All posts by moneyconsciousmomma

Hi! My name is Heather and I am a mother of a 15 month old girl, Natalie. I quit my job to be a stay at home mom and we live solely off my husband's income. I knew it was not going to be easy to live off one income but I learned different tricks to make it possible. I would like to share my secrets to help all the mommas out there know that they can do it too!

Credit Unions = Saving $$$

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Bank or Credit Union?

If you are using a bank, switching to a credit union could be a better alternative for your family. 

Here’s why…

On the outside banks and credit unions look very similar.  But, how they are created and function could not be more different.  

Banks, in general, are driven by profit.  The management “decision makers” of bank’s are pressured by their investors to make decisions based on the bottom line.  This causes the bank to not always have the best interest of the  customers at heart.  Customers sometimes experience this through fees, high loan rates and low dividends.    

Credit Unions are not-for-profit.  They are less concerned about the bottom line and are more concerned about how much of an asset they are to the community and its members.  Internally, they have no investors or stockholders, like banks.  When you join a credit union, you are actually becoming a member and buying a share into the company.  Each member has one vote in the election of the board of directors.   The board of directors are all volunteers, who unbiasedly approve credit union decisions on behalf of its members.  This enables credit unions to offer a banking service where any extra profits go back to the community through community service and sponsorships.  Members also benefit through free checking, cheaper overdraft fees, low minimum balance requirements, better loan and dividend rates.  

I know it could be a hassle to go through the process of switching banks.  But, you could be saving big if you are paying a monthly fee just to have a checking account or occasionally using your banks overdraft system.  Those same services are almost always cheaper or free, in some cases, at credit unions.  

I am not saying that credit union’s are for everyone but it might be something to consider.  I know our family has benefited financially by using a credit union. Who knows, yours could too.

Small ₵hanges that make big difference$

 

Baby Food For Thought

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I knew I was going to make my daughter’s baby food from the very beginning.  Surprisingly, the money that I would be saving my family was not the reason why.  I decided I had to know exactly what I was feeding my daughter and how it was being prepared.  So, making it myself was the only option.  It was not until after, that I started realizing how much money I was saving.  

To put it in perspective, a typical non-organic jar of baby food will cost you around $0.50.  But, when I buy a fresh bag of baby carrots, I usually spend $1.  From my experience, I would say a bag of carrots makes, what is equivalent to, around 15 jars of baby food.  That means that the homemade baby food would cost you $0.07 a jar.  For arguments sake, if you fed your child 3 jars of baby food a day, from the age of 6 months to 1 year (182 days), that would be about 547 jars.  At $0.50 a jar, that would cost you about $274.  Or,  you could make it yourself and would be spending about $38.  That’s a huge difference.             

How:

In order to make your own baby food, you will have to make sure you have the right tools for the job.  First, you will need an appliance to blend the food.  Either a food processor, hand crank food mill, blender, or a good old-fashion fork will do the job.  I personally chose to purchase a food processor.  It was a little of an investment, but I was already been thinking about getting one and this solidified my need for it.  Then, you will need a few ice cube trays and some zip lock freezer bags.  I found these at my local dollar store.

Equipment, check!  Ok, lets get cooking.  Based on the type of food, the cooking process will be different.  Most vegetables and fruit can be softened by steaming or boiling on the stove top.  Make sure to always wash all produce thoroughly.  A Vinegar and water bath is cheap and does the trick   Squashes can be a little tricky, but all you need to do is poke holes in the skin and bake until soft.  Some foods do not require any cooking at all, like avocados and bananas.  Just simply mash and serve right away.    

After your baby food cools, blend until you get a smooth texture.  I always found it convenient to serve whatever I was making right away as my daughter’s next meal.  Then, I would store a small portion in the fridge for the next day or two.   Everything left was frozen.  The freezing process is very simple.  Spoon the food into the ice cube tray and pop in the freezer.  Once the food is frozen transfer into ziplock freezer bags.  Make sure you label the bag with the date and what food it contains.  When its time to use, re-heat cubes in the microwave and serve.  

*Once your child is able to chew, you don’t have to stop making specific meals for them.  I just started making, what I called, frozen toddler meals.  Her favorite is my homemade mac and cheese with peas or ham.  They are so convenient to have in the freezer.  I always know that my daughter has a homemade healthy alternative.  Every few weeks, I cook a few meals in bulk and freeze in meal size portions.  A lot of my meal options include three different food groups to ensure a balanced diet.  They also come in handy when traveling to visit friends or family.  I can easily grab one out of the freezer and have a homemade nutritious meal anywhere.  This process is not only saving my family lots of money, but it is also saving my daughter from eating lots of preservatives.

Saving Hundreds In Just 4 Phone Calls

PHONE CALL #1- Cable Provider

Just by picking up the phone and calling your cable provider could save hundreds a year.  If you have never called before, you will first need to check your current package and learn what packages your company offers.  Most companies do not advertise their cheapest package, so you will need to ask a live person. Most people are paying for channels that you are not watching.  Let the customer service representative know that you are looking to save money and see what they can offer you.  Believe me, these companies want to retain your business and will do there best to make you happy.  

If you already have the cheapest package that best fits your family don’t stop calling.  Call every few months just to check in and see if they have any new deals.   I always get promotional advertising in the mail from other companies trying to win my business.  Every time I get these, it reminds me to pick up the phone and call my current provider. I start the conversation by telling them about the advertisement I received from their competitor.  I usually say how happy I am and that I really would prefer to stay with my current company.  I ask them if there is anything they can do to lower my rate in order to keep my business.  To keep me from switching service providers, they almost always send me to a “Retention Specialist”.  This employee can offer deals that the normal customer service representative can’t.  The main goal is to get transferred to one of these representatives without flat out asking.  If you are lucky, the “Retention Specialist”  will offer $5-$10 off a month for six months up to an entire year without doing or changing anything.   Sometimes they throw in a few movie channels too.  Your thirty minute phone call could save you $120 per year.  If you are not able to get the employee to offer you any savings, just ask to talk to a manager and simply express your concern.  I have definitely found that being polite, and persistent, is the best way.  It really works.  My family has the “basic” channel package, two receivers, DVR, HD channels and Cinemax.  Our last bill was $17.64.   

PHONE CALL #2- Internet Provider

Most people bundle their cable and internet together, but I have found that having them separate is more economical.  It could be a option for you if you have never though of splitting the two services.  Wether you have them bundled, or separate, there are a few ways to save on your internet.  The easiest and quickest way is to just lower your speed.  Most companies have different speed options, and will offer you the higher speed, and higher cost, without you even knowing.  If your bill goes up, you could just wright it off as a rate increase, but really they are “upgrading” your package.  You also might not even realize you are paying for the highest speed they offer and not be using the internet often.   Ask the company to lower your speed and see if you can even tell a difference.  You have nothing to lose. If you notice, just increase the speed back.  It really is that simple.  I have also heard of some people splitting their internet service and bill with a neighbor.  This option is definitely not for everyone, but it may be something to consider.

PHONE CALL #3- Insurance Agent  

Call your insurance agent to review your coverage.  Make sure what you are paying for best fits your family and wallet.  You might be able to save by increasing your deductible.  Take the money you save and set it aside.  If you have an accident use the money set aside and if you are lucky then you get to keep it.  It also can’t hurt to shop around once every couple years to see if you are getting the best deal from your current company.  I called USAA six months ago and  they were not able to save me any money.  The time was well spent because now I know I am getting a good deal.  

PHONE CALL #4- Cell Phone Company 

Talk to your cell phone provider and review your usage and current plan.  There might be a plan that would better suit your needs, based on your last few months of use.  Your company can easy check your data usage, minutes, and text messages sent.  Just by asking, you could save you big.  We happen to use Verizon, and I sometimes prefer to talk to someone face to face.   So every once in awhile, I will go to the local Verizon store and have them review my plan.  Also, make sure you are getting the best deal possible when you upgrade.  The local stores are always in competition with the online service, and each other.  Sometimes one store will offer a significant savings over another, for the same phone.  Each store has quotes to meet, so use this to your advantage.  Ask the representative, “what is the benefit of upgrading here rather than online or over the phone”.   In the past, they have offered me free accessories just by upgrading in person.  It can’t hurt to ask.

EASY FIVE STEP PROCESS FOR CREATING A FAMILY BUDGET

A year ago I told my husband I wanted to quit my job and stay home to raise my daughter.  His response was, “lets do a budget”.  And that’s what we did.  Our budget helped us realize what our current financial situation looked like.  It helped us make a educated decision. We knew this was a big decision and it would significantly impact our finances.    Now, you don’t need to be in our situation to have a budget.  You just have to care about your finances.  You work so hard everyday to earn a paycheck.  Why not know were it is going?  Follow these five easy steps to save lots of $$$.

1.  HOW MUCH DO YOU MAKE?– Wether you are a one or two income household, calculate how much your total income is, AFTER taxes.  If your paycheck fluctuates a little, then use the least amount that you would ever get.

2. BACKTRACK–  Gather all your receipts, bank statements, credit card statements, and bill invoices for the last three months.  Make sure to keep each month separate.  If you do not have all of your past records, just start gathering now and work on the budget three months from now.

*** For the time consuming part.  But time is money and I promise you that the time you spend will save you money.

3.  WHERE IS YOUR MONEY GOING– Make an Excel spreadsheet or use one that you find online.  You can even be old fashion and just write on a piece of paper.  Fill it with every expense you could ever imagine having.  The more detailed you are the better it will help you. Then go through all three months and figure out how much you spent on each category.  The easy ones will be your fixed expenses, but include all your changing expenses as well.   You will probably be surprised with at least one category, if not all.

4. EVALUATE– How much did you spend on what?  What were your spending choices and habits?   Did you spend more than what you made? If the answer if yes, there is a big problem.  You are living outside your means, and are probably increasing your overall debt every month.  You need to figure out what you can live without, or cut down on.  Figuring out what is a necessity, and what is a luxury. (Future blog: How to save on common household expense)

5. GOALS– Create a goal budget and discuss your plan of action with your entire family.   You want your entire family on board.  Make sure you are budgeting an “emergency savings” contribution each paycheck.  I can’t stress how important it is for every family to have a savings account with money in it.  By having a savings account, you are able to borrow from yourself whenever you need to.  Plus, it will be interest free, and you will never be denied.

Good Luck!

Let me know how it goes!

Uncle Sam Is No Uncle Of Mine

Tax time is upon us and unfortunately we have to watch those dancing tax people for another three months.  Which brings me to my next topic, taxes and how it can save you money. 

Not everyone, but most people work for a company that takes taxes out of your paycheck.  You are responsible for telling your company how much to take out and at the end of the year you find out if you have over or under paid.  If you have paid too much you get a refund and if you underpaid you obviously owe.  Some purposefully overpay and consider this there yearly bonus.  But, that is far from the truth.  

Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be a tax professional.  

A lot of people are throwing money away when it comes to the way they set up there W-4.  The W-4 is the form that determines how much Federal, State, Local, Social Security, and Medicare tax is withheld from your paycheck.

The government is happily holding this money for you in an account were they themselves are making interest on YOUR money.  The key to taxes are that you want to pay enough with every pay check where you do not owe at the end of the year and you get as little of a refund as possible.  This way you know that you were in control of your money throughout the year.  

You might be asking well how would this save me money.  Think about any debt you have where you are paying a high interest rate based on your yearly balance.  The money that you are letting the government hold could be used towards paying down these debts.  Which, would save you money on the interest.  

Say you are just making enough every paycheck to make ends meet.  This could mean the difference between being able to pay your bills or having to use credit cards to pick up the slack.  You could say, “well, I will just use my tax return to pay that credit card debt off at the end of the year”.  But, it would be too late. You could have already paid hundreds of dollars in credit card interest.  

For the people that have a hard time saving and use the government as a savings account.  You have the opportunity to save it yourself and keep the interest you earn on YOUR money.  You have worked so hard for it, why not let it work for you.  I know interest rates are not great right now but I promise it adds up.  Think if you earned $10 a year in interest.  In about fifty years when you hopefully go to retire you will have earned $500 just by making this small change.  

If you do not know how many allowances you should claim on your W-4 for 2014 you could always ask the tax professional while they are doing your 2013 taxes.  If you do your own taxes then see how much your refund is this year and make small adjustments every year until you get it right.  For example, if you get a large return this year, you could add one allowance each year until your return is under $500. 

Small ¢hanges that make big difference$. 

Saving $$$ On Our Four Legged Family

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For anyone that has a family pet, you know that the yearly vet visit can get expensive.  The last time I took my two dogs to a typical veterinarian for a wellness visit, I walked out with a $300 bill.  Ouch!  After some research I found a cheaper alternative that does not sacrifice the health of our family pets.  It has really worked for our family and saves us over $200 a year.

Two words… Planned Pethood.  I know, I laughed at the name also.  But after my first visit, I wasn’t laughing anymore; I was smiling.  My bill was $90.  Planned Pethood is a non-profit, low cost spay and neuter clinic.  There goal is to help eliminate the destruction of healthy dogs and cats by reducing the pet overpopulation.  A goal that I can stand by.  They also offer a wellness clinic with no visit fee.  This could run you around $50 at a regular vet.  Planned Pethood charges $15 per vaccination.  That’s it!  I consider the rabies vaccination the most important and it lasts for three years.  Two other vaccinations that are also important for your animals, if they socialize, are DIstemper/Parvo and Bordetella.  That would mean, per pet, you would pay $45 for the first year and $30 for any year that you don’t need the rabies vaccination.  That is a price anyone could live with.

You might not have a Planned Pethood in your town but search for the same kind of organization.  Any animal society that is a non-profit will offer these types of services.  For example Angles of Assisi in Roanoke, Virginia offers the same services for $10 a vaccination, but charges a $15 visit fee.  So, it ends up being comparable in price.  Not only are you saving money, but you are supporting a GREAT cause.  Just to mention these types of organizations main priority is to offer low cost spay and neuter services.  Both of our dogs were already spayed/neutered prior to adoption so this was something that we did not have to worry about.  But something to keep in mind.  It just takes a little investigation to save a lot of money.

I do want to mention that if any of my dogs are sick or something is severely wrong, I never hesitate to take them to a normal veterinarian hospital.  With the money I save with the normal wellness visits, I never get upset spending a little more in case of an emergency.  They are a part of the family after all.

Websites:

Planned Pethood  http://plannedpethoodrockymount.com/planned_pethood_clinic.html

Angels of Assisi  http://www.angelsofassisi.org/services/well-pet/