Garage Sale Success!

Last year's sale was a bust. What about this year? If you follow me on twitter you already know the answer. It was a bigger success then I could have imagined! After last year's flop I did a lot of analyzing to figure out what went wrong and how to correct it.

Here are my secrets to a successful and stress free garage sale:

  • It's one thing to make money at a garage sale it's another thing all together to actually feel stress free while prepping and hosting a sale. My biggest secret to less stress is to price things before you put them in the sell box. When I take stuff to our basement to put in our garage sale boxes I price them and then add them to a box of similar items. It means no last minute pricing and sorting for me!
  • Everyone asks me "How do you know what to price things?". My answer is also a question "How much would you be willing to spend on the item if you bought it at a garage sale?" I charge what I would want to pay. I also check out garage sales that have similar items and see what they are pricing them for as well. I never ask too much since I do want it to sell, however I never undercut my profits. If in doubt go for the higher price you can always lower it.
  • When planning your sale try to get others on your street or neighborhood to have it at the same time. This year I held my sale the same weekend that there was a large estate sale a couple blocks away. This brought in a lot more people then I normally have which meant more sales for me.
  • I've held garage sales with other families (Multi-family) and I've done it alone. My personally experience has lead me to believe that it is much easier and less stressful to do it alone. There is just a lot less work if you only have to deal with you and your own items.
  • To make a sale worth your time and cost of an ad you need to make sure that you have enough items. If you don't just wait another year or take a good hard look around your house to see what else you could sell.
  • Good marketing is key to making money. If people don't show up, they will not buy. My marketing strategy includes a three day ad in the local paper, listing on Craigslist with daily updates on what's left, tons of great signs leading people from the two closest large roads all the way back to our house (8 signs in total), and last but not least I send out a mass email to all my local friends and family telling them about the sale and asking them to forward it on to anyone who might be interested in my items.
  • Be the best sales person you can be! Have a smile on all day even if you are tired. Greet people as they walk up and ask them if they are looking for any specific items or if they have questions to feel free to ask.
  • Like a good scout you also need to be prepared. I have pre-made meals ready to go so I don't get to worn down. I also take a large water bottle outside with me first thing so I always stay hydrated. It's also important to have lots of change ($60 in 5's, 1's, and quarters), lots of sacks and newspaper for breakables, sunscreen, and a friend on speed dial encase you need anything.
  • Last but by far not least, I highly suggest that you ship the kids off to the grandparent's or a friends during the sale. Not having my two little angels under my feet and begging for attention and food made the whole experience much more pleasant.
This year I started out with four large tables full and five larger inexpensive baby items on the ground. After the two days of sales I netted over $450 after taking out all of my starting costs. the most expensive item sold was $40 and the majority of the items sold for $0.50. I also spent my Friday afternoon reading in the sunshine without interruption while things were quieter. That my friends was priceless.

What are your garage sale success secrets?

Photo from Sassy Signs.com

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FPU Week 5: Credit Sharks in Suits

I have to admit, I was pretty nervous going into this week's class. We had chosen not to preview this week's video lesson. But that really didn't have me nervous. We had a couple weeks off between classes. But that really didn't have me nervous (ok, maybe a little).

Really, it was the previous two classes that had me nervous. I'll explain why inside.

Weeks 3 and 4 were Cash Flow Planning and Dumping Debt, respectively. These two are by far, the most difficult lessons. Also two of the most important. Weeks 1 and 2 are really just warm-ups for the real work of the budget and debt snowball. For many, this is the first time they are faced with the reality of their financial situations. The good, the bad and the ugly are all laid out in front of them, and if you didn't get week two, then God help you in weeks 3 and 4.

The unfortunate outcome in our past classes was drop outs. Even when we felt overextended by the size of a class, we knew, based on reports from other class coordinators, to expect a certain drop out rate. In practice, we saw this hold true.

This time, I am pleased to report that if we do have drop outs then they are quite minimal. Maybe it's the economy, and people are feeling more of a need to stick with this. It may also be that Dave re-ordered the lessons with the newest version of the class. Relating with Money used to be after Cash Flow Planning, and I think the new way makes far more sense.

As for this week's lesson, we were fortunate to have many families who had not been behind on their bills and had not dealt with collectors. At the same time, it makes it difficult for them to relate to the situation, or to see the value of the lesson. "Because that won't happen to me". Well, I hope not, but then again, it may just be that a friend or family member is in that position and needs some guidance. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to help them separate the signal from noise and come out the other side of that situation?

Alternately, you don't know what may come. While in college, I had a couple of bills get cross-ways and end up in the hands of collectors. Even though I settled those accounts and had them paid-in-full, years later I was contacted by some scum-bag collector trying to get me to pay on it again. With the information I learned in this lesson, I knew my rights under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. I knew that if challenged, they had to provide proof of the debt. I knew how to handle it and what to expect. I also now know the value of hanging on to those statements showing the balance was in-fact paid.

How have you dealt with collectors in the past?

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A Tale of Two Businesses

The other day, I was reading (and commenting on) a post by Ashley at Wide Open Wallet. Apparently, 2 months of self-employment has her convinced that business credit is a 'necessary evil'.

I'm convinced otherwise.

Once upon a time, I too started my own business. And while our two ventures vary greatly, I know that with proper planning, a business can be started and operated debt-free. All of this got me thinking about two of my previous employs - both of which were small businesses, started from scratch.

But the two were operated very differently.

The first, let's call it One + One, was operated by let's call him Gordon. This was actually my first job out of school. And since I didn't know any different and certainly didn't have our financial act together, it was difficult to see the err of Gordon's ways at the time.

Now I wish I could tell you than Gordon was kindly enough to give me frequent peeks at our P&L, giving me an inside knowledge of our assets and liabilities. Not the case, but also not the focus here. What was plainly visible was the way the business was run. I can recall one summer when business had slowed a tad and we were just into May. Now these were consulting businesses, and peaks and valleys were to be expected. The weird thing was that during that valley, we hired someone. She was pleasant and skilled, but why was she here? I can remember the looks from my co-workers as if to say, "but there isn't enough work for us, let alone another". The valley continued and a month later, she was gone. Another month and one of our senior staff was cut. It was a rough summer.

A year or so later, business was much better and much steadier. We had acquired a few more staff and had moved into a fancy office that Gordon had sunk big, big money into. As the work continued, so did Gordon and his business plans of the week. Soon it was announced that our goal was to become "the premier such and such in the region" and to have a staff of 10. OK, but why 10? Gordon seemed convinced that bigger numbers would impress clients and bring in more and better work. It didn't. I can remember later at an open house when we were told that if anyone asked, we were to say we had a staff of ten. We couldn't quite figure out who the ten were unless his parents and wife were on the payroll. When folks started counting desks, we'd try and change the subject.

Inevitably, another valley came, but this time I was the one swallowed up. After that, One + One had true staff of five - three of which were in administrative roles. Things made less and less sense at that point. Money seemed to flow like a river, though usually out the door. Was it debt? It almost had to be. Everything was for show, even us employees, and we seemed to come and go with the wind.

The second, let's call it Hot House, was previously a one man show, operated by let's call him Kurt. I actually met Kurt while employed by Gordon. Our biggest client had actually lined us up to work for Kurt. We were jealous immediately. Here he was, one guy, and he had the big project from the big client - the type we'd dream about at One + One. What was so special about him? We'd worked hard, built our company up, with six or more employees at the time. This was when I first began to see that Gordon was running at 100 mph, but in the wrong direction.

After leaving One + One, I started my own venture - a story for another day - and through a mutual friend, caught up with Kurt again. To my delight, He wanted me to do a bit of work for him. I worked on-site at his office, which at the time was an apartment. Technically not allowed by the lease, but the staff approved it at the time, and it was far cheaper than a commercial space. On top of that, he was sharing the space with friend who had a similar, but non-competing business. He was also named Kurt (same spelling) and with the same last initial - the Mrs. was confused for weeks. The other Kurt also had a guy doing part time work for him and the four of us ran two businesses out of a single one-bedroom apartment with make-shift desks and hodge-podge computers. It felt like we were running a speakeasy.

Now keep in mind, I'd spent the last 3 years keeping up appearances for Gordon, and here working with Kurt, appearance was last on the list. Even better, we were getting the good work at Hot House. While we had many of the same clients at One + One, we didn't get near as good of projects - mostly it was the work no one else would take. But Gordon was always taking those jobs, always promising they would lead to better work. I can't say that ever panned out.

A few months later, the lease was up at the apartment and the new management was having none of our little business venture in Apt. 12B. The Kurts, still friends, chose to part ways. Kurt decided to make a real business out of his hobby, offered me a full-time job, and got a real office.

As we were discussing his plans for the business one day, he shared with me that the way he had it figured, if we each billed 20 hrs per week to clients, then we'd break even. ...................... I was floored.

Floored, not only that he shared that with me, but that our business was actually that lean. He also told me how when he mentioned to clients that he was moving into a real office that they could actually visit, that while encouraging and enthusiastic, he could also tell that they didn't care. It didn't matter to them. "Yeah, what's that", he joked, recounting the phone call, "You're moving into a tent on our front lawn? Great, great, I'll bring you a coffee tomorrow. Good for you, Kurt. How's that project coming?"

Another time, we were discussing our work load, and he must have been kicking around the idea of hiring a third person. We still had peaks and valleys at Hot House, but they were more like 'crazy' vs 'manageable' than 'busy' vs. 'bored' at One + One. I can recall Kurt, thoughtfully discussing why someone might hire more help. "Is it to do more work? Just more volume? To be greedy and make more money? Or is it to do better work? I don't want to grow for the sake of growing or take more work just to try to make more money." That very moment was the most secure I ever felt in a job. This guy got it, and I didn't have to worry my job might be the victim of some megalomaniacal scheme. The type of scheme he had clearly been burned by before as well.

The best, was day when a man from the County came to our office. To this day, I have no idea if he was genuine or just casing the joint. But he claimed to be assessing business taxes for the County, and would need to assess our office. Kurt was out to visit a client, so it was on me. As he was talking about the sort of things he was looking for, I though about what we did have there. So what if he was a crook? We had jack squat as far as he could see. Our desks were very nice designer office tables, second hand - they could have been from Wal-Mart for all he knew. Besides that was three computers and some so-so office chairs. Our data was our real value and that went home with Kurt each night. So I let him see the back office and I smirked as he said that we had nothing really of value. Computers weren't even a big deal as, "they go down in value pretty fast". It was yet further confirmation to the way Kurt was running the business.

Looking back on these two companies, Kurt could have easily been sucked into the same trap as Gordon - hiring as fast as the work was coming in. Anyone could. The difference was the intent - the plan. Gordon, I would later find out, tried to sell One + One. Then all the window dressing made sense. It was all about padding the books - "We have X number of employees, handled over a hundred projects last year each lasting an average of 11 days, and not to mention the year over year increases in revenue...." It was fluff, just to net him a big payday. Kurt on the other hand, wanted quality over quantity. Slow and steady, we churned out work, the two of us handling more note-worthy projects at once than I ever saw at One + One. The difference was intent.

Ashley - and I'm not pickin' on you here - seems to need a line of credit to cover payroll as the profits don't come in as fast as the pay goes out. This is cash-flow insolvency in business. In personal finance terms, this is a matter of not living within one's means. Either way it leads to debt. If you can be debt-free in your personal life, then you can do it in your business. In both cases, you need a plan based on a set of core values. If one of those values is "free from debt", then there is no reason you need business debt.

If Gordon could make his business work the way he wanted with 4 employees, then how is the "more cowbell" approach going to help? We certainly weren't doing better work and adding capabilities with each new hire. Meanwhile, Kurt's business was absolutely killin' it. With two people and a shoestring budget.

If you're still unconvinced, then I'll offer this one parting shot - I know that it's anecdotal, but all of these companies complaining about access to credit in the recent financial crisis are the ones with massive lay-offs, closing their doors for good, or begging for a bailout form the Fed. If I were opening a business, I'd do the opposite those guys. Debt doesn't seem to be such a blessing there, maybe you should avoid it at all costs, even if it means politely turning away work.

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Friday Feedback: Choose Hope!

Down about the economy? Unsure of where to invest in these troubled times? Should you buy gold? (Let me help you here, the answer is no on that one) When will this end? Who is to blame and when will the government fix this?

In a time a so many questions and so few real answers, Dave Ramsey put together an awesome event called the Town Hall for Hope. We hosted the event (one of 6000 locations) and had a decent turnout. It was energetic, informative and fun.

Did you see it? Let us know in the poll to the right and let us know what you though in the comments below.

If you missed it, fear not! It sounds like Fox Business Network will replay it this weekend, and they may be streaming the even from the website soon.

Choose HOPE!

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Earth Day 2009

Happy Earth Day!

Every year we struggle with making Earth Day be more about changing habits and not just a one day event. Last year and this year are no different. This year I will have two 1 1/2 year old kids with me. If it's warm enough I'm hoping to let them play outside and get to know nature.

Instead of trying to make this one day special with a once a year tree planting at the park I'm going to try to make it a time to reflect on what we have done over the past year to help mother earth and what we should do over the course of the next 12 months to on continue to be good stewards of the environment.

Over the past year we have:

  • Stopped using all toxic cleaners

  • Added more organic foods to our diet

  • Choose products with little to no packaging waste

  • Focus on Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (and in that order)

  • Teach others about green living

  • Teach my kids about their impacts on the environment (both positive and negative)

  • Buy local foods and products

  • Can and preserve as much local fresh organic produce as I could

  • Buy everything used we could

  • Used cloth diapers and wipes

During the coming 12 months we plan to:

  • Plant more trees in our yard

  • Spend more time hiking and camping with the girls

  • Replace our roof with a "greener" roofing product

  • Continue to keep environmental impact at the forefront of all decision making

  • Use my clothes line all summer

  • Continue to use cloth diapers

  • Continue to remodel our home as green as possible

What are some of the new ways you are going green this year?

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Bathroom Remodeling: 11 things to know before you begin

The Mrs. clued you in a month or so ago about the completion of the 'Great Bathroom Overhaul'. She was excited and rightfully so. This was our only full bathroom in the house. We were pleased to see that so many others were interested in this overhaul and how exactly we managed to do this. Knowing my task, I pounded out a post and had the Mrs. look it over.

Fail. She had lived through this too and had not a clue as to what my post was about, thus necessitating a rewrite. But as I went to do that, I came up with so many other things I wanted to add - so not to leave anything out.

So to get things started - and buy myself more time on my rewrite - here are 11 things you should know before starting a full bathroom remodeling project like this.

  1. Harbor no delusions - You will not get this done in a weekend. You will not get this done in a week. You will be lucky to get this done in a month. Now maybe you, humble reader, are more skilled, more diligent, better equipped than us. Good for you. Let me assure you, that for the average DIYer(s), this is twice the work you think it is.
  2. This is a '5 hammers out of 5' on the difficulty scale - But fear not, it is also a '5 kisses out of 5' on the reward scale. You will use all of your skills, favors and know-how on this one - and then some. Be prepared to sweat pipe, mud drywall, grout tile, pull wires, plumb fixtures, and set a toilet - and that's just the installation.
  3. This is an instruction-less job - Sure, the sink, the tub/drain/overflow, the tub filler, the shower surround, the grout, the thin set, the flooring, the adhesive, and the toilet all come with instructions. And they are all cryptic, incomplete and/or incorrect in their own byzantine way. The grout, for example, had instructions in illustrations only - no text. The shower fixtures practically came with a novella, showing how to install all 6 different types of fixtures that company offers, and in 3 languages. But which one is ours? "But does the flooring go down first and the tub over the top? Or do you install the tub and then cut the flooring to fit?" There are no instructions for questions like this. (BTW, the tub goes in first)
  4. Know your local Pros - One day, and this day may never come, but you may find yourself worn-out, broken-down, at your wits-end, and cleaning up a small flood in the basement. When you are in over your head, be ready to call a professional. There is no need to struggle with something for days on end when a pro could come in and solve it in an hour for a few bucks. Be sure to budget for some of this.
  5. The right tool for the job - I've wasted enough time struggling to 'make do' with what I already had to know how important the right tools are. A flat bar for demo work is worth every single penny and then some. Putty knives and scrapers - also invaluable. It doesn't take a tool collection like Norm Abrahm's, just the right ones.
  6. This can be expensive - Vanity tops for less than $500? Faucets for less than $300? A lot of this stuff is not cheap, especially at retail. Expect to spend a fair amount of time just hunting down good prices on stuff. You can do this on a budget, but it will require effort.
  7. This is worth it - The time, the sweat, the blood, the tears - the end result made ours all worth it. Looking to add value to your home? This will do it. I'm not sure why, but few things are more impressive in a home than a fancy bathroom.
  8. Cooking, cleaning, and watching the kids is helping - You don't have to be knee deep in dry wall to be considered a part of the project. Especially in a bathroom where there is rarely room for two to work. Keeping the budget in check, finding items for the right price, tracking down products and samples - no small task, and not to be taken for granted.
  9. No off-gassing required - If you have health and environmental concerns, then fear not - so did we. There's lots of ways to go 'green' and not break the bank. Availability can be an issue sometimes.
  10. When in doubt (and you will be), ask - I very nearly installed shut-off valves on the shower that would have reduced the flow by half or more. A quick query of the salesman at Lowes clued me in to the small, but vital info I needed. Don't assume you can make sense of the plumbing isles all by yourself.
  11. No debt required - Don't think this kind of project requires a wallet packed with credit cards and a home equity loan. Complete nonsense. With bit of seed money, some allocation in the budget, and some keen bargain hunting skill, you can totally do this sans debt.
Read. Review. Internalize. There's more to come.

Anything here surprise you?

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Feedback Friday: Cost of a Newborn

The experts say that it costs an average of $9-10k for the first year of a newborns life. This covers everything from your portion of medical bills to diapers, transportation, clothing, daycare and more.

Our question for you is:

How much did your child's first year cost you?

As usual, jump on over to the poll on the sidebar and cast your vote!

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How Expensive is a Child?

Ever since Octomom hit the news we have been hearing about how expensive it is to have a kid. They go on and on about how much it costs just for the first year. The numbers they spout seem over the top. It makes a person (even a mom) stop and wonder how much does it really cost to have child?

Every situation is different. There can even be a huge swing in the cost between your first child and your second child. Sometimes you can not control the high costs because they are due to medical needs of the child or complications from your labor. Other times they can be controlled. You can control how much you spend on clothing, toys, food and much more.

Today I'm going to focus on what costs you can control and how to do it. I've found that for us the key is to start long before the baby arrives. If you wait until the last minute you will have to pay the premium for it. Taking the time to prepare starting 6-7 months out can save you a small fortune.

  • Medical Bills- We have found that doctors and hospitals have negotiable prices. It is worth making a few calls to the billing departments to see about discounts for prepaying and/or paying within 15 days of first receiving the bills. As a reader suggested, paying cash at the time of service can yield a discount that would make your credit card blush.
  • Breastfeeding- Breast is the best! It is free, the healthiest, and most convenient for you and your baby.
  • Baby food- For our second daughter I made all of her baby food. I never bought a single container of jarred baby food or box of rice cereal. I just used the foods we were already eating, pureed and froze them. It saved a small fortune and didn't take that long to make either.
  • Diapers- Buy using cloth diapers you can save a lot of money and help save the environment. I also found that it helped to cut down on the number of diaper rashes as well.
  • Clothing- We have always had more kids clothes then any one child could possible wear. If you have parent's like ours then they will love to spoil your kids with clothes and toys. But for clothing items you need to buy yourself go shopping at garage sales. I've found that I can easily outfit my kids in really nice clothes from garages sales for a fraction of the price. I even by winter coats, fancy dresses, school uniforms and Halloween costumes at garage sales. An active Freecycle group can work wonders too.
  • Toys- While you are shopping at garage sales for clothes stock up on toys for birthdays and Christmas. I'm amazed at the number brand new or almost brand new toys at garage sales for half the price or less. All of my daughter's barbies have come from garage sales. We have also bought wooden play structures, bikes, baby toys, wagons, a play tool bench and much more at garage sales.
  • Baby Furniture- Personally, we bought our baby crib, mattress, and glider new with our first child. Back then money was not an issue (at least we were young and oblivious to it). If I were to do it again I would have bought all of it gently used with exception of the mattress. Just make sure that the crib meets today's safety standards and has no outstanding recalls.
  • Car seats- If you have a close friend that could sell you a gently used car seat that is only a couple years old and has never been in a wreck then I would do it. Otherwise, pass on the car seat. It's not worth taking a chance on your child's life. I'm not even that cheap!
  • All the "Other" things- There are so many baby items that you are told you NEED during the first year it makes your brain hurt just thinking about it. Most of the stuff you NEED you really don't. Some of it you would only be able to use a couple months or there is a good chance your child will not even like it. For all those things I would try to borrow a friends for a few weeks. If you think you do need it and your child will continue to like it then I would start looking for a used one or continue to borrow your friends.
If you apply your frugal living principles to your child like you do the rest of your life you can save a small fortune. In fact, we found that our second daughter cost us almost nothing if you didn't add in all the medical bills. Despite what the "experts" say, you don't have to be the Jet Set to afford kids.

What are some of the ways you saved money when your kids where little?

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Couponing Frustrations

I try to keep my blog posts up beat and proactive. Who likes to hear people complain? Well, I just need to vent a little today and get some advise from you.

When we lived in Texas I could get about 10 coupon inserts per week from the office building I worked in. It make couponing a little easier. Now day's I'm a stay at home mom in Michigan with access to no newspaper coupon inserts. I have to print all coupons from the internet.

I basically gave up couponing for the last 2 years. Over the past three weeks I have started to try couponing again. This morning I spent a lot of time printing coupons and making a list of deals for my local Target. I was actually excited about all the great deals and what I could get for very little. BUT when I got to Target everything on my list was sold out or not carried in my store! It was very frustrating since I just spent a lot of time and ink. I also just dragged my baby out into the cold rain for nothing.

So today it cost me more money then I saved. In fact, by having to print all my coupons I've found that I'm always disappointed because I'm spending more then I'm saving. I'm thinking that I should just stick with what works for me and that is not using coupons.

Do any of you have suggestions on how I could avoid couponing disasters like today?

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Boiler Up! - Saving Big Money on a New heating System

A few weeks ago, we mentioned how we were trying to make a decision on replacing our roof, or the boiler, or both. The roof was no longer an option as two new leaks had appeared. With as wet and unpredictable as our spring seasons are here, we won't be doing it until mid summer. Until then, we patch.

In the meantime, the third quote came back on the boiler. It was the most expensive of the three. You may be surprised when I tell you that the work from that quote was just completed. But all is not as it seems. In the end we were able to knock $3100 off the cost!


Well, first I have to say that the third vendor was the only one that impressed us with their method. Years ago, we took a green building class for home owners, part of which was about your heating and cooling systems. The major point of that presentation, was the importance of your system being sized correctly. Turns out the majority of installers are great at installing and lousy at sizing the unit. Many relying on the size of the old unit. Our first two quotes did exactly that.

With all the insulation we had added, as well as other efficiencies, such a large unit was not needed. The unit that was installed puts out 40% less BTUs - the area around the new unit is a lot cooler too! Yet the living space is plenty warm. How did they know? The Mrs. had found guidelines for sizing your system on the Energy Star website and this installer followed them to a T.

But the money! You said you saved big money.

Right, I'm getting there. That savings came in two parts.

First is the installation, part of which involves removing the old boiler. When we asked the installer what we could do to save some money, we were told that we could save $1600 by removing and disposing of the old unit ourselves. $1600! It was a bit of a loaded question, as we knew that was a good way to save, but we had no idea it would be that much. I will say that after a day of labor with two family members, we earned every penny of that $1600.

Two years ago, when we added all that extra insulation, we were excited to hear that there was a tax incentive for doing so. We saved all the necessary info and come tax time were disappointed to see that the amount was only a 10% credit. In our case, we got 30 bucks back from Uncle Sam. Yeah-Rah. Well, Pres. Obama has changed that a bit. Part of that stimulus bill included a bump in Energy Star tax credits - to 30%! For big items like PV systems and wind turbines, there is no cap. But for a boiler like ours, the credit is capped at $1500. Still, we'll gladly take the money.

Those two adjustments brought us back down to a more reasonable number, though we will have to wait a year to get that last bit back. It the meantime, we'll enjoy the lower monthly bills.

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Feedback Friday: Taxes

Happy Almost Easter! I hope everyone enjoys their holiday weekend with their family. We just have a quick question for you.

Have you finished your taxes?

Hop on over to the poll on the right side and let us know!

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Garden MakeOver On a Budget

I have the garden bug bad right now. It's driving me nuts to not be able to dig into the garden work yet, but we still have snow on the ground here in Michigan! I've been plotting and planning my garden area for a couple months already. This year we are going to try to make some huge changes to our 100 x 40 foot garden that is located in our front yard.

When we bought our house 2 years ago the large garden was already there. Unfortunately do to the health of the previous owner it sat unattended for two years. The blackberries had taken over the asparagus patch, the raspberries and strawberries were dead, and the weeds had taken over the rest of the garden. It was an enormous mess and a large project.

Since we moved in we have not had the time to focus on the garden since the house was a fixer upper. We now have most of the large projects done and are going to focus on redoing the garden area this year. Here is the dream and how we are going to try to keep it within our budget.

My dream plans include:

  • A cute fence around the garden
  • Deer proof flower/ herb border on the outside of the fence
  • Raised beds w/ mulched walking paths
  • Adding 4 chickens
  • A half shed/ half chicken coop
  • Chicken pen for the new hens
  • A chicken moat around the garden just inside the cute fence

I know that this sounds like a big expensive dream. The Mr. sure would agree with you on that one too! I've taken my ideas to paper and have a plan drawn up. I've also collected lots of info and photos to go along with my dream. We don't have a lot of money to put towards the projects since we just replaced our boiler this past week and our roof needs to be replaced in June.

Here is how we are going to do it on a very tight budget.
  • The lumber for the raised beds we are trying to get off of craigs list. So far we have found red cedar lumber 2x6's that are a third of the store price. We need a total of 408 running feet of lumber so we might have to buy it from a couple sources. If we wanted to get even cheaper but more labor intense we could get free stone and/or bricks to make the raised beds.
  • Hardware wire is needed to line the bottoms of the raised beds. This is one of the main reasons for making them since it will keep the moles out of my garden. So far I'm not finding a cheap way to do this and will just have to save up the funds.
  • The raised beds will be filled with compost from my compost piles along with free aged manure from a local farm. We will also be mixing in shredded leaves from this past fall. We will need to buy or find more compost and peat moss to add to the over 12 cubic feet of volume we need to fill all the beds.
  • We are looking into free sources for tree mulch. In our last town we could get it for free (along w/ compost) from the local recycling center. I'm in the process of to find a free source of mulch locally but it might prove to be harder in a small town.
  • Plants for our deer proof flower and herb border will come from a couple sources. Some of them will be started from seed that I bought at the end of season really cheap. Others will be from our local freecycle group. For plants that I'm still missing I will go to the local gardener's club annual sale were they sell plants the members grow super cheap. I'm hoping to keep this cost close to zero since money will have to be spent on other items.
  • We are not sure exactly how we will get the shed for the tool storage and chickens. Right now we are looking for a used one that we can fix up. This might take some time but we have more time then money at the moment. Our other option is to find the material free or cheap and build it ourselves.
  • I have a "dream" fence in my mind, but to stay in budget I will remain flexible on the style of fence. I'm also looking for a used fence that might work for this project. It would have to be something that I could still buy more of since I doubt that I will find the nearly 300 ft of fence I need from one source.
For us the biggest key to a successful garden remodel is patience and flexibility. We can not get in a rush or be closed minded about our options. It might be another year before we have all the material needed to complete the large project since our garden IS larger then most people's whole yard. With a written plan we know exactly how much of the different materials we need allowing us to accurately budget.

Are you planning a large garden or landscape renovation this year? How are you keeping the project low cost?

For more great information on no or low cost tips or to see other posts in the Lawn n' Garden section follow the links above.

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NtJS Household Budget - April '09

March has passed and we are on to April already. It's hard to believe that the month has ended so quickly. Maybe it just feels that way because spring didn't arrive in March like I always dream of. For those of you following our Murphy saga for the past couple months, I'm happy to announce that Murphy seems to be slowing moving on.

March's Budget Recap:

  • We stuck to our budget even when tempted by good deals
  • We had extra funds left in the food and date night categories
  • Replaced our almost 50 yr old boiler with a new 90% efficient one after it broke (again) with tax rebate funds instead of saving it in the car replacement fund
  • Last of the medical bills arrived blowing the budgeted amount for medical bills out of the water by over $900

April Budget:

  • Over 1k in medical bills are due this month and some of it will have to come from the emergency fund (should be the last of the medical bills)
  • Budgeted for a new pair of shoes for both the girls since they are squeezing into their current shoes
  • Added $250 to the monthly budget to cover school tuition
  • Keep saving for new roof to be replaced in June
  • Everything else in the budget is back to basics tight

2009 Financial Goals:
  • Save for new roof (100% of funds by late spring) (Started)
  • Start putting money in Roth again after roof is fully funded (Starting in June)
  • Continue to save for kids' college in 529s (Started)
  • Continue to do company matching 401k (Started)
  • Fully fund Roth and 529s by late summer (Hard to achieve on current income)
  • Start aggressively saving for a new car (Put on hold b/c of boiler & medical bills)
How did your month go financially speaking? Better or worse then expected?

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FPU Week 4: Dumping Debt

Days after this week's class, I can still feel the momentum - and we dumped our debt years ago. If this doesn't get you psyched up about getting out of debt and getting control of your finances then nothing will.

Best. Class. Evar.

This Financial Peace University class is epic - the video is 30 minutes longer than the others, and we tend to play this one up a bit too.

So the video is 90 minutes long in itself. Knowing that with free-spirits, you have about 17 minutes before the eyes glaze over, we have to do something to keep everyone awake, alert, and attentive. We started class 30 minutes early and had folks sign up for a pot-luck meal. We had an incredible spread of food and no one went away hungry. Later, people were telling us what a great idea that was.

Then the video. Wow. When we last taught the class, it was before they had refreshed the class materials - same great information, but the presentation is up a notch and more current. There's been times that I wondered which lessons were better - old or new. No question here. At times, people were laughing so hard, they might have been 'lizzing'. At other times, the myth-busting was totally hitting home and you could have heard a pin drop.

Then came the gazelle story. Dave was so good, that I'm still pumped about it - and we've been debt-free for almost 3 years! This is truly the line in the sand between Dave Ramsey and all the know-it-all math nerds with an opinion. Dave gets it. He's grasped the emotional and psychological part of personal finance so well that you can't not succeed if you do this stuff. Get mad. Get intense. Get it in gear! I don't care about your social life. I don't care about what you think is a priority. This is a priority, and until you rank it first, you will struggle and you will not see the same success as those who do.

Allow no sleep to your eyes,
no slumber to your eyelids.

Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
like a bird from the snare of the fowler.

-Proverbs 6:4-5

I saved the best part for last - just as we did in the class. Finally, it was shredder time! We had sent the notice out beforehand: Bring your credit cards if you are ready to shred them. They did not disappoint! All in all, we shredded over 90 credit cards. Ninety! We were floored. Visa, MasterCard, AmEx, Lowes, Target, JC Penny's, Cabela's, Craftsman, Chase, Citi and Bank of America. None were spared. We're told that there's more on the way too!

I told you I was still stoked.

Sick of being in debt? Tired of being the credit card company's slave? Find a class near you.

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Friday Feedback: Budgets

April has started so that means it's time for the new month's budget to be completed. We finished ours up on Wednesday. It is so important to finish your budget before the money starts rolling in. It just makes life easier.

This weeks question:

Have you completed April's budget?

Join us over on the sidebar poll!

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Lost your Hope? We Have the Cure

You may have noticed the banner on the far right. The Mrs. was downright giddy when she got the email from Dave's group regarding this one-time event. It wasn't even a question of if we would do it, but rather would we have enough space to open it to the public. Within 24hrs of getting the email, we were one of 1500 sites signed up to host the even live via satellite.

"But what exactly is a 'Town Hall for Hope'?"

Good question. Hit the link, and I'll tell you.

The state of our economy is no secret. It's bad - no one will dispute that. For nearly a year, the pundits and reports tried to scare us all into believing that we were in a recession and heading into a depression. All the while consumer confidence dwindles.

It doesn't help that all the jokers on CNBC are spewing terrible advice, and opportunists like Suze Orman are coming out with books specifically for 2009 (pssst! Suze! If your advice were any good, it wouldn't change with the wind. Just so you know.) Uncertainty, fear, doom/gloom.

Fear has been beaten into us. Day after day. News cast after news cast. Dave is sick of it. So are we. America is a nation that has lost it's hope.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when desire comes, it is a tree of life.
-Proverbs 13:12

On April 23rd, be ready for a big dose of desire. Ready to stop participating in the recession? During the Town Hall for Hope, Dave Ramsey will be speaking for 30 minutes about today's economy. He'll look at a historical and even biblical perspective as well as looking at the hard numbers. Then, and here is where it really gets good, he's going to be taking your questions - by phone, email, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube... and any other way they can sort out.

Are you participating in the recession? Will you be attending the Town Hall? Hosting?

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