Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bloggy Secret Santa-Thank You!

I am just now getting to this, but I participated in the Bloggy Secret Santa, hosted by Serendipity. It was so fun to get to know bloggers by both giving an receiving. I got mine a few weeks before Christmas. I was so excited!

I opened the card and saw that my gift was from Sharon at Musings of a Midlife Mom. I really enjoy her focuses on "living more and spending less."

I tore open the package and saw two great gifts inside:
I got this adorable stationary set! It goes great on my desk at work, and it's nice to have something pretty, inspirational, and useful for work.  I love the color-scheme too!
She also got me this awesome set of mini-lip glosses from Ulta! I love the variety in colors, and they're perfect to slip into my purse to take with me! I even returned my unopened lip gloss I bought at Sephora because I was so excited about these!

So, though this is late, a huge thank you to Sharon for the great gifts, and to Serendipity for organizing the exchange...I'll definitely be participating again next year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Being Practical with Gift Cards

For Christmas, some of my people were very generous, and I received some gift cards. My grandma got me $50 from Marshalls, one of my aunts got me $25 to Amazon, boyfriend got me $15 to Starbucks, and my boyfriend's dad got me $40 to AMC.

AMC will obviously be used for date nights. We went once already, and are planning to hit up one of the movies before noon ($6 per ticket) before the break is over to use the balance. Ideally I wanted to use it all on matinees, but we were out in LA the other day and needed something to do to avoid traffic for a few hours, so there went $27 of the card. I can't remember the last time I went to a non-discounted movie, and I remembered why when I saw that balance. BF also has a free ticket from giving blood, so we could combine it with that to go to an evening movie as well.

I went to Marshalls yesterday and got some new kitchen knives (mine are from Ikea and they're ATROCIOUS). These knives are colorful and high quality. I am so enjoying using them already! We also needed new hand soap for the bathroom. I had planned to hit up the Bath and Body Works sale, but instead found two bottles on clearance at Marshalls and used my gift card. They smell good and I like having something nicer than Dial in the bathroom. I snagged a few pairs of underwear as well, and still have $7 left on the card. I think I'll use it to get some scrapbooking stuff I saw. I do a scrapbook project for a novel we read in my English class in the Spring, and it will be nice to spend a little less out of my own pocket on the materials. I like that I got something I've been wanting (knives), something I need (soap), and something that I needed, but that is also fun to buy (cute underwear).

I'm going to combine the Amazon gift card with Swagbucks gift cards, and hopefully buy the Playstation Move bundle from Amazon. This is the starter set so you can play all the dance games on PS3, which would be super fun. Boyfriend mentioned splitting it...I might go with that, or if I can turbo charge my Swagbucking, get it for us for Valentine's Day. I think it's something fun we could do together at home, and I'm dying to try the Michael Jackson game. :) I think this is a good balance of using it for something fun (which I think my aunt would prefer), but also being practical and using it to save money on a bigger purchase/gift.

The Starbucks card? I'm hoping to meet up with a friend to hang out next week, and plan to suggest that we meet at Starbucks. This will save me money because I'm not spending money eating out, like we normally would. I may also use it in the next few days when BF and I go away overnight to go to Magic Mountain together. We shall see.

BF was teasing me, saying they must be burning a hole in my pocket...and it's true, I do tend to spend my gift cards ASAP! I love shopping, and it's fun to do it guilt-free. I've also made a game out of seeing how I can use them to save money from my regular budget.

Did you get Christmas gift cards? How did you use them?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2012 Goals

I am loving reading everyone's goal recaps for 2011 and new goals for 2012! It's inspiring, and I think people are making a good combination of challenging yet realistic goals for 2012. Here are mine (action plan to follow in another post):

1. Fully fund Emergency Fund (six months expenses).
2. Max out Roth IRA using a monthly contribution.
3. Become DEBT FREE by my 30th birthday (just student loan left!)
4. Save $5,000 in a down payment fund.

1. Run a 5k in under 30 minutes
2. Drink more water.
3. Use Play Station Active 2 regularly to tone up.
4. Go to a class at the gym once a month.

1. Work on communication with BF using Weekly "Relationship Check-ins."
2. Go to church service of some type once a month.
3. Work on not losing my temper with my students, even when there are over 40 in a class and they seem to be trying to piss me off.
4. Complete 92 hours in order to earn my National Board Stipend.

1. Plan trip with BF this summer using National Boards Stipend.
2. Take a trip to visit or go somewhere new with Shelley (I haven't told her this yet, but I miss her face!).
3. Visit at least one baseball stadium I've never been to (definitely San Diego, maybe also Arizona?)
4. Go wine tasting again (we talk about it all the time, need to MAKE IT HAPPEN!)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Online Rewards Review: Disney Movie Rewards

This is a post in my series about different online rewards sites.

Early on in my frugal days, I stumbled upon Disney Movie Rewards thanks to The Freebie Blogger. I saw various codes listed on there, and decided to register and enter them. I am not sure, in hindsight, if these were allowed to be shared as they were, so I can't technically recommend that you use the codes on that site. However, since then I have been above board in all my point earnings, and I'm still able to get some goodies that way.

I believe the idea is that when you buy various Disney movies, there are codes that come in the packaging. If you redeem the codes, you earn points. I rarely buy Disney movies, so that first glance, this one seems silly for me to join. Here's how I make it work for me anyway:

1. Their monthly newsletter has a code worth 5 points.
2. They occasionally have quizzes or freebie points that they email out. I still check The Freebie Blogger for points that seem legit and open to everyone, not just those who purchase movies.
3. The 25 days before Christmas, ABC Family has a code for 5 points on their site every. single. day. Score! You just have to remember to go to the site each day and click on the link. I haven't remembered every day, but I have snagged 80 points just this month. Yes, I'm a jackass for posting this as the December points are ending. Should've done this on the first, I know.
4. If you take photos of Disney movies you see in the theater, you can upload pictures of your ticket stubs and get 50 points per ticket. I plan on seeing The Muppets any day now, so I'll definitely use this feature soon!

Last year I used my points to get a free calendar from Snapfish. This year I'm still saving, but I am a fan of the different rewards available from Snapfish. I'm currently at 430 points, and my goal is to get all of my Christmas cards next year for free using this site (I would need 1100 points to get 40 free cards from Snapfish). They also have plenty of Disney merchandise, but that's not really my thing, so I stick with Snapfish rewards.

This isn't the most amazing site in the world, but it's easy to earn the points-usually just a click, not even reading much information. Definitely one of the easiest rewards sites.

Anyone else use Disney Movie Rewards? Have you gotten any cool prizes that I'm missing out on by only focusing on Snapfish?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Living the Good Life

Today I went on a run through my neighborhood and down to the beach path. As I came down the hill where I could see the sparkling ocean in the 75 degree sunshine, this song came on my ipod. The chorus made me smile and realize that despite whatever little things get to me, this is a good, good life.

Merry Christmas, and may you focus on the good in your life and in this world as you celebrate.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Online Rewards Review: Recyclebank

Today I'm going to talk about a rewards program online that I've been doing for the past year or so. Most of us know about Swagbucks (and if you're not using that one, you really should be. Amazon gift cards, people!). I've also dabbled in Inbox Dollars and Disney Movie Rewards. Today I am going to talk about Recyclebank, and in the next few weeks I'll review some other reward sites I've tried out.

Recyclebank is a website that promotes not only recycling, but all sorts of ways to go green. The basic premise is that you can earn points for recycling (if your community supports it) and also for taking various pledges or quizzes about living the green lifestyle online.

My community doesn't participate in the recycling portion of this site (though we do have curbside recycling pickup, and we participate in it each week), but I have earned plenty of points by going on their website and educating myself about how to go green. You can cash in points for various coupons, which I did once. Right now, I'm saving up for a $10 Panera gift card. They also have gift cards to Home Depot, Best Buy, iTunes, and Walmart. A $10 gift card to any of these places is 2500 points.

If you decide to sign up, I recommend going to "Green Your Seasons," where you can earn a few hundred points right away by going through the whole year's worth. There are also plenty of other ways to earn...I earned over 100 points today by taking quizzes on composting, committing to recycle electronics, and a few other simple things.

This is not the most lucrative rewards program out're not going to be bathing in gift cards or anything*, but I think it's worth my time to do some simple activities online that will eventually lead to rewards. I'm on my computer a lot anyway, so clicking over for a few minutes is no big deal to me.

Does anyone else use Recyclebank?

*If your community can get the recycling rewards, maybe you would be. ;)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011 Goals-How'd I Do?

Time to recap my 2011 goals...I actually did pretty well overall, so this is a satisfying post to write:

2011 Goals

I'm actually a huge fan of New Year's Resolutions...I like lists and goals and feeling accomplished. So, here are my goals for 2011.

1. Pay off my car!
CHECK! I paid off my car in July. It's GREAT not to have that liability anymore.

2. Increase amount I am contributing to my retirement accounts to 10% of my income. Nope. But, I am setting up an automatic Roth IRA deduction each month for 2012, so this should happen next year.

3. Increase the amount I pay toward my student loans by $100 per month as soon as my car is paid off. CHECK! I now pay an extra $300 per month, so that I can be debt free by 30!

4. Finish and PASS National Boards. CHECK! My extra pay for that should start coming in January. Yessssss.

5. Get a raise via salary points by the end of this school year. CHECK! I got a raise last May.

6. Start a travel fund so that I can begin to save up for a bigger trip in the next couple of years. Nope.

7. Put less than 8,000 miles on my car. Nope. I put close to 10,000 miles on it. 

I guess I only accomplished 4 out of 7 of my goals, but I feel good about those ones and where I'm at right now. I've been working on my 2012 goals, and I'm excited to share them and get started on them. It's been amazing to see where I started two and a half years ago to where I am today. I went from living in debts of all sorts, to having my sights set on being debt free. I went from having zero savings to being more than halfway to a six month emergency fund. 

If you're struggling with your finances, wondering if you can do can! It's not easy and it takes planning and some sacrifice. But the end result feels amazing, and I wouldn't trade more stuff for the feeling of security that I have now. I don't stress about money anymore. I think about it a lot, but because it's now interesting to me, not because I'm worried about it. My goals are exciting, and the feeling of meeting them puts a smile on my face.

How did you do on your 2011 goals?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's Gettin' Hot in Here

Last year, I lived in the most freezing cold apartment you can imagine. I could literally see my breath in my room at times. The heater was useless, and though my aunt gave me a space heater, I used it sparingly in my cheapness. I slept with several blankets, knee socks, flannel pants, and a hoodie.

This year, my apartment is a lot better, though obviously it still gets cold at night. Since I don't live alone and boyfriend is not down with being freezing to, "save five cents a day or whatever" we have been setting the space heater to sixty-five and leaving it on for the night. It's a good balance, since it doesn't run constantly, but keeps us from waking up to a bedroom in the low fifties.

Normally, our electric bill is about $21. I pay it, and boyfriend pays the city bill (gas, water, trash). This month, our bill was $31.

I had a moment of well-behaved PF blogger reaction: "What! Ten more bucks! I'm going to run around the house and unplug everything that could be using electricity! No more space heater!"

Then I thought for a second and changed my reaction. "Well, it's winter, and it makes sense we'd spend a little more to stay warm. Ten bucks is not the end of the world."

Guys, I'm changing. With my Christmas splurges and shopping for myself this month, I feel it. And I'm okay with it.

In order to get out of $20,000 of debt in two years, I got serious. I banned clothes shopping. I regifted like crazy. I made my own birthday cards. I tried to convince friends NOT to exchange gifts to save money. I unplugged everything, all the time. I sold tons of stuff on Ebay and Amazon. I took on any extra paid duties at work that I could get my hands on. And I'm proud of those actions. It felt good to be aggressive in getting out of debt, since I was certainly not passive in getting into it.

But now, I think I'm striving to find balance. I'm still paying ahead on my student loan, and I have some ambitious goals for 2012. But I'm okay with buying myself some new clothes now and then. I want to be able to surprise friends with thoughtful gifts from time to time. I don't want to freeze all winter to save ten bucks a month.

I'm still budgeting each month, and tracking my spending. But I think 2012 is going to be the year of balance. How can I save and make good financial choices that are sustainable in the long-term? Yes, I will go without luxuries in order to reach the goals, but what are the extras that are worth it to me? What are the things I can spend on that will bring happiness to myself and to others?

That, along with my specific financial goals, is what I want to focus on this year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Spendy Spend Spend

That's what I should call this month.

Originally I had plans to just do homemade gifts for everyone, and spend a shockingly small amount on Christmas gifts. And I'm still making the homemade stuff. But then, I realized that I wanted to be a little more generous with my family. I make more than some members of my family and boyfriend, and refusing to buy them gifts just seemed cheap, not frugal. Especially when I knew they'd be buying me things. In years past, I was vigorously paying off my debt and getting my house in order. And I don't feel bad about going small those years. But this year, I have a little more wiggle room. So I decided to wiggle.

I know it's not all about spending money on those you love, but frankly after spending quite a bit of money on myself this month (Uggs, makeup, jeans, Toms shoes, a scarf and a sweater), I thought it was sort of ridiculous that I wouldn't spend money on those I love.

So, I did. I didn't go crazy and spend a jillion dollars. That's not how my family rolls. But I went out of my way to pick out some things that I thought they would like/think they need. Nothing's on my credit card, and I have been tracking my spending. I'm also not doing any saving this month, though I did pay an extra $300 to my student loan.

I can't say what I bought here (they read the blog, and Christmas still hasn't arrived), but I'm looking forward to giving gifts on Sunday, both the homemade ones and the extras I bought over the last few weeks.

Did you stay small on Christmas shopping, or splurge? According to the news, it seems more Americans splurged than in the last two years...are you one of them?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tire Drama

Last week my boyfriend and I were heading to happy hour. When he got in the car he said, "your tire is flat." I assumed he meant it needed air, so we stopped at a gas station.

Nope, totally flat.

Boyfriend was less than thrilled to be changing it because perhaps he had mentioned that he saw a small bulge in the tire several months ago and that I needed to take care of it. And maybe I didn't and just kept driving on it.

Okay, he did mention it and I didn't deal with it. So he had to change my tire in the rain. Oops.

But, we made it through that night, he put on my spare, and I looked up tire shops on Yelp. A local shop got great reviews, so I went there. I also looked up prices for my tire ahead of time to get an idea of what it would cost. I was expecting about $200 each, and knew I might also need new tires for all of them.

The shop was awesome. The guy told me I needed two new tires in the front. I asked if he meant three, since I'd need a spare as well. He said he could take one of the old ones and make it my spare, since all it needs to do is hold air. Duh. I appreciated his honesty, since I totally would have bought another tire from him. He said they warranty all their tires and if I didn't care about brand (I certainly don't) he could get me both tires for $320. Nice!

They didn't have my tires that day, so they also gave me a free rental for the next day while they worked on my tires. I paid $5 for an upgrade to a nicer rental (I splurged, what can I say), and bought the extra insurance on the rental just in case. The total for the rental was about $20.

Obviously this wasn't my favorite way to spend $340, but I feel like I was treated well and got a good deal on my tires. I would definitely go back to the shop again!

As far as my finances, I used the money I had planned to use for my 75,000 maintenance to cover the tires, so my E-fund is intact. But, I still need to do the maintenance, so we'll see how that goes. I budgeted for my car insurance bill to come this month, though it may not show up 'til January. If that's the case, I can take care of the maintenance on December's paycheck. If not, I'll wait another week and do it in January. I'd really like to avoid the E-fund, since new tires and maintenance are things I should plan for, not real emergencies.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Countdown to Break

Five more days.

That's what we were all saying to each other as we walked around campus this morning before school. Just make it through this week and it's vacation. And it means we made it to Christmas break without having nervous breakdowns. Well, without having nervous breakdowns that we didn't recover from.

Right now my students are working on Powerpoint presentations on the school laptops, so I'm sneaking in a blog post. Grades are due tomorrow. The holiday breakfast is tomorrow morning. I need to make tags for the books my partner teachers and I got the kids for Christmas. I need to finish the banner for honor roll. And about a million things to do at home as well.

Boyfriend and I were going to get a Christmas tree yesterday. But then we got into a fight, and fighting doesn't really ay, "let's go get a tree together and decorate it." But if we don't go soon, I feel like we should just skip it this year. This is WAY later than I normally get a tree. We'll see if we want to do that tonight. If not...IDK.

I'm almost done shopping, but I need to order one or two more things online.

Basically, this is a check-in post. I'm hoping to post again this week, but we'll see if I manage that. I need to catch up on tracking my spending and rediscover some of my frugal ways that I've let go by the wayside over the past few weeks. And I need to post about my awesome Blogger Secret Santa gift!

Anyway, just checking in. How's everyone else hanging in there as we get closer to Christmas?

Thursday, December 8, 2011


I'm home sick from work today...I've been sick all week, but have been toughing it out to go to work. Finally I decided to take a day off to stay home, sleep, rest, and cough in peace.

Anyway, thanks for weighing in on my ethical question. I talked to another co-worker who said that she thinks he probably did get paid, and that I shouldn't worry about it. I decided that if he asks, I'll split it, otherwise it's mine to keep.

So then I spent it all. On myself.

First, I headed over to and found a pair of Uggs. I've wanted Uggs for YEARS, and finally decided to go for it. I bought the biggest youth size, which saved me about $30. My boyfriend's cousin works there, so we also got to use her discount, bringing the total down to $88. SCORE!

They came last night, and I tore the box open and wore them around the house last night. Freddie asked if I was going to wear them to bed. I considered it, to be honest. They're so soft and warm. I want to wear them everyday.

Next, I went to and checked out the selection of Toms. Mine are wearing out (getting a hole in the big toe, like all my canvas shoes do). I decided to get the Carpe Diem ones. Because I want my feet to feel inspired. These were about $60 with tax. I'm still waiting for these to arrive, but I think they'll be a lot of fun to wear.
Robin Williams would be proud.

Last, I headed over to and picked out some new makeup. I got Bare Escentuals again, after using liquid foundation for a year or so. But that's the boring part. I also got a lip gloss set by Smashbox and an eyeshadow/blush palette by Stila. I am SO excited for these to arrive. I'm going to clean out my makeup case and get rid of some stuff I never wear to make room for my new additions. I love Stila eye shadow, a little goes a long way and it has a nice shimmer. I spent $96 for all three items at Sephora. I also found a coupon code for a Hello Kitty clutch and 12 extra samples with my order, so those will be fun to get too.

If I feel up to it later, I'm going to go and work on some Christmas shopping for other people, now that I've shopped a ton for myself. It was fun to pick out some new things for myself with my stipend, and even more fun that it didn't come out of my regular budget.

Have you done any splurging on yourself this season?

Monday, December 5, 2011

$250 Ethical Question

Tonight I came home and had a check for $250 waiting for me. I had no idea what it was from, until I Swagbucks'ed the company. I realized that it's my stipend for having a student teacher this semester. Score! I knew I'd get paid, but I forgot about it so this is a nice surprise.

Here's my ethical question. I shared the responsibilities of having a student teacher with a co-worker of mine. My student teacher split class time evenly between us, however he did all of his videos, interviews, and coursework in my class. We filmed weekly planning videos and did an exit interview together. The other teacher didn't do that part. For that reason I'm pretty sure that I am the only one who got paid, and not my co-worker. The videos and filmed planning sessions weren't a ton of work or anything, but it was an extra responsibility that fell to me.

So, do I have an obligation to split the money with my co-worker? Of course I'm tempted to keep my mouth shut and not ask about if he got paid. If he did, great, if he didn't I don't need to know. I did do a bit more work than he did, and the student teacher chose me to be the one to help him with his class requirements, but I'd feel gipped if the roles were reversed since he taught with both of us.

I haven't decided what to do, and I do think it's a gray readers, weigh in. To share or not to share?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Screw It

Today's payday! Holla! I went ahead and paid the extra $300 on my student loan right away. And if I'm super crazy strict all month, I could save another $700 in my E-fund.

But we're talking super strict. As in, homemade gifts, regifting, freebies, not going in with my co-teachers for a gift for all the kids. Not buying new running shoes, even though I need them. Not taking my car in for it's 75,000 mile service. Not eating out as much, or going to Magic Mountain with my boyfriend. Basically being cheap.

I decided that I just don't wanna. (Yes, that's meant to sound whiny). I am tired of being super disciplined. I want some new jeans. I want to splurge on some Christmas presents. I want to bring good food to parties, not whatever was cheapest to make.

So, I'm taking that $700 and enjoying myself this month. The 75,000 mile check up isn't exactly fun, but I've been putting it off because I don't want to budget for it. That's the other responsible thing I'll be doing, but I'm giving myself permission to get a little spendy this month. No debt. Nothing too crazy. But I'm throwing off the shackles for this month. I've been disciplined for a LONG time. My E-fund is growing nicely, my student loan is shrinking. I'm cool with saying "screw it" and just spending the money.

Do you ever let yourself "fall off the wagon?"