The $21 Challenge: The Final Verdict

So, the $21 shopping challenge is now over.  Maaaan….a week just flies by, doesn’t it?

Now that’s over, let me sum it all up in one single sentence: It wasn’t that tough.

A bit of a letdown, right? I know. I kind of feel the same way.

I have some important takeaways from the week, though.

  1. We have WAY too much food in the house at any given time.  I was honestly looking forward to getting rid of a lot of food that we seem to have, particularly in our pantry cupboard and upstairs freezer. While our larger freezer downstairs took a definite hit, the rest of the house still seems bursting with food.
  2. The food that I do “stockpile”, however, has almost all been acquired on sale or marked down. When I was going through all the stuff in my freezer and pantry, I realized that most things I rarely pay full price for. So perhaps having a bit of a stockpile isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
  3. Sticking to a strict food plan is great it theory, but not always practical. I carefully planned out our meals for the week for the purposes of shopping, but we ended up straying from the plan a bit, and didn’t use everything that I bought this week, surprisingly enough.
  4. Sometimes adulting means having ice cream for dinner. So here’s where we ‘fess up. We did actually cheat over the course of the week, just once. Tuesday was kind of a crap day for  me and I came home that night, really not feeling like making dinner, even the simple one that I’d had planned. What I really wanted was some comfort food. So off to the grocery store we went…and picked up ice cream. Yes…we had ice cream for dinner. Because some nights it’s necessary. The good news is that we got it on sale at least. I gladly paid for it out of my own personal spending money.
  5. We actually need less food than I think. I spent Sunday baking and cooking up a storm in preparation for the week ahead. Now that the week is over, I’m looking around and still seeing a fair bit of leftovers. The baked goods can be tossed in the freezer no problem, but the rest of it we’ll have to make sure we eat in the next day or two.

All in all, I would call the experiment a rousing success. My biggest concern was that I would bounce back the next week and buy all the food when I hit the grocery store again. I did another meal plan for the week based on what we still have in the house, and made a careful list. We went shopping last night for next week and I’m happy to report that we spent a mere 50-ish dollars. That means that we spent just a bit over $70 for two weeks’ worth of groceries, when normally we would spend close to $300 for that same time period.

I’d call this a definite win. Woo!

I still plan to write about exactly what we ate over the course of the week, so keep your eyes open for future posts. Did we eat Kraft Dinner and ramen noodles all week? Tune in and find out…

Until next time,

~Kelly

The $21 Challenge: Our Shopping Adventure

So $21 isn’t a whole lot. Particularly when you consider the challenges that are facing us.

For starters, I am a gluten-free girl. And if you’ve never taken a look a the price of things like gluten-free bread and pasta, you’ll be in for a shock. I normally spend more than $21 per week on things like gluten free bread, English muffins, pasta and muffin mixes.  So from that perspective alone, this is going to be a challenge.

We do, however, have several things working on our side. Because of my 50/50 custody schedule with my ex, this particular week we only have my girls with us on Monday and Wednesday nights, meaning that there are only two days’ worth of school lunches we’ll have to provide. It always seems like school lunches cost a lot more than eating at home for some reason. Of course, I do get caught in the trap of picking up convenience items for their lunches like granola bars, which aren’t cheap. None of that this week, however.

Also, we have the ability to do our shopping in several different locations. Now, I know what you’re thinking — if we’re running around getting only the best deals from a number of places, are we really saving money? I’m going to answer a big ole ‘yes’ on this one, since this is something that we do normally anyhow. So we’ll be spending the same on driving to these places, but saving big time on the food we won’t be buying, and getting the best deals on the little food that we do buy.

Another big advantage is that I’m a pretty decent cook. Not to toot my own horn too much here, but I’ve got kitchen skillz. This definitely helps in terms of keeping food costs low if I’m able to make things myself from scratch.

I looked through our pantry, fridge and freezer, scoured the weekly fliers and came up with a meal plan. Then, on Saturday morning, with my careful list in hand and Todd and I headed out to pickup our $21 worth of food.

We went to 3 different places and this is what we scored:

  • 1 dozen eggs ($1.99 on sale)
  • White vinegar ($1.49)
  • Vegetable Thin crackers ($1.44)
  • 2l milk ($3.69)
  • 2 heads of broccoli (scored an amazing deal – 0.99 each! – $1.98)
  • 2 big bunches of bananas (also another great deal at 0.27/lb – $1.15)
  • Bag of oranges ($3.97)
  • 1 English cucumber ($1.47)
  • 1 head of romaine lettuce (0.97)
  • Fresh garlic (0.89)
  • 3 avocados (from the discount shelf – 0.99)

Grand total – $20.03. Well…$20.05 after it gets rounded. Leaving us with 95 cents left.

Food

This is what $20.05 worth of food looks like, if you’re able to score some really good deals.

Then, I made the very conscious decision to cheat. Full disclosure, right? I made up my mind to pick up a bag of chocolate chips. Not exactly a necessity, but I figured that if we got desperate later in the week, I could at least whip up a batch of cookies for a treat. I went into the store, picked up the chocolate chips and saw that they were on sale! $1.94. I figured that going only one measly dollar over budget was no big deal.

And then…the grocery store gods smiled upon me. I rang the chocolate chips through the self-scanner and realized that they came up as $2.99. I flagged down the cashier and pointed this out to her. She confirmed this was the case and guess what that means? I got the chocolate chips for free. Y’see, according to the scanning code of practice here in Canada, any item under $10 that scans at the incorrect price will be given to you for free.

freeSo…though my intent was to cheat on the challenge…just a little bit…I still have that .95 cents in my wallet. Sweet!

All in all, I would say that the biggest challenge when shopping was steering clear of those great deals on things that didn’t need for this upcoming week.  Temptations were everywhere, but I managed to stay strong.

Later on in the week I’ll be sharing our meal plan and maybe even a recipe or two.

Until next time,

~Kelly

 

When Life Throws a Financial Curveball

curveballSo. Without going into a whole lot of details, I’ll do my best to fill everyone in on where things stand with us. It’s been a while since I’ve posted, I know. The truth is that I’ve been feeling rather frustrated with our financial life at the moment, and quite frankly, I haven’t really wanted to talk/write about it all that much.

In a nutshell, I will say that Todd and I have had a financial curveball thrown at us recently. Not a devastating one, but one that has caused us to completely re-evaluate and re-vamp our financial plan. The good news is that it’s only temporary; the bad news is that we don’t know how long we will be operating under these news rules and restrictions.

What this means is that for the time being, we’re basically in financial emergency mode. Our goals of debt repayment are temporarily on hold, with the goal of simply not adding further to the debt. This also means that we’re likely going to have to get creative in terms of finding ways to cut expenses and save even more money. Which, come to think of it, aren’t bad skills to have to hone.

We’ve faced financial curveballs in the past, and we’ll face this one, too. It’s a part of life that most of us have to deal with at one time or another.

I’d love to hear your stories of any financial curveballs life has thrown at you, and what you did to deal with them.

Until next time (and I promise it won’t be so long before I write again),

~Kelly

Why Are “Promposals” Even a Thing?

So on my travels online I’ve noticed more and more articles about something called “promposals”. If you haven’t heard of this increasingly popular phenomenon, basically it’s a fancy, over-the-top way of asking someone to go to the prom with you.

Like a marriage proposal, but for the prom.

I thought the whole thing was ridiculous the first time I heard about it. I just…don’t…get it. Back in my day, if you wanted to go to the prom with someone you just asked them. If you were too shy to do it yourself, then you slipped them a note or got your friend to do the asking for you.

That’s it. That was how it was done.

But now, asking someone to be your prom date, or even sending them a text or a Facebook message just doesn’t cut it. More and more teens seem to be embracing this trend and going totally over the top with their “promposals”.

Worst of all? They’re dishing out tons of money for it.

I recently read an article on Huffington Post that said “promposals” make up 1/3 of students’ entire prom budget. Even more disturbingly, it would seem that the lower the family’s household income, the more the students spend on their promposal (as well as the prom overall).

On average, the article reports that teens are spending on average around $900 on their prom experience, an amount which is down from last year.

The article doesn’t state where this money is coming from, but I’m willing to bet a fair bit of that is being paid for by moms and dads. Sure, there are some teens out there with part time jobs, but do they have self-control to be able to save up that kind of coin? I’m skeptical.

At this rate, I’d better get my ten and twelve year old daughters to start saving up for their proms now. Because you know I know one parent who won’t be dishing out that kind of coin.

I’d love to hear other people’s take on this one. Is my age showing a little bit here? Am I the only one thinking that this is a lot of money to spend on one night?

Until next time,

~Kelly

‘Debt’ is NOT a four-letter word

debt

So I realize that in the grand scheme of things, Todd and I are still pretty new to the whole personal finance world (particularly the personal finance blogging world), but in this short period of time, I’ve noticed that many personal finance bloggers seem to have the attitude that debt is a dirty, four-letter word to be avoided at all costs.

And well, I just can’t get on board with that line of thinking.

One of the unavoidable realities of life is that debt is unavoidable. I mean…how many of us are able to walk into a bank and pay for a house or brand new car in cold, hard cash? Not too darn many, that’s for sure. Things like mortgages and car loans are pretty much unavoidable for the average person. Does that make them ‘evil’? Of course not! If you want to own a home or drive a car, then debt just goes along with it. Most people (even the most frugal of personal finance bloggers) are okay with that.

Also, let’s look at the matter of education. For most of us, our post-secondary education came to us with the help of some sort of debt. Sure, there are a few lucky people who, with the help of parents and/or a part time job, are able to make it through without accruing much (or any!) debt. Lucky ducks.

Again, education and debt are two things that go hand-in-hand for most of us. And many people would argue that it’s a ‘necessary evil’. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that I never would have been able to get a post-secondary education without going into debt. But was it worth it? You betcha.

Now, for some people, the list of ‘acceptable debt’ stops pretty much here. House — check. Education — check. Vehicle — perhaps, depending on who you ask. My point is that debt is a very personal thing and while for some people, there is no good reason to go into debt, for other people there is a lot more ‘gray area’. As Todd and I work to pay off our consumer debt, we are learning the hard way that getting out of debt is a whole lot tougher than going in to debt. We’re on the several year plan to get rid of our credit card debt with the ultimate goal of taking our family on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation.

But guess what? We’re planning to go back into debt to do it. And we’re actually both okay with that.

I’ll be honest, it really chaps my hide to work on paying off our current debt because for the most part, I can’t remember what that debt was for. Moving expenses, a Christmas or two, and what else?

**Shrug** Ya got me.

And that is the thing that bothers me. The fact that this money was piddled away on things that I can’t even remember. Possibly things that I don’t even have anymore. Such a waste.

But for us, taking an unforgettable family vacation is something that is worth going into debt for. It’s one of our priorities in life. Where some people dream of home ownership or driving a fancy car, we dream of travel. And guess what? We’re okay with delaying buying a home in order to have that.

Personal finances are like many things in life — it’s personal. Each individual (or couple, as in our case) needs to decide what the priorities are, and then work toward them. And sometimes, that requires going into debt. Going into debt isn’t the problem, it’s the paying it off. But as long as you’re able to manage your debt, and pay it off responsibly, then what’s the harm? It’s your life, it’s your money, and its up to you to decide what to do with it.

What about you? Is there something that you feel is worth going into debt for?

Until next time,

~Kelly

Making Financial Room for Fun

I get emails every now and again from people reading this blog and a common issue that many of us share is how to find balance when we’re dealing with personal finances. Specifically,  balance between being responsible and paying off debt, but still making room for some fun now and again. Todd and I find ourselves in that spot often. Sure, we’re highly motivated to get the debt paid off, but at the same time, we still want to enjoy life as it is right now, instead of always waiting for when “things will be better”.

We’ve tried to do this in a few ways with our budget. Our budget includes amounts for a regular date night, as well as “family dessert night”. We also give ourselves an “allowance” so we’ve got some spending money for small impulse purchases. We make sure to also set aside a little weekend cash so we can take the kids out to do some things. Sure, that money could also be put directly onto our debt, thereby paying it off a lot faster, but again, we have to find some balance there. Occasional fun – both with and without the kids – is necessary for our happiness. I can’t imagine that we’d be able to stick to budget very long that didn’t leave us room for fun.

This week I mentioned that Todd and I had to make a crummy choice because it wasn’t in our best interests to overspend. After booking off those vacation days and looking forward to some fun and relaxation, it was a real bummer to have to call that off. I decided that I still wanted to do something. I did some digging and found some cottages just a couple of hours from home with an unbelievable off-season rate. It has a full kitchen and free wifi! We could bring our own food and have three nights of relaxation and adventure for a fraction of what our original road trip was going to cost.

It’s one of those situations where, sure, that money could (and some would argue should) be put toward eliminating our debt. But I just can’t justify a life that is all work and no play.

So off to the cottage for the weekend we go. We’ll return happier, more relaxed, and ready to stay on target with that budget of ours. Because relaxation and quality time with your spouse? Priceless.

Making Tough Choices Really Sucks Sometimes

money

Another financial whine coming on, kids.

This winter, Todd and I dreamed up the idea of going on a road trip to visit my bestie in Ottawa. This was a great plan for many reasons. 1.) It gave us something to look forward to over the winter, when let’s just say the weather here was less than ideal; 2.) We absolutely love going on road trips together and haven’t been on a nice long one in quite some time; 3.) Relatively speaking, a road trip is a fairly inexpensive way to travel; 4.) And last but not least, I haven’t laid eyes on my bestie in person in TEN YEARS. Ten. Shameful. We haven’t even met each other’s husbands!

So we dreamed up the plan. Booked the vacation days. It was going to be a whirlwind trip but hey, it was something. My bestie and I started getting pretty excited about the prospect of us finally being together again for some laughs and good times.

And then of course, the whole “income tax debaucle” happened, meaning that the money we had earmarked for our road trip really needed to go elsewhere. We had a few other unexpected financial setbacks happen the same week (including a huge ticket for forgetting to renew our car’s license plates as well as paying for the actual renewal).

I’m fairly certain that old Todd and old Kelly would have said “screw it” and just gone on that trip anyhow. In fact, I’m positive of it. We would have decided that we’d worry about paying those things off later in favour of having fun right now. This time, however, we sat down, crunched numbers, and had a serious conversation. The conclusion, of course, was that it wasn’t in our financial interests to take the trip.

Sigh.

The good news is that we’re learning. We’re showing more restraint than we did in the past, keeping ourselves focused on our end game, rather than throwing caution to the wind whenever the fancy strikes us. Which is great for our long game, but kind of crummy for the here and now.

Still…progress is progress. Right now, that is the thing we have to focus on.

Until next time,

~Kelly