Category Archives: budgeting

Maxing Benefits


If you are fortunate enough to be employed with benefits, now is the time of year for annual enrollment. While beneficial in theory, actually making the most of your benefits can feel like a daunting propositions. There’s a bureaucratic learning curve at the very least.


First, you may have different health plans to compare…which spouse’s plan is best for your family finances? What are the co-pays and deductibles? How much will that add to your monthly expenses? What’s the minimum out-of-pocket and maximum?


Next, you have to learn the acronym lingo for tax free spending accounts: 

  • FSA – Flexible Spending Account
  • MERP – Medical Expense Reimbursement Plan
  • DCAP – Dependent Care Assistance Plan
The use-it or loose-it nature of the FSA program presents a fortune-telling conundrum of choosing how much to contribute. For families one of the big questions is, will you have a new baby in next year? This is especially challenging for family’s planning, but not yet pregnant. With our Girly, we were newly pregnant when we enrolled in benefits, and maxed them out assuming that we would have another hospital birth. When we opted to plan a home birth, it turn out that I had to find creative ways to spend almost $4k on medical needs. I was very happy to learn postpartum massages were covered!



There are a couple of new things this year. Come January, most over-the-counter drugs and medical supplies will no longer be reimbursed. This is going to be a big change for us, since we currently use this kitty for everything from diaper creme to sunscreen.

Another new change to my program got me pretty excited…you know those Windows invention commercials that show ordinary people with their super model double claiming brilliance for various ideas? Well, I’ve been saying for years that I wish there was a way to issue a FSA debit card and not have to waste a lot of time and energy submitting claims. Apparently someone listened, because I’ll soon have my very own Benefits MasterCard to use at the doctor and pharmacy. Brilliant, not that I can take any credit. 


For the dependent care plan you’ll note that it’s only “assistance” not reimbursement for child care. The maximum allowance is $5k per year, $208.33 per pay period and we can only dream of the day when we no longer need to siphon so much for our paycheck for child care. I’ve heard from Mamas with older kids to keep in mind that summer camps can get quite expensive, and as long as they aren’t overnight they can be reimbursed. Although this can be a little hard to predict a year ahead.

Have you been successful in maximizing your benefits?
What are your strategies?


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Sustainable Family Finances
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Grocery List: Apples v. Oranges

Family grocery shopping always feel like a paradox. You want to save money, but stock up. You want to buy quality without going in debt.


Lately I’ve grown very used to our organic grocery delivery from Spud, and enjoy spending my precious time any place but the check out line with kids! We’ve also been saving a lot. The minimum delivery is for $33, and most weeks our order is under $40. Before every time I hit the store I was dropping $60-80, often more just to stock up.


A family cannot survive on greens along though. Once I realized that we were out of cereal, lunch fixings, and dog food, I knew where my afternoon was going to be spent: Costco.


A Green Mama friend of mine shared a hilarious and insightful article about Costco from Family Circle. I love how he describes the psychology of the store layout, and how it is simultaneously intended to make you feel like an entitled consumer and financially inadequate. There are also several wonderful tips to make sure that you actually save your family money and don’t end up with a whole bunch of stuff you don’t need.


What’s your experience on saving money with home delivery or buying in bulk?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Unfurling Finances

I’ve read lots of online stories about Green Mamas who turned an eco-leaf with the new role of motherhood. It’s really a no brainer that you want your kids to have a healthy environmentWhile it should be just as intuitive to manage your finances as protect the environment, for whatever reasons, I first started caring about our finances once we became a family.

I still consider myself a financial novice. The point is that I’m trying. With patience, my best effort is getting better. Some day my investment of time and energy will pay off, hopefully before the kids hit college.

My financial strategy is to simplify, and Hubby and I are inching closer to finally merging all of our finances. If I’m not mistaken, the only lingering bill is my student loan which needs to be mailed the old fashioned way. Then we’ll be ready to close our old accounts and celebrate.

I also try to celebrate the small financial successes, like updating our new budget template. Once I finally get all this management stuff dealt with, I can promise you we’ll be celebrating our next financial goal…


When did you decide to focus on your finances?
How do your prioritize your family finances?

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Green Mama 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Budget Template!!

Our budget template has been several months in the works now, what with my Twin Sis traveling all over Africa and me just trying to managing a family and a new blog venture. You likely aren’t quite as excited as us, but I know that a few of you have been eagerly awaiting our new budget template.(hosted by Media Fire)


First, I must give the bulk of the kudos to my better half, since she’s the Excel genius who really crafted the template’s stellar formatting. I’ll only give myself credit for tailoring it to meet family budget needs.


I’ve used various budget templates over the years, originally simple self-made ones and then a few found online. Yet, none of them quite did the trick for me, and one of my biggest frustrations was not being able to see each month at a time and how the months blur together visually. This budget template helps draw your attention to important things, like when you are over-budget the font turns to red. The final page also shows you your averages, which is really key to understanding and changing your financial priorities.




Despite the bell and whistles, the template has been created with you our user in mind. You really don’t need to know Excel to be able to plug in your family budget info and watch it do the tallying for you!


Please post comment if you download, we’d love to know that our time and effort is helping you meet your family finance needs! We’d also like to continue to improve the template, so your feedback is important to us!


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Extra Cargo

Nothing says “American Family” like a good old-fashioned road trip. While nowhere near the scale of the cross-country trip we took pre-kids, we’ve got a few excursions planned as we are anxious for summer. We’ll be heading to my parents, which is a four hour trip and then meeting friends for some cabin camping next weekend.


The only glitch is that while we love our Doggy, it’s hard to pack our whole family and our gear in our rig with a big black beast taking up the bulk of our cargo space. We toyed for quite some time after we first got him with the idea of trading in for a family mini-van. It seemed like the only option. We have many friends who love their mini-vans, and it seems like almost everyone opted in when kid number two arrived. 


We did a fair amount of research. We considered buying a Mazda5, but it felt like it wouldn’t really gain much room. There would barely be enough room for the kids’ friends once they are bigger, and team sports are closer than I realize. We checked out Odysseys and Siennas, and it felt tempting.



My biggest hesitation about buying a mini-van is the low fuel economy. I just seems wrong to be going in the wrong direction when we are trying so much to reduce our carbon footprint. 

We’ve decided to try out a large cargo carrier for our family trips. In theory it will give us plenty of room for all the necessities, and reduce our mileage by a small margin. We won’t have to exchange our car just yet, which we’ve had for only two years. If we are all lucky, by the time we may really need a mini-van a hybrid version will be on the market. 

On the cargo carrier research, we found out from friends that Sears actually purchases from Thule manufacturers. They cost about half the price, because you don’t have to pay for the brand name. Of course, just after we bought ours, I found out about a local shop called ReRack. You can’t win every time.

How do you handle the need for extra cargo room?

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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.