Monday, June 17, 2013

Headbands and Hairclips

Here's a tip for all you moms out there who have walked through the boutiques and farmers markets and have seen those adorable crochet headbands with the big beautiful flowers on them.  They look simply adorable on babies and toddlers, and when you borrow the flower clips and slip them into your own hair, they become elegant instead of adorable!

If you've seen the price tags on those things, you might think that paying $6 for a headband with a flower isn't too bad.  I've got news for you... I purchased 50 headbands (several colors were included in the lot) and 50 matching flowers for $25.  I gave away about 15 sets as baby shower gifts, and kept about 10 sets for my own daughter, and then I sold the remaining 25 sets for $30 on kijiji!

Now don't get me wrong, that was a fabulous deal, but it wasn't an extremely rare deal.  If you go onto Ebay and type "Baby Headband Flower" into the search bar, I guarantee that you will find an assortment of those cute hair accessories.  If you add the word "lot" to the end of that search, you will find the wholesale prices.  Most of these are shipped from China or somewhere else in Asia, and a lot of them are shipped for free, or for a very low cost.  Click here to try it.

The photo above was taken from an Ebay vendor. Click here to be directed to their site.

Sometimes you have to look through a few pages of ebay items before you find the hidden gems.  If you are into those sorts of things, Ebay can be a valuable tool to save money!

If you are really the crafty type, you can purchase the headbands separately, purchase the little clips and some ribbon, and make your own!  Yes, you can even sell them!  I personally do not have the time or space to keep them and make my own, but it's a great idea.

If you really find a good deal, you can always do what I did.  Buy a whole bunch, save some for gifts, and sell the rest of them to someone on kijiji and make money on the deal.  The lady who purchased the bag of 25 sets from me still got a fantastic deal!  25 headbands and matching flowers for $30 is still far less, FAR LESS, than she'd pay at the cute little shops that offer the very same things.  I didn't feel bad at all for "ripping her off" because I certainly didn't!  I took the effort to track them down and purchase them, and then wait for them to come in the mail.  That is worth something too, and I was pleased to be able to make back my money with a $5 extra tip.

Reaching Goals and Starting Over

In the last post, I shared with you that we had bought a new (used - 2006) van.  We are so thrilled to have made that purchase, and even more pleased with the fact that when we drove that van off the lot, it was 100% ours, with no strings attached.

However, (there's always a however...) the hard thing about reaching goals is that you have to start all over again on working towards your next goal.  It was so liberating to pay for the van with cash... and then a little bit overwhelming to see our savings accounts dip lower than they have in years.  Though we needed a new van, we also were hoping for a new house soon, and we sort of used a good chunk of our down payment fund for the van.

I remember going through this phase before, but never to this degree.  We've been reaching for goals before, but never have we gotten past a goal of over $10,000 and then started on our next goal.  It's a little scary and maybe even a little bit disappointing to look at our savings account and have that all-too-familiar feeling of loosing the battle.  However, (there it is again...) it's worth it!!!

Upon reaching our goal for a new vehicle, we have eliminated the risk of suddenly being without a vehicle in the event that our other van breaks down.  We've taken away the risk of having to search for and purchase a vehicle out of sheer necessity instead of making a slow and careful decision like we did.  We also feel so proud of ourselves every time we get into the van, and thankful that God has brought us this far in our journey to Financial Peace!

As far as a new house goes, I'm sure that everyone around me figures it will never happen.  I get all geared up and ready to go, but when it really comes down to it, we haven't found the right deal yet.  If it's a good price, it's just too much work to make it liveable.  If it's liveable, it's usually too expensive, in the wrong neighborhood, or we just don't want to lock into such a large mortgage.

Now that our son is just about out of kindergarten, schools also factor into our decision in a big way.  He's happy at his school, and in all honesty, we'd almost rather stay here until he's a little older and ready to embrace a change in schools.

We are also not offering childcare in our home anymore for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, the children that were in our home no longer need childcare, and secondly, we are making some personal decisions as a family that just don't work well with having other kids in our home.  This knocks out some of our income, and puts us back in a place where I start to wonder if I can bring in more money.  I go through this every time our income changes, every time I am not specifically bringing money into our home.

I know that God is bigger than all that, I know He will guide us and direct us in the ways that we should go.  I also know that He is able to bless us no matter what happens with income and expenses, and that's a solid foundation that I've stood on for most of my life.

Starting fresh again isn't great, but each time we do it, it seems to get a little bit easier.  It's not the shock that it once was.  Eliminating our entertainment and dining out budget in order to send more to our savings account is not nearly as hard as it once was.  Some days it's not fun, and my dear husband knows that some days I'd just rather throw in the towel on all this "saving for my future" stuff.  Sometimes I just want to do what I want to do NOW, and then figure out my future later. 

But that's when I take a deep breath and say no.  No, I'm not going to go with the flow, I'm not going to leave the plan, even though sometimes I wander off of it and have to pull myself back on track.  Someday, I'll be thankful I did.  I am already thankful!!  Whenever I look out our window and see the van in our driveway, I'm proud of ourselves.

We've been around this road before, and each time, the rewards get bigger.  At first, it was a matter of paying upfront for every regular expense in a month.  We were so proud.  Then we managed to stockpile enough into our savings account that when we ended up taking a $5000 hit when everything broke at the same time, it hurt, but we were fine.  And we were proud!  When we were able to give bigger donations to our church, without thinking twice, we were so proud! 

Each time we've started over, we've worked towards a greater reward, and for each goal that we've reached, we've felt even more proud of ourselves and ever so thankful to God than for the last one!

So here we are again, starting fresh, working towards an even bigger goal.  Eventually, we'll reach it.  And hopefully, one day we will be able to reach goals without giving everything we have.  When that day comes, we will be so happy that we gave up our entertainment to plan for our future.  (And there's no "however" after that one!!)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

New Van!!

For the last 2 years, I've posted about how our van was slowly breaking down more and more, and how we just kept fixing it and going on.

After a few more old-age quirks from our van, we decided to start looking for a new van.  We found the van that we wanted (a Toyota Sienna, 2004+), and waited for a good deal.  We waited for nearly a year, watching online ads and keeping our eyes open at all times, waiting for the right van to come along.

On Monday morning, I came across a van that I'd seen before, but it was listed as a 7 passenger.  We were set on an 8 passenger van.  I'm not sure why, but I clicked on the ad, and browsed through the photos.  It was then that I realized that regardless of the title on the ad, this was definitely an 8 passenger van!  I called the Lexus dealership that was selling the van and confirmed the number of seats. The sales person couldn't believe they had made a mistake like that- it virtually eliminated their chances of selling the vehicle!  Anyone who wanted a 7 passenger would have seen the photos and realized it was an 8 passenger.  Anyone who wanted an 8 passenger would never click on the ad, as "7 passenger" was written right in the title.

It was a 2005 Sienna with only 126,000 km on it, for $11,500.  The other comparable vans for sale were all a good $2000 higher than this one.  This one had come down in price by over $1000 since it had been on the lot since February. 

After crunching the numbers and dipping a little into our emergency fund (technically not allowed by the Dave Ramsey Rules, but we were sure this was the right van for us,) we decided that we could pay cash for the van. Since Steve and I couldn't really find a babysitter at the last minute, we decided that I'd go do a test drive alone.  I asked my dad to come along, mostly to help with the deal making.  I've never bought a vehicle at a dealership before, and I wasn't sure what to expect.

I loved the van right away, and it took very little time to settle in and driving felt just as normal as ever.  The van was in perfect mechanical condition, the dealer had put in nearly $2000 of work into the van to bring it all up to good condition.  They even replaced the windshield because it was cracked.  When I asked about the condition of the vehicle, the sales person said to me, "What??  This is a Lexus dealership.  We do NOT sell anything that is not in excellent mechanical condition!"  He had the work orders and the inspection results to back that up.

We worked out a deal for $12,000 final price, and I was pleased to find that they had thrown in free lifetime oil changes as an added perk to the deal. 

My favorite part of the whole deal was when we came back the next day (Tuesday) to pick up the van. It was paid for in full, we didn't owe a penny.  The van was ours, like 100% ours, no payments to make later, and no buyers remorse.  We'd waited a long time to choose a van, and we felt that this was right for us!

We brought the kids to go pick it up, and we were so pleased to see that they had the van all shiny and polished up, parked inside the building right alongside all the other Lexus vehicles, waiting in front of some grand glass doors that opened to let us drive through.  The kids were all so amazed that our van was in the midst of all the "race cars", and it was immediately dubbed, "The Race Van!" 

We drove from the showroom floor out through the glass doors and felt like royalty.  It was fabulous.  They treated us so well, we really loved the whole experience.  And the best part is that we paid cash, 100% cash for the purchase. No credit card debt, no car payments, nothing. 

Thanks Dave Ramsey!  Now we start building back our savings to get a down payment for a house!  We accomplished one major purchase, and I have the confidence that with more hard work, we can keep saving our way to a paid-for home!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Black Friday - SAVINGS!!! (......Really?)

As I looked through my inbox this morning, I was getting all excited with all the advertisements for Black Friday sales.  Really, that sweater that I absolutely ADORE is 40% off?  Old Navy has their entire store on sale for 30% off?  Ooooh, those gorgeous earrings are 60% off!  And all those warm turtleneck sweaters from Lands End are on sale too!  This is wonderful!  Think of all the money I can save!!!

.... But really, how much would I save?  If I spend money on things that I want but don't need, even if they are on sale, how much am I saving?  I have come to realize that when I don't have the budget for those things, it's ridiculous to pick them up anyways simply because they are on a great sale!  In fact, unless I have the budget for them, even sales on things I need shouldn't sway me.  In two days, I will have a fresh 2 week budget, and then, and ONLY THEN, can I justify spending more money.

Now, don't get me wrong.  A couple of months ago there were more diaper sales than I could budget for.  We went above our budget and used ...*gasp*... the credit card... on diapers.  Some of those boxes of diapers were close to 50% off and I just could not pass that up.  I don't have a budget for splurging when there's a good sale, but on occasion, I do it anyways.  We didn't have to buy diapers for over 2 months!  In that 2 months, we had to fix the van a couple of times and other stuff went wrong and I ended up being so thankful that the diaper budget could be used on other necessary things.  (Can you hear the "BUT" coming?)

But, (here it is,)  that was a rare occasion in which I know 100% for certain that I would absolutely need the product no matter what.  When I get close to running out of diapers, I need more.  That's just a fact of life for us right now.  I knew for certain that spending more now would save me money later on something that I cannot possibly live without.

A sweater?  Those earrings?  All those awesome tunic style shirts that will actually cover my ridiculously long torso?  Yes, if I have the budget, I can grab a couple.  But I cannot justify "saving all that money" and getting things that I can live without.

The only way that purchasing sale items actually saves you money is if you have a budget for something.  When you have a budget for something and you spend less than you thought you needed to, you actually have money left.  That's saving.  When you spend without a budget, I don't care how much of a discount it is, it's not saving!  It's still spending more than you were going to in the first place.

Would I have gone out and purchased that sweater when it wasn't on sale yesterday?  No way.  Would I have gone out and purchased diapers when they weren't on sale?  Yep.  So there's the difference.  If I wasn't planning to purchase the product without a sale, than unless I have the budget to use, I shouldn't purchase the product even on a great sale. 

Be careful with all the "savings", make sure you aren't spending more than you budgeted for just because things are on sale.  That's not savings at all, that's just a ploy to get more of your money, not less.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fix the vehicle or buy a new one?

Here's a question that we've had to really think through a lot in the past few months:

When is better to just purchase a new vehicle instead of keep paying to fix an older one??

This question has risen up a number of times as we've paid at least a couple of thousand dollars in the last 2 years to keep our vehicle running.  It's currently headed back into the shop this week, and we've got a rental vehicle so that Steve can continue to earn money while our van is costing us money.

I've been watching the posts that come through my RSS Feeds from Dave Ramsey, and he talks a lot about this topic.  People are constantly asking him about their own personal situation, as if they are sure he will say, "Yes, now is a good time to go into debt by purchasing another vehicle," but it never happens. 

Here's what Dave says over and over again: 

When you are driving a $1,000 car and a $2,500 transmission goes out, that car goes to the junkyard and you get $500 out of it. It's a throwaway–that's what it's for.

If you are driving a $5,000 car, you have to stop and think about whether to put a transmission in that and whether that makes sense. Overall, mathematically, until you get down to that level of car, if your car keeps breaking down, you can mathematically fix a car forever until you get down to $1,000 value. You can mathematically fix a car for cheaper than you can buy another one.

If you have a $10,000 car that always breaks and upgrade to a $20,000 car, that's $10,000 worth of repairs you could have done. How long can you keep something running for $10,000? Forever! If you have a $5,000 car that's breaking down all the time and you buy a $10,000 car, that's a $5,000 difference. How long can you work on a $5,000 car with $5,000 cash? A long time!

Mathematically, repairs almost never drive the decision until you're down to a $1,000 car. You really can't mathematically make the decision to sell a car because the repairs are eating you up. It never works out.

So here's how that works out for us.  We don't have a lot saved up for a new vehicle yet, because we are still working on getting our emergency fund back into place after it took a severe beating this last summer.

How much is our van worth?  According to yesterday's hours of research online, I have to come to the conclusion that our van is worth at the very least, $3500.  How much of a new van can we pay cash for right now?  About $3500.  What on earth would be the point of purchasing a new vehicle???

Some of you are staring at me like I'm crazy.  I can just hear you thinking, "What's the point??  Are you really going to keep throwing money into that old thing and let it eat you alive?"

Sure, I'd love to drive a shiny new vehicle.  Sure, I'd love to be able to take it into the dealer and say, "Fix this... it's on warrantee," and walk out of there with a fixed vehicle and no less money in my bank account.  Sure, I'd love to show up in a snazzy ride that everyone oohs and ahhs over. 

Let me ask you something:  Would I rather throw my own money into something that I own to keep it running, or would I rather borrow a bunch of money and throw way more of my own money at something that won't break down... at least for a little while.  And then when I still owe about half of it, it will start breaking down and causing trouble, and then I'll be throwing money at my vehicle AND at my loan!  Yay. 

That's not the way I want to live.  Ever. 

So we shall drive a beater and until it costs us more to fix it than it does to purchase a new one, we'll keep at it.  Besides... eventually, we'll have replaced so many things that we'll sort of have a brand new vehicle!  :)

We'll keep saving our money by NOT purchasing another newer vehicle that we can't pay cash for, and we'll keep repairing our current vehicle and staying out of debt. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Interesting - Lesson Learned!

If you have been following along in the last couple of months, you'd know that we have been going through a tight financial time.  In order to combat this, we really pulled in on the budget, and then laughed as we quickly transferred the money back OUT of our emergency fund for a few things.  We've managed to save very little, but at least we haven't gone into debt!

See, we've got a little guy who is just starting Kindergarten.  Call me crazy, but I totally didn't realize how expensive it would be to get him all set up in school.  We faced school fees, purchased school clothes, winter coat and boots, and a bunch of other things!  Our little guy is super sensitive to anything touching his skin, so we had to make sure he had super soft pants, seamless socks (rather expensive!) and a bunch of other stuff that would be suited to making him feel comfortable at school.  I didn't want his teacher to have to fight with him every day to get his socks back on, while he screamed that his socks seams were cutting into his feet.

We also ended up having to get new tires, a wheel alignment, and a couple of other things.  It was kinda crazy.

The one mistake we made was to not bother getting cash out of the bank, and assumed that without the cash in hand, we'd spend much less.  WRONG!! 

I can tell you that without the cash in hand, we spent quite a bit more on groceries than we had before we cut the budget!!  Like, easily $200 more!  Wow... was that ever a wake-up call for us!  When we cut out our cash budget, we spent more on the things that we used the debit for.  I was baffled at how we were spending so much and yet, we were trying so hard to save more!  Starting this week, we are back onto a cash budget... that will save us more money than spending with a debit card.

The second mistake I made was to cut out some of our grocery budget.  With one of the kids in school, healthy snacks are a must.  Easy lunches are a must.  Unfortunately, I cut back our grocery budget to a completely unreasonable amount and then "overspent" even when I was buying just the bare minimum of our food needs.

In November, I'm starting up a dayhome, and that will replace my lost salary from the bookkeeping position that I quit in August.  (It is the only job where I can honestly stay home with the kids and focus on them, without having to meet deadlines, work late hours, and neglect the kids when I'm busy with work.)  I'm very excited to start this up, and have already been planning out a new budget.  We'll go back to the same grocery budget that we had, but we'll try to keep out other expenses as low as possible.  We should be able to save like crazy and see our emergency fund back up to the full 6 months of expenses within the next 6 months.  We'll see.  I know that there will be expenses that come as a result of the dayhome - insurance, a little more food, other random things, but I'm confident that we can manage those things well. 

Well, here's to a new start... again!  :D  I am a very optimistic person and I don't mind starting fresh as many times as it takes to get back on the right track.  As long as I start fresh from a slightly higher position than I started from last time, I'm happy!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Necessary wants, how to fit them into the budget!

So last week I wrote about how we were pulling in on every front and guarding our finances from anything that might try and whisk them away.  This week is a little different, and in some sense, is a contrast to all that talk about saving every last penny.

Once we got back on track last week with an extremely limited budget, we were able to regain the focus on saving that we've lost in the last few months.  Things have come up that we do need money for, and not "needs".  These are things like birthday celebrations and other stuff that you just really wanna do! 

With no room in the budget for any sort of entertainment, you have to figure out how to handle it when things come up.  Sometimes you have things that are not truly needs, but are necessary wants!  For example, if friends get married, you need a gift!  If someone comes into town that you haven't seen in awhile, you'll need to make the time to see them, and if that happens to be a family gathering at a restaurant or something, you'll need to go.  You get the picture.  Life happens, and life usually costs.

So how do you fit "life" into a strict budget?

Here's how we do it.  We save $50 every two weeks into what we call our slush fund.  This is not something that we just spend when we want to, it's kept in a secondary savings account and used as an pre-emergency fund.  Every time we can gather a couple hundred bucks into that account, it gets transferred into the emergency fund so it doesn't get used on things that we don't really need.

It takes 5 business days to transfer the money from our savings account into our checking account where it can be put into whatever we need it for.  Knowing that there is a 5 day wait for what we want usually helps us to decide whether it's really worth it or not.  Generally, necessary wants are planned for at least a week before they arrive, giving us time to figure out where to get the money from.

God and others have blessed us so much though that sometimes when we think we'll need to pull from the pre-emergency account, we don't have to!

Here are some ways that I've found money to do the things I want to, even when the budget is super tight.

  1. Sell stuff!  Do you have an old bookshelf or table kicking around your shed?  Sell it!  Make sure you research the going price of such items before you list.  If you need a quick sale, list it slightly less expensive than all the other options.
  2. Cash in those points cards!  Do you have a points card like Petro Points, AirMiles, or any other type of points card that is just sitting there gathering points?  You can usually cash those in for gift cards or even items that you can use for gifts. 
  3. Pray!  Sounds so crazy, doesn't it?  God knows what you need, and believe it or not, He even knows what you want and what you are hoping for.  I really wanted a treadmill to use through the winter, but I couldn't afford one.  I would pray for one on and off through the last year, and a couple of months ago, I found one for free!  God is bigger than we know, and far more concerned about our desires than we sometimes believe He is. 
  4. Pull in a few dollars from your other budgets.  If you can get by with a little less gas money in a month, you can use that unused budget to cover for some other stuff.  If you can avoid spending quite as much money on food or electricity, you'll have a few more dollars that you can claim for the fun stuff.