Finding the Silver Lining When Faced with Unexpected Expenses

7bc227df6ab84e9b959992039cf8a990A casual acquaintance of mine, I’ll call her Emily, recently posted on Facebook that she and her husband are looking at buying a new 12 passenger van, so she was soliciting input about the different kinds available.

I don’t like to admit this because she’s the sweetest woman I know, but a part of me was envious.  Jealous, even.

Not because I want a 12-passenger van because I don’t, but because I would love to be in a place financially where affording a new vehicle was an option.

As I went to hang up our laundry to dry in the spare room, I kept ruminating.  Emily is pregnant with her 7th child.  She homeschools her kids and has a mother’s helper come in once a week to help with her responsibilities and to tutor her kids.  Her kids take dance and piano lessons.  Now the family is buying a large passenger van.

How much does her husband make?

Then, my thoughts wandered to our own financial situation.  I make about 20% of our annual salary; my husband makes the rest.  We make above the median income.  We do a host of frugal activities:

  • We go out to eat less than 8 times a year.
  • We cook all of our meals at home.
  • We have a grocery budget of $125 a week.
  • I make our own homemade laundry detergent.
  • I hang up the laundry to dry rather than running the dryer.
  • We have one vehicle that is paid for and has 150,000 miles on it.
  • My husband takes the bus to work.
  • We buy used and clearance clothes.
  • We have cheap cell phones that we buy pay-as-you go minutes for.
  • We only use the cell phones for emergencies.
  • We keep the heat at 63 degrees in the winter.
  • We keep the air at 80 degrees during the day and 83 degrees at night during the summer.
  • We have one small television in the living room.
  • We find free activities to do as a family.
  • Our kids get their books and movies from the library (though we do have a Netflix subscription).

We’re doing what we can to keep our overhead low.

Yet, why then, are we struggling financially as we are?

I was done hanging up laundry by that time, but the question nagged me.

What are we doing wrong?

I mentally went through all that we spend.

Then, it hit me.

Medical bills.

So, one night I sat down and did a tally.


That’s how much we’ve spent on medical bills (mostly dental including a root canal, a crown, and phase one of Bookworm’s braces) since January, 2015.

Three months.  $2,791.10

No wonder money feels so tight.  It IS tight.

But, here’s the wonderful, silver lining, news.

We’ve paid all of those medical bills out of pocket,!!

We’ve tightened, and tightened, and tightened.  Sometimes I wonder how much more we can tighten up the budget (though I know there is always a way.)

But it’s paid off.

We’ve learned our lesson as we’ve dug our way out of debt these last several years.

We faced a mountain of medical bills in the last three months, but we were able to pay them out of pocket.

I don’t know what my friend’s husband does for a living.  I’m happy now that they’re doing well.

And I’m also happy to learn where all of our money is going.  We’re not doing something wrong financially.  We’ve just been hit with a barrage of medical bills, and we’re handling it.

That is a great feeling!

How do you respond to financial setbacks and unexpected expenses?  Do you try to find the silver lining?

How We’re Paying Cash for Phase One of Our Son’s Braces

8754ed0d8e9244688e5c04bdf2bed29cSo, Bookworm needs braces.  We’ve known this day would come, but we kind of buried our head in the sand and ignored it.

However, now that he is almost 11, the time is here.  Yikes!

We saw an orthodontist at the beginning of February who recommended a two part treatment.

Phase One

Phase One will last 9 to 12 months.  Bookworm will need to be fitted with a piece of metal on the roof of his mouth to gradually widen his upper jaw.  He’ll also need to wear head gear at night.  (Poor kid!  I don’t know how he will sleep!)

Phase Two

This phase will likely last 15 months and will be when he is wearing braces to straighten his teeth.

The Total Cost

The total cost for both phases?  Oh, just $3,330 after insurance.  (Thank goodness for insurance!)

We had the choice to pay in full, to pay via monthly payments that are interest free, or to pay in phases.

Even though I know the payments are interest free, I really, really never want to make payments on anything ever again.  I want to pay cash and be done.

How We’re Paying Cash for Braces

We set a goal to pay cash for Phase One, which will cost $950 after insurance.

  • Immediately after our consultation, I designated one of my jobs as “braces money.”  All the money I make from that job no longer goes in our regular budget but goes straight to the braces fund.  Doing this, I saved $487.84.
  • Two of my other clients paid late.  Since our budget was okay without that money, I funneled it all to the braces fund.  That was an additional $250.30.
  • My mom owed me $25, so when I got her check, it went into the braces fund.
  • I sold a textbook and earned $20.09.  Yes, right to the braces fund.
  • That gave me a total of $783.23.
  • I found out from my accountant that because I had decreased my workload so dramatically, I wouldn’t need to pay any quarterly taxes in 2015.  I already had money saved for my January estimated tax portion, so I took $166.77 from that fund to save the remainder of what we would owe for Phase One.

Bookworm will start Phase One in just a few days.

I am so happy that we were able to save this money in less than two months and that we will be able to do Phase One without payments.

The real challenge, though, will be saving up for Phase Two.  Honestly, I’m not sure that we’ll be able to pay that one entirely in cash since it’s $2,330, but we’re going to try using the same strategies.  We have a nine to twelve month window to save, and we’ll save as much as we can.

Did your children have braces?  If so, how did you pay for them?

Frugal Happenings: Make Your Own Laundry Soap

Frugal-HappeningsThis year I’m on a mission to cut our expenses wherever we can.  I have experimented with simplifying my children’s clothing and making my own liquid handsoap (which my husband didn’t like at all!).

A few months ago, I decided to make my own laundry soap, but I wanted to wait to write about it until we’d had a few months to try it out.

Laundry Soap That Is Easy to Make

I followed this recipe at DIY Natural.  The recipe calls for:

  • 1 bar of Fels-Naptha soap,
  • 1 cup of Borax, and
  • 1 cup of washing soda

I found all of these ingredients in the laundry aisle of our local grocery store.

The recipe took less than 5 minutes to put together.

I use 1 TBSP per laundry load, and thus far, after 2.5 months of use, I have not yet run out of the first batch I made.

Laundry Soap That Works Great

When I mentioned on Facebook that I was making this, some people said that they had tried it but it couldn’t take out the smell of perspiration.  I was a bit concerned about that, but now that we finally have the heat of summer, I can tell you that we have not had this problem.

This soap is all natural, perfume free, and works great.  I highly recommend it if you want to save money on laundry.

Do you make your own laundry soap?  If so, how do you like it?  What recipe do you follow?


Frugal Happenings: Make Your Own Homemade Liquid Handsoap

Frugal-HappeningsThis year I’m on a mission to curb our expenses as much as possible.  Over the last few years, we’ve cut quite a bit, so I have to be creative to find new ways to save.

One of my first areas to target is toiletries.  I know I could get toiletries for pennies on the dollar if I couponed regularly, but I just can’t seem to find my couponing mojo.  Plus, now that I’m homeschooling, dragging three kids in and out of drugstores to save some money just doesn’t sound like a good time.

Instead, I want to find ways to reduce my costs that don’t involve coupons.  Hand soap was my first target.

Easy DIY Homemade Liquid Handsoap

Make_Your_Own_Liquid_HandsoapI’m a bit of a germaphobe, so we wash our hands A LOT.  Every time we come back into the house, before meals, obviously when we use the restroom. . .I found that with five of us using liquid hand soap, we were running through a big bottle of it fairly quickly.  I paid $6.99 per big bottle, so it wasn’t cheap.

Then I happened upon this post on Pinterest–DIY Liquid Soap without Glycerin.  The process couldn’t be easier.  Simply shred one bar of Ivory soap, dump into a pan on the stove with 10 cups of water, and cook on low until the soap is melted.  Then let it sit for at least 24 hours.

The hands on time is not more than 10 to 15 minutes.

How Much Am I Saving By Making My Own Handsoap?

The cost?  You’ll love this as much as I do–49 cents!  That’s right.  I can buy a 10 pack of Ivory soap at Target for .49 cents a bar.

The mixture makes enough to last our family for about 5 weeks.  We’re saving $6.50 every 5 weeks.  I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but over a year, that is a little more than $65.  If I combine this money saving strategy with several others, the savings is significant.

If I carry out the savings over 10 years, we will have saved $650 by making our own hand soap.

Differences with This Soap

IMG_3425Having said that, when you make this soap, don’t expect it to be like the liquid soap you buy at the store.  It’s a little bit thick and can be kind of clumpy.  I have to use a funnel to transfer it from the pot to my large liquid soap container.

When the soap comes out of the hand dispenser, it’s a bit stringy.  It won’t lather and become as bubbly as store bought liquid hand soap, but our hands do get a nice coating of soap.

Have you tried making your own liquid hand soap before?  If so, what was your experience?

How We Saved Money on Our Vacation Trip to Boston

100_5672aWe had the pleasure of going to Boston in late October.   Boston is a city I have wanted to see for many years, so when my husband found out he would have a conference there, I excitedly waited months for the conference date to come.

Boston is an expensive city, so to stay within budget (and our budget was about nil), we had to be creative.

Here’s how we visited Boston on a very limited budget:

How to Save Money On Vacation

1.  We stayed in a vacation rental by owner (VRBO).  Usually VRBOs are cheaper than hotel rooms, and they also have a full kitchen so you can cook your own food.  My husband had a hotel allowance, and we couldn’t find a hotel that fit within the allowance; the VRBO did, though.  It just meant he had to walk for about 20 minutes each day to get to the conference.

2.  We cooked ALL of the food we ate in Boston.  The kids and I ate every meal in our VRBO.  Before the trip, I had frozen several meals, so I brought those and simply reheated them.  I also bought easy foods to serve like grass feed hotdogs and carrot sticks.  My husband ate out once (he really wanted to have clam chowder and fish sticks) but his employer gave him a meal stipend for the trip, essentially paying for that meal.  Every other meal he ate with us at the VRBO or at the conference.  Considering we were in Boston for 4 days, I estimate that we saved at least $300 by eating food we brought with us rather than eating out.

3.  We brought a meal in the slow cooker for the drive out.  We left for Boston around 2 p.m.  I started a meal in the crock pot in the morning (polish sausage, diced potatoes, and carrots in one cup of homemade chicken broth) and cooked it on high.  Right before we left, I wrapped the slow cooker in two towels and put it in a box.  Three or four hours later, when we were ready to stop for dinner on the road, we just stopped at a rest area and had a piping hot homemade meal right out of the slow cooker.  That saved us stopping at a restaurant, and it also saved us the time a restaurant would take when we wanted to be driving.  (Because of our food intolerances, fast food is out of the question for us.)

100_56224.  We visited as many free attractions as possible.  We visited the New England Holocaust Memorial, and we also took advantage of the National Park Services free walking tours:  Allegiance to the Revolution and Meetings, Mobs, and Martyrs.  Finally, we visited the Old North Church.  All of these places/tours were free to visit.

5.  We visited low cost attractions.  The Paul Revere House was relatively inexpensive, so we made sure to visit that.  The Old South Meeting House charged $6 per adult and $1 for Bookworm.  The girls were free, which meant our whole family could enter for $13.  Not bad.

6.  We took advantage of combined ticket deals.  I took the kids on a 90 minute trolley tour, which wasn’t cheap ($77.70 for the 4 of us).  However, the ticket price included a free pass to The Boston Tea Party Museum and the Old State House Museum, which saved us a substantial amount.  The Boston Tea Party Museum would have cost us $70 for the kids and I to visit, and the Old State House Museum would have cost $8.50 (the kids were free).

Other Things We Could Have Done to Save Money

*Buy tickets online.  If we had known definitively what we wanted to do before we went to Boston, we could have bought tickets online and saved some money.  Since we didn’t know, we couldn’t do this.  Maybe someday when I have a smart phone we can do this.

*Bought a city pass.  City passes look expensive initially, but they save you a substantial amount of money if you want to visit a variety of attractions.  I would have loved to have bought these, but since Cuddle Bug is only 3.5 years old, she required a lot of down time and couldn’t go, go, go.  If we go back to Boston when the kids are older, we’ll definitely take advantage of these.

What are your favorite strategies for saving money when on vacation?