Oct 242014
 

These five websites make it easy to give a little extra financial support to the school or charity of your choice.  These sites function on essentially the same concept as the money-saving cash-back websites I’ve written about, in the sense that each site is a portal through which you visit your target site (“target site” being the website that you wish to make purchases from, such as Amazon or Gap).  Your purchases at the target website are tracked, and then a percentage of those purchases are donated to the school or charity of your choice.

  1. First up is eScrip, which transfers a percentage of your purchase amount to schools and youth organizations.  Make sure your school or youth organization is registered with eScrip, and use their assigned custom link for shopping.  My daughter’s elementary school receives 1.2% of eligible purchases made on Amazon through the custom link.
  2. Amazon also has their own charitable cash-back program, AmazonSmile, which donates .5% of eligible purchases to your charity of choice.
  3. iGive provides links to over 1500 online stores, and averages a 3% donation on purchases.
  4. ShopAnthropy only links to about 700 stores, but the list includes eBay.
  5. GoodShop links to over 5000 stores, and includes coupon codes to save you extra money.  It also has an app available for iPhones and iPads.

Do you use any other sites to generate donations from purchases?

This post contains affiliate links from which I may receive a commission.

Oct 232014
 

[Expired] The Joy Of Minimalism: How To Simplify Your Life With Less by Vincent Miles is free right now on Amazon.  It’s an Amazon Kindle ebook, but even if you don’t own a Kindle you can still enjoy it by downloading it to your computer (PC or Mac), Android, iPhone, or iPad. The instructions for doing so are included under the “Buy Now With 1 Click” button.

PLEASE BE AWARE that the price could change at any time, so always check the price before clicking Buy Now.

Hurry, these promotions don’t last long.  Let me know what you thought of this book!

This post contains affiliate links from which I might receive a commission.  

Oct 142014
 

Save Money with Cash-Back Sites

I wanted to share a quick tip about saving a little extra when shopping online.  You’re probably already familiar with using coupon codes for online shopping (No? You can find them at Retail Me Not and Coupon Cabin), and you may be earning cash back through your credit card rewards program, but did you know there’s additional way to save money, usually about 2-10% of the purchase price, when you’re shopping online?  You can maximize your savings by accessing the retailer’s website through a “cash-back website,” which is a site that offers cash-back on purchases made at the retailer’s website.  Here’s an example: Let’s say you want to order something from Gap.com. First you log in to your (free) account on Ebates, and click on the Gap.com link.  You are then automatically taken to Gap.com, where you do all your shopping, check out, and pay as you normally would.  Gap.com pays Ebates a commission for your purchase, and Ebates in turn gives you some of the commission.  You would receive a check from Ebates equal to 2% of your purchase at Gap.com.

Ebates is just one of many cash-back websites.  It’s the one I prefer using because they are very good about tracking the amount they owe and sending the checks automatically.  There are a multitude of other cash-back websites out there, many offering higher cash-back rates than Ebates.  If you want to know which site will give you the highest cash-back payout for a certain retailer, you can look up the retailer at Cashbackholic, a website that compiles the current cash-back rates.  Cashbackholic‘s web design is a bit funky, but the information is accurate in my experience. Cashbackholic also offers a free “bookmarklet” for your website’s browser, so that when you visit a retailer’s website (such as Gap.com), you can click on the Cashbackholic bookmarklet and it will list the websites that offer cash-back for that retailer.

I find that shopping through a cash-back site is a quick and easy way to save a little extra money.  Be aware, though, that sometimes purchases made with coupon codes or other promotional discounts are not eligible for earning cash back.  I don’t find this to be a big deal, because it’s not really a loss to me- I’m still getting a good deal with the coupon code, and I would have made the purchase anyway even if I couldn’t earn cash back.

Do you ever use cash-back websites?

NOTE: This post contains affiliate links from which I may receive a commission.

Oct 122014
 


[Expired] Winter Gardening for Beginners: The Ultimate Guide to Planning, Planting & Growing Your Winter Flowers and Vegetables is free right now on Amazon.  I haven’t read it yet, but it seems like a timely subject so I figured I’d pass this deal along. It’s an Amazon Kindle ebook, but even if you don’t own a Kindle you can still enjoy it by downloading it to your computer (PC or Mac), Android, iPhone, or iPad. The instructions for doing so are included under the “Buy Now With 1 Click” button.

PLEASE BE AWARE that the price could change at any time, so always check the price before clicking Buy Now.

Hurry, these promotions don’t last long.  Let me know what you thought of this book!

This post contains affiliate links from which I might receive a commission.  

Sep 222014
 

Paleo Weekly Meal Plan

Paleo Weekly Meal Plan- September Week 4

Dinners

  • Monday- Lamb Tagine (from Well Fed 2) with roasted Kabocha squash
  • Tuesday- Chicken Soup (I’ll use this recipe from ThePioneerWoman, but I’ll use homemade chicken stock and add parsely)
  • Wednesday- Carnitas based on this recipe from SmittenKitchen
  • Thursday- We’re going to tackle the “beef velvet steak” that arrived in our meat CSA box from Marin Sun Farms, using this recipe from Sigona’s
  • Friday- Broiled sand dabs.  Sand dabs are a delicate white  fish that are basically a small version of sole.  They came in our weekly fish pick-up over the summer and I had hastily frozen them since I wasn’t in the mood for flounder.  Now it’s time for us to defrost and face the music, which should be more pleasant than it sounds.
  • Saturday- Pan-seared lamb chops (Joy of Cooking)
  • Laylita’s french beef stew

Dinner sides are mix-and-match as usual, and include roasted root vegetablessautéed spinach, sautéed chard, oven-roasted cauliflower rice  by Melissa Joulwan, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted winter squash, steamed or roasted white/red/purple potatoes, Michelle Tam’s braised red cabbage, sauerkraut, and fresh salads.

Lunches

As usual, lunches this week are the leftovers from the dinners, plus fresh fruit like melons, peaches, strawberries and nectarines from the farmer’s market.

Breakfasts

Paleo Chunky Monkey MuffinBreakfasts include Berry SmoothiesBanana Walnut Smoothies, PaleoParents’ Chunky Monkey MuffinsBanana Faux-tmeal, and sweet potatoes sautéed with apples.  Plus protein on the side- usually sausage, bacon, sardines, or kipper snacks and usually extra fresh fruit, too.

Have you tried weekly meal planning yet?

This post is linked up at Musings of a HousewifeSassy Moms In the City, and I’m an Organizing Junkie. This post contains affiliate links from which I might receive a commission.  

Sep 102014
 

Cash-Only Challenge

This is the last post in a series called the Cash-Only Challenge, in which I document my husband and I reluctantly giving up credit cards and using actual, physical cash for all of our purchases (imagine that!).  We wrapped up the challenge a while ago, but I’m just now reporting back to you on how it all turned out. You may wish to first check out Part I, which explains how two die-hard credit card users ended up doing this Challenge, Part II, involving grocery budget shenanigans, Part III, describing the logistical acrobatics involved in using a cash budget system, Part IV, traveling with a cash budget, and Part V, which contains the details of our cash budgeting system.

We survived the Cash-Only Challenge!

It’s done: my husband and I completed our Cash-Only Challenge.  For three long months, we paid for everything using cash- no credit cards were allowed, and we only used debit cards for paying bills online.  There is no question that going “cash-only” for 3 months was not easy…  I have an addiction to the convenience involved in using a credit card, and there were times when I wanted to abandon this Challenge with an effortless swipe of my Visa.  Nonetheless, we stuck with it, through the emotional ups and downs of using cash and making it last each month with our cash budget system.

Now the three months are over and it’s time for me to report back on the ultimate question:

Is a Cash-Only Lifestyle worth it?

Well… there were positives and negatives for us.  I’ll go through those first before revealing our answer.

Benefits of a Cash-Only Lifestyle:

  • Protection from impulse spending.  This is really big! Like all Americans, my husband and I are bombarded at every turn by enticements to buy things: advertisements on TV, in magazines, on websites, in email promotions, even arriving via push notifications to our iPhones.  And like most Americans, we give in to the desire to shop on a regular basis- buying extra little things that fall more into the category of “wants” than “needs.”  And all those little purchases add up, slowing down our progress towards financial goals that are really meaningful to us.  When we went “cash-only,” our impulse spending was drastically reduced because we had to carefully conserve our money so that it would last us the whole month.
  • Sticking to our monthly budget. If we didn’t have money for something, we didn’t (couldn’t) buy it.  As a result, we didn’t overspend, and therefore we were able to meet certain savings goals, like transferring an extra $200/month to our retirement account.
  • Satisfaction.  It was tremendously satisfying to know that whatever large purchase we made (like buying a $250 trailer bike so that we could bike our daughter to Kindergarten) was fully paid for in advance, because we had saved up for it.  I wasn’t used that feeling- I was used to the “hangover effect” of credit cards- that is, having my enjoyment of a purchase crimped by the knowledge that there was now an outstanding bill to pay. By contrast, it is amazingly liberating to hold a purchase in my hands and know that I don’t owe anyone any money for it- it’s mine and I earned it, end of story.
  • Cash surplus.  Because our monthly spending money was pre-set every month and divvied up among cash envelopes, there wasn’t any way to spend more than the cash that we had on hand.  In other words, if there was $40 left in Groceries cash envelope during the last week of the month, we could spend only that $40.  But what’s the likelihood that we’d find groceries that tallied up to exactly $40? Very low- our total would end up being $39.26, or some other amount close to $40, but not quite $40.  So we were inevitably left with spare change at the end of every month- sometimes a few coins, but often a few dollars.  It was fun to put that extra money in a jar each month, and watch the cash surplus add up.

Drawbacks of a Cash-Only Lifestyle

  •  Inconvenience.  This really can’t be overstated.  We live in a culture of convenience- smartphones are loaded with apps to make our lives as easy as possible, with turn-by-turn directions, birthday reminders, and electronic no-clip coupons served up to us with just a tap or two.  The ease of using credit cards fits right into that culture- you just swipe and pay, and go on your way.  No detour to the ATM, no time spent thinking about whether you have enough money in your account to cover a purchase, no frantic searching through your wallet to find that missing $20 bill.
  • Time Spent on Planning.  A cash-only lifestyle requires some thinking ahead- some planning as to how you will make your money last for the entire month.  If you don’t plan ahead, you could find yourself spending your entire grocery allowance in the first two weeks of the month.  In order to make the cash-only lifestyle work, I had to take time every month to review our budget, withdraw our monthly spending money from an ATM, and split it among various envelopes labeled with spending categories.  If I made a purchase in a spending category online instead of in person, I had to use our debit card, which ended up complicating things.  For example, if I bought a case of applesauce from Amazon for $20 with our debit card, then I’d have to remember to remove $20 of cash from the Groceries envelope and either deposit it back into our checking account, or make a note for myself to credit the money towards next month’s cash withdrawal for Groceries.  For many busy parents, especially those that work outside the home, this extra time spent may feel like too much of a burden.  If you’re already short on time, it’s hard to motivate yourself to use what little spare time you have on financial matters.
  • Fiscal Anxiety.  When I was shopping with a limited amount of cash, there’s a certain amount of anxiety that arose when it came time to make a purchase: “Will I have enough money to cover this?  If I buy this, will I have enough money left over for other expenses this month?  What if something unexpected happens and I need more money to cover it?”  To some extent, these fiscal concerns are a necessary part of a cash-only lifestyle- if we didn’t have them, we’d end up spending all our money before the month is up.  So in evaluating whether a cash-only lifestyle would be worth it to you, one of the questions would be, what is your level of comfort with this “fiscal anxiety”? Some people aren’t bothered by it- to them, stretching their cash to last the entire month is more like a game than a burden.  To others, any amount of worrying over money will feel intolerable- like some kind of torturous exercise in living at poverty level, even if your income is quite high.  I fell somewhere in the middle- I had occasional moments of panic as to whether I had overspent, but for the most part I felt comfortable doing the required mental tallying with every purchase

So, did we stick with a cash-only lifestyle after completing the Challenge?

After weighing the benefits and drawbacks, we realized that extra time and energy needed to manage a cash-only lifestyle was too much for us handle in this particular “season” of our lives.  Between a pregnancy that was extremely difficult, various ongoing medical visits that take time out of our schedules, and the normal challenges of raising an infant plus an older sibling, we realized that we needed to choose convenience in at least some areas of our lives. We reverted back to using credit cards, although I should emphasize that we are very, very careful to budget our spending so that we always have enough money to pay our credit cards in full every month.

I think all of the arguments in favor of a cash-only lifestyle are completely valid, and I would wholeheartedly recommend a cash-only lifestyle to anyone who is trying to get out of debt and needs a rigorous and effective method to keep spending in check.  I would also recommend it to those in less dire circumstances, who simply want to be more conscious about their spending.  In fact, we may at some point return to a cash-only lifestyle, because I think it injects a level of intentionality into spending that cannot be achieved when using credit cards (even credit cards that are paid in full each month).  But for now, our cash-only lifestyle remains a fond memory of a worthy exercise in personal finance.

Want more?  In Part I: The Accidental Players, I explain how we wound up in this Cash-Only Challenge despite having no interest in a cash-only lifestylePart II: Grocery Budget Jitters describes how we weaned ourselves from credit cards and took the plunge into using cash.  Part III: The Roller Coaster, tracks my logistical acrobatics (and occasional panicked moments) as I attempt to cover all of our month’s expenses before our cash runs out. In Part IV I report on taking our Cash-Only Challenge on vacation with us.  Part V describes the cash-only budgeting method we used to keep our spending on track.

Interested in doing a Cash-Only Challenge yourself?  Check out Crystal Paine’s book, “The Money Saving Mom’s Budget” (which I reviewed here) and learn all about it.  In her trademark upbeat style, Paine lays out the blueprint for a cash-only lifestyle.