Money Matters ~ by Sam

I want to begin by apologizing for not keeping up better with the blog since we moved.  The first year in our new home has been busy and exciting.  I wish I had done a better job of updating here.  I can tell you that we are hard at work on our “do-it-yourself” skills, in an effort to save money while making our home uniquely ours.  I think it is safe to say that we have saved a good bit of money by knowing when to call in the professionals, too.  There no better way to waste money than to do a job horribly wrong, and then have to call in the professionals to fix it.  For instance, we are NOT plumbers, so we didn’t even try to make any of those repairs on our own.  However, we have done all of our own painting, and the girls and I have made curtains for the house.  Shane made all of the window screens, and built a raised bed for the vegetable garden.  We maintain our own lawn and garden, but, when it is time to cut back the giant mulberry tree, we will call in the professionals again.  As time goes by, I am sure our skill set will grow, and we will become more and more confident.

This month has marked a couple of milestones for us.  We officially begin our second year in our new home.  We have had to renew our homeowners insurance and our home warranty.  By the way, I highly recommend the home warranty.  Ours covered several plumbing calls and as well as an electrical repair.  The first year was a gift from our realtor, but we found it so useful that we decided to renew.  The house is looking and feeling more like ours every day.  each of us has celebrated a birthday in our new home, and Shane and I have celebrated an anniversary.  We hosted our first Thanksgiving, as well as a number of dinner parties and our best-ever Tree-Trimming.

This was also the month that we received our highest-ever gas bill.  Yikes.  I guess that’s what happens when you are suddenly heating a space that is almost twice the size of your previous living space.  That vaulted ceiling in the party room may look fabulous ~ in truth, I still lie on my back just gazing up at it at least once a week ~ but it also sucks all the heat up to the rafters.  Time to check the setting on that ceiling fan, make sure everyone has nice, warm jammies and double check all of the windows and the flue each night.  ‘Though most of our windows are new and double-paned, the largest window in the house (the sliding glass door to the patio) is old and leaky.  I have recently added some heavy drapery liners to help block the draft there.  In addition, all concerned parties have been instructed to bundle up, wear slippers, drink lots of tea and hot chocolate, and tough it out as long as possible before turning on the heat.  I’ll let you know how that works out for us when I see the next bill.

Around the same time as that incredibly high gas bill, we did manage to stage what feels like a financial coup.  Having used money Shane earned working on a recent side project, we were able to completely pay off our American Express balance, which we had run up while buying the house.  I know, I know.  We always advise against carrying credit card debt, and I swear, we never meant to.  The plan was to use credit cards while we were in escrow, in order to leave as much cash in our accounts as possible; and then pay off that debt as soon as we got settled.  Then, we had a few major plumbing emergencies, so the debt just kind of hung around.  I am proud of us for getting it paid off by the end of the first year (we paid it in December).  While we are still carrying a small balance on our CitiCard, we are one step closer to being credit-card-debt-free.  If we continue to make the scheduled monthly payments on that bill, we will meet that goal by November of this year.  Paying off these bills and freeing up some funds will allow us to do things like finally secure health insurance for our family and travel to my hometown to see all of our friends and family back there.  In fact, we have started a travel fund, and it sure feels good to know we are on our way to reaching that goal.

Because things have been so crazy here, we haven’t done as great a job of keeping track of our spending as we had been, so, this year, we are trying very hard to get back on track.  I am going to begin the new year by saving all of my grocery receipts for the first two months and tracking our expenses in that department, so I can arrive at a workable, realistic budget to which we can really stick over time.  I will be updating at the end of January and again at the end of February to let you all know how much we spend, on average, on groceries.

I am still trying hard to stick to my “carry cash, spend bills and save up the coins” plan, and that seems to be going well so far.  Debit cards are just too easy to use, and I tend to overspend with them, while cash seems more “real” to me.  I guess I am old-fashioned.  The one exception I will make to that rule is to use my Target Debit Card when shopping at Target (which I do much less often these days), because it does save me 5%.

Because I mentioned hot chocolate, I’ll share a recipe we have been using to make our own mix.  It’s much cheaper than buying those little packets, and saves on waste going in to the landfill, too.  We use the “Basic Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix” recipe I found here:  I store it in a big glass jar, and the kids love it.  I hear it is especially good stirred with a candy-cane, for a minty chocolate treat.

I guess that’s all for now.  I will try to be better about updating, and will try to remember to share our money-saving tips ~ and I will try to get Shane and the kids to pop in with a post now and then.