Tag Archives: saving money

Spring Break at the Beach

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Isn’t it beautiful?! There’s nothing quite like spending some vacation time at the beach, sitting on the warm sands, watching the sunrise in the morning. And then returning that evening, after  full day of doing nothing, to watch it set. One of the things I’ve missed about leaving South Carolina for Tennessee is that the once two-and-a-half hour drive to the Atlantic ocean now takes over ten!

I invited myself to the beach with them once I learned their spring break was the same week as mine! It’s the first time it’s happened since I started teaching, and my schedule became dictated by semesters instead of calendar years. I knew they wouldn’t mind, and after the last six months, I needed a real break; not the kind you take over the holidays, where most of your time is spent decorating the house, visiting people, attending events, and hosting family and friends. I wanted, no needed a REAL break! I needed to see the ocean again, feel the warm sunshine on my face while digging in to the sand between my toes. I wanted to not set an alarm clock, wake up to the sounds of the waves, and listen to the high pitched screech of the water birds, drowned out only by the laughter of young children running from the water’s edge. I didn’t want to wait until summer. I needed it now!

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But somewhere along the way, what I wanted; what I needed; and what actually happened didn’t line up!

Okay, yes, I agree. It was the grown-up thing to do to call and UNinvite myself from a week in (almost) paradise. But that was the point. I didn’t want to act like a grown up. I wanted some ME time. Sure there were papers to be graded, which I knew would be a challenge to do sitting pool side, most likely distracted by the splash of the swimmers, and the lure of the lazy river that meandered beside the swimming pool. And while taking long walks down the beach would have been just the kind of medicine I needed to help destress and refocus my mind, and de-tense my body, I probably would have been thinking about all of the other stuff that needed doing at my house — like sorting through stacks of papers, preparing my taxes, cleaning my den and home office, and picking up all those twigs and small branches that keep falling over into my backyard from my neighbor’s overgrown and unkept trees that line our border!

But none of those things are the real reason why I’m sitting back here in Nashville instead of chilling out there, in North Myrtle Beach this week! The real reason for my grown up decision came down to the most basic of things — money! I was forced to count the cost of engaging in this “free” vacation, in light of something more significant that I’m saving for  happening later in the year.

Under normal circumstances, I would not have thought twice about spending the money in gas (for the 1400-mile round trip journey), snacks, meals on the road, and sharing in the costs of food and entertainment once I got there. But that’s just it. Most people don’t think about all of the extra money it takes to take advantage of something that’s FREE. If you’re on a budget, or just watching your spending, you can’t just count the things you want. Money spent is money spent. What goes out today isn’t going to be there tomorrow.

When I talk about budgets in class, I start by having my students write down the amount for everything they currently spend in a month. I think it’s important to have a visual of your habits so that reality sets in before you make out a budget. I remind my students that they have to include everything — every cup of coffee, pack of gum, bottle of water, smartphone upgrade, oil change, new shoes, hair cut, mani-pedi, and pair of sunglasses they just couldn’t resist. For me, that would have meant adding about $200 in gas and probably another $100 for food; not including money for going out.

So while I would rather be curled up in a chair on the balcony of the condo right now, reading a good book and taking in all of the fresh salty smells of the coast, I know that putting off instant gratification today means being able to do something bigger and better later; like maybe this summer, when I’ll have  an entire month to chill!

What about you? When’s the last time you’ve taken a visual of your spending habits? Why not do it now, instead of waiting until you’re ready to take off for somewhere.

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Along Comes a Baby and More

Two weeks ago I spent Saturday afternoon at the baby shower of a long time friend. Sometimes, it’s really hard for me to believe just how long I’ve known this young lady, because she was only 13 years old when we first met. I’ve watched her grow up; become successful in not one, but several careers in her young life; fall in love, get married, and now…prepare to have her first baby!

In spite of how long it’s been since I first met her, I was still truly honored to be remembered and invited to her baby shower; as well being at her wedding, and the weddings and baby showers of her sisters. And after 23 years of having the pleasure of our professional relationship, what matters more is the lasting personal friendship.

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In addition to hanging out with her though, I ran into some other ladies who I’ve met in the same circles over the years. What is so cool about that? I realized at some point in the afternoon that we were all talking about our business, ministries, and professional activities we were engaged in.

Since starting Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets, I’m always on the look out for finding young teens, college students, and women who are taking control of their financial futures by creating, developing, designing, and running their own businesses now, and not waiting for some magical moment to descend. So whether it’s service-oriented, consulting, talent-driven, beauty and fitness, health care, or even the entertainment industry that I myself am a part of, when my friends and former associates start branching out on their own, I want to be a major cheerleader, to help spread the word, as well as sharing any knowledge and suggestions I might have in any given area.

As I sat there listening as we caught up with one another, I took note of one young lady who said she’d been really busy lately working, but primarily for other people. She had been a Work for Hire with another company, but the content was totally hers. She said she was ready to take control over her brand. I knew she was right. She DID need to take over her own brand.

Another lady chimed in moments later, and said she’d been running her own company for almost a year, but was having financial challenges due to her lack of discipline with her money. I was impressed at her honesty. Since she was a single mother, she knew how important it was to get control over that area of her life, not just for the sake of growing her business, but for her family. I asked a few direct questions and uncovered at least a large part of the problem. For her, she was spending way more money picking up meals on the way home, rather than going shopping and preparing them at home.

It can be very tempting to take the safe way out — like working for someone else and picking up a pay check. Or the easy way out — like running through the drive-thru on the way home. But in the end, it almost always costs you more money. Being a Work for Hire, might be a way in to getting business, but it should be just that — a way to get in, not a means to stay in. Otherwise, your talent, and hard work is building someone else’s company and bank account. And at the end of each month, stopping by restaurants and fast food chains might seem economical, and definitely convenient, but the money adds up. Where you see only spending $10.00 on dinner tonight, it becomes $50.00 by the end of the week, which quickly adds up to $200.00 or more by the end of the month. And that doesn’t include the groceries that you DO buy for the other meals of the day. The reality is that smart shopping and creative meal planning will cost you a lot less than pizza, a bucket of chicken, or four kids’ meals a few times a week.

As I’ve said many times before, planning is the key. Whether you’re planning how to branch out on your own, build your own business, create a secondary source of income; or planning how best to save money for your family on meals and other household items, the main part of the process is the Plan.

When’s the last time you’ve asked yourself about your Life Plan? Do you have one? Where do you want to be this time next year? What about five years from now? Ten? Have you even given thought to what your financial situation will be when you’re ready to retire? What happens if you lose your job years before that retirement time?

There are a lot of questions we prefer not to think about; after all, we’re young, or perhaps already well off; or we think our job will last forever. But the truth is that we can’t control what the future holds. Things happen. Life happens. But we can begin to plan for various outcomes so that we are better prepared, should something unexpected come our way.

Why not grab a journal, and take a few moments to ask yourself some of these questions. Then step away, and come back to your answers later. Are they what you think they should be, or what you want them to be?

Think about that, and let’s talk more about it later.

Back to School Time

Don’t shoot the messenger, but the clock is ticking down to the start of the new school year! Now, for those of you northerners and west coast readers, you’re probably thinking, that woman’s crazy! We just got out a few weeks ago, and the fall start is almost two months away. Right? Well..wrong…if you live in the Southern states. My home state of Tennessee is headed back to class the first week of August. You read correctly.

Three weekends from now, several southern state parents will be franticly running around the shopping malls and discount stores, trying to finish up their required school supply lists, and purchase clothes and computer items needed for that following week. Maybe that’s why the planned Sales Tax Holiday for some states, including Tennessee, begins at the end of this month (July 29-31).

Now for those of you whose kids don’t return to school until after Labor Day, take a moment to catch your breath, lest that jaw dropping, big gasp moment finds you at a permanent loss of air.

Yes, gone are the days when summer break is a three-month vacation; except for most college students. But as a (really small) business owner, in addition to my full-time job as a college professor, this is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s not because I’m looking forward to getting stuck behind a school bus, or having to slow down through school zones, and everything else that school being back in brings! But I am looking forward to taking advantage of all of the back to school sales and savings that are about to kick off this week!

And while I don’t have any kids in school, that doesn’t keep me from taking advantage of stocking up on supplies during the sales tax holiday weekend. Remember, I’m all about planning ahead and saving money in the process. So as I look to expand my own back to work wardrobe, I might as well do it during the back to school sales extravaganza!

Now’s a good time to be on the lookout for what’s being offered. For starters, the one cent sale (on select items) is back at Office Depot. Other stores like Staples, Walmart, and Target, among others, have the predictable savings on basic school supplies as well as technology needs. So it’s not too early for you to do a little online research to seek out the best savings for what your household’s needs are, which helps to eliminate wasting gas driving all over town for different items, or paying too much for certain ones.

Want to read more about Back to School savings, check out this article on CBS Money Watch.

Summertime Shopping

The word is spreading. And I’m happy about it!

Hung out with an old college friend last weekend. We spent a couple of days at Edisto Beach during my visit back to my South Carolina home state. Let me start out first with saying it’s really great having friends who want to spend quality time with you; especially friends you only get to see once a year. It’s even better when that friend offers up their family’s condo to do just that! It is a nice place on a beautiful golf course, with a small pond filled with large turtles. Are you getting the picture?

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Yes. It was a peaceful place to just do nothing. And we tried to do as much of that as we could.

But during one of our talkfests, Leigh was excited to share with me some really cool savings she happened upon on the way down to the beach. I don’t remember if she said it or I mentioned it, but the topic of catching raindrops came up as she started to share her incredible shopping savings.

Leigh is the mother of three, including two college students! She’s also married to an accountant. So making wise financial decisions is an important part of her daily family life. As a high school principal, Leigh also wants to be able to look professionally good at work. So when she went into a retail store to trade out a bathing suit she’d purchased earlier, she noticed a store sale that she couldn’t resist; after all, since she works year-round, and not off for the summer months as many of her teachers are, she needed a few more pieces for those super hot summer days in the South.

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But she wasn’t expecting such great savings; like the $90.00 dress she picked up for only $20 bucks! And the $58.00 blouse she got for $14.00. But probably the best savings of the day was a $50.00 shirt for just $5.00! So for less than $40.00 Leigh walked away with almost $200.00 worth of merchandise. And not just any merchandise, but clothes she actually needs and will wear. You see, that makes the difference. Shopping just for sales is the beginning of a problem, if that’s your only motivation. And that’s not where we at Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets, are coming from. However, if you’re shopping for need, then take the time to seek out sales, so that you’re also saving money (catching those raindrops) in the process!

So take the time to look for ways to save those dollars the next time you go shopping. There are plenty of savings out there for the taking. As a matter of fact, we’re coming into the best time period to purchase summer clothing and shoes for incredible prices. Why? Because our retailers seem to think that we’re ready for them to start loading in the Back to School fall items; even though the calendar says it’s not even the official first day of summer (June 21)!

But remember, their craziness is our gain!

Catching Raindrops in Water Barrels

I love hearing from people who have made changes in their lives because of something I’ve shared here, and on our Facebook page, or challenges I’ve made to encourage others on ways to take control over their own financial future. It’s not always possibly for someone to take on a second job; or even in some cases, working outside the home at all. But there are lots of ways we can all make changes to help save and stretch the use of the money that IS coming in to the home. So I was really excited to hear from a friend of mine who had not only done just that…but utilized one avenue quite literally, by catching raindrops in her water (buckets) barrels!

Meet Erica Manly, a stay at home mom, who previously worked full-time outside the home. Much has changed in Erica’s life over the past five years, including marriage, quitting her day job, having a baby, and moving three hours away from her family for her husband’s job. Erica’s life changed…so Erica had to learn how to adjust her lifestyle to her new normal. Let me let her tell you more about that.

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My name is Erica and I’m a wife and stay at home mom to the cutest and busiest little three year old you’ve ever seen. In order to make it possible to stay with her full-time and to save for our future (and hers), I am always looking for ways for our family to save wherever we can. We became even more serious about saving last year after reviewing exactly how much money was going out every month. I started serious couponing first, because most of our budget was going to the grocery store. I wouldn’t call what I do “extreme couponing”, but we are definitely saving about $400 per month in comparison to two years ago between the grocery and other big box store spending. And as a bonus, our cupboards and closets are full of food and toiletries!

I also took up gardening last year with one raised bed garden of vegetables. Whenever I decide to start a project like this, I’m sure my husband cringes as this means work for him. He built a nice raised bed for me and filled it with a truck load of dirt. Our friend had started extra tomato plants and had other extra seeds, so we actually spent absolutely nothing on our plants!

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As a new gardener, I noticed how much more everything grew when it rained in comparison to my usual watering from the hose. Our friend calls it “magic water”.

Partly inspired by our Catching Raindrops friend, Gloria, I told my husband that I needed a rain barrel. The way I remember it, he rolled his eyes and sighed. A couple days later, my man was researching rain barrels and told me he found some 55 gallon drums for sale nearby and had found a way to tie them into our downspout under the back porch. Within a week, the project was complete – three 55 gallon drums filled with water after one good rain.

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I can’t break down exactly how much money it is saving us, but I was watering our new landscaping on the front of the house and/or the veggie garden almost everyday. Since installing the rain collection system, I have only pulled the garden hose back out a few times. I am looking forward to expanding my garden this spring to two raised beds of vegetables and using my good and bad experiences from last year to improve. My husband will also add another rain barrel or two to be sure we never run out of rain water.

While my ways may be extreme to some, and my reasons to save money may be different from yours, there are almost always ways to spend less and save more for a rainy (or even not rainy) day!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go follow my child around while turning off lights and try to explain (again) that just because you can flip all the light switches now doesn’t mean you need to turn all the lights on!

Three Reasons Why You Should Join Rewards Programs

I’m sitting in a Starbucks, back in my SC hometown where I like to visit during the first weeks of summer. I just enjoyed lunch on Starbucks, including a Turkey Rustico Panini and sweet tea. Yes, I said lunch ON Starbucks, not just “in” Starbucks.

It’s been almost a year since I signed up for their Rewards program. And while I’m still trying to figure out exactly how their Bonus Stars program works, one thing that works for me is the birthday gift they load onto the card each year! So today, I had a FREE sandwich and a discounted drink to accompany my hang time at the restaurant, catching up on email and social media stuff.

I have often talked about the “rewards” that come with signing up for Loyalty and Rewards Programs; especially with places that you already support. But even with places you don’t normally shop, receiving a freebie just for having a birthday is a great excuse to try something new, or just enjoy a treat at a place you perhaps would otherwise never have visited.

Monday was my birthday. But my celebration started a week earlier. Though I’m a huge supporter of certain rewards programs, it was one of my sisters who turned me on to a number of restaurant programs I’d been missing out on. Two years ago I signed up for Red Robin’s birthday club and started enjoying a FREE burger (which comes with fries) for my birthday each year. I love their program because I don’t have to eat-in to take advantage of it. Not so with Applebees, whose free dessert I have missed two years in a row. But I did take advantage of a FREE Honeybaked Ham sandwich I grabbed on my way to the movies (aren’t large purses the best?), and went to Buffalo Wings after church last weekend, enjoying a FREE Shareable, their fancy word for Appetizer. An yeah, they did make money on us for lunch, but you don’t have to give in to that. Just go with some friends after work and enjoy an appetizer for FREE! Plus, shortly after that visit, they sent me another email offering me free wings to complete a survey about my previous visit. Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that??

I had a meeting at Panera a week ago, and took advantage of the FREE birthday pastry that day. But I missed signing up for Jersey Mike’s Subs in time (they require two weeks in advance of your birthday), so my FREE sub sandwich treat will have to wait until next year. Again, you don’t have to make the same mistake. Sign up today! What still awaits me in my email is a FREE breakfast at IHOP, a FREE scoop of ice cream at Marble Slab Creamery, and an email from another organization listing other deals I didn’t even know about, including a FREE burger at Ruby Tuesdays and a complimentary steak dinner at Ponderosa Steakhouse.

Lest you think it’s all about the food (though I make no apologies for having various lunches and dinners taken care of during this vacation time period), there are also numerous other stores where you can take advantage of their birthday club program. My favorite place to get gas near where I live is Thornton’s, where I regularly enjoy a three cent savings on gas each time I fill up (ditto with Kroger). But for my birthday, Thornton’s sent to my card a 10 cents off per gallon special discount. Perfect timing to use for my long my drive back to TN. And earlier today, I picked up a tea kettle from World Market that was similar to a more expensive one I’d wanted on an online site; only today I not only paid less for it, but was able to use my 15% birthday discount for the purchase. Now to be honest, I didn’t really consider this to be that great of a deal, since up until this year, World Market gave a TEN DOLLAR birthday coupon, which made going by there worth the trip. But now they’ve changed it, which will likely negatively impact the number of people they drive to their stores, since it’s hardly worth the special trip given compared to what they offered before. I only stopped because I was in the area.

I also discovered several websites that list a number of the places offering free or discounted items, meals, and services for your birthday. this time next year, my list will at least double with all that I’ve uncovered during this birthday celebration!

So why bother with loyalty and reward programs just for your birthday week?

First, most of them offer discounts on their products, meals and services year-round. If it’s something you would use, eat, or buy for a friend, why not save money on it?

Second, the majority of them have worthwhile Freebies to take advantage of during your birthday week; some up to a month to redeem.

Third, if you’re saving money on that overpriced, but still hugely popular Mocha Frappucino, you can spend that money on something else instead  — like, say an extra gallon of gas or half of next month’s water bill!

I’m just saying!

The Cost of Laziness

On the way to work earlier this week, I stopped at a gas station and filled my tank for $1.74/gallon. The actual price of the gas at this Thorntons station was $1.77, but I had a rewards card which gave me an additional three cents per gallon off. Now for you West coasters and Northeasterners, I’m sure your jaw has dropped at the thought of gas prices being this low. But down South, we’ve been significantly under $2.00 since before the holidays; albeit, that was only a few weeks ago. But given that the average gas price where I live is about $1.86, with bargains like I found at other stations for those willing to look, I’m completely dumbfounded whenever I pass a gas station these days with prices starting above $2.00 and people actually at the pumps filling their tanks. What gives me more of a “scratching my head, I don’t get it,” moment is when I see other stations mere blocks away with prices 10, 20, even 30 cents cheaper than the one where some people are stopping. So I can’t help but wonder, how lazy can you be that in today’s economy, you wouldn’t do just a little homework to find the best gas prices in your community or near your workplace? Certainly not “that” many people could possibly have been on empty and forced to pull in to the first gas station they saw, when a half mile down the road, they could have saved 20 cents a gallon.

Now I know, there are people who think 20 cents is nothing; not worth the extra drive. Those are people I call too lazy for their own good. They don’t completely understand the cost of laziness. You see, it’s not just 20 cents; it’s the cumulative effect of paying more for the same thing, just to avoid taking the time to find something better — and it adds up. Let’s take a vehicle that has a 20 gallon tank. Assuming you’re filling up because you’re on or near empty, that 20 cent difference that doesn’t seem like a big deal right now, actually comes out to be $4.00 more you spent filling up your car, than what the woman down the street saved. What’s $4.00, you say? Well one way you can look at it is this. Let’s assume, regardless of the price of gas, you continue to shop at a station that charges, on average, 20 cents more per gallon. Filling your tank once a week would mean that you just paid $16.00 more that month than you could have saved. If you continue that pattern all year long, then you just spent (better known as wasted) a total of $192.00 that year! Now, I don’t know about you, but I can think of several things I could do with an additional $192. That’s the cost of a carefully selected airline ticket back to my hometown. It’s also about what I paid for my last electric bill, and more than double the cost of my current home gas bill. What’s more, if you take into consideration there are 52 weeks in a year (of course, only one month has exactly four weeks in it), then really, you’ve just spent $208 more that year than I did…all because you’d either prefer maintaining your habit of getting your gas at the same station every time, regardless of the price (yes, there are those people who won’t let anything get in the way of their routine, even when that routine stops making sense). Or, it’s not a matter of routine, but rather laziness — “see station, pull in, gas up, go!”

Interestingly, just this morning a devotional popped in my email. It’s one of those I subscribe to for only weekend delivery, so I thought how fitting and timely that today it would actually be about this very topic that I had already planned to write about.

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. Proverbs 6:6-8

For most of us who don’t have the luxury of a lottery win, a trust fund, generously rich relatives, or even hard work, high earning generated income, we have to seek out ways to save the money we have and use it wisely. For me, that means, not going out of my way to find the best gas prices, but rather, making it a point to find out which ones offer the best deals along the routes I’m already taking — to work, to church, to home, even to friend’s houses on a different part of town. It means yes, I shop during Buy One, Get One Free sales; and then only select one of the products (most stores allow that now), which means a 50% savings on something I planned to purchase anyway. It means I try not to run out to do any one errand, but rather hit most places up in between the other destinations I have to do. That means that on my way to my doctor’s appointment, I drop my recycles off at the center going, and stop by the Home Depot to pick up the floodlights I need, on the return. And it also means using coupons – not just for groceries, but for any and everything that’s available. Recently, that meant saving $40.00 on a brake job at a national chain. While I waited for my car repair, I went online and found the savings of $20.00 per brake service. Since I had to have two new brake pads installed, the $40.00 was a huge and welcomed savings (thank you smartphones and wifi!).

The devotional I read, which was from Charles Stanley’s In Touch Ministries, went on to say: consider how many characteristics of the ant people would be smart to adopt:  preparation, cooperation, perseverance, diligence, and unity. 

My ongoing challenge to anyway reading this, is to think about the bigger picture with even the smaller things you do. If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’re probably one who is looking for ideas on how to save money, or perhaps how to generate more. I hope we have provided some of those ideas for you in the past, and we certainly plan to share much more in the future. But remember, no matter how much money you make, win or inherit, if you spend more than you have, you will be back to living in debt!

Learn instead, how to adjust your lifestyle to a life with your new normal.