Back to School Average Spending: $673

From an article I read in today’s Houston Chronicle:

“Parents expect to spend an average of $673.57 on electronics, clothes and notebooks this year, compared with $630.36 last year, according to the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group. In total, parents of kindergarten through 12th-grade students say they will spend $27.3 billion on school supplies this year, up from $18.4 billion in 2007.”

We have one daughter still living at home. We probably spent around that average. One surprise large purchase we had to make this year was a TI NSpire CX calculator, which set us back around $120. As long as she doesn’t lose it, she should be able to use it through college.

How much did you spend on back to school?

9 Ways to Save on Shipping This Christmas

The following is a guest post by Andrea Woroch (Twitter and Facebook).

With just two weeks until Christmas, holiday shoppers are running out of time to get holiday gifts to loved ones on time. While retailers offer expedited shipping for an extra fee, tight schedules and even tighter budgets can make this option inconvenient and unaffordable.

To avoid exorbitant delivery costs while ensuring your packages arrive in time for Christmas morning, following these nine savvy tips for saving on shipping this season.

Review shipping deadlines

For those shipping gifts through a shipping carrier like FedEx, ground delivery deadlines hit this week. In fact, the USPS deadline for Standard Post is Tuesday, December 15. Many retail ground shipping deadlines are approaching, too, so it’s time to get your shopping done so you don’t waste money on rush delivery! Review shipping deadlines for over 60 stores and set alerts on your calendar so you don’t forget.

Use a free shipping code

Free shipping is one of the most popular online promotions, especially during the holiday season. Search or free shipping codes for popular retailers like Kohl’s, Macy’s, JCPenney and more at, where you can also find rush shipping deals and discounts that may cover the cost of shipping and then some.

Sign up for a shipping club

Take advantage of Amazon’s free 30-day trial of Prime to get free two-day delivery or ShopRunner’s free 30-day trial of their expedited shipping service. These services are perfect during the holiday season, but it’s important to remember when you signed up so you can cancel before they automatically renew and start charging your account.

Choose payment with perks

You can get shipping perks depending on how you pay this holiday season. Customers who pay with their PayPal account will not only score free shipping but also free returns from any online retailer. VISA cardholders using VISA Checkout can also receive free two-day shipping from Lands’ End or special offers like $20 off $100 orders from Williams-Sonoma and Title Nine, or $20 off your next order from Shutterfly. Finally, American Express cardholders receive a complimentary subscription to ShopRunner for free expedited shipping and free returns.

Shop on Free Shipping Day

Mark your calendar for Free Shipping Day on Friday, Dec. 18, when hundreds of online retailers will offer free shipping with no minimum order and guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve. In its eighth year, this event already has over 700 stores signed up, including Walmart, which currently requires holiday shoppers to spend $50 to receive free delivery.

Opt for in store pickup

Many big-box stores like Target, Kmart and Home Depot offer free in-store pickup, but be careful not to leave the store with more than just your online order! Both Sears and Target provide curbside pick up so you don’t have to deal with crowded parking lots, plus you get the added convenience of shopping online without paying for delivery.

Save on same-day delivery

Google Express just launched a new local service offering overnight and same-day delivery from such stores as Target, Costco, Kohl’s and Barnes & Noble (stores vary by location). Check their site to see if this service is offered in your area. Google Express members receive free delivery when their orders meet minimum requirements set by stores, while non-members pay just $4.99 for same-day or overnight delivery.

Shop wisely at the airport

While I typically refrain from buying anything at the airport because of high markups, there are some airport stores where prices don’t deviate much from their traditional brick and mortar locations. Stick with options like Brookstone or Best Buy so your gift recipient can easily make exchanges and returns if necessary. Stay away from books, jewelry and chocolates, however, as you can buy those items for less when you get to your final destination!

Send an electronic gift

If you’re looking at exorbitant delivery charges to send a gift in time for the holidays, don’t do it; it’s a complete waste of money! Instead, send an electronic gift card directly to the recipient’s inbox. You can even save by purchasing a discount e-gift card code from sites like Raise or Gift Card Zen. Otherwise, purchase an item online with regular delivery and email the gift description to your loved one. It’s the thought that counts!

About Andrea Andrea Woroch is a money-saving expert who transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers by sharing smart spending tips and personal finance advice. As a sought-after media source, she has been featured among such top news outlets as Good Morning America, Today, CNN, Dr. OZ, New York Times, MONEY Magazine, Consumer Reports, Forbes and many more. In addition, Andrea’s stories have been published among leading publications and sites such as Yahoo!, AOL Daily Finance, CNN Money, Huffington Post, LearnVest and New York Daily News.

Budgeting Software – Helpful or Time-Waster?

Do you know what’s way more fun than actually budgeting? Reading about budgeting. A Google search for “Budgeting Software” will give you 3+ MILLION results.  It’s clear that people are looking for something to make budgeting easier (or something to help them put off doing the actual budgeting work), but is there really any easy way to budget?

I’ve tried a variety of software types, and I have yet to find one that meets our needs perfectly.  Since we’re also pinching pennies (in order to get out of debt), I’m completely against paying for software, so there are a lot of software types I haven’t tried.  Here’s a few I have looked at, and my thoughts on them:



We’ve used Quicken in the past. Though it’s the top result under “budgeting software,” in my mind this is really a checkbook register. Yes, you can print reports and see where you’re spending your money, but it doesn’t really help you actually create a budget. It’s still helpful, just not the ideal budgeting solution.

This one leans more towards budgeting than Quicken does, but it’s main function is still to help you see where your money is going.  It’s got a very streamlined interface, and you can connect all of your accounts to get a big picture of your family’s finances.  You can also set savings goals and see how well you are doing on reaching them.  One drawback here is privacy – you’re giving them all of your account information.  Though they tout “bank-level security,” it’s still going to make a lot of people nervous.  I’m not a dedicated user.

This one actually is budgeting software (well, technically, it’s a budgeting website). When you first visit the website, all you have to do is enter your expenses and income and it will create a temporary budget for you. In order to access the budget fully (including adding expenses and modifying your temporary budget), you have to subscribe. I couldn’t find any solid numbers for the subscription – their front page only says, “Under $5 per month.” As I said earlier, I’m too cheap to pay for it, so I can’t tell you how well this works.


Dave Ramsey’s Software

Though I don’t agree with Dave on everything, he does have some awesome spreadsheets and budgeting information available.  In fact, we’re currently using a modified version of his budgeting spreadsheet. It’s not perfect (which is why I’m always looking for something new), but it’s the best we’ve found so far. This is another one you have to pay for ($25), though. We’ve had it for years (since before our “spending freeze”), but I don’t think I would spend money on it if I didn’t have it already.


Rather than continue through all three million results, I’ll leave you with one more.  This is another one that helps you track spending, not decide how to budget your money, but this is one that our family currently uses:


If you’re familiar at all with Dave Ramsey, you’ve heard him talk about the envelope system.  He recommends you take out cash for your budget categories and divide the money into envelopes. If you have $100 in your “clothing” category, you know you have $100 you can spend that month. When the envelope is empty, you stop spending.

We’ve used this method with various degrees of success in our family.  We like the idea, but the practicality of withdrawing cash, carrying it around, dividing it between spouses just got too complicated for us and we stopped using it.  This website has solved that problem for us.

Once we’ve finalized our monthly budget, I put the numbers into the “envelopes” on the EEBA website. It will track how much money we have budgeted that month, and we enter each transaction when we spend money and categorize which account it came from, so we always know how much money is left in that “account.” My favorite thing: there’s an app. Since my husband and I both have iPhones, we use the app to input our transactions.  This way, if he spends money at the grocery store, I know about it. Both of us know exactly how much money is left in each category.


So far, creating our own budget and using this app to keep track of our spending is turning out to be the best way for us to stay on the same page.

Is there any software that you can’t live without? What tools do you use to budget and track your spending?

Check Out Ramit’s “No Christmas Gifts This Year” Project

Ramit of IWillTeachYouToBeRich is always up to something. Check out his latest project:

Here’s the idea behind the website in Ramit’s own words:

This year, Americans are planning to spend over $400 on Christmas gifts. Instead of buying things we can’t afford, here’s a way to do something more meaningful.

I like this idea. Especially, when you consider that we still have 12 million people paying off last year’s Christmas!

Question of the Day – Food Stamps

The other night I went to Kroger to pick up some milk. I was standing in the checkout line behind an older lady. I noticed that she was holding a Lone Star Card, which is our equivalent to Food Stamps. I didn’t have a problem with this lady using a Lone Star Card. What I did have a problem with was what she was buying:

2 – Six packs of candy bars
1 – 20oz. Dr. Pepper
2 – Boxes of Extra Butter microwave popcorn
1 – Bag of Fritos corn chips (it might have been some other kind of chips, I can’t remember)

That’s it! That’s all she was buying and she was paying for it with her Lone Star Card (I mean, with taxpayer dollars). Absolutely nothing of any nutritional value.

So, here’s my question(s) of the day:

Should there be limits on what can be purchased with food stamps?

I have blogged about this topic in the past and one commenter mentioned that it would be cost-prohibitive for stores to place limits on what people can and can’t buy with food stamps. I’m not buying this argument. I think the program should be run similar to WIC, which places limits on what people can and cannot purchase.

I look at it this way:

If people can’t afford to buy groceries on their own, they should have to make some sacrifices just like everday people on a budget. If our budget was tighter, I would have to cut out any extras (Coke, chips, beer, etc.). People on Food Stamps should too!

I think some people are just way too comfortable accepting charity. I would feel guilty buying crap with taxpayer dollars.

You know how I feel. What’s your opinion?

CLARIFICATION: So that you all don’t think I’m some elitist SOB, there was a time when my wife and I were poor. We were both in college and made little money. But,… we never used food stamps or any other type of assistance (except for occasional meals and some groceries from my wife’s parents). We had a very strict budget and we stuck to it. We didn’t have cable TV, cell phones, or anything beyond the basics. We lived within our means. So, I’ve been there and done that.

One Unplanned Consequence of Our Kitchen Renovation

Remember our kitchen renovation from last year? Well, I recently discovered an unplanned consequence of that renovation. I found it out after I signed up for an online account with our electric company and started looking at our billing history. Here’s a comparison of our energy usage in 2008 and 2007:

Bottom line: we’re using a lot more energy! Why? Because prior to our renovation, the kitchen was a separate room and most of the heat was contained in the kitchen. Now with that wall gone the heat is allowed into the famly room. Another important thing to point out is that we decided to recirculate the built-in microwave’s vent back into the room so the heat isn’t allowed to escape. We’ll most likely be changing this in the future.

The Law of Household Economics

I read an interesting and funny article by Karen Blumenthal in today’s Wall Street Journal titled Vanishing Act: The Law of Household Economics ($). She defines “The Law of Household Economics” as for every financial windfall, an equal, unexpected cost. She then goes on to lament the fact that everytime she and her husband experience a financial windfall, something comes up that requires them to spend that very windfall:

Our family first stumbled on this reality [the law of household economics] several years ago when we cleaned out closets and kids’ toys to join in a family garage sale. We loaded up the minivan with stuff the day before the sale and my husband stuck a dolly in the back just in case someone needed it. It shifted, and when he slammed the back door, the handle of the dolly crashed through the rear window.

Some colorful words were shared. But despite the setback, the garage sale went on. When the organizer tallied up the proceeds, she challenged us to guess our take.

“Three hundred and twelve dollars,” my husband replied.

She looked stunned. He was off by maybe a couple of bucks. “How did you know?” she asked.

“That’s what it cost to fix the minivan window,” he sighed.

Been there, done that! Actually, I would call that “luck” rather than bad luck. There’s nothing worse than an unexpected expense when you don’t have the money. So, although it may be frustrating, I would consider it a blessing when there’s extra money to pay for an unexpected expense. There’s lots of people out there that aren’t quite so lucky.