Thursday, February 26, 2009

Question of the week???

Another new weekly column for me, Question of the Week. To create conversations and offer different viewpoints, but please no criticisms.

Do you watch or listen to public broadcasting or member supported television and/or radio? If so, do you donate to these stations?

Several times a year these channels have fund drives to help them stay afloat. We listen to a couple different member supported radio stations and NPR. PBS is the only TV channel that I let my daughters watch. We currently donate to one radio station. I am sure like a lot of non-profits right now these channels are feeling the pinch. I would hate for these channels to also become a victim of the economy.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

This week is "America Saves Week", who knew?

According to this article, "the federal government reported that the U.S. personal savings rate jumped to 3.6% in December". Apparently the savings rate has been zero or close to it for years. Could it be that something good will come out of this economic crisis? Will we become like the generation that lived through the depression and become a nation of savers and thrifters again? And when the economy turns around will the savings rates continue or will Americans go back to their spendthrift ways? Hopefully we have all learned a valuable lesson that we need to be prepared for job losses, health issues, leaky roofs, squeaky brakes, junior's braces, retirement, and on and on.... is sponsoring the America Saves Week which runs from Feb 22 - March 1, 2009. I have never heard of this promotion, but I think it is a great idea to encourage savings among Americans. This site offers strategies and tips for saving money. It also offers a free e-wealth coach email.

How will you celebrate America Saves Week? I am going to open savings accounts for my girls and commit to teach them the value of saving money and living within our means.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is your child a foodie? If not, consider menu planning.

"Do you cook every night?" my good friend recently asked me this as she was scooping some boxed macaroni & cheese lunch for our hungry kids. We were having a play-date, but honestly it is as much a play-date for the mommies as it is for the kiddies. Anyway... my friend is a recent sahm and she thought with her new arrangement she would be cooking more, but she continued to say, "I am a short-order cook". She complained that her kids are so picky and they only eat a few things.

To be honest, it is because of my friend that I have been so diligent in not becoming a short order cook. When I was pregnant years ago with my oldest, I was having dinner at this friend's house and her hubby made an amazing dinner. He is a great cook. He loves to experiment for dinner guests and was trying a new recipe on us. But their oldest would not try it, not even a bite. They didn't push the issue instead they made her a Nutella sandwich. You read that right...NUTELLA sandwich. I was horrified and vowed quietly that that would not happen in my house...

Three years later I can honestly say it hasn't. Maybe it is just her personality, but my 3 year old eats whatever I put on her plate and always has. Asparagus...devours it...kale...more please...and on and on. I will admit pasta is her favorite food and she would become a noodle if she could, but there isn't a green veggie that she won't eat. I introduced foods to her slowly about 6 months of age. We used a few jars, but mostly we made our own baby food. We started with mashed bananas and sweet potatoes and by a year she was eating pretty much what I made for dinner except it was pureed.

Enter Menu Planning.
When dd was born my husband and I decided that I would stay at home. Prior to her birth , we ate out quite a bit, because we were both working long hours and neither of us would feel like cooking. Going to one salary kicked our restaurant habit out the window and I needed to cook more often. I always loved to cook and now I had more time at home to do so. I also like to try new recipes, mostly from Cooking Light magazine or the Food Network. I started planning our menu around simple yet yummy recipes from these sources. I like to use fresh ingredients and we are members of CSA which provides us with seasonal ingredients that I might not normally buy. Over the years I have relied on a handful of recipes that are now my go-to meals. I know my family likes them and they are simple, easy and time-saving.

Over the last few months I have become even more diligent with my menu-planning. When I was running to the grocery store several times a week to pick up dinner ingredients, I said ENOUGH, and found myself a calendar and I began to map out our meals. I also refer to the grocery ads, but I mostly refer to my binder of the recipes that we love.

I like to think that my dd is a 3 year old foodie. I also like to think that my menu-planning helped create her love of food.

Has menu-planning helped your family in ways other than saving you money?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Retirement Planning: Staying the course even when it hurts.

Recently I lamented to my husband about the massive nose dive our retirement accounts have taken. Contributing to a retirement account, whether it was my 401k at my previous company or my current Simple IRA, has always been a priority of mine. "I worked my %$&# off for that money" , I said to my husband, referring to my personal account. His reply to me was "why don't we get out of the market until the economy gets better." He continued, "why are we still putting money into our retirement if things are that bad."

His questions were fair especially since I was just complaining about our losses, but they jolted me back to reality. As much as I have the same concerns, in my heart I know that staying the course is the smart thing to do. If we pull out we will miss the wonderful opportunity to buy our funds on sale and watch our investments grow when the market rebounds. This sounds good in theory, but there are days I wonder when and if the market is going to get better. But historically, the market has rebounded and I am about 25 years from retirement so it would be foolish for us to withdraw our money and/or stop our contributions.

What I need to do is get my head out of the sand and look at our accounts. I have been avoiding my statements lately. Honestly it has been awhile since I really analyzed my retirement portfolio. Are our current funds in line with our retirement dates, goals and our current risk tolerance? Do I need to rebalance; what is our current mix? Am I paying too much in fees? Yes, maybe it is time to get my head out of the sand and accept reality. I'll never get this time back and in 25 years I don't want to regret not taking the time to spend on something so important.

We are not leaving the market; we will be staying the course.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fiddling with my blog!!

When I started blogging back in the fall I had not a single idea about the tech part of it. I wanted an outlet to talk about my passion of family personal finance and didn't even know what html was. I chose Blogger because it is free and am now on my third template. I have been playing around again and thanks to I am a Money Magnet and Three Column Blogger I now have 3 columns. Three Column Blogger turned what I thought would be a scary process and made it so EASY. I am not sure if I will keep this template, but I am thrilled to have 3 columns.

Thanks again to both blogs!!

Monday, February 9, 2009

How far would you go for $25?

I received this invitation recently in the mail from Nissan, it states "Receive a $25 gift card when you test-drive a new 2009 Nissan vehicle." Okay, I thought, a $25 gift card is nice, but when I opened the invitation and saw it was a Target $25 gift card I got excited. The restrictions are pretty straight forward, "No purchase necessary. To receive gift card you must bring the invitation and take a test drive in a new and unused Nissan by 2/28/09 at a participating dealer. Must be 18 and have a valid drivers license."

We are not in the market for a new car and I'm not good at lying so I would be doing the test-drive simply for the gift card. Is that fair to the dealer? Am I just wasting their time? The auto industry is hurting right now like a lot of businesses and they are trying to drum up some business. But $25 at Target would be nice...

What do you think? Have you received this type of invitation recently? Would you take advantage of the offer?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Finally... a good mail day of my own!

I finally had my own good mail day. I sign up for all of these great samples from various sites online and then I forget about the deals until they come in the mail. Today I was very surprised with the loot in my mailbox. There should also be a Cascadian Farms granola bar with the coupon but my 3yo grabbed that right away. I was pleased with the coupon for FREE Cascade Rinse in the Home Made Simple coupon booklet. I also received a Soyjoy bar and a coupon for a FREE Diet Dr. Pepper.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Spring must be around the corner - I got my CSA registration!!

It is frigid outside and that darn groundhog saw his shadow on Monday so now we have 6 more long weeks of winter...but I received an email yesterday that gives me hope that spring isn't too far away.

I received my registration form for our local CSA. CSA stands for "community supported agriculture". Our CSA happens to be certified organic and this is how we are able to afford to eat as much organic produce as we do. A CSA is when community members pay a local farmer an annual fee to cover the farm's production costs. In return members receive a weekly "share" of fresh, local, in season produce. Wikipedia's description describes it in further detail.

Our CSA share lasts 28 weeks from May thru November; it usually ends right before Thanksgiving. We purchase a half share which is usually enough produce to last us a week or less, but for us the whole share would be too much. With our CSA, if we prepay by April 1st, our payment is $374 for 28 weeks or $13.36 of organic produce a week. You have to break down the weekly payment to really understand the savings. There is no way I could buy this much organic produce at a grocery store for $13.36 a week. The weekly share follows the local harvest schedule which is posted on our CSA's website. June is one of my favorite months because we get strawberries and if you have never had a local organic strawberry - it is heaven. August and September are BIG months with loads of tomatoes, peppers, onions and summer squashes. I also look forward to fall with the winter squashes, sweet potatoes and kale - yummy!!

Another plus about a CSA is that my family is learning to eat and love veggies that I never would have thought to buy, like kale, swiss chard, and collard greens. This will be our sixth year with our CSA and I had never eaten those three greens before we were members.

While there are still costs with the CSA, I just don't have the yard space or time to garden where I would harvest this much produce. I do have a small garden where I grow a couple of extra tomato plants and peppers for freezing. In another month or so I am going to start to plan out my little garden spot.

Another perk of our CSA is that they have occasional "you pick" days on their farm. They are usually on Saturdays and it gives us extra produce at no additional cost. Our farm also has a potluck picnic sometime during the year and last year at the picnic they gave out extra produce again at no additional cost. I think I came home with at least 3 weeks worth of extra produce such as peppers, carrots, onions, and winter squashes. I promptly cleaned and chopped it up and put it in the freezer.

Is eating organic important to you? Are you members of a local CSA?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What's for dinner? 2/3 - 2/7 2009

or breakfast? I had some over-ripe bananas and we made some banana oatmeal muffins yesterday. The recipe is for bread, but I always make muffins to save baking time and muffins are easier to freeze.
...and now for dinner this week...
Tuesday - Soup & Salad night - Broccoli cheese soup - very easy recipe that my mom has been making for years. It is only 4 ingredients and it cooks in the crock pot. 8 oz cheese whiz - (you read that right;does it take you back to your childhood?), 2 cans cream of celery soup, 1 pint half & half, 2 packs frozen chopped broccoli (in the box). I am also going to make for the first time, Buttermilk Quick bread, it was in my jan/feb Cooking Light magazine. I couldn't find the recipe on line yet.
Wednesday - Chicken & black bean tacos
Thursday - baked chicken, steamed broccoli, brown rice
Friday - OTE
Saturday - Leftovers

Monday, February 2, 2009

It is time to tweak our budget.

I was reviewing our budget over the weekend. I have some tweaking to do as some categories have changed recently. A couple categories will no longer be used and our spending in another category has changed dramatically. I use Quicken for our personal finances, but I have created an extensive excel spreadsheet to help me split out my checking account balance by my budget categories. I have about 18 categories and each one is a tab on my spreadsheet. Each tab is a running total of its category and the tabs add up to a total page. The total page must always match my total balance in Quicken. My dh thinks I am crazy, but I have done this for years and it helps me keep control of our checking account and our budget. Quite frankly I was never able to really keep a budget until I split my checking account out this way.

The two categories that are going away are Toby and our van warranty. Toby, our beloved dog who passed away unexpectedly on New Years Day, had his own category for his food and visits to the vet and kennel. Our van warranty was purchased when we bought our van in July 2007. We were allowed to pay it over the course of 18 months without any interest or additional fees and the last payment is in March. With these two categories going away I am now left with some additional money a month to put towards other things. While I would much rather have our dog, this is a good thing.

I also wanted to adjust the amount of money I have been setting aside for fuel for our cars. I increased the amount over the summer when gas hit $4.00, but I never went back and adjusted the amount now that gas is back down to under $2.00. I built up quite a cushion, but I have used some of that money for other unforeseen bills. I am going to reduce my gas budget for now and leave a cushion for when gas goes back up. I do believe it is not a matter of IF gas will go back up but WHEN, probably sometime in the spring or summer. I will keep an eye on it and adjust this again when the time comes.

So now with some extra money in our budget I need to decide where to put it. I will look back on our 2009 financial goals and take those into consideration. The money that was going towards our van warranty will now go towards our van loan to help accelerate that. I haven't made any other decisions, I will discuss with dh this weekend when we have our family balance sheet meeting.

How often do you review and change your budget? How many categories are in your budget?