Budgeting without a Budget: Mission Impossible

I have to admit I learned very little of finances growing up. In high school, I ran Quickbooks for my parents’ business and that process was the first time I really understood how to balance bank accounts and work an account ledger. I’ve always been good at saving my money up and blowing it all in one spree of buying needed items or items I want for others, which isn’t really saving at all.

Back in 2004, I recently had my 2nd child and was living alone in a small apartment my parents paid for at the time. My mom handed me $500 and told me I better figure out daycare and have a job before my money runs out. I put that money into a new checking account and from it paid for gas, utilities, and my telephone. I kept close tabs on where my money was going. I kept my lights off the majority of the day and as long as possible into the evening to save wherever I could. I didn’t travel much and spent the entire summer playing at the park with my kids and finding things to do that didn’t cost a penny. Fall quickly came and I was proud to still have $250 in my account when I was hired on in the Walmart Bakery. We all start somewhere, right? Truth is I had a degree in massage therapy and couldn’t find a job in the field as quickly as I wanted. Um…I know I’m trying to dig my way out of the embarrassment of this entire situation and it’s not working, so let’s just move on, shell we?

A month after opening my checking account I found myself calling my mom, at the age of 22, to learn how to reconcile my account. For the first few months I was great about balancing my register and reconciling my account, but soon after adding a debit card to my method of payment, I found it more difficult and time consuming to enter all transactions. Before I knew it, I had absolutely NO idea what the actual balance of my account was. This seemed to be the story of my life. Once married, the problem worsened with the addition of  accounts and double the debit cards and checkbooks. My oblivion to my balance bit us in the bum cheeks without warning on a number of occasions.

To ensure we were not paycheck to paycheck or worse–overdrafted–I often drew up a budget: X amount for tithing, X amount for rent, X amount for fuel, X amount for bills, X amount for savings and so on until the entire paycheck was accounted for. I always looked at these figures as guidelines rather than rules of what we should realistically pay in certain areas. In addition to these monthly guidelines, I never took into account that every 6 months we’ll by gifts for Christmas and birthdays, pay for school clothes in the fall or fill our propane tank once a year. My plan was to deal with those expense when the time came. So, come July, we’d work on quickly gathering $500 for school clothes in August and more often than not, we’d take from other areas.  What should have been saved or  payed on the current power bill would build this lump of needed money. Understanding I needed help with recording and budgeting skills, I used Mint off and on. No matter what we did, we always ended in Failure Creek without a paddle.

Recently, a friend shared her love of YNAB (You Need A Budget) with me. I reviewed their methods and advice and downloaded the trial version. Their simple methods of assigning every dollar a job, saving for a rainy day, rolling with the punches,  and stop living paycheck to paycheck really struck a chord with me. While I’ve created numerous budgets before, my take on “guidelines” allowed us the freedom to see $900 in our account and know we were well with cash for our wants. Never before had I assigned every dollar a job with intent and purpose of only spending that amount in that category. Quickly I would find that $900 dwindles down through $20 here and $50 there of eating out, and $30 for this need, and $40 for that want because I have enough to buy it, and then a week later I’m wondering if we’ll have enough for fuel and I forgot about the power bill I didn’t pay current last month. With YNAB, we quickly changed our thinking from deciding to spend based on a lump of money to spending based on the amount available in that budget category. If the money’s not there or already spent in a specific category, that “job” is done until next month. There’s no more excessive spending since $900 is actually $75 left for fuel, $220 left for groceries, $87 for the power bill….

Of course we’re not going to see immediate gratification in our financial situation or be 100% successful in carrying out the expenses as assigned.  We still find ourselves overspending our budget categories on unforeseen expenses and our habit of eating out in a busy pinch, but we’re learning to just go with it. We take from our grocery budget when the restaurants category is overspent. We take from areas that don’t immediately affect us, like the prescription or car maintenance allowance, in a month where we had to spend more on unforeseen expenses and did not use the assigned category allowance.

In this month of trial, I’ve learned that budgeting without a budget is an impossible mission. We’ve succeeded in having more money leftover in our account than ever before when the next paycheck rolls in. We’ve paid off a credit account, pay extra on all of our open lines of credit, pay a full tithing, keep our monthly bills current, stay aware of the danger in overspending on restaurants, never run out of fuel, and find ourselves less stressed thanks to budgeting with intent and purpose.

Just the other day, my YNAB trial period expired. For the first time ever, I’m in a panic feeling a lack of confidence in my ability to calculate a balance and the inability to see spending amounts in budget categories. My frugal-minded self hoped I would receive a prompt that my trial ended with a promo to purchase the YNAB software at a discount. After 48 hours with no such luck, I scoured the internet for a promo code and, much to my surprise, came across a page on YNAB’s site with annoying sarcasm reading:

 Indeed, everyone can always save a few dollars by simply doing a simple Google search for ‘[product] coupon code’. Your search for a YNAB coupon code (or YNAB 3 coupon code) has certainly brought you to the right place. But, to be frank, we don’t do coupon codes except on very rare occasions. Sorry!

How cheeky!

I didn’t buy it. I can’t fathom spending the full price on the software when I’m in the business to SAVE as much as possible. The purchase of this software falls under “miscellaneous” in my budget and that is a category I give very little to. So I pout and move to Pinterest to find some frugal DIY tutorials to keep me busy and saving money. I start dreaming of summer fun and build a board for it. I picture my family ice blocking (an inexpensive past-time here in Mormonville) and I search for a good ice blocking page with a photo to pin. In my search, I come to wikiHow: How to Go Ice Blocking. The first step and photo are wrong.  Ice blocking is a summer sport. But wait, a certain Google ad catches my eye:

Step 1
Put on warm and protective clothes and find a decent hill.
Save 10% on YNAB3 Upgrade Your Trial Version Today. Get a Special Discount. Buy Now!

It seems the Mormonville based company actually does have a google promo code. You just have to search the right Mormonville activity to find it. I do know that Google Ads change frequently and I wish you luck in finding that ad. 

It worked for me! I saved $6, applied my activation key, have total control of my money, and even managed to pin ice blocking while I worked up this post.

You need a budget. Get YNAB. Save money. In doing so, you’ll find you can afford the ice to go ice blocking. Or you could be frugal and freeze water in Rubbermaid totes and even add rope handles.

You’re welcome!


Update: About 3 weeks after my trial ended, I did receive an email acknowledging my lack of purchase after the trial ended. The email offered a “rare” 33% off. I guess it’s true that good things come to those who wait. I suck at patience. 

Bin Loveing You

Reflecting on the past few months, I have new gray hairs. My boys are getting older, adolescence is nigh, and we’re experiencing a change in attitude, testing boundaries, and new developmental stages. Sometimes I find myself wishing Calgon really would take me away.

A few days ago, we had a serious meltdown. More so than every before. The boys were standing on the stairs and there was gnashing of teeth and blows to the face. It was an all out Battle Royale. I stepped in and sent them to their rooms to rest of much of the afternoon. Exhausted and separating myself from the chaos, I sunk to the floor in my bathroom and called my husband on his way to work. We seem to be having more and more of these fits and talks and at times I’m feeling so lost. Lost in a state of feeling I’m no longer connecting with my children, often wondering if they do know I love them as I always say I do.

The events and emotions of the other afternoon have passed and all been forgotten, except for the lingering sound of  “I hate you!” coming from my child’s mouth to me for the very first time. I know that truly he does not, but it still pains me that in a moment of overwhelming frustration, he would feel that way. I’ve mulled it over in my mind for this space of time and found myself believing him at times and at others, surely knowing he does not feel that way about me.

This morning as I walked past my desk, which I’ve neglected for the past few days, a box caught my eye. Assuming it to be trash, I swept it up and froze as I extended my arm to toss it out. Adorned in the sweet writing of my children the afternoon we had this explosive fit, it reads:

“I love you bin I have bin loveing you since I was little”

“We all love you”

“Sorry we use a box”

As I look at these sweet notes and take them in with wet eyes, I believe the apology is all mine. Sorry for wanting to be swept far away from here in extreme moments of need. Sorry for not pulling them into my arms and squeezing them tight more often as they feel irritable and overcome with emotion. Sorry for being less than I know I can be in their times of need.

Truth is I’ve always “bin loveing” them too.

In Need of a Spa Day

Over the past few weeks my life seems too chaotic. About a month ago, Ox and I agreed that a move to Utah is our best option to further his fire career. We are now scrambling to tie up loose ends and plan to drive away with the Uhaul truck a week from today. I’ve been stressed about last minute packing, the little details of closing utility accounts and bank accounts, the little repairs to the house, preparing the house to be vacant for who knows how long, the fact that the house still hasn’t sold……

It’s obvious I need a break. Not just a mental break, but a physical break. One where I can put my feet up and care less about anything for even just a brief moment. Maybe what I need is to put my feet in a nice steaming bowl of buttery popcorn again. To my dismay, the air popper is packed away and not to be seen again for another 2 weeks (if I feel that motivated to unpack it right away.)

What’s my next option?

The other day my mom left an enormous tub of of green and red layered Jello with me and I contemplated puting my feet in it. The thing is, Jello is so amazingly wonderful to eat I can’t get myself to put anything other than a spoon in it. However, I long to put my feet in it and I even imagine the squelching sound as my feet are sucked through the top layer to the middle. Ahhh! Such relaxation and ridiculousness.

So what’s my next next option?

Being a massage therapist, one would think I’d turn to the spa, but that doesn’t really do it for me either. I think a close second to squelching Jello is jiggly Orbeez.


Every time we visit my sister-in-law, my niece has a massive collection of slimy Orbeez swollen to the max and captured in a vase. It’s like a rainbow explosion of muculent orbs and I need to put my feet in them! I suggest it and everyone calls me crazy and laughs it off…but serioulsy…I’m serious. I have to put my feet in them. I haven’t been able to yet. There’s just something about insisting they fetch a basin and fill it with Orbeez for me to dunk my feet that really doesn’t mesh with dinner time.

So, sadly, I continue to ponder ways to go about putting my feet in them. I think maybe I should just buy my own Orbeez machine to build my own collection and dunk my feet to my heart’s content. Call it weird and crazy–and maybe a little repulsive–but I’m not the only one that has this foot fetish for gooey globules.

What!? An Orbeez Soothing Spa Set?! You’ve got to be kidding! That will be $30 well spent when I finally get within shopping distance of a Toys R Us.

Freaky Friday

After a long awaited arrival, my Freakers came in the mail today from Freaker USA. Of all the things I said I would freak when I got them, I chose something completely different.

I freaked a pineapple and I can’t freakin’ believe it! Even more amazing was removing the Freaker and watching it shrink back down immediately to perfectly fit my Calypso lemonade. It’s amazing how much better my lemonade tastes with a Freaker on the bottle. I can only imagine how that pineapple is going to taste now. Fan-freakin’-tastic!

Monday is my Freakin’ Birthday….

and I refuse to cry about it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, June 6th is apparently the best time to be on vacation because (like clockwork) my parents are gone again. It’s a good thing I have my own family to love me because they never forget me on my special day. This year I’ve decided to think about the wonderful things I’ve got going for me:

– I’m Back on Track and have lost 7 lbs over the last 3 weeks. It’s not much, but I haven’t found it again so I know I’m going in the right direction with this whole eating healthy and working out process.  Oh how I loathe it, but it’s paying off and I’m not going to complain too much.

-My little brother is coming home for a short period of time before he ships out to Afghanistan. I love him. I’ll miss him. He is one of my favorite people in the whole wide world. I love him. Did I mention I love him? Because I do!

-I found this Freakin’ guy. Zach Crain.

With his freaky knitted one-size-fits-everything koozies, he plans to stop all bottle sweat in the world, thus stopping all moist handshakes forever.

How can you not like this guy? He had me at “your hair is like beautiful fire.”

He launched his business idea on Kickstarter and needs our help to back his project. We’ve got 3 days to close the gap and reach our goal of $48,500. You can back him with as little as $1, and for each donation level you’ll recieve awesome rewards…a Freaker koozie is the minimum and the sky’s the limit.

My birthday wish is that, together, we can pull through and help launch this business because I need a Freaker….for my wrists…and my water bottle…and my diaperbag’s wipies case…and my cankles while I’m workin’ out…and my drink shaker…and my vacuum handle…….

If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s all or freakin’ nothing! If we don’t reach our goal by June 6th, nobody’s credit card will get charged, nobody will get freaked and everyone will cry.

I refuse to cry on my birthday!

So I beg you to please–pretty please with a freaked out cherry on top–support this guy so we can freakin’ celebrate on the 6th. >>> http://www.freakerusa.com

Psst…Not having a freaker feels like getting kicked in the man grapes…and that don’t feel good. Not at all.

Childhood Love

My boys’ birthday party was a huge success although the friends they invited from school were unable to attend with so many events going on in the surrounding area over the weekend.

My little guy was heartbroken that his kindergarten girlfriend couldn’t make it. He’d known for over a week that she wasn’t coming to the party and when the day finally came, he was even more saddened until the fun was impossible to ignore.

Today he is seven. To our surprise this morning, his girlfriend was waiting for him  by the locked door of their classroom with a present in hand. Her bright eyes sparkled as she walked toward him. She greeted him with a hug, wished him a Happy Birthday, and quickly turned to leave, her silky pigtails swinging as she walked away. They saw each other yesterday as school, but she’d remembered his birthday wasn’t until today.

The sight of her actions fills my heart with joy and even made me cry a little today. I’ve pondered this a bit through the morning and believe that the only feeling better than that of pure, innocent childhood love is being married to your best friend for time and all eternity or the beautiful birth of a child.

Party Planning 101: The Invitations

Finalizing the guest list is the first step to planning invitations. This is always the worst part of my party planning. The more people you have the more expensive things get, not to mention the noise and the chaos if every parent decide to use you as a babysitting service on the day of the party. My children have a number of cousins nearby so there’s no way to avoid large numbers. This year I allowed my children to choose 3 friends each. All together, we’re expecting 16 kids!

I love using Vistaprint and Shutterfly to create announcements and invites, but didn’t want to spend that kind of money this year. We bought an inexpensive set of themed invites when we purchased our party supplies from Party City, but I found they will not arrive until the 16th. I need invites right now–we only have 10 days until the party.

I searched around for invite ideas and really loved some of the examples I found on Stop, Drop and Blog. I browsed Snapfish and for a second thought to spend the money because it’s so much easier, but surprisingly I stuck to my budget–which is now zero for invites. Hmm…how do I get nice invites for nothing at all?

I searched online for a firefighter theme digital scrapbooking kit and found myself back at Stop, Drop and Blog, jumping over to Kim’s Scrappin’ and Designing to download Just Call Me The Fireman. This is the best darn fire theme ever and it’s free!

I had my pieces, a rough idea of what I wanted to do, and fired up Adobe Illustrator. I set the red flame paper to background and layered additional papers cropping their shapes and sizes as I went. I used Adobe Photoshop to remove the lettering on the fire engine sticker and added lettering that’s a little more personal to my boys (Engine No. 09, Perry F.D., Ladder No. 07.) I placed the Maltese cross button and the engine sticker, added drop shadows and layered on the text.

I started playing with Illustrator for the first time about a year ago and this is the first complex project I’ve ever finish in under an hour. I went in with little confidence and came out tooting my own horn. Really. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t know I had this kind of craftiness in me.

To keep the printing cost low, I grabbed an open pack of Kodak Ultima Picture Paper that I had collecting dust on a shelf and printed at home. They came out glossy and vibrant, even better than I hoped.

My plan was to purchase a pack of black paper for $4 and cut them to shape for my envelopes, attaching the invitation to the inside center, folding the flaps and closing with a gold foil sticker; however, after searching four stores I had no such luck finding the paper I needed. I settled for an invitation kit from an office supply store and pieced the invitations together for less than 60¢  an invitation.

The Birthday Bash

Growing up, my birthday was always during the worst part of the year. Instead of enjoying a fun outdoor party, the first week of June always seemed to be a major disappointment. I was no longer in school, so I could not bring cupcakes to share with the class. It often rained and sometimes snowed. As I got older, I was either gone babysitting for my aunt through the summer or my parents left on vacation. There are very few memories I have of my own birthday.

Then my boys blessed my life. Born exactly 2 years and 2 days apart, I swore that each of them would feel special and have individual birthdays. I quickly took that back as I schemed to do a super birthday bash to save time and money. My youngest son had health problems that were a constant battle in his younger years and that first year took a huge toll on us. I looked at his birthday as a celebration of his life. He had made it to one! There were times I wondered if he ever would.

At that time, my oldest son loved Spongebob Squarepants so that’s what I focused on. I rented a costume and sewed a large fry cook hat to cover the wearer’s exposed head, so the kids would think it really was Spongbob coming to visit–not my good friend in a ridiculous costume. It worked. At 3 and 1, they didn’t know the difference! See that little guy in the red shirt on the right? That’s my 9 year old. I’m so glad I have moments like this because I’d forgotten how cute and chubby he was. The girl with the long hair is his preschool girlfriend. I can just hear him saying “Mom you’re embarrassing me,” but I don’t care.

Kids were running every direction, jumping, screaming, spilling juice and I couldn’t be any happier. They played pin the tie on Spongebob, had cake and ice cream, opened presents, jumped in a bounce house my mom bought for the party (and years to come.)

When the noise had vanished and the mess cleared away, my mom and I kicked our feet up. Exhausted she said, “I really hope you had enough fun and you never put us through that again.” But the truth is that party was the best day ever (in the voice of Spongebob) and I’m now living my birthdays vicariously through my children.

Since then, we’ve fought Davey Jones for the map to the treasure chest

and got our faces painted, spun cotton candy, rode a pony, played games for prizes, and even stuck our head in a lion’s mouth at a rainy day carnival.

Every other year, my biggest challenge is finding the right theme for a birthday bash. It’s got to be something both of my kids will love and the activities now have to be appropriate for guests whose ages range from 2 to 9. I was really at a loss for ideas this year…until I saw this.

Who doesn’t love shiny red helmets and firetrucks?

Dealing with Bullies

Tonight at dinner I heard my children call someone from their school a “cool cat.”  This term is a little old school, so I was unsure if I heard them correctly.  They repeated it for me and burst into laughter, which confused me even more. They shared a glance.

“Should we tell her?” my oldest son asks the youngest.

Coming to an agreement, they commence to tell me there are a lot of bullies on the playground and the two of them have started calling the bullies “cool cats” whenever they see them.  They inform me that, to them, “cool cat” is code for “dirty cow’s butt.”

There is another roar of laughter–which I take part in–and my oldest continues:

Today I walked by one of them and said, “Hey cool cat.  How’s it goin’?” and he looked at me and smiled.  I think he likes the attention.  Too bad he’s a dirty cow’s butt.

Well, that’s one way to deal with a bully.

Confession: I’m Not the Best Teacher

Over the past week, I’ve realized we make the 30 minute drive to school at a bad time as far as radio stations go.  We’re lucky if we get a song or two in before the dj’s high pitch whiny voice takes over followed by weather, news, and commercials.  We’re even luckier if the song we hear is not the same song we heard the day before.

The end of last week, I scanned stations, reluctantly stopping on the country station when my son shouted, “Oh, this is a good song!”

I have an extreme disliking for country music.  I grew up listening to it, and recall loving it, but that was Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves and Merle Haggard.  The last time I recall being captivated by country music was when the Dixie Chicks hit the charts for the first time.  That was a while ago.

The song began a little alternative,  immediately shrouded by Toby Keith’s twangy voice.

I cringed.

My oldest announced, “It sounded like a good song.  You can change it now.”

To which I replied, “It was–until his voice ruined it.”

We all laughed and changed the station back to news.

Today, on our beautiful morning drive, I turned on the radio to hear the start of What Would You Say by Dave Matthews Band.  I love Dave Matthews Band, but Ox doesn’t so I’ve never gone out to replace the albums I used to have.  Asking the boys if they like the song, they both tell me they don’t.  Sometimes I swear they are not mine.

They begin to comment on how they like the sound of the band and then, out of no where, my oldest shouts, “The music sounds great until the guy’s voice ruins it!”

Some how I’m getting that punch-in-the-gut feeling that I’ve taught my children to be unappreciative of good music.