Viva Harris

+Viva Harris writes The Daily Citron, a fun blog about setting goals, saving money, staying organized, and enjoying life in the process. Don't want to miss any tips? Sign up for the free Daily Citron Weekly Newsletter.

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
 


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.

 

Sep 092014
 


[Expired] No Gym Needed – Quick & Simple Workouts For Gals On The Go: Get A Toned Body In 30 Minutes Or Less by Lise Cartwright 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), 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.  

Aug 302014
 

When I was pregnant with my second child I became interested in cloth diapering, both for its environmental and money-saving benefits.  I ran the numbers on the cost of diapers, to see if the money saved would be worth the extra time spent in washing them.  I was shocked at how much cheaper it is to use cloth diapers, so I thought I’d share my calculations with you.  Before we get started, you might want to check out my Cloth Diapering 101 post to see tons of example of cloth diapers, and descriptions of how they work.  If you’re intimidated and/or grossed out by the idea of cloth diapering your baby, let me just say this: the options for cloth diapering have changed a lot in the seven years, not to mention the last twenty years.  So I encourage you to cast off every preconception you have about cloth diapering and learn about what’s going on right now- cloth diapering is a lot easier, and a lot cuter, than it was for previous generations.

Cloth Diapers Save You a Lot of Money

Cloth diapers have a higher up-front cost than disposable diapers, but over the long term the savings really add up- in the range of $1000-$3000 over a three year period.  Let’s break down these cost savings with a hypothetical family that needs to diaper their baby from birth to potty training.

Cost of Disposable Diapers: $3492

First we need to figure out how much it would cost our hypothetical family to use disposable diapers full-time.  Our equation would be: Cost = (Total Number of Diapers Used x Cost of Each Diaper) + Extra Cost of Disposal (don’t think you have to pay extra to throw out diapers?  Read on for details…)

Here’s the breakdown for each part of the equation:

Total Number of Diapers Used: 8208

The number of diapers used depends on how long it takes before potty training is achieved.  Every statistic I could find put the average age for finishing potty training a disposable-diapered child at 30-42 months.  For this calculation we’ll assume that our hypothetical child being diapered with disposable diapers falls in the middle, at 36 months. We’ll also assume that the parent would change the diaper each time it was wet or soiled, rather than keeping the diaper on through multiple “wettings.”  Younger children need more diaper changes than older children, but over three years it would average out to 2736 diapers per year, or 8208 for the full 36 months.  (Incidentally, these numbers are consistent with our experience using disposable diapers on our first child.)

Cost of Each Disposable Diaper: 25 cents

On average, cheap store brand diapers can be found for 18 cents each (before tax), name brands (including all-natural brands) are about 25 cents each, and premium diapers with special features (like pull-ups, over-nights, compostables, and swim diapers) are about 50 cents each.  We’ll assume that half of the diapers our hypothetical parent purchased were all-natural diapers, 25% were cheaper store brand diapers, and 25% were premium diapers with special features, like pull-ups.  That would put the average per-diaper cost at 25 cents each.

Extra Cost of Disposal: $1440

As I mentioned in this post, more and more cities and counties are implementing scaled-fee programs where your monthly garbage bill is determined by the size of garbage can you use.  In our city, a standard 68-gallon can costs about $56/month, whereas as 20-gallon can costs about $16/month.  We used disposable diapers for our first daughter, and there was no question we needed the 68-gallon can for disposing of them.  Once she was potty trained, we were able to reduce our can to the 20-gallon size- saving us $40/month!  Assuming our hypothetical family can take advantage of a scaled-fee program such as this, they would pay $40/month extra for the regular 68-gallon can.  Multiply that times 36 months and you get $1440 extra spent on garbage disposal.

So, our equation is 8208 (Total Number of Diapers Used), multiplied by $.25 (the Cost of Each Diaper), then add $1440 (Extra Cost of Disposal).  This equals $3492 spent on disposable diapers over a three year period.

Cost of Cloth Diapers: $573.78

Now we’ll determine how much it would cost to cloth diaper our hypothetical child.  Our equation would be: Cost = (Number of Cloth Diapers Used x Cost of Each Cloth Diaper) + Total Washing/Drying Costs – Money Back From Re-Selling Diapers (don’t think anyone would want to buy those stained, pooped-in cloth diapers?  Think again! Read on for details…)

Number of Cloth Diapers Used: 24

For full-time cloth diapering from birth to potty training, most cloth diaper experts recommend 24 cloth diapers total per child.  This allows you to do laundry every couple days and still have clean diapers on hand when you need them.  This assumes that you’re using “one-size” diapers that will fit from newborn to potty training- if you use “sized” diapers you’d have to buy 10-20 per size (there are generally 2-3 sizes from newborn to potty training).  For our calculation we’ll assume that our hypothetical child will be using 24 one-size diapers.

Cost of Each Cloth Diaper: $4.08-$22 ($13.04 average)

The cost of each cloth diaper is obviously determined by the type and brand of cloth diaper you purchase, and there are quite a range of options available.  The cheapest type is a rectangular cloth (called a “prefold“) that you place on your baby before putting on a leak-proof diaper cover.  You don’t change the cover every time- just the soaked prefold- so you need approximately 1 cover per 4 prefolds. I checked prices of various brands on Amazon and the price of 1 cover per 4 refolds averaged out to $4.08 per diaper.  The most expensive types of cloth diapers are the ultra-convenient “All-In-One” or “pocket diaper” styles of diaper.  An “All-In-One” is a one-piece leak-proof diaper that Velcros or snaps around the baby (we used these and these on our younger child). “Pocket diapers” work the same way, but they have a cloth insert that the parent puts into a pocket in the diaper before securing the diaper on baby.  These one- or two-piece leak-proof diapers basically look and function like uber-stylish disposable diapers- they are so convenient that they tend to win over grandparents, babysitters and daycare centers.  They come in countless irresistible colors and patterns, and use super-easy snap or Velcro-like closures.  Brands include BumGenius, Fuzzibunz, GroVia, Bummis, and Blueberry.  They range in price from $15-$35, but most are about $22 each.

For this calculation, let’s assume that our hypothetical parent, like most cloth-diapering parents, will use an even mix of prefold diapers ($4.08 each) and All-In-One or All-In-Two diapers ($22 each), which yields an average per-diaper cost of $13.04.

Total Washing/Drying Costs: $498.25

Obviously, line-drying your cloth diapers will be less expensive that using a dryer, but I’m going to assume for this calculation that our hypothetical family uses both a washer and a dryer.

Cost Per Load for Clothes Washer: $.56

A typical cloth diaper washing includes a cold water soak, followed by a hot water wash and an extra cold water rinse.  To determine the cost-per-load of this routine, we add the cost of water used to wash the clothes to the cost of electricity used to heat the water and spin the clothes.

Water Used: A High Efficiency Energy Star washer uses 15 gallons of water per load, but with the additional cold water soak (5 gallons)  and rinse (10 gallons) we should estimate the washer using a generous 30 gallons per load.  If your water company charges $.0034 per gallon of water, that would equal $.10 of water used per load.

Electricity Used: An average washing machine uses about 3.1 kWh of electricity for a cold soak/hot wash/additional cold rinse cycle.  If your electric company charges $.15 per kWh, you would multiply 3.1 times .15 to arrive at $.46 per load.

$.10 (water used) plus .46 (electricity used) equals $.56 per load.

Cost Per Load for Clothes Dryer: $.91

To calculate the cost-per-load of an electric dryer, multiply the kWh it uses times the number of hours it takes to dry a load of clothes, and then multiple that number by the amount your electric company charges for a kWh.  The average dryer uses 3.4 kWh per hour (your dryer should state it’s exact kWh usage on the back of the dryer).  It takes a dryer about 1 hour to dry a load of cloth diapers. Multiplying 3.4 kWh times 1 hour equals 3.4, then we multiply that by the amount that the energy company charges per kWh (we’ll use $.15 per kWh, but you should check your utility bill for your local rate).  The result for our hypothetical family is $.51 per load.

The cost for both washing ($.56) and drying ($.51) a load of cloth diapers is $1.07 per load.  We’ll assume that our hypothetical family washes three diaper loads per week. That’s $3.21 per week, or $166.92 per year.    Now, how many years will you be washing diapers before your child is potty trained?  There is ample evidence that babies using cloth diapers become potty trained an average of 6 months – 1 year earlier than babies in disposable diapers, and that the average age of potty training for cloth-diapered babies is 24-30 months.  Let’s assume our cloth-diapered hypothetical child takes the full 30 months (2 and a half years) to finish potty training.  At $166.92 per year, this would cost $417.30 for the two and a half year period.

Let’s assume our hypothetical family values convenience in cloth diapering, so let’s also add in a deluxe toilet-mounted diaper sprayer for easy flushing of solid wastes ($59.95) and a wet/dry diaper bag for carrying cloth diapers on-the-go ($21).  That brings our total cost of washing and drying cloth diapers to $498.25.

Re-Selling Your Used Cloth Diapers: $156.48

So now, to the final part of the equation: the money you’ll make back by re-selling your used cloth diapers.  It might seem crazy that you can re-sell used diapers, stains and all, but it’s true!  Just do a search on Ebay, Craigslist, or Diaperswappers if you don’t believe me.  These sites show you can typically sell used diapers for at least 50% of their cost new.  So, our hypothetical parents can re-sell their used diapers for $156.48.

Whew, that was a lot of numbers!  Let’s plug the numbers into our cloth diapering equation: 24 (Number of Cloth Diapers Used) x $13.04 (Cost of Each Cloth Diaper) + $498.25 (Total Washing/Drying Costs) - $156.48 (Money Back From Re-Selling Diapers) = $573.78

Our hypothetical family, diapering one child from birth through potty training, would spend $3492 on disposable diapering, versus $573.78 on cloth diapering.  Money saved using cloth diapers instead of disposable diapers: $2837.27!

After I ran these numbers, we decided to use cloth diapers for our second child.  We differed a bit from the “hypothetical family” because we used disposable diapers at night, and cloth diapers during the day.  We also occasionally used disposable diapers when we needed to apply diaper ointment for a rash.  Despite only cloth diapering part-time, we are still saving a significant amount of money, especially because we’ve been able to re-sell the cloth diapers we don’t need anymore for a full 80% of what we paid for them.

Have you used cloth diapers on your babies? What was your experience?

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