Sunday, September 30, 2012

Candle Lanterns: A Cheap and Beautiful Outdoor Lighting Option

Recently, I was visiting our neighbor Joel and was really impressed with his back yard. We live in a townhouse community and he had fenced in his backyard. He lined the fence with tealight lanterns for outdoor lighting. I adore this look! Especially for get together and parties. Absolutely gorgeous and so frugal!

Ikea sells the Rotera lantern for tealights for $3.99 per piece. They are suitable for outdoor use and can be purchased here. They also sell Glimma tealights in packs of 100 for $3.99, which can be found here. If you have extra money or time to shop around, they come in many different styles that evoke memories of the eastern shore or Morocco depending on your tastes.

ROTERA Lantern for tealight IKEA Suitable for both indoor and outdoor use.
                                         Ikea's Garden Tealight lantern

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Turning Free Library CD's into Free MP3's

Unless this is your first time here, you've already figured out that I'm a HUGE fan of the library. Did you know that you can rent music CD's from the library as well as books? Ours has a great collection. Recently, I've rented Glee soundtracks, The Who's greatest hits, Mylie Cyrus (no judging!), and Nashville's baby lullaby's.

When I load the CD into my home computer, it automatically saves the tracks into my itunes account (you can also copy and paste into your home computer- but most computers have a media player and it will copy it automatically). When I hook my iPhone up to the computer, it automatically adds the tracks to my phone. Now I can listen to them as I go.

This saves us a ton of money on albums and mp3's. Technically, although it's unenforceable, it's a copyright violation. I certainly agree with that since I would never want to take someone elses work without paying them for it. Ethically, I handle this by only listening to the music for the month or so that I have the CD, then I delete the tracks when I return them to the Library. Since I always have new music coming, it's not really a big deal and the few songs that I absolutely fall in love with (this means you Joe Purdy) and can't live without? I buy on itunes. That way, it's a win-win. I listen to loads of free new music, the artists benefit because I purchase their songs that I never would have bought if I hadn't rented their CD's.

Since I'm convinced I'm the only person renting Cd's from my library, you'll have no problem finding what you want (Unless you live in Prince William County and want to rent Joe Purdy CD's).

Friday, September 28, 2012

Spending Freeze: A great way to kick off a new budget and save a ton of money quickly!

I'm so happy to be back! Baby boy (who we affectionately call squishy face, or squish for short) is almost 5 weeks. While life is far, far from normal, I can now see clearly that I will one day have a normal life again. No idea when, but Squish is pretty adorable and I can wait... I have time.

A long, long time ago (okay, a few months ago), I read a blog about a spending freeze for a year. Knowing that we would both fail if we tried a spending freeze for a year, I shortened it to a month. Prior to our spending freeze, I couldn't get Jon into packing his lunch (or to be more exact, bringing and eating the lunch I packed for him). He had a "lunch budget", but he would consistently go over ( not his fault- he has a medical addiction to Red Robin burgers) and create havoc on our budget.

I approached him with the idea of the spending freeze and explained it as a challenge. I did my homework before I even mentioned the idea. I used my USAA bank account to chronicle every bit of unplanned spending for two weeks. I included lunches into the unplanned spending. The total unplanned spending for that two week period was just over 509 dollars. Ouch. When I explained that the 509 dollars went to Starbucks (his), Chipotle (ours), Amazon (his), and Michael's Crafts (mine- but that really shouldn't count- it was an epic scrapbooking sale) he could see what I saw, that if we were handed 509.00 cash we would have chosen to spend it differently. It was our lack of fore thought and our inability to understand that the $7.00 we spent in coffee is $7.00 that isn't available for the things we really value (like scrapbooking! - sorry, that wasn't the point).

We set the spending freeze for a month and made the rule that there be NO unplanned spending. I had a list of bills that needed to be paid, and we had our 120/week grocery budget and nothing else could be bought. No matter how badly we wanted something, we had to wait until after the month was up before we bought it.

The first two weeks were amazing. We had only one unplanned purchase, Jon's haircut (which we should have added into the planned purchases- but we didn't think of it). The next two weeks proved bearable but a little more difficult. We ended up having several small unplanned purchases, adding up to about fifty dollars. It's funny looking back how badly we felt about that fifty dollars when we never batted an eyelash for the five hundred dollars in the two weeks previous to the challenge.

The best part of the challenge was that it broke us of bad habits without us even realizing it. Jon had always resisted taking his lunch because he worked closely with two other people and if they went out for lunch it was awkward for him not to eat. Because he had something to blame it on, he got used to taking his lunch and working around that. He saved money, calories and effective time at work. I learned that I don't "need" things as badly as I thought I did. There were 3 or 4 purchases that I thought were "must haves" and considered making exceptions for several times. I sucked it up in honor of the challenge and I'm glad I did. It turns out that after the month was up I didn't even buy them. Actually, I can't even remember most of them.

After the challenge was done, we went back to spending money, but it was a lot easier to turn down the things that weren't important to us (like going out to lunch)... Its been several months and we still haven't gone back to eating lunches at work.

In the end, having the spending freeze really helped us kick start our budgeting goals and put us on the right track. I'm planning another spending freeze for November 1st through November 15th to keep us on track. We're going to put any money saved into our Roth IRA (I know, boring right? Jon wouldn't let me use it to buy shoes though.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Free Haircuts for School age Children starting November 2012 at JC Penney

Recently, I received the following email from JC Penney's CEO. As I'm sure everyone knows, JC Penney took a huge hit when they introduced their new pricing earlier this year. It didn't go well, and the company has struggled since. I actually liked the no fuss pricing and purchased a set of genuine pearl earrings for an extremely fair price.

Since that purchase, I receive updates from Ron every so often asking for feedback on how the company is doing or letting me know about changes he's making. I have no idea why, but while I delete the gadzillions of junk email that comes to my box, I read every single letter from Ron. I like the mans style and appreciate what he's doing. Kind of a back to the basics for JC Penney.

Starting in November of 2012, school age children can get free haircuts at JC Penney on Sundays. More details will be coming out in October.

Dear valued customer,

Let me start with a special thanks to those who responded to my first
email. Praise or criticism, nothing beats honest feedback. It's what
makes us better.

I have a lot of great news to share this month.

First, we had an amazing response to our "free kids' back-to-school
haircuts" offer. It was far bigger than I expected. We gave away over
1.6 million haircuts in August. We're delighted that we could help so
many kids make a great impression on their first day of school.

The haircuts were so popular, we're going to keep them going. Starting
in November, kids (K-6) get free haircuts every Sunday at jcpenney.
Just call for an appointment and we'll help keep your kids looking
their best.

I also have exciting news about the store itself. The "new jcpenney"
is starting to emerge!

We're on our way to turning jcpenney into a collection of shops
featuring your favorite brands, staffed by specialists who really know
their merchandise. We have now opened Levi's®, Liz Claiborne®, Izod®
and The Original Arizona Jean Company® shops in over 600 stores.

And we've just launched an entirely new line of clothing. We're so
proud of this merchandise, we've put our own name on it. The new jcp
brand (for men and women) offers fashion essentials in wonderful
fabrics and colors, all at great prices every day. I invite you to
visit your local jcpenney to see our new line.

Finally, I'd like to thank everyone for "rounding up to the nearest
dollar" at checkout as part of our jcp Cares program. Combining your
efforts with ours, over $3 million will be donated to our August
partners, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and 4-H. This month's
charity partner is Teach for America, an organization that develops
teachers and leaders to make America's schools great.

I'm proud of the jcpenney team's passion for innovation, and I promise
we're going to keep pushing. My goal is nothing less than to make
jcpenney your favorite store.

Of course, it's your opinion that counts most. So if you have a
minute, please click the link below and share your thoughts.

Thanks again for shopping at jcpenney.

Yours truly,

I'd like to hear from you.
View email.

*Please be advised that any information disclosed or submitted will
become jcp property and may be used in public communications. recieved this email from jcpenney because you signed up to
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(C) 2012 J.C. Penney Company, Inc. and/or JCP Media Inc.,
6501 Legacy Drive, Plano, Texas, United States of America.
All rights reserved. To contact customer service, please call

Monday, September 10, 2012

On Babies and Xboxes...

I promise not to get off the frugal topic for long, but there had to be at least one baby post right?

Jon loves Xbox (well, now he loves playing DayZ through the computer which he's hooked up to the 73 inch TV). He got pretty spoiled during the last few months because nothing felt better to my ginormous pregnant body than to sit in the recliner and write for the blog. He sat next to me and played Dayz well into the night, then woke me up to bring me to bed when he went to bed (sleeping in the recliner was the only good sleep I got thanks to acid reflux in the last trimester).

We knew his xbox days were dwindling down though thanks to the arrival of Baby Groner. We had talked about it, and decided together that we would spend significantly less time playing xbox.

We stand corrected. I've only been a parent for two weeks, and we've been blessed with an extremely easy baby, but as far as I'm concerned Xbox is the greatest baby invention of all time. Baby Groner gets 5 hours of uninterrupted chest to chest daddy time, all the while daddy is talking in his ear in a low voice (through his headphones). Granted, Daddy is coordinating zombie attacks with his sweet whispers, but Baby doesn't know that. Since the game plays through his headphones there aren't any freaky noises to scare him and he seems completely content so that I can sleep in my favorite recliner, and get a little extra sleep. Kudos to you Microsoft!

Obviously, this won't last forever. When Baby Groner stops sleeping 16 hours a day, we'll have to reduce xbox time. For right now though? Xbox is better than bubble baths in my book right now.