Monday, January 31, 2011

The Debt Snowball -- How to Get Yours Rolling

A year ago, we were debt-free (except for the house). We paid off the rest of my student loan, the balance of our credit card, and, finally, the rest of our car loan.  What a feeling!

If you ever listen to Dave Ramsey on the radio, you're probably familiar with the "debt-free scream." You can hear the absolute joy in the callers' voices as they scream that they're debt-free (if you've never heard one of these calls, check it out here).  At first, I thought those calls were a little dramatic, but the closer we got to our debt-free goal, we got more and more excited. When the day came and I went to the Chase bank branch by my house and paid off the car, I walked back to our paid-for car, got inside, and yelled, "WE'RE DEBT-FREEEE!!" My then three-year-old son thought it was hilarious and for about a week or so after would randomly shout, with his arms outstretched above his head, "We're debt-free!" 

And then a few months later both of our cars (with over 200,000+ miles on each) started to show their wear. One of them, the older of the two, couldn't pass the state inspection or emission tests. The newer of the two, a 2002 Subaru, was running pretty rough.  We weighed our options, did the math, and realized that we had to get another car.  So we traded both of the cars in, put down some extra money down on top of that, and financed the rest. As excited as I was about having a dependable, new-to-us (read: used) Subaru and considering we got a pretty good deal, I couldn't help but burst into tears as we drove away from the lot. We were back in debt. However, since we'd tasted that debt-free feeling, we were ready to attack the car debt with, as Dave calls it, "gazelle intensity".

Luckily, we only have one debt to deal with. However, the average American household isn't so lucky. According to an article I found, the average American household carries $8000 in credit card debt. Forty-three percent of households spend more than they earn. In 2003, the average household debt was $18,654 -- which doesn't include mortgage debt. In another article, it says that in 2009, the average college student graduates with $21,000 in student loan debt.  No wonder people feel overwhelmed when it comes to getting out of debt.

That's why I love the debt snowball plan.  I first came across the method in a helpful pamphlet (click here for the online version) when I was a newlywed. Years later, I was reminded of it when my mom introduced me to the Dave Ramsey plan.  The thing I love about this method for debt elimination is that it's simple and straightforward. There are no shortcuts, complicated math, or tricks -- but it works! It's the program we used and I wouldn't recommend anything else.

After you've put aside $1000 in an emergency fund, you're ready to attack your debt (everything besides the mortgage, that is). Gather all your financial info and list all the creditors you have.  Put them in order according to how much you owe, starting with the smallest debt. That's the first debt you're going to pay off. Don't pay attention to the interest rates on each.  This was hard for us at first -- we wanted to pay off our credit card before my student loan. The interest rate on my student loan was only around 3% while our credit card rate was around 10%. But the balance on the student loan was lower than the credit card's (not by a whole lot -- thankfully, I didn't have a huge student loan), so we went with that debt first. Why start with the lowest? Once you pay it off, you gain momentum. You feel the satisfaction of paying off the debt and that feeling keeps you motivated.

When you've figured out the order of how you'll pay off your bills, make the minimum monthly payments on all of them except the first (the lowest). Then, as Dave says, attack that first debt. Once it's paid off, apply the minimum payment you would have been making on that debt and apply it to the second debt.

Here's where the snowball analogy comes into play:  Let's say you've just paid off your credit card to Best Buy (that one seems like a popular place to finance). The payments may have been low, maybe only $20/month. Now that you've paid off that debt, you don't owe Best Buy $20 per month. Instead of using that money in day-to-day expenses, apply it to the next debt. Maybe the second debt is credit card debt. In addition to the minimum payment you owe for that bill (let's say $100/month), tack on the $20 you would have been paying Best Buy. Each payment on your credit card should be a minimum of $120. Then attack the second debt with any other resources you have. Once that debt is gone, apply the minimum from both paid-off debts -- using our example, you'd add $120 to the minimum you owe on your third debt. For a helpful visual for this method, click here for a simple debt-elimination chart. Like a snowball, once you get rolling with this debt-elimination plan, the money that is freed up for paying off debt keeps on adding up.

Make a chart to help you track your progress. Having clearly set and defined goals makes cutting back much easier. When we paid off my student loan, I put the letter saying our balance was paid in full on the fridge. Whenever I saw it, I would get a surge of pride and motivation to keep on with our goals. Do whatever you have to to stay on task. That out-of-debt feeling is worth it!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Try, Try Again: My Second Attempt at Homemade Dishwasher Powder

Almost exactly a year ago (didn't plan that at all..weird), I wrote about my disappointing experiment with homemade dishwasher powder. I'd read in a book that you could use a mixture of baking soda and borax and that would work like the storebought dishwasher powder. I really wanted it to work because I buy the natural, eco-friendly stuff and it's kind of spendy.  So I tried it. Nope. The baking soda-borax mix left a crusty film all over my dishes, especially on my glasses. I was thoroughly unimpressed. I figured it had to be due, in part, to my old dishwasher and I consigned myself to buying yet another box of the storebought stuff.

Then, about a week ago, I came across link to a blog post about homemade dishwasher detergent. I was curious (and dubious) so I checked it out and, sure enough, the recipe featured baking soda and borax.  As previously mentioned, it didn't work for me, but I decided to look at the comment section and see if anyone had similar results to mine. I came across one of the comments that said not to use baking soda but washing soda instead. It just so happened that I had some washing soda on hand and I also happened to be out of dishwasher powder. So I gave it a try and mixed the washing soda with the borax. 

You know what? It worked! Granted, my glasses were still a little foggy (blame our hard water for that one), but everything else was shining and clean. They looked just as good as if I'd used my regular storebought powder.  I've used the combination a few times since that initial test with the same results as the first. I'm converted.

To make your own batch of homemade dishwasher powder, all you need to do is mix equal parts of borax and washing soda.  Once it's all mixed together, store in an airtight container (I got the one pictured for like 25 cents at the thrift store). When you're ready to run a load of dishes through the dishwasher, put 1-2 tablespoons in the dispenser. 

One other helpful dishwasher tip I've been using the past couple months: instead of using a storebought rinse aid, fill the rinse aid dispenser with white vinegar. It helps with the spots and keeps things shining. Ah, vinegar -- what can't you do?

Borax and washing soda can both be found in the laundry aisle of stores. You can find borax at most stores, including big chains like Walmart. Washing soda is a little trickier to find -- I bought mine at Ace Hardware.

When I bought both boxes (when I started making laundry detergent this past summer), each box cost around $4. I used to spend anywhere from $4-5 on a 48-oz. box of my usual diswasher detergent. You can buy a 76-oz. box of borax for around $4 and a 55-oz. box of washing soda for the same price.  If you used the entire box of each for dishwasher detergent exlusively, you'd have around 131 oz. of dishwasher powder for $8. If you break the prices down, the storebought dishwasher powder I used cost around 10 cents per ounce; the homemade powder is about 6 cents per ounce.

In the end, homemade dishwasher powder costs less than the stuff I used to buy. It works pretty well, too. It's all-natural and eco-friendly like the other stuff.  I love it when frugal experiments work.

{Update: May 7, 2012 - I just wanted to mention that I'm not using this all the time. It cleans the dishes, but still leaves bit of a foggy film on glasses and some residue on my dishes. I'm chalking that up to our hard water. So, I mostly use this when I'm in a pinch. Most of the time, I use my old stand-by, BioKleen dish powder. Just thought I'd mention it. Test the homemade stuff out a few times (I'd say at least 4-5 times -- the problems I had didn't show up until around then) and see if it works for you before making a huge batch.}

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lovely Links: "While We're Busy DIY-ing" Edition

Things have been pretty busy around here.

My husband got a bonus at work (woohoo!), so we decided to finally get rid of all the linoleum in our house and replace it with tile.  My brother, who happens to be an up-and-coming contractor, did an awesome job.  Since we had to pull everything out of the bathrooms (If you look at the bottom of the picture at the left, you'll see that there's a toilet in my bedroom. Nice.) , we decided to replace the old sink/counter ensembles in there. And the mirrors. And the light fixtures. And since the walls were bare and the floors were empty, why not paint the rooms while we're at it?  So, yeah, like I said, things have been pretty busy around here.

This all explains the lack of posting. Although my brother did the tile work (though, as you can see in the picture, my husband and son helped with the demo) and my husband is doing the rest of the bathroom renovations (not that I'm lazy -- there's just not a lot of handiwork to do when you're seven months pregnant), I've been busy doing my part. The upstairs literally looks like there's been some kind of earthquake or something. Cleaning and organizing the mess is no easy feat. So, until my house is back in order and my routine gets back to usual, here are some great frugal/homemaking/interesting posts to keep you reading until I return.

11 Weird Things to Do in 2011 - Dave Ramsey
You know, weird things like meal planning and saying no.  Basically, common sense that just isn't so common these days.

Toasted Almond Granola - Joy the Baker
The ingredients aren't fancy or anything. It wouldn't cost too much to make. And it looks so good!

9 Ways to Prepare for Food Inflation - Frugal Dad
Not the cheeriest of subjects, but I'm sorry to say that it's coming.  Forecasters are saying that food inflation will hit meat, cereal, dairy, and sugar especially hard in the first few months of 2011.  It's a good time to re-evaluate your shopping habits, food storage, and budgeting.

Home Canning in the Winter Months: A Round-Up - Simple Bites
I've never given much -- okay, any -- thought to wintertime canning. I've always just associated canning with late summer and early autumn. But the author of this post brings up a great point -- you can be a little more leisurely about canning when you don't have all the pressure of getting it done like you do when everything's fresh out of the garden and farmer's markets. I'd add the fact that being in a hot kitchen in the wintertime is preferable than being in one in August. Just sayin'.  Anyway, she has some great links to winter canning recipes -- I'm contemplating making and canning this recipe for pink grapefruit & pomegranate marmalade from another post from Simple Bites.

How to Begin a New Year - A Holy Experience
It may be half-way into January and maybe you've already broken some of your resolutions (*raising hand*), but this post is still worth checking out. Nothing parsimonious at this link -- just a beautiful post by Ann Voskamp. Her site always instills a sense of peace and purpose in me when I read. Love it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Spicy Savings and a Random Reuse

Am I the only one who has struggled with buying spices and herbs? I love to cook and good herbs and spices are essential, but I used to dread buying them because they're so expensive.  How can the contents of a half-ounce jar be so expensive? I bought garam masala a few weeks ago and the cheapest I could find a bottle of it was five bucks (I realize now that I could have made my own mix. D'oh! P.S. you have to try this recipe for chicken tikka masala. Totally worth buying the garam masala for. Absolutely heavenly.).  Yes, the spice section of the baking aisle can be a scary place for your grocery budget.

So my suggestion is to skip that spice section in the baking aisle altogether. 

Spices are much, much cheaper if you skip the bottle. I buy my spices in the international food aisle, by the Mexican foods (the brand is "El Guapo", which always makes me think of Three Amigos).  There I find packages of the exact same spices I would get in the baking aisle in a jar, but they're sold in a bag instead. You can't find every spice in this section, but I've found the ones I use most regularly in that section, like ground cinnamon. Other spices I've bought in the international aisle include rosemary, cloves (whole and ground), curry powder, cayenne pepper, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and cumin. I haven't noticed a difference in quality between the bottled or bagged spices. The bagged ground cinnamon tastes as good as the bottled kind, in my opinion.

The bags aren't the most convenient method for storage, so I simply wash and reuse my other spice containers and pour the bagged spices in them. I filled an entire spice bottle with the bagged curry powder, with some to spare. The bottled version of curry powder ranges in price, depending on the brand and size, anywhere from $3-5; the amount of curry powder in the picture above cost me a whopping 88 cents.

So what if your store doesn't carry these bagged spices and herbs in the international food aisle?  Try buying them in bulk at other stores. Stores like Whole Foods, Sunflower Market, and WinCo (those are just the ones I'm familiar with) let you buy spices and herbs according to weight (check out this link about savings at Whole Foods, this link about savings at WinCo).  I've purchased bulk spices and herbs at Whole Foods and it's awesome. If you have a recipe that calls for a teaspoon or two of a certain spice, you can actually buy that exact amount if you want (helpful for herbs and spices you don't use often -- in my case, cardamom.).  Even if you want to stock up on spices and herbs you use regularly, the total to fill a single reused jar will usually be less than a dollar.

Use up the bottled herbs and spices you have. Save and reuse the jars. Buy the bagged or bulk spices and herbs. Succesfully avoid highway robbery.

Friday, January 7, 2011

I'm with the Band: My Money-Saving Maternity Wardrobe Staple

Maybe that title is a little deceiving since I don't really have much of a 'maternity wardrobe'.  In fact, I haven't purchased a single article of maternity clothing yet and I'll be 30 weeks along on Monday. I have a few items from my last pregnancy back in 2006, but I was wearing those clothes in the summer. Not so helpful now.

Anyway, back in November, my mom bought me my wardrobe staple -- a belly band. I absolutely love it!

My mom had actually thought the one she got, Motherhood Maternity's Tummy Sleeve, was a support system when she bought it, something to help me with the round ligament pains and lower back pain I'd been complaining about. When I put it on, it didn't do a whole lot for the physical pains, but it worked wonders for a whole other sort of pain: I was at the stage where no pair of pants or any of my skirts would fit right anymore.

The waistline was starting to roll and slide down on my pants, even on my stretchy yoga pants and some of my leggings. No fun. As if I didn't hate shopping for pants bad enough, I was dreading buying maternity ones. I found ones that fit with my last pregnancy, but I definitely didn't love them.  Enter the Tummy Sleeve.

By some miracle of design, the Tummy Sleeve is stretchy enough that it's comfortable but tight enough to keep your pre-pregnancy pants and skirts on. You can leave pants unbuttoned and zippers on skirts lower and the Tummy Sleeve keeps everything together and up. I wear my leggings and yoga pants lower than I would normally (so they're under my belly) and the sleeve keeps keeps them in place and keeps everything above the waist covered and smooth. Basically, the sleeve does what the bands and panels on top of maternity skirts and pants do.

The Tummy Sleeve costs $16.98 at Motherhood Maternity. At first, it seems kind of expensive for a stretchy tube of material, but it is worth every penny. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I haven't purchased any maternity pants or skirts and I'm in my third trimester. Granted, it helps that lots of the clothing styles right now allow for tops to be looser and longer, but, no matter the trends or your personal style, this belly band will extend anyone's regular wardrobe through the maternity months and spare you the expense of buying a wardrobe you won't wear for very long.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

This Cold House, Part 2: How to Sew a Draft Stopper

It's also known as a draft dodger or a draft snake. Call it whatever you like -- this easy sewing project will help you save a little money with your heating bills by blocking off drafty areas along the bottoms of window and doors. As I mentioned in my previous post, I've been meaning to make one of these for my back door -- for the last week or so, I've just had a rolled-up towel as my makeshift draft stopper.

It's been a while since I've featured a sewing project on this blog, so I'll just say this to any new reader:  I compare my sewing experience with my skiing experience. I'm a pretty uncoordinated person and it took me a while to learn, but I can ski and I really like it. I stick to mostly the easy green runs (though I have done a blue run or two in my time) when I go, but I can do it. Same with sewing: I'm not a super-crafty type of person and it took me a while to get over my sewing machine phobia, but I can sew and I really like it. I stick to easy projects (though I dabble in some intermediate stuff), but I can do it.  Long story short: if I can sew this, you can sew this.

Okay, onto the step-by-step how-to...

There are different ways to make these, but I followed the instructions I saw on Martha Stewart's website.  Gotta give credit where it's deserved.

To get started, measure the width of the door or window you want the draft stopper to fit. On the fabric of your choice (I'd suggest a slightly heavier, home-decor weight fabric, but anything will work), cut a piece of fabric that is as long as you measured (in my case, it was 36 inches) and about 9 1/4 inch wide. You'll also need a little extra fabric to cut out the circles for the ends.

I had a serependipitous fabric find among my remnants. When I got my living room curtains from Ikea, they had to be cut to fit. I saved the leftover fabric. Turned out that the long piece I had was just a little under 10 inches wide. Sweet!

Fold the fabric in half lengthwise, right sides facing, and pin the edges together (if you're feeling adventurous, you can skip the pins and free-hand it).

Sew along the pinned edge, with about a 1/4 inch seam allowance. You want to leave a 4-inch opening somewhere along the middle. Be sure to backstitch at both edges of the opening. You'll use this opening for turning the tube rightside out later.

Move the seam to the middle of the tube and iron, pressing the seam open.

Now that you have the tube done, it's time for the slightly more tricky part, the ends.

On Martha's site, she has a printable pattern for the 3 1/4 inch circles.  Since printers always seem to commit some kind of printer suicide when I own them, I had to improvise.

I traced the bottom of a pint-sized canning jar with some chalk. Right about 3 1/4 inches. So you can either print yours off or try my method. Cut two circles.

Fold the circle in half and press. Fold it in half again and press. Repeat with the other circle.

Match the creases on the unfolded circle with the pressed creases at the end of the tube.  Pin in place.

With a needle and thread, baste in place. Until recently, I thought basting was only relegated to roasting poultry. Basting in terms of sewing means to stitch loosely so you can machine-stitch more easily. As you can see the stitches on mine are wide and loose; be careful not to cinch the end. Remove the pins.

Machine stitch around the basted end. Like I said, this was the trickiest part.

The machine stitches are in red -- you just go around the edge, nothing too complicated. Remove the basted stitches. Follow same procedure on the other end.

Turn your tube rightside out through the opening at the seam.  Next, fill the stopper. You don't want it to be too full or it won't be flexible; don't under-fill it, either. I wish I could give an exact amount, but every stopper will be a different size. Just go with your gut.

On the Martha Stewart site, she suggests using kitty litter as filler. I can see how that would work, but it seems a little more pricey than other options to me. I used dry pinto beans mixed with some rice. I like this filling because it makes the stopper not only moldable and flexible to any opening, but it also keeps it weighted down. I've read other instructions for draft stoppers and they've filled theirs with old fabric scraps and holey socks.

Ta-da! Draft successfully stopped. {Pay no heed to my scuffed-up back door. Between the boy and my cat clammoring to get outside, it just gets that way. }   This was my first attempt at making one of these and it really was easy. If you're still averse to sewing or don't have a sewing machine, there are some no-sew stoppers I've seen on various sites (here's a link to one I found).  In any case, whatever type you make, it will look better than a rolled-up towel, I'm sure.

Monday, January 3, 2011

This Cold House: How to Cut Down on Your Heating Bills Without Freezing

My husband thinks I'm weird, but every year in the late fall, just when it's starting to get cold, I see how long we can go until before we turn on the heater. I partly do it to test out all my ways of keeping the house warm without central heating and partly to test my family's tolerance. Like I said, kind of weird. (Granted, I found a blog all about how a guy who took it even further and didn't turn on his furnace at all one winter, so at least I'm not that eccentric.) I don't drag our heaterless period on for that long and I look forward to turning it on because I like the smell of the first firing up of the heater (it just makes me feel cozy).

November and December in my area has been pretty mild this year, for the most part. The weekend before Christmas, it just rained and rained. Temperatures were in the upper 40s and it felt (and looked) more like October than the first days of winter. We didn't get the white Christmas I'd hoped for, but then a couple days later Mother Nature realized that it was winter here, too. Over the past week, we've been blasted with snow and freezing temperatures. The other day, the high was 18 degrees; at night, the temperatures have been barely above zero.

Despite Jack Frost nipping at your nose and Old Man Winter banging at the door, there are lots of ways you can save on your heating bills while still staying comfortably warm.  Here are some the tips and techniques we use around our slightly-chillier-than-average house:

1. Gradually decrease your home's temperature.
This week, try lowering your thermostat by just one degree. Chances are, no one will notice the difference.  According to an article I read, each one-degree drop for an eight-hour period reduces your heating costs by 1% (another article I read said it can save up to 3%). Obviously, the lower you set your thermostat, the greater your savings. Talk about easy. By decreasing gradually, we've made 67/68 degrees our normal, comfortable home temperature.  I've become so used to it, any home I've visited with its temperature above 70 feels almost too warm.

2. Use a programmable thermostat.
Programmable thermostats are great because you can adjust the temperature of your home according to your daily needs. For example, at 6 AM our thermostat kicks up to 68 degrees (the highest we have it set) to warm the house up before we get out of bed. In the middle of the day, when we use the sun to help heat up the house, we have the thermostat set a couple degrees lower, around 65/66 degrees. Then, in the early evening, when the sun has begun to set, the temperature goes back up to 68 degrees before it drops all the way to 60 degrees at 10 PM. If your family spends a good chunk of the day outside of the home at work and school, you can save lots of money by setting your thermostat lower during the hours you're gone.  Programmable thermostats range in price, anywhere from $20-$70, and you can install it yourself. (Check out this video from Home Depot all about buying and installing a programmable thermostat.)

3. Keep temperatures even lower at night.
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, we have our nighttime temperature set all the way down to 60 degrees.  It's chilly at first before we get into bed, but once we're asleep, no one notices how much cooler the house is. Lots of blankets, warm pajamas, and a pair of socks help. Sometimes, I'll heat up the warmer pack I made (easy instructions to make your own in this post I wrote last year) and stick it under the covers while I'm getting ready for bed. Sure, nighttime trips to the bathroom are a little chilly, but really no big deal. Try setting your thermostat anywhere between 3-5 degrees cooler at night and see if you notice a big difference.

4. Use your blinds and drapes to your advantage.
Window coverings can help with heating savings. Just by keeping the blinds open and the drapes pulled back on a sunny day, I can easily bring the temperature up in my house by a few degrees, which keeps the heater from firing up as frequently. Once the sun goes down, I close all the blinds and drapes to help insulate the house from the cold windows. From what I understand, blinds don't really do all that much to stop heat loss, but drapes can cut heat loss by as much as 10%.  I just replaced the drapes in our living room with longer, heavier ones and I've noticed a difference (especially since the window in that room seems to be the draftiest).

5.  Use draft stoppers.
There are just some spots where the cold air seeps through -- that spot in my house is at the bottom of my back door, by the hinges. Right now, I have a rolled towel blocking it, but I plan on sewing a weighted draft stopper. More on this in my next post, where I'll show how I'm making mine, step-by-step.

6. Close off vents in rooms not used.
Close the vents in rooms not used often and keep the door shut. My parents do this with a couple rooms in their house. No sense in heating rooms that you don't go in, right?

7. Turn on the ceiling fan.
It almost seems counter-intuitive to turn on a ceiling fan in the wintertime, but it can help cut heating costs, especially if you have high ceilings. Since heat rises, the heated air can collect where no one will feel it. If you turn your ceiling fan on the reverse setting (so it turns clockwise), the heated air will be pushed downward. Keep your fan at the lowest setting so you don't get a breeze. Our living room has vaulted ceilings, so I decided to test this out. As weird as it seems to have the ceiling fan going, it doesn't create a cooling draft like I thought it would.

8. Replace or clean your furnace filter regularly.
When your furnace filter gets clogged with dust and lint, your furnace is less effective, which can translate to higher heating bills. The jury still seems to be out about how often to replace/clean filters: some people say every month, others say once every three months. Filters aren't very expensive, so it couldn't hurt to change it every month in the winter. I'm no expert on this, but I figure you can keep an eye on it and determine yourself how often it needs to be changed. We have a reusable furnace filter that you clean with water.  I'm horrible about remembering to clean it, so writing all of this will serve as a good reminder!

9. Get cooking!
In the hot summer months I do whatever I can to not do any cooking or baking because it gets the kitchen so warm.  In the winter, however, this added heat is definitely welcome. In the wintertime, my mom always leaves the oven door cracked open after she's turned it off. She figures that the oven has to cool off anyway, why not get some of that hot air out into the kitchen? (Note: may not be the best idea if you have little ones who don't know better than to touch it. My four-year-old steers clear of the oven because he knows it's hot.). I'm not sure how true this is and if leaving the oven cracked makes a difference, but I do know that baking and cooking heats my kitchen up nicely, oven door open or closed.

10. Socks and blankets go a long way. So does hot chocolate.
In the evening, the house can get a little chilly, even if we're used to the 67 degree temperature most of the time. It's amazing what a nice pair of socks can do to make you more comfortable. Same goes for blankets -- we keep a basket of quilts and blankets next to the couch since it always seems colder when you're not moving. Take it a step further and make yourself a nice cup of cocoa. Saving money on heating can be easy and delicious!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Out with the Old

One of my husband's favorite artists is J.C. Leyendecker,
who was famous for his portrayals of the New Year baby.
Who doesn't love the beginning of a new year? There's just something so satisfying about a fresh start, the chance to recommit to goals and to become a better person.  Then again, I'm always a little wary of making resolutions -- it seems like some kind of running joke that they're only made to be broken. 

In any case, I'm looking forward to the new year. As we stayed up last night, my husband and I reviewed our goals -- financial, personal, family, and spiritual -- for the year ahead. I feel energized and ready. Which brings me to the question I want to post to you, dear reader:

What are your goals for 2011, particularly when it comes to finances and frugality?

For us, we're going to buckle down and pay off our car as fast as we can and get back out of debt (we were debt-free a year ago, but we had to get a new car since our two older cars were dying). To do this, we're going to work even harder at following our weekly budgets to the dollar. Then of course, there's the usual things: cook at home even more (I'll admit, I fall prey to the dinnertime fatigue), stay more organized, expand my garden, learn new homemaking skills (I'm still determined to learn how to knit and I've found someone to teach me) and saving for and doing some home improvements.

One of the things that keeps me motivated to live frugally and to do some of the extra work that comes with that lifestyle is this blog. Not only does it make feel accountable, but it's also a fun way to share and I hope that I've helped you with your goals in some small way. So, let me know what frugal and financial goals you're working on for 2011 and we'll make this year even better than the last.
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