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Do Budgets Really Work?

Snapshot of our budget list, a bit over some categories!
Snapshot of our budget list, a bit over some categories!

One of the basic tenets of personal finance is being organized and knowing exactly where your money is going. That is where budgets come from! Oh yes, lovely spreadsheets. How boring right? You would be surprised though at how it can really help you track your expenses, set goals for yourself, see exactly where you are spending money that you do not need to, and how it can hold you accountable!

Before I married, I kind of had a budget going. Kind of. As in I did not really stick by it really. I did not hold myself accountable when I went over the budget I had set for myself. Plus I only tracked a few categories, clothing, grocery, restaurants and gas. The other problem is that my husband and I did not combine our finances entirely until after we got married. Before, we shared the bills and just took turns paying for things. We did not keep a list of what we were spending together, only what we were spending individually. We did not split everything half and half, after being together for so long it was more just splitting up the bills where appropriate. Did not matter who paid the rent check anymore, we would both take care of whatever was easiest for us.

We are now in our second month of living by a budget! We certainly do not have all the kinks worked out, but so far it is working for us. You will not know if it will work for you unless you try it! As you can see in the picture above, we have already gone over some categories. We will have to work a little bit more on that. Our categories list is much more detailed than the measly 4 categories I had before. We adjust the amount set for each category month to month based on our needs. Some months we might need to add extra money for car maintenance if there are any major repairs coming up.

The beautiful thing about having a combined budgets list is that we both know where our money is going to completely. By placing everything you have to pay for in a spreadsheet, it makes it extremely easy to see where you can cut back. It also gives you a nice sense of accomplishment if you can finish off the month under budget! We also are able to hold each other accountable for purchases! Much more effective than just having to rely on your own will power! Having this all set out places a set goal in both our minds. We constantly update it through the month which helps us try to stick by the amounts we have set. Still a work in progress, but I feel like it is helping us already! I have even included categories for cashback and gift cards. That is still money to be spent and should be included, in my opinion.

I created a budget spreadsheet that is super simple and easy to use. I went ahead and uploaded it for anyone who has never tried budgeting before and wants to start with a simple template.

Budget Template

Do you use budgets to control your spending? If so, does it work for you? If not, have you ever thought of trying it?

Cooking from the Odds and Ends Left in the Fridge

Zucchini pancakes, coleslaw and egg salad!
Zucchini pancakes, coleslaw and egg salad!

My hubby and I go grocery shopping about once or twice a week. We usually try to get enough food to last us, but sometimes we miscalculate or need some extra stuff so we end up running to the grocery store again. Most people advise that you should get groceries every few days in order to lessen the chance of having food left rotting in the fridge because it was not used fast enough. For us, the weekly trip has been working pretty well and we have been using most of the food up. Rarely do we throw anything away and we are getting better at it as each month passes by!

Of course it is one of the easiest ways to save your money! If you can manage this, then everything you buy will have a purpose and no money is wasted. I make sure to do an inventory every few days of our fridge to see if there are any items that got lost in the corner that we have forgotten about. There is a small drawer in the middle of the fridge that I especially tend to overlook. I have found items lingering back there that I totally do not recall. My solution is to look through my fridge, and pull out items that will be expiring soon and put it front and center. That way I have no choice but to look at them every single time I open the fridge.

It goes without saying that the less food that goes bad, the less food you have to throw away into our landfills. All that energy put into producing all our food is not just thrown out with the weekly trash collection.

Today for brunch we only found some odds and ends in our fridge. Since its the end of the week we had already eaten almost everything!!! All we had left were all the condiments and sauces, 2 zucchini, pickled radish and carrots, 4 hard boiled eggs, 3 raw eggs, cabbage, kale, cantaloupe, and apples! Haha the cabbage was also fairly old at two weeks I believe. Fortunately cabbage is one of those items that keep well. We ended up making a pretty good brunch for ourselves with these ingredients.

Zucchini Pancakes

We shredded the zucchini, then added some eggs, flour, baking powder, and salt. Mixed it all up until it was combined evenly. Then heated up a pan and fried up the pancakes. We actually used a cast iron pan that gave those pancakes a really nice crisp. The baking powder made the pancakes nice and fluffy. Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside.

Coleslaw

I have been meaning to make coleslaw with this leftover cabbage, just never got around to it until today! My first time making coleslaw actually and it came out pretty well. A nice balance of sweet and tangy. To get that kind of coleslaw, you first chop up the cabbage into small chunks. However small you prefer it. Since I did not have carrots, I used the pickled radish and carrots I had and chopped those up too. Next mix up some mayo, white sugar, a dash of white vinegar, some apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper. Mix everything all together and you have coleslaw! Adjust the sugar and vinegar according to your sweet or sour preference.

Egg Salad

Since I already used a ton of mayo for the coleslaw, I tried to keep the added ingredients here to a minimum. I just chopped up the hard boiled eggs, added a tiny bit of mayo and white vinegar, some salt and pepper and mixed it all up! The lovely thing about egg salad is that you really do not need to use that much mayo because the egg yolk becomes the sauce that makes the egg salad creamy.

And that was our delicious brunch menu for today!

What creative ways have you been able to use up the odds and ends leftover in the fridge?

Working from Home

Happy friday!!!!! It is the end of the work week and I am sure a lot of you are very excited for the weekend! Today might be a slow day for you or it might be crazy busy since it is the last day of the week. Either way, enjoy your Friday!

Since I freelance I get to work from home every single Friday. It is a glorious day where I do not have to spend 1.5-2 hours commuting. It really drains the energy out of me, so days when I work from home are recuperating days. I get to wear whatever I like, do not have to bother doing my hair and makeup, and if I have breaks I can take care of some of the household chores. Not only that, but of course I save money by not having to drive so much! Better for my mental health, my wallet, and the environment. I might run some errands, but they certainly don’t add up to 1.5 hours of driving. Less emissions in the air!

Of course working from home also has its drawbacks. For one, I need to be extremely disciplined and focused to get work done on my own. Most days I am fine with that, but some days my mind seems to be all over the place. That, plus the couch always looks so comfy. Then again, I can always just move my laptop over to the couch and work from there:P I have a nice mix during the week of going into an office and working from home so I do not get stuck in a rut.

One other thing is the atmosphere. My hubby and I are renting a one bedroom apartment with a total square footage of 750 feet. Just the right size for the two of us right now, but that means I do not have my own office. Instead I use a desk that we’ve placed in the living room. This works for me during the day when my husband is at work, but when I have to work nights it sometimes gets distracting. That is why I invested in some good headphones that entirely cover my ears. If he is watching some noisy tv show, I just put that on and block him out.

Do you ever get to work from home? How much money do you save if you do?

160 Wedding Invitations

Courtesy of www.shineweddinginvitations.com
Courtesy of www.shineweddinginvitations.com

My hubby are I just recently went through the entire whirlwind that is a wedding!!!! We are newlyweds for a little bit under 2 months! Whoosh. Have to say that getting engaged and planning a wedding is one of those crazy life events where I really wish things would have been simpler. It is very easy to get caught up in wedding craziness and spend much much much too much money on one day. True that it is our one wedding, but there is a lot of headache and money that goes into it.

Not only can a wedding really add up depending on what you do, but it can really be a drain on resources. We were able to save money in some areas by doing things ourselves, but there are way too many wedding services that you just had to end up spending a little more to get something decent.

One of our biggest money savers turned out to be the wedding invitations!!! Since I am a designer it was really a no brainer that I would create our invitation. We went even further though by printing and assembling them too!

We kept them simple on one page to cut down the amount of paper we would end up using. We did not need the colorful paper insert inside another colorful paper insert layered with three different kinds of decorative paper. We bought a few value packs of 50 cards and a few value packs of reply cards. All one pieces that were small and easily printable. Made sure to use the lovely 40% or 50% off coupons that get mailed out weekly too! My now hubby and I created a two person assembly line and busted those invitations out!

Since my hubby’s parents are more traditional Chinese, they wanted traditional Chinese invitations for their friends and family. Immediately we had thought that we were going to end up with some gaudy gold foiled monstrosities that would have ten thousand paper layers. I ended up taking a step back and creating an invitation that consisted of a red paper layer on the outside, a layer inside with the writing, all tied together with some stretchy gold string! Chinese invitations can be over the top and the more elaborate the better, since my now in-laws were fine with something simpler we were able to save a bit of money.

So the total cost for all the supplies for the 160 invitations we had to send out? $60! Of course this only includes the paper and the reply cards. Does not calculate in the stamps and printer ink. For the lucrative wedding industry though, this would have set us back a lot more if we went the usual route.

Looking back I wonder if we could have saved more money, and precious paper too, by sending some invitations via email instead. A lot of our guests were of the older sort, so would probably still need paper invitations, but all our friends would have been fine with an email invite possibly. Plus we could have set up a website where they could respond via email! In the end though we ended up doing the traditional route since it made it more official. People tend to ignore emails and there is a chance they might not respond at all.

One other thing we could have done is look into recycled paper for our invitations. When we went to the crafts store we did not see any options there. Unfortunately it is probably not a very cost effective way to go for wedding invitations. The more custom it is, the higher the price.

How much did you end up spending on wedding invitations alone? Did you do the traditional snail mail route?

What is Inexpensive and has over a Hundred Uses?

A multi-purpose and very versatile item to have in your pantry!
A multi-purpose and very versatile item to have in your pantry!

It is white vinegar!!! Other than pickling food and as a small ingredient in cooking recipes, I never knew that you could use vinegar for a variety of cleaning purposes! Since I have learned about it, I have replaced my regular multi-purpose cleaner with a vinegar cleaning spray that I use for everything. It saves so much money and is also earth-friendly. Very simple to make and it is also extremely to find on any store shelf. Buying a gallon of this stuff only costs a few dollars but it goes a very long way!

Since there are over a hundred uses for vinegar, I will try to list out the main points only and what I usually end up using it for.

Multi-Purpose Cleaner

Just add one part white vinegar, one part water, and a drop or two of dishwashing soap into a spray bottle and there you go! It cuts through grease so easily and disinfects and deoderizes! I use this on my kitchen counters, the tables, the bathroom sink, and even the toilet bowl!

Laundry Stain Remover

Instead of buying laundry stain removers, I simply spray full vinegar onto the areas it needs to be on. Works just as well as spray and wash.

Deoderizer

I cannot stand the smell that lingers after cooking fish! The sinks smell like it, the cutting boards, even my hands smell so fishy! I spray full strength vinegar everywhere and just let it sit for a few minutes then wipe it down to get rid of the smell! The whole place might end up smelling like vinegar, but after it dries that smell goes away! Much better than the linger of fish. I even dunk my hands into vinegar to get rid of as much of the smell as possible. It really helps but if that smell gets caught under my nails it is really hard to remove.

Disinfectant

Instead of using bleach or hydrogen peroxide to disinfect items, I just soak it in vinegar or pour it over the item. For example wooden cutting boards can get really nasty after some use, just pour some vinegar over it and let it sit for maybe half an hour before washing it away.

Those are just the simple and overall general uses for white vinegar! There are so many other purposes it can be used for just by itself or in combination with other common cleaning items.

What kind of cleaning sprays do you use? Do you still use the bleach heavy sprays or have you switched over to something easier on your nose?