Category Archives: Saving Money

The State of Our Financial Union: 2018 is Here!

YOU GUYS. I just don’t know what to say here. At the current moment we are not planning exotically interesting things financially. More stay the course.

As always we’ll contribute 10 – 11% of our income to our 401(k)s. We’ll plan to save another 10% of our post-tax income in cash and investments. Something that helps us with this strategy is that we do not spend our raises. Thus, we can increase our budget when we need to due to cost of living increases, but we still have some extra cushion.

What do we have planned?

We’ll max out a Dependent Care FSA. We have never had one of these before! It won’t fully cover this year’s daycare bill but it WILL lower our taxable income. WIN!

Continue to max out our HSA. Contribute to Section 529 plans for both children. Contribute to our 401(k)s and Roth IRA. Boring dot com. Planning on our future selves thanking our past selves for this.

Last year we maxed out our HSA and we spent all but $400 of it paying for Glitter’s birth and meeting our max out of pocket (party!). We’re hopeful we might be able to keep a little more cash in the HSA this year and actually invest it.

We’re planning for some (bigger) house purchases. We’ll be replacing both garage doors and openers this spring. It simply needs to be done. Our water softener has died (RIP) so we’re having a new one installed Friday. We also have saved to purchase a kitchen table (when we find it). I would like to (myself) paint our master bathroom. An entertainment center for the family room is on the way (and a new rug and lamp arrived earlier this month). All of these expenses are covered by the moving budget that we allocated last year – we didn’t spend all of the money in July when we moved because we knew it would take time to settle in and see what we needed.

Stay off cable TV.

We didn’t set up cable when we moved into our house and we plan to keep it this way. Instead we are using a combination of: an antenna (free TV from the air!!!), Sling, and Netflix. This combination allows us to watch all of the shows we love and thanks to Sling’s setup, we can watch TV when we want, not just live!


The State of our Financial Union: 2017 in Review

Why am I sharing this? As always, on the chance you are curious about what others do with their $$$. I’ll also share in separate posts what we are doing for 2018 and some tools or information sources I have found to be useful this year. As always, I’d love to hear what you are up to or any resources you want to share!

This was a banner year and I will just say outright I give thanks to the Lord every day for provisioning us. Marcus and I try to keep up our end of the bargain by being mindful of what we have, and by paying it forward to those who need it through financial donations and volunteerism.

Our post-tax savings rate (Roth 401(k)s, Roth IRAs, brokerage accounts, 529 plans, cold hard cash) was about 25% of our income this year. Pre-tax, we also maxed out an HSA (which we promptly spent most of having a baby!). Back pat, golf clap. What did we all do?

We saved some money.  Things that help us to achieve our savings goals: not spending our raises, living with my parents while we were trying to find a house. Other motivations: not wanting to worry about money. Ever.

We bought a house. Our overall cash stash decreased a bit this year because we were saving to purchase a house! That said, the down payment and repair/renovation money was always in its own silo if that makes sense? We always knew where and what it was going to. I will say that we greatly benefitted from the sale price of our home. There is a high demand in our market for “affordable” housing, which is what our townhouse was considered.

We sold some stuff.  Like the fan that was in the dining room of our house (who has a ceiling fan in their dining room?!).  The refrigerator in our basement.  The large sectional couch I should not have allowed into my house in the first place (it has a new life as a throne for a squad of Dungeons and Dragons players…seriously).  Our old patio furniture that does not fit on our new deck.  So we made a few extra bucks.  I also want to give a shout-out to Marcus for believing that we actually could sell that couch.  It took about three tries to find serious buyers but we did it!

We started using our Roth IRAs as a medium term savings vehicle. This is a longer story so it is going to be a separate post with some additional information so you can determine if this is right for you.

We pre-paid our 2018 property taxes.  To take advantage of current tax laws before the new tax laws go into effect for 2018. There is some debate about whether or not you can deduct these on your 2017 taxes. Either way we were going to pay the property taxes so this gives us our best shot at maximizing a tax benefit. If we didn’t pre-pay them our window of opportunity shrunk to zero.

We advanced some 2018 charitable giving into the end of 2017.  Again to take advantage of current tax laws before the new tax laws go into effect for 2018. We didn’t give anything we weren’t planning to already.

Tis the Season to be Spending

Over Thanksgiving weekend we ordered a new couch for our family room.

While we did a lot of important/functional design things to the house before/as we moved in, there were a lot of things we held off on until later. Like furnishing the family room and dining room in their entirety (our kitchen table is a card table right now). At some point I’ll write a post about what we did and why but today I’m looking at this from a different angle.

After scouting out couch options the weekend prior, we went back to HOM to make our purchase. When the couch our salesperson ordered rang in at $700 more than the base price (versus the “few hundred more” he indicated it would be), we looked in his expectant eyes and said Absolutely Not We’ll Take The Base Model Please.

This is the season where everyone is buying things.

If we are being absolutely honest, my holiday weekend shopping was straight-up practical.

I took part in an offer to buy $50 in gift cards at Caribou, get $10 free. Great. Free money to buy coffee I am going to drink anyway. $60 for 10 class pass to Blooma, the baby yoga studio where we attend tots yoga and barre class. Fantastic. $6/class for Glitter to nurse or cry through a class is much better than the regular (discounted) $18. Which, frankly, is not a cost I can abide.

15% on Cyber Monday plus 5% off using my RED Card? Shampoo and Conditioner, Contact Lens Solution, RX Bars, pants for Critter.

$10 gift card for spending $50 at Target? Prenatal vitamins.


Over the next six weeks you are going to be straight-up bombarded. By deals you cannot refuse for things you do not need. By picture-perfect social media posts of friends and friends-turned-strangers buying and receiving gifts or treating themselves to things that you could never fit into your budget.

It is hard because with social media we see all of these things instantaneously. It is hard because we know not the shoes they walk in. You will see the things that people have worked to save all year for and the things people are putting on maxed-out credit cards. And generally, you will never ever know the difference. You will just be told to keep up.

I guess what I am trying to say is that it’s okay to say no to that extra $700 you weren’t planning on. To take advantage of those deals to buy staples for your family. To sit this one out if it’s just not for you.

Buying/Selling a House with Redfin

Add this to the List Of Posts I’ve Been Meaning To Write But Have Not Had The Time To Hammer Out.

When we sold our townhouse and bought our current home, we did it through Redfin.  When we tell our friends we did this instead of using a “traditional” real estate agency in the area they usually have questions because they either (A) Have never heard of it or (B) Have heard of it but don’t really know what it is or (C) Want to know What On Earth We Were Thinking.

The best summary I can give is that from the buying side, it is like Uber but for real estate.  You have an app on your phone with access to all MLS listings.  You search for homes that fit within your specific criteria, like any other real estate website.  When you find a house you want to see, you request a showing and date/time and then Redfin matches you with an available agent.  You meet the agent at the house and you tour it.  If you want to view more than one house in a tour, then you drive your own car from house to house and meet the agent at each house.  You see a house you like?  They write the offer, negotiate, etc.

Honestly, the reason we know about Redfin (and felt comfortable trying them out!) was because my parents bought their home through Redfin in 2016.  They had a positive experience, so we felt like it was a decision we were comfortable making.

The best part (AKA the whole reason to do this) = if you buy your home through Redfin they refund you part of the commission they earn on the sale of the home.  For the house we just purchased, that was $2,600 we got back simply because we used them.

From the buying side, I will say the following:

  • While we worked with a primary agent, sometimes we saw houses with other agents.  This was not important to us.  If you only want to work with one person, this model will not work for you.
  • Since their agents aren’t getting paid in the same way as traditional real estate agents, they’re not overly motivated to sell you a house and they don’t get frustrated with you if you have toured, say, 20 of them and still haven’t found the right one.  This was especially important to us because the inventory in our market was really low and out of the 30 houses we saw, there were only two we put offers in on and only four or five that we seriously considered.
  • Many of the agents we worked with had “day” jobs and so there was a wide variety of skill levels.  We knew what we were looking for in a house.  We also knew what sorts of things we were looking at in a house (windows, water damage, age of the HVAC system, etc.).  If you are completely clueless, this may not be the route for you.

With all of that in mind, 100% we would use Redfin again as buyers.

From the selling side, based on what we paid in listing fees to sell our townhome, we saved $1500 compared to the fees charged by a traditional brokerage (they simply charge a lower percentage of listing than traditional brokerages). Redfin also provided us with a $250 “sparkle” fund reimbursement for the small improvements and repairs we made to the house to get it ready to sell.

Selling our house was a whirlwind, honestly.  We met with the listing agent in November just to get an idea of pricing and what we needed to do.  Once we were ready to move forward at the end of January, within the span of a week we had our house measured, photographed, listed, with God, I can’t remember 17 booked showings and an open house and by the end of the weekend a signed purchase agreement.

There were times where we felt communication was a bit rocky, but at the same time, for the amount of effort we had to put into selling our house (really not that much) and the amount of money we saved in total on the sales-side ($1,750!) I’d say things went swimmingly.  Frankly, they could have been outright mediocre and it still would have been worth the savings.

TL;DR Redfin is the Uber of homebuying, by using them for buying and selling, we saved a total of $4,350.  11/10 would use again.


Items of Interest

I don’t have the time or energy to organize my thoughts so here we are. 

Marcus took this really good snap of me when we were at the cabin over Memorial Day weekend.

Goddess, I know. 

Last weekend I went to prenatal yoga for the first time in MONTHS. It nearly broke me, friends. I felt like every time we did an inversion all of the blood in my body was in my head, and while all of the stretching and  breathing felt good it did something terrible to my already hinky left glute (THANKS GLITTER). I could barely walk by the end of class. ANYWAY, I am going to give it another shot next week and then I think we’ll have a better idea of whether prenatal yoga is right for me. 

Unrelated: we have finally reached the TUMS Time part of pregnancy. #blessed

Greatest revelation of the weekend: ALDI now sells cold brew.  I have been keeping an eye out for this in the store for probably…six months?  At last, we are victorious!  It is $7.49 for a 32 oz jug and there is no price difference between french roast and regular (ahem Trader Joe’s).  I bought one of each so that I can try them and then decide which I prefer.  

As much as I really do love Trader Joe’s, if I could eliminate my trips for essentials there (cold brew, creamy salted peanut butter, 12 grain bread) so that we were only headed over for the odd case of two buck chuck and house liquor, I would not be mad.  It’s a 15 minute drive one way, so I just have other ways that I would rather spend my time.

Thanks to a hot tip from my mama group, I also scooped up a Step 2 brand water table (again, at ALDI) for $30.  Critter is delighted with it and we haven’t even put the water in.

Meanwhile we are continuing Critter’s transition to one nap (sob) and he continues to delight us as his proficiency in a variety of animal sounds (snake, owl, lion, butterfly, elephant) expands. He now barks when he sees dogs on walks and it is so cute that it hurts.  He says “blub” when he eats Goldfish. We are so excited to meet Glitter but also it is bittersweet that these 13 weeks are the last that it will ever just be Mama and Critter.  My tiny sidekick is getting an even tinier sidekick!

The State of Our Financial Union: 2017 is Here

Since we talked about how 2016 went, I thought we should talk about what we see coming up in 2017.  When I interrogated Marcus about what budget changes he saw, he was pretty much like Eh it’s pretty boring this year.  Which is good!

Honestly, the thing that is keeping me up at night is the thought of purchasing a new home.  We have, of course, saved for years for a down payment that we hope will fall in the 20% range.  But right now our mortgage is so affordable and it keeps our cost of living so low.  This is obviously really nice and gives us a lot of freedom to do other things.  Like save.  I am really curious to see what will change with our budget as our lives change in this area.

We reduced our allowances.  By another $10 per week.  I also cancelled my online subscription to the New York Times because my Dad got a BOGO after the election and shared his free subscription with me!  That saved $180 annually so I cannot complain.

We increased our grocery spending.  By $60 per month.  SERIOUSLY IF YOU ARE NOT MEAL PLANNING AND SHOPPING AT ALDI YOU NEED TO DO IT.  It is such a game changer for how much we spend on our food.  And if you’re an organic person, they actually have a fairly decent selection of organic things.

In October, Laura and I were actually discussing grocery budgets because we realized that while we set ours based on what we were consuming, we weren’t really sure what was “normal.”

Marcus and I set out to do a little bit of research and what we found were the USDA Food Plans.  Super-handy because as the cost of food changes, you can see what the most current costs are.  This year, we have pretty much exactly budgeted for the “Low Cost” plan for a family of two.  Last year we fell in-between the “Thrifty” and “Low Cost” plans.  Y’all know that we eat well (and quite a bit), so I’m proud that we’ve been able to keep our grocery costs as low as they are.

We’re taking advantage of tax advantages.  And maxing out our HSA again this year.  There is a middling chance that a Littler Critter could come into our lives in late 2017, and a very high chance that it will happen in 2018.  Either way, with one boy baby and dematology habit, there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be doing this.  Plus, since we built this into our budget last year, we won’t miss the money.

The Baby Budget. Last year, Critter got his own line for purchases like: baby yoga passes (seriously), clothing, sippy cups, toys, and the like.  Since we have no idea what to expect in his second ride around the sun, we thought it would be best to just maintain this and see where it takes us.  If we spend less, that’s great.

Cutting Cable.  We’re not doing it yet but you guys I am getting so close!  Marcus has agreed that once we move, we can probably do without for a few months while we settle into the place, enjoy the summer, etc. and then determine what we’re really missing.

What are your financial goals for 2017?  

The State of Our Financial Union: 2016 in Review

Hey hey ho ho 2016 has got to go!

Or it’s already gone.

I thought it would be interesting if I did a little walkthrough of this year in personal finances.  It’s good for us to reflect and if you’re looking for ideas/encouragement/are just bored and want to read something, here it is!

As you know, generally, I refrain from sharing very specific numbers.  I am sure we can all understand.  I think you can de-mystify money and talk about it openly without having to paste your income all over the internet.  While it works for some people (and I certainly love reading those blogs and listening to those podcasts!) it just doesn’t work for us.

How was 2016 for our finances?

Um, we spent all of our money.  Not really, but sort of.  We bought: a new furnace, a new water softener, a new washer and dryer, a new (used) car.  All of them except for the dryer (we felt like the set should match since we’re selling) were emergencies.  And we paid for them out of our hard earned savings and if I thought about what that dollar amount equaled, I would need to take to bed or breathe into a bag or something because OMG WHY DID 2016 HAVE TO KILL ALL OF OUR APPLIANCES?

Oh, and I almost forgot (how could I?).  WE HAD A BABY.  Also an expensive thing.

We saved a lot of money.  

  • We maxed out our HSA because that allowed us to lower our taxable income.  And because we knew that we were going to spend it all on Critter’s birth.  Marcus did some serious math at the end of 2015 to figure out what medical plan would make sense for us based on projected birth costs and deductibles, out of pocket maximums, premium payments, etc.  We ended up selecting a HDHP with an HSA because it was the lowest-cost for what we knew we would need.
  • We saved 10% in my Roth 401(k) and 11% in Marcus’ which continues to be the least gratifying activity of my entire life.
  • After all of the spending that took place as outlined above (again OMG), we still managed to save an additional 5% of our income.

We re-did part of our budget halfway through the year.  Realizing that we were spending TONS on groceries and not nearly as much going out with friends (or in general), we reallocated $40 per month towards groceries and took that out of our allowances.  This was a pretty painless change.  We also realized we were spending MUCH less on gas because I only drive to work three days per week and on the weekends, we just aren’t as far-ranging as we once were.  And that whole thing where gas prices were super low last year.

I stopped buying new clothes in August.  And I committed to purchasing only things to replace worn-out items.  I wrote about it here.  I will confess that in December, I purchased one more piece of employer-branded clothing to wear with jeans because I was wearing my pullover every single week and if being able to wear jeans to work when I want to hasn’t been one of the best life-improvements in my year, I just don’t know what is.  I will also give a shout-out to that third pair of yoga pants I bought in November.  It really has made my laundry-life SO MUCH BETTER.

Otherwise, where not purchasing new clothing is concerned, I will say this.  We have started going to our local mall from time to time so that we can walk with Critter in the late afternoon.  Whenever we go I am SO OVERWHELMED by the sheer amount of things that are being sold.  I have already removed two grocery bags of clothing from my closet and my shelves and drawers are still so full.  At the end of the year, I had managed to save an additional $130 from my allowance, that probably otherwise would have gone to…you guessed it…clothes.  Instead, it’s just not.  I still don’t know what the ultimate end result of this experiment is but it probably has to do with having less of everything.

We gave away $$$.  I know I have spoken about it before, but we do have a specific line item in our budget for charitable giving and it continues to be my favorite part of the budget.  We spent all of it.  Obviously.  There was also a point in the year where Marcus received some bonuses and I received a raise and we made another small gift because I truly believe that the Lord provisions us with what we need and when we are blessed, we need to bless others.

All in all, it was A Year.  Even though it didn’t turn out quite the way we had planned, I’m still (we’re still) proud of how it turned out.

If there are specific topics you want to hear more about (and if you don’t, it’s okay!), feel free to leave a comment.  Otherwise, if there are any financial celebrations you want to share, I’d love to hear about those too!