Life Lately

I sorta just fell off the whole 31 Days thing, huh? I do still have a few things I want to write about, life has just gotten so busy. My little man is less than a month from turning 2 (EEK!) and I still have to put the final touches on that post, too. Not to mention I leave tomorrow for a three-day work trip in StL. So life is just a bit hectic right now :)

  • I've been mentioning how we are working on our basement, and things are moving along. Our builder says we will be in touch in the next week or two and I am ready!
  • Tonight, we are going to pick up the furnishings for the bathroom so hubby can begin installing the plumbing.
  • Sadly, we won't be able to have Super Cooper's birthday party at the house. However, we have a friend with a dance studio who said I could have it there for $20 rental. Seriously? I couldn't say yes quickly enough!
  • A little hint for the party ... To say I'm excited to execute this one would be an understatement.
Girl Curious George party
  • After a crazy running year (hot, allergies, etc.) hubby and I finally started running regularly about a month ago. To keep the momentum, I signed us up for a 5K that was last weekend. It was freezing ... like low 40s. But an excellent course, and I ended up with another PR of 28:33. Not to mention, I finished first in my age group. Yay! There is, obviously, still a lot of room for improvement, but I'm so proud of myself, the girl who, 1.5 years ago, couldn't run half a mile without thinking she would keel over.

  • Hubby signed us up for another on Saturday, through one of his accounts. It was only $10, so if we don't make it (and likely won't) it isn't the end of the world.
  • One of my best friends, Bel, has been training hard to run the New York Marathon this weekend. As part of running, she needs to raise a minimum of $5,000, for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Fund. Right now, she is at 72 percent of her goal. If you feel led, PLEASE make a donation to her HERE. Every dollar counts.
  • We are soaking up as much outside time as we can, since it's going to get cold so soon!

  • Last night while playing outside, my boy handed me this "rose." So sweet.

  • Our sitter was closed last Thursday and Friday, so my parents kept Coop. Since they are about a 30 minute drive out of my way, they kept him overnight. Therefore, hubby & I did a date night on Thursday! We went out to a nice restaurant, then over to Applebees for $2 drinks and to watch the rest of the Cardinals game.

  • Speaking of the Cardinals - I am really hoping we pull out Ws the next two nights and clinch the World Series.
  • Two weekends ago, we did family pictures, and I love them. Even though someone was a bit difficult. Can't wait to share all!



Allied shirts review!

Awhile back, the folks over at Allied Shirts reached out to me about doing a review of their new custom T-shirts site. It allows you to design and customize your own T-shirt, hoody, etc.

After perusing the website, I agreed, and was able to order a complimentary shirt. Since I feel like I have so few long-sleeve shirts, I went for one of the women's fashion long-sleeve shirts. And since monograms are so huge right now, I decided to just put an M where the pocket or an image would be.

I was so excited to get the shirt in the mail over the weekend. Once I took it out of the box, I noted how soft it is. After washing (yes, I wash everything before I wear it) I was eager to try it on.

It's soft and soooo comfortable, but fitted so that I wouldn't feel like a slob wearing it to go grocery shopping.

Don't laugh at my 10-year old leopard pajama pants - I love them :)
My only complaint - which I have with most every shirt - is the length. It was a bit shorter than I like shirts. I have a long torso and, unfortunately, if a shirt "fits" me it is a bit short. At any rate, I still think it will make a great addition to my fall and winter wardrobe, and will work especially well for layering pieces.

If you are needing customized shirts for a party or any upcoming event, definitely check out Allied Shirts - it's a great, affordable option, and the best part is that you can take care of all of the details while sitting home. In sweat pants. And if you're lucky, your comfy, customized T-shirt :)


31 Days ... Day 20!

If you have an Aldi in your community and don't shop there, you need to stop in. It is amazing!

It's so funny - I was at an event the other night with several affluent individuals and the conversation turned to how we shop at Aldi and save a ton. Ha!

When you go to Aldi, you pay a quarter "deposit" for your car, that you get back when you return it. Most of the items are still in boxes on the shelves, and you bring your own bags or pay for them. Genius!

In return, you get super awesome prices. At our local Aldi, they offer the best produce prices and quality. We are also big fans of the bread (it keeps longer than any other brand!), milk, my cheese (hubby is a Kraft snob), frozen pizza, fish sticks, sugar, and several other items.

I will say that there are a few items that we don't care for at Aldi. But that's OK. I save plenty. My largest Aldi bill ever was probably around $40, and included I'd say 4 gallons of milk and several items.

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31 Days ... Day 19!

Today's tip is so easy in theory, but also so hard. I will admit I still have a hard time with it - swapping to a cash-only budget for the miscellaneous expenses.

The idea is that, to keep spending in check, you withdraw your budgeted amount of the month (week, etc.) and when it's gone, it's gone. I've read a lot of money saving blogs about the envelope system of budgeting, which takes this even further to budgeting for some expenses monthly, even though you may only pay it twice a year. That way instead of a $300 car insurance bill, it's really just $50 a month. Same money, just doesn't seem like the full "chunk" at once.

This year, I have committed to saving cash for Christmas. Last week when I went shopping, I knew I would be looking for some items and wanted a few things for myself, so I kept some cash out of my mileage checks when I deposited them.

I do have to say, this went very well for me! When I came across something, I really questioned whether it was worth it, knowing I only had X dollars to spend.

I don't know if hubby and I could ever swap over to a 100 percent cash budget. However, I am working very hard on doing this for the little extras, and contemplating doing the same for our groceries, to keep me from all the impulse shopping at the store!

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Melt my heart

Mommy, my finger hurts...

Will you kiss it?
All better. Now, let's hold hands and watch Wheel of Fortune.

I will pretty much cherish these moment forever! 

31 Days ... Day 18!

Happy Friday!

This tip is super easy, but difficult because it requires stepping outside of your comfort zone - speaking up and asking for a discount!

Several years ago, hubby and I were in our local Sears looking at a new TV. It was claranced but we weren't sure why. We were told someone bought the TV and took it home, but it didn't fit right in the room, so they returned it. Since the box was open, they had to discount it. While we hemmed and hawed, our sales associate went to the computer and said that since a certain number of days had passed, they could discount it another $75 or so. Wow! This was when plasma TVs were new and all the rage, so we ended up with a $1400 TV for less than $900.

Last fall, we purchased a new refrigerator for our basement from Lowes. Pretty much the same situation ... in this case, the buyer said the ice machine didn't work, but there were no problems. We noticed dates on the back of the flier and assumed that was when the mark-downs occured, and the latest date was almost a full week from the date we were there. We asked the sales associate and, sure enough, they would take an additional 10 percent off! That fridge was originally $1600, and the price we paid was just under $900.

I'll also add that when purchasing these "defective" items, you get the same warranty that you would receive if you purchased the brand new!

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31 Days ... Day 17!

As an adult, I've pretty much always shopped for clothes off-season. And now that I'm a mom, I do it even more!

Yes, it is sometimes difficult to buy ahead for kids. But I figured short-sleeved T-shirts always work, because you call pull a jacket over it in the winter. And now that Coop's older, it's even easier.

I'm not typically a Kohl's shopper - the deals seem to be too few and far between for me. However, I ventured in the other day because I had a 20 percent off coupon (LOVE when stores just email coupons with the store code). I am SO glad I did! Clearance items were another 25 percent off the lowest ticket price, then I got another 20 percent off of that price. I got Cooper several pairs of shorts for daycare for less than $2 each - that rivals yard sale prices! I'd say most of my clearance finds were about 90 percent off!

I also got a blazer for myself and a pair of shoes for another little boy's birthday present.

I walked out of the store with a large bag STUFFED full. My total was $39 ... but I saved $178.87.

This is totally the time of year to check out these bargains. I feel like the summer stuff goes on major clearance at the end of August, and by now they are practically giving you items just to get them out of the storen :)

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31 days ... Day 16!

Finally caught up :) Hoping to do a better job staying on top of things the second half of the month.

My advice for today is to always question any rise in your rates on things like cable, internet, etc. Earlier this year, our Dish bill went up ... we're talking another $10 a month, more than doubling what our original monthly payment was. So we called and basically said we can't afford this. Their rates had gone up, but they did give us a credit for the first year, equal to the rate increase.

The area where we live had a bash time negotiating the contracts between the CBS affiliate and DISH, so we did without this station for a couple weeks. We called again ... and got another credit!

With that being said, we know this is only a bandaid approach. When we lived in town, we actually didn't have cable and just used the antenna, which worked well. Now we are in the country, our signal goes out if the wind blows over 10 MPH. Not only that, we are quite spoiled by our DVR :) That being said, once these credits expire, you better bet we will be having them extended, or looking at other options.

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31 Days ... Day 15

So yesterday I told you about how some of those awesome deal sites are the devil ... today I'm going to tell you all about how I spend money in order to save it. LOL

No, really. If I have a big purchase and can get free shipping, I just do it online. And ANY time that I do things online (from Hotwire to other stores) I check out the cash back currently being paid on Shop At Home, eBates and Mr. Rebates, then purchase through the best paying site.

This has also been a big help. 2 percent cash back on a $100 hotel room isn't a lot but it adds up. Of course, then there are bigger purchases, like our treadmill, where we've gotten back over $20. For me, it definitely pays to shop online.

If you have questions about any of these sites, please let me know! I also get a referrel bonus, so if you'll let me know, I would be super happy to send you a link :)

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31 Days... Day 14!

Almost caught up :)

Raise your hand if you get at least one of those daily deal emails.

Now raise the other hand if you buy things you don't really need from them.

How many hands are raised :)

I big puffy heart LOVE sites like, and My bank account, notsomuch.

It goes back to that old saying "It's never a good deal if you don't need it." Now, that's not to say it's all money wasted - I bought a pair of sandals on earilier this summer for less than $20 shipped and wear them a couple times a week and will wear them again next summer.

But then there are the earrings that hurt my ears and I think are sitting in a desk drawer. $2.99 plus shipping wasted.

So now, I am really working to think twice before ordering on any of those sites, because oftentimes items can't be returned, and the shipping costs definitely add up. So I'm not saying these sites are bad at all - I'm finding lots of Christmas and birthday gifts on there - just that it sometimes makes things too easy. And then they cause clutter at home. No bueno.

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Man, oh man

Today is not my day.

I had planned a fabulous little weekend update for today, in addition to catching up on my 31 Days series, but ugh.

I have an icky cold sore that decided to blister over today. I hit the snooze button on the alarm clock way too many times this morning. Once I finally began to get dressed, I noticed my shirt was missing a button. I select my clothes the night before so this totally threw me.

My kid refused to eat his breakfast today and kept throwing his milk yelling "Cocklate!" Geez Louise child. You are a brat. Then on the way out of the door (after I packaged his bacon topped with ketchup in a tupperware) he decides to grab it, then wipe the ketchup on his white T-shirt and even getting some on my shirt. Lovely. Thankfully it blotted off, because I sure as hell wasn't changing outfits yet again.

Oh, and did I mention I popped my wrist on Saturday and my carpal tunnel is acting up? Of course, my brace was in the office and I refused to pay $15 for another. Now I can't really rotate my wrist. It's lovely.

Can the weekend just get here already?

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31 Days ... Day 12!

I was so proud of myself for scheduling posts for Thursday and Friday and figured that surely I would sit down at some point either day to schedule a couple for the rest of the weekend. Fat chance. So I'll be playing catch-up again today and tomorrow.

Today's tip is to bring lunch from home. I will admit, I do the dollar menu drive-thru, but it seems I always end up spending closer to $3. Five days a week, that adds up to $15 --- of food only! If hubby and I both do, it's $30. Yikes. I have a mini fridge at work and typically buy the $1 Lean Gourmet meals at Walmart, then pair with a salad from home (I buy bagged from Aldi for $1 which lasts 3 days at least.) So lucky to have the mini fridge, and I will actually just go on Walmart trips every week or so during lunch to restock. If I'm on the road, I make every effort to do something like PB&J, and I always keep peanut butter crackers and protein bars on hand.

Hubby is on his truck all day, so we just pack him a sandwich, as well as a couple of snacks. We also refill water bottles, do one bottle with tea brewed at home, and send one can of soda. So for hubby, we are really talking more about $10 of spending averted daily. I've not done the math on just how much we do save considering the cost of bread, cheese, canned soda, etc., but I'd guarantee you it's no more than $3.

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31 Days ... Day Eleven!

It's such a blogger sin, I know, but I'm really not a fan of fall. Or spring. My allergies go crazy. I like wearing sandals, and that's kinda frowned upon once it gets too cold.

But I do like the utility bills!

Every time the weather begins to change (like now that highs are around 75) we turn off the heat/air. And keep it off. Then we make it a fun game to see how long we can go before turning on the heat/air. One year, we made it to June before turning on the air. The year we bought our house and were saving like crazy, we didn't turn on the heat until mid-November.

Crazy? Maybe. But it cuts our utility bill in half! That's money that we funnel straight to savings, or pay on top of our minimum payment for some of our other bills, like the mortgage. And as I think we established in yesterday's post, every dollar counts.

So in a few weeks, I may be complaining about how cold it is in my house. But we have warm clothes and blankets. And be in a better financial place :)

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31 days ... Day 10!

Although we have a 30-year mortgage, hubby and I are pretty sure that we will have our house paid off much earlier, because we pay so much extra on our mortgage every month!

I like this calculator because it shows how every dollar makes a difference. We pay at least $100 over the minimum for our mortgage monthly, so using that calculation, we will save close to $70,000 in interest and pay off our loan in just over 21 years!

Financially speaking, husband and I would like to devote more "extra" money to the house as time allows. Right now, we have a huge vehicle payment (to be paid off next November!) and he has another loan that will be paid off in May. Once my vehicle is paid off, we'd like to put those "payments" into an emergency savings account, then start funneling those funds (minus the daycare cost for another child) all toward our mortgage every month. We hope this will be about an additional $1,000! Of course, there are several house projects we'd like to do, but we are really working to separate needs vs. wants. We'd much rather have our house paid off in 10 years - not having a house payment would make it much easier to save for the projects we want, not to mention give us so much financial flexibility.

Try out the calculator - it's amazing!

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31 Days ... Day Nine!

My husband often complains that I never fix "just a plain old cheeseburger."

He's right. I don't. It's way too meat-heavy and I like to stretch our meat :)

One pound of hamburger meat typically feeds our family one meal, with maybe an extra patty left over for hubby to take for lunch the next day, depending on how ravenous he is. I can take that same pound of hamburger and make spaghetti or some other dish that will last 2 plus meals.

Thankfully, my meat-eater husband is a huge fan of beans. I buy large bags of brown pinto beans, but I'd say that for $2 worth of beans, we can eat at least three meals. I typically will just do cornbread - which once again, I'd say costs around $1-$2 since I make mine from scratch - and we have a meal. Times three.

Now we don't "buy" our meat (more on that another day) but I think the going rate for a pound alone is almost $3, plus all the add-ons. You do the math.

I've considered the idea of meatless Mondays but am not there quite yet. Maybe someday?

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31 Days ... Day 8!

Today's idea came to me while running last night :) We have saved thousands of dollars by dropping our gym membership!

I must say, the reason for this was twofold. I mean, sure, we are guilty of paying for the service and not using it - but we are also guilty of only working out because we are paying for it.

One of the main reasons we choose not to pay more than $50 a month for a gym membership is not only our crazy schedule, but that we live 15-20 minutes away. With a child in daycare, we would be making an additional round trip to town in order to work out. And before you go telling me to just go during lunch, no way. I am a hair sweater through and through, and there is no way I can go to the gym and then straight back to the office, to a meeting, etc.

I buy workout DVDs to do at home. We like running outside, but when it gets too hot/cold/dark early, we did invest in a very nice treadmill which cost the equivalent of at least two years of gym memberships that will last forever!

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31 Days ... Day Seven!

Hey guys. Sorry for clogging your feed :)

Now that I'm caught up, I thought I would recycle a post. Lunch break is about over, LOL.

I'm still using Swagbucks and MyPoints. And still love them. It gets a bit sticky because our work server blocks some of these sites, so I'm not using it quite as regularly, but points are still piling up. As are Amazon gift cards :)

To add to this list, hubby and I also have a My Coke Rewards account. He goes through about a case a week, which is 20 points. You can get a free 12 pack for every 350 points. So yeah, it's a bit of work, but saves us some money. My mom saves her codes for us too!

If you'd like a referrel link (which I would thank you for!) or have any questions, let me know!

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31 Days ... Day Six!

Hi, I'm Michelle and I hate medical billing companies. They always seem to screw me over.

One of the biggest ways I've saved money is by keeping up on my medical bills and not being afraid to question bogus (in my opinion) charges.

For instance, two years ago when I was preggo I had a bill that I paid at the doctors office. It was a very specific amount, like $69.42 or something.

So imagine my surprise when, a couple weeks later, I get a call from the silly billing company up in Iowa telling me I owe that amount. I questioned it, and then was told "Oh, I see on your account where you have paid. Have a good day."

Seriously? I mean, come on. Clearly they saw that. I feel bad for the suckers who didn't question it and ended up being double billed.

More recently, my hubby had a surgery in January, that included sending polyps to a lab to be examined. We, naturally, asked they be sent to the lab in the hospital that his insurance is a carrier for. But when the bill came, there was no insurance reflected.

I immediately called to learn that they didn't have his insurance and would submit now that I had turned it in. A couple months later, we get another bill - showing insurance had paid nothing. What?

I call the insurance. Turns out the doctor was not in network. Y'all, I am not kidding - the lab is in network but the doctor who read it was not? I basically told the insurance company this was bull and that we had no power over the doctor who read the report and had done EVERYTHING we could to insure it went in network. They agreed and said they would reprocess as in network. The $295 bill would be adjusted to $160-something and we would be responsible for 20 percent.

Then the bill/EOB comes - showing the insurance paid to get the bill to $165 - and we were responsible for the rest. Um, no. Insurance told me, unfortunately, that's how our plan was set up. I called the silly billing company to see if they can pro-rate, they told me that healthcare offices don't do that (yeah, right!)

Finally, after three attempts, I get in touch with the local office and explain the situation - only to be told that they are honoring the 20 percent copay for individuals with this insurance carrier due to the odd situation.

So what was originally a $295 bill became $33.50. Now I will say that all the time and trouble I went through probably wasn't worth it but hey. A penny saved is a penny earned.

And yes, I am considering opening a part-time gig fighting with doctors offices and insurance companies for a commission :)

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31 days ... Day Five!

Blogging challenges don't count on weekends, right?

I'm working to get caught up today/tomorrow, as well as schedule plenty of posts to last through this upcoming weekend since I'm off for fall break.

One of my friends shared this on Facebook, and I thought it was so appropriate. Darn that Dave Ramsey for stealing some of my ideas :)

Because today, I'm going to talk about credit cards. And how they aren't all evil and can help you save/make money!

I've had a credit card since I went to college. My parents taught me to pay it off every month and I always have. When I went to college, I had a GM card, which takes 5 percent of your purchases and it accumulates as "points" = dollars off if you buy a brand new GM vehicle.

A couple years after I got out of college, I realized this wasn't the best perk system for me, so I decided to explore my options. I now use a Chase card, where I get 1% back and can use however I wish. I use the cash back option, and get a check for $150-$200 per year. Typically, I only put gas or large purchases on the card. The really great thing about Chase is that they have revolving "bonus" categories and you get 5% cash back on those that quarter. So say I spend $200 a month on gas and that's one of the special categories - over a three month time, I end up with an extra $30! I like to let mine accumulate and cash out in November/December to use for Christmas and all of those pesky end-of-the year bills.

I will say, you have to be smart when using a credit card and I still feel like I sometimes get in "trouble" by spending more than I should in a month. But it's a great way to earn some extra dollars, as well as you can stay disciplined.

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31 Days ... Day Four!

OK, this is an odd one, which is also very unique to our family ... but I don't buy trash bags anymore.

Why? My husband works as a route sales rep for a uniform and apparel company. Most customers who rent uniforms return them in trash sacks. Hubby has to empty the sacks to sort the laundry - so instead of trashing them {which is SO bad for the environment} he brings them home!

So my best advice is to keep your eyes open! There are always so many ways that you can reuse things to not only save money, but also keep from waste :)

What do you reuse?

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31 Days ... Day 3!

I'm not a coffee drinker. But I LOVE caramel apple cider, Chai lattes, hot tea, etc. It's a great pick me up, or wonderful to warm me up when I am freezing.

A cute little coffee shop opened up in town in August, and it sucked me in for the Chai - all $4 of it when including a tip. Obviously this had to go when I went on the spending freeze.

Instead, I go to the local store and buy a box of flavored tea (my current fave is Lipton Bavarian Wild Berry). There is a coffee pot in the hallway that no one else uses, so mid-morning, I run some water through to heat it and then just sip on tea the rest of the day. I love it, and it costs no more than 25 cents per day. Win!


31 days ... {Intro, plus days one and two}

Today is my first day at work this week, hubby is on vacation so I took some personal time to tackle a couple of house projects with him, which are still in progress.

Anyhow, I sort of kept up with blogger, and all these "31 Days..." posts linking up with The Nester kept popping up. At first I brushed it off, but decided today I want to participate!

As I blogged a few weeks ago, we have gotten horribly lax at just throwing our money around, then wondering where it's all gone at the end of the month. The way I figure, I should have $300 plus mileage reimbursements after all of my bills each month, but have no idea where it goes.

While September was a great start, I've decided to continue making every effort to pinch pennies in October {especially after I fell off the wagon during a mall trip on Saturday - bad Michelle!} And what better way to keep accountable than blogging about it.

I'm hoping to blog all 31 days ... and hope you'll tune in!

My first two tips are pretty easy.

1 - MEAL PLAN! I cannot stress how much this helps with the "what the heck are we going to eat" question. It helps me most on weekends I think. Not only that, when I meal plan, I make sure we have all ingredients, which eliminates those trips to the store for one or two things that turns into spending $20! Plus, if I meal plan, I can see what's on sale that week and really maximize the savings.

We don't mind eating leftovers, so I think making larger meals helps out with this, too. In a typical week, I probably only cook 3-4 times and we do leftovers the other nights. Obviously this will likely change as our family grows, but it works great right now.

Here is this week's menu:

Sunday: Baked chicken breasts, mashed potatoes, green beans
Monday: Chili
Tuesday: Frozen pizza
Wednesday: Cube steak w/gravy, mashed potatoes, corn
Thursday: Frito pies
Friday: Salads w/chicken (leftover)
Saturday: Chili leftovers

2 - Keep convenience foods, like frozen pizzas, fish sticks, frozen burgers, etc. around. I know it's not good for you - but neither is fast food. Case in point: I had cube steak out last night, but after installing new French doors in our basement, it was 7 p.m. and we didn't feel like taking an hour plus to cook. So instead of running out and grabbing Burger King or Pizza Hut and spending at least $12 PLUS the gas, I got in the freezer and baked two frozen pizzas. We LOVE the Aldi brand pizza, so this cost me a whopping $4. That's at least $10 in savings.

What are your tips for saving money?

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