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The Whole Buffalo
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  • The Light at the End of the Tunnel

    The Light at the End of the Tunnel

     

                “Why are you always worrying about money?”  “Doesn’t it drive you crazy thinking about money all the time?”  “I could never be so concerned with my finances.”  I get teased all the time for my frugal habits.  The bank tellers at my local branch always laugh when I tell them there’s no need to print the balance on my deposit slip – I know it by heart.  Friends smile when I know exactly what my dinner cost, down to the 15-18% gratuity.  Even my husband gives me a hard time about my “obsession” with our finances.  But all of these people are missing the point, in one way or the other.  I’m not obsessed with our budget or fixated about our net worth.  I am aware and in charge of my financial destiny and the knowledge I have is not frightening, but rather empowering.   For the first time in my life, I don’t worry about money.  At all.  That’s right; with an unemployed husband, a toddler, uncertain economic times and considerable (but getting smaller every day) consumer debt, I have never felt as free from money fears as I do today. 

    There was a time in my life where every trip to the mailbox was fraught with anxiety.  After blindly swiping my credit card at the mall and jabbering away on my cell phone all day, my bills were crushing defeats.  I was so afraid of seeing how bad the damage was, I stopped opening the mail.  I would tear a stack of letters in half and deposit them in the trash without glancing inside.  My phone would ring incessantly with companies, later debt collectors, looking for a good faith payment that I was unable to make.  My phone would finally stop ringing when my provider would shut off service and I would charge my usurious bill on one of my non-maxed out credit cards.  For years I was single, with two well paying jobs, living high on the hog and digging a hole that I’m still climbing my way out of.  Now THAT was scary! 

    My pregnancy and the subsequent birth of my daughter were my eye opening moments.  After I returned to work (a three week maternity leave was all my family could afford), my husband and I took a long hard look at our paychecks and had a stunning realization.   We were not working for ourselves; actually, at the end of the day, credit card companies, financing companies (hello, car loan!), late fees, and interest were gobbling up our money faster then we could make it.  I had an unpaid second job; I was blindly and carelessly helping the rich get richer with my unwise and irresponsible spending.  I started opening the mail, making note of balances, calculating interest, and actually paying my bills.  I answered the phone when a collector called and worked out repayment programs.  We became current on all of our accounts and, one by one, started paying them off.  When it was all said and done, by family had about $13,000 in unsecured commercial debt (not to mention a significant car loan) to pay off.  Almost a year and a half later, my end is in sight.

    No matter how bad things may seem, hiding from your financial problems will not solve but only compound them.  Although we were once drowning in a sea of red ink, next month, my husband and I will be debt free for the first time in our adult lives.  Finally, we will begin working our savings, our retirement, and our dream of becoming homeowners.  Finally, our paychecks will belong to us again.  Finally, I can begin living the dream of a debt-free life.  I have saved each and every letter, bill, delinquency notice, shut off notice, and collection statement that we have received over the past 18 months.  They’re in my filing box, out of sight but never out of mind; they are a reminder of how far we have come and how easily we can go back.  

    I would love to hear from people who are working towards a debt free existence and know what they are looking to most about finally being out of debt.  I would also love to hear from those who are debt free on the tools they use to keep from slipping back into their old habits.  My next post will be devoted to the values I have established as part of my frugal lifestyle and their application in my soon to be debt free life.

     

  • Tightening My Belt

     

     

                Last week, on our monthly Target trip, my daughter and I ran into an unexpected problem – almost everything we were looking for was missing.  Generic diapers and wipes were not on the shelf and the loss leaders we hoped to snare were nowhere to be found either.  I found an associate and asked her to run to the back and grab us some diapers (we were almost out at home) but she politely told me it wasn’t a stocking issue.  “It’s the economy, ma’am.  We just can’t keep these things in stock.”  Looking around, I realized she must be right.  Name brand diapers were neatly stacked and cute but costly knick knacks crowded the shelves.  Fortunately, another local store had our diapers in stock but their supplies were low too.   In these troubling times, people are figuring out what a lot of us already knew – every little bit counts.

                But reading the paper and surfing blogs, I sometimes get frustrated at the advice and tips I see to help hard working families like mine save money.  I don’t have a cable subscription to cancel and my grocery budget, for our family of four (big, hearty) eaters is less then $200.  No expensive hobbies or elaborate vacations to scale back or cancel.  Just an ordinary, middle class income, average consumer debt, and a true conviction that frugal living helps my family - and my world - to thrive.  As we enter a new year that presents exciting new developments and difficult challenges for all of us, I really wanted to reflect on small changes that I could make to help my family save even more.  I hope these tips are helpful to anyone who is looking to scale back even further and I would love the comment section to be filled with suggestions from like minded individuals!

     
    • Reevaluate my “needs”:  This week, I didn’t buy juice.  Even though one of my favorite brands was “stock up” at the local supermarket, I realized that we just didn’t need it.  Our water filter provides us with endless cold, fresh water and that is good enough for me, at least for now.  Sure, I only saved about $5 this week but I transferred that into my savings account and the savings of approximately $260 a year is nothing to sneeze at.   
     
    • Waste not, want not:  One of the problems associated with my desire to stock up on good bargains is waste.  A pound of apples for a dollar is no steal when over half the bag spoils!  I’ve begun to take stock of what gets eaten in our house and what gets tossed into the trash.  Although we consume a minimal amount of meat, I try to freeze realistic portions so when I defrost something, there is enough for a meal (with some lunchtime leftovers) and nothing else.  From now on, Friday is Fridge Clean Out Day (Saturday is my grocery shopping day; perhaps another day would work for you).  I’m going to attempt to fashion all of Friday’s meals from food that would otherwise spoil or expire before being consumed.  This saves money, resources, and will flex my culinary imagination!
      
    • No more planning to fail:  I’m only human and I forget things all the time.   Without fail, the day I forget the diaper bag is the day my daughter has digestive gymnastics and not only needs a fresh diaper but a new change of clothes.  Now that she is older, we cannot leave the house without bags of snacks (the girl loves variety), a sippy cup, a lovie, a book… the list goes on and on.  I just fashioned an “Oh, Shoot!” bag that I popped into the backseat of my car to help me if and when I find myself in a pinch.  Depending on the ages and needs of your children (or yourself), yours might include different items but this is what I packed in mine:
     
    • Diapers, wipes, cream, and an old, clean towel to use as an impromptu changing area
    • Ziplocs of non-perishable snacks (crackers, pretzel sticks, dried fruit)
    • Sealed water bottle (child and adult sized)
    • Empty sippy cup
    • 2 stuffed animals
    • 3 age appropriate books
    • Headache medication (if I forget the diaper bag, I’m not having a good day)
    • 2 full changes of clothing (weather appropriate)
     

    This bag cost me nothing to assemble as I had all of the products in my home and used a reusable tote for packing.  Even if I only use it once or twice, it will save my time, money and aggravation knowing that I have my emergency tools on hand.

     
    • Reduce by reusing: This year, I’m giving up paper products altogether (okay, I’m still going to by toilet paper – I’m not that frugal!) in an effort to save money and the environment.  Although I don’t usually like to spend to save, I purchased cloth napkins for use during meals and have cut up some of Maggie’s more stained and lived in onesies, as well as some old bath towels to reduce our dependence on paper towels.  I’m all about changing my life to reduce my consumption of material goods, as well as saving some pennies in the long run, so once my stash of paper products is done, it is not going to be replaced.
     

    Off the top of my head, those are the newest ways I’m saving money in 2009.  My husband was laid off in October (hence the blogging hiatus – I’m working brutal hours) and has yet to find a job so, now more then ever, I am committed to saving aggressively and intelligently.  I recently took a wonderful, relaxing week off from work and look forward to posting regularly on topics that I feel passionately about and am excited about what this year has to offer all of us!  I invite you to stop by again soon, as I'm very excited about some upcoming posts and topics that I look forward to exploring with all of you.

     

    Happy New Year!

     

  • Bun in the Oven, No Bread in the Bank

        I will never forget the day I found out we were expecting. We had $75.00 in the bank (checking and savings combined, mind you!), had just quit one of my part-time jobs (and was only a few days away from being fired from my other) and was holding a positive pregnancy test in my hand.  Actually, I was holding 3 positve pregnancy tests - what if the first two were wrong?  My husband was thrilled, terrified, amazed... I was nauseous.  And terrified.  It would still be another 10 months or so before we really got a handle on our finances but, looking back, there were plenty of ways I could have used our nine months of preparation for our daughter as nine months of preparation for a better life.  And these hints are....

     * Get your affairs in order :  IMMEDIATELY!  Wills, life insurance, living wills, appropriate health insurance, college funds if you're feeling ambitious - if your child is anything like Maggie, you'll be lucky to have five minutes to yourself again!  You are about to be entirely responsible for another human being - it's time you started being entirely responsible about yourself.

     * Get ahead - and stay ahead : Even if it's $10 more on your minimum payments or $20 more towards your car payment, this is a great time to accelerate your attempts to get out of debt.  I worked until I was a full nine months pregnant and only went on maternity leave because I was terrifying my boss (and perfect strangers!) with my gigantic baby belly - our income did not suffer at all.  Financially, this is an awesome time to sock extra money away and to make tremendous progress on what you owe.  

     * Live in the future : If your family, like mine, is a dual income household, there is daycare looming.  I pay (approximately) $800 a month (OUCH!) to make sure my daughter is in good hands while I am at work and our current household income is less then it was when I was pregnant, due to recent job changes.  Starting TODAY, start paying for "daycare".  You will have to do it soon enough, best to get used to it.  Start pricing daycare in your area, get recommendations, interview providers - and open a savings account to sock your day care money away in.  This is a great way to adjust to your new financial situation - and to save money.  Sooner rather then later, that money will be going to someone else, take advantage while you can!

     * No need to upgrade :  We were living in a one bedroom apartment when we found out we were expecting.  We are currently living in a one bedroom apartment today, with our 13 month old toddling around in it.  However, in our initial holy moly we're pregnant panic, we started sourcing two-bedroom apartments IMMEDIATELY.  Adding a new member to your family will require additional space.  It will not require an immediate move, renovation, or home sale.  Seriously.  You do not need to move to a mansion for an infant and one child does not require a minivan.  Stay put and assess your situation on the other side of your pregnancy - your wallet will thank you!

     * Think less - not more : In our closet, we have bins full of adorable baseball onesies and cowboy pajamas for the son we saw on our ultrasound.  Readers of this blog will know we had a daughter.  Ultrasounds lie.   Show restraint.  We also have multiple vibrating bouncy chairs to soothe colicky infants to sleep.  Our daughter slept through the night at three weeks old and rarely burped, let alone screamed with gas pains.  Elaborate breast pumps (used three times)?  Check!  Boxes of bottles that our daughter disliked!  You betcha.  Until you meet YOUR child, take it easy.  A reliable car seat, a week's worth of onesies, and a box of newborn diapers would have gotten us through the first two weeks.  I wish I had realized that before I took all of the tags off!

     * Take care of yourself! : First and foremost, please slow down and take care of yourself during this incredibly exciting time.  Whether you have a busting baby belly, a completed home study, or an extremely pregnant and cranky spouse, you are an expectant parent!   Enjoy these fleeting moments and you will be in the best shape possible to take care of your new addition!

     

    Please share any other tips you might have - I only have one kiddo at home and know there are more experienced parents out there!    

  • The Best Things in Life are Free

    The Best Things in Life Are Free    

        This afternoon, my husband, daughter, best friend and I went to a baby dance party hosted by a club in our town.  Tickets were not inexpensive ($12 per person/non walkers were free) but we thought it might be a fun event for our daughter and a good chance to get to know people in our community.  It was not.  Maggie clung to my legs in horror at the blaring music and flashing lights while cliques of parents swarmed around us, their children running here there and everywhere.  Never a big dancer in my heyday, I stuck to the sidelines and we all left after an hour, $36 dollars poorer and a bad taste in all of our mouths.  You live you learn, right?  Well... no, not really.  It seems like the biggest money waster in our family is "instant entertainment": the $20 or $30 we flush down the toilet every weekend when we run out of ideas and end up hitting the mall, a restaurant... or yes, a baby disco.  So I've been brainstorming to try and figure out ways not to just "pass the time" but to have memorable weekends without having to cash in.

        * Invest in yourselves: If your child is old enough, why not enjoy the waning days of summer and have a lemonade, homemade cookie, iced tea, etc. sale?  This is also a great opportunity to teach your children about business models.  Let them "invest" in themselves and purchase raw supplies, set prices, and see what you end up with!  At the very least, this is an all day activity that brings the whole family together, and you might make a couple extra bucks!

        * Rediscovery day:  My daughter has so many toys that old favorites sometimes cycle their way to the back.  I love to dig out friends we haven't seen in a few months (or years, depending on the age of your child) and see what new activities we can enjoy with them.  This is a hint I remember from baby-sitting and it works wonders, even with my toddler.

        *  Revive your patriotism:  (Almost?) every community in America has soldiers defending our country overseas and they need our support!  Why not have your artistic minded children create a care package with heart felt letters of thanks and colorful pictures.  With a little research, you should be able to find a local man or woman from your area who would love to feel the support of home!  This also will teach your children the importance of giving back in their community.

        * Hit the Net: If you're reading this, you have access to the Internet and access to all sorts of information on free (or low cost), local activities for you and your family to enjoy.  I like to Google my towns name with, kid's activities, cheap and see what comes up.  We've hit farmer's markets with free petting zoos, learned about low cost days at children's museums, and are planning on hitting the hayride/farm stand circuit soon from this resource.

        * Go 'sailing: Garage sale-ing, of course!  Give each family member a crisp $5 bill and see who can make the best find at a local garage sale.  We're being inundated with ads for all sorts of sales this weekend (actually, I'm almost sleepless over a sale I've seen advertised for next weekend.  I can't wait!!!)  If you only bring the amount of money you're going to spend, that makes it VERY easy to stick to your budget.  OR you could plan your own garage sale.  Although we live in an apartment, I am drooling over using a friend's front lawn to get rid of all of our excess clothes, toys, books, DVDs... (we haven't always been frugal... sigh).  The money will go straight into savings and I will finally be able to see the floor in some of my closets!  Actually, are there any readers in the New York Metro area who have a lawn to lend ;)!

        What are your tips for keeping weekend spending under control?  I'd love to hear your hints!
  • Get Em While They're Young

    Get ‘Em While They’re Young

     

    My daughter’s first birthday was a few weeks ago and although she is still too little to complain, several of my friends were disappointed that her birthday celebration was lacking in fanfare.  Even before I was a parent, I was never a big fan of the baby birthday party – large, expensive get-togethers requiring large, expensive gifts, while the guest of honor crawls around, oblivious?  It wasn’t for me.  While my daughter’s birthday was lacking in “stuff”, it certainly wasn’t lacking in substance.  It fell on a Monday this year, serendipitous since I work a 40 in 4 week so we were able to spend the whole day together, doing what she enjoys.  Namely, dragging Blue Bear around the apartment 200 times, eating homemade blueberry pancakes, and taking a walk through our local park.  For her “party”, my immediate family and her godparents toasted her with a pizza party.  Total cost out of pocket?  Well, technically, nothing (thanks for the pizza, Mom!) and I was able to come away with several helpful hints to make a birthday less about the presents and more about the occasion.

     

    • Make a memory: Ten years from now, the Barbie your daughter absolutely had to get for her birthday will be a 50 cent item at the garage sale.  The pictures you took from your trip to the zoo will be well worn from all of their viewings.  I know it is easy for me to say, as my daughter cannot yet articulate her wants or desires, but I urge you to focus more on the event then on the spoils; hopefully, your child will learn to follow suit.

     

    • Ask and ye shall receive:  Our daughter has more toys, clothes, knick knacks and mementos after one year of life then my husband or I combined – and almost none of it was purchased by us.  If you have close, generous family and friends, odds are someone will ask what your child wants for their birthday.  My first response is always, “Don’t send presents, send love.”  But if someone really wants to know, I tell them the truth – take a stand against the clutter, the imported plastic toys, the too small outfits you always mean to return… but never do.  This year, our daughter got things that she actual NEEDED – and will enjoy.  No gift receipts necessary.

     

    • Spend where it matters: As someone who works with children, in addition to being a parent, I have seen the increasing trend of consumerism among America’s youth.  If you can – and it’s a big if – make a break from that in your house and take a stand.  I’m not saying I’m anti-present, in fact, I’m anything but.  However, the most precious gifts I have ever given were not asked for.  Family jewelry, get aways with parents, a classic piece of clothing: these are presents I still think of fondly (and wear!) to this day.  If you must make a major financial statement for your child’s birthday, drop cash on something that will last forever, not a thousand little things that will just gather dust.

     

    • Create a tradition:  This year, I asked all those close to my daughter to compose a letter to her, recounting the tremendous impact she has made in all of our lives in one short year.  I plan on doing this every year until she reaches 18, compiling everything together in a special memory book, separate from her other photo albums and keepsakes.  I also made her cake this year (nothing fancy, but very delicious!) and plan on doing so each and every year.  In my family growing up, we got to plan our birthday dinner menu and everyone ate and enjoyed it together.  This year my mother made me a full Thanksgiving style feast in honor of my 24th birthday – this is a tradition I plan on continuing!

     

    • Enjoy what you have – your children will, too!: Maybe this whole article is completely irrelevant to your life : you just lost your job, there is no money for a cake, let alone a present, you live paycheck to paycheck, there is no reason to celebrate.  Regardless of your circumstances, celebrating a loved one should be a joyous, no stress occasion, and if all you can give is love, please give it in abundance.  I would take a hug and kiss from a loved one over a cupcake any day!

     

     

  • Welcome to the Whole Buffalo!

     

    Hello Dollar Stretchers!  My name is Meghan Whitmer and I’m a twenty-something working mother who lives in the New York Metropolitan area.  I’m an environmentally savvy, do it myselfer who takes great pleasure in getting more from less.  My husband and I are aiming to become a one income family, in our high cost of living area, and are saving hard, making due with less, but never cutting corners in our quest.  This blog is called the Whole Buffalo after our families’ philosophy – waste not, want not.  I’m sure many of you are familiar with the stories of Native Americans who made use of absolutely everything?  Well, it’s the same story in our house.  If we can fix it, repurpose it, resell it, save it, you name it, we try to make it work.  We buy what we need – not what we want!

     

    In this blog, I’ll share my tips for living a life of quality, not quantity, and give you a glimpse into the life of a hardworking, frugal, and socially responsible urban family.  I welcome insight and feedback and would love to hear from other people who believe that change begins at home – please share your thoughts with me in the comments! 

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