Wednesday, April 26, 2017

This blog is MOVING...

Thanks for following along in my debt freedom journey! I'm moving to a new blog that will be combining my path to debt freedom with other HUGE goals that depend very much on my having NO debt and a BIG savings account!

To continue following my path towards financial freedom, please click HERE

The new blog is heavily focused on my goal of becoming a doctor, but to achieve that goal, I plan to get debt free first--that's $110,000 of debt to pay off in the next two years! I hope to achieve that debt payoff goal faster, however, so that I can start saving as much as possible before I enter medical school.

Are you with me? Follow along HERE!

Thanks!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Grocery Haul: July 1st, 2016 and the grocery savings and rebate apps I love

Paying It Off One Penny at a Time: July 1, 2016 Grocery haul and the savings and rebate apps I love
I happen to LOVE grocery haul videos on YouTube! I don't know why, but they get me kind of excited. I really like seeing how other people eat and what groceries in different areas of the country and at different stores cost compared to my own.

I'm not quite at the taking video stage yet, but I plan to get there. In the meantime, here is my grocery haul (well, part of it) from July 1st, 2016. I made a few additional stops over the last few days for more produce and staples that were cheaper elsewhere, but this gives you a basic idea of some of what we eat.

Please note, we are a family of two--a mom and a teenage boy. We also buy most of our produce separately at different stores so not a lot of produce is pictured here.

The apps I mention below are (please note, some are affiliate links):


and the website I print my coupons from is:

  • Swagbucks -- Go to the Shopping tab in the menu and then find the link for grocery coupons. With Saving Star, you get points for redeeming coupons. These points, along with points accrued from other activities via Swagbucks, can be redeemed for giftcards. Over the last several years, I have paid for my son's birthday and Christmas presents almost entirely with giftcards earned in this manner. Most months, I am able to earn an average of $20 in Amazon gift cards via Swagbucks. Sometimes I earn a bit more and sometimes I cash out for Starbucks gift cards instead. You can earn a lot more on Swagbucks, but it can be time intensive if you aren't picky. It can also generate a lot of unnecessary junk email if you aren't careful.  

Most of these apps and the website are only available to users in the USA, although I believe Checkout 51 is also available in Canada.

Since that haul, I did temporarily misplace my receipts so I am not totally sure of how much I spent or what my savings were overall, but I recall being pleased other than a hiccup with three coupons that I mention below. On average, I save 30 to 50% per grocery trip BEFORE applying rebate app savings. On occasion I get up to 75% savings. My dream, of course, is a 100% savings trip!

On to the haul...

We eat a lot of sandwiches so I picked up two packages of Oscar Mayer lunch meat--both on sale AND I had a coupon. I also picked up a package of dry salami (on sale) and two packages of pre-cooked sausages. And, for my son I picked up a package of pre-sliced Tillamook cheese. For cooking and baking, I picked up a package of Imperial margarine since I am allergic to dairy and thus can't use regular butter. The cheese was on sale AND a rebate was available via the savings app Ibotta. I printed the coupon for the lunchmeat via the website Swagbucks.
Sugary cereals aren't my ideal, but sometimes we need a super easy sweet treat. Cereal was on sale AND I had coupons printed from Swagbucks AND a rebate from Saving Star. We use rice milk in place of regular cow's milk and were running low so I picked up two containers. Our favorite bread was not in stock so I bought our second favorite as well as some bagels. The hamburger buns were on sale AND I had a rebate available from Ibotta resulting in the buns costing next to nothing. We just use them for regular sandwiches. 
We had run out of laundry detergent so I picked up a new bottle. My hair also has been unusually tangled and coarse lately, I think due to the water quality where we live now, so I also picked up some apple cider vinegar. Dilute it with water (I do about 20% vinegar to 80% water most of the time but increase the vinegar after swimming) and pour it over your hair after shampooing and rinsing. Then, rinse it out. The tangles come out so easily! It's like magic!

I also bought some bulk oatmeal, unbleached flour, and sugar to make blueberry muffins--I guessed on how much of each I would need and my guess was spot-on! I also bought my favorite jelly (with a coupon) and muffin tin liners for the blueberry muffins. The jelly jar also will eventually become a bulk spices container once the jelly is all gone and I've washed out the jar. 
Lighbulbs...I bought a reading lamp after our move due to not enough natural light in our space, and the only bulbs I had available were much to high in wattage.
PRODUCE! You can see the blueberries in the back, then two bell peppers, one bunch of radishes, a pound or so of green beans, zucchini, and tomatoes. I had rebates for the peppers and zucchini via Ibotta. I also had a rebate for tomatoes through the app Checkout 51.
Snackies... The Wheat Thin crackers were on sale and I had a rebate available through Checkout 51. I had coupons for the Justin's nutbutter packets that should have made them free, but they resulted in an error message each time the cashier tried to use them. I ended up paying full price for each nutbutter packet and plan to write to the company for a refund due to the coupon problem. I also received a rebate on the Luna bar from both Ibotta and SavingStar and a coupon and a sale price resulting in my $1 Lunabar costing me only 25-cents! The pretzel bites and soda...no comment! My son actually bought the chips himself but gave me the cash and tossed them into our cart.
My work schedule makes it hard for me to prepare three meals per day every day for both of us, so my son gets more frozen foods than I care to admit. The Morning Star patties are for me though.
These next three pictures show my shopping and savings method. I write out a list of what's on sale from each store I frequent with the sale prices, item names, item sizes, and any limitations. Then I also mark (SC) if I have a store coupon, (C) if I have any other coupon, and then abbreviations for any apps that have rebates or offers on the items on my list. 

So, I might write:
  • $1 Luna Bar (C) (Ib) (S*) to indicate that Luna bars are on sale for $1 but I have a coupon plus rebates available from both Ibotta and Saving Star.

I also note the rebates I have selected from Ibotta, Saving Star, and Checkout 51. At the top of the page, I make a list of anything else on my shopping list. After I get home or get back to my car, depending on how many rebates I need to take care of or how many stops I've made, I process the rebates. For Ibotta, Saving Star, and Checkout 51 and my local stores, this involves scanning the barcodes on most items (the apps include the scanning mechanism) and taking pictures of the receipts. Ibotta pays out the fastests after scanning your items, but Ibotta and Checkout 51 both require that you accrue $20 before you can actually get the rebates sent to you. Saving Star has a threshold of $5 before you can request your rebates. 

I also recently started using Shopkick. I'm so new to it that I have yet to decide how useful it will be. It appears that you can get deals and savings through Shopkick, but I am far more interested in the fact that you can accumulate points (called "kicks") just by walking into certain stores or by scanning the bar codes on selected products. Right now I have 275 kicks. 

You can trade the points in for gift cards ranging from Starbucks to TJ Maxx/Homegoods/Marshalls to clothing stores to Wal-Mart. Some are available for as little as 500 kicks, but that is only for a $2 gift card. My current goal is 1250 kicks for a TJ Maxx/Homegoods/Marshalls gift card as we moved at the start of June and have lots of things to replace! Our move was far enough that we got rid of almost everything we owned before moving (sold, donated, or trashed everything!).

If you use Shopkick or Swagbucks and redeem your points or kicks for Starbuck's gift cards, be sure that you register one card and transfer all of your balances to it via Starbuck's! That way, every time you make a purchase using your Starbuck's gift card you can earn Star Rewards--points towards free drinks, food, and merchandise. Most of the time you earn 2 stars for every dollar spent, but there are monthly double reward days and other deals and specials that can greatly increase your stars and your potential for freebies. 

What other apps or saving programs do you utilize? I have downloaded a few others but either they don't have items available that I would use or they aren't as easy to navigate. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Smart Money Smart Kids by Dave Ramsey and Rachel Cruze -- Introduction and Chapter One

Smart Money Smart Kids by Dave Ramsey and Rachel Cruze
Recently, my former boss and great friend took me to a women's entrepreneurs conference at her church. It was sponsored in part by Dave Ramey's organization and many of the presenters based their business savvy on Dave Ramsey-like principles.

Although I was not there for the first day, my boss/friend showed me the book she had picked up, Smart Money Smart Kids by Dave Ramsey and Rachel Cruze (Ramsey's daughter). Not only did she get this book, but it was bundled with several other items for the price of the book. As the day wore on, I kept thinking about that book and finally wandered over to the table where Ramsey and Cruze's books were beings old. Rachel wasn't there, but the person at the table was gracious and kind and I ended up buying the book and the bundle. And...I got a signed copy of the book.
While my son, at nearly 18, is much older than the principles in the book are meant for, I think it will still be valuable to us as we navigate financial freedom. I still have a ton of debt to pay down and we aren't anywhere near being able to afford to own a place of our own. My son is about to start college too and I don't want him to end up with a pile of debt just as his adult life gets under way.

So, although I had already read the first two chapters, I am going to restart the book and have my son read it as well.

Below are our thoughts on the introduction and chapter one.

My thoughts:
My first impression of Smart Money Smart Kids is that Dave Ramsey has been-there-done-that. It's easy to forget that he once was in my position: worried about money, beating himself up over stupid money mistakes, and wondering how on earth he could get his family's financial situation back on track. From the start, he is honest about how it felt to be handling money poorly and seeing the impact on his family. His daughter also paint a clear picture of her childhood as being anything but flashy and filled with whatever money can buy. This is a down-to-earth, humble family who built themselves back up from ruin to financial stability and beyond.

Reading chapter one was a bit difficult for me as it's written from the point of view of Rachel, Dave Ramsey's daughter. I kept thinking, but I'm the parent! I'm the one that should know how to handle money! I'm the one that should be teaching my son money lessons! We shouldn't be having to learn these things together and the child should definitely not be having to teach the parent! Ramsey's daughter is only ten years older than my son and I had a moment of, "You're not old enough to teach me this!"

I got over it though...

My son and I NEED this. We both NEED to improve our financial situations. We both NEED to be financially free.

So, I kept reading...


My son's thoughts:

I read the introduction and first chapter of the book. I don't really know what to write about specifically because most of the introduction and first chapter are just the authors talking about their personal and family success and how they've helped so many other people, and then also reminiscing about events in their life which I can't really identify with or relate to. I'm not really 100% with their mindset of big success, big business, big money and all that as it is; I just want to be happy. 
Money is not necessary for happiness. It just helps you get along in the modern age and opens up new avenues for you. I see it more as a resource rather than a means of being successful; if you're an idiot, you'll mess up and burn; if you're smart, you'll get where you want eventually.
We have basically no money to spend as it is, and I generally mindlessly squander the majority of the money I'm handed because it will never, ever be enough to pay off actual college funds, and the things I immediately want are already just pointless material goods that I don't need and thus don't need to 'save up' for. They don't really matter as much as bills that I'd need to save for would, had I a house or a car. At the very least, though, they keep me happy for a month or two and provide new things for me to do with the people I spend most of my time.

I know my monetary choices may not seem smart, and they aren't smart, but when I have an actual job and am trying to feed and clothe and house myself, I'm confident enough with my intelligence to say I won't be powerwashing all of my cash down the drain.
My thoughts again:
I think we NEED to read this book together.

Pick up your own copy of Smart Money Smart Kids by Dave Ramsey and Rachel Cruze at your local library or from Amazon HERE.

This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, June 20, 2016

June 2016 update--it's been a while!

June 2016 Update--Paying it off One Penny at a Time
I can't believe I last blogged here in March and that I had only ONE post that month! If nothing else, that's a sign of how stressed I have been over the last several months.

I had a job I loved (and now greatly miss) and great coworkers, a close friend in town, and my son and our dogs. But, beyond that my son and I both weren't feeling too satisfied with our lives. We were on the tightest budget we'd been on in a long time--made worse by the negative impact of benefits and a raise (more in a minute), and we just didn't really like where we were living.

Money was tight.
Moods were low.
We needed a change.

Despite working hard earlier in the year and late last year to stick to a spending fast, it didn't help our budgets this winter and spring as I got hit with the flu for the second year in a row, followed by severe asthma, then severe seasonal allergies. Add to the mix a second virus that was quite flu-like.

I was a mess. And when you feel like a mess, a lot of your promises to yourself go out the window.

I dumped my spending fast in place of convenience.

I didn't calculate the financial cost of taking a raise and more hours compared to the cost of the benefits that would come with those hours compared to getting a second part time job instead. I didn't calculate the cost of no longer qualifying for a reduced cost energy program or an employer sponsored health plan versus a state sponsored plan.

I didn't calculate a lot of things.

As a result, we became even more broke than we were before.

I could say I just give up and let the world roll me over, but instead, I decided, along with my son, to make some huge changes in our lives.

First of which was that we moved...not only did we move many, many miles away, but we moved in with a relative. This alone will save us several hundred dollars in expenses. We are paying him rent, but it's significantly less than what we would pay if we stayed in our old town, even if we had moved into something smaller or into a less well to do neighborhood.

Second, I did get a new job that pays more and has the opportunity for bonuses, on average an extra $500 per month. I started last week and while it's been slow to start and a steep learning curve, I think I'm going to enjoy the job. Unfortunately, it will require a lot more driving so we'll see how that impacts my budget due to gas consumption.

Third, I started a new business with a friend. Our immediate goals are to build our audience, but by the end of August, we hope to be turning a profit, even if it's small. Long-range, however, we believe we can earn a tidy sum while helping others. You can check it out HERE.

Fourth, I had an article published on the blog And Then We Saved! I didn't get paid for the article, but it's still a great accomplishment considering how widely read that blog is! Of course, the article was about how I planned to make my spending fast work! As noted above, my plans didn't exactly go as expected, but for the period of time that I was on track, I managed to pay off a tiny bit of debt, pay my expenses, and feel like I was on the right track.

Fifth, I have recommitted to my spending fast! I already did well last week by not going to the nearby coffee shop when doing training at my new job's headquarters and I didn't stop at Starbucks on my way to or from training either. And, I've been looking ahead to this coming week. I know I will need to get gas and buy some groceries, but otherwise I plan to make do without.

This coming week, instead of spending money I plan to:
  • Catch up on reading (check out my reading blog HERE)
  • Work on my new business with my business partner (check it out HERE)
  • Walk my dogs more often, bringing my son along 
  • Study for my new job
  • Plan for the following week
Overall, I feel like we are back on track and living with my relative is a critical part of the process of not only getting back on track, but staying there. My goal is to set aside as much money as possible over these next few months, building up my emergency savings fund, and to pay off some small, lingering debts. My hope is that I can pay off enough small debts to eliminate them AND to see my credit score rise.

I even have a plan for when I feel like I need a reward or a treat for doing well--I have Starbucks gift card credit thanks to Swagbucks and also a free drink from taking part in Starbucks's rewards program (using built up gift card credit!). At the moment, I am just shy of enough credit for two grande Americanos, but by Wednesday I should have two drinks covered. I'll save them up for a time when I'm really feeling that urge to splurge!

Dave Ramsey suggests $1,000 in an emergency fund, but my goal will be to have $2,000 in an emergency fund by September 1st. It will be tight, but I think I can do it!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Stop hunger now -- donate to your local food bank

End hunger in America -- donate to your local food bank

What would you do if you were so broke that you literally could not afford to eat? Would you turn to a food bank?

For many, a food bank is their only option, no matter how tight their budget is, no matter how careful they are with their money, no matter how hard they work. Although my son and I have never been truly at risk of going hungry, thanks to generous family members, there were times where help from family was the only reason we didn't end up at a food bank.

Many years later, I still vividly remember those dark days, and as a result I have committed to donating to my local food bank (or food closet or food pantry--whichever term you prefer) as often as I can.

I recently donated the following, in addition to many items not pictured--our local food bank takes both perishable and non-perishable food, as well as hygiene and personal care items--
Stop hunger now by donating to your local food bank

Stop hunger in America -- donate to your local food bank
My donation, in the end, filled two large paper grocery bags and included:
  • Several cans of soup
  • Several cans of beans
  • Several cans of vegetabls
  • Two full size tubes of toothpaste
  • Two razors
  • One box of tampons
  • Three boxes of breakfast cereal
  • Several bars of soap
  • Several sample size lotions and soaps
  • Dental floss
If you think you can't afford to donate to a food bank because your own budget is tight, consider looking more carefully at sales flyers and coupons. I've been able to get many items for pennies or even free and often those are items I pass on to the food bank. One of our local stores also has a huge sale two or three times per year where they have many canned goods marked down to a mere quarter per item! I use whatever change is in my wallet or purse to buy a few items for the food bank during these sales.

If you have fruit trees or a garden that produces more than you can possibly consume, consider calling your food bank and asking if they take produce. In Arizona, not only do food banks accept produce, but if you have fruit trees, there are organizations that will come and glean (or harvest) them for you and deliver the excess to the food bank all for FREE!

If YOU are in need of help or feeling despearately broke, please don't bear your burden alone! Check out THESE blog posts for ideas on how to make ends meet, where to turn for help, and more.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Freebie Friday: Pinch Me Unboxing Day! {{Feb 19, 2016}}

Freebie Friday: Pinch Me Unboxing Day!
February 19, 2016
Freebie Friday: Pinch Me Unboxing Day! 2/19/2016
I've mentioned PinchMe.com a few times, and I have to say....

I LOVE A GOOD FREEBIE!

Or two or three...

I received my second Pinch Me box of free samples, and I am thrilled! The samples in my first box were good, but today's are GREAT!

I didn't do an unboxing for my first Pinch Me order, but it contained a dog food sample, a small lotion, and a coupon for $100 off of a case of $160 worth of wine from an online retailer. I didn't select the wine coupon and don't drink enough to use it, but my dad might find it useful. Today's box had another wine coupon! I'll offer that one to my dad as well.

Before I get into today's unboxing though, maybe I should tell you a little about Pinch Me.
PinchMe.com -- an UNBOXING
PinchMe.com is a website that allows you to select a couple of free samples every month or two to try out in exchange for a review. The samples might be for you, for a baby, for your pets, and so on. To qualify, you do have to fill out a profile about your interests, who you are, the makeup of your family, information about your pets, and so on.

The samples you are offered are based on your profile. For example, I don't have a baby so I don't qualify for baby samples. We do have dogs, so we do qualify for dog-related samples but not cat related samples.

Once you sign up, you will start getting emails periodically inviting you to select your samples for your next Pinch Me box. Once you've selected your samples, you sit back and wait. You'll get another email when your sample box has shipped. You can even track the shipping date on your Pinch Me dashboard.

When you receive your samples, you try them out and then go back to PinchMe.com to review each item. So far, I've had one review that was just a few yes or no questions and another that was a few yes or no questions with a brief short answer to write out.

Easy peasy! 

The only downside to Pinch Me that I've come across so far is that you do get occasional emails inviting you to sign up for various offers or newsletters, such as for Tablespoon by General Mills. If you sign up for those offers, you may receive coupons and samples from these third parties, but you also will end up on a lot of email lists. So, when you get those emails, proceed with caution, or consider setting up a second email address just for Pinch Me and other similar programs and offers.

Now, on to today's unboxing! 


In today's Pinch Me box, I received a nice sized sample of Purina One Smart Blend True Instinct Grain-Free Formula dog food. It's enough for 3 meals between my two dogs. What I like about this sample:
  • It's a decent size for a sample!
  • It doesn't smell weird or bad like many dog foods (although it doesn't smell like a bunch of roses either!).
  • The ingredients on the back are mostly recognizable or things I can easily figure out.
  • My dogs like it!
I also received a much bigger than expected bottle of Olay Ultra Moisture with Shea Butter body wash. What I like about this sample:
  • The size is honestly incredible for a free sample! It is four times as large as the lotion sample in last month's box!
  • It smells good (although the scent is a little stronger than I prefer).
  • It feels smooth going on.
  • It washes off nicely.
  • It came with a coupon so if I see it on sale somewhere, I might consider buying it. 
    • So, um, edited to add that I didn't read the label very carefully! This is BODY WASH, not lotion! Oops! It smelled great though and worked well as a lotion. But, once I noticed that it was body wash, I used it in the shower, and it's GREAT! Smells lovely. Goes on smooth, and rinses of with ease. 
And, I don't recall requesting this so maybe they automatically popped it in, but I also received two packets of Truvia, the stevia-based calorie free sweetener with a coupon.  I've never tried Truvia and usually don't use sweetener alternatives. I might try it on my oatmeal tomorrow.
  • Edited to add: I tried Truvia the next morning in my oatmeal and ended up throwing the oatmeal away. I did not like the flavor of Truvia at all. It didn't really make my oatmeal sweeter so much as gave it a bit of a chemical flavor. Odd considering Truvia is supposedly all natural. 

Finally, I received the wine coupon that I mentioned above. I'll probably give it to my dad. It seems that they automatically put these in orders.

Overall, I really am enjoying Pinch Me, even though this was only my second box.

You can sign up HERE
I'd really appreciate it if you'd enter code 7C42J when signing up too!

Have you tried Pinch Me? What did you think? What other samples and freebie programs do you participate in that I should check out??? Leave a comment!

Edited to add: If you do give Pinch Me a try, make sure you update your profile regularly as this information is how you qualify for samples. I didn't qualify for the last two boxes--I believe one was focused on baby care (I have a teenager) and the other was focused on cats (I have two dogs).

Saturday, February 13, 2016

100 abundance affirmations - 76 to 100

Affirmations for abundance
Welcome back to the fourth and final installment of my 100 Abundance Affirmations! As mentioned last time, this series has become not just affirmations, but also gratitudes. Read 1 to 25 HERE, 26 to 50 HERE, and 51 to 75 HERE.

Here are abundance affirmations and gratitudes 76 to 100:

76. The Universe is eternally supportive of both my needs AND my wants.
77. I no longer worry about needs and can afford my wants.
78. My bank account is larger than I ever dreamed possible.
79. I can afford my dream home with ease.
80. We have the financial means to travel first class anytime we wish.

81. Every time I open my mailbox, it is filled with money and freedom.
82. My investments are constantly growing.
83. I live in a modest apartment not because I need to, but because I like my home.
84. I use the library because I enjoy it, not because it's all I can afford.
85. I can afford to buy any book I want, any time I want.

86. I can easily afford take away coffee as often as I want without worry.
87. I don't need to make financial sacrifices because I am on solid financial ground.
88. I am grateful to the Universe for EVERYTHING in my life.
89. I can afford to be generous with others.
90. I am living a life of infinite abundance.

91. I am prosperous beyond my wildest dreams.
92. I am FREE.
93. I release all resistance to financial wealth and prosperity.
94. I welcome wealth into my life with ease.
95. I am grateful for all that I have.

96. I am grateful to the abundance making its way to me now.
97. I am open to receiving all forms of wealth funneling their way to me.
98. I can easily and effortlessly pay my bills.
99. I can easily and effortlessly afford my needs AND my wants.
100. Wealth loves me.

Read the entire abundance series HERE.
Read my series on what to do when you are desperately broke HERE.
Visit the Etsy shop mentioned above to get fun and fabulous download-and-print coloring pages HERE.