How We Did: Our January Budget Review

Yeah, it basically went as planned…

I was expecting some kind of thrilling follow-up, but after writing it all out, it was essentially a copy of our planned budget, and I was bored reading it!

So, to recap, what happened was, we planned out all our spending before it happened, and then we followed the plan. 

If you are new to budgeting, it’s going to take several months or  even a couple of years before this starts happening for you. You will forget to include occasional expenses, like car registration. You will not know how much you usually spend when you go to festivals or other events where there are lots of vendors. You will not have begun the practice of checking your calendar to see whose birthdays are coming up, so that you can plan to give them a gift. Your tire will go flat, and your emergency fund might not be ready for it.

But then next time you will remember. Each month, I take a few minutes to look at our calendar for the month ahead, and also, at our expenditures for the same month the year before, to see if I may have missed anything. For our second year attending Austin City Limits, I noted what we had spent the previous year, and budgeted the same amount. We ended up spending less the second year, probably because it wasn’t nearly as hot and we drank a lot less beer! So now I know: plan to spend a little more if the weather forecast is hot! And I’ve learned to pay attention to the tires on our cars, to fill them and get them rotated regularly, to ask the technicians (or my car-guy husband) how much life they seem to have left, and to start researching and saving up well before we need them!

But I only learned that through years of record-keeping, which means, if you didn’t get it perfect the first time, if you ended up coloring outside the lines, or throwing it all away and starting with a fresh page, you don’t get to beat yourself up, and you don’t get to quit.If things feel constricted, remember that you won’t have to do this forever. Things will get better if you don’t give up.”Done” is better than “perfect,” and you can do this!

Now go make your budget!

 

 

 

Frugal Tuesday: Start Your Seeds!

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It’s that time again, in most of the northern hemisphere… If you haven’t already, grab a shallow container, some lightweight growing material, and some seeds and let’s get growing! Of course, you can always pick up some seedlings at the nursery in a few weeks and start your gardens that way, but several packets of seeds usually cost less than a couple of baby plants. By starting with seed, you can get a lot more for your gardening dollar… and did you know that you can buy seeds and plants with food stamp benefits? That’s right: Food stamps grow gardens!

We are not the most masterful gardeners here at the Little Hippie House, but we do know that the more you do it, the better you get. And so we’ve started seeds for two kinds of tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, and eggplant. Everything else, we can sow directly into the garden after the season’s last freeze.

What’s in your gardens this season? Are you growing anything from seed? 

 

It’s Time: The Grocery Price Book

I first read about grocery price books over at The Simple Dollar, years ago. Not being into spreadsheets… or math… or shopping, it didn’t seem to me to be a terribly sexy project. The other ways in which I managed to trim my expenses were successful enough that I usually had enough room in my food budget to buy whatever I wanted whenever I wanted without much thought. When Mr. Vega and I began to focus more on whole, real, organic foods, our grocery bills went up, and I just felt happy that we could afford to eat the way we wanted to. After all, we were debt-free, saving for a house, and even had money left over for travel and fun.

Since my husband traded his full-time sales job for life as a full-time student, however, we’ve had to tighten our belts a bit. In January, we managed to wrestle our food expenses down to just over half of what we’re accustomed to spending… mostly by eating out much less than we had been. Also, one of my favorite bloggers, Brandy over at The Prudent Homemaker, is diligent with her food expenses: She keeps a detailed price list of food she buys to feed her family of nine, and her monthly shopping lists are terrific guides to seasonal low grocery prices. Simply following along and stocking up on some things when she does has been tremendously helpful!

But each home is different, and no one solution works for everyone. Our household in Austin, Texas, comprised of two adults with full-time outside commitments, two cats, and a nascent garden, is quite different from hers in Las Vegas with seven children, a work-at-home spouse in addition to a full-time work-outside one, and an abundant home garden that is the result of several years’ worth of effort. And both her home and mine will be different from yours, with your brand-new baby, or giant dogs, or busy travel schedule.

And so the time has come for me to buckle down and invest a bit of time and energy into learning exactly what our most-purchased items usually cost, what a good deal really looks like (because fifty cents off sounds great, but what if it’s normally sixty cents cheaper at the store down the street?), and seeing how much more space we can get in this recently-contracted budget of ours.

I’ve sorted through our shopping lists, and created a spreadsheet on Google Drive listing sixty items we purchase regularly (conventional wisdom suggests starting with a list of 15-20 things, but once I started, I kept thinking of more!), and I’m actually looking forward to learning where the best prices are and seeing how much money we can save. Grocery store sales generally run in 8-12 week cycles, so I reckon it will be Spring by the time I have a good handle on this, but check back and I’ll share how it’s going!

How do you keep track of grocery prices in your area? What patterns have you noticed?

 

Frugal Tuesday: Don’t Shave!

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Beards are big right now! And they have been for a few years: Back in 2013, Business Insider reported a 10% drop in Schick razor sales, and my guess is that sales have continued to decline.

A few months ago, Mr. Vega found himself mixed up with a group of guys from the Austin Facial Hair Club, and because we become who we spend time with, it wasn’t long before my husband ditched his razor, too. He joined a competition called the Six Month Sprint, wherein a bunch of guys shaved on the same day last August, took “before” photos, and pledged to meet up again at the Come and Shave It event in February to compare facial hair. Sound strange? Maybe it is a little, but they’re good people who spend a fair amount of time involved in philanthropic activities, as well. And there’s no denying they have a shared interest!

People sometimes ask me whether his beard bothers me, but I confess that every time I look at my husband’s face, I see money! All the money we aren’t spending on razors, or shaving cream, or aftershave… and because he swears that the only way to get a good shave is at the end of a long, hot shower (“to soften the whiskers!”), we’ve seen savings in our water bill, as well. He does use a lovely-smelling beard oil, but that doesn’t cost nearly as much as all the acoutrement of shaving did. And whether my husband is clean-shaven has no bearing on how much I like kissing him!

Beards may keep men (and the women who live with them) healthier, too! Just last week, BBC News reported on a study in which

The beardless group were more than three times as likely to be harbouring a species known as methicillin-resistant staph aureus on their freshly shaven cheeks. MRSA is a particularly common and troublesome source of hospital-acquired infections because it is resistant to so many of our current antibiotics.

Far from living up to the stereotype of being dirty, it appears that mens’ bears may contain a microbe that actively fights viral infections!

Giving up shaving isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve been thinking of giving it a try, you might end up saving some money… and staying healthier, too!

 

Frugal Tuesday: Watch a Video!

Mr. Vega loves to fix things. He’s a visual person, so frequently he can figure things out just by looking, but when he can’t, he turns to You Tube. Thousands of helpful people have made videos of themselves doing maintenance and repairs, so you can just watch and follow along. You can get instruction on oil changes, cooking, mechanical repairs… even farm chores for beginners!

We’ve saved a lot of money by being willing to try new things. Made-from-scratch food, gardening, remodeling projects and auto repairs. And having access to visual instruction makes it all so much easier… I learned how to open a coconut with almost no effort by watching a video someone had posted of an old island man doing it!

Just this week, one of our pawn shop tool scores stopped working suddenly. When the manufacturer’s repair shop gave us a repair quote of $50-$200 (“We won’t know for sure until we open it up,” Mr. Vega took to the internet and found that the likely culprit was a $20 part. And some kind DIY-er had made a video of himself replacing that exact same part. Feeling confident that he can do it, he ordered the part and saved us $30-$180!

What new-to-you projects have you tried lately, and did you get help from a video?

Frugal Tuesday: Juice It!

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The other day, we found ourselves with the quality problem of having more fresh fruits and vegetables than we could reasonably consume before they went bad.  Noticing that some of them had already passed the point of being super-delicious for eating, Mr. Vega brought out the juicer and made some delicious green juice for us to drink. Super-yum. Bonus points for finding other uses for the pulp (zucchini muffins anyone?), or at least composting it (we did).

What do you do with produce that’s about to go bad?

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This is a post for the true DIY folks… nothing Pinterest-worthy here today! But life in a fixer-upper demands an embrace of the process, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

This was an unexpected project, so I don’t have a photo of the hideous bathroom cabinet sink that came with our little hippie house, but it was an ancient wood laminate beast with a yellowed fake marble sink (and a burn mark where someone had once laid a cigarette on the edge of its basin).When it developed a drip, Mr. Vega decided that he would rather replace the whole thing than repair the faucet. We had gotten a white pedestal sink that had a crack in it from a neighbor who remodeled, and the $40 porcelain repair kit that we ordered was a total failure. With our House Fund running on fumes, we were starting to get discouraged.

Mr. Vega, being the never-say-die type that he is, stopped in to our local Habitat Re-Store to have a look, where he found a very passable basin for $20. He brought it home, and using the pedestal and faucet handles from the giveaway sink, and the stopper-pull from our previous ugly one, created the one you see above. He kept the actual faucet from the Re-Store basin, as it was the tallest of the three: Hand washing is much more convenient when you can actually fit your hands under the faucet! In the outline left on the wall by paint around the cabinet, you can see we’ve gained a good three inches of the room back, and the pedestal makes the small room feel much less confined than the cabinet did.

Unfortunately, the previous owners had not removed the cabinet sink to install the too-porous-for-a-bathrooom Saltillo tile they had chosen, but rather had gone to the trouble of cutting the tile to lay around the cabinet. Fortunately, they also had not bothered to remove the linoleum that graced the bathroom before the tile, making it much easier to remove than if the job had been done correctly!

So what you see on the floor in the space left by the removal of the cabinet is $9 worth of tile meant to look like rustic hardwood. It’s really kind of cool up close, but it was chosen strictly for its price, as this is a temporary stopover on our way to a full bathroom remodel (some day it will be glorious, with a walk-in steam shower and a skylight). One of the tiles needed to be cut down to fit right, and a kind employee at the Big Box store tool rental department looked the other way for twenty seconds while my resourceful husband made the single cut he needed. He also managed to find, in a scrap pile, just the right amount of baseboard to fill in the gap that was left when the cabinet came out.

Our next project will be to sand down some of the half-century’s worth of paint layers (nearly 1/8″!) made evident by the cabinet’s removal and to paint the whole room with white semi-gloss. I also have a feeling I’m not going to be able to prevent him from replacing the current flooring with ceramic tile, which would be fine by me!

Because of our futile attempt to repair the secondhand sink we had been given, the total cost of our new-to-us sink, including a few bits of hardware, caulk, and the three tile plates, came out to about $80, about half the cost of a brand-new pedestal sink. Mr. Vega got to pick up some new repair skills that will come in handy during the rest of our remodel, and we feel good about salvaging some things that were destined for the landfill (all the usable remaining sink parts will be donated back to the Habitat Re-Store). We’re really happy with the look of the new sink, as it’s much more retro-fabulous than what was in there before, and we think it fits nicely with the updated Atomic Ranch style we’re ultimately going for.

What projects have you undertaken lately in your home? Are you glad you did it, or do you wish you had called in a professional?