly food budget. Currently with the 5 of us I keep it at $650. I’m pretty proud of this number since I wrestled it down from $1200. The food spending used to sink us, but now I plan for it and we have $550 extra every month!