The MIA Mom

This summer I feel like I have been neglecting our blog. The Mr. has been picking up the slack while I've been MIA. Thanks honey!

Our youngest daughter is just shy of 1 1/2 years old. When our oldest was this age I traveled for work and the Mr. was a part time stay at home dad while she at day care the other half of the time. Things just sort of flowed and I didn't have to worry about things. This time around I find myself clueless about our toddler's behavior. Her personality is very different from her sisters and it has been 5 years. So while I've been "quiet" online, I've been busy reading book I can get my hands on that deals specifically with this age.

So far the most helpful one is called Me, Myself and I- How Children Build Their Sense of Self by Kyle D. Pruett, M.D.. I'm still reading it but it has given me some great insight as to what is going on in her little brain and how I can change my parenting style so that we can have a peaceful home.

Until I finish my research on parenting a toddler you might notice a little less posting from me. But no fear, I'm still here doing what I've always done, just not blogging about it.

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FPU Week 11: Working in your Strengths

Of the 13 weeks, this is the only one solely dedicated to your income. This is where we talk about careers, and the dreaded extra jobs. I thought that this would be a very interesting lesson, what with the state of the economy and the number of folks in the class facing a career crisis.

The part of this lesson that I liked best was about job hunting. And while I haven't really had the opportunity to use his method to a T, I have done some of these things pre-Dave, and can certainly vouch for their effectiveness.

I'll break these into 4 key points

  1. Identify the target. Everyone should know by now how few job openings actually make it to a typical job posting. The Mrs. and I have had a total of 6 jobs in our professional careers - None of them were posted in the paper, on job hunting websites or otherwise. Stop waiting for a opportuinty to find you. Find careers and industries that interest you. Identify companies you would like to work for. Your new hobby / part-time job is to study them and prepare to bother them.
  2. 3-2-1 Contact. Dave recommends approaching this like a new relationship with an individual. This makes a lot of sense as you are not contacting a company so much as you are interfacing with an individual at that company. Dave also suggests that you contact them 3 times in effort to gain their attention. First is an introduction letter, simply stating who you are, what your interest is with them, and to watch for your next correspondence. Second is your resume and cover letter, where you deliver the goods. When you send your credentials, they would ideally be tailored to that specific company and showing the information about you that is actually relevant to that company. Third is the most important - the follow up. That cover letter, btw, should state your specifically when you will be following up with them. The follow up is where most folks fall short and assume that they'll hear back. This is a great way to set yourself appart. That persistance will pay off.
  3. Sell the product. Sell? Yes. And the product, btw, is you. Differentiate the product - show them why you are not just like the other 20 engineers they interviewed last month. Show them why you would be more of an asset to their company than all the other applicants. This is how companies sell products and this is how you should sell you. Be prompt, be confident, be respectiful. Read the Go-Getter by Peter B. Kyne. Dave recommends this book all the time and it's fabulous. Again - follow up. Better yet, set up a follow-up appointment - in person, by phone, whaterver. Twitter it for all I care, just make the appointment and then actually do it. Between the interview and the follow-up, send them a note thanking them for taking the time out of their undoubtedly bust schedule to meet with you, and how glad you were to meet them and learn more about their company. Which reminds me - remember when you did all that research into the company and the person you would be meeitng with? That should result in some questions for the interviewer(s).
  4. For the record. Keep notes, make a spreadsheet, set alerts, whatever. Find 10 companies to contact this way. Find 4. Find 20. The point is, you will likely contact them at different times, send them different materials, and follow up at different times. How will you keep it all straight? As I was approaching graduation, I (the free-spirit) had a large spreadsheet on my wall next to my desk detailing all the pertinanet info for all of the companies I had targeted. Who, what, when, where, why and how. That spreadsheet made the whole thing possibe.
I won't pretend - this stuff is not easy to do unless you are naturally out-going. But that also means that most folks won't be doing these things. In today's economy, you've got to attack a job hunt like it is you job. Be great at your job.

What techniques have you successfully used in job hunting?

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Negotiating + Cash = DEAL

The Mrs. has had her eye on a couch. It was at a furniture store that was going out of business. That was two months ago. As nice as it would be, it just hasn't been a priority and our money was needed elsewhere in the budget. We went by the other day to see what was left. To our surprise, the couch was still there. We chatted with the salesman a bit (a hired-gun liquidator), and acquired some very useful information.

  1. He was a liquidator, not an employee of the store
  2. They were accepting reasonable offers, but reasonable was not half the liquidation price
  3. An item could easily be had for 20% below the liquidation price
So what did all this mean?

First, it meant that the item was in our price range. We'd looked at other sofas and knew what we were not ready to pay.

Second, as we soon learned, our intrepid salesman had no loyalty to the store, but rather wanted to move items no matter what.

Third, we had a well defined range for our offer - from what would offend them, to what would assure us the deal.

That was in the morning. We spent the rest of the day shopping, talking, and relaxing a bit. All the while, weighing this deal. Should we go back? After an early dinner, we decided we would do it if we could get a great deal. We put on the negotiating pants and walked down that path.

We went back in our pick-up and made a quick stop by the bank for a fat stack of cash. The Mrs. informed me that she had her plan, we just needed to set our range. The liquidation price was $1300. Our tips from that morning told us that they wouldn't take $650 or less, and that we could just show up and get it for $1040 (20% off). She was willing to go up to $900, though that seemed a bit much to me. I thought $750 was a good starting price - a great deal for us, but 'reasonable' enough in the owner's eyes to make the deal.

We met back with our salesman and discussed our offer. We told him that we could swing $750 for the couch and still have money for sales tax. He was glad to hear that, as folks typically forget about sales tax. Oh, and we have cash. "Great", he said. We knew this would be good motivation for him, as this deal is a lock - no declined credit cards, no bounced checks. He knew we were ready, and he took off to present the offer.

A few minutes later he came back with the counter offer from the owner. "I need $840 out of that piece.... but don't let them leave", came the reply. Then he admitted, "I also told her that you offered $700." This was interesting. He had under bit our low-ball offer. We didn't say a word and he was telling us how he was going to go back and tell her that he got an extra $50 out of us and that the deal would be done - for our original offer. Sure enough, a few minutes later, it was done.

This guy was good. While filling out the paper work, he offered a bit about how as a liquidator, he has to play both sides a bit. Which he did. He worked on us, and got us to make an offer. He then knew just how to play it with the owner to get the deal done. He doesn't care what it sells for, just so long as he gets his cut and it goes out the door.

It was an interesting experience.

Have you ever negotiated with a liquidator?

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PF BS: "Do What Works For You"

Our first installment of PF BS was a little easier to sugar coat. This one, I'm pretty sure, is the ultimate cop out of personal finance. It usually comes up after a bit of debate between differing opinions. Or maybe a heated exchange. A crutch, a cop-out - call it what you want.

"I think you should just do what works for you"
  • "Should I really pay off my 0% interest debt when I'm getting 4% on my money market?"
  • "Credit cards aren't bad - I like mine and I think it likes me"
  • "I think budgeting is a waste of time and cash is a pain to carry."

Sure, sure, "I think you should just do what works for you".

Or maybe not.

I'm callin' BS.

Again, caveat time: What does 'work' for you?

Just because you've never carried a balance on your sweet, sweet rewards credit card doesn't mean it's working for you. The Mrs. never carried a balance over 8 years - even during college. Still, once married, we were definitely overspending on it. Not to the point where we couldn't pay, but it was money we definitely didn't need to spend. Not workin'.

Borrowing to invest only seems like it's working when you don't understand what's going on. If that investment isn't returning 6% or more, it likely isn't covering taxes and inflation while returning an amount worth the hassle - not to mention covering the finance charges on the loan. If it's returning more than 6%, then it's likely risky enough that a large chunk of it may disappear on you and not be there to repay the loan when due. Not that the stock market or real estate ever takes a sharp nose dive....

So how do I know when something is working for me?
  1. It has a positive affect on your net worth. Home equity loans, student loans, credit card debt, and whatever other 'good debt' you've talked yourself into all takes you in the opposite direction. Buying a brand new car vs. a slightly used one will at least make the purchase less of a hit. Saving money - for purchases, retirement, or college - take us to where we want to go.
  2. It encourages good behavior / discourages bad behavior. Living in the moment, impulse shopping - bad. Having a handle on your spending, living on less than you make - good. It has been clinically proven that spending cash neurologically registers in the brain as pain. While spending on plastic does not. And those fancy new key fobs almost don't register at all.
  3. You understand it. I mean really, really understand it. Unless you're ready every fine-print page of your card holder agreement and you understand it, then your credit card would not fall into this one. By the way, many lawyers have a difficult time deciphering all the legalese in card holder agreements. Also, judging by the fact that several comprehensive pieces of federal legislation are required to govern it, it's highly unlikely the the majority of cardholders understand what they have signed up for.
So before jumping head first into a financial decision, ask yourself:
  1. How will this affect me in the long-run? How likely is this to work out in my favor?
  2. What kind of behavior is this likely to encourage? Am I looking for an easy way out?
  3. Do I fully understand the ups and downs of this? No, really, do I?

"It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, And He adds no sorrow to it."
-Proverbs 10:22

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Out of the Stone Age

What a week! Starting last Thursday we have had several bad storms come through our area of the country. Thanks to the strong winds and heavy rain we were without power for part of the time and were without internet from Thursday night until about an hour ago.

Thanks to a couple extra posts the Mr. had already written you didn't notice us missing... yet. Since we are now trying to play catch up we might be a little light on posting over the next 10 days or so. We just thought that it would be nice to give you a fair warning.

Also, I have not forgotten about the giveaway. I just emailed the winner and will hopefully hear back from her soon.

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Our Investments: 401k, 529s, and IRAs - oh my!

Here at the NtJS ranch, it's no secret that the Mrs. handles the majority of our finances. She prepares the budget, handles most of the shopping, pays the bills, and generally keeps us heading in the right direction. Not that I'm not involved, but she is clearly the point person.

Recently, the Mrs. handed me a stack of papers. It was the latest statements for our investments. Through everything else she does, she just doesn't have the time to decode the statements, and keep on top of each account. This one she was going to defer to me.

That night, we reviewed each account and attempted to decipher each statement. And there is a lot to go through. We have my 401k, my SEP IRA (rolled from a previous job), my Roth IRA, her IRA, and 529s for both of the kids. While doing this, we made a shocking discovery that I'm still not sure if I should be happy or madder-than-smoke about.

The first pass I made in reviewing each statement was, "What is this invested in?". Which is exactly what I asked the Mrs. while reviewing her IRA statement. She wasn't sure as she had rolled her old 401k to the IRA and had told the custodian to transfer the money to the same funds.

Now to her credit, the Mrs. spent months getting this one sorted out. Our custodian's (former) assistant was dropping the ball big time, and not getting things done. In the end, we were happy just to have the money in the correct account! After that, we didn't pay much attention. Well, with that kerfuffle and the change in personnel, our request slipped though the cracks! Until last week when I asked the Mrs., "What is this invested in?".

The answer is: nothing.

For about 2 years, her IRA funds have sat 'unplugged' in a cash account. I still find it difficult to believe.

I'm mad about it because - this is a huge goof on the custodian's part. How could you let this slip and just not invest the money!?

I'm happy about it because - that sizable chunk of change missed out on that 40% hit that most funds took last year.

Since then, I've been scrambling to get on-line trading set up for the account and research mutual funds on the open market. Mutual funds are on sale right now, but many are rebounding so I don't want to waste time.

As for the other accounts, I have a handle on my 401k and am quite pleased with the funds I've selected there. The rest are invested, but appear to be in managed accounts that we don't control. That's about to change, but not until I get this IRA invested in something.

How do you manage your investments? Any tips for staying on top of all these accounts?

image from WST-Broker

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FPU Week 10: From Fuition to Tuition

We're hitting the home stretch! Just three lessons to go after this. Arguably, these last 4 lessons are the heaviest. Not only due to the material, but also from the build-up of information of the previous 9 lessons.

Week 10 is the one that has a tendency to knock the wind out of folks. It's understandable - you're still in debt, just getting Baby Step 2 going, your budget is still frustrating you, and now you want to talk about investing!?! It's a daunting subject as-is.

Here was my advice to the folks freaking out after this lesson:

Absorb what you can now. Later when you approach Baby Step 4, you can listen to the lesson again, and spend more time on it.

It's a double-edged sword - It's tough to master all of this in 13 weeks, but it's great that Dave gets people thinking about this stuff even before it's time.

So let's go over the basics:

Baby Step 4 is: Invest 15% of you income in tax-favored plans

Tax-favored plans are ones that are qualified by the government, meaning there is a section in the tax code that outlines how these work. These are not accounts, but as Dave describes, these plans are the coats that keep the accounts 'warm'. These are arrangements that keep the IRS's greedy hands out of your money. For retirement, these include:

  • Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) - Anyone with an earned income can use an IRA to save for retirement. There is a cap on the amount you can contribute, and there are thousands of funds to choose from on the open market. A traditional IRA is a pre-tax investment, meaning that the money is pulled from you paycheck before taxes are taken out. To that end, taxes will be charged at retirement when you take distribution of funds. A Roth IRA works a little different in that it uses after-tax dollars. Since you are taxed on the money now, your money grows in that account tax-free!
  • Simplified Employee Pension Plan (SEPP) - This is one that you don't hear about very often. It is designed for people who are self-employed and allows them to invest a portion of their net profits. It too is capped, but the cap is much higher with a SEPP (2007 caps were $8k for IRAs vs $45k for SEPPs)
  • 401(k), 403(b), 457 - These are employer-sponsored plans, meaning they are offered where you work. They usually include some type of match and/or contribution by the employer. Most employers will match your pre-tax contributions dollar-for-dollar up to 3%, though that amount can vary. The names of these plans simply denote the portion of the tax code that enables them - Section 403, sub-section (b).
You are not limited to any one, or one type of retirement accounts. I, for example, have a Roth IRA, a SEPP, and a 401(k). The SEPP was from a job where it was just the owner and myself. He was using a SEPP for himself and the easiest way he could offer retirement savings was to contribute to my SEPP. During that time, we also set up a Roth IRA as we were able to save more at that time. The 401(k) is from my current job.

Dave recommends....
taking part in your employer's plan up to the match, then contribute to a Roth IRA up to the cap. If you still have not hit the 15% mark, then go back and contribute more to your employer's plan.

One final note: when you leave a job, you need to roll the money from your retirement account to a new one. The rollover needs to be between like-accounts - pre-tax to pre-tax, after-tax to after-tax. You financial adviser can help you with this to make sure it happens right.

Baby Step 5 is: Save for your children's college using tax-favored plans
read more tags

Again, there are plans set forth by the government that allow tax-advantaged investment, this time for college savings.
  • Education Savings Account (ESA) - These are also know as 'Education IRAs' as they act like a traditional IRA, but the money is for college expenses only.
  • 529 plans - These are sponsored by individual states and are usually open to anyone, no matter where you live. For example, living in Texas, you can take part in the Pennsylvania 529 (assuming it suits you). What is difficult about these, is that they are all different. Some are excellent plans that allow you to control what you are invested in. Others automatically switch investments based on the child's age.
Also be careful as some of these 529 plans are in dire straits right now. Some of these plans have been so poorly managed or were poor investments to begin with that they are insolvent. Alabama's 529 program is $460 million short, and is currently closed to new investors.

Dave recommends.... to first use an ESA. They are the simplest and have fewer pifalls than 529s. Beyond that, you can look at 529s, but beware of those that are inflexable on the investmetns or use a 'pre-paid' tuition plan.

Does all of this make your head spin? Are you invested to the hilt? Where are you in investing?

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Is Dave Ramsey a "Financial Expert"?: A blog responce

With his recent rise in popularity, it's becoming more and more difficult to find folks without an opinion on Dave Ramsey. And being well versed in his positives, I do enjoy reading the occasional critique. While reading the Festival of Frugality last week, I saw one such article by Mike at Four Pillars: "Is Dave Ramsey a Financial Expert?".

I though it was an interesting choice of words, seeing as Dave's own website lists him not as a 'financial expert' or even a 'personal finance expert', but as a 'personal money management expert'. Still an interesting word choice.

Here is the basis for why Mike thinks Dave Ramsey is not a 'Financial Expert' with my comments in red:

  1. Right off the bat, Mike calls out that being a 'Financial Expert' (thus implying a high level of knowledge in all things finance) is "pretty much impossible for one person". [NtJS - I don't think this could be more bogus. Dave has been financially successful both ways, with and without debt. He's bought and sold thousands of pieces of real estate, worked as a salesman in various industries including insurance, he started his own very successful business and continues to run it to this day, and he's been a financial counselor for 20+ years. Not that he puts much emphasis on it, but Dave also has a degree in finance. He's made millions, gone broke, and made millions again - he's been on every side of this coin. There is a reason he can answer all of these questions live on the air about finance. The details of various financial transactions that Dave knows blows me away, and best of all, he knows when to tell folks to go talk to a professional. So I'm going to disagree here.]
  2. Next comes the typical critique of Dave's debt snowball methodology - smallest to largest. While he doesn't agree with the method, it's difficult to deny the results. [NtJS - So while #1 was all about financial knowledge, this is where I feel that Dave separates himself from the rest and moves into the 'expert' range. It's not all about numbers. There's human beings involved here and some of them are in relationships. Nearly all of them have these things called families. During a recent radio show, a caller was asking about she and her husband having separate checking accounts. I loved Dave's answer - "you need marriage counseling". Instead of looking for some mechanical, mathematical fix to your problems, you need to first address the real issue that is your relationship.]
  3. Then a short bit about Gazelle intensity. I was surprised to see this, but Mike was surprised to find out that gazelles were intense. He's apparently not seen the gazelle outrunning a cheetah video. Again, the results of this method are too good to deny. [NtJS - This is just a silly discussion - see video.]
  4. Now it starts to get serious. After reading the Baby steps, Mike realized that Dave wants you to pay off your debt and then invest. Even going so far as to not contribute to a 401k. Again, while criticizing Dave, it almost reads like he agrees with him. [NtJS - A lot of 'numbers' people struggle with this point and I usually find that, like gazelle intensity, they don't understand it. First, Dave is telling you to stop contributing to your 401k while doing the debt snowball and building up and emergency fund. Not cashing it out. Not unplugging the investments. But to temporarily stop contributing. This not only frees up more cash to get you through steps 2 and 3 faster, but also motivates you to get them done so that you can get back on the horse of investing. Dave wants you to invest as badly as anyone, but continuing to contribute while in debt means that you are essentially borrowing to invest, which is a terrible idea btw.]
  5. Last, Mike thinks that Dave has little to no investing knowledge, saying that investments should return 12% when Mike expects something more like 7%. [NtJS - Are you kidding me? I have funds returning 12% YTD.... in 2009.... while the news is still talking doom and gloom. I have funds that have averaged 15%+ over the past 40 years. 12% is not hard to find. The real key is to look at the long haul. Most of my funds were down 40% last year. But in 2015, when you look back at the 10yr returns of those funds, 2008 will be a blip. An anomaly. If your view of mutual funds is limited to one or two years, then you are in the wrong investment. Dave's overall investing advice is very simple, but that doesn't make it incorrect. Investing doesn't have to be complicated to be successful.]

'Financial expert', 'personal finance expert', or 'personal money management expert'? I'd say all of the above.

What say you?

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Seasonal Recipe: Strawberries

My fondest memories of childhood include me helping my grandma pick fresh strawberries out of her enormous strawberry patch located right outside her back door. Just the smell of sweet strawberries takes me back to her kitchen. I get teary eyed just thinking about those precious memories. So as you can imagine they are hands down my favorite fruit. It's hard to mess them up and they so great fresh with nothing done to them.

However, sometimes you need to jazz them up for the kids or company. Here is one of my family's favorite strawberry recipes.

Strawberry Shortcake Muffins

1 c. sugar
4 Tbsp. oleo
1 egg
2 c. budget mix (click here for my recipe)
1 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
cool whip

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease one muffin tin. Cream sugar and shortening. Add egg, budget mix, and then milk mixing in between. Add vanilla. Fill 12 muffin slots in tin. Bake for 10 minutes, then serve with strawberries and cool whip.

I find my version of shortcakes to be easy and fast because of using the budget mix and the muffin tins. No rolling and cutting with this version.

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Carnival of Money Stories: Father's Day Edition

Ahhh, Father's Day! That wondrous time of year, when families all over the country look at each other and ask, "What the heck are we getting Dad this year?" Today we'll look at 19 stories or personal experiences with money as well as some classic Father's Day gifts.

We are pleased to welcome all new readers to Not the Jet Set. To find out more about us, click here. We are a personal finance blog focused on frugality, stewardship, and current events, while also telling our story as a family and the personal finance decisions we have made. Thanks for stopping by and be sure to subscribe and check out our NtJS Cafepress shop!

One more thing - Help us, yourselves and the carnival by:
  • Subscribing to our feed
  • Submitting the carnival to sites like PF Buzz, Reddit, Digg, Stumble Upon, or Technorati
  • Linking back to the carnival.
On with the stories...

The "#1 Dad" mug truly says it all when it comes to dear old Dad. "Dad, I love you enough to wait until the last minute, and then get you another crummy coffee mug". Here's this week's #1 Dads (Editor's pics):

You know you did it. At some point or another, you got Dad a tie for Father's Day. This is especially bad if your father doesn't dress up a lot. Even if he did, like my father, was he really short one? Surely that randomly picked out, "I think this one looks nice" tie was the one to complete his collection.

In my family, someone was getting chocolates on Father's Day - Dad, the Grandpa's, Uncles... somebody. Really this wasn't a bad deal as the box would usually be passed around at some point. As a recipient, this is one of the better gifts, provided it's not a chocolate necktie!

There was always 'that gadget'. Something you were so sure that Dad would love. And maybe he did. Was it a Palm? A pocket knife? A mechanical credit card organizer?!? Bonus points if it came from the Sharper Image.

Gift or no gift, you just couldn't go wrong getting Dad a card. I mean really, what better way to tell Dad how you feel about him than in someone else's overly generalized words. Bonus points if the card had a tie on it. Double bonus points if the tie said "#1 Dad" on it.

Thanks for reading! And if you're still looking for that perfect gift for Dad, here is my advice: Talent or Time.

Make him something. Something you're good at. Dad got choked up one year when I made him a picture frame with an old picture of us in it. Maybe better yet - spend some time with the guy. Take him to a ball game, or a car show, or a movie, or whatever. The activity isn't nearly as important as the interaction. A few hours and a couple of beers later and he won't care if the card is reused from last year.

Happy Father's Day!

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Opportunity Cost in Action

A few weeks ago, the Mrs. had a nice post about opportunity cost - what it is and how we account for it whether you realize it or not. Also, I had a post last week about robbing the car replacement fund to put the money towards the new roof. This post will tie the two together nicely.

My sister-in-law and her husband were visiting the other day. Her husband and I were in the driveway coincidentally talking about our roof, when the Mrs. Comes outside with the phone and asks, "Do we want to buy Mom and Dad's car for $6500?"

"Sure...." I said

".... if we had the money."

Her parents had bought this car used a couple years prior - a Volvo wagon. It was still in great shape with a lot of life left in it. Besides that, it is a pretty sweet ride (for a family car / wagon) for $6500. At the time, they settled for this car since the one they really wanted just wasn't available. They live on a farm and wanted a diesel car for both the mileage, and the fact that they buy diesel in bulk for the farm equipment.

Well, with updates made to meet newer diesel regulations in the US, the car they wanted was now available. But the dealer was only willing to give $6500 on their car. Good farmers are also good business men, and he would rather sell the car to one of his kids for that amount, than let the dealer steal it for that amount.

A very generous opportunity, but we both had to turn it down. We had made our choice - the cars will have to wait and the roof comes first.

What opportunities have you passed up due to needing to put your money elsewhere?

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My Lil' Budget Book GiveAway

Julie with My Lil' Budget Book graciously sent me a Lil' Budget Book and agreed to a give away as well. I was very impressed when I received my Lil' Budget Book. It arrived in a nicely padded envelope along with a business sized card with simple steps for a cash envelope system. It made me feel like I was unwrapping a present.

The Lil' budget book is her most popular size, measuring 6 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches It is just big enough to not have to fold the cash but not to big and bulky either. It is cute and could be used as a clutch on its own if you are just making a quick run into a store or a garage sale. It also fits nicely into a purse or the diaper bag. This is definitely easier then a stack of loose envelopes. Priced at $11.95 it will not break the bank either! It could also be used to organize your coupons, receipts, or bills (larger version).

On to the giveaway!

The Rules:
There are several ways to enter to win the giveaway. Make sure to leave a separate comment for each entry. You can enter 6 ways, but use each method once per giveaway.
  1. Simply tell me which of the lil' budget books you would want if you when (required).
  2. Tweet about the contest and leave a link to your status.
  3. Add us to your blogroll and let us know in the comments.
  4. Blog about the giveaway with a link back to the giveaway post in the comments.
  5. Subscribe to our blog or follow us on twitter.
  6. Follow Julie's new blog at comment about it here.

This contest is closed. The randomly selected winner will be announced on June 19th. An email will be sent to the winner. They will have 48 hours to provide a valid mailing address. The prize will only be mailed to U.S. and Canadian addresses.

Thanks for checking out our giveaway! Good luck to all those who enter.

This giveaway was provided by Lil' Budget Books. If you would like to sponsor a giveaway we are open to sponsors. Please email us for details.

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Seasonal Recipe: Asparagus

Asparagus is one of our family's favorite veggies. We have our own asparagus patch and we seem to never have enough. We could eat it once a day and still not get sick of it. But, we don't eat it year around. We eat it only when it is fresh and local. Our family works hard to only eat local foods. Here is one of our favorite frugal recipes for beloved asparagus.

  1. Steam your asparagus
  2. Place on platter and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  3. Fry an egg
  4. Place egg on top of the asparagus
  5. Enjoy!
Oh yeah, it really is that simple, affordable and delicious. What is your favorite way to prepare asparagus?

Image from Muffet's Flickr site

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Staying Balanced

Life is stressful. There is no getting around it and for most families today it is more stressful then ever. One of the reasons people are more stressed then ever is that we have lost our focus and our balance. To keep me balanced and focused on the truly important things I make sure to incorporate things in my life like bible study, Liturgy of the Hours, and books that teach the Catholic teachings. By incorporating things like this into your daily life it helps keep you balanced.

In May I used the Magnificat for the first time. It was easier to use then the big Liturgy of the Hours that require a lot of flipping and guidance (at first). The Magnificat is great for a beginner or an old pro who would like a change of pace.

The one thing that I really enjoyed was the daily meditations. That was my favorite feature. One of the meditations really struck me. It was called "What it Means to be Consecrated in the Truth" the writing was from Saint Catherine of Siena. The entire piece was very moving but I did want to share one snip of it with you.

"All existence, every grace, every spiritual and material gift they credit to their Creator. It is obvious to them -and it is so- that they have received and continue to receive everything from him freely, and not because he owes it to them, nor because of any service they have ever done their Creator. "

This small snip doesn't even begin to cover all the great info in this one meditation. I keep re-reading it and analizing all the different layers of just this one piece. In stressful times we need to make sure to have wonderful tools to help us stay focused and balanced. For more great resources to help you stay balanced visit The Catholic Company.

What do you do to stay balanced and focused on the truly important things in life?

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NtJS Household Budget Update: June 2009

May was the fastest month so far this year! It flew by so fast that we didn't even have time to empty all our envelopes, LOL. I guess I can live with that.

May's Budget Recap:

* We did awesome sticking with our budget
* With the natural gas bill being slashed by over 3/4's of the previous month we had a lot more extra room in our budget
* Garage sales has also helped to stretch our cash even further this past month

June Budget:

* Doubled the amount we are saving for the roof this month (which we doubled the month before as well)
* No out of the ordinary expenses are expected this month
* Budgeted extra for a Fathers Day's surprise and the Mrs.'s birthday

2009 Financial Goals:

* Save for new roof (100% funded) (Purchased all the material and the permit just need to pay for the dumpster and other odd ends)
* Start putting money in Roth again after roof is fully funded (Starting in July)
* 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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PF BS: "Don't Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford"

Some years back, Steve Martin did a skit on SNL (as a guest host) that set the PF blogosphere all a twitter (even though twitter didn't exist back then). Chris Parnell's character was pitching his new personal finance self-help book called, "Don't Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford". The fictitious book had one page that contained the phrase:

"Don't Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford."

Now Steve was on his game, and played the dumb, overspending consumer perfectly. The skit was poignant and funny. What isn't funny is the way that phrase has been leaned on as if people really don't see how it's bad to buy things they can't afford.

I'm callin' BS.

Usually, it's the smart allic, know-it-all commenter that invokes this crutch. "Gee, hmmmm. Maybe you people shouldn't be buying all that crap that you can't afford." As if uttering this one statement will just snap folks out of it and cure all their ills. Again, it's not an untrue statement.

The one caveat is this: It only works if you know what you can afford!

If you're average in America, "wandering through life, like Gomer Pyle on Vallium", then it's very likely that you don't know what you can truely afford. So, let's dig a little deeper and do the leg work here.

How do you know what you can afford?
  1. Unless you have a monthly budget that you actually live by, this is a total guess. There is no way you can make an informed decision without one. Even if you make gobs and gobs of money, these purchases may not break you, but you still do not truly know.
  2. Ok, so you have a budget. Good! Now, so long as I can swing the payment each month and still pay my bills, I'm good, right? Wrong. "How much per month?" is the wrong question. You should be asking, "How much". If you aren't ready to pay cash for the whole bill, then you aren't ready to buy it. If you have the amount for the total purchase price in your disposable income, then you're good to go.
  3. Cash!?! We're not talking about a pair of shoes, or a newspaper! I wanna buy 'X', and it costs a lot of money. I can't do that! Sure you can. Maybe the item costs $1000, and you're only left with $100 each month. You're going to have to be an adult and WAIT. You're going to do what we like to call in the personal finance world: save up and pay for it. In 10 months you'll have your 'X' and maybe a little more character.
  4. Ok, so maybe you've got some cash saved up. A budget and savings, now that's weird. If it's not your emergency fund (and the purchase isn't an emergency!) and it's not earmarked for something else, then you may have made a love connection.
I know I grew up a little bit when I first heard Dave Ramsey say, "Adults devise a plan and follow it, children do what feels good". I don't know who he's quoting, but think about that and the last major purchase you made....

Did you devise a plan and follow it? Or did you do what feels good and buy some stuff you couldn't afford?

Consumerist has the video, if you haven't seen it.

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Positive Things Caused by the Bad Economy

Everywhere you go these days you hear people griping about the bad economy. There is no denying that the recession has hit a lot of us hard. However, most things are neither inherently good nor bad but rather are what we make of them. If we can maintain a positive attitude about the situation that we’re in then we may find that there are actually a lot of good things coming out of the downturn in the economy.

Simpler Living

When faced with a recession, people start living a more frugal life which in turn often leads to living a simpler life. Many of us have stopped rushing around so much because we simply can’t afford the movie tickets, weekend trips, community classes and other things that were taking up so much of our time. Instead, we’re making do with the entertainment that we have at home. This allows us a chance to really get our priorities straight and to gain a more thorough understanding of what matters to us. It also allows us to find pleasure in life’s little things. Even in the face of financial stress, we may find that the little pleasures of simple living are actually reducing our overall stress levels.

Stronger Communities

The recession has caused a lot of us to grow closer to our families, friends and community members. We’re spending less time on entertaining each other and more time just talking and spending time together. We’re getting to know one another better. Since we’re all in a financial bind, we can really empathize with others who are in a tight spot. People are lending each other a helping hand. Bartering is making a comeback among people who have services to trade even though they may not have money. Living in a close community is far more important to most of us than living in a rich one!

Healthier Lifestyles

We typically think of poverty as a cause of unhealthy living but the recession is different. The recession is causing some changes that actually improve our health. More people are going vegetarian since meat is expensive. They’re often buying local foods. This is healthier for their bodies as well as for the environment. In fact, a lot of money-saving efforts are also efforts that reduce waste and make for a more eco-friendly way of life which makes the earth around us healthier. Additionally, many of us are taking better care of ourselves than in the past. In trying to make ourselves feel safe in a time when things are chaotic, we are paying more attention to meeting our own needs. We’re also remembering that money doesn’t matter nearly as much as our health does and we’re acting accordingly.

Embracing our Creativity

All of these changes are causing us to really explore a creative side to ourselves that many people have let lie dormant for far too long. We are learning to get creative in making things since we can’t afford to buy them. We’re getting more creative about our approaches to indulgences like vacations so that we can enjoy them without spending a lot of money. People really do thrive when they express themselves creatively so this is definitely a good thing that’s come out of the bad economy.

Following our Passions

The change in the economy has caused a lot of people to lose their jobs. That’s a terrible experience but many people are turning it into a positive thing. When work is steady, it’s easy to just fall into a pattern of doing it even though you don’t love it. When you realize that your job isn’t secure, you start to ask yourself why you’re doing it. This is causing a lot of people to realize that the work they’ve been doing isn’t the work that they love. People are finding a fresh reason to identify their passions and to follow them.

Doing Better at our Jobs

Those people who do have jobs may be reinvesting themselves in their work. They’re making a concentrated effort to do their work well. Although the fear of job loss that is motivating them is not a positive thing, the result is a positive one. People care more about a job well done. That’s something to be valued.

Learning about Ourselves

All in all this experience of going through a bad recession has caused each of us to learn more about ourselves. We have had to find wells of inner strength to get us through these tough times. We have had to make tough choices about how we want to spend our money and making those choices has helped us to learn to prioritize things in our lives. We have had to look at the work we do, the way that we do it and the goals we have for our lives. The recession has required us to shift our thinking and the result is that our thinking is opening up. We may want the recession to be over but we can use this time to make positive changes that will last us for the rest of our lives.

Guest post by Kathryn Vercillo. Kathryn is a writer for Promotionalcodes.org.uk which gives away free voucher codes (like this Laura Ashley promotional code) and also publishes money saving tips.

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