Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Retirement Remedies: First Quarter Report
I started out this year determined to make a difference in our future retirement. How have I fared over the past 3 months? Each of the items below were listed in my original 'Fighting Back' posts in the fall of 2014.
Our first step this year was to purchase health insurance. I'm still adjusting to making this payment each month but I expect by the end of the second quarter we'll have figured out where to pinch harder and where to relax. After I worked on my 2nd quarter budget I realized that we've managed to 'find' all but $60 of the premiums. We need only make a few more tweaks and it will not affect our savings at all.
We switched cell phone carriers and purchased new phones. Mine was a mere $22.99 and I was refunded $22. Not a bad purchase at all in my opinion. John's phone cost more but he did not go for a fancy model. His phone has to be rugged since he uses it for work...and no we don't get any refund from the county, although the reason for using private phones at work is that it protects patient information rather than having it broadcast over a several county wide area via radio transmissions.
We looked into Internet service via the cell phone company and bundling cable etc. No go. There is no Internet service available for our area and the company uses Directv, which we have in our home at present.
Switching cell service will save us $40 a month. I'm pleased with the savings. It will catch up with us in a couple of months after we pay for activation fees, and such.
We'll stick with our current internet provider (since we have no choice) and land line phone simply because we must have the phone line in order to get the internet service. We may discuss satellite service for internet but we're not certain we're going to save any money in losing the land line if we do this.
We're still discussing what we'll do about our television. There was a big increase of $8 a month in February's bill. We're more determined than ever to explore our options more fully and John is collecting information and looking into various options. He'll eventually make a move on this.
I said that I would spend 1 hour daily working on Swagbucks and try to utilize shop and earn more often. I also stepped up my activity with the two survey groups I joined. I have done well in my earnings. Over the quarter I've earned $105. My January earnings went to help cover the cost of a visit to the Kingsland clan in early February. I put $25 in savings last month. This month I put $65 into savings, my best month ever. I have not managed a daily 1 hour with Swagbucks to date. Nor have I utilized Shop and Earn, mainly because I was unable to purchase online the things I wanted/needed at the time. I hope to be able to manage that portion better as well, now that I'm done with my little kitchen makeover project (my main purchases this quarter).
I've loaded points to the MyCokeRewards site which has netted me several coupons for free soda. I'm happy with that and happier still that with the new changes, I also earn other rewards through activities. Again, I admit I'm not exploiting this as I ought but I got a free calendar and photo prints from Shutterfly as well as $35 in e-restaurant certificates. I can use the restaurant cash at a variety of places, mostly small local restaurants and not chains (sites are linked to the .com website).
Using Shutterfly with MyCokeRewards opened me up to a weekly emailing and free offers. I've ordered a free personalized mouse pad, and a hardcover photo book. I did pay shipping for these items but only for shipping.
I've struggled hard with the grocery budget. Part of this is my fault. I let certain supplies get low and I've spent a little extra restocking. This is an area that needs greater attention. Aldi does indeed save us money but it's the non-Aldi items that I purchase that are eating us up. I've also noted that on rare occasions an items is far, far cheaper elsewhere than it is at Aldi. The tuna fish I purchased for $.33/can for instance was a name brand variety and the Aldi store brand price at the time was $.69.
I must return to my former habit of combing ads and looking for seasonal purchases and using coupons and then buy in bulk to help cut costs on our non-Aldi purchases. It is rare for another store to beat Aldi prices, but occasionally it does happen. And savings is savings, right?
I have had less waste than ever although I'm not at zero waste level. I am really proud though of using so much of the foods we have brought into the house. I can do a little better and mean to work on that. Composting is still not ongoing and would be helpful for planting and cutting down on purchased soil for potting, but John is rightly worried about drawing in still more wild animals, which ups the odds we'll attract those with rabies as well. I need to figure out a way to inexpensively create a composter. I am sure there are ways to do it and will research.
When we purchased our bulk purchase of meats in January, I bought whole chickens and had them cut into parts (no extra charge for that). I packaged the cut chickens by parts (wings, legs, thighs, etc) and I think this is one of the smarter things I've done. It did save us money, it continues to save us money and I'll keep right on doing this.
I have done very well at cutting back on meats overall. We're eating 1-2 meatless and 1 or 2 very very low meat meals each week. Sometimes 3! I've also reduced our meat portions so what might have made 2 servings in the past now makes 2 1/2 or 3. It's stretched our meats by a further month or more. Mama gifted us with a couple of sirloin steaks and a 6pound eye of round roast. I portioned these and feel fairly sure we can make it until end of June before making another trip to the meat market.
I said I'd cut down on sausage and we did. We now eat one patty each on the mornings we have sausage rather than two each, two links rather than 3-4 links each. I still buy 3-6 packages each time I visit the store that sells the items but I buy less often (about every 8 weeks instead of every 4).
And last in the meat area, I said I'd stop purchasing luncheon meats. I did. I bought deli beef bologna once and split the half pound into two packages, freezing one for later. I think this shall be the only luncheon meat type product we will buy in future, only because I cannot get bologna taste any other way. I'm surely not going to make my own! However, roast beef, turkey, chicken, eggs, tuna, cheese and peanut butter will suffice for sandwich fillers for the most part and will be what we use.
I haven't attempted to plant a lot of food plants. I have one onion that had sprouted and three sweet potatoes which I planted, more for the vines than the potatoes which they should produce if they grow. In the past I've had tiny harvests, but even tiny amounts of homegrown foods are a savings. I've waited too late to plant peas or lettuce this year. I will at least attempt herbs which tend to do well in our summer heat. I'll have to get to work on this.
I purchased very little for my winter wardrobe. Two thrift store scarves, one pair of thrift store shoes, two new pairs of jeans (these will be worn more than just winter wear) and a new pair of pajamas to replace my quite old pair that were gently used when I acquired them. I also purchased socks and undies. I have purchased one new t-shirt to add to my spring wardrobe. I'd say I spent about $120...which averages $40/month and that is acceptable. I had determined I needed new sandals but realized I have a perfectly nice, neutral pair for day to day wear. Not my favorite pair but they are comfortable and they look nice. Since I purchase my own clothing from my Christmas/birthday gift money and allowances, which is also my home/garden fund and is pretty much drained now, it will be more difficult to spend much over the next few months.
I wanted to make my booth a paying proposition. I did well over Christmas, making enough in December to pay December and January rents and purchase some new stock. I've had to pay the past two months out of pocket. I did not fluff and freshen the booth as often as I ought to have over the last 10 weeks. This has been partly due to ailments and too many cloudy/rainy/gloomy days which I admit lowers my mood enough that just getting the household things done is more than too much most days. I went in Friday and moved things about, added some new items, dusted well. I have new shelving that is meant to go into the store but when? John's schedule and the shop hours are not combining too well. However, I will try to make it priority over the next week or so.
I have a gracious plenty of stock on hand at present, but I do find it's best to go thrifting at least once a month just so I don't run out of new things to freshen up the booth with. Since I buy only things I personally like, if something doesn't sell at the booth it can eventually be brought home. And I am always finding things at home that I no longer want to keep and can move into the booth as stock. It works well. I am trying to keep my expenses each month to no more than $30 and so far I'm there. I would much prefer it all turn to profit consistently.
There is a festival in town at the end of April and I hope to have the shelves up and stocked that day. The proprietor has also offered free outdoor space to anyone who wants to set up a table. I confess that I typically don't shop or do any sort of work on Saturdays since it is our Shabat. I'll be in prayer about whether this is something I should do or not.
I think what I'm most proud of is the work done in my home this month, cleaning, organizing and refreshing. My kitchen makeover nearly completed) and living/dining refreshing were successful on a small budget of about $150. I'll break it down in my post on the kitchen.
I'd planned to take a portion of our refund this year to purchase a new recliner. That can't happen this year. I discovered that I'd grossly misjudged what a good piece of furniture would cost. And I wanted to buy a piece that will be a lasting piece, not another temporary item. That's what prompted the living room refresh, using what I have. There are more tasks to be done over the next few months to refresh and renew what we have with paint and fabric and I'll keep you updated as these things happen.
I did manage to purchase the blinds for the living and dining room windows. The money used came from refund debit cards, saving $1 bills, and the survey earnings from Fall. The blinds are upgrades from the inexpensive mini-blinds we've replaced almost annually over the past 5 years. I think the sunlight was breaking down the plastic. These are not top of the line but are a definite upgrade. They are 2 inch PVC wood look blinds. They do darken the rooms somewhat and really did make a difference in the kitchen sitting area in cutting down on how much heat came in that window this past summer. I have a few windows to go. I'd like to make John's music room my next priority, then our master bedroom. Oddly I've found the two smallest windows will be the most expensive to cover, as both are narrower and shorter than other windows in the house. The price for blinds for those windows are twice the cost of one of the larger ones!
I was pleased to note how many areas I did touch on in my work, though I never referred back to my previous notes as I'd meant to do. Instead, I just started doing things as they came to my attention and it's worked well. There are many many more steps I can implement to make changes. I will try to follow my notes and choose areas to work on for the second quarter.
I have several incentives. I noticed on last week's news that some companies are raising minimum wages. This will translate into higher prices overall for everyone. It never fails when minimum wage increases that prices rise. I've also noticed another one or three incredible shrinking products which have decreased sizes and slightly increased costs. I am pretty sure my health care payments will be increasing over the next quarter. And we have another child moving out of state. To travel to see him will require funds for travel. I am grateful he is at least within affordable travel distance. But the cash has to come from somewhere and with a budget that is not too elastic it means making adjustments.
That's the first quarter report on my retirement remedies...Now back to work and back to brainstorming. There are savings to be made!