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Get Your Finances in Line in 2009: Monthly check-up

It's April and guess what that means? It's time for our monthly financial check-up. How did you do in March?

After not making a lot of headway on our savings goals last month, we were determined to kick it up a notch in the savings department–especially since the end of March would mean we'd be a fourth of the way through the year.

So my husband and I sat down and had a "money meeting" of sorts and determined what areas we could squeeze a little more from our budget, possible things we could give up, and ideas for cutting corners. Here are a few significant changes we made as a result:

1) We didn't fund our envelopes for a month, outside of groceries. We had leftover money in all of our envelopes from previous months and there was nothing we needed to purchase which couldn't wait another month or couldn't be purchased with what we already had in the envelopes. (If you are unfamiliar with how the envelope system works, check out this post here.)

2) We skipped grocery shopping for two weeks and held an Eating From the Pantry Challenge instead. This was a fun challenge to take on and it not only helped clear out some groceries and pantry items we needed to use up, it also allowed us to put some extra money into savings.

3) We had a monthly Restaurant Night instead of a weekly Restaurant Night. We usually budget to go out to eat once a week as a family but we decided to skip three of the four weeks in March in order to have a little more money to put into savings.

I'll admit that this was probably the hardest for me as I enjoy the luxury of having dinner out once per week. However, it is definitely not a necessity–we lived without restaurant food for months when my husband was in law school!–and it's certainly something we can easily live without. So it was good to make the commitment to make dinner every night. I'm definitely thinking this is something we could do more often–especially once this pregnancy is over and I have a little more energy!

These were just a few examples of ways we freed up some extra cash in the month of March. There were a myriad of other little ways, too.

The good news? All of the cutting of corners paid off because at the end of this month we were able to put enough into our house savings to push us past 40% of our goal!

We're beginning to get excited as we're starting to little by little see the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to paying 100% down for a house. (If you're new here and are wondering why we've made this goal, you can read more on that here.) We've been looking at houses in the area just to get some ideas as to what is out there and we're realizing it's very possible we might be able to get something for less than what we were hoping to pay.

Armed with this knowledge, we've decided that as soon as we hit 70-75% of our goal, we'll be able to start seriously looking at houses. We plan to only look in the price range we currently have saved and then as we are able to save more, we'll continue to bump up our price range until we find a house.

So our current plan is to continue saving in earnest for the next six or seven months and then see where we're at. Depending upon the housing market, it's beginning to look possible we just might make our big goal of paying 100% down for a home in 2009.

It still seems very far off, but we're excited at the traction we're making and invigorated to keep on cutting corners, pinching pennies, and forgoing little non-necessities (and big non-necessities!) in order to make faster headway. It certainly can't hurt anything!

To recap our March progress:

We began the month at 37.5% of our house savings goal. We ended the month at 40.5%!

We're excited to see what April brings!

How did you do in March? Whether
or not you posted financial goals for 2009, please take a moment to
post about your financial successes and failures in March and, if you'd like, the areas
you hope to improve in April. Then, come back here and leave your link
below. If you don't have a blog or would rather share anonymously, feel
free to leave your update in a comment. Let's all keep each other
accountable to be better stewards of
our resources!

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  • Coupon Geek says:

    Wow! You are making great strides, Crystal! I can’t wait until your posting of “We Found Our House!” 🙂 Until then, I’ll be cheering you on!

    Our stats are the same. Still working towards our six months expenses savings. Still on target to be done this fall. I’m anxious for the part of where we get to pay off our house in a few years! 🙂 Just glad to have all our other debt paid off!

    BTW, I’m doing a Total Money Makeover Giveaway on my site this week, for anyone that’s interested.


  • Just a heads up. You may not actually have any more energy after Baby #3 arrives! Lol.

  • That is SO exciting, and I am so thrilled at your commitment to paying for your house in cash. That is the only debt we have and we are honestly looking at the future state of our economy and realizing that this is surely a debt we want gone….now! Well, first we have to get my hubby a job. hee hee :)Then thinking of paying off the house. We “only” have 7 years left after switching from 30 to a 15 in our effort, but it is not close enough for our liking.

  • Melody says:

    What an inspirational post! We are on track to paying off all of our bills except our mortgage, but our progress definitely slowed after I left my job to stay home with our son (of course, I would never change that for the world). There are definitely some things we could live without, maybe a budget tweak is in order. Thanks for sharing!

  • Opps sorry can you take #2 off it has the wrong link to my budget review page. I redid it and #3 is correct…thanks

  • Brenda Reed says:

    I actually ordered an epacket last year and received some of your shopping and other e-booklets. But until recently, I didn’t realize that you had a web site. I am so thankful to find your web site and read your tips and hints. I have tried to implement your tips on cutting the grocery budget, but I haven’t had as much success as I would like. I would normally spend $100-120 each week for three adults. I’ve tried to cut back to $75, including all household supplies and toiletries, but I am really struggling. I live in an area with a Walmart, Kroger and CVS. I also have access to a Walgreens (which I love) about 10-15 miles away. I get a Sunday paper with coupons and ads and try to chart out my shopping to get the most for my dollar. I struggle with figuring out CVS quite honestly. I seem to find better deals at Walgreens. I also have noticed that my Walmart prices have been higher and not always the same sales prices as you post, so that has also been frustrating. I have grown children (23&26) and have been meal planning, budgeting, etc. for years, but just can’t seem to get the hang of the system like I would really like to do. Any suggestions or hints?

  • Swap Savers says:

    I love to dine out as well–it is nice to hear of other frugal people enjoying the same treat (sometimes I feel gulity about it).

    I also think it is great that you plan to pay for your house in cash. My husband and I did something similar before having children we lived in an apartment for several years to save up for a large down payment (not all in cash). I have a question though–people continued to tell us that we should purchase a house to have a tax benefit and that a mortgage is “good” debt. I was just wondering what are your thoughts about that?

  • Kim says:

    Congratulations, Crystal! I love hearing about your progress!

    We’re on track with our savings goals; we took our large tax return ( in part due to the adoption tax credit we received for our son’s adoption in 2008) and put half in savings and used the other half to pay cash for planned-for home improvement projects)

    I’m also now a dedicated CVS “Extrabucks” shopper, thanks to your blog!

    Kim from Philadelphia

  • Celia says:

    We replenished our emergency fund, after three emergencies in a row- in a month. Ow. So our emergency fund is back. We paid off an 800 dollar credit card( which is sadly why we had to dip into the emergency fund- we had the money to pay off the balance and literally days later- hello emergencies) However, all is well now. We had the horrible shock of having our car insurance double after we moved, but then thank goodness switched to Progressive and it is almost as low as it was. So that is wonderful too.

    We are not quite sure where we will be in the next month as we are still settling in to the new house and are not sure what exactly our monthly utilities will cost.

    We are delighted to be on target for me to be able( not gonna but I could) to stay home in July. Since we don’t have children yet it is silly for me to quit. Although I sure would like to. It is great to know that my pay is all extra after July.

    We are also looking for ways to trim our budget, again.

  • We ended up having a very large tax bill after discovering that my husband’s employer wasn’t withdrawing the proper amount from his paychecks. What seemed like an impossible sum is being sent in tomorrow to pay the taxes in full, in cash – not on a credit card. Over the last two months we scrimped and cut and saved until we had enough for our taxes. It inspired me to up our monthly savings since we were so successful over a two-month period. With a baby on the way, extra savings can’t hurt!

  • Melissa says:

    That is exciting news! I can’t wait until you hit that 75% mark and you can see your hard work really pay off as you look for homes for your family. We did really well in March, but as this baby is due in about a month, April will be definitely not a stellar month! We’ll be spending more on babysitters (trying to get that last date night in before baby comes!) and eating out as my pregnancy has definitely gotten much more difficult. Our savings goal is to continue to fund our emergency fund. We have 6 months, but with the way the economy is, 8 – 12 months is something I’m much more comfortable with. We are saving next for a down payment for another home or just for educational expenses for the children, depending on where God leads us. Thank you for sharing your goals with us – keeps me inspired! I look forward to hearing more as the months pass.

  • Sandy Ortiz says:

    I love your site and you’ve provided me with great motivation to have better control of my finances. I came across your site about six months ago. In that span of time I’ve become aware of the great savings I can get for my family by shopping at Walgreens and CVS. I also have been consistently using coupons which has become a great habit. You have changed my financial habits for the good and I thank you for it. I think it’s awesome that your goal is saving enough money to pay for your house in cash. That takes a lot of self-control and discipline. God bless you and your family!

  • Corissa says:

    Since you’ll be a first time home buyer, I’m curious how the tax credit factors into your plans, if at all. I think it is $7 or 8 thousand if you buy before Dec 1st, right? Would you look at that as $7K less you’ll have to save if you buy this year, or would you consider it strictly a bonus “rebate” and not let it affect your decision at all? We were thinking about buying this year, and really excited about the credit, but we don’t qualify because we have owned a home too recently.

    Money Saving Mom here: At this point, we’re hopeful we might be able to get a house this year, but we’re not going to rush buying a home just to get the tax credit. So we’ll wait and see how things pan out. However, if we do happen to be able to qualify for it, we’d see it as a “bonus rebate”.

  • Maggie says:

    Crystal – That is great!!! So excited for you. We are shopping for houses this year too, so I like hearing about your aggressive savings.

    Don’t forget the $8,000 tax CREDIT for first time homebuyers. (In the past it was just a loan “credit”, but now it does not require repayment. It is just free money.) A realtor I spoke with said you can get 10% credit up to $80K and then $8K credit from that price on. So regardless of your price range, you will get something. You must buy a home before December 1, 2009 and not have owned a home in the past 3 years to qualify. You can do an adjustment on this year’s taxes to claim the credit, or you can wait until filing next year. Either way, it’s free money.

    Just a thought if you need an extra “boost” to get you further up your goal. =)

  • Donna Wolfe says:

    Hi Crystal! Yay, you are making great strides. My husband and I are trying to pay OFF our house now–goal is in ten years and we’re on track! We saved $25,000 for a deposit on minimum wage! It CAN be done! In the sermon on Sunday the speaker said one day we will stand before our Maker and give an account—and the stewardship of our finances will be included in that review! I wonder how many more of us would serve HIM with our wallets if we truly remembered this!

  • Kacie says:

    Hooray! You’re plugging along so well.

    Are you seeking a house that you hope to keep for 5-10 years, or longer, or?

  • Cathe says:

    Good job!! You are an inspiration to so many of us!

  • Lovetosave says:

    I just discovered your site about a month ago and I love it! I have shopped at CVS for a long time but didn’t really utilize the ECB’s too often. Since finding your site I have gotten tons of items I use regularly for free or almost free. Thanks! I also applaude you for living debt free and wanting to pay cash for your home. Our home is paid for and people can’t understand why we wouldn’t want the tax write off instead! My husband and I are often viewed as strange because we choose to live debt free. It’s great to find that there are many others just like us.

  • Tricia says:

    I am really enjoying the info that you post. It has been very helpful. I just recently purchased the Fiber one yogurt and it is really good!
    Thanks for all your hard work!

  • J-Mom says:

    We just finished paying off both of our vehicles, so the only debt we have is our home. Yahoo! Now we’re working on saving up for the next vehicle so that we can STAY out of debt! 🙂

  • Emily says:

    So, I’m not someone who ever, ever comments (it’s laziness). But, I just have to say that I am so proud of you guys and so inspired by your progress in saving for the house. It’s spilled over into so many people’s lives, including ours. You’ve been responsible for lots of savings around the country. Thanks!

  • Bethany Henderson says:

    Crystal, I need some financial advice….I am living at home with my parents…while my husband is deployed and working part time at my old job. This is my only opportunity to work, since I have free childcare with my parents and inlaws. Our cars will be paid off next week and then I want to start paying off our student loans, 12K, and try to get them paid off in the next four months…My question is, should I pay them off or build up my savings first. I won’t be working after august, so I’m trying to work as much as possible during this time in our lives….The emergency fund for us, is a good idea, but I know my husband can’t lose his job because he is a marine, 🙂 Once we get our student loans paid off, we will be debt free, except for our house! Can I call in to dave ramsey even if we will still have our mortgage?

  • We are teaching a Crown Financial Ministries Sunday School class at church, and God is showing us how much room we have for improvement. Thanks to your encouragement, I stayed within our grocery budget ($40/week) for the first time. This included party food for our son’s first birthday party!! We’ve been eating from the pantry to use up some “dusty” cans/boxes that were purchased in surplus on previous shopping trips for almost two weeks now. Aside from some fresh produce and milk, we’re going to try to make it another two weeks! Also, we use a computer-based envelope system and have a number of negative envelopes (basically have IOUs in them). In March, we kept them from going any more negative! For us, this is huge. Please pray for my husband to fully be on board with God’s plan for our finances, especially the cutting corners part. One more HUGE thing…my husband told me that we should switch to cloth diapers (I had mentioned it several times before without any interest) when our second baby comes at the end of June to save money! Thanks for all of your encouragement!! You are such a blessing.

  • Karen Rucker says:

    We did great in March. We used our tax check to pay off an old loan of almost $3,500 and to replace our dying computer. We now only have some old medical debts left to pay off. It’s a lot… but I’m sure that we’ll be able to do it within the next two years.

  • Tiffany says:

    I visit your site frequently everyday. I never win anything from your site. I hope this time i will win these nice gifts. Thanks for your giveaway.

  • Sherry says:

    Wow! That is amazing!! 😀 To be able to save up for such a big purchase is definitely a blessing. 😀

    Even with purchasing more organic items which are pricier but still watching our budget, we’ve been able to put $1,200 towards our debt in the past 2 months. WE hope to have it all paid by the end of the year.

  • Agnes D. says:

    Hi! I too am participating in Dave Ramsey’s FPU. I am a young mother in her 20s and I am having trouble with allocating things for my budget. I was bad and spent somethings out of the allocated amount that I had initial wrote for them. So I compensated by moving stuff around so that everything would even out. But mathematically it doesn’t? At this point I am so frustrated at the numbers that I haven’t touched it in a few days, but now the guilt has set in because I’ve been spending and haven’t kept to my budget because right now, its none existent since none of the numbers seem right? Any encouragement would be appreciated. Thanks!

  • Crystal, Congratulations!! I am so proud of you! I also am a huge fan of eating out for the luxury of it all. I applaud you for not only eating out less but for doing your pantry challenge at the same time. Your husband is very blessed to have a wife with such self control. You are so rare!!

  • my favorite post of the month!

  • SarahJane says:

    sheesh! That is huge progress. Congratulations

  • Stacy says:

    Congragulations on the savings and stretching!

    Our savings are starting to pick up and we are very thankful to you and everyone else here that do so much leg work for us so we can get these amazing savings!

    Im 19 and I live with my mother and our four cats in Wisconsin. I visit your site regularly getting the deals as they come, and telling everyone I know about them. Trying to pass the savings on to whoever may be interested.

    We did two big shopping trips the first two weekends in March, and are still living off those groceries. (Other than a few minor trips for necessities like fresh fruits and veggies.) We do the “pantry challange” and the “freezer challange” often, and still manage to eat balanced meals every night.

    We are also trying out a hypnosis technique to start eating less. Its only been a week, but our late night snacks have been cut out, which really helps stretch the budget a little further.

    We used the $4/1 bag of cat food printable coupons and got the $4.09 bags at walmart. This really helped us cut down the cost of feeding our critters. (4 cats can sure eat a lot!!)

    Our average grocery shopping trips get us $100 worth of food, for $50 or less thanks to coupons.

    Thank you so much for the help, and good luck with the house hunting!

  • Linda Meikle says:

    Started couponing in Feb. of this year (2009) and today saved the most ever at Kroger. Spent $40 and saved $67!
    The cashier said, “You did good.” If she only knew…


  • Yvonne Wamsley says:

    I was introduced to your site about 3 months ago, and love the tips that are provided. I have learned a lot just from here and have passed the information along to my other friends.

    I have tried the Fiber One snack bars, which are to die for and hit the spot for that chocolate craving.

    My food bill alone this year has dropped 25% just with the little tricks to max. your dollar.

    Thank you and keep the tips coming!

  • Kansas Mom says:

    I am so impressed you are planning to buy a house with 100% down. I’m just curious if you plan to also have some saved for the decorating or fixing you need to do. My husband and I bought our first home last year and it has needed a ton of work! We could have put more down (yes, we have a mortgage, but we’re still paying much less than we were in rent), but instead set some aside for much-needed repairs before we moved in.

    Money Saving Mom here: Yes, we plan to have money set aside for repairs, etc. if that is needed. However, since we’re not extremely handy, we’re planning to hopefully buy something which won’t need much fixing up. Likely something which is a few years old and in like-new condition. At least that’s our hope.

    If there are some repairs needed, we’ll likely get those done before moving in–which is the beauty of renting on a month-to-month basis and living on less than we make. We can always buy and then wait a few months to move in, if need be, while we do repairs, etc.

    We’ll see, though, what house we end up with when the time comes and then base our plan on that!

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