My Thanksgiving and Black Friday Plans

My parents came over from Ireland in the 60’s, so there were many things that we as children enjoyed with a twist as first generation Americans. One of those events was Thanksgiving. I clearly remember my mother telling me when I was in grade school that she didn’t understand the Thanksgiving tradition, back home in Ireland, they were just thankful they had anything. It was mostly a disruption to their everyday life. While the parents of my friends extolled their long held family traditions, passed down from generation to generation, we had to build our own, because no one in our family had ever celebrated the holiday before.

cranberry-sauce-from-a-can

From the Cavender Brothers

Some traditions, my mother pulled from the images she saw on TV. Cranberry sauce seems to be one of these, as we never had cranberry sauce on any other day of the year. In almost a perfunctory manner, my mother would get the can opener, open up obligatory can, and slap it’s contents on a plate. The ultimate leftovers queen, she wouldn’t even save what was left behind, which was a lot. I hate cranberry sauce. Really, I’ve never tried it.

I tend to shy away from foods that have a squishy texture, and this looked as unappetizing as you could get. There really is no excuse for this shameless lack of knowledge. I live in a area filled with cranberry bogs. Therefore, my first goal of this Thanksgiving,

Make homemade cranberry sauce

It has been my experience that foods I don’t like, have been ill-prepared on my first tasting. The first time I had venison, it was made by a lady that loved salt and used it with abandon. The result was a boiled salty meat that was as unappealing in taste as it was to look at. I came upon this revelation when I ate some brussel sprouts at a fancy restaurant. When I first had them (probably at a friends house), they were too hard, and tasted like boiled leaves. But the creation I had at the restaurant showed me that brussel sprouts could be delicious.

When I discussed our Thanksgiving menu with my husband and he mentioned cranberry sauce, I knew it was time for me to confront the jellied mass from my childhood.

I’ve decided to use a recipe from the Cavender brothers, posted to their blog last year. It calls for 6 simple ingredients; honey, apple, lime, agave syrup, orange juice, and of course, cranberries. Do you make your own? What is your recipe? Include it in the comments below.

Other than that, we will have the same menu as last year, including turkey, mash, green bean casserole, and dinner rolls. We like to keep it simple.

There will most likely be a family walk after dinner and football watching. Hopefully, there will be so much gratitude flowing, that someone will do the dishes!

And if I find myself less than thankful to live in a house full of rambunctious boys, I have been given an open invitation to sleep over at my Mom’s house (Thanks Mom!). This is because the plan is for herself, my sister and I to get up super early Friday morning and

Go Black Friday shopping

One American tradition my Irish mother has fully embraced is Black Friday shopping. Ever the savings glutton, it has long been her standard Thanksgiving evening activity to gather all the sale papers and plan out how she could save the most money.

I have tagged along in the past, usually just ferrying their packages from the store to the car and in general be helpful.
This year though, I have long Christmas list, no longer filled with toys, but electronics. Since Black Friday can be a great time to buy electronics, I am doing my homework this year.

Tip #1 The first weapon in my cash savings arsenal is gift cards. I have purchased discounted gift cards from websites such as Raise.com and traded in my Verizon Smart Rewards points to get more discounted gift cards. Using these gift cards is like getting an extra 10% your total purchase. The best part is that unlike coupons, nothing is excluded. You can get 10% or more off clearance items, luxury items, electronics, and beauty products.

Tip #2 Another tools for the savings-crazed are credit cards with cash back rewards. There are many cards out there, but everyone should have at least one that offers straight cash back. I won’t delve into the card details here, you know which one you have that offers the best rewards. I have the card all paid off, and ready to go.

This year, it is a little nerve-racking using credit because we have just sworn off credit cards a couple of months ago when we enacted our debt reduction plan. This can be a slippery slope, like the alcoholic that decides to just have one drink at the office party. If this worries you too, do what I will be doing, paying the balance of the card that day. So, whatever I pay on Friday, for my great deals, Friday evening, I will be sitting down to tally the cost, and send that payment to my credit card company.

Tip #3 I could never master my Mom’s skill of remembering the prices of everything on her list. She really is impressive, she would kill it on ‘Price is Right’. So, as we tend to do in these modern times, I got an app for that.

I use Flipp on my iPhone to keep track of all the sale papers for my area. The app also has a coupons section which matches up available coupons to sales in your area. Plus, when I see something at a store and wonder what the price is at a competitor’s store, I can just look at their sales ad on my phone. This also comes in handy for stores that have price matching.

Do you shop Black Friday? what are your tried and true methods? Please share them in the comments below.

So, there I will be, fattened and broke on Saturday morning. Which leads me to my final goal for this holiday week,

Rock my high school reunion

There really is not a good time to meet up with people you haven’t seen in years, but fitting into a cocktail dress immediately after Thanksgiving is not an ideal situation. Plus, since I’m trying to save so much money on Friday, it doesn’t make sense to blow my hard earned savings on a dress I’ll hardly ever wear. So, I’ll just wear the black dress I have in my closet for funerals and spice it up with some color.

My focus has been on having some fabulous makeup for the event, as I didn’t wear makeup in high school at all, I think the contrast will be enough to fool some people into thinking I’ve really made it.

I could feel the pressure start to build, knowing that some of my old classmates are important business people in Boston and New York. Going to cocktails is a Tuesday evening for them. Gladly, I got in touch with some of my old friends this weekend, and found they too are nail-biting over baby weight that is still hanging around, and a lack of sophistication in their post-natal wardrobe. I gave this advice “Wear something you are comfortable in, rather than the latest style that makes you squirm. You’ll shine more when you are comfortable and have more fun.”

So, I’ll take my own advice, wear something comfortable and enjoy the time with my old friends. But I will absolutely strive to get the best smokey eye I can get!

556960_10200206636677656_1907554792_n

The hot mama look

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

A Penny Saved…

Why is a penny saved, a penny earned? Anyone that uses coupons and rewards programs can tell you it can be hard work maximizing your savings.

I remember when I was young, clipping coupons with my mother. I liked looking at all the lovely things we could buy with the slips of paper. My mother would have us clip every single coupon in the paper, because who knows what you’ll end up needing. She would tell me that coupons were free money that came in our newspaper. Free money!? Sign me up!

My mother spent 3 hours organizing her coupons yesterday. Always clipping every single coupon she comes across, she has substantiated this chore with the excuse that she clips not only for herself, but she shares her coupons with her children. She clips diaper coupons for me, and dog food coupons for my sister, and she even finds Costco coupons for my sister in California. She carries little scissors around in her purse, in case she comes across a coupon she needs to clip in the field. Every time I see my mother, she has a little envelope filled with coupons for me. Aw, thanks Mom!

It’s great that my mom has time to do this, but even she can recognize that sometimes it’s not worth the effort. For instance, our local grocery store offers a rewards system where you can earn points, and then use those points toward discounts on gas. But she found out that her local gas station normally sells gas at a price that is the same, or even lower, than the discounted price she would receive from the store’s gas station. Not only that, she would have to drive farther to get the store’s gas station. So, she just doesn’t use the program, it really isn’t worth her time.

And that is the key to using your coupons and rewards to your benefit, not detriment. Your time has value. If clipping coupons takes up all your time, or you have to run all over town (or the next town over) to use your rewards, what is the point?

So, here are some tips to streamline your savings process:

Use an online coupon site. What I have found that works for me, is a free service, like coupons.com. I can open my store’s sale paper in one window and the coupon site in another, and go through and clip coupons for the items on sale. Why would I need coupons for something already on sale? Because I’ve been burned, that’s why.

I have found in the past, after coming across what I thought was a great coupon, only to find out that the item was still more expensive than its competitors items. For example, I once had a coupon for $1.50 of General Mills cereal, which would make the price $2.79 at my store. But when I checked my store’s deals for the week, they had Post cereal on sale $2.00. That coupon was really useless. It wasn’t saving me any money at all, and I spent time to obtain it.

Don’t spend too much time organizing your coupons. I normally split the coupons I get into 5 categories, I put them immediately into my coupon binder and the process only takes a few minutes. My coupon binder has 6 pockets. I leave the first one empty, then the other five are split into Non-Food, Pantry, Refrigerated, Frozen and Store.

The first pocket is empty, until I am actually shopping. When I’m in the store, and I have picked up an item, I move the coupon into the first pocket. then when I check out, I don’t have to fuss with the coupons I haven’t used on this trip.

Non-food is just that, anything that you don’t eat. From cleaning supplies to personal hygiene items; medication to dog food, it all goes into the same pocket. Why? There is no point to separating them out further, as I normally only do my shopping for household items once a month or less. Why spend time organizing them? How many dog food coupons can you have? Just lump them together.

I think the Pantry, Refrigerated and Frozen sections are self-explanatory. When I’m in the middle aisles, looking at Pop-Tarts, I don’t want to have coupons in my hand for frozen chicken. And vice-versa.

The last pocket, Store, is reserved for coupons that must be used in a particular store. So when I get my coupons printed out from my local grocery chain, I stick them straight into that last pocket. Then, if I find myself out and decide to do some shopping, all my coupons are at hand. I stuck some Macy’s coupons in that last pocket that I got in the mail. I didn’t think I’d get to use them, since I had no plans to visit the mall anytime soon. Then, when we were coming home from a family outing, we decided to talk a walk through the mall. We ended up at Macy’s and my older son asked for more school pants. (He has a strict school dress code this year, so I didn’t buy much at the beginning of the school year.) As I paid for the pants, I pulled out the coupons and ended up getting 20% off khakis that were already on sale. Score!

Post in the comments your favorite coupon cheat and look for future posts on rewards programs and my recent experience using Swagbucks. I look forward to hearing from you.

Show ME the Money!!

If you have ever considered peer to peer lending, let me tell you about my experience and some lessons learned.

1. Know your credit score first

It is a huge waste of time checking what your rate will be, if you don’t know your own credit score going into these websites, or if you are not honest about what your FICO score truly is. If you search for loans under the assumption your credit score is 720, when it’s actually 670, what shows up will be loans that you can’t have.

I have credit cards that give me my FICO score for free each month, but with the creation of free websites such as creditkarma.com, there really is no reason to not know your score. I didn’t learn this recently, I always check my score before asking for credit. And if your score is below 640, you won’t qualify for many of these sites.

2. Income inflation

Don’t inflate your income thinking that you will receive better offers. Most places request either check stubs or tax returns to verify your income, so even padding it a little bit can change the terms of your loan offer, or worse, end up in a declined application. Again, a big waste of time. Some income requires certain types of documentation, like I had included my child support in my income, however, you can only do that if you have a court order showing the amount you receive each month. I had to edit my application.

2. These people work fast

I started my search at Lendingtree.com just looking around at what was out there. I hadn’t even fully formed the idea of a debt consolidation loan in my mind yet, and I hadn’t even heard of peer to peer lending. Some offers came up that looked great, and had worse terms than the credit cards I wanted to pay off. While I was still looking at my results, I got a call from one of the lenders. I was surprised how quickly your information gets sent off to these banks. The person calling me wanted to review my loan options, then said, “Sorry, it looks as though you don’t qualify. Keep us in mind for your future loan needs!” Just like that, they were gone. I also received a few emails immediately stating that I was not eligible. Most of these places are doing a soft inquiry on your credit, and once you try to process the application, they do a hard inquiry (the kind that hurts your FICO score) and make a final decision.

3. Don’t take the first offer

I fumbled the first loan offers I had received. I was trying to decide between Prosper and Lending Club, both had competitive rates, and good reviews if you check them out online. I had settled on the loan from Prosper, so I called Lending Club, and asked them to cancel my application. Then, when I spoke with Prosper, the change to my income (to remove the child support) had altered my application, it was cancelled and only after I cancelled it did I find out that they won’t offer you the same loan again. My next loan offer had a 2% increase to the APR, which made the Lending Club loan a better deal, the one I had just cancelled. I thought I would have to wait for 2 weeks for my loan applications to clear the system before applying again. Not ideal.

However the operator from Lending Club had given me a brilliant idea: I could reapply under a new email. It seems like cheating, but since she had suggested it, I gave it a try. My new loan offers didn’t look to great, so I tried again with another email. All of a sudden I had a loan offer that was better than the original offer I had planned to take from Prosper. This loan offered 6% less APR than my original Lending Club loan offer, and 3% less APR than the one from Prosper.  I don’t understand why this works, but this is the best tip: If you aren’t thrilled with the offers you get, try again under a new email.

4. Read everything

This is not your end-user agreement with Apple, these are financial documents. Read everything. Depending on your location, you may receive slightly different loan documents, but read all of them. They tell you everything about the loan, including how much the loan origination fee will be (normally 5% of your loan) and the fact that they take this fee out of the amount you finance. For example, a $6,000 loan with a 36-month term would have an origination fee of $66.60. You’d receive loan proceeds of $5,933.40 (loan amount of $6,000 minus the $66.60 origination fee). Those documents will tell you if there is a penalty for paying your loan off early. Also, when your first payment will be due, and the method of payment. Some places have the payments deducted right from your bank account, some places charge a fee if you send in an actual paper check, and some places have grace periods of up to 15 days that you can be late on your loan.

I think if you follow these tips, you too can have a nice experience applying for and receiving a peer to peer loan. Always remember to never borrow more than you need, and make sure the loan payment will fit in your monthly budget. Comment below any tips you think I left out.

DEBT

No one ever wants to talk about debt, but it’s all that is on my mind this week, so I can’t really write about anything else. There have been a lot of things that have happened over the past two years, and never has it been as my husband and I thought it would be. Having lifted myself out of debt before, I knew all the warning signs as they came, I simply ignored them.

That’s right. I willfully ignored my bad spending habits and put my family into debt.

In my home, I control the finances. I have more experience than my husband, and better credit. I make the budget, and when we break from that budget, I have the final say. Therefore, I could regale you with stories of how the kids really needed gym shoes and I was supposed to get a payment that would take care of that bill before interest was charged, but I didn’t get paid, and I didn’t pay the card off, and now I’ve paid $100 for $60 shoes.

It’s embarrassing and disgraceful, but what would be worse would be if I stuck my head in the sand and did nothing about it. It would take until 2019 to pay off these bills and I put nearly a quarter of my income towards paying debts.

The thought occurred to me to take out a personal loan to get my family finances back on track. But as they say, you can’t cure debt with more debt. Taking this drastic step would require a level of commitment of which I’m not sure we are capable. It is hard to leave behind our devil-may-care attitude behind and head into a more spendthrift place. You see, if we take this loan, and don’t change our ways, we will be in the worst place possible. We cannot afford this loan payment and carry debt on our cards. We wouldn’t even be able to make the monthly minimum payments.

Therefore, the credit cards would need to be shredded. No, I’m not going to stick them in ice, I have very hot water at my house and could have that card out in no time. The cards would have to be destroyed to make sure that we couldn’t slip into our old ways and buy that shiny thing we wanted. We would become a cash only household, and that frightens me. It shouldn’t – but it does.

My first round with debt was in my 20’s. I receive credit offers in college and having access to magic money proved too great a responsibility. I charged up nights out in the bar, dinners with friends, movie tickets – you name it. Anything you weren’t supposed to use credit for, I did, and they didn’t even have cash back rewards back then!

By the time I was 25, I contacted an agency to get myself out of debt. I chose a debt management plan, which closed many of my accounts and I spent the rest of my 20’s building my credit back.

It worked! Then in 2011 I bought my own house, on my own, because my credit was so good. By the time I got married in 2013, I was in about $700 worth of debt. I didn’t like debt, since my experience had shown me how quickly it snowballed. I had a plan to pay it off by January 2014.

As it turned out, my husband was laid-off just after our wedding. (Nice wedding gift boss!) He found small jobs here and there, but he didn’t get back into full-time work before we had a baby in 2014. By then, it seemed like a good plan for him to just stay home and watch the baby while I worked, so we wouldn’t have to pay for daycare.

I love that my husband gets to stay home with my little one, and he loves it too, but it was a mistake. More accurately, our spending like he was days away from finding his next job was a mistake. Not only did I not pay off that $700, it rapidly ballooned to $7000! I took out a loan from my retirement plan to cover the debt, not wanting to go further. But we never changed our spending habits, and the effort was for naught as my credit cards continued to carry a balance from month to month.

Back in the spring, I sat my husband down and let him know how I had mishandled our finances. He had nothing but faith in me that I could turn it around, but as we entered the summer, our spending increased like never before. For the first time we had all the boys staying with us for the month of July and I found myself putting groceries on credit cards.

I knew we were in trouble. I let my husband know that soon, we wouldn’t even be able to cover the minimum payments. We had let it go to far. Continuing in this manner for even one more week could possibly sink us. And just like that, the spending stopped. Mind you it has only been 8 days, but we haven’t spent any money at all.

My husband asked how long it would be this way. Three years. Three years of paying for the follies of the past two. He has taken more hours at work, and I’m up for a promotion that would come with a nice raise. I’m also doing well selling our excess from the basement, of things we no longer use or need. That may help us pay it off sooner. I can’t explain how much more scary the debt is this time around. Last time, I only had myself to worry about. Now, with my whole family looking to me, I don’t want to let them down. If I had only said “No!” more to the things we couldn’t afford. That’s all water under the bridge now, and we have to move forward.

I’ll keep you updated on how this goes for us.