Budgeting Tips

How to cut the cord: Finding the best cable alternatives

Finding the best cable alternatives: A step-by-step guide to cutting the cord

For a lot of folks, the idea of cutting the cord on your cable tv can feel a lot like deprivation. Who doesn’t need a little mindless escape at the end of a long and tiring workday?

Unfortunately, as much as we feel like we deserve the break, the cost of cable can be a pretty bitter pill to swallow. Luckily, we don’t have to go without our entertainment, and it doesn’t have to cost a ton either.

When you learn the basics of how to cut the cord, you’ll find there are a ton of great cable alternatives to watch all of your favorite shows without the hefty bill. No more buying a crazy cable package just to get that one channel you love and 2395 others that you don’t!

How to Cut the Cord and Save Almost $1000 a Year

We cut cable about 3 years ago, much to my husband’s dismay. I thought I’d never get him to go along with it. He was really worried that we’d never have anything to watch in the evenings.

Once we finally got rid of cable, we ended up coming to two rather big realizations:

1. Previously, we’d have the TV on just for background noise and distraction. Needless waste of electricity and mindless watching, really. We’d waste our time watching shows or reruns of things that we didn’t even really like. Which is not only completely crazy, but really unproductive. We didn’t realize just how much TV we watched that we weren’t interested in until it was no longer around!

2. The alternatives to cable have a million things to watch as well, so we weren’t being deprived of entertainment. We just shifted what we watched to what was available and what actually interested us.

While I was all for the savings, it was a bit of a struggle to get my husband on board. He was really worried about missing out on sports. Thankfully, there are several ways to get sports with a tv antenna and streaming services, so we haven’t had to go back!

Want to find out the easiest way to cut the cord? Here's a step-by-step guide on how to find the best cable alternatives and streaming media devices to help you save money every month! #savemoney #cutthecord #cablealternatives #frugaltips #streaming #finance

A Step by Step Cord Cutting Guide

Now that you’re ready to commit to getting rid of cable, here’s step by step instructions on how to cut the cord. Luckily, it’s easy enough that you don’t need to hire a cord cutter tv service or figure out how to get free cable tv illegally.

Decide which local and cable channels are important to you.

Which of the following are channels and shows are important to have? Depending upon what you want to keep, you’ll need to purchase different streaming services:

  • Local news and sports
  • Specific cable channels
  • Sports
  • Specific movie channels

Then, get set up with a tv antenna for local channels.

If you want to cut the cord to get free tv, then you’ll want to grab a tv antenna so that you can can access local channels. While you might still be able to get some local channels, without a tv antenna, they’re going to be fuzzy and not great. An antenna is the best way to local news and local sports broadcasts without cable as well.

If you’re like me, when I hear “tv antenna” I picture the old rabbit ears that sit on top of the tv that you often added tinfoil to to get better reception. And then you had to fiddle with the damned things just to get a channel to come in right. Total pain in the butt. Luckily, that is not the case at all anymore (especially since no one’s even used those kind for like….30+ years? ? )

Thankfully, times have changed and antenna technology has had a serious upgrade. It can be tempting to get the cheapest one possible, but really – even the really good ones are less than $30. This HD antenna from Amazon has tons of great ratings and is considered the best indoor tv antenna. It works really well for new and old TVs alike:

  • Free HD channels, including ABC, CBS, NBC, PBC, Fox, and more
  • Great quality and sound
  • Up to 80 miles range, meaning it can be placed just about anywhere in your home (or hometown, with a range like that, ha!)
  • 18 foot long coaxial cable
  • USB power adapter

It’s easy to hook up and use, and will get you all of your local channels so that you can watch local content and keep in touch with what’s happening in your area. Check local channels, news, and sports off the list and let’s move on to actual cable content.

Next, choose which cable channels and shows you can’t live without.

It’s also important to note how much you prefer to stream live tv versus prerecorded shows. Do you want to watch shows that aired this week? Or can you wait a couple of months to binging the entire season over a cold winter weekend?

I love that there are so many cord cutting options in 2019. 10 years ago, you didn’t have much of anything to choose from, and now we have lots of great cable alternatives.

Here are some of the best cord cutting options to choose from for cable tv:

Best Live TV Streaming Services

All of the pricing listed is current as of 2019. I will do my best to go back and review and update them periodically!

Sling TV

This is one we looked into whenever we finally switched, and I have to say, I’m still considering getting it. Sling TV offers over 100 live channels to watch instantly, including ESPN, NFL Network, Disney Channel, AMC, Comedy Central, HGTV, TNT, TBS & more.

Sling TV lets you choose from 3 starter packages that have all the cable channels you love with none of the filler. Then, you can add on additional channels either a la carte or small, mini additions like Comedy which adds 8 more channels for an extra $5 a month.

Plus, Sling TV offers a Cloud DVR, which means for an extra $5 a month, you can record what you want when you’re not able to watch it.

The starter packages are currently on sale and run from $15 – $25. When you sign up, there are no contracts and you can cancel online (which I love, because I hate calling to cancel things!). Sling TV offers several deals that allow new users to receive a free or discounted streaming device such as a Roku or Apple TV.

Pros:

  • You can pick your package based on what you want
  • Local channels are available
  • Huge variety in add-ons including Comedy, Premium, Sports, and more
  • They offer a Cloud DVR
  • Discounts on streaming devices
  • Relatively cheaper than the majority of live streaming services out there
  • They have international options

Cons: 

  • There’s a chance you still won’t get every single channel you want
  • The cost could add up pretty quickly, depending how many add-ons you want
  • Number of streams running at the same time is limited, depending upon package

Learn more about Sling TV >

YouTube TV

YouTube TV allows you to stream 60+ channels, including local channels and sports. With 6 individual logins per household, it’ll be a quiet night without the kids fighting over what shows to watch. (For once.)

YouTube TV is surprisingly straightforward without a lot of addtional bells and whistles, but at $40 a month, I like that.

Pros:

  • Works with a variety of streaming devices
  • Receive notifcations when your show is on
  • Personalized DVRs
  • Cloud based DVR with unlimited space

Cons:

  • You can’t choose your channels
  • Availability of channels can vary based on zip code

Learn more about YouTube TV >

CBS Interactive

CBS Interactive isn’t really well known, but it’s growing in popularity quickly. We signed up for it for Thanksgiving, so my husband could follow his yearly tradition of watching The Lions get creamed during their annual Thanksgiving game. 😉

This live streaming tv service is almost a mix between Netflix and Sling TV. It has a surprising number of channels, including CBS, CBS Sports, C|Net, SportsLine, 24/7 sports, Gamespot, and lots more.

It’s a great alternative to watch sports without purchasing a channel specifically for sports.

Pros:

  • Lots and lots of sports options to watch
  • Inexpensive and a great addition to a TV antenna
  • Original content available
  • Can watch tv live or pre-recorded

Cons:

  • Not as many channel options as other live streaming services

Get a free one week trial of CBS Interactive >

Best Pre-Recorded TV Streaming Services

Hulu

Hulu’s come a long way since I first heard of them during the SuperBowl with that wacky commercial starring Alec Baldwin and some aliens. I remember thinking – who the heck is going to pay to watch live TV? (Hindsight, my friends, is 20/20…amiright?)

Watch Hulu online (Hulu.com on Mac or PC) and on Apple iOS, Apple TV (4th gen), Android, Chromecast, Echo Show, Fire tablets, Fire TV & Fire Stick, Roku, LG TV and Samsung TV (select models), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox One and Xbox 360.

Pros:

  • Original content you can’t find elsewhere
  • Watch current seasons without having to wait
  • HBO is available on Hulu, along with Cinemax, Showtime and Starz
  • 2 packages to choose from, including an ad free option

Cons:

  • Not live TV, all pre-recorded streaming
  • No sports or local news options

Sign up for a free month of Hulu >

Amazon Prime Video

Chances are, you already have an Amazon Prime subscription. If not, one of the many perks (besides free shipping) includes Amazon Prime Video.

Amazon Prime Video offers original content, TV shows, and blockbuster movies. Some are covered with your subscription, others are available to rent or buy. Rather than running to RedBox and having to hurry back to avoid any rental fee, you can rent movies through Amazon Prime Video.

You can also add Prime Video Channels to your subscription, like Showtime, Starz and MLB.TV. It’s an easy way to keep everything in one place.

Pros:

  • Ability to add premium movie channels, sports, and more
  • Everything in one place, so no switching apps
  • Prime members can also enjoy two-day shipping, unlimited photo storage and access to ad-free music and Kindle ebooks.
  • Any movies or TV shows you purchase are saved in your video library. They’re accessible forever, unlike with other streaming services that don’t allow you access your purchased content.
  • Watch anywhere by streaming on your computer, TV, gaming console, Fire TV, phones or tablets

Cons:

  • Doesn’t provide individual accounts for your family members
  • Additional cost to add movie and sports channels; not all inclusive

Start your free 30 day trial of Amazon Prime Video >

Netflix

The original binge-worthy streaming service, Netflix is still my go-to for watching streaming content. This is how we cut the cord, and we still use Netflix as our primary resource for tv shows and movies. The price is cheap, the content is good, and I’m loving the original shows.

Pros:

  • Watch on smart TVs, Playstation, Xbox, Chromecast, Apple TV, Blu-ray players, and more
  • Download shows to watch on the go
  • Set up individual profiles so that your content doesn’t mix with the kids

Cons:

  • Waiting for the newest season of your favorite shows
  • Some premium movie channel content is available, but not all (HBO)

Get your free 30 day trial of Netflix >

Next, you can stack additional channels if you want more.

While you’re figuring out how to cut the cord, you don’t have to find a package that covers everything. If you like one of the live tv streaming services, but you need to watch Game of Thrones (I feel ya), you can add additional services like HBO Now.

A quick rundown of additional options:

HBO Now: A stand-alone package that offers HBO without a cable subscription. Get your first month free. ($14.99/month)

Starz: If you can’t live without Outlander, you grab a cable-free subscription for $8.99 a month.  Get a 7 day free trial here.

ESPN+: Features a selection of live games from MLB, MLS, Series A, FA Cup, EFL NHL, and Live UFC Fight Nights. Plus access to college sports. Only $4.99 a month, get a 7 day free trial here.

Last, purchase a device to stream tv services.

Now that you know which streaming services you want, the next step is to purchase hardware to stream your paid services. You can easily purchase them for relatively cheap to get you set up quickly.

These are the most common streaming devices used to watch streaming tv:

Amazon Fire Stick

The Amazon Fire Stick plugs directly into your TV through the HDMI input, and is a powerful 4K streaming media stick with a Wi-Fi antenna. With the Amazon Fire Stick, you can watch favorites from Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, STARZ, SHOWTIME, or CBS All Access, plus stream for free with Pluto TV, IMDb Freedive, and others.

The Fire Stick also works with Alexa, so you can use your voice as a remote.

There are several options, including:

A little known fact is that you can

Roku Streaming Stick

Again, this plugs directly into your TV and has a remote. It’s very easy to use, and some models have a voice remote and search. There are tons of streaming services available. From movies and series on Netflix, Prime Video, HBO NOW and SHOWTIME to cable alternatives like Sling TV or YouTube TV to live sports and news on CBS News, ABC News and ESPN.

This is great to take on the go on vacation, business trips, or movie night at a friend’s. One remote works for both Roku and TV, which helps cut the clutter! Learn more about Roku here >

Google Chromecast

This one’s a little different – you can stream from your phone or table to your TV using Google Chromecast. You use your streaming apps on your phone, and Chromecast broadcasts the stream to your TV.

This works with streaming apps you know and love and is voice activated. Enjoy TV shows, movies, videos, songs, games, sports and more from over 2000 apps like Netflix, YouTube, YouTube TV, and HBO NOW. Learn more about Google Chromecast >

Smart TVs

The next option up is to purchase a smart TV. The Insignia Smart LED TV is an example of a TV that can stream live shows. TVs like this essentially have the Fire Stick already built in, so you’re not purchasing a separate piece. This works well if you find a great deal or are in need or a new TV anyway.

With the Fire TV experience built-in, enjoy tens of thousands of channels, apps, and Alexa skills, including Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, HBO, SHOWTIME, STARZ, and more. You can learn more about Smart TVs here >

Gaming Consoles

There are some other devices that are mutl-use and more expensive. You can use gaming consoles like Playstation or Xbox One to stream content as well. Currently, we use our Xbox One to stream.

By installing different apps, we’re able to watch different streaming options like Netflix, Hulu, CBS Interactive, and more.

Is there one perfect cord cutting setup?

Keep in mind that there’s no best cord cutting setup out there, mostly because what you want is going to differ from what someone else wants. The channels you want to watch are going to affect which streaming device you go with.

Now you know which options best fit your needs, you can create a great setup that works for your family. Now that you know what’s available, you can now save a ton by cutting the cord and getting rid of cable for good!

14 Simple Ways to Cut Monthly Expenses and Save Money Now

14 simple ways to save on monthly expenses

During the past two years of budgeting, we’ve found a lot of ways to trim down our monthly expenses list. There’s no lack of ways to save money on a tight budget. Finding smart money saving tips is the easy part.

The hard part about budgeting is really about making the mental adjustment to changing your spending and to consistently use those personal expense tracker app or monthly budget worksheet.

On the surface, it can feel like being deprived. But when you stop and really think about why you’re doing it, you’ll realize that it’s just about deciding what’s really important to you. Is it owning a house? Getting a cleaning service to come once a week? Or having a cushy emergency fund just in case your employer’s check doesn’t deposit on time?

No matter what your “why” is, just identifying it helps with prioritizing what’s important.

Using these tips, we were able to save ourselves an extra $750 on our monthly expenses! Here are 14 super easy ways to save money. #saving #budget #finance #savemoney

How to Save Money Each Month

If you don’t have a budget, you need to create one as soon as possible. It’s the only way you’ll learn how to how to manage and save money. Without one, you’ll never know where you money is going, and you won’t know where you can cut extra expenses.

The best way to budget is to use a monthly household budget template of some sort, or a monthly expenses app. Without something to reference throughout the month, you’ll never know if you’re on track with staying within your budget.

If you’re following a 50/30/20 budget, that means that 50% goes to fixed expenses. Your fixed expenses list should include items that are fixed costs: your rent/mortgage, insurance, car payment, etc.

30% in this budget should go to variable expenses. Those are items with variable costs every month, like utilities, groceries, gas, clothing and entertainment.

The last 20% of the budget should go into savings. While these are not concrete, this can be a good rule of thumb to get you on track.

So what you do you if your expenses are out of whack?

Chances are, if you’re like 99.6% of people out there, your variable expenses are more than 30%. Which means, you’ll need to cut them down as much as possible.

Average Monthly Household Expenses

It can always be a bit shocking or confusing when someone in a Facebook budgeting group what everyone else’s average household monthly expenses are for a family of 4. Or 6. Or 12.

Because there are so many variables, there is no averge household monthly expense example that will apply perfectly to anyone’s situation.

So instead, take a look at your monthly expenses spreadsheet and aim for cutting 10% to start. Start by listing typical monthly expenses that could be an easy win for reducing their cost.

This will obviously vary for everyone, considering we all have very different obligations in life. Below are 14 ways we were able to learn how to live on a budget and save money. In fact, we were able to trim over $750 a month to put towards debt repayment with these money saving tips:

1. We switched our cellphone from Verizon to StraightTalk.

Savings: $102 a month

Generally, the savings on your cell phone bill will not be this huge for everyone. However, at the time, my husband had a work cellphone. When we switched to StraightTalk, we just dropped his line altogether and just moved my existing line (and phone) to StraightTalk.

It was really simple to get switched over and running, and they even handled letting Verizon know that we were done using them, which was great. They use the same cell phone towers as other companies, but don’t own them – which is why they’re so much cheaper.

Even better? I’m not locked into a contract AND I can purchase a new or refurbished phone on my own to use, rather than paying them $30+ a month for 2 years like other phone companies.

My husband recently picked up an $80 Samsung phone at Walmart to use with StraightTalk, and it works great! In fact, it takes better pictures than my Galaxy S5, which is several years old now.

Another great option is Mint Mobile. They sell unlimited talk, text and data in 3, 6 or 12 month chunks. The bigger chunk you purchase, the cheaper it is. It’s essentially the Sams or Costco of cell plans, since it’s giving you a discount for buying in bulk. Plans start at just $15 per month. Find out more about Mint Mobile here.

2. We contacted our car/home insurance provider about additional discounts.

Savings: $10 a month $62 a month

We were already saving a lot with our insurance because it was bundled and we have multiple discounts, including one for being a credit union member.

We also checked with an independent insurance broker to see if another company might be cheaper, since we’d been with Liberty Mutual for 9 years. However, he could only save us $5 – $10 a year, at most, so it wasn’t worth the switch.

We did call our company and did a review with their customer service rep, and we were able to adjust our coverage and premiums, which brought the monthly cost down $10 a month.

It’s important to review your policies yearly to make sure you’re getting the best deal. I suggest finding an independent insurance broker. You just answer a couple of questions, email them a copy of your coverage, and they have results in about a week!

Update: Another great place to check for savings is seeing if your employer offers any group discounts on insurance. My husband works as a manager for a large nationwide retailer, and they offered discounts on auto and home insurance.

Figuring that they wouldn’t be able to give us much of a savings, we called and spent 45 minutes going through all of the questions and paperwork. Turns out they are able to save us over $750 for the year on both home and auto insurance. And this is with the same (and even better in some instances) coverage! Amazing!

Don’t overlook opportunities to save through work. Make a note to check with your employer for group discounts. If you belong to any associations, groups, or memberships, check to see what they can offer as well. You might be pleasantly surprised!

3. We asked our daycare provider (and any other service providers) if there were any additional discounts we were missing.

Savings: $20 a month

Listen, I’m not above just asking for a discount from just about anyone. The tire store, the dentist, even daycare. While we were already getting the sibling discount, they were able to move my daughter up a class, saving us $20 a month.

It’s worth taking a shot and asking for a discount on just about anything. You never know what you might get!

4. We cut the cord, for good.

Savings: $52 a month

At first, my husband was very reluctant to cut cable. I told him it’d just be for a couple of months, as a trial run. Turns out, we have plenty of other things to keep us busy (when we actually have time to sit down in front of the TV). Plus, he gets more time to play his Xbox, so it’s a win-win!

If you’re looking to cut the cord, start by getting some hardware that you can stream with. We use an Xbox or our Roku, or you can use an Amazon Firestick, among other options.

Then, we signed up for Netflix, Hulu and CBS All Access. Between the three, we’re able to get everything that we like to watch. We specifically sign up for CBS All Access so that my husband could watch football games. You can get a free one week trial of CBS All Access here.

If you want to watch local channels you can get a digital antenna like this one which is easy to hook up, and works with both newer HDTVs and older TVs as well. This is great for haivng access to the local news and PBS, as well as other local channels.

5. We bought our own modem.

Savings: $10 a month

Our internet cost went up just a bit because each product is cheaper when you bundle them (such as internet, phone and cable). To make up the difference, we reviewed all of the charges on our internet bill with customer service. They pointed out that we can purchase our own modem for about $60, which would take a $10 rental fee off our monthly bill.

Time Warner provided us with a list of modems to purchase, and we snagged a good deal on one from Best Buy. Even better, if we cancel our service, we don’t have to fuss with sending them back any equipment!

6. We used Trim to save an additional $20 on our internet every month.

Savings: $20 a month

A perfect way to save money for the ultra busy folks, Trim is a great way to find those small leaks in your budget and easily plug them. For example, we had cut down on our internet, and thought we couldn’t get it any lower. However, Trim was able to negotiate with Spectrum on our behalf and save us $240 a year. And all for 5 minutes worth of work on my end.

Trim also catches those subscriptions you forget that you have and keep paying for every month. They let you know what you’re still paying for, and cancel them on your behalf. Again – saving money without lifting a finger? Sign me up!

7. We reviewed and trimmed life and disability coverage.

Savings: $69 a month

When I was pregnant with our first child, I was determined to get our finances in order, once and for all (ha!). So we went to go see a financial adviser. While the advice given was solid, I somehow didn’t realize that his goal was to make a commission off of us. And boy – did he ever!

Since I’m self employed, I needed life insurance and disability. Once again – this was solid advice, but we were just presented with one plan (which was the Cadillac of all plans). And we took it without questioning the amount of coverage and cost.

6 years later, it dawns on me that maybe this coverage is…over the top. So we reviewed the policies, the same way we reviewed our car and home insurance. We chose to trim some of the coverage, which saved us $69 a month.

While it’s important to make sure you have enough coverage, especially if self employed, make sure to review your coverage yearly. Circumstances change, and there’s no point in paying for something that you don’t need anymore.

8. We began buying groceries at Aldis / online grocery ordering and pickup.

Savings: $80 a month

budgeting win
When you order 6 individual navel oranges through an online grocery service, and get 6 bags instead. #whowantsanorange #budgetingwin #timetomakethejuice

Our switch to Aldi’s saved us a lot of money monthly, and I will always recommend it if you have one nearby. However – for the sake of my sanity and NOT having to wrestle two kids while grocery shopping, I have switched to ordering groceries online and picking them up.

True, it’s not as cheap as Aldi’s, however, it’s worth that extra $20 to me if it means that I don’t have to waste an entire morning getting kids ready, shopping, wrangling, and putting things away – all while hollering at them to “put it down” and “keep your hands to yourself”! Not to mention all the “extras” that’d end up in our cart by walking up and down every aisle.

My latest budget win from ordering groceries online? I ordered 6 navel oranges at 68 cents a piece, which is what they charged me. What we got was 6 bags of oranges instead! That’s a total budgeting win, right? Now, to break out the juicer…

9. We paid off our credit card with a 9.75% interest rate.

Savings: $35+ in interest every month

Enough said. It’s silly to throw away at least $30 on interest every month. That’s a meal out or an awful lot of toilet paper!

10. We dropped our kid’s Tumbling Class.

Savings: $39 a month

Our daughter participated in a tumbling class through daycare every week. Sometimes she refused to go (who knows why). Since she was transferring from daycare to kindergarten soon, and it was summer and she got plenty of activity outside, we chose to remove her from the last three months of class.

While I think that kids need activities to help them learn different skillsets, it doesn’t hurt to question if it’s beneficial or not. Are they even going? Do they want to? Or, maybe it’s worth a temporary pause if you know you’ll be missing classes due to holidays or traveling during summer break anyway.

11. My husband started packing lunches for work.

Savings: $240 a month

My husband works outside the home and is not a planner (putting it lightly – but I still love you, dearest!). Convincing him to take his lunches was hard at first, but once we saw the financial benefits and the waistline benefits, he (somewhat) happily jumped on the bandwagon.

He still goes out to lunch, or forgets to pack. But now that’s part of his monthly fun money that’s part of our planned budget, rather than just a bunch of charges getting racked up on the credit card.

12. We Used iBotta, Ebates, TopCashBack, and Checkout 51, MobiSave, Savings Star to maximize rebates on purchases.

Savings: $10+ a month

I’ve tried just about every rebate app there is, and while they all work differently, it’s worth the time and effort to incorporate them into your shopping routine.

The best rebate apps to try out are:

Click here to read more on how I triple stacking my savings while shopping.

13. We used couponing websites to get the best deals on necessities, such as cat litter, toilet paper, and groceries.

Savings: Average about $20 a month

We’ve saved over $1000 just by using some simple cashback apps. My favorites are:

For couponing tips and tricks, these bloggers know their stuff! This is where I learned to stack my coupons and discounts and look for the best deals every week.

Not to mention, they stay on top of the latest updates to stores’ couponing policies, app updates and changes to all things sales based. These are the best of the best couponing sites to check out (in no particular order):

Learn more about beginner couponing mistakes and how to avoid them.

14. We started using the library to rent movies and check out books.

Savings: $15 a month
If you haven’t checked out your local library in awhile, you need to ASAP! Ours not only has books and DVDs to check out, but you can rent tons of digital items.

I can easily log into the library website, check out the books I want, download them from Amazon to my Kindle, and enjoy. Or, there’s even a streaming service now for movies as well. Now you don’t even have to hit a library in order to enjoy all of the benefits they have to offer!

Total Monthly Savings: $774

 

Additional Money Savings Ideas to Try

You should always be on the lookout for new ways to save money. Whether it reviewing your insurance policies once a year, or contacting customer service to see where you can cut costs, it’s not a “once and done” kind of thing.

For us, I have some new year goals set to find additional ways to save money. Some of them include:

  • Test out the Paribus app, which that automatically finds lower pricing on purchased items and files price adjustment claims for me.
  • Use Erin Chase’s My Freezeasy freezer meal planning program to save more on groceries (and on time!)
  • Reinstate the gift closet so that we’re prepared for birthdays and holidays
  • Budget for after holiday sales to pick up items we need at a discount
  • Research additional summer daycare options to compare pricing
  • Test out the Mint app versus Personal Capital and see which helps me save more money by keeping better track of it!
  • Try creating your own frugal cleaning hacks to save money on cleaning supplies while sparing your family from unwanted chemicals

Figuring out how to save money each month doesn’t mean having to eat rice and beans for the rest of your life. What it does mean is that you get to decide what’s important to you, and focus spending your money on that. Then, find ways to cut back on things that aren’t as important. Get those basics as low as possible and free up money so you can do things like pay off debt, invest, and save for retirement and college.

Do you have any budgeting tips or tricks up your sleeve? Share them below!

Double up on your debt payoff power by picking up a side hustle. Read more about the Ultimate List of Legit Side Hustles here.

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During the past year of budgeting, we’ve learned a lot of ways to save money. Here are 13 ways that we trimmed our budget in order to save over $700 a month! #budget #waystosavemoney

During the past year of budgeting, we’ve learned a lot of ways to save money. Here are 13 ways that we trimmed our budget in order to save over $700 a month! #budget #waystosavemoney

35 Stupid-Simple Ways to Travel on a Budget

35 Stupid-Simple Ways to Travel on a Budget

It’s estimated that 42 million Americans traveled last summer. At an average cost of $1200 per person, that’s a whole lotta dough. Traveling with a family or even friends can add up quick, making a family vacation cost about as much as your health insurance deductible. Ouch.

And that’s just for a summer vacation. What about girls’ weekend trips, holiday travel, and travel with your kid’s soccer team throughout the year?

With all of the commitments we make to spend more time with family and friends (and the soccer team), it can really put a dent on your budget or on your credit card.

Luckily, there are about a million and one ways to learn how to plan a trip on a budget. Whether you’re traveling on a budget with a family or you’re traveling in your mid 20s, here’s some great budget travel inspiration.

How to Travel on a Budget

When traveling, there are three main pieces that create the trip of a lifetime:

  • The dates you pick
  • Your budget
  • Your destination

If you can be flexible with dates or destinations, you can save money. However, if you’re set with a specific weekend or place, then we’ll have to trim the budget with some outside the box ideas.

With all of the commitments we make to spend more time with family and friends, it can really put a dent on your budget. Luckily, there are about a million and one ways to learn how to plan a trip on a budget. Whether you're traveling on a budget with a family or you're traveling in your mid 20s, here's some great budget travel inspiration. #budget #travel #traveltips #travelbudget #frugalliving

Create a Travel Budget You Can Stick With.

Start by creating your travel budget. This can be a rough guestimate of how much you think your vacation will cost, based on the number of days, people, and destinations.

Wondering what to include in a travel budget? Depending on how you’re traveling, and with whom, you’ll want to plan for:

  • Airfare
  • A place to stay
  • Car rental, taxis, Uber or public transportation
  • Gas
  • Travel insurance
  • Snacks, eating out or groceries
  • Tips for hotel staff, drivers tour guides, etc.
  • Activities such as theme parks, ziplines, etc.
  • Spending money
  • Must have trinkets or souvenirs

Obviously, a weekend trip budget is going to be much cheaper than traveling around europe with a family. However, it’s about deciding what’s important to you. Some people are foodies and want to dine at the finest restaurants. Others are all about the activities and couldn’t care less what their hotel room is like. Take some time to rank what’s important to you, and then work on cutting the costs on items that aren’t a priority.

Be Flexible.

The number one rule of traveling on a budget is to be flexiible. If you can be up in the air on dates or destinations, you’ll save a ton of money.

  1. Check out price variations on flights depending upon the days traveled. When searching airfare, there is often a calendar with pricing for each day. Traveling mid-week tends to be cheaper.To find cheap airfare, check out Google Flights. Not only can you view a calendar of flights with pricing, but you can set alerts that will let you know when the price dips for the dates and destinations you want. I love using this to keep an eye on flights for dream vacations.
  2. Consider staying over on Sunday night. Sunday night rates are usually cheaper than Friday or Saturday nights, since everyone heads home on Sunday.
  3. Try picking your destination based on where you can get a cheap flight to. If you’re stuck with traveling during a certain time, use Google Flights or my favorite, Scott’s Cheap Flights, to find cheap travel destinations that fit your schedule.

If you’re not able to change locations or dates, you can still save money by finding ways to trim your budget. There are four main categories where you can cut your budget and still have a great time: food, activities, transportation, and accomodations.

How to Save on Activities & Food During Your Vacation

Depending on your vacation plans, most of these great budget travel tips will work for you. It’s just picking and choosing what makes sense for your family, trip and budget:

1. Research your destination.

Before heading out on your trip, find travel bloggers, facebook groups, instagram accounts or local websites that can provide you with cost effective activities and places to eat. Do your research and find out what touristy activities are worth the money and which to skip.

Once you’re on vacation, don’t be shy. Make friends with the locals and find out where they go to relax or have a great meal. Chances are you’ll find something off the beaten path that you never would have found otherwise.

2. Find free events in the area.

Often you can find free activities through local websites. Some attractions have free days, or you can get free admission through your credit card, AAA membership, AARP or with a student ID.

3. Use attraction coupons found in brochures and tourist booklets.

You know the giant case I’m talking about – with a bazillion brochures and flyers in the hotel lobby. They’re hard to miss, since you’re usually staring at them while checking in. You can also find them in local restaurants or you can ask for extra brochures at the hotel’s front desk. Or, check out ShowTickets before you leave to get your attraction tickets early!

4. Talk to the concierge.

The concierge can not only help you get tickets or find activities, but they can help you find savings as well. They’ll know the cheapest ways to attend events and attractions, and where to find discounts.

5. Eat out for breakfast or lunch.

Since breakfast and lunch tend to be cheaper than dinner, you’ll save money by only eating out for the less expensive meals. Then grab something from the grocery or have leftovers for dinner.

6. Take advantage of continential breakfast or snacks provided by the hotel.

On the other hand, free breakfast is free breakfast, right? Often times there are some great snack options as well during continential breakfast that you can grab and use as snacks for later. By timing it right, you could eat a late breakfast, a snack and an early dinner, and save by skipping lunch altogether.

7. Find restaurants off the beaten path.

Main tourist streets – like the Strip in Vegas or Bourbon Street in New Orleans – are going to cost much more because they’re smack dab right in the middle of the tourist area. A rule of thumb is to walk 4 – 6 blocks away from the main tourist areas to find cheaper restaurants. (Of course, it goes without saying to avoid risking your safety for some cheap grub!)

8. Eat street food.

Depending upon how you feel about food carts and food trucks, these can be a great cheap option for a lighter lunch or dinner. Plus, you’ll get authentic local food that you might not easily find elsewhere.

9. Book a room with a fridge and a microwave.

If you’re staying for more than one night, booking a room with a fridge or microwave can be a perfect way to cut down on food costs. Whether you’re storing leftovers for later, cold water to take with on outings, or preparing meals, it’s a great help in trimming your food budget.

10. Use Yelp to find great eats in your price range.

Yelp is the perfect app/website for finding exactly what you’re want to eat. You can search by price, type of food, or location. Yelp reviews help to take the guesswork out of finding a great restaurant that’s in your budget.

11. Bring snacks with you.

Whether you’re hiking, roadtripping, or cruising the Riveria, bring snacks and water with you, always.

Carrying a refillable water bottle will also help to avoid spending extra money on overpriced drinks. Often there are ample opportunities to fill it up. For example, bring your reusable water bottle empty to the airport, and then fill it once you’re past security. It’s a great way to avoid spending money in the overpriced gift stores that can be found at the airport.

12. Pack a picnic.

My sister packs a picnic to take on car trips, which is brilliant. It gives the kids a chance to get out and stretch their legs and saves money on food at the same time. A total win-win!

This is also a great way to save while on vacation. Finding a local grocery and buying snacks to have a picnic is a great way to enjoy your destination’s parks and monuments.

13. Shop at farmer’s markets and local stores.

While in Switzerland and Paris, my husband and I stopped at the grocery and picked up cheese, bread, and salads, rather than eating at yet another restaurant. It’s a great alternative to yet another overpriced restaurant meal, without the waiting for seating and having to pay extra for tips.

13. Figure out food prior to being hungry.

Or, hangry. If you get hangry, you know what I’m talking about. There’s nothing worse than trying to find food when you’re starved and angry. Try to plan at least a couple of hours ahead so that you have a general idea of where your next meal is coming from.

Otherwise, you’ll just eat anything, anywhere in order to curb your hunger (and anger). Planning ahead means your stomach and wallet will thank you!

14. Take advantage of happy hour.

Plan ahead to have dinner during happy hour. While it is a bit early, chances are you can find a restaurant that has happy hour pricing. It’s the perfect time to split some appetizers, have some drinks, and not pay an arm and a leg.

15. Look for city tourism cards.

We used these city tourism cards in NYC, and I thought they worked out great. You get entry into over 100 attractions for a fraction of the price. Plus, it helped us to plan out which activities we absolutely had to see while we were there.

They were easy to use, and only a few attractions you had to register for. Otherwise, they covered everything from city bus tours to the Empire State building! These are two of my favorites:

Transportation on a Budget

While traveling by car is the cheapest way to travel with family, the recent drop in cost of flights makes flying a close second.

No matter how you chose to get there, transportation is generally the biggest cost. Here are some great shortcuts to help you trim down your transportation costs.

1. Go directly to the airline website to purchase your tickets.

While I’ve never tried it, some people swear by booking directly on the airline’s website once you’ve found the flights you want. The idea is that you’ll be more likely to hit any additional deals or sales by booking directly.

2. Compare the cost of booking two one-way flights.

Sometimes booking open flights, or one way flights, can be more cost effective than booking round trip. Using a comparison website should be helpful in figuring out whether this budget travel method will work for you or not. Some websites to try are:

If you’re wondering how to travel on a budget in Europe, consider open jaw fares. Open jaw is where you fly Point A to Point B, then on the return trip fly Point C to Point A. This is a great way to save if you’re traveling internationally or are planning a vacation with multiple destinations.

3. Book your flights on the weekend.

I’ve never thought to try this, but it’s rumored that booking your flight during the weekend means that it’ll likely be cheaper. The idea is that corporate travel bookings tend to happen during the week, so prices are up.

4. Consider alternate transportation.

Once you’re at your destination, consider alternatives to renting a car. You can Uber, walk, rent a bike, or use public transportation.

Consider booking a hotel that’s central to everything you want to see, so that you can walk when possible and take public transportation the rest of the time.

5.  Make sure your car is in tip top shape.

If you’re headed out on a road trip, make sure your car is just as ready as you are. It’s important to check tire pressure and get an oil change if needed. While you’re there, have the attendant top off any fluids and check your air filter as well.

To make your car as fuel efficient as possible, try to keep your speed under 65. Studies show that going faster than 65 lessens your car’s fuel effiency.

And for the love of pete, don’t pull a Griswold and overpack or drag something behind you!

via GIPHY

How to Save Big on Travel Accomodations

One of the best budget travel tips that I know of is to consider alternate places to stay. While hotels are nice, they tend to be the priciest. If you are up for a little adventure and trying something new, I recommend considering one of these accomodation alteratives:

1. Go camping.

If you want to know how to travel cheap in the USA, look no further. Camping is one of the best ways to cut travel expenses and enjoy the great outdoors. You can stay in a national park, at an HOA campsite, or somewhere in between. To get started finding the perfect spot, check out Camping-USA.com.

2. Rent an AirBnB.

Depending upon how many people you have and your length of stay, you can easily rent an entire house through AirBnB for much cheaper than several hotel rooms. With more people to split the cost, it turns out a ton cheaper and you often have more options than you would at a hotel.

Even better, you have a kitchen so you can cook (or at least use the fridge to stash your booze). With some easy meals and drinking at the rental, you’ll save a ton of cash. All of this makes AirBnBs are the perfect for cheap family vacations!

3. Crash at a friend’s or family member’s house.

We’re not all lucky enough to know someone in Italy with an amazing guesthouse, and who’s willing to put up with a family world travel adventure (dang it). However, chances are you know someone that lives in a pretty amazing place and is willing to let you crash.

Obviously offer them some form of compensation in return – whether it’s money, cooking for the week, or rewiring the electric in their entire house – so that they don’t regret ever opening the door.

By bypassing having to get a hotel room, and being a polite houseguest, you’ll save a ton of money and hopefully become closer to someone you wanted to spend some time with anyway.

4. Stay in a hostel.

I stayed at a working commune type place in Switzerland once. I would like to think that hostels tend to lean more towards that than the horror movies that I avoid watching. If you’re brave enough to try it, hostels are a great cheap alternative to hotels.

And really – you’re not likely to spend much time in your room. So what’s the big deal about sharing a room with some fellow travelers? If you’re comfortable enough, check out your options on sites like Tripadvisor. Tripadvisor is full of great reviews so you can get realistic feedback about everything from places to stay to activities in the area.

If you’re still planning on staying in a hotel

Ok, fine – you’re not the super adventrous type. That’s totally cool, I get it. If you still want the security or luxuries of hotel living, here are travel on a budget tips that will still help you save on hotel rooms:

1. Don’t get the best room.

How much time are you really spending in your hotel room anyway? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

If you’re just looking for a place to crash in between outings, don’t get the best room possible. You can easily trim your budget by not opting for the penthouse suite and getting something that’s clean, simple and budget friendly.

2. Always stay at the same place.

Staying loyal to one particular brand of hotel means that you can sign up for their hotel rewards program and earn points.

However, if you find that their pricing is always higher than other options, I would stick with the immediate savings of a cheaper room than versus the earning of points. Hotel reward programs really only work if you frequent the hotel enough with a year to accumulate enough points to redeem them for free stays.

3. Stay longer.

Staying over a Sunday night is cheaper, and staying more than one night can sometimes work out to a discount. Some hotels reward customers with a free night or discounted nights if they stay longer.

4. Call the hotel directly to book your stay.

By calling to book your stay, you can ask for a discount while you’re booking the room. If you like to live dangerously, you can try to book the a couple of days in advance. Chances are they could have empty rooms that they’re happy to fill at a discount, rather than let them sit empty and make nothing on them.

If you go this route, you’d better have a couple of back up plans just in case there’s a cheerleading competition in town that weekend, and every hotel is booked up!

Additional Traveling on a Budget Tips

These are some tried and true additional savings ideas to get your within your travel budget. While they didn’t quite fit into any of the categories above, they’re still absolutely worth mentioning!

1. Travel during off peak times.

If you’re wondering how to travel cheap in Europe, try off peak times. Off peak times, or shoulder periods, can be a great time to travel for dirt cheap.

For example, we went to Ireland at the end of February. Their high tourist season is April, May (spring flowers), July, August, and October. However, the weather was great (a little rainy) but warm enough that we didn’t freeze. We were able to get around easier and avoid the crowds for a lot of the attractions.

While there were a couple of attractions not open, it was well worth it. We even ate dinner at a restaurant one night and were literally the only patrons in the entire place!

Flights, hotels and car rental were much cheaper because it was off season as well. So instead of looking for cheap places to travel internationally, try figuring out when the off season is for your international destination. If you can grab that window right before or after the tourist season, you can save thousands.

2. Cash in those credit card points.

Assuming you have a credit card that offer frequent flyer miles or some sort of travel benefits, cash them in.

Or, consider travel hacking. It’s not for the faint of heart, but travel hacking is opening credit cards at the right time to score a ton of points and get free flights or hotel stays. Another popular option is to optimize your flights on an airline like Southwest, so that you fly enough to earn not only a free companion pass for the year, but free flights as well.

3. Find discounts through everyday places.

You’d be surprised at some of the places you can find discounts for travel:

  • Costco or Sam’s Club: While I’ve never looked there, I hear great things about the vacation packages through membership clubs. If you’re looking for an all-in-one option, this could be worthwhile if you already have a membership.
  • Groupon: Groupon has great discounted travel package deals all the time, especially for budget travel destinations and international locations.
  • Your employer: Some employers off perks such as discount travel packages through their corporate travel agent. Ask around and see if they offer any programs to their employees.
  • Travelzoo’s Top 20: This is a weekly email that goes out and has discounted hotel, flights, and activities that are flash sales. You can sign up here if you want to receive the weekly top 20 deals email.
  • Social media & newsletters: Follow your favorite brands so you’ll know when they offer an epic discount on a trip you’ve had your eye on.

4. Use your age (or cash) to get even more discounts.

Whip out your student ID or AARP membership to see if they offer student or senior discounts. Hey, it’s always worth a shot, right?

Also, try asking for a cash discount. See if paying with cash can get score you an extra discount as well. If you’re feeling really brave, try bargaining. In some countries bargaining on a purchase is expected.

Try shopping where the locals shop to get better deals. Buy your souvenirs from a local store rather than a tourist shop.

Have you tried any of these travel on a budget tips? Have you figured out how to travel the world with no money (or just a little money)? If so, leave your comments and tips below!

With all of the commitments we make to spend more time with family and friends, it can really put a dent on your budget. Luckily, there are about a million and one ways to learn how to plan a trip on a budget. Whether you're traveling on a budget with a family or you're traveling in your mid 20s, here's some great budget travel inspiration. #budget #travel #traveltips #travelbudget #frugalliving

Cheap Dinner Ideas for When You’re Broke

Cheap dinner ideas for when you're broke

When it comes to budgeting, one of the easiest places to overspend is the food category. We’re so busy running from work to picking up kids to extracurricular activities, it’s almost impossible to find the will or energy to cook dinner every night.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household spent $3,008 eating out1.

$3000? That’s a reeaaaaally nice vacation, right? Or a heck of a jumpstart on a college fund, retirement savings, or debt repayment. When you give the savings a monetary value, like $3,000, it helps to make it easier to set budget goals and cut back on eating out.

Even if you fight the temptation to eat out, then we have to have meal plans in plan. At the very least, some default cheap dinner ideas that can be made without too much work or energy.

I don’t know about you, but often it can be tempting to just slosh down a bowl of cereal in front of each kid and call it a day. Especially after a long day at work when my husband’s working late and no one is there to witness my lack of cooking.

Thankfully, there are a ton of great cheap dinner ideas out there that are quick, effortless and cheap. It’s just a matter of making a quick meal plan for the week and getting the groceries. (Thank goodness for grocery pick up and delivery, right?)

Whether you’re looking for cheap recipes for families or cheap dinner ideas for 2, I’ve got you covered here with a ton of great dinner ideas to help you save money.

These cheap dinner ideas will help you create super quick, budget-friendly meals that can be whipped together in 30 minutes or less! #dinnerideas #budgetcooking #cheapdinnerideas #dinnerrecipes

Quick Tips to Jump Start Cheap Dinners at Home

Thankfully, there are a ton of quick and easy shortcuts to make cheap easy meals on a budget. These tips will help you create super quick dinner ideas that can be whipped together in a matter of 30 minutes or less.

Let me be the first to tell you: it’s ok to take shortcuts. If you want to buy frozen, pre-cooked chicken breasts, great. If you want to buy frozen vegetables, do it! It’s impossible to do cheap dinners every night, exactly how you want to. But what you can aim for is to do better than before.

If you went out to eat five times a week, aim to only go out three times a week to start. Doing it perfectly is not going to happen. But doing it better than last week can.

Buy and prep meat in bulk.

Find the best place to buy meat in bulk and freeze or prep at once. Some people shop at local farms for larger meat orders. Others use services like the now defunct Zaycon, which I loved and am so sad that it shut down.

Another great idea is to purchase a rotisserie chicken and use the meat in multiple recipes. The hard work of cooking the chicken has already been done for you, so you just need to figure out what recipes you want to use it in.

Consider using frozen vegetables and fruits.

People diss frozen fruit and veggies, but they’re flash frozen which actually locks in more nutrients. Unless you have the time to properly prepare and blanch vegetables, frozen is a great option. Plus, they won’t go bad before you can use them the same way fresh produce does. (I’m looking at you, bananas!)

Get help with trimming your grocery budget.

If you still need additional help with cutting your grocery budget, I highly recommend the Grocery Budget Makeover. We were able to cut our grocery budget in half by using the steps in this course!

Now that we have some cheap grocery shortcuts out of the way, here’s some quick healthy dinner ideas.

Basic Quick Dinner Ideas

A cheap dinner idea is to make sandwiches with items you have in the fridgeBLTs

Simple, quick and perfect for a late dinner. They’re easy to adapt to everyone’s preferences and you can even pre-cook the bacon (or turkey bacon) in the oven. Win-win!

Paninis and Sandwiches

Nothing’s easier than making a sandwich (Except maybe cereal…). They’re just so easy to dress up with some nice bread, condiments and sides to make it a filling meal. Throw it in a panini press and it’s a great way to treat yourself after a long day at work.

Soups

Whether they’re premade from the deli, or you’ve cooked it all day in your crockpot, soups are an easy and cheap dinner idea. Pair it with a sandwich or a nice crusty loaf of French bread and salad, and you’ve got a really easy and filling meal.

Sausage, Peppers & Onions

A classic and easy meal, just slice and sautee peppers, onions and sausage. From hot Italian sausage to turkey kielbasa, this cheap dinner idea is really versatile. Throw it on a hoagie bun or a bed of rice and you’ve got a meal.

Cheap Meals for Large Families

Feeding a large family on a tight budget isn’t easy. But it can be done by finding ways to purchase and cook in bulk. Hearty comfort meals that are filling and served family style are perfect for large families:

Chili with Cornbread

The beauty of chili is that it can be cooked on the stove, in a crockpot, or with an instapot. It’s easy to make large batches of, and the ingredients are relatively cheap. It can be served with sides to cater to everyone’s tastes: chopped onions, peppers, cheese or sour cream.

Cornbread is the perfect side to chili and there are a ton of great recipes out there. It can be savory or sweet, made in cast iron or a 9×11 pan. Again, the variations are endless depending upon who you’re feeding!

Potato Sausage Foil Packs

While these usually remind people of camping, they’re an easy way to cook something delicious with easy clean up, which I’m all for!

Traditionally, these are usually potato, onion and sausage. But you can mix it up and add:

  • A variety of veggies, like chunks of corn cobs, green beans, or zuchinni
  • Herbs, spices or sauces to give it different flavors
  • Cheese
  • Different meats, such as chicken, shrimp or cuts of beef

Shepherds pie is a quick and easy cheap dinner ideaShepherd’s Pie

If you have not tried Shepherd’s Pie, you are missing out. Then some amazing beef stew, topped with mashed potatoes that have been slightly crisped on top in the oven. But a zillion times better than that description.

We used to go to a fabulous Scottish Pub in Pittsburgh that served chicken Shepherd’s Pie. It has chicken, mushrooms, carrots, onions, and an amazing sauce that could have had Guiness in it. It was a thing of beauty.

You can find packets in the spice aisle at the grocery for Shepherd’s Pie to create the sauce/flavoring for you. Just add your choice of meat, cooked vegetables, and top with mashed potatoes. Perfect for a cold winter night as well as a big family.

Casseroles

Casseroles of any form are an easy go-to for cheap healthy meals for family. I love them because you can fit vegetables, protein and a big ol’ helping of comfort food together in one dish. Easy clean up, right?

If you’re looking for inspiration, think back to what your mother or grandma used to make. Unless it’s Tuna Surprise (sorry mom, love you but NOT the Tuna Surprise). Then your next best bet is to hit up Pinterest for some quick and easy casserole ideas that the family will love.

Cheap, Healthy Vegetarian Meals

Some of our favorite cheap family meals are vegetarian, since we don’t eat a lot of meat in our house. We tend to eat a lot of beans and soy sausage, along with chicken. Some of our favorite recipes are:

Stir Fry

Stir fry is so quick and easy to make you don’t even need a recipe. Just grab your favorite vegetables, a bottle of you favorite teryaki or stir fry sauce. Don’t forget to add seasame seeds, nuts, and spices. Make some rice, or, if you want to get fancy, noodles and fry it all up in some seasame oil.

Baked Potatoes

Baked potatoes are the perfect quick and easy mealBaked potatoes are a great cheap dinner idea and can be made in the oven or the crockpot and topped with just about anything, like:

  • Vegetables like steamed broccoli or sauteed mushrooms and onions
  • Proteins like shredded chicken or bacon
  • Any type of cheese
  • Condiments like hot sauce, pesto, or sour cream

Some combinations to try:

  • Chili and cheddar cheese
  • Cheese, sour cream, chives and bacon
  • Black beans and salsa
  • Cottage cheese, black pepper and chives
  • Gorgonzola and buffalo sauce, sour cream, green onions
  • BBQ pulled chicken or pork with cheddar cheese
  • Fried egg and sriracha
  • Fajita seasoning with grilled chicken, peppers and onions, topped with sour cream

Homemade Salads

Another vegetarian cheap dinner idea is to grab a bag of mixed salad greens and top them with whatever you’re in the mood for. Grab crutons, cheese, chickpeas, nuts, or hard boiled eggs. Or try a sweeter salad with dried cranberries, walnuts, and feta cheese. Use whatever toppings you have to build a salad and make a super quick and easy meal.

Quick Dinner Ideas with Chicken

Some of the best cheap healthy family meals use chicken. It’s a cheaper option for protein for meat eaters, and is versatile enough to create a variety of cheap dinner ideas. Chicken can create the perfect comfort food, spicy entree, or healthy dinner idea for kids. Certain cuts are cheaper than others, such as chicken thighs. Stores like Aldi’s or a purchasing in bulk from local farm options can help to cut meat costs as well. Some great quick dinner ideas with chicken are:

Chicken Crockpot Meals

I have a ton of great chicken crockpot and instapot recipes that I’ve found through Pinterest. I love that I can set it up in the morning and have dinner ready by the time I’m done with work. I just make some rice and cook some vegetables, and dinner is served!

If you’re not sure where to start, these are my absolute favorite go-to crockpot recipes. Even better, these recipes are freezer meals that you can prep on the weekend and throw in the crockpot each morning. Our favorites is the Crockpot Cafe Rio Chicken, which is even a hit with the kids.

Chicken fried rice is an easy chicken dish that is cheap and quick to makeChicken Fried Rice

The beauty of chicken fried rice, besides being easy, is that you can adjust it according to what you have in the fridge. No egg? No problem. Don’t have any peas? Add extra carrots. Chicken fried rice also doesn’t need much meat either, so it’s a great way to stretch the some kitchen staples into a full meal.

Chicken and Dumplings

My kids love this – and it’s so easy. Chicken and dumplings is the perfect comfort food for a cold day. It’s a great family dinner idea for those busy nights of activities and homework as well. This recipe is the one we use and love!

Cheap Dinner Ideas for Kids

While it’s easiest to opt for cereal or peanut butter and jelly when it comes to feeding the kids, there are still plenty of easy kid friendly dinner recipes to try. They don’t have to be complicated or a crazy ton of work to be meals kids love.

Try any of these healthy kid friendly meals on a budget to help make it through the week:

A cheap easy dinner idea that kids will love is grilled cheese and soupGrilled Cheese and Soup

Grilled cheese and tomato soup is a childhood classic, and for good reason. It’s easy to make and everyone loves it. Try switching it up with different combinations of cheese or other types of soup.

Sloppy Joes

Another great childhood classic are Sloppy Joes, which can be made with ground beef or turkey. Kick it up a notch by making Korean BBQ or Buffalo Chicken Sloppy Joes. Use your favorite buns, or use thick sliced bread to make a grilled cheese Sloppy Joe combo. Sloppy Joe mix can be thrown it in a casserole dish and top with tater tots to give it a new spin. The possibilities are endless, and Pinterest has some great recipes on how to mix it up.

Breakfast for Dinner

Often called “brinner”, breakfast for dinner is a great way to serve a balanced meal without too much effort. Whether it’s pancakes and sausage, oatmeal with berries, or eggs with toast, kids love breakfast. Serving it at dinnertime adds an extra bit of excitement to the meal as well!

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spaghetti and meatballs is a cheap easy healthy meal that you can be sure the kids will eat. Really, any pasta and sauce will do, right? I usually end up making two batches of sauce – one a more traditional (plain) style of the kids, and a a second batch with onions, mushrooms and spices for my husband and I. There are a million combinations of pasta, sauce and additional add-ins that you’re sure to find something that pleases everyone.

Burritos

Whether breakfast or bean, burritos are a healthy dinner ideas for kids that they’ll love to eat. Any combination of toppings make a personalized meal for each family member, and setting out the ingredients allows them to build their own. Less work for you and more fun for the kids!

With so many options to choose from, it’s easy to find cheap dinner ideas to feed your family, no matter what their tastes. Use these ideas to help build a repertoire of go-to meals when time of short and budgets are tight.

Using these cheap dinner ideas will help you to not only save money, but to also eat out less. When you have a backup plan for those crazy busy nights with the family, you’ll be much less likely to eat out. Don’t forever to learn how to trim your monthly grocery budget as well!

Source:

1 https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/consumer-expenditures/2015/pdf/home.pdf

These cheap dinner ideas will help you create super quick, budget-friendly meals that can be whipped together in 30 minutes or less! #dinnerideas #budgetcooking #cheapdinnerideas #dinnerrecipes

How to Get Out of Debt: We Paid Off $26,619 in 17 Months

How to get out of debt

Racking up debt can happen for a variety of reasons: overspending, medical issues, a car accident, a layoff.

Often it can take just one or two unplanned instances to end up neck deep and struggling – especially if you’re already living paycheck to paycheck.

Millions of Americans are one paycheck away from accuring more debt, or worse – bankruptcy.

My family has been there. We’ve struggled with worrying about going negative every month and using the last small bit of savings we had to stay afloat. Forget figuring out how to eliminate credit card debt on top of that.

We didn’t spend lavishly or have fancy cars and clothes. But we did spend foolishly, by not keeping track of what we had coming in versus going out.

Not to mention we were so disorganized and constantly playing catch up in all aspects of life, including our money.

It doesn’t matter why you have debt – what’s important is that you’re ready to learn how to get out of debt and have the tools you need to finally become debt free.

In this article I’ll outline step-by-step how we officially, finally became debt free (hooray!) and the tools and tricks we used to get there.

Struggling to pay off your debt is no way to live. Why not make this year the year you finally drop the burden of debt once and for all?

5/01/18 Update: We’ve now paid off $26,619 of debt in just 17 months and raised our net worth by $57,952!

Our Steps to Being Debt Free

My husband and I had accrued various types of debt for almost 20 years. We were struggling to figure out how to get out of debt and stay there. While we weren’t necessarily drowning in debt, we weren’t killing it in savings and investments either. Just a lot of living for the day and never setting any financial goals.

My husband and I, on our debt payoff journey and honeymoonMost of our debt was from life in general. Student loans, two costly births, a car wreck, credit cards, home improvements. Having a house on the market for almost a year after moving to a new state certainly didn’t help.

We finally sold our house when we had $700 left in savings to cover the next month’s expenses. The term “living beyond our means” couldn’t have more accurate.

All these decisions we had made stacked, and stacked, and stacked – until I realized just how dangerously everything was teetering.

It was like a bunch of wobbly teacups stacked in angles on top of each other, just waiting for a tiny push to topple them over. I began to realize just how one tiny thing, like a job loss, could topple everything and break us financially.

We needed help getting out of debt, and fast. Continue reading

The 18 Best Cash Back Apps that will Save You Thousands

The 18 best cash back apps that will save you thousands!

Everybody I know loves to bring home the spoils of a great sale, if only to brag about how much they saved on their score. And with the holidays quickly approaching, the sales are really ramping up. So now is the time to double down on those bragging rights and start using cash back apps to sweeten the savings!

There are a ton of cash back and rebate sites out there. Sifting through them to find the best cash back apps is time consuming at best. Luckily, I’ve taken the time to pull together a comprehensive list of the absolute best.

There are a ton of cash back and rebate sites out there. Sifting through them to find the best cash back apps is time consuming at best. Luckily, I've taken the time to pull together a comprehensive list of the absolute best. #cashback #frugal #savings #savingmoney #cashback #savemoney

How to Make Money from Your Receipts

There are two options to maximize savings while shopping:

  • Cash back apps
  • Rebate websites

Cash back apps have a list of items that they provide cash back on. Then, once you purchase them, you scan the receipt and depending on the app, the barcode of the product. Your earned cashback sits in an account until you hit a certain thershold (generally $20), and then you can request for the account to be paid out via Paypal, check, or directly to your bank account.

Examples of cash back apps are: Ibotta, Fetch Rewards, Shopkick, or Receipt Hog.

Rebate websites involve clicking through that website to the retailer you want to buy from. Not only do these sites offer cash back, but they often have some great coupons to help stack your savings. Sites like Ebates pay out quarterly, no matter how much is in your account.

Examples of rebate sites are: Ebates, Topcashback.

Whether it’s an app or a site, it’s really easy to submit your receipts or click through a link and claim your money. Once you get into the habit of looking at these spots for savings first, you’ll not only save cash but your time as well.

Next, I’ll cover which apps work best for shopping, groceries, gas, and other items.

The Best cash back apps for shopping

These are the best cash back apps for shopping that you can use to save your money. Stack these with sales and you’ll be golden:

Ebates

Ebates is easily one of my top cash back apps to save money when I shop online. They have cash back for over 2500 stores online, and they’ve recently added cash back in stores as well!

There are three ways to save with Ebates:

  • Go through the Ebates website and click through their link to your favorite retailers
  • Install an extension on your Chrome browser that alerts you every time you visit a retailer that Ebates offers cash back at (my favorite way!)
  • Download their cash back app for Android or iOS

As an added bonus, Ebates offer coupons that you can’t get elsewhere. Ebates also gives double cash back offers that rotate through various stores as well, so your chances of finding additional savings are great.

Ebates offers payouts via Paypal or check, and pays out quarterly. Cash back categories include vacation and travel, health and beauty, electronics, clothing, accessories, gifts, flowers, baby, home, office, auto, and much, much more.

Sign up for Ebates now >


TopCashBack

TopCashBack is a direct competitor to Ebates and is giving them a run for their money. You can get cash back at over 4,000 retailers and they have 17 different payout options! If you choose to take your payout via a gift card, some of the gift cards offer additional bonuses up to 5%.

TopCashback also offers cash back guarantee. They’ll match other cash back site amounts (with a few terms and conditions). They also offer coupons and promotions, and sign up bonuses as well.

Once your earnings clear, you can request a payout at any time, for any amount. TopCashBack offers savings in travel, home and garden, electronics, fashion, health and beauty, gift cards, and more!

Sign up for TopCashBack now >


Paribus

I love using Paribus because I’m often super busy and don’t always have time or the inclination to scan receipts. With Paribus, I don’t even have to click through any links. I just shop like I normally would online, and Paribus tracks confirmation emails and watches for price changes.

Paribus instantly scores you money back if the price drops on something you’ve bought from any of the 25+ major retailers that they partner with.

If your shipment is late, Paribus negotiates on your behalf with the retailer and gets a reimbursement without you having to lift a finger.

Think that once you finally book your hotel room, you’re locked into that price? Nope!

Paribus also can help you save when you book hotels rooms. If they price drops on a room, they’ll find the drop and help you get the difference back. Paribus works with hotel rooms booked through: Expedia, Hotels.com, Hilton, Booking.com, Priceline, and Marriott.

Sign up for Paribus now >


Swagbucks

Most people know Swagbucks for getting paid to do surveys, watch videos, play games, and more.

But did you know that Swagbucks offers cash back, just like Ebates and TopCashBack?

Just by shopping through Swagbucks, you can earn cash back at over 1500 major retailers, including Amazon, Walmart, and Target. You’ll also get exclusive deals and coupons!

Swagbucks payouts are done through Paypal or gift cards. Often times different gift cards will be discounted so you can stretch your points even further.

Once you’ve hit your minimum you can request a payout at any time, and they usually take a day or so to show up in your email.

Sign up for Swagbucks now >


Shopkick

While Shopkick isn’t exactly a cash back app, it’s worth mentioning. Shopkick is a rewards app that rewards you with “kicks” (or points) for shopping online or in-store.

When in-store, you can use Shopkick to scan select products to earn kicks. Or, you can earn kicks just for making purchases.

Online, you can visit their partner retailer websites and view offers or purchase items to get kicks.

There are a total of eight different ways that you can earn kicks:

  • Walk into a store – without even purchasing anything!
  • Scan barcodes on select products
  • Make a purchase with a linked card
  • Purchase and submit a receipt
  • Visit online stores
  • View online products
  • Make online purchases
  • Watch videos

Cash your kicks out for digital gift cards to popular places, like Target, Amazon, Starbucks, and Groupon to name a few!

Sign up for Shopkick now >


The Best Cash Back Apps for Groceries

There are a ton of great cashback apps where you can submit receipts for money. These are the best grocery rebate apps out there:

Ibotta

Ibotta is a game changer for grocery shopping – and it’s so easy! Rebates are organized by store so they’re very easy to find. Just select the items you want to redeem, scan your receipt, and scan the barcodes on the items you bought as you’re prompted.

You cash shows up within 48 hours (usually much, much faster!) and boom – you’re done! Ibotta also offers tons of great bonuses that change every month, which adds an extra bit of fun to the challenge of redeeming your rebates.

As of the typing of this post, I’ve personally saved over $456 through Ibotta. There’s nothing easier than getting paid to upload receipts!

Ibotta also allows your to link your loyalty card for certain retailers to redeem your rebates that way. No scanning involved!

Recently they’ve branched out to include mobile in-app purchases, which makes a great app even better. With over 290 supported stores, it’s easy to rack up the savings.

The Ibotta app pays out with Paypal, venmo, or gift cards. You can also earn bonuses as well as earn more by hooking up your Facebook so that you create a team of earners.Last, you can get a $5 referral fee for anyone that uses your referral link to sign up!

Sign up for Ibotta now >


Checkout 51

If you’re looking for an Ibotta alternative, take Checkout 51 for a spin. With Checkout 51 you also scan receipts for money back, but it’s not limited to which store you shop at.

The updated offer list comes out every Thursday. Just add your favorites to your shopping list, make your purchase, and scan your receipt. It’s as easy as that!

Offers are available in limited quanities, so double check they’re still available before you hit the store and make sure to upload your receipt as soon as you’re done shopping.

Checkout 51 has a $20 minimum, and pays out via check.

Sign up for Checkout 51 now >


BerryCart

BerryCart is the crunchy Ibotta alternative. Every offer that you can snag a rebate for is either:

  • All-natural
  • Organic
  • Gluten-free
  • Non-GMO
  • Vegan
  • Or vegetarian

Their claim to fame is that you won’t find any items that have high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, or chemicals. That’s definitely a win-win, right?

Stack that with the coupons and deals available through the app, and you’re not only saving cash but helping your family stay healthy.

BerryCart works at any store that gives you a printed receipt, meaning that it’s good for over 100,000 locations in the US. Payouts are through Paypal or select gift cards available through the app.

Sign up for BerryCart now >


Receipt Hog

Receipt Hog is another hugely popular cash back apps like Ibotta. However, the twist here is that you don’t have to buy certain items to get rebates.

Instead, you shop anywhere, scan your receipt, and you’re given chances to play Hog Slots, take paid surveys, win free shopping trips, and more.

Once you’ve earned enough coins, you trade them in for Amazon gift cards, magazines, or cash via Paypal.

Sign up for Receipt Hog here >


SavingStar

Another cash back app for receipts that I really like to use is SavingStar. This Ibotta competitor has very similar offers, but they’re redeemed a bit differently.

First, you add stores to your account so you can redeem rebates there. If you have a loyalty card, you can link the store automatically and be able to skip the receipt scanning. if not, you’ll just scan the receipt like on other apps.

Next, you’ll activate your offers, shop, and redeem your offers. Once you’ve hit the $20, threshold, you can select from Paypal, a bank deposit, gift cards, or choose to donate your earnings to American Forests.

This grocery receipt cash back app can be used at over 100,000 stores in over 1000 different retails chains, so there’s bound to be a grocery store you can use it at.

Sign up for SavingStar now >


Fetch Rewards

With Fetch Rewards, you can earn points with ANY grocery receipt. There’s no shopping at specific stores, clipping any coupons, or redeeming offers before shopping.

Fetch Rewards matches items on your receipt and credits you for every item you buy from their list of 250+ participating brands. You then cash out your points to purchase gift cards from hundreds of retailers.

Whether you shop at a local mom and pop store or a Sam’s Club, your printed receipt will be accepted up to 14 days after purchase. Also included are convience stores, club stores, drugstores, liquor stores, and of course, grocery stores.

Sign up for Fetch Rewards now >


Cash Back Apps for Gas

While cash back apps specifically for gas are mostly non-existent, there is one app that will accept gas station and convenience store receipts:

ReceiptPal

The Receipt Pal app is one of the few apps that let you just scan receipts for money back, making it one of the few apps like Receipt Hog.

You don’t have to buy any particular products or shop at certain stores. Just scan those receipts to earn cash back. Simple, right?

This app is unique in that it accepts any receipt – from gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, car dealerships, online retailers, convenience stores, travel and entertainment, and more. The receipt must include the merchant name, purchase date, total amount spent and phone number or zip code of the store. That’s it!

ReceiptPal also has weekly sweepstakes to give you a chance to win a cash bonus (cha-ching!). Your earned points can then be cashed out to purchase gift cards.

Sign up for ReceiptPal now >


Don’t Forget Specific Store Apps

Several mass merchandisers have created their own apps to help you save when you shop there.

The Target App

With the Target app, I’ve been able to save over $562 by stacking cartwheel offers, in-store digital coupons, sales, and my 5% redcard discount!

Saving with the Target app is easy. As you shop, scan the barcodes of the products to see if there’s a discount or manufacturer coupon that applies. When you checkout, scan the barcode in the wallet section to apply your savings, and that’s it!

The Target app also has additional coupons available in the wallet section, such as $10 off of a $50 food and beverage purchase. Plus, you can choose to store your redcard info in the app so that you just scan the barcode to pay.

It’s almost like they’re making it toooo easy to spend money there…

Get started with the Target app >


Walmart Pay

Walmart has replaced the Walmart Savings Catcher with Walmart Pay, but it essentially does the same thing.

When you pay with Walmart Pay, your digital receipt is automatically checked for lower prices at competitors. If a lower price is found, you get the difference! That cash back difference is loaded onto an egift card, which can be used with – you guessed it – Walmart Pay.

Learn more about Walmart Pay now >


Other Savings Apps

While these aren’t necessarily cash back apps, they are another way to save some cash:

Acorns

Acorns is a great app that rounds up your purchases and invests them for you. By setting up an IRA through Acorns, you can save for retirement without even thinking about it.

Besides investing your spare change, you can also schedule reccuring investments so that you can grow your investments quicker.

It’s an easy way to dip your toe into investing without too much stress over if you’re doing it “right”.

As an added bonus, if you shop at any of Acorns’ 250+ retail partners, they’ll automatically invest in your Acorns account!

Sign up for Acorns now >


Hopster

Hopster provides unique coupons for natural products. The more you do on Hopster.com, the more points you earn. And the more points you earn, the more coupon savings you get.

Not only can you print coupons on natural products, but you can also upload your receipts to earn points as well.

Learn more about Hopster now >


Mobee

Ever wanted to be a secret shopper? Now you can with the Mobee app!

Start by finding a mission near you at popular stores and retailers. Next, answer questions once you’re at the location and submit it for review. You’ll earn points for every mission completed, which can be cashed in for gift cards and prizes.

You can also unlock achievements to earn more points as well, helping you level up to earning those gift cards quicker.

Earn additional points by referring friends as well, and cash them n for the gift cards to Dunkin’ Donut, Starbucks, Walmart, Best Buy, MasterCard prepaid gift cards, and more!

Learn more about Mobee now >


Punchcard

My wallet used to be full of half-punched loyalty cards from a bunch of different restaurants and coffee shops that I loved. With Punchcard, you no longer have to carry these around and can still earn rewards.

This app works at a ton of major retailers and restaurants, including: Target, Subway, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, McDonald’s, CVS, 7-Eleven, Chili’s, Vons, Chipotle, Safeway, Best Buy, Banana Republic, Chevron, and more!

Punch, spin and win points with every purchase, then use them to get gift cards, contest entries or give them away as a charitable donation.

Some businesses that participate in Punchcard see that you’re a loyal customer and offer rewards, coupons, or offers directly to you as well!

Learn about Punchcard now >


Whether you’re at the store or shopping from the comfort of your home, there’s an app or website to help you save money.

While not every app fits everyone, make sure to give each one a try for at least a couple of weeks before you throw in the towel. You’ll be surprised at how much you can save with apps like Ibotta and Shopkick!

Have you used any of the cash back apps or rebate sites to help save cash? If so, let me know in the comments below!

There are a ton of cash back and rebate sites out there. Sifting through them to find the must have cash back apps is time consuming, but I've pull together a comprehensive list of the absolute best. #cashback #frugal #savings #savingmoney #cashback #savemoney

Super Easy Money Saving Challenge With Free Printables

Super easy money saving challenge + free printable

Beginning a money saving challenge is a great way to kickstart any of your financial goals. Whether your emergency fund needs pumped up, it’s vacation time, or one of the kids needs braces, having a padded savings fund is key to avoiding any new debt.

Can you imagine coming back from a weeklong vacation in Maui? Now, can you imagine coming back from a weeklong vacation in Maui…without credit card debt?

Have you ever been able to take a vacation without having to throw it all on a credit card? If not, do you have any idea how much you’ve paid in interest for that vacation, long after your tan (or burn, if you’re me) is gone?

This is why it’s important to set money savings goals. Without them, we’d be paying for those vacations (or braces, or emergencies) ten times over before everthing’s said and done. Having savings goals means never having to say, “Charge it!”

The best thing you can do is learn how to save money the right way, so that you can break the cycle of debt once and for all. Next, I’ll cover four types of money saving challenges and how each can help you acheive your financial goals.

Not sure how to find the best way to save money? Learn how to save $1000 in just 12 weeks with these free, printable worksheets! #money #savings #savingmoney #personalfinance

The Four Major Types of Money Savings Challenges

In my research, I’ve found that there are four major types of money saving challenges. Some are more passive ways to save that will slowly build up and that change will be less likely to be miss.

Others are much more aggressive savings strategies that require being very proactive with your money. While these are more difficult, they also reap a much bigger reward.

Money Savings Challenge #1: Save by Type of Cash or a Percentage of Your Income

These types of challenges are smaller and tend to be easier. A popular one is to put aside 10% of your income every paycheck, prior to paying your bills. This is often referred to as “paying yourself first”.

If you use and spend cash, there are a lot that involve saving different types of currency, such as saving all your $5 bills for the year. Keeping all your dimes. These savings methods are easy to do and the outcome can vary wildly depending upon what type of change you receive throughout the year.

Some additional examples include:

  • Save any $5 bills received
  • Save all of your dimes in a two liter soda bottle, which equals approximately $700
  • A year long penny challenge, in which you save one penny on day one, two pennies on day two, etc. You’ll have saved $667.95 at the end of the year.
  • Automatically move 10% of every paycheck into savings before you pay any bills

And so on. You get the drift. There’s a ton of different money saving challenges on Pinterest for easy, small money challenges such as these. Check out 37 Easy Money Challenges to Help Smash your Financial Goals for even more ideas.

Money Savings Challenge #2: Save by Using a Financial App

There are several great financial apps that can help you round up your spare change on purchases to put money aside. Heck, even some credit card companies offer these services as well.

The key is that once again you’re passively saving by pushing very small amounts into an account without realizing they’re gone. You’re not feeling the sting, since it’s always less then 5 or 6 dollars.

Acorns is a very well known and trusted financial app that can help you easily shuffle your extra cash around. Spare change can be rounded up from purchases and recurring investments set up. You can easily set up an IRA and Acorns handles all the investing and rebalancing of your funds.

Even better, you can earn as you shop. Acorns has partnered with over 200 Found Money partners that will automatically invest in your Acorns account every time you shop there. It really doesn’t get much easier than that! Learn more about the Acorns investing app here.

Money Savings Challenge #3: Do a No Spend Challenge

Here’s where the challenges stop being passive, and start to become very hands on. A no spend challenge is a period of time – say a week, two or a month – in which you proactively decide not to spend money.

For your no spend challenge, you set up rules and exceptions, such as you can purchase gas, but not groceries and much use this time to clean out the fridge and pantry.

At the end of the challenge, all of the money you would have spent goes into your savings. It’s another quick way to jumpstart your savings or create breathing room when you’re living paycheck to paycheck.

For more no spend challenge ideas, check out:

Money Savings Challenge #4: Creating an Intentional Money Savings Challenge

What do I mean by an intentional money savings challenge? I mean that you set specifics and define a goal.

Do you want to do a 30 day money saving challenge? Is it biweekly? Is your goal to save $5,000 or $10,000 in 52 weeks? Or is that too long, and you prefer a save $5,000 in 26 weeks?

Whether you want to save $10 or $10,000, you need to set solid, achievable goals. Without details like an end date or an amount to strive for, that money can easily blow away and get spent on small, throw away items that aren’t helping you reach the next step.

This money saving challenge is the most aggressive of the four. But with the hard work and sweat of pushing yourself, you earn the greatest reward.

Money Saving Challenge Printables

I’ve created some free money saving challenge printables to help you not only plan your savings challenge, but to help you execute it.

While these money saving challenge printables are geared towards helping you save $1,000 in 12 weeks, it can easily be changed to match any time period or amount of savings. Some other popular money saving challenges are:

  • 52 week money saving challenge, saving anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000
  • 26 week money saving challenge, usually geared towards saving $5,000
  • 90 day / 3 month / 12 weeks savings challenge to save $1,000 – $3,000

Once again, this is all dependent on what your needs are and what your timeline is like. Download your free money saving challenge printables here:

A Step-By-Step Walkthrough of a 3 Month / $1,000 Money Saving Challenge

The first step to breaking the debt cycle is to build up a $1000 emergency fund. It’s also very important to learn to cash flow, or save for, other expenses such as vacations, medical costs, or car repairs before you need it.

While your personal money saving goals will vary, we’ll be using a 12 week, $1,000 saving example to walk through setting up your challenge.

Why You Need to Have at Least $1,000 Savings

We can plan all we want, but there are always unexpected expenses that pop up. Whether it’s medical, a wedding we’ve been invited to, or car issues, you can bet they’re going to show up at the worst times.

It’s not a matter of IF financial roadbumps come up, it’s a matter of WHEN.

The easiest way to stay out of debt when these roadblocks hit is to have some savings in place. I suggest having a $1000 emergency fund. $1000 is enough to cover your deductible for house issues as well as most medical issues.

Getting Started Saving Money

Now that you have your printables to help you learn how to save money, it’s time to get started saving!

Step 1: Find your motivation to Save.

It’s important to know your motivations for saving. Is your ultimate goal to be debt free, but you’re lacking an emergency fund? Do you want to take your family on vacation this year? Are you expecting a baby, or think you’ll need dental work?

No matter what the reason, take the time to figure out why you’re doing this. It’ll help you to stay motivated when things get tough.

Visual reminders are great as well – so make sure to use the saving tracker, as well as pictures of what you’re working toward to help with motivation.

Without figuring out why you’re doing the challenge, you’re much more likely to fall off the financial wagon and whip out that credit card at the next big sale you walk past.

Having a specific goal, amount and timeline really help to motivate and create drive. Which in turns makes it much, much more likely that you hit your financial target!

Step 2: Set Your SMART Goal.

As you decide on what you’d like your goal to be, remember to use the SMART method:

  • Specific
  • Measureable
  • Action Oriented
  • Realistic
  • Time Bound

To build a $1000 savings in 12 weeks, you’ll need to save $83 a week. That’s just shy of $12 a day.

Let’s create an example goal. Rather than, I want to save $1000, let’s make it SMART:

I want to create a $1000 emergency fund by saving $83 a week for the next 12 weeks.

This goal is very specific: it has a measurement of time and debt amount, it includes an action, and it’s realistic and has a time limit.

You’re much more likely to be successful at saving $1000 if you break your goals down into smaller sprints, such as one or two weeks chunks, or even a month.

Decide how you want to break your savings up and write it down on your worksheet.

Step 3: Track Your Current Spending.

In order to get started saving you need to know where your money is currently going.

I know – a lot of people think tracking spending is a bore and a snore. I get it. But unless you can see where the money is most likely to leak out of your account (I’m looking at you, coffeeshops!), then you can stop the flow.

Saving money is going to take identifying needs and wants, and seeing where you can trim back.

If you don’t already use an expenses tracking software like ynab.com or mint.com, now’s a great time to start. It can help you look back over the past 2 – 3 months and gauge your spending.

Step 4: Create a budget.

Now that you see where your money is going, you need to make some decisions on where to make cuts. This is where a budget comes in handy. It’s an easy way to play with the numbers and see where it makes the most sense to trim your spending.

I can recommend this zero based budget that we’ve used to pay off more than $26,619+ in the past 19 months!

You want to trim your spending so that you’re able to hit that SMART goal that you created in the previous step. Next, I’ll give you some ideas on how to do just that.

The Best Ways to save Money

Now that you have your goal and budget in hand, this is where you need to get creative! There are only two ways to find money:

Spend less or earn more.

Sounds simple, I know, but it’s not always easy to keep consistent with it.  I’ve written a lot of in-depth articles about each. I prefer to do a little of both, so that I don’t feel like I’m being deprived by cutting too much, and I’m still able to meet my SMART financial goals.

How to Trim Expenses:

How to Earn More Money:

What to Do with Your Savings

Now that you’ve started your savings, how do you keep from accidentally spending it?

The best approach is to create a separate savings account. This new account can be linked to your regular accounts, but I really suggest keeping them in a place where it’s not as easy to access.

I also highly recommend automating the transfers to the savings account, so that you don’t forget and spend it.

For example, we have a savings account for my quarterly tax payments. Our checking is with a local bank, and this particular savings account is with CapitalOne. The monthly payments are automated so that they get taken out of checking at the beginning of every month.

If I need to access that money, it takes a couple of days to transfer back to my checking. It’s easy to set it and forget it – which means there’s no chance of accidentally spending it!

I highly recommend setting up your budget at the beginning of the month and immediately moving whatever extra you have into savings. If you don’t pay yourself first by putting your savings into a separate account, it will get bites taken out of it until it’s half of what it should be.

I’ve Hit my Savings Goal – Now What?

Saving for 12 weeks is long enough to have created a new “normal” for yourself and for your spending. You’ve adjusted to the new budget, and you’ve hit your goal. Now what?

The absolute best idea is to keep riding your momentum and continue your money saving challenge! Either keep saving, or begin paying off your debt, depending on where you’re at on the path to financial freedom.

Saving up $1000 is pretty easy if you have a plan and break it into manageable chunks. These tips to save money and printable worksheets will help to get your savings on schedule. Once you’re on track, you’ll find it easier every day to keep going until you hit your goal!

Bonus: When Should I use my Emergency Fund?

One of the biggest questions I get is “what’s the difference between an emergency fund and sinking funds?” (Don’t worry – I had no idea what sinking funds were a couple of years ago!)

Knowing the difference between sinking funds and an emergency fund will help you to understand when it’s actually a legit reason to break into your emergency fund.

The short explanation is that an emergency fund is for actual emergencies, like medical issues or an unscheduled car issue. Basically, anything you can’t really plan ahead for.

Sinking funds are a savings account that’s for those irregular expenses that you know are coming: yearly HOA fees, quarterly tax payments, or your car registration. Items that don’t happen monthly, but you know they’re coming.

Once you’ve saved up your emergency fund, begin to save your sinking funds next so you aren’t spending your emergency fund by accident. Learn more about emergency funds versus sinking funds, and why you need both.

What amount and length of time are you thinking of using for your money saving challenge? Are you going big and tackling a 52 week money challenge, or starting out a bit smaller? Let me know in the comments below!

Not sure how to find the best way to save money? Learn how to save $1000 in just 12 weeks with these free, printable worksheets! #money #savings #savingmoney #personalfinance

Struggling to save money? Try a money saving challenge and grab these free money savings challenge printables. Get your $1000 savings built in just 12 weeks! #savings #emergencyfund #savemoney #moneysavingchallenge
Can't seem to figure out how to save money? Use these free printable savings worksheets to get you on the right track! Learn how to save $1000 in just 12 weeks. #savings #emergencyfund #savemoney
Even if you're living paycheck to paycheck, you can still save your $1000 emergency fund in just 12 weeks. Use these free printable savings worksheets to get started! #debt #money #emergencyfund

Unique & Cheap Christmas Gifts Everyone Will Love

Unique and cheap Christmas gifts everyone will love

Giving cheap Christmas gifts doesn’t mean buying ugly, junky presents. Unless you’re into that sort of thing.

via GIPHY

It just takes a bit of creativity to find cheap Christmas gifts that fit into your budget and the gift receiver will love. With some budgeting and planning, you can easily stick within your budget and still get that gift list checked off!

Why You Should Focus Your Gift List Around Cheap Christmas Gift Ideas

Everyone’s had that New Year’s hangover – I’m not just talking too much food and drinks, but too much holiday spending as well. You get caught up in the spirit of the holidays, end up buying waaaaay more than you intended, and come January’s credit card bill, your bank account is officially “hungover”.

Then the buyer’s remorse and belt tightening settle in, making for a painful start to the new year.

If you’re not convinced yet, here’s some gut-wrenching statistics out there on holiday overspending:

  1. 56% of Americans will take on new debt to pay for holiday gifts1
  2. 16% will take longer than 6 months to pay it off1
  3. 34% of parents will spend an average of $500 per child!1

The worst statistic I’ve read? 25% of parents are taking extreme measures such as withdrawing from 401ks, using emergency funds, or using payday loans to buy holiday gifts1.

When did it get like this? And how do we stop it?

It’s pretty clear we need to stop it before it starts by trimming down our spending for the holiday season.

Why not choose to start January off with financial peace rather than regret, worry and a HUGE credit card statement?

It takes a bit of creativity to find cheap Christmas gifts that fit into your budget. With some planning you can easily find something they'll love! #christmas #gifts #frugal #budgeting

How to be smart about what you spend on Christmas Gifts

We all love to celebrate and show our appreciation for one another through gifts. It’s an tradition as old as the first caveman dragging home extra loin cloths made especially for his cave family, right?

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with giving Christmas gifts. However, it shouldn’t cause you panic or wrack up a huge amount of credit card debt that you pay a ton of interest on.

Start by listing out everyone you need to buy for. Don’t forget non-family members, like teachers, coaches, neighbors, coworkers, and your boss, to name a few.

Got your list? Great. Next, decide how much you want to spend on each person. Once you add that up, you might find yourself a little overwhelmed.

See if you can either trim your list or group people on your list into subcategories. That way you think of creating or buying gifts that apply to multiple people.

For example, instead of buying individual gifts for coworkers, why not bring in one gift to share, like a dessert tray? Everyone’s covered, it’ll be cheaper, and it’s less stress and work for you. Done and done!

While the average American family spends approximately $1,000 on Christmas, there are a lot of great cheap gift ideas that you can give that can help keep you from burning a hole in your credit card.

Cheap Christmas Gift Ideas Don’t have to mean…Being Cheap

Now it’s time to get creative. Just because you’re looking to trim your gift giving costs doesn’t mean you’re going to give everyone a stale fruitcake or some plastic cheap Christmas stuff.

Think about what you’re good at, what you enjoy creating, and what you know your loved ones (or boss) will enjoy.

The trick is to find something that you know they’ll appreciate and enjoy – whether it cost $1,000 or $10.

The Best Cheap Unique Gift Ideas

Spoiler Alert! Anyone and everyone would rather spend time with you and your loved ones than to get yet another trinket. The gift of time is so much more precious than we realize. However, that being said, here are some other cheap holiday gift ideas to consider as well if you still feel like you want to give a physical gift:

 

Give the gift of a homemade meal.

I know, food sounds too easy, but bear with me. The average American is so incredibly busy balancing work, kids and home duties that we all struggle to get a meal on the table. Especially a warm, yummy homemade one on a cold winter night, right?

Give the gift of a family dinner. Prepare their favorite meal in a freezer safe dish with instructions on how to heat it, and add bread and a dessert to make it a meal.

While you’re at it, double the recipe and throw one in the freezer for your family as well. It’s a total win-win for those crazy busy holiday nights when you don’t want to cook, right?

Don’t forget that everyone loves to receive cookies, breads and cakes as well. If you love to bake, now’s your chance to give them something made with love in a beautiful container.

Give the gift of free fun.

Invite your neighbors or friends with kids to meet up at the best sledding hill in the city. Host a cookie exchange, or better yet, use your kitchen as cookie baking central and let all your friends’ kids work on frosting skills.

My absolute favorite free holiday activity? Having a sleepover under the Christmas tree with my kids.

While none of us get much sleep, it feels very magical to be surrounded by all the beautiful lights and the excitement of the tree. Every year, my daughter tells me it’s her favorite and asks if we can do it again!

Give the gift of memories.

One of my favorite money saving ideas for the holidays is to give experiences. Think back to when you were a kid during the holidays. What sticks out to you the most? Was it stuff? Or was it specific memories of times you spend with grandparents, parents, siblings and extended family?

While I can remember some of our gifts, I mostly remember very specific outings with family members. Now that some of those family members are gone, those times are truly cherished memories.

This year, we’re treating my in-laws to a train ride instead of giving gifts. My father-in-law is a huge train buff, so I know they’ll love it. There’s an awesome Chinese lantern festival here in Columbus that we’re taking my parents to. We’ll also be able to take them to see the holiday lights at the zoo for free with our zoo pass.

It’s a win-win because we’re able to give these experiences as their gifts, and they’re also getting time with their grandkids.

Check out local websites to see what free or cheap holiday activities are available in your area and plan around them.

Some frugal outing ideas include:

  • Driving through neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights
  • Caroling
  • Snowball fights
  • Sledding
  • Cookie Crawls (where businesses hand out cookies in an certain area, and you visit each one)
  • Take advantage of free activities at school, like visiting Santa
  • Look into your memberships for discounted activities, like seeing the Zoo Lights

Give them the gift of time.

We can all use a helping hand, but some of us are better at asking than others. Think about what your loved ones need most and make them an offer they cannot refuse!

Here’s the perfect unique Christmas gift idea: offer to do something they hate, so you can free up their time. Clean their gutters, help them with opening the pool next summer, or even babysit for free for date night. Trust me, they’ll love you for it!

Heck, even go so far as to make those funny coupons that they can cash in to make it official. Some other services to offer gift certificates for are:

  • Wash and detail their car
  • Pet sitting
  • Yardwork
  • Handyman services
  • Oil change
  • Run an errand for them that they hate to do

Give the gift of creativity and fun.

For all you DIY junkies who are itching to make something, now’s your chance to make unique fun gifts for cheap!

Scented bath salts, lotions and bath bombs are amazingly easy to make. Whip up a big batch, buy some beautiful reusable containers, and hand them out everyone on your list. Finding something that you can buy and produce in bulk can help save money as well as time.

Use your artistic talents (or whatever talents you may have) to make something you enjoy creating and they enjoy receiving. You can even get your kids in on the action by having them help create keepsake gifts such as ornaments. There are a ton of cute and creative ideas out on Pinterest using kid’s handprints.

Other great diy ideas for christmas gifts include:

  • Family photos in beautiful frames
  • Personalized mugs with coffee samples
  • Hand painted ornaments or home decor
  • Holiday cookies, cakes, or breads in pretty, reusable packaging
  • Hair bows, jewelry or keychains
  • Re-pot plant clippings from your garden
  • Sew clothes, towels, pot holders, or bags
  • Make bath items like bath bombs, body scrub, or soap
  • Create keepsakes with supplies and craft machines that you already have

Maybe you’re not that creative? Etsy has some cute and fun thank you printables for teachers, coaches, babysitters, and anyone else you can think of! They have cute little sayings that match up with a gift, like lip balm or a Hershey’s bar.

Once you make the purchase on Etsy, you’ll receive a PDF to download. Just add some nice stock paper to the printer, print it, cut it out, and attach to the gift. Easy, beautiful, and creative!

Also, don’t forget to check out Pinterest for homemade Christmas gift ideas.

Give the gift of a night with friends.

Looking for gifts ideas for friends? Host a holiday potluck and movie night with everyone in their best ugly Christmas sweaters. Make it BYOB and play your favorite fun Christmas movies. A great party for friends or family doesn’t have to be expensive and everyone can contribute.

Some other great frugal fun Christmas party ideas include:

  • Hallmark Movie night (Everyone loves those, right?)
  • Potluck
  • Cookie Exchange (or bake cookies together)
  • Decorate gingerbread houses
  • White elephant gift exchange
  • Spend time together while wrapping presents
  • Host a Christmas scavenger hunt through your neighborhood
  • Play “Minute to Win It” style games that are holiday themed
  • Decorate ornaments together
  • Do Christmas crafts or make presents

Give the gift of cash (kind of!).

If you must give gift cards, go to Raise.com to purchase discounted gift cards for up to 20% off! They’re 100% guaranteed for a year with purchase protection and refunds, so you don’t have to worry about anything weird with the cards after purchase. Buy these discounted cards for stores you know you’ll shop at for the holidays to save money as well!

Another idea is to cash in those credit card points for gift cards. We use ours for gift cards to gas stations for so we can travel to see family. I’ve also cashed out those points to get gift cards for family members to their favorite restaurants.

You can also earn gift cards through sites like Swagbucks. Fill out surveys, watch videos, and do small tasks to earn points towards gift cards (or cash!). It’s easy enough to do while you’re watching TV to earn some cash every evening.

Give the gift of charity.

While this isn’t necessarily a gift to family or friends, we often find that the holidays are a great reminder to give to those who are less fortunate. However, sometimes we find ourselves struggling to donate the money we’d like to.

There are several ways you can still give without breaking the bank. It’s a perfect time of year to go through your clothes, toys and other household items to see what can be donated to Goodwill or Salvation Army. Winter items that kids have out grown but are still of good use would make a kid in need so happy, not to mention gently used toys as well.

Charities need people to physically help as well. Sign up to ring a bell in front of a store or serve up hot meals to the homeless. A coworker of mine would take his kids every Thanksgiving to work at a soup kitchen. I was awed at not only his devotion to helping others, but his ability to teach his kids what’s truly important during the holidays.

Additional Ways to Save on Christmas Gifts

Let’s say your’e not crafty or don’t have the time to bust our your art supplies. You can still find ways to cut costs when shopping for unique Christmas gifts.

Just remember to use these guidelines when holiday shopping to help you from overspending:

  1. Consider shopping with cash or a pre-paid card to stop yourself from overspending.
  2. Stack your savings by:
    1. Purchasing items on sale
    2. Using coupons or Ibotta for rebates
    3. Paying for purchased with discounted gift cards
    4. If shopping online, go through through Ebates or TopCashBack.com
  3. Keep the ads for anything you purchase. If you see it cheaper elsewhere, take the ad back in with your receipt and get a price match.

Learn more couponing tips and tricks here to get the best deal possible!

Use these unique and cheap holiday gift ideas to make your holidays better this year. You don’t have to be a painful financial statistic or go overboard in gift giving to show you care. Truly, what anyone really wants is time with you and your family. And maybe a pony. But we’ll settle for time together instead. ?

Have other unique and cheap holiday gifts ideas? Share them below, I’d love to hear them!

1https://www.fool.com/retirement/2016/12/01/heres-what-the-average-american-spends-on-holiday.aspx


Check out these frugal and fun gift guides for more gift ideas!

The 15 best farmhouse decor gift ideas for fixer upper fans
The 15 best frugal gifts for coffee lovers
The 15 best frugal gift ideas for woodworkers
10 literary gifts for book lovers under $25
10 frugal gift ideas for plant lovers
The best financial gifts for college students
The best frugal and fun gifts for your favorite teacher
The 10 best frugal gifts for massage therapists

How to Quickly Save More Money: 10 Simple Rules for a No Spend Challenge

10 simple rules for a no spend challenge

One question I get asked a lot as a personal finance fanatic (say that three times fast!) is what the rules of a no spend challenge are. While there are plenty of very specific no spend challenges you can take, it’s a very personal choice as to which one to embark on.

The key takeaway of a no spend challenge is to reduce your outgoing money by cutting out non-essentials. Yes, you’re already doing that with a budget, but during a no spend challenge you’re amping it up and cutting even more.

So what’s the difference between a budget and a no spend challenge? And why should you start one?

Need to save more money quickly? Try a no-spend challenge! Here are 10 simple steps to crush a no-spend challenge. #nospend #nospendchallenge #nospendrules

What is a No Spend Challenge?

A no spend challenge is choosing a period of time, say a weekend, week or even a month, to not spend any money. Some people choose to have allowances, like groceries and gas.

The purpose of the no spend challenge is to help you reset after a holiday, vacation, or to get back on track from an emergency or spending slip up. It can also be a great way to kickstart your savings or debt repayment on things like student loans with the chunk of money you save from the challenge.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of the rules of no spend challenges, download this free worksheet and calendar to help you personalize the rules and goals for your challenge:

Now that you’ve grabbed your free worksheets, read through the rules below, grab a pen, and get to planning your own personal no spend challenge!

Picking a timeframe for a No Spend Challenge

There are three suggested time periods you can choose:

  • No Spend Weekend Challenge: This focuses on finding free activities with family or friends. It’s perfect for anyone who finds themselves spending too much on activities, especially with kids.
  • No Spend Week Challenge: This challenge entails making changes to your daily habits – whether it’s getting a coffee from Starbucks or grabbing lunch with coworkers.
  • No Spend Month Challenge: This challenge can be a doozy, but the rewards are greater. This is about starting to make a permanent lifestyle change for good, rather than just for a week. It’s about stopping habits like shopping and replacing them long term with other cheaper (or free) activities.

How a No Spend Challenge Works

No spend challenges work by setting rules for spending and then locking away those credit and debit cards. The rules can vary depending upon your needs, but primarily there’s no shopping for wants, just needs.

Some people chose to do a bit of stocking up on groceries, pet supplies and personal needs prior to their challenge.

Allowed spending on the challenge includes items such as:

  • Mortgage/Rent
  • Utilities
  • Insurance
  • Internet/Phone
  • Groceries, if you’re not stocking up prior
  • Gas for your vehicle

Suggested items to cut during a no spend challenge:

  • Activities
  • Eating out, coffee, drinks
  • Clothes
  • Shopping
  • Ubers/Lyft
  • Hair/Nail Services
  • Anything else that’s not a need (vs. a want)

How to Get Started on Your No Spend Challenge

There are some key steps you need to do in order to ensure that your spending challenge is a success. They’re all about setting rules and making sure everyone is on the same page so there’s no miscommunication and “accidental” (ahem, side eyeing you, donuts and coffee!) spending during the challenge.

1. Figure out why you’re doing it.

Create a goal so you have something to focus on, especially if things get tough. Do you want to boost your debt repayment? Are you saving for a vacation? Figure out your long term goal. If you have that in mind, it makes it easier to focus on not spending when a large mocha is staring you in the face.

2. Decide how long you want to do the challenge for.

The point is to challenge yourself and see how far you can stretch! A month can be really difficult, but the longer the challenge, the greater the reward. If you’re worried about how difficult it might be, start off easier with a no spend weekend or week.

3. Set your rules.

Write them down and post them as a reminder. Are there exceptions, such as purchasing fresh groceries like dairy & produce? Are you setting up cash envelopes for groceries and gas? Make a list of what’s an acceptable purchase and what’s not and hang them on the fridge.

4. Review rules with your spouse/family.

Make sure everyone’s on the same page, otherwise it’s useless. It’s important that your spouse and family understand and agree to the goals, so that they’ll be much more likely to play along.

5. Use this period to eat the stock of items in the pantry/freezer.

It’s the perfect time to use up all those items that get pushed to the back of the pantry every week. Often, a no spend challenge can be used to rotate out your pantry’s stock and use up items before they expire. It’s the perfect time to get creative with your meals.

6. Research free entertainment for the kids/family.

Since having kids, I’ve found out just how expensive it can be to do anything – from eating out to an event, it can put a big dent in your cash flow. Use Google to find sites with free events in your city, have a family game night, or hit the park.

7. Put away the credit/debit cards to avoid temptation.

Just do it, as the saying goes. Don’t keep them on you. It’s just too easy to whip out a credit card and use it. Consider creating cash envelopes to help monitor and control spending as needed for things like groceries and gas.

8. Need a distraction? Use this time to get stuff done!

If you’re used to cruising sites for the latest deals, this is the perfect time to distract yourself with household activities. Clean out garage and basement, declutter and organize. Donate, throw away, and sell stuff. It’s the perfect time to pick up a side hustle selling your gently used stuff and get it out of your house at the same time!

9. Still want to buy something?

Write it down in a list and keep it. Promise yourself that if you can wait until the end of the spending period, you can purchase it. Chances are, after you’ve made it through your no spend challenge, you won’t want it anymore. It’s a great way to break yourself of those impulse purchases!

Another idea is to take the money you would have spent on that item and move it into savings. By the end of the challenge, you’ll see how much you would have spent on impulse purchases, which can be a real eye opener!

10. Move your money.

Put it into a separate savings account so that at the end of the month, you can apply it towards your goal. Don’t let it float away into the ether of checking account limbo.

No matter how you chose to do your no spend challenge, what’s important is that you are making an effort to change your spending habits. It can be really hard at first, but it’s a great way to reset your mindset and focus more on long term goals versus instant gratification.

How to Spend No Money for a Month

Spending no money for a month is a lofty goal but definitely doable. To spend no money for a month, you will need to have a budget in place where you’ve planned ahead for that month’s costs.

One of the biggest keys to success is thinking ahead. If you know you’ll be participating in kid’s events or extra curricular activities, plan ahead and pack snacks or food.

If you know you’ll be meeting up with friends, suggest get togethers that aren’t at a restaurant or cost money. If you’re looking for ideas, check out 50 free things to do on a no-spend weekend.

If you have a freebie, no spend weekends are the perfect time to cash them in. Keep an eye on your emails from retailers to see what kind of freebies you can cash in on.

Just this past week, I was able to grab an entire 12oz bag of coffee from World Market, just for being a rewards member. There’s nothing like the taste of free coffee in the morning!

Lastly, if you’re looking for even more inspiration, check out The No Spend Year: How You Can Spend Less and Live More by Michelle McGagh.  In it, she details how she set a goal for herself to just pay bills with a minimal budget for groceries. The rest she saved while she learned how to socialize and travel for free for an entire year!

Have you ever done a no spend challenge? How’d it go? What tips would you recommend? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Ready to start budgeting or want to hear more about ours? Click here to learn how we’ve paid off $26,619 of Debt in 17 Months! Or, if you’re on a tight budget, here are 11 easy ways to save money on a tight budget.

Printable Debt & Savings Trackers Just for You!

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Learn how to quickly save more money with a no spend challenge. Here I cover the basics and what rules apply during a no spend challenge. #nospend #nospendchallenge #nospendrules

How to quickly save more money with a no spend challenge. Here I cover the basics and what rules apply during a no spend challenge. #nospend #nospendchallenge #nospendrules
Need to quickly save more money? Try a no spend challenge! Here I cover the basics and what rules apply during a no spend challenge. #nospend #nospendchallenge #nospendrulesNeed to quickly save more money? Try a no spend challenge! While there are plenty of very specific no spend challenges you can take, it’s a very personal choice as to which one to embark on. Here I cover the basics and what rules apply during a no spend challenge. #nospend #nospendchallenge #nospendrules

The Beginner’s Guide to Sinking Funds & Emergency Funds
(& Why You Need Both)

The differences between a sinking fund and emergency and why you need both

As you’ve started diving into sorting out your finances, you’ve probably heard that you need a starter emergency fund of $1,000. You may have also heard some talk about building a sinking fund or two.

But what exactly is the difference between an emergency fund and a sinking fund? And why do you need more than one account?

Lastly, if you’re drowning in debt, isn’t everything an emergency at this point?

It’s important to not only understand the different between emergency and sinking funds, but why you need each, even this early in the debt repayment game. Especially this early in the game. Without understanding these funds and how to set them up, everything will always be an emergency. And personally, that is not how I want to live – it’s just way too stressful!

By learning about the differences between these types of accounts, where and how to set each up, you’ll be able to face any upcoming expenses – whether planned for or not – without batting an eye. Sounds amazing, right?

Most people don't know what a sinking fund is, or how it differs from an emergency fund. Here's where you'll find the differences in funds, and why you need to be putting money into both savings accounts. #emergency #sinkingfunds #finance

What an Emergency Fund Is (And Isn’t)

An emergency fund is for true emergencies. These are expenses that are unexpected and unplanned. Think of things like a job layoff, an accident, big health issues – basically anything that keeps you up at night.

Sadly, it’s not funds for when you’re too tired to cook, there’s a big sale on shoes, or when you’re forgotten that you need a haircut before a wedding.

For example, our roof was recently damaged during a storm. Since this was an unexpected expense, we took the $1,000 deductible out of our emergency fund at Capital One to pay it off, rather than putting it on our recently paid off credit card. Then we’ll use the next 2 to 3 months to build that emergency fund back up.

Emergency Fund Categories

  • Layoffs
  • Accidents
  • Emergency health bills
  • Unexpected car issues
  • Items that are both unexcepted and unknown

The general rule of emergency funds is that $1,000 is a good starting point while you’re still paying debt. Once all debt has been paid off, then the suggested amount is 3 to 6 months of expenses (or even more!). Note that I said expenses, not income. It’s about covering your bills if you lose your job or get hurt, not matching your missing income. There’s a big distinction between the two!

Emergency fund money is earmarked for after something happens. It’s those things in life that you can only plan so much for and generally show up at the worst times.

If you’re wondering if an expense qualifies, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is it an unexpected expense or was it known about it prior (like a yearly bill)?
  • Is it a want or a need? If it’s a want, it’s not truly an emergency, no matter how good that sale is!
  • Is it urgent, or can it be saved for?

A great example that’s come up in our house recently is the dishwasher. It’s original to the house, and is on its last leg. Sometimes it works ok, sometimes not. We can live without a dishwasher (in theory!). Replacing the dishwasher is a known expense at this point. It’s a want, not a need, and it’s not urgent. Based off these questions, replacing the dishwasher is definitely not an emergency.

What is a Sinking Fund Used For?

A sinking fund is money that you’ve saved up before something happens, so you’re thinking ahead and planning for expenses you know are going to pop up. Some examples are bills that aren’t paid monthly, car maintenance, and vacations.

The sinking fund method is recommended by financial guru Dave Ramsey to avoid using credit cards or going further into debt. Since it’s something you know you need, you can plan ahead and save up to cover it.

Back to the dishwasher example from before – if it dies, we’ve agreed to save up to buy a new one rather than put the cost on a credit card. That is a sinking fund. Even better, we could start saving for it now before it dies. This way we’re thinking ahead about our money, rather than starting saving after it dies, which could take several months.

Sinking Fund Categories

  • Bills that are not monthly, like water, sewer, garbage, etc.
  • Expected car costs, like tires, oil changes, tags, etc.
  • Christmas
  • Birthdays
  • Vacations
  • Home maintenance
  • New appliances/furniture
  • Quarterly self employment taxes
  • Property taxes
  • Insurance (if not paid monthly)
  • New (to you) cars
  • School clothes/fees/supplies
  • Weddings
  • Copays for healthcare

Wondering How Much to Put in a Sinking Fund?

Sinking fund amounts will vary based on several factors, including how much time you have and how much money you need in total for each purchase. I use this sinking fund formula to figure out each individual monthly savings amount:

  1. Write down all expected expenses for the rest of the year that aren’t part of your normal budget
  2. Do your best to estimate how much each will cost (reference an average of last year’s cost if possible)
  3. Add up the total, then divide by how many paychecks you have left for the year
  4. Open a separate checking/savings account and keep the money there

One thing to note is that you won’t have all the sinking funds you need immediately. The best way to handle this is to prioritize the expenses you plan to cover with the sinking fund. Arrange them by due date as well as by urgency. This way, the most important sinking fund expenses will be covered first, and you’ll have time to save up for the rest.

Once you’ve prioritized your sinking funds, add the sinking fund budget line items to your monthly budget. This way you’ll be sure to pay them first and you’ll stay on track with your savings. If you make your sinking fund contribution first, right after getting paid, you’ll find that you are much less likely for that money to go missing by the end of the month.

For example, we are going on vacation with our family and owe my parents $500 for our lodging. Since it’s not until next summer, we’re able to divide those payments up into 12. I’ve created a separate savings account just for this sinking fund and we’ll be able to save up for it easily in $50 monthly increments. That means it won’t sneak up on us and “surprise” us next summer – and no scrambling to scrap up our part of the bill!

How to Keep Track of Sinking Funds

I highly recommend opening an account with Capital One to set this money aside. You can open a sinking fund account there, and then you’ll be able to create up to 25 sub-accounts with no additional paperwork. This is extremely handy when you want to earmark money for certain funds. It also links to your regular bank, so it’ll take a couple of days to move back and forth, but it’s a great way to keep that money for its original purpose.

This way you have can separate accounts for Christmas, car maintenance, vacations – whatever your heart desires, up to 25 of them!

A big mistake that I’ve made in the past is to keep my sinking funds money in my savings account (which also housed my emergency fund and quarterly tax payments, yikes!). As you can guess, I’d dip into it without realizing I was, and next thing I knew…we’d be short and struggling to replace that money come tax time.

I finally realized that the best thing we could do is that every time we get paid, I put those different chunks of money into those separate accounts. That way, we don’t spend what we don’t have, and every quarter, I can easily just transfer the tax money back to my checking account and write a check to pay it. I don’t even have to think or worry about it – easy peasy!

A Quick Review of Emergency & Sinking Fund Examples

Emergency Funds Sinking Funds
Used reactively for the unexpected Used proactively for bills you know you’ll need to pay
Used AFTER something unexpected happens Saved BEFORE something expected happens
Examples: Job layoff, accident, big health issues, emergency car repairs Examples: Christmas gifts, vacations, home maintenance, big purchases, remodeling, extra curricular activities, anniversary or birthday presents and parties
Recommended amount is $1000 until debt is paid off; then 3-6 months of expenses Recommended amount is variable, based on known upcoming expenses

What Types of Sinking Funds Do You Need?

This will vary based on each family, but we have one for Christmas, vacation, anniversary, house updates, and taxes (I know – all the important stuff, right?). This way we can take a vacation without feeling guilty. And we can plan ahead of the kids’ extra circular activities without worrying how we’ll cover it, since they are insanely expensive.

Not everyone will have the same categories for sinking funds, or even emergencies, which is fine. What’s important is that you’ve sat down and mapped out possible expenses, and have decided to face them head on.

When Should I Start Creating Sinking Funds?

This really depends on what your debts are and how quickly (or desperately) you need money set aside for a sinking fund. We chose to wait until we were debt free to start our various sinking funds.

There are some instances where you know you’ll need the sinking funds before you can become debt free, like paying property taxes or your water bill.

There are some things that are just going to happen either way – like Christmas. Why not start a sinking fund for presents, so that in January you’re not afraid to open your credit card statement?

Having a set amount to use for presents will also curb your spending and help you keep within a budget. I’ve found that it can help me to really focus on finding creative and meaningful gifts since I’m spending less.

I also start earlier in the year to look for presents, so that I’m not last minute buying whatever ugly Christmas sweater that’s on sale (though, that is a thing now, isn’t it?). By creating a sinking fund at the beginning of the year, I have some money set aside every month that I can use to buy presents as I find them without using our credit card.

Burying your head in the sand and hoping extra expenses will go away if you ignore them isn’t making your money work for you. It’s making you chase your money, and work harder than you need to in order to get ahead. Creating emergency and sinking funds will only lead to making your finances a success, and will reduce your stress if (and when) something happens!

Ready to start budgeting or want to hear more about ours? Click here to learn how we’ve paid off $26,619 in debt in 17 months!

You can also learn more about how to use sinking funds to get ahead of your finances here.

Do you have sinking funds and an emergency fund set up? What categories do you include in your sinking funds? Comment below and let me know how you’ve made these types of funds work for you and your money!

Why you need both emergency funds and sinking funds