Thoughtful Wedding Gift Guide On a Budget

Thoughtful Wedding Gift Guide on a Budget

In honor of my wedding anniversary yesterday and the two weddings I have coming up later this month I thought I would share some wedding gift ideas that won’t break the bank. Continue reading “Thoughtful Wedding Gift Guide On a Budget”

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Great Financial Advice We Got From Our Travel Agent

Great Financial Advice We Got From Our Travel Agent

I love to travel. I love to talk about travel. I love to do research for travel. That being said, I don’t like to use travel agents. Mainly because I enjoy doing the work leading into a vacation; however, they are a great and free resource. When we were trying to book our honeymoon and plan a wedding, we needed help. I never expected to get some financial advice in addition to a week in paradise. Continue reading “Great Financial Advice We Got From Our Travel Agent”

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How We Are Saving Hundreds On Our Groceries

How We Are Saving Hundreds On Our Groceries

Groceries are a necessary cost, but with a few tricks you can lower your monthly cost significantly. I have always been pretty frugal at the grocery store. In college, I averaged about $70 per month when I lived with a roommate that loved to eat my food when she ran out. Luckily, after college my roommates would either replace my food if they ate it or share something of theirs. The tricks I have picked up along the way can help anyone on any budget make their money go further. I spend up to $200 (a total of $400 for a two person household) per month now, but I eat ten million times healthier than I ever did in college. Also, I am not eating ramen multiple times per week anymore. I do end up eating almost the same things every week because I am very picky. This is just another challenge for us to keep our grocery bill low, we are trying to eat healthy on a budget with one picky eater.

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How We Saved $600 in One Hour

How we saved $600 in one hour

 There are so many ways out there to save money or make money that slowly add up. A penny saved is a penny earned, but when your debt is in the six figure range, saving penny by penny is going to take a really long time.

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The 3 Simple Tips to Help You Meet Your Financial Goals

The Three Simple Tips to Help You Meet Your Financial Goals

There are millions of tips and tricks and theories and strategies out there to help people improve their financial situations. Whether their goals are to get out of debt, save money, buy a house, travel, etc. I’m not saying all of this information is bad (although I’m sure there is some bad advice out there) but it can be overwhelming. I was raised in a house where debt was the enemy, but I knew that to live the life I want that it is a temporary, albeit necessary evil. I have boiled it down to the three most simple steps which should be able to be applied to anyone and everyone. I don’t think I could make it more basic than this. If you are looking for in depth analysis and all of the tricks in the book, you will need to look elsewhere or check back later as I elaborate on each of these tips.

Step #1:

This is the most important step. Prioritize. Sit down, by yourself or with your spouse and family and decide what matters the most to you. Make a list in order of importance and see how far down the list you can get before you can’t afford to do more. It is so important to differentiate between “wants” and “needs” in this step. We need a roof over our heads and food to eat, we want to travel and watch cable TV. For us, the most important is that all of our bills are paid in full each month, this falls under “needs.” I would encourage you to list this as your top priority as well. Next was buy a new (new to us) house- from here it is all “wants.” Our next priority was our mini travel bucket list. After that is the hubs’ pesky student loan debt. The last of our high priorities is to build our savings and increase our contribution to retirement. The caveat in this tip is to stop at the priority where you run out of money. As long as you live within your means and make sacrifices when necessary, you will find a way to make it happen if it is a priority to you. It may take time. We don’t intend on taking our next two trips back-to-back while simultaneously paying off all of the student debt by tomorrow. Wouldn’t that be wonderful. Prioritize for the short and long term. Short term, we are planning to go to Vegas, and after that, Europe. Long term, we plan to travel the world and visit each state and every baseball and football stadium along the way. It all depends on what you want out of life. Not everyone wants to travel and that’s why you have to set your priorities instead of letting someone else set them for you. Making your own priorities allows you to have control and allows you choices when setting your budget. When you have the money to spend on things you enjoy it will help you stay motivated.

Step #2:

This is the obvious and most tricky step. Once you have a list of your high priority, short and long term goals, you may realize that there is too much list at the end of your money. If that is not the case then the last two steps can be optional for you (yay!) For everyone else, you are just getting started. Reduce expenses/ spending. There are a million and one ways to skin this cat. (PSA: don’t skin cats, it is an expression.) I will do my best to cover my favorites in more detail later. The best way to do it is to jump in get started. Take a look at your credit card and bank statements or receipts if you use cash. Where are you spending your money daily? Weekly? Monthly? What are you spending money on that you don’t need or use- a gym membership, lunch or breakfast out because you hit snooze one too many times before work, that outfit that looked great at the store but you will never go anywhere where you can wear it. Now take these items out. What are you spending a lot of money on that you could get a comparable service or good for a lower price- groceries, cable TV, vehicles. You would be surprised how often you can save money just by asking. Since we have started doing this, we have saved hundreds of dollars. Common questions you will overhear us asking just about anytime we spend money “Are there any specials or deals right now?” “Is this on sale?” “Where is the clearance section?” “Can this coupon be applied to this purchase?” “Is there anyway I could get this for a cheaper price?” “I work for _______, is there a discount for my employer/ line of work?” “Do you have a customer loyalty program?” “Is there a discount for paying in cash/ early/ automatically/ yearly lump sum?” Most times, we end up saving a little on things we were buying anyway. Worst case scenario, we wasted ten seconds asking a question. We have saved on our recent couch purchase, our cell phone plan, groceries, eating out, home alarm system, insurance, cable and internet and many other places just by asking. If you don’t ask you won’t get the discount. A trick I recently tried, while waiting in line at the cash register, I check my email or the store’s website. I typically can find a coupon or code for 20-50% off one item or the entire purchase. Use caution anytime you are asked to open a credit card for a discount or you may end up heading down a slippery slope. There are some credit cards I would recommend opening for the discounts, but it depends on where you shop the most frequently and if you can resist running up the balance on the card. By decreasing what is going out, you will have more money to work with and allocate to your higher priority goals.

Step 3:

This is the most difficult of the steps. I don’t want to discourage people from trying, but for the longest time I thought that this was out of my control. Increase your income. Anyone can do this, actually everyone can do this. There are plenty of ways to increase your income if you are currently employed. You can ask for a raise, more hours or both. You can pick up a second job or a better paying full time job. If your schedule is a barrier, look into an online side hustle. Use the education and experience you have to guide you in a direction where there is room to grow financially. Network. Go back to school. Learn a trade and change fields completely. Currently my husband works a full and part-time job, he is able to get overtime at both. I work one full time job and overtime exceeding 30 minutes needs approval. So it is a little harder for me if we need some extra money. This tends to leave me with a surplus of time and a lack of funds, hence where this blog comes in. If you aren’t working or you are working  but don’t want another traditional job and can’t pick up shifts or get a raise, never fear! You still have the opportunity to increase what you bring home. You can sell your stuff that has been in storage for months or years on online yard sale sites, mystery shop and get paid to answer some questions about things you were doing anyway, work online doing freelance or virtual assisting jobs, start a blog, open an Etsy shop. There are plenty of options out there and something for everyone. You may need to get creative, but you can only cut down your expenses so far before you have plateaued. Best of all, you have already set your budget without this extra income so all of it can go straight to your goals. Diversifying your income can be helpful in the case of an unexpected job loss or drop in pay. For anyone living paycheck to paycheck this could be a devastating financial setback. Increasing, and diversifying, your income will expedite reaching your financial goals.
The three tips that can help you meet any financial goal
So there you have it, the three simple tips to achieving your financial goals. These won’t get you there overnight, but it will get you there eventually. Stay motivated, set goals, prioritize, save money and increase your income and you will be on your way in no time.

 

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The Basic Steps to Setting Up a Realistic Budget

The Basic Steps to Setting up a Realistic Budget

Setting up a budget is so easy. Following a budget is where it gets hard, but if you keep your budget realistic then you have a much better chance at succeeding. There are a few tips and tricks that I use to end up saving money without even realizing that I’m doing it. Today I’m going to let you in on my secrets.

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15 Crazy Things We Gave Up To Be Debt Free

15 Crazy Things We Gave Up To Be Debt Free

This post may contain affiliate links.

Over the past year or so, we have made major strides to becoming debt free. One of the biggest factors in our progress has been to reduce our spending. Money spent is not helping reduce our debt. We took a long, hard look at our finances and where our money was going. We had to be completely honest with ourselves and separate “wants” from “needs” and set our priorities (buying a house, traveling, being debt free). Luckily, my husband and I are on the same page when it comes to being debt free and our long-term financial goals. We may not be debt free yet, but we are on our way and will only be improving from here. There have been some minor disagreements along the way, but we are usually able to plead our case to the other or work out some kind of compromise that we can agree on. Unfortunately, we are both very limited in terms of being able to increase our incomes. In fact, we have a goal for my husband to be able to leave his second job within the next year or two so our household income will probably be decreasing. This just makes it all that more important for us to reduce our spending now.

1. His haircuts

No, he is not growing his hair out to match mine. He had the idea one day that he was going to buy clippers online and have me cut his hair. After price comparing on Amazon, he ordered a set of clippers for about 20 bucks. His haircuts had been running about $15 with tip; after two haircuts, we had already broken even. He typically got his hair cut about every 4-6 weeks, so this only took until month two. Unfortunately, my haircuts are a little more complex. I had been getting them about every 2-3 months. Since I have been trying to grow my hair longer, I am going every 3-4 and have stopped getting highlights. My stylist recently left her salon and now cuts hair out of her home. This stroke of luck took my yearly haircut costs from $600+ to about $100. The timing was perfect for our budget cutting as I was beginning to look into family/friends that have experience with cutting women’s hair or going to the local cosmetology school. I have been there before and I get emails from them regularly so if there is ever a service I would need I will know if I can get a good deal on it before paying salon prices. If you are worried about quality, don’t. A teacher reviews their work before you leave to make sure you are satisfied.

2. My gym membership

To be completely honest, I wasn’t using it. Like, at all. I had not been to the gym in about a year and a half. My membership automatically charged my credit card 16 dollars and some change every two weeks (tricky extra payment every year). That was over $600 that I just let the gym have in return for nothing. I didn’t want to cancel because I might use it again and I knew I wanted to lose weight. But that is a lot of money to literally throw away. Wasting this much money on something you aren’t using is only slowing you down on your path to becoming debt free. This is true for any subscription service that you have been meaning to cancel. You know the one I’m talking about. Call them right now and cancel, I’ll wait.

3. Large quantities of meat

We barely eat red meat anymore and usually the meat we do buy is chicken. We have not given up meat entirely, nor do we want to. We have made extra effort to reduce the amount of meat we eat by using portion control and having side dishes at every meal. On a typical week we buy about 2-3 pounds of chicken and about 1.5 pounds of lunch meat. This has helped our budget as well as our waistlines. Bonus!

4. Filing taxes

That sounds slightly misleading, we do still file taxes, we just stopped paying someone to do it. We were paying about $150 per year to have our taxes filed. Filing your own taxes sounds intimidating, but for most people, its really not that bad. Definitely not worth paying someone $150 to save an hour or two of our time. A lot of places offer free help for simple returns. Try one of the many programs out there if you are worried about being audited. All you have to do is plug in the numbers from your W-2 and answer some questions. Once you feel comfortable at this level you should be able to make the transition to doing your taxes all on your own. It may take some work but if you can do it yourself instead of paying someone, it may be worth your time to save your money if you want to be debt free as soon as possible.

5. Grocery store produce and spices

We recently started our own garden. We looked at the frequently purchased produce items and spices and started growing what we could. You can find tips and information on how to grow anything on the internet. For now, we are growing basil, oregano, cilantro, peppers, strawberries, green beans, lettuce, carrots and peas. This does have a start up cost and a delay before you see any savings but it shouldn’t take too long to break even on this project.

6. Buying things right away

We have learned to plan for major purchases, and when financing, we always make sure to avoid paying interest. We no longer just buy things when we first see them. If they cost more than about $50 we price compare with things online and watch for sales to get things at the lowest prices. We have sat in a store and googled items to see if it could be found for a cheaper price. We haven’t done this with groceries, yet. There are certain things we know we buy and use regularly- I almost exclusively wear Old Navy flip flops and American Eagle jeans. I am on email lists for both of these stores and when they go on sale, $1 flip flops or BOGO 50% jeans, I pounce. I haven’t needed to buy flip flops in awhile but I wear through probably 3 or so pairs per year and I buy about 4 pairs of jeans per year (my thighs eat jeans for breakfast, lunch and dinner) so I spend less then $200 per year on jeans and shoes combined, unless I need fancy shoes for an event or wedding. This trick could be applied to anything, wait until items you know you will buy go on sale and stock up to last you until it goes on sale again. Learn your favorite brands and stores sale schedules. Sometimes, after waiting a few days, you don’t even want (or can’t remember) the thing anymore, so this also helps prevent impulse purchases.

7. Going to bars

We are still pretty young and don’t have kids so bars are a part of life. A lot of our friends frequent local bars, but cutting this out back has saved us tons of money. A few friends of mine have a habit of racking up a bar tab of $70+ every night they go out. This blows my mind. That adds up to over $3600 a year if you go out once a week. That kind of money applied to our debt would put us on the fast track to being debt free. In fact, they would likely be debt free had they even applied half of that to their debt over the past few years. We still go out, but way less than we used to. Instead we prefer to invite friends to our house. If we do go out, we stick to beer or the specials and usually only one of us drinks per night (the other is the DD). #Drinkresponsibly

8. Blindly obeying expiration dates

So many times the food is still good beyond the expiration date. Always run these items through the “sniff test,” if it doesn’t pass then by all means get rid of it. You will find that stretching things another day or two will add up in your savings. Also, if you find that you are frequently having to use the “sniff test” on the same products, buy less and less until things are finished before they expire. My husband has been hesitant to jump on board with this one and he throws away perfectly good leftovers after they reach an arbitrary number of days in our fridge. He is working on this and our grocery bill shows it.

9. Being afraid to speak up

I used to be scared that if I tried to return something that a manager would come out from a back room and yell at me until I cried. Maybe its social anxiety, maybe its because I’m quite the introvert and not very assertive in real life. I have never had that experience, I still feel bad returning things. Anything I can’t or won’t use, as long as I still have the receipt, I have never even been questioned. Don’t let things sit around if you bought something and have buyer’s remorse or it just won’t work for what you wanted. Also, this is helpful at restaurants as well. Most places won’t question a complaint if you let them know right away. On some occasions, I have even seen management not only correct a mistake, but if it is truly the restaurants error, they may even comp the whole group’s meal. We got this lucky once without having to say anything because all of the tables in a waiter’s section had complained except us. We still left a tip because he was trying and we felt bad, but the manager comped everything for our whole table except the alcohol. PSA: Please do this within reason and only complain when the quality is truly unacceptable. Don’t accept poor quality because you’re trying to be polite.

10. Name brands and coupons

We briefly tried couponing and our total grocery bill went up. Most coupons require you to purchase a name brand product, which we rarely do. Even with the coupon it might still cost more. We still use coupons sparingly and only on items in which we were buying that brand anyway, or coupons/ rebates that are not brand specific. I have watched tons of episodes of extreme couponing, but I just can’t seem to get the hang of it. Always compare the price though because you never know when a name brand goes on sale and may be a better deal.

11. Pop

We live in Ohio, its “pop” here. Sorry if you call it “soda” but you are wrong. Either way, its expensive. Especially in restaurants. We love to go out to eat and admittedly this was harder for me than my husband as he prefers water. I am a work in progress and I am not perfect but this can easily shave off $2 per person every time you go out to eat. Other than recent events we have hosted, we have not purchased pop in over a year. Occasionally we will treat ourselves to juice or flavor packets to put in our water.

12. Upgrades

We buy what we want the first time. And by “want” it usually means “need,” but not always. For example, we were recently in the market to purchase a couch. We debated between a cheaper one that was “okay” and a more expensive one that we loved. The difference was a few hundred dollars, and the conversation would have gone much differently if we had kids already. We figured that the more expensive couch would last longer than the cheaper one and agreed that we would probably go back and buy this couch anyway. So rather than spend a few hundred now and more than a few hundred later, we may as well spend a few hundred more now and not buy new again until after any hypothetical tiny humans pass through the messy stage. We almost always buy things just as the newest model comes out, but we buy the prior model. We like our iPhones in this house and when the 6 came out, we rushed to the store to upgrade our 4/4S to 5S’s. We either buy what we want the first time to prevent making a second purchase or we buy technology upgrades on a delay. This strategy is also useful when buying a new car. We both bought new and you can usually get some decent deals once the next model year cars hit the lot.

13. Buying things before the holiday

We have made a tradition of buying Halloween candy for us to enjoy on November 1, Easter Candy on Monday, and new Christmas decorations on the 26th. Just waiting one day past the holiday, usually marks prices down 50%. Next year when we open our Christmas lights, they will still be neatly packaged instead of in a clumpy mess. This feels more like a holiday tradition to us than a way to save money and I look forward to it every year. This is a tradition I plan to continue even after we are debt free.

14. Daily showers

Cutting your showering in half won’t make you a disgusting bum, I promise. I usually don’t shower two days in a row unless I sweat two days in a row (see #2). This saves on your water bill and shower products: shampoo, conditioner, body wash/soap. I have even read that showering daily is bad for your skin and hair. So its a win-win. I recently bought some dry shampoo to get rid of that greasy look in my hair on my non-shower days. I haven’t used it more than a couple of times so far, but a little bit goes a long way.

15. Carpooling

We recently bought our perfect house. Our only “complaint” is the commute, our offices are very close to each other and our travel time has doubled. To prevent our gas from doing the same, we ride together about 3 days per week. It takes a little longer for us to get to and from work, but time spent together is never wasted 🙂
 the 15 craziest things we gave up to be debt free faster
This is our current list. We plan to increase it to keep saving more money to be debt free even faster. Some things up next on the chopping block are cable, cell phone plan, household decor and a few others.

 

What extreme measures have you taken to reduce your spending or regular expenses? How soon will you be debt free? What “crazy” things will you continue to do after you are debt free?
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