Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Restaurant and Takeout: Cutting Costs

Restaurant and takeout is an expense that we are trying to severely cut. We are spending way too much eating out this year. Especially considering that we have already paid for gift cards that we could be using. YIKES!

So for the rest of the year, we will only be using those gift cards and some gift certificates that we already have. The only exception would be if we decided to go on a small vacation or last week when I had West for the week. We did some eating out with him.

We have many dollars in gift cards to Applebee's, Panera Bread, and Burger King. We also have $20.00 in credit at Applebee's.  We have gift certificates to Russell's which we love and is where we went for our Fiftieth Anniversary dinner. We have Groupons for Carson's Restaurant and Tom's Diner.

Besides using those things, I will be on the hunt for coupons for Burger King and Applebee's. We also get a Senior discount at both places.  I can pick up take out at all three places which really is what we prefer.

We have been using the Panera Bread giftcards to get the bagel deal on Tuesdays for $ 6.99 so that has been covering our bagel purchases all year. But we still have hundreds in those gift cards.

Plus we have been making restaurant type meals for dinners on Friday nights to avoid going out to eat so much. Those meals are much cheaper and usually taste better.

In 2018 we will have a set budget amount for restaurant and takeout meals that we will stick to. We tried this year but failed.  

Monday, August 14, 2017

Our Food Budget For September Through December

As much as we have tried eating our freezer down, it just seems to never deplete. I see a good deal on strawberries or blueberries and in they go. Chicken goes on sale and I buy a package or two. I saw a great deal on hot dogs($ .59 a lb.) so I purchased 10 packages which is a year's supply for us. Right now, we have a full freezer in the basement which I could not even squeeze a popsicle in. Even our kitchen freezer drawers are packed full.

I didn't have my son order a quarter of a cow for me because there is just no room. Most of the food has been repackaged with my food saver so I am not worried about spoilage. But I have come to the conclusion that it is wasted money if we don't start really making a concerted effort to eat it up. 

So for the next four months that will be our challenge. The only purchases that will be put in the freezers will be extra turkeys, fresh cranberries, and butter at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Nothing else! I have one turkey(22 lbs.) now that will be coming out next month and get roasted. We are craving turkey but it is just too hot to cook it yet.

Most of the extra stockpiling that I do near the holidays will be shelf stable things. I will concentrate the next couple of months on stocking my shelves for the winter. Because you all know how much I hate driving in the snow. UGH! 

Tops actually has solid white tuna on sale this coming week for $ .86 a can when you buy 4 cans. Hubby loves tuna for lunch so I will be buying a case or two depending on the expiration dates. I haven't seen a price that cheap in a very long time.

So effective September 1st, our grocery budget will be $ 120. a month. I will not spend one penny above that amount with the exception of the money budgeted for the holidays that I told you about last week. That $ 120. will easily cover milk, produce, and some stockpile items that are shelf stable. I am making all of my bread products so I won't be buying those things. 

When that $ 120. is gone, I will just stop buying for the month. I have dry milk and canned and frozen veggies and fruits that can be used if need be. Meat is our most expensive purchase for the two of us. So with that not being purchased $ 120. for the month should be very doable for the two of us.

I will hold myself accountable to you by showing you my shopping trips and how much I spend. The money that we are saving over our normal budget will help me to increase my spending money for Disney in January.  

Saturday, August 12, 2017

How many of you have ordered from this company? Have you had your order delivered as promised?

I ordered from them for the first time in July because they had a few things that I needed and they had given me a $5.00 credit plus free shipping. I ordered 10 items so they charged me $5.00.

After waiting about 14 days, I noticed that the tracking ended with Fed Ex passing the package off to USPS. I waited 3 days to have it delivered to me. It did not show and seemed to be in limbo in the tracking system. 

I called the post office who informed me they did not have the package. So I called Hollar and spoke to a service rep in the Philippines. He was extremely rude and informed me I had to wait longer. When I told him that the post office did not have the package, he promised to contact the post office to confirm and call me within and hour. Well, that never happened after I gave him two days to call me back. 

I was just about to give up and take the $ 5.00 loss because it was not worth my time to continue. But I decided that I would send them an e-mail and inform them that I wanted a credit of $ 5.00 returned to my charge card. 

This morning I had an e-mail from a rep who informed me that they had credited me the $5.00 but it would take 3-5 days to show up on my card.  

They also informed me that they had credited me back the $5.00 credit that they initially gave me so I could use it on my next order. Next order? There will not be one!

I will follow up and make sure that I get the $ 5.00 credit on my charge which I may not see. But never will I deal with these people again.

After doing some research which I should have done before I ordered, I am seeing that there are all kinds of problems that people are having with them. So buyer beware! 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Our Automobile Insurance

Since we moved here in December, a number of years ago, and had to register our car in New York state, our annual car insurance is due in December every year. It is an awful month to have to pay this with all the other expenses for Christmas. But it is what it is. Since we rented an apartment while our house was being built, our homeowners isn't due until March fortunately. 

But New York state is expensive for insurance. It is a little under $1000. for our one SUV which is all we have. However we don't carry the minimum of what is required in this state. We carry $250,000. in liability and medical insurance to cover everything in an accident which fortunately we have never had. We also carry collision insurance on our SUV. Even though we pay for our cars in cash and aren't required to carry collision, we do to protect our investment.

Hubby does take a 6 hour course, every three years, mandated by our state to get a reduction in the liability premium. Our insurance would be about $1200. without it.

Last fall, Hubby spent a lot of time checking insurance premiums at different companies to see if we wanted to switch to a different company. What he found was that the amount we insure for was about the same for every company. So we stayed with our insurance carrier who also gives us a number of discounts for various items like having our homeowners policy with them, etc. So we will stick with this company this year and check premiums again next year. Of course, that will happen if our bill hasn't sky rocketed when we get it.

We also always pay the annual premium in full for our car and homeowners insurances. It is more costly to pay semi - annually, quarterly or with monthly payments. Not paying annually is just like paying interest which is something we will never do. Some companies don't charge for payments but most do. So be sure to check with your company and make sure that you are not paying more doing it that way.

We divide our estimated premium by 12 payments and we put that money aside in our account until the bill is due. We do the same for our homeowner's insurance. So when the bills come due, the money is there to pay them.     

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Holiday Expenses

Halloween, Thanksgiving,and Christmas are looming in the near future.  Expenses for candy, food and gifts add up to a significant amount of money especially if you go all out for these holidays.

When our children were growing up, I made their Halloween costumes. I could sew a much nicer one for less money than buying a run of the mill one in the store. My sons were two years apart in age almost to the day. So my younger son always had his older brother's hand me downs. When the boys got old enough to use their imaginations to make costumes they did. Then when they were in junior high, I decided they were too old to go trick or treating. Most of the older kids who were out in the neighborhood were usually causing trouble and I did not want them to be a part of that.

Every year I buy candy through out the year with long expiration dates. I stock on after holiday candy and use it for Halloween if it doesn't have Christmas or Easter Bunny wrappers. All year long I will get deals for pennies or free for regular size bars and put those away for Halloween. I have enough candy already to do Halloween this year so it's already paid for. 

When I decorate, I keep it simple. Just some things in the windows and a pumpkin or two outside if they are reasonably priced. My window decorations I have used for almost 50 years. Some years pumpkins have been cheap and some they have been expensive. I forgo the expensive ones. Even the cheap ones I cook up after the holiday and freeze for pies.

Next is Thanksgiving. I keep the decorating simple for this one also. I usually have a fall centerpiece on the table( I have reused this for many years) with pumpkins, apples and scarecrows that I can use for Thanksgiving. Some years one of my boys and his wife send a  Thanksgiving flower centerpiece. I also put out place markers with turkeys on them with everyone's name on them at the table. I have used these over and over again for many years too. 

Turkeys usually go on sale for Thanksgiving. When I can get them for under $ 1.00 per lb., I will stock up my freezer with a few extras. I still have one left that I purchased last Thanksgiving and I will be roasting it as soon as the autumn weather is here. Hopefully I can roast it on a day that no A/C or heat is on in our home. I usually stock on other foods that are rock bottom at Thanksgiving too. But I will leave that for another post in November. 

I do the same simple decorating for Christmas. I don't decorate every room. I just do our great room with a small decorated tree and the dining room with a table centerpiece. I do put our manger on the dining room hutch. Hubby puts our candle lights and wreaths in our windows. He also decorates the outside of our porch and some trees and bushes with lights. Most all of our decorations we have had for years with the exception of LED lights for outdoors that we purchased a few years ago. 

Money for decorations would only be for the pumpkins. We have decided that we will set aside $ 100. for pumpkins, wine, beer and food for our Thanksgiving dinner. We will not be hosting anyone for Christmas this year. We keep our Thanksgiving dinner very simple making turkey, homemade gravy, mashed potatoes, one or two vegetables,  homemade stuffing, cranberry sauce,  pies, beer and wine. Sometimes my daughter in laws bring a pie. Sometimes not. So $100. should be plenty. If we don't spend it all, I will stock on other foods at rock bottom prices. 

But we are also budgeting an additional $150. to stock on other things like extra turkeys, hams, butter, cranberries, and baking supplies. 

Christmas expenses for us will mainly be gifts. We have decided to spend $100. on each of our grandchildren for their gifts. We will spend $ 50. each for our sons and daughter in laws. Hubby and I do not exchange gifts because we buy what we need all year long. We also do not exchange gifts by mutual request with any of our extended family. We do give gifts to our mailman, newspaper carrier(we tip her generously every week also) , and our UPS regular delivery man. But I limit the amount spent on those to $5.00 - $10.00 each. I also give a $25. gift card to my hairdresser that I go to all year who I tip generously(20%) every month. So this year we are budgeting $ 455. for gifts at Christmas.

We could go overboard on the grandchildren but they are learning about money and how to spend it wisely so I don't want to ruin what they have learned. Quick story: My granddaughter was here for two weeks and I offered to buy her a game for her Nintendo that she wanted. But she turned me down. She said, "I have saved the money for it Grandma doing extra chores. I also have a lot of gift cards that I got for my birthday.  So I will buy it myself." I loved that she is already at her young age learning that you work for money. 

Cards and greeting cards at Christmas are also an expense. However, we have a huge roll of brown paper that we can decorate with stamps made from sponges. I also have paper left from other years. I bought 10 boxes of Christmas cards on clearance for pennies a couple of years ago. They will last us for years. Stamps I buy in bulk at a discount at B.J.'s. I send out about 20 cards each year so the cost is only about $10.00 for stamps.  I buy stamps during the year in bulk so we should have plenty to mail the cards. 

This plan should work for us and prevent us from just spending frivolously. Planning in advance saves on impulse purchases. We will always know how much money we have left as we buy things. When the budget is gone, we stop shopping.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The School Taxes

The dreaded school tax bill will be here about September 1st. Last year's was $4,400.+. However we were reassessed again(it is a yearly assessment) and they raised our assessment by $ 7500. So we are planning on a $ 4500.+ school tax bill this year. This bill and the property taxes due in January runs about the same amount. We get a reduction from New York State on the school taxes which they call the Star Rebate. They also have a rebate for income qualified people over 65. However we have too much income to qualify for the Senior Rebate. The $4,400.+ bill that I stated above is the amount we actually pay out of pocket after the Star Rebate. The taxes are actually a lot higher. 

Our property taxes in January run around the same amount or a little less with no deduction because we do not qualify for any. Again we have too much income to qualify. So you can see that we are paying a hefty amount in school and property taxes a year- about $9,000. Yes, New York state is a high taxed state on everything. But it is our choice to live here so I am not whining. 

That said we set money aside all year long to pay our taxes. We invest that money(which is part of our savings every month). However, every year I try to take both the school and property taxes out of current income when they are almost due. That is because I hate the idea of selling investments needlessly. So far we have been able to do that. So for three months before these payments are due, I look to see what we can save from our monthly income each month so that we have enough to pay them. That is one of the reasons I didn't invest any money in July. So we now have the money to pay the tax bill in September. If we were strapped for that money, we could easily take it out of our investments because we save for it all year. Right now we are able to do it this way, so this is what we do because it is just easier. We saved for years and set up and worked for our retirement so that we have many streams of passive income to live off of during retirement. We have also lived frugally for years and cut where we can to make sure that we never run out of money. We have been good stewards of our money. Hubby is just starting his 18th year of retirement and it has been 22 years since I worked. And believe me when I say that we have enjoyed every minute of it.
I know we all hate taxes but they are a fact of life when you own property. A lot of seniors hate paying taxes since they have no children in school. That has been the case for us since 1986 when we put our boys in private schools. So this will be our 31st year paying school taxes with no child in the public schools. Would I like to not pay school taxes? Yes, if I had a choice but I don't. So my taxes subsidize the school system where my neighbors' children go to school so that their parents don't have to pay more in school taxes. But you know what? Seniors have been doing this for years even when I went to school. So we are just doing our part for the system. It's how it works.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Reviewing Our Budget

Now that this is the last full month of summer and fall will be here next month, it is time for us to review our budget for the rest of the year. This is something we always do in July or August, especially when our kids were at home. There seem to be so many expenses when you have children. So coming into the last few months of the year, it is good to be cognizant of them.

For those of you with kids, you have school expenses not only for supplies but clothing and shoes. We always looked at whether the boys clothes were appropriate for school. Did they fit? Were they hole free? Were their sneakers worn out? Would they last until they changed sizes? Did they need a new coat or jacket? They were just a few questions among many that we debated. If they needed nothing, we were lucky but they always seemed to need something. At the very least, we would buy them each one new outfit for school.  

That outfit would be saved until school pictures were taken. That was always another expense- school pictures. They weren't cheap back then but they seem to be ridiculously expensive now. If I had kids now, I would be tempted to take our own pictures each year. 

Fall also brings Halloween and we know that Thanksgiving and Christmas aren't far behind. All of these holidays cost money. Costumes, candy, food and gifts all seem to be crammed into a 2 month period. It's great if you can make gifts all year long or buy them on sale and set them aside. We all have good intentions but those intentions sometimes go by the wayside.

Many of you may pay your school taxes in September in a lump sum instead of having the bank take them out all year. We have always paid our own taxes without having escrow for them at a bank. Even when we had mortgages. We always hated the idea of the bank making that interest. When we had our first mortgage the banks did not pay you interest on that money. Even when they finally started paying a little interest to people on their escrow money, we knew we could make more interest than they were paying.

Even though we no longer have kids that we are paying for, we have hefty school taxes every September. We still have all of the holiday expenses and gifts not only for our grown kids but daughter-in laws and grandchildren. We also have annual car insurance due in December. This is our year to host  some family for Thanksgiving. 

I also take a look at my stockpile for the winter and see what I am lacking. Then I try to stock up at the Thanksgiving and Christmas sales especially for the food products that are at rock bottom.

Do you see the common theme here? They all take money, extra money besides the basics this time of year. Some people are good at budgeting for these items all year long. Others not so much. So if you are the latter, you have to work these things into your budget over a couple of months without borrowing money from credit cards to do it. Cash is good. Credit not so good.

Who wants to pay for these expenses with credit and then pay interest on them? I always marvel at people who spend lots of time getting a great deal and then put them on credit cards that they can't pay off when the bill comes. So they pay interest month after month oblivious to the fact that they didn't really save any money getting that great deal. 

So avoid that and budget for them now if you haven't already. Get a grip on what those expenses will be. If you can't pay cash, then don't buy things. It's as simple as that. Don't buy what you can't afford.

We had a Christmas one year when we first got married when we couldn't afford gifts for our extended families. Hubby had been hit by a car walking from the parking lot into work. I was not working. We went without income for a number of months because Hubby had just changed jobs and didn't have his benefits built up, so no pay. We just told our families that we could not afford Christmas gifts so we would not be exchanging. We wrestled with doing that but our budget came first and we had other expenses like our mortgage payment and food to pay for. We hoped that they would all understand which they did. 

So take a look at all these things that you need to pay for the rest of this year and see what fits and what doesn't. Cut where you have to and don't feel guilty about it. Do what is right for your immediate family. Don't charge these expenses when you know that you can't pay them off before you have to pay interest. Take the stress away.

We will be reviewing all of the items in our budget over the next couple of weeks. We will be making cuts in many categories for the rest of the year. We are hoping to carry those cuts over into the New Year. I will be blogging about all of those cuts and how we will pay for the expenses coming up in a number of posts. So stay tuned.