Saturday, July 7, 2012

WE DID IT!!!!!

On June 28, 2012, if you heard some weird shouting and giggling around mid-morning, that would have been me. I was making the final payment on our mortgage and becoming debt free. Every time I think about it, I just break out into a big smile. It took us a long time to get to this point but we made it and I have to tell you, it feels wonderful. I can't tell you how freeing it is to know that you own your home and other belonging free and clear and no longer have to make payments on them or worry about loosing them. I can also tell you that it was worth every moment and every money saving practice to get to this point. My most important message is that it can be done, by regular people and that it's worth striving for.

From my posts, I've shared a lot of the ways that Jason and I have saved money in order to be able to pay extra towards our mortgage. Some were a little unusual but I think most of you would agree, that none were extreme or difficult to do. I know that everyone has different circumstances and obstacles to overcome, but I believe in my heart that if being debt free is something that you really, really want to achieve that for most people, it can be done.

Are you wondering if we went out for an expensive dinner or huge shopping spree to celebrate? It's funny because the day we paid the house off ended up being such a long day for both of us, that we celebrated with Chef Boyardee! How's that for fine dining! And a few days later, I did go shopping, but it was to my favorite Goodwill store (got 6 "new" shirts for less that $30). We're both still thrifty at heart so why stop now.

We do plan on making some purchases that we've been putting off to concentrate on the mortgage, but you know us, nothing extravagant, more like a new dish washer and maybe a laptop computer. We plan on saving the extra money that we will now have to pay cash for new purchases including vehicles or home repairs so that maybe, just maybe we will never be in debt again. Of course, who knows what the future will hold, but I really do hope we can stay debt free for a very long time.

Are you wondering about the debt chain? Well here are the last few chains that we ripped apart before throwing that sucker in the trash!!!!

I haven't shared this triumph on Facebook or with very many people at all for that matter because while I would hope that people would be happy for us, I know that for many this is a very tough time financially. I would never want to make someone feel bad or feel like I'm bragging instead of me just being happy that we've met our huge goal.

I do believe though that if more people would follow more money saving practices, that times like these wouldn't have to be so tough. With emergency funds, living beneath your means and other practices, I feel that more people would be able to ride the ups and downs of the economy with less stress and more peace of mind and security. To me, that's worth so much more than the things money can buy.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Easy way to save on those energy bills

I recently found an item that I wanted to share with you that not only cuts down on your energy costs, but also has great additional features as well.

It's tinted window film. For my purposes, I chose the black film that would not only cut down on the heat from the sunlight, but also on the sunlight as well. You can still see through the window but the film cuts down on a lot of the light that comes in. This is perfect for people who sleep during the day because of shift work, or people like us who go to bed early (when it's still daylight outside) because Jason has to get up so early for work.

There are also a lot of other types of film that just have the energy savings, have mirrored effects, and many other decorative styles that all still help out with your energy savings.

I'll admit that I was nervous at first thinking that it was going to be horrible to try and put it, but it was pretty easy. It is really simply to put on the windows, very quick and almost fool proof.

Check out the difference in our office with just one window done with the black film. See you can still see out from the inside but it cuts a ton of glare out and lots and lots of heat. Our office gets super hot in the summer, so this will help out.

Here's a picture of the first window that I finished in our bedroom. I honestly think it adds to the view (until I covered it with the blinds and blackout curtains). It also helps us out when we go to bed to have a dark bedroom to sleep in even though it's still light outside. The blackout curtains and blinds were just not dark enough.

Check out the difference on the floor with the sun shining in. I put one foot on the left side (shaded) and one foot in the right side (not covered yet) and there was a huge temperature difference in just a few minutes of putting up the film on the left side.

The product that I used was easily found at our local home improvement stores and was honestly pretty cheap. Our bedroom windows were done completely with 2 boxes of film at $16.32 per box. I know we're going to get that money back very fast this summer when it's cooler in the house and we don't have to run the air so much.

The product not only blocks out the heat in the summer, but also keeps your heat inside in the winter to help with heating cost. You can check out the product website for the brand you choose for more information, videos and tons more information.

So far I've done the bedroom windows and the office windows, and I still plan on doing the windows in our garage. We're lucky that most of our heat comes in the back windows, so I don't have to do a thing to any of the front windows.

Here's to saving money and staying cool in the summer and warm in the winter for less.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Stretching your clothing dollar

I honestly dress better second-hand than I would be able to if I bought the items new in a retail store setting. Last week I found 11 tops at the Goodwill store and only paid $55 total for all 11 tops. Every single one of the tops were designer/name brand items some of which would have cost more new than I paid for all 11.

The store I went to had dressing rooms so that I knew each shirt would fit before I bought it. I got names brands such as Talbots, Cold Water Creek, etc. all for less that $5 each.

I love being able to dress well for less. I do like nice, quality clothing, but I love getting it at rock-bottom prices. Honestly, the items that I got looked practically brand new. I brought them home, washed them and now I have great new additions to my wardrobe that didn't break the bank.

I also check for clothing at yard sales as well. People get tired of what they have or their weight changes and you can take advantage of that. Everyone wins.

Don't be afraid to try second-hand clothing. You can find unique pieces to spice up your look for next to nothing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Reusing plastic bottles

Wow, I can't believe it's April already! I'm sorry that I haven't posted in a while, but I hope to be better about posting in the future. I should have a little more time to get my thoughts down and to you now.

Well enough about that, let's get on with the information. I saw this on a website and thought that I would share it with you. I love to add flavored coffee creamer to hot chocolate or chai tea, so I had these bottles already on hand.

Well, after you finish with the creamer and remove the label, the container can be easily reused for all kinds of items.

I washed the bottle and lid out and dried, then I used the first bottle I tried for chocolate chip storage. There's a nifty spout to pour the chocolate chips out into your measuring cup, bowl or straight into your mouth (hey, I don't judge).

You could use it for kids' snacks, nuts or tons of other items. The sky's the limit. I also washed up a bottle that once held Bacon Bits for using the same way.

The bottles (or ones like them) make storing different items easier, helps them stay fresher and are easier to organize than bags.

What uses can you come up with?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Another Recipe for your Chicken Stash

I thought I would share another recipe that I used for our chicken stash. If you've read the blog before, you know that I buy the bone-in, skin on chicken breast when they're on sale and process them myself saving a ton of money. I've done a few articles on this if you want to look back and read the articles.

I have an easy pizza recipe to use with the cooked, already shredded bags of chicken that we have in the freezer. It also works well as a pantry recipe because the ingredients are on sale a lot and can be bought very cheaply with coupons.

We call this Italian Pizza, but I guess all pizza is somewhat Italian, so call it anything you want to. It is surprising how just a few simple ingredients turn out such a flavorful pizza.

First, I use a can of pizza dough:

Open the can and spread the dough out on your pan or pizza stone. You could also divide the dough up to make individual pizza for your family members. Next you will need a jar of alfredo sauce.

I checked the label on this particular sauce and it's only 90 calories for 1/4 cup, so I believe you could also make this a healthy alternative if you wanted to. Okay, now spread a layer of the sauce onto your pizza dough.

After your sauce is spread, you will add your toppings. I first added some of the pre-cooked, shredded chicken that I had in the freezer.

And I also added, on my half, some sliced green olives. Jason hates green olives (he's crazy like that) so I make sure not to cross the half-pizza line. I even put a couple of slices of olive on the very top before putting it in the oven to make sure we know where to cut the pizza and that Jason doesn't get any surprise olives.

Now, of course you can add any toppings that you like at this point. Go crazy, be creative and have fun. Next we need cheese of course. I try to get the Italian blend cheese for this pizza. It adds a lot of flavor to have more than one type of cheese on here.

We also need a little seasoning, for the most recent pizza, I used this:


Now, cover the pizza with your desired level of cheese, but not too much. Then sprinkle some of the italian seasoning over the top as the last ingredient. Just a light sprinkling of seasoning over the pizza is enough. This is what mine looked like before going into a 400 degree oven.

You can also see that it doesn't have to be perfectly rectangle either, or round. Just do the best you can to make the slices somewhat even. You can use the instructions on the dough can for timing the pizza or just cook at 400 degrees until it is as done as you like it.

Here is what ours looked like. Jason and I not only disagree on how great green olives are, but also on how done we like our pizza. He was pleased with this level of "doneness" but I normally take it out of the oven a little sooner for a pizza a bit less "done". As long as it isn't burnt, I guess anything works.

Hope you enjoy the recipe.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Update on Breaking the Chains of Debt

I have written before about doing a red paper chain that represents our family debt and how we are trying to break the chains of debt and become debt free. The paper chain may seem silly, but it works great to have a visual image to focus on. I will also admit that it feel really good to tear those links off as we pay down the debt.

The previous post was called "Breaking the chains of debt!" from 7/30/11 if you want to check it out. Here is what our chain looked like then:

I wanted to give you an update on how it's going, but to also give you information on other ideas for your financial futures.

Just a few minutes ago, I updated the chain from our recent mortgage payment and thought about doing the update.

It really does feel good tearing those suckers off. You should try it. Not only will it help you visualize your debt, but it will also give you something tangible to focus on.

Drum roll please, here is what the chain looks like today:

The smaller it gets, the more excited I get! Jason and I have been working very hard these past years to try and accomplish this goal. No, it isn't quick or without some effort, but Yes, Yes, Yes, it is achievable. We don't make six figure salaries (not even combined) and we have the same ups and downs as everyone else, but we keep trudging along, doing what we can, and are almost there. I honestly believe that anyone can do this is if you really want it.

Since we are getting close to our goal, we thought it would be a good to sit down with a financial advisor to help set up our next goal or at least develop a plan. We didn't want to get to our goal of being debt free and say "now what"?  We want to protect our hard work and investment, and be prepared for our future.

We plan on looking at our investments, our insurance, taxes, future care needs, etc. to keep our debt freedom in check and our needs met. We're not well off by any stretch of the imagination, but we still want our peace of mind that comes with being prepared. It's not just the wealthy or those close to retirement who can take advantage of financial and retirement counseling. It's also never too early or late to get some help either, whatever age you are.

I will definitely report back when the last link is torn from the chain and we're officially debt free, or you will probably be able to hear me yelling and screaming if you stick your head out of the window.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Recipe and trick to less mess

I love trying new recipes, especially ones that have a good bit of flavor and not a ton of ingredients. I have a recipe for you to try and even a way to prepare it with a little less of a mess in the kitchen.

The recipe is for Chicken Tacos, but would also be a great recipe to use with Tofu. The ingredients are:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast (great use of our frozen chicken from earlier posts) or  firm Tofu
1 packet of taco seasoning (I used the reduced sodium version)
3 tablespoons of lime juice
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
Flour tortillas
1 gallon-size baggie or freezer bag
Sour Cream, cheese, etc. (whatever you want to add to the taco)
Large cup (you'll see, this is part of the less mess trick)

Start by cutting the chicken or tofu into bite-sized pieces.

Now, take the large cup and baggie

and put the baggie in the cup so that the top of the baggie is out and over the sides of the cup.

This will be a mixing bag to add all the ingredients to. The top of the baggie stays clean and upright with the help of the cup.

Put the chicken (or tofu), taco seasoning, lime juice and vegetable oil into the bag.

Now pull the side of the baggie up to remove it from the cup. Tada, the top is clean and so is the counter and your hands. Also, seal the baggie closed so that you can mix all your ingredients together.

After you have removed and closed your baggie and mixed and mushed everything around, this is what you'll have. And it's ready to go into your pan. (No, wait, there's more. If you enjoy freezing meals for later use, you can put this in the freezer at this stage for a very quick meal at a later date. Simply push as much of the air out of the baggie as you can and seal the baggie. It's also useful to write what the meal is on the outside of the baggie to help you identify it later.) When you're ready for it, simply take out of the freezer and thaw in the refrigerator and proceed to the remaining steps.

I used a non-stick pan, but you can also use an indoor grill (like a George Foreman grill). Since the recipe has vegetable oil already in it, I don't add any more oil. You can spray a little non-stick spray if you are using a pan you think the meat will stick to.

Cook chicken on medium to medium-high heat until it is cooked all the way through. Now you're ready to start your tacos.

I normally spread sour cream on my tortillas to act as a glue, then put some chicken and cheese on it. Feel free to add anything and everything else you think would be good on too. For so few ingredients, these tacos pack a flavor punch and are simple to boot.

Fold tortilla over like a taco and enjoy.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Couponing & A Great Publix Trip from 2/3/12

For a while now, I've been off my couponing game. You know the routine, you get sick or super busy and things get pushed to the side. The next thing you know it's weeks down the road and you're behind. I have been trying to get my couponing game back and to also evaluate my strategy and maybe step my game up a little. It's still a work in progress, but a girl has to eat, so off to Publix I go.

Even with all this motivation, I still only have so much time to work on coupons, so you won't see the crazy numbers from me that are seen on the extreme couponing shows, but I do okay and that's enough for me.

My latest trip to Publix was on February 3, 2012 and I was prepared for a decent trip at least. Here are my photos from the trip.

I won't bore you with the list of what I got, but I think the pictures are good enough to see the items well enough.  I ended up paying $71.79 out of pocket and saving $96.03 plus I received a free $10.00 Publix gift card to use next time. Not too shabby, and I was happy with it. Of course, I want to save a little more, but I was still very happy with this trip. I may have even converted a few people to couponing.

The guy behind me in line kept moving closer to me and looking over the counter at my coupons. I thought he was getting angry at the speed of my checkout, so I apologize for it taking a few extra minutes. He didn't say much and started texting. When my final total came up on the screen with the amount I paid and the amount I saved, he leaned over and asked if he could take a picture of the screen! It seems even modest saving still inspire these days. I also had a couple of ladies ask me for couponing information which I am happy to send them.

One of the managers ended up bagging for me (even cheering for my savings total) and taking my groceries to the car. While we walked to the car, we talked about how crazy couponers are ruining it for the average, normal couponer who just wants to save their family money and maybe be able to donate items to charity.

So, if you decide to give couponing a whirl, please be respectful of your stores, their employees, their policies and other couponers. It works out better for everyone in the end if the coupon programs keep going, allowing us to continue to save money for our families and others.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Saving Money on Medication

I have to take a good bit of prescription medication, but luckily most of it can be filled in generic form or has a low co-pay for me. Well, I recently started a new medication that is neither cheap or in generic form. It is very expensive to produce and well, the company passes that expense on to us, the users. I had a month's supply of samples to make sure the drug was going to work before dealing with the expense and fight with the insurance company.

It worked! Which I was very happy about, but honestly was also worried that I had finally found something that worked but wouldn't be able to afford it. I had read horror stories online about the co-pays even with insurance. While I was digging around online for information, I came across a prescription support card for the medication. I had to have regular, consumer health insurance (which I did) and have my insurance company to approve me for it.

After seeing my doctor for the prescription, I called and activated my support card and waited for my doctor and my insurance company to fight it out over authorization. Go Doc, Go!

Surprisingly, I received a phone call from the insurance company with the approval and I was off to the pharmacy.

The retail price for this medication per MONTH is $2287.00. Can you believe that? What do they make this stuff out of unicorn tears? Well, my insurance company footed the bill for $2,242.00 leaving me with a co-pay of $45.00, which I would have been happy to pay. Then the prescription card kicked in and paid the co-pay leaving me with zero to pay for the first 6 months and only $10.00 to pay for the next 6 months.

The pharmacy tech told me that there were all kinds of prescription cards if people would ask for them or check online. Why pay more than you have to on anything, even prescriptions?

So, the next time you're at the doctor's office, ask for samples to try the medication out first, then check for prescription cards to help save even more money.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Wheeling and Dealing at CVS again

I'm on a good bit of strong medicine and so I need to take an acid reducer each day to protect my stomach from these medicines. I normally get either Prilosec, Prevacid or the store brand depending on which one I can cheaper or get a better deal on.

Well, I noticed last week that CVS had their store brand acid reducer as part of a deal that if you spend $30 on certain items, you would get a $10 CVS gift card free. I checked the coupons that I had for the name brand medicines and price checked at Publix (I had double coupons there) but the CVS deal was still the better deal hands down. Now, I noticed when I was reading the ad that there was a limit of 5 free gift cards per person per week. I thought to myself, who would spend $150.00 on something in one week? Well apparently this chick, that's who. The more I thought about it and did the math, I would be saving a lot of money with this deal and have enough acid reducers to last me about 9 months. I mean, I have to take them everyday so it's not like they won't get used.

So, in the end I came home with 6 of the 42 count boxes and 2 of the 14 count boxes which is enough to last me a little over 9 months and actually had me spending only about half per month what I had been spending for it with coupons.

AND the best part, I also came home with $50 in CVS gift cards that I can use on anything. I plan on using them to earn Extra Care Bucks and see how long I can go without spending any of my money at CVS.