By Brittany Dale
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
So I'm not claiming to be any kind of expert on all things (or even a few things) technological but I do have extensive experience with the following budget tool and I'm giving my two cents.
Mint.com is an online budgeting tool that uses various gadgets to help keep you on top of your budget. I have used mint.com for years and have used it very consistently since moving to Grand Junction. With most things in life, there are things I really like and others left to be desired.
Mint's got it right:
-I can link any account I have to mint.com and it automatically uploads my purchases. There is no updating or manually entering data.
-Certain bills can be linked and it uploads due dates. Given the whole head-not-attached-would-be-lost idea, any reminder to pay bills on time is helpful.
-The website creates a great little pie chart to see where your money is going. This is a great way to see a realistic picture of where your money goes. You can include multiple months to get an even better visual of your spending.
-When you start a mint.com account you can set up a budget and throughout the month it show color coded bars of your spending within that budget. Green: “Way to go! You are a budgeting genius”. Red: “Ouch”.
-There is a goal section where you determine your financial goals and get updates on your progress.
-I can use it anywhere. I am less likely to use this app than my banking one but it is helpful to have access anywhere I need it.
My wish list:
-I do wish mint was a smidge smarter. When I save a bill to “cell phone” instead of the default “technology” I would like it to remember my choice. So far, it doesn't seem to catch on.
-I wish more of my bills were able to be synched or that they could be added by hand. All of my due dates would be automatically uploaded and I could see our entire budget for the month.
-The pie should include “savings”. For example, we have a system with our bank that saves $1.00 for each time we use our debit cards. That money is deposited to a savings account.
My wish list is significantly smaller than my this tool is awesome list. And the best part of this tool? It's completely free! For free products, I understand their only income is upgrades and advertising. I genuinely appreciate the way mint.com includes their advertisers.
We don't spend much money on gas and the advertiser pays to encourage us to buy their car insurance because of it. There are other services like credit cards with lower interest than what we currently have. This advertising is actually helpful instead of annoying.
While many people are uncomfortable with online security and certain companies having information about them, I truly believe if they want my information, they are going to get it. I carefully check my bank account and keep tabs on my credit score to prevent identity theft but beyond that, I just understand the risks of being connected to the internet at all.
I appreciate the service mint.com has to offer and would highly recommend it to anyone looking to keep closer track of their spending.
Do you use an online budgeting tool? Do you use a budgeting tool at all?
By Julie Norman
Monday, February 24, 2014
Last summer I began laying out my case for wanting a chest freezer. We had a small garden producing lots of zucchini, tomatoes, etc. There were lots of good clearance deals on meats and things at the grocery store and "well if I had a freezer..." We did some research and found mixed information on whether or not you could keep a chest freezer in a shed. Some said it would cut off when the outside temperatures dropped too low. Others said, well, even if that happens, the outside temps will be well below freezing and nothing in the freezer will spoil or defrost. We've weathered our first winter with our little freezer out in the shed, and it's worked beautifully!
We purchased a 7 cubic foot freezer from a store in town for less than $250. When you think of all the things you can buy in bulk, meals you can cook ahead of time, clearance items you can buy...you really get your money's worth pretty quickly.
We made space in our carport shed and added shelves above the freezer for extra storage.
You can see we keep all kinds of things in the freezer: I buy extra bread when it's on sale (and also supplement with homemade), we buy lots of chicken on clearance, and I buy lots of "second" peaches and either dry and freeze them or just chop them and freeze them for cobblers. If you're cooking a big bag of dried beans, you don't have to worry about any of them going to waste. Label a freezer bag and freeze half of them. They'll reheat and taste just as good as they did the first time!
By Julie Norman
Friday, February 21, 2014
From Brittany: I don't know about you, but I am itching for the weekend. Look at this forecast!!
At this point in the year, above freezing is enough for me! I have lofty goals to get some work done around our rental and to be outside as much as possible. Our landlord gives us discounted rent for things we do around the house and with a new home purchase on the horizon the extra dough is essential!
I could pick about 20 of these that I want to do this weekend but given my 48 hour window, I will just have to stick to a few. We have plenty of beautiful weekends heading our way!
From Julie: If you're looking for something to do with that old pair of crutches, that old door or anything else you have lying around, check out our Home and Building Association (HBA's) Upcycling Board on Pinterest!
By Brittany Dale
Thursday, February 20, 2014
How Stuff Works - 10 Tips for Staying on Budget
I read this today when I was perusing the www for budget tips and tricks. Talk about taking something for granted! While I am the first to recognize the amazing patience of my boyfriend, his willingness and skill to fix things and his ability to make me laugh, I didn't recognize another part of the cooperation that makes my life easier.
My team is the most important tool I have to be a penny pincher. Yesterday, I got an email that said “I went ahead and paid off the credit card, I hope that's ok.”
“Um, ya. That's fan-freaking-tastic.” We had a little extra money from tax returns and while we spent some money on items he needs for search and rescue, put some in savings and paid ahead on our bills, we still had a little bit left over. That email could have said “babe, I was feeling ambitious so I bought a scuba diving kit” or “I went ahead and had my car repainted.” Instead he considered our future and paid off his credit card. While mine stills looms ahead it is one less bill we have to worry about.
I have never shared finances with another person but I can only imagine how excruciatingly difficult it would be to have differing opinions about where the money should be spent. Don't get me wrong, we differ. I tend to be the stock-pile mouse and if I had it my way I wouldn't ever spend a penny while my guy aires on the side of less caution which teaches me to let go and that I just don't need to wear clothes with holes in them. Our differences seem to help us in the dollar bill battle yet our similar goal is what makes it all possible. We both want a stable financial future. We want to have a home and the things we need and our goal of financial security and freedom drives us to work together to get it done.
While this post is a bit on the sappy side, I do believe the biggest influence on a budget can be the very people trying to stick to it. If he was saving money and I was spending it, we would never get out of a hole. I'm grateful for a functional and successful relationship with our monetary influx... and out-flux. This team business can swing to the other extreme as well. If you both work together well by spending gobs of money, the budget will be nonexistent. I have friends who keep their individual finances completely separate and others who utilize outside help to keep their finances in line. Whatever way seems to work best, the hands touching the money decide where it goes. Make sure those hands work together. And make sure you wash them after touching the money, yuck.
Do you have a good team? Are you both on the same page or do you differ in your methods?
By Julie Norman
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Mmm...popcorn. Popcorn is a great snack for midday or evenings. We often eat popcorn while watching "House of Cards" or random Wednesday night sitcoms. But buying a 3-count box of microwave popcorn can get expensive. Most of the time those boxes are $3-$4 dollars. So what's the alternative? Make it yourself! For much less than $4 I can buy a container of white or yellow popcorn kernels. You can find these right over with the microwave popcorn, usually hidden down on a bottom shelf somewhere. AND you get way more than 3 bags of popcorn out of a whole container of kernels!
This is what's left of 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels that I popped in the microwave the other day. I simply put 1/4 cup of kernels in a brown paper bag, folded down the top and set the microwave for 2 minutes. It took a little longer than that, but when it was done I had great, homemade popcorn! You can buy an air popper - probably at Goodwill or the Habitat REstore, use the microwave method or the stove top method. The stove top is my favorite:
Pour a small amount of canola oil in the bottom of a heavy, 4qt pot (I use my soup/pasta pot). Make sure you have a lid for it! You just need about 1 tbsp of oil. Heat the oil over medium heat (4 or 5 on my electric stove) and drop in 3 popcorn kernels. When these pop, add in 1/4 cup of kernels and put the lid on. As soon as the kernels start to pop, shake the pot. Give a shake every 30 seconds or so while it's popping. Keep one hand on the lid! Soon you'll have so much popcorn that it will start pushing the lid off the pot! When the popping slows to once every 2-3 seconds, you can take it off the heat and let it set for a minute or two.
We like to add salt and, if we have it, some grated parmesan cheese to our popcorn. This will easily make 4 servings.
For more information on why you should make popcorn at home, check out this post by the Parsimonious Princess.