Budgeting Tips

The 4 C’s of Credit: How to Slam Dunk Loan Approvals

Hands pulling money out of wallet with text that reads How to Slam Dunk Getting Approved for Any Loan Immediately

Are you considering getting a house, car, or personal loan this year (or in the next 2 – 3)? If so, you’re going to need to know about the 4 c’s of credit.

No, they’re not horsemen bringing the apocalypse or the top cuss words your kids will spout out in front of their kindergarten class (again). The 4 c’s of lending are markers that help lenders (like Freddie Mac) decide if you’re a safe bet for a loan.

Candidly, I’ve never heard of the 4 c’s of credit framework before, and I’ve had a handful of car loans, mortgages, and student loans. While it’s not a significant term amongst borrowers, it’s a big piece of the puzzle for lenders.

I knew that they checked your credit score and employment, but I never thought much about why they do so. It turns out lenders are checking your 4 c’s (or 5, 6 c’s of credit, depending upon who you ask) to make sure that you’re not likely to default on the loan.

So, ready to jump into what exactly the four c’s are, and how you can plan to slam dunk them without breaking a sweat? Let’s get started!

The 4 C’s of Credit Analysis

Without further ado, the four C’s of credit analysis are (in no particular order):

  • Capacity
  • Credit 
  • Capital
  • Collateral

And, if you’re feeling extra cheeky, you can consider these as numbers 5 and 6 of the c’s of credit: 

  • Character
  • Conditions

Infographic with icons depicting the four c's of credit analysis

The 4 c’s help mortgage lenders and loan companies gauge just how much of a risk you are. All of these add up to create a picture of your risk factor. When your picture looks good, these companies will gladly offer you a loan. If it’s not great, it can affect the conditions of the loan. 

Person getting money out of a wallet with text that reads How to Get Approved for Any Loan ImmediatelyBut if your four C’s are trash? You’re out of luck. At least until you get to work fixing them.

So how do loan companies determine if you’ve got what it takes? Lenders begin by asking for various documents and information to review. These documents vary depending upon the type of loan you want. However, they can include:

  • Employment records to see work history
  • Most current pay stub
  • Letter explaining any gaps in the past two years of employment; extra points if you have documentation to back it up
  • Self-employed workers will need to provide two years of tax returns (and possibly additional documents depending upon your business structure)
  • Social security number and birth date to pull credit reports
  • Two months of bank statements, including checking, savings, retirement and investment accounts

Now that the lender has your information, they’re going to analyze it to see if you’re a good match for a loan. Here, we get in-depth of just what each of the four c’s of credit mean, and how they can work for (or against) your chances of landing a loan.

The 4 C’s of Credit Analysis: Capacity

Capacity refers to your ability to handle the loan payment. Lenders want to know:

  • Are you able to make the payment? What’s your debt load now?
  • Do you have a stable job?
  • Do you carry high credit card debt?
  • What’s your monthly disposable income?

Lenders will look at a couple of things to determine this:

DTI Ratio: This is your debt-to-income ratio. They’ll add together all your minimum payments of your monthly debts, then divide by your gross monthly income (that’s what you make before taxes).

The lower the DTI ratio, the better your chances of getting approved. A rough rule of thumb is 35% or less, however, take that with a HUGE grain of salt. Each lender varies, not to mention the other c’s of credit analysis can play into this as well.

Your DTI ratio includes monthly debts like car payments, student loans, credit card payments, personal loans, child support, alimony, any other debts that you have more than ten months left to pay.

Example: You make $2,000 gross a month. Your student loan, car loan, and minimum credit card payments add up to $1,000. Therefore, your DTI ratio is 50% because your debts take up half of your gross monthly income.

Housing Expense Ratio. (This applies specifically to applying for a mortgage.) This ratio states the cost of owning a home should be 28% or less of your gross monthly income (again, a generalization, there are lots of other factors).

Lenders don’t consider utilities or garbage to be part of your housing expenses, but do consider the following to be so:

  • Principle
  • Interest
  • Property taxes
  • Homeowner’s insurance
  • HOA costs (if applicable)
  • PMI (private mortgage insurance; added to your loan if you are putting down less than 20% as a down payment)

Example: Your gross monthly income is $2,000. Lenders would want your total housing expenses not to exceed $560 a month (28% of your gross monthly income).

Job History and Future Job Stability. Lenders want to know that you’re going to show up for work and make that dough to support that loan payment. If you’ve been flaky with jobs in the past, they’re going to notice. 

If you’re working in a shaky industry, they’re going to take note of this as well. Lenders want to be sure you have what it takes to pay during the life of your loan and that you’re likely to be gainfully employed.

To-Dos: How to Boost Your Capacity

If your capacity if looking a little rough, you can work on the following to beef it up:

  1. Pay off any debts that you can quickly boost your debt-to-income ratio or housing expense ratio.
  2. Boost your income by getting a better paying job or a side hustle.
  3. If your housing expense ratio is too high, consider a different area with lower property taxes or a smaller house.
  4. If you have gaps in your employment in the past two years, provide documentation and a letter to explain the absences.

The 4 C’s of Credit Analysis: Credit

You knew this one was coming, right? Your credit score follows you around like a ray of sunshine. (Or a rain cloud, depending upon your numbers.)

Lenders pull your credit reports and score to see if you’ve been naughty or nice. And much like Santa Claus, they can determine if you deserve a loan based on your previous actions. 

Credit Reports and History. Lenders want to see if you’ve had late payments and all of the debts you’ve had before. They need to know your history – otherwise, how can they be sure you understand how to handle debt?

The main pieces they’re looking for are late payments, outstanding loans, and defaults. They want to know that when you’ve been trusted with money before, that you’ve acted responsibly.

Credit Score. What’s in a credit score? These scores dictate the type of financing available, as well as how much of a down payment is required.

Even though there are now loans with super low down payments, if your credit score is trash, they’re not going to let you apply for these. 

To-Dos: How to Boost Your Credit

Before you apply for a loan, pull your credit reports from the three big reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax) and go over them with a fine-tooth comb. 

  1. Anything that comes back as incorrect, you’ll need to start a dispute with that agency to get it removed from your record.
  2. Check your credit score for free through a service like Credit Sesame. If your credit score is low, read up on how to boost it quickly.
  3. Contact any companies that you have outstanding debts with and set up a payment plan to get the debt current and stop the late payment strikes on your record.

While cleaning up your credit report is easy to do, it does take time. The sooner you start, the better everything will look to lenders when you decide to apply for your loan.

The 4 C’s of Credit Analysis: Capital

Much like a flaky ex, lenders want to know what you’re worth. They need proof that you can afford the down payment, as well as the closing costs and additional fees associated with the loan. 

You’ll Need to Provide Financial Statements. Yes, it can feel intrusive to just lay your financial information out like that, but lenders need to know that you’re not living paycheck to paycheck. Lenders will ask to see:

  • Checking and savings statements
  • Retirement and investment accounts

They want to see that you have accounts you can quickly get into if you need to make that mortgage payment after getting laid off. While no one wants to tap their 401k to make a mortgage payment, loan companies need to know that you have back up if things go pear-shaped.

Having a down payment signals to lenders that you’re serious about doing this right and paying this loan off. It can also help save you money because you’re able to avoid PMI (private mortgage insurance). This form of capital can also affect your rates and terms of the loan, so consider waiting to build a more significant down payment if possible.

Other means of capital can also include gifts from family members, down payment assistance programs, and grants or matching fund programs.

To-Dos: How to Boost Your Capital

Boosting your capital is essentially one step: build your savings. If you choose to receive a gift from a family member, you will need to provide documentation proving it’s a gift and not a loan. 

The 4 C’s of Credit Analysis: Collateral

When you’re buying a house or car, those items become the collateral for the loan. These are called secured loans, and these debts are less risky because the lender can repossess the item if you don’t pay. 

The other bright side to a secured loan is that you can also get lower interest rates and better terms because you have that collateral available if you can’t make the payments. (It’s a strange win-win, but I’ll take it.)

Knowing that loan companies see houses and cars as collateral, they want to make sure the property is worth the purchase price. Assessing collateral involves a couple of steps by third parties:

Home Inspection. Depending upon where you’re buying, a home inspection might not be required. However, it’s an excellent idea to get one anyway.

Unless you’re a contractor and know the ins and outs of housing, hire a home inspector to check for mold, termites, and the like. Both you and the mortgage company need to know what you’re signing up to take on. 

Home Appraisal. This step is non-negotiable, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a lender that doesn’t require it. An appraiser will review the house and the neighborhood, while also looking at recent sales.

They’ll come up with comps that determine if the fair market value of the property and the house’s condition, which means any issues have to be fixed before the sale is complete.

Loan-to-value ratio. For cars, there’s LTV, which is the loan-to-value ratio. This ratio is how much you’re borrowing versus how much the car is worth. Clearly, the loan company doesn’t want to lose their shirts if things go south, right?

If the LTV is too high, you might be required to provide a downpayment. By doing so, you’ll lower the LTV and make the loan company more comfortable with handing over that cash.

To-Dos: How to Boost Your Collateral

There’s not much you can do proactively to boost your collateral. If a lender feels the property you want to buy isn’t up to snuff, chances are you’ll have to provide a larger down payment, or you’ll have to keep looking for a different house/car. 

In all seriousness, though – do you want to want to go upside down on a loan? It might be time to rethink things if the house/car doesn’t appraise for what you’re willing to pay for it. 

Additional C’s of Credit Analysis

What, wait? Didn’t I say there were four? What’s this craziness?

Depending upon the loan situation, there can be up to four more c’s of credit. I know, I know – you’re thinking, what the heck else could they possibly need to know about me? I’m not telling anyone about my underwear size. Some things should just remain a mystery.

Underwear size aside, there are two more pieces to the credit puzzle that are worth mentioning.

Bonus C’s of Credit Analysis: Character

No, we’re not talking about what your Harry Potter character name should be (though mine’s The Grey Lady of Warrington, FYI). Lenders want to know your character, as in your reputation.

This one’s not as measurable as the other C’s and isn’t entirely as black and white either. It can also be an important deciding factor if the lender’s decision isn’t clear enough.

Your character is a snapshot of your creditworthiness and is assessed by looking at your credit reports. Loan companies want to see that you’ve paid loans back in entirety and that you’re trustworthy.

Now is when your squeaky clean credit reports will come into play, as well as your FICO score. The better each are, the better your chances of getting a loan.

To-Dos: How to Boost Your Character

Again, this is your credit score and reports, so you need to make sure they’re clean. Dispute anything that you don’t think belongs, and start cleaning up anything questionable, such as:

    • Late payments
    • Collection accounts
    • Charge-offs 
    • Judgments
    • Bankruptcies
    • Foreclosures
    • Delinquent accounts

Bonus C’s of Credit Analysis: Conditions

Conditions refer to the lending terms, state of the economy, and intent of the loan. Some of these you can influence, but some you can’t. 

Lending terms. The lending terms include the interest rate and amount of the loan. The better your other C’s of credit are, the better the conditions you’re offered. 

The economy. Unfortunately, no one can predict the economy, and when it might take a turn for better or worse. When the housing market collapsed in 2008, it became much harder to get a loan. Loan companies cracked down on the requirements needed to get approved because they had tons of homeowners defaulting on loans. 

Intention for the loan. Loans for things like houses, cars, and home improvement have a specific intent. Personal loans, however, don’t since you can use them for just about anything. Lenders like to know if a loan is secured or not, and if there’s potential collateral to back it up.

To-Dos: How to Boost Your Conditions

While you can’t control all the conditions (side-eyeing you, economy), you can control the items that influence your lending terms.

  1. Make sure your debt’s paid down, and your DTI ratio is excellent.
  2. Build your capital by having a larger down payment.
  3. Review and clean up your credit report.

Now that you know more about how to crush the 4 c’s of credit when buying a home or car, get to work! Remember that cleaning up credit reports, saving down payments, and boosting your credit score is going to take some time. So get to it!


Is IBotta Legit? A Thorough Review + $10 Bonus Code

Woman's hand on shopping cart with text

Ever try a new cashback app only to find out you have to bend over backward while juggling plates and singing the Star Spangled Banner to average making about…4 cents?

Yeah, no thanks.

So when I mention Ibotta to my friends, most ask – is Ibotta legit? Or am I gonna have to start stretching and get out the plates?

I’ve been using Ibotta for over four years, but only got serious about using it recently. During that time, I’ve earned over $440! Even with earning over $400, is Ibotta legit? Let’s walk through how it works, the types of offers available, and the different ways to redeem these offers.

Hand on grocery cart

What is Ibotta and How Does Work?

Ibotta originally started as an app for your smartphone. The primary way to get money from Ibotta while using the app is to:

  1. Review the offers available for the store you are shopping at
  2. Make your purchases
  3. Scan your receipt and barcodes on the products
  4. Submit and earn cashback

It’s that easy! 

Even better, Ibotta has expanded to include saving your loyalty cards to the app (think CVS ExtraCare or Kroger Plus Card). When you use that loyalty card at the register, Ibotta picks up on it, and there are no receipts involved.

Ibotta can also be used for mobile purchases. By clicking through a link in the app to do your online shopping, the purchase is recorded automatically. Again, no need for receipts!

New in 2019, Ibotta also offers a brand new browser plugin so that saving while shopping online is a no-brainer.

With so many ways to save, what’s not to love?

Does Ibotta really give you money? 

Yes, Ibotta does really give you money! Each offer varies from 25 cents to upwards of $10. Some of the online offers are a precentage of your total purchase, such as 2%. 

If you want to know if Ibotta’s legit, I’ve earned over $440 and have cashed my account out several times through Paypal. It’s an easy way to make some extra cash for Christmas, birthday presents, or vacations. 

Here’s a screenshot of my earnings from Ibotta, the majority of which have been in the past year and a half:

Screenshot of earnings from Ibotta app

How does Ibotta pay me my money? 

When researching if an app is legit (specifically, if Ibotta is legit), it’s important to see what the payout threshold is, and how the app pays you.

Ibotta pays out several ways once you hit the $20 threshold:

  1. Through your linked PayPal account
  2. Through your linked Venmo account
  3. Purchase a gift card through the app (some have a $25 minimum)

There are currently over 65 gift card options to use when cashing out – including Target, Chiptole, Whole Foods, Bath and Body Works, and everything in between. 

What’s the catch with Ibotta? How does Ibotta make money?

Since you’re wondering is Ibotta legit, chances are you’re expecting a catch. But there really is no catch with Ibotta. Ibotta makes money through affiliate partnerships. By driving users to these offers, they earn money. They also get paid for playing short video clips and polls when you unlock an offer.

It only takes seconds to do and is probably the only downside to Ibotta. The good news is, both are legal, and neither cost you anything. 

All the Different Ways to Use Ibotta: App vs. Mobile vs. Browser

To get started, sign up for Ibotta here. By using this link (you don’t even need an Ibotta referral code), you can get a $10 bonus. Easy money!

Next, you’ll want to install the app. Even if you end up purchasing through the other methods, having the app is great because it’s easier to check your bonuses, earnings, and submit customer service requests.

How Ibotta works In-Store with the app

In the app, you’ll start by looking at the store you’ll be shopping at. One thing to note is that not all offers are available at all stores. They vary by store, so you’ll want to make sure that the items you wish to buy are available where you shop.

There are about 300 stores that are currently available to shop at, so you have a wide variety of places to shop at.

I like to unlock my offers before I shop. That way, I know what I need to do to get that rebate. 

For example, there might be a restriction where you have to purchase two of an item to get the cashback. Or, it might only apply to items that are 11oz or larger in that brand. It can vary, so it’s essential to pay attention to the details on each offer.

You may have to watch a video or take a short poll, but it’s seconds to do and super easy.

Now that you have your cash back rebates picked at the store of your choice, do your shopping as usual.

After you’ve done your shopping, now it’s time to scan your receipt. (Which really means you’ll just take pictures of your receipt.) Often, it takes more than a couple to get the entire receipt. There are guides to show you how to line it up and to add multiple images.

Now that you’ve submitted your receipt, you’ll be asked to scan the barcodes on the products you’ve purchased and are filing for cashback.

Pro Tip: Scan your receipt and purchases as soon as you get home. Don’t wait! Otherwise, the chances of the packaging being damaged or thrown out are high. Without that barcode, it’s difficult (not impossible) to claim that offer.

And that’s it! Don’t forget to check out the bonuses to see if those apply as well.

How Ibotta works In-Store with Loyalty Cards

By linking your loyal cards to your app, you can really shorten the submittal process.

Start by adding all of your loyalty cards to the app. You’ll find the retailer and add your loyalty card number, store account number, or phone number, depending upon the retailer.

Next, you’ll unlock the offers you want to purchase and do your usual shopping.

When you check out, make sure to use your loyalty card (or provide your phone number, in some cases). This notifies Ibotta that you’ve made the purchase.

The best part about this is there’s no need to scan a receipt or barcodes! By linking your rewards card, Ibotta sees what you’ve purchased and can verify it without the extra work. 

How Ibotta works with Mobile Purchases

It just keeps getting easier to make purchases with Ibotta! In 2018 or so (maybe earlier? I can’t quite remember…), they added the ability to shop online with your phone.

Awesome, right?

Just find the online retailer you want to buy from, and look through the offers available. Some offer a flat percentage back on all purchases. Others offer cashback on specific items. It varies, so you’ll have to take the time to look through and decide which are worth your time.

For example, they currently offer a 1% cashback with an online purchase at Lowes. 

But online at The Home Depot, they are currently offering 1.5% cashback on furniture and home decor.

Again, make sure to check the offers thoroughly before you make your purchase. 

Once you’ve decided on a retailer and offer, just click through the link that Ibotta offers and your shopping trip is recorded. Make your purchase, and your job is done. No submitting receipts!

Please note that the processing time can be longer on these types of cashback offers. Often they wait for the order to process, ship and make sure it isn’t returned before the money shows up in your account.

How Ibotta works with the Browser Plugin

New in 2019, Ibotta has released a browser plugin for Chrome. This makes it easy to see when an offer is available and that you’ll never forget to get cashback on any purchase!

This works a little bit differently than the app. You’ll install the browser plugin for Chrome and sign in to your account.

To use this, you’ll need to link a debit or credit card to your Ibotta account (I recommend credit for better security). 

When you load a retailer’s website, a small pop-up appears in the corner of the page. It has exact instructions on how to get cashback.

You’ll add items to your cart, and when you’re ready to check out, you’ll pay with the plugin rather than putting in your credit card information. This ensures that you get credit for your purchase and receive your cashback offer.

I’ve often used Rakuten for this (formerly Ebates), but I’m excited to try out the Ibotta browser plugin now!

Stores that Ibotta Works At

There are over 300 stores that Ibotta works at. When you create your account, you’ll be asked to add any stores that you’re interested in seeing offers for.

You can always edit or add to this list. Also, Ibotta will show you these stores (and more!) whenever you open the app. This way you can browse offers for places you love, as well as others that are similar.

Stores are also organized by category, so if you know you need to make a travel purchase, you can compare the offers and figure out which is best.

The current categories available include:

  • Grocery
  • Online Shopping
  • Beer, Wine, and Spirits
  • Pharmacy
  • Clothing
  • Beauty and Wellness
  • Specialty
  • Restaurants and Bars
  • Convenience Stores
  • Crafts and Gifts
  • Travel
  • Home and Electronics

As of September 2019, there are over 300 retail chains, restaurants, movie theaters, convenience stores, home improvement centers, pet stores, and pharmacies nationwide. The app caters to your location and shows you offers and stores available in your area, rather than a bunch of suggestions for stores you’ll never visit.

Tips and tricks to using Ibotta

After using Ibotta for a while, it’s easy to pick up tips and tricks to maximize your savings. These are the hacks I’ve found to be the easiest and quickest to use:

  1. Take advantage of the “Any Brand” offers. These offers are easy savings since it’s for things like eggs, milk, cereal, or other staples just about everyone buys. There are usually no restrictions on these, just as long as they fall into that category, they qualify!
  2. Make sure the offer isn’t going to expire. The thing I love about Ibotta is that it has a visual reminder to let you know that the offer is going to expire soon. With other apps, I’ve struggled with making the purchase only to find out it’s expired by the time I try to submit it. Which leads to the next tip…
  3. Submit your receipt as soon as you get home from the store. Just make it a habit. Otherwise, a week will slip by, and either the offers will expire, or Ibotta will no longer accept your receipt. Just do it as soon as possible and get it off your plate!
  4. Check the offer details. I’ve been snagged on this a couple of items. I didn’t check the offer details, and found out I needed to purchase three, but only got two. Or, I got the wrong size that wasn’t covered by the offer.
  5. Scan as you shop. I love this! If I’m not sure if an offer covers a specific variation of an offer, you’ll select the offer, and then scan the barcode to see if it will accept it. No getting home and finding out you grabbed the wrong thing!
  6. Check out the bonuses. Make sure to check out the bonuses. They vary greatly and can be a great way to boost your savings. Some types of offers include:
    • A bonus for purchasing a certain number of items from a brand
    • A bonus for buying a combination of multiple brands
    • Bonuses for cashing in on a certain amount of offers (for example, $3 bonus for claiming 10 offers in a time period)
    • Weekend bonuses
    • Monthly bonuses for your team
    • Holiday/seasonal bonuses
    • Referral bonuses 
  7. Don’t buy what you don’t need. It’s easy to fall into the cashback trap of trying to snag every offer you can find. Don’t do it. Only get what you’d typically buy. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a ton of stuff you don’t need.
  8. Build your team for bonuses. You can connect your Ibotta account with Facebook or Google. When you do this, your friends that are using Ibotta will be on your team, and you’ll reach monthly bonuses faster.
  9. Use your referral code to earn extra cash. Once you’ve tried Ibotta, send your Ibotta referral code to friends and family. Both you and they will get a bonus (usually $10 each!) when they sign up and claim their first offer.
  10. Stack Ibotta savings with sales, other apps, and coupons. This takes a little planning, but in doing so, I’ve been able to get items for free. You can learn more about stacking apps and coupons in this article. Just make sure you don’t do anything questionable and end up getting banned from Ibotta!

New Ibotta Functionality in 2019

Recently, Ibotta has done a big round of updates to its functionality and added new ways to save, which puts the “Is Ibotta legit?” question to rest, once and for all. While I’ve covered them a bit already, here’s a quick rundown of what’s new in 2019:

  • Ibotta browser extension. This browser extension for Chrome allows you to shop online without missing a discount. A small pop-up shows you exactly how to save and what offers are available at that retailer.
  • Pay with Ibotta. When you add a debit or credit card to Ibotta, you can use Ibotta to pay at your favorite retailers. It simplifies the purchase process by combining the offer and payment method, making it easier to spend and save.
  • Walmart Grocery Pick up (HOOORAY!). If you haven’t tried Walmart grocery pick up yet, what are you waiting for? It’s so easy, and I love that I can shop online while getting the kids to bed, and pick up the groceries in the morning. No more fighting two kids over an hour to get groceries. Even better? Now you can get money back through Ibotta for using the grocery pick up. Win-win!
  • Register loyalty cards. Now you can register your loyalty cards with Ibotta so that you can redeem offers without having to scan receipts. It makes it even easier to grab those offers!

Final Verdict: Is Ibotta Legit?

So, is Ibotta legit? Yes! The pros majorly outweigh the cons. Now you don’t need a smartphone to use it, which is excellent. I love that it offers so many ways to save. Add sales and coupon stacking, and it’s a great way to shave even more money off of your grocery budget.

There are only a few cons to using Ibotta. There are restrictions and expiration dates on offers. I’ve run into issues where my receipt wouldn’t scan correctly, but their customer service is exceptional and quick to help solve the problem. Overall, I have very few complaints about Ibotta, and none of those keep me from questioning is Ibotta legit.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to use this link to sign up and your $10 bonus!

Is Ibotta Legit? Pros & Cons of the App

  • Can earn cash back through the app, mobile, or on desktop
  • Plenty of offers that you’ll actually use, at stores you like
  • Pays out through gift cards, Paypal, or Venmo
  • Get a $10 bonus just for signing up

  • Must be careful to review offer details
  • Offers do expire
  • Must submit receipt within a week or so

Similar Apps like Ibotta

Now that we’ve answered is Ibotta legit…are you interested in learning more about similar cashback and rebate apps? Here are the ones I’ve tried and recommend:

Learn more about my favorite cash back apps here.

woman's hand on grocery cart

Secrets to Where I Change My Coins for Cash for Free

Secrets to where I change coins for cash - for free! Hands holding coins

If you’re getting ready for vacation, the holidays, or want to splurge without breaking your budget, the perfect go-to is to cash in coins you’ve been saving. Which means you’re wondering, where can I change my coins for cash for free?

There are plenty of options to try to cash in coins for free without paying a ridiculous fee. These are the best places to take your spare change and walk out with dollar dollar bills, y’all.

What Banks have Free Coin Counting Machines?

Each bank varies so much that you need to call ahead to make sure you’re not wasting your time. Even between branches of the same bank, you can find differences in their policies.

When you call ahead, here’s what you should ask about coin cashing:

  1. Do they have a coin counting machine?
  2. Is it free?
  3. Do you need to be a member of the bank to use it?

If your local bank doesn’t have a free coin counting machine, you can ask if they’ll accept rolled coins. Again, if this is the case, ask:

  1. Is there a fee?
  2. Do you need to be a member to bring in rolled change?

Usually, banks without a coin counting machine will accept rolled change. However, don’t bank on it (see what I did there?).

A lot of the bigger banks have gotten rid of their coin counting machines altogether, including Bank of America, BB&T, Capital One, Citibank, Chase, PNC Bank, TD Bank, and more. You’ll mostly still find coin counting machines at community banks and credit unions.

If you choose to roll your coins, you can try cashing in small amounts at various banks. Again, the policies will vary so always call ahead before you lug your mountain of change in and risk hurting your back for nothing!

Consider Opening an Account

Depending upon how much change you have and how often you need to exchange it, it could be worth it to open an account with a bank that accepts loose change.

If it saves your time and energy and you get to avoid fighting with coin wrappers, go for it. Just be sure that they don’t charge any monthly fees and don’t need a minimum amount in the account to keep it open. Those items could negate any advantages of opening and using the account.

Where can I change my coins for cash for free?

Bank Need to be a Customer Accepts Coins or Rolls Fee
US Bank Yes Coins, not rolls No fee
Wells Fargo Yes Coin rolls No fee
Bank of America Yes Coin rolls No fee
Citibank Depends on state Coin rolls Charges fee at different locations; call for more info
Credit Unions Yes Varies; call ahead Varies; call ahead
Local Banks Varies Varies; call ahead Varies; call ahead

Where to Get Coin Wrappers

If you’ve found a local bank or credit union that will take your rolled coins, ask them for coin wrappers. Most banks will give free coin wrappers to just anyone, whether they’re a member or not.

If you can’t find a bank that gives coin wrappers out for free by some weird twist of fate, you can always hit up a Dollar Tree or Dollar Store for them. While it’s an additional cost, it shouldn’t be much.

Dollar Stores sell them in packs of 36 for a dollar. Plus, they’re the nicer ones that have that are round and not flattened, so they’re much less difficult to fill.

Other Free Coin Counting Options

Get your Kids in on the Action

When I was in high school, my parents owned a vending machine business. Before they bought a coin counter for use at home, my siblings and I would count and roll the change.

I didn’t mind it, but it was time-consuming. And, my parents didn’t pay us, so I guess you could say that that’s another free option. Make it into a game and have your kids roll your coins. Or, offer them a percentage of the take for their help.

Try Visiting the Casino

Some casinos will take coins at the cage, no questions asked. You might have to dump your change into one of their coin cups, but they’re usually lying around everywhere anyway. Just make sure you don’t end up turning around and spending it on the slot machines!

What to do if You Can’t Find a Bank that will Accept Change

With fewer and fewer banks accepting change these days, you might want to find an alternative. The one that’s most commonly known as Coinstar.

Coinstar’s coin-counting machines are in the lobbies of various groceries, retail stores, drug stores, and even some banks.

Currently, Coinstar charges a painfully whopping 11.9% fee if you want to cash out your coins for paper money. Ouch.

However – don’t despair. Coinstar also offers gift card options that allow you to avoid that fee. The gift cards are for popular places, so you don’t have to worry about getting stuck with a card you’ll never use.

To use Coinstar, throw your change into the Coinstar machine. Then, once your coins are processed, you’ll be given the following options:

  1. Cash-out and get paper money (which will include Coinstar fee)
  2. Choose an egift card that will print out on paper (no fee)
  3. Apply your amount to your Amazon Balance (you can use this instead of a debit or credit card at Amazon)
  4. Donate your change to a charity (Coinstar has several different charities you can directly donate to)

If you choose the second or third option, you will be able to change your coins for cash for free. The following gift card options should be available at any Coinstar locations:

Gift Card Minimum Amount Maximum Amount
AMC Theatres $10.00 $100.00
Amazon.com $5.00 $1000.00
Applebee’s $5.00 $500.00
Cabela’s $5.00 $500.00
Chili’s Grill & Bar $5.00 $100.00
Domino’s $10.00 $100.00
GameStop $5.00 $500.00
Gap (can be redeemed at Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta stores) $10.00 $500.00
Hotels.com $10.00 $500.00
IHOP $5.00 $200.00
Lowe’s $5.00 $1000.00
Nike $5.00 $500.00
Regal Cinemas $5.00 $100.00
Showtime $25.00 $200.00
Sephora $10.00 $500.00
Southwest Airlines $25.00 $500.00
Steam $10.00 $100.00
The Home Depot $5.00 $2000.00
iTunes $5.00 $500.00

Coinstar Locations

Some of the stores where you can find Coinstar include:

  • Acme
  • Albertsons
  • Cash Wise
  • City Markets
  • CVS
  • Food 4 Less
  • Food Lion
  • Foodland
  • Giant Eagle
  • Harris Teeter
  • Hannaford
  • H.E.B.
  • Hy-Vee
  • Jewel
  • King Soopers
  • Kmart
  • Kroger
  • Lowe’s
  • Meijer
  • Pavilions
  • Ralphs
  • Safeway
  • Shop ‘N Save
  • ShopRite
  • Target
  • The Food Emporium
  • Tom Thumb
  • Vons
  • Walmart
  • Winn Dixie

While this is in no way an extensive list of all of the CoinStar locations, you can quickly find the nearest Coinstar by using the locator on their website here.

Coinstar Alternatives

Strangely, it’s nearly impossible to find any Coinstart competitors, possibly due to consumers moving away from using cash.

The only Coinstar alteratives I could find were banks, and they seem to be handling coins to cash less often.

Other Ideas for Your Spare Change

Spend it.
Make sure to keep change with you and use it at self-checkout kiosks. There are still a lot of places where you can use quarters to make a purchase, like air machines for tires, candy machines, vending machines, and the like.

Donate it.
There are always many opportunities where you can drop some change for charity. Think Salvation Army at Christmas or the change jars at checkout counters. Coinstar also has an option to donate your change to charities when you cash it in.

Coinstar’s available charities will vary by the machine’s locations, but they can include:

  • American Red Cross
  • Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals
  • Feeding America
  • Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
  • The Humane Society
  • Unicef USA
  • United Way
  • World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Make some art or gift your coins to someone else.
When I was in high school, my grandma went through a phase where every present she gave us was a piece of art made out of change.

She did all sorts of crazy designs by arranging and gluing down change to cardboard and using bills folded into various shapes. (I’m pretty sure it took me longer to pick the coins off and soak the glue off than it did for her to come up with a design and create it though!)

While you don’t have to be crazy creative to gift your change, it’s one way to get rid of it and give a gift at the same time. Two birds with one stone, right?

Now that you know your options for cashing in your coins, make sure to use them for something good – like debt payoff, a vacation, or starting an emergency fund.

Did I miss any places where can I change my coins for cash for free? If so, let me know in the comments below!

Hands holding coins Text reads Secrets to where I change coins for cash - for free!

Free Stuff on Your Birthday: How to Cash In 170+ Deals

Free stuff on your birthday: How to cash in on 170+ deals!

Birthdays only come once a year – so why not take advantage of some freebies while you’re celebrating? There’s so much free stuff on your birthday that you can grab that it’d be crazy not to jump on these offers.

While I’m not suggesting you run out and buy everything you get a 15% off coupon for, birthdays are an excellent time to treat yourself a little sumthin’ special at the places you usually shop.

Free birthday gift from SephoraMany companies offer birthday rewards if you sign up for their email list or rewards club. I did find some that don’t require an email sign up to cash in, but most do.

For example, for my birthday this year, I snagged this fantastic gift Kat Von Dee beauty gift from Sephora. It included 3 shades of lipstick, a setting powder, and tattoo eyeliner (my fav anyway!). All for being a rewards member and just showing up during my birthday month. Sweet!

There are a lot of opportunities to grab free birthday makeup, but there’s also a lot of free food as well. Some of the restaurants I found give an entirely free birthday meal.

Seriously, an entire meal!

If you’re looking for free stuff on your birthday, you won’t be disappointed – though you might want to prioritize which ones you really want to get since it’d be impossible to get them all!

Free and Discounted Birthday Meals

From free appetizers with purchase to an entire free meal, restaurants love to give stuff away to help you celebrate your birthday.

90% of them will ask that you sign up for their email list or rewards club. If you’re worried about too much spam, set up a separate free email address that you can use just for email sign up offers. Then you can check it whenver you need a coupon for places that you shop.

Store Birthday Freebie Link Sign-Up Bonus
99 Restaurant and Pub Special offer that varies Special offer that varies
Abuelo’s Special offer that varies Special offer that varies
A&W Root Beer Float
Applebee’s Free treat like an appetizer, entree or dessert Free appetizer with purchase of entree
Arby’s Free milkshake Free roast beef classic sandwich with purchase of drink
Argo Tea Free drink (depending upon level) $3 credit when you download the app
Atlanta Bread Free cookie Free bakery item
Au Bon Pain Free birthday lunch Free travel mug
Auntie Anne’s Free pretzel Free pretzel when you spend $1
Baja Fresh Special offer that varies Free taco
Baskin Robbins Free ice cream
bd’s Mongolian Grill Free meal on your birthday $5 coupon
Benihana’s $30 gift certificate, plus kids get a freebie
Big Boy Free dessert
Biggby Coffee Free drink up to 24 oz
BJ’s Brewhouse Free pizookie Another free pizookie!
Black Angus Free steak dinner Free dessert
Bojangle’s Free Bo-Berry Biscuit with purchase Free 1/2 gallon of iced tea with purchase
Bonefish Grill Special offer that can vary
Boston Market Special offer that can vary
Brio Tuscan Grille Special offer that can vary
Brugger’s Bagels Free treat Bagel with cream cheese
Bruster’s Ice Cream Free birthday treat $3 off next purchase
Bucca di Beppo $20 birthday gift (we got a huge brownie sundae!) Pasta dish
BurgerFi Special offer that can vary Free fries
California Pizza Kitchen Free dessert or entree, depending upon your benefits level Free small plate
Cantina Laredo Free dessert
Captain D’s Free birthday dessert with purchase Coupon for a free dessert or appetizer with purchase
Caribou Coffee Free birthday treat Free drink after first visit
Carrabba’s Italian Grill Special offer that can vary
Carrino’s Free dessert $5 off next visit
Carvel Free birthday treat
Chevy’s Fresh Mex Birthday surprise Free appetizer with purchase of two entrees
Chick-fil-A Special offer that varies; check locations for availability
Chili’s Free dessert Free chips & salsa or non-alcoholic drink with every visit
Chuck E. Cheese’s Free birthday treat Free personal one-topping pizza on next visit
Cinnabon Special offer that varies Free minibon
Cold Stone Creamery BOGO coupon BOGO coupon
Cracker Barrel Free dessert
Culver’s Free birthday treat Free scoop of ice cream
Dairy Queen Birthday coupon BOGO Blizzard coupon
Del Taco Free regular size premium milkshake Free taco
Denny’s Free build your own Grand Slam on your birthday
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit Special offer that varies Special offer that varies
Dippin’ Dots Free Dippin’ Dots
Dunkin’ Donuts Free drink Free drink
Dunn Brothers Coffee $5 to spend on a drink $3 credit when you download the app
Edible Arrangements Free 12 count chocolate dipped birthday box during your birthday month
Einstein Bros Bagels Free egg sandwich with purchase Free bagel and shmear with purchase
El Pollo Loco Birthday reward Free Pollo Bowl
Famous Dave’s Special offer that varies
Firehouse Subs Free medium sub the week of your birthday
First Watch Free entree BOGO offer
Friendly’s Free birthday sundaes for you + your kids
Fuddruckers Free birthday burger
Gneghis Grill Free bowl Free appetizer or dessert
Godiva Birthday gift
Great American Cookies Special offer that varies $3 coupon
Habit Burger Grill Special offer that varies
Hard Rock Cafe Special offer that varies
Hooters Free wings
Houlihan’s Free entree $10 off
IHOP Free meal Free meal
Jack in the Box Two free tacos with purchase
Jamba Juice Free juice or smoothie $3 off next order
Jason’s Deli $5 coupon
Jersey Mike’s Subs Free sub & 22 oz drink
Joe’s Crab Shack Special offer that varies Free appetizer
Johnny Rockets Special offer that varies Free appetizer
Kirby’s Grill & Steakhouse Free steak dinner $5 coupon
Krispy Kreme Free birthday treat Free donut
La Madeleine Free birthday bakery treat Free lemon madeleine or butter croissant
Longhorn Steakhouse Free dessert 100 bonus points (which is enough for four free sides, salads or soup upgrades)
Lennys’ Grilled Subs Free 7.5 inch sub Free chips and drink
Marble Slab Creamery / Maggie Moo’s Sweet treat $5 reward after signing up and first purchase
Marie Callender’s Special offer that varies; also gives special offers for wedding anniversary! Special offer for next dine-in purchase
Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt $5 menchie’s money 25 bonus smiles for registering; $5 and 2x smiles for 60 daysfor downloading the app
Moe’s Southwest Grill Free burrito Free nachos with drink purchase
Noodles & Company Special offer that varies; must sign up 60 days before birthday
Noodles World Kitchen Special treat
Not Your Average Joe’s Kitchen and Bar Birthday surprise
Nothing Bundt Cake Free Bundtlet
O’Charley’s Free birthday surprise
Olive Garden Free appetizer or dessert Free appetizer or dessert
On the Border Free queso Order of sopapillas
Orange Julius Free smoothie BOGO coupon
Orange Leaf $3 off
Outback Steakhouse Free dessert
Panda Express Birthday surprise
Panera Bread Free pastry or cookie Free treat
Pei Wei Choose one of five freebies
Peet’s Coffee & Tea Any size of your favorite beverage Free beverage after first check-in
Perkins Special offer that varies 20% off coupon
P.F. Changs Free appetizer or dessert
Pinkberry Free yogurt
Pita Pit Free pita
Pizza Hut Special offer that varies
PizzaExpress Birthday surprise
Planet Smoothie Free smoothie
Red Lobster Surprise birthday offer; must join at least 10 days prior to your birthday
Red Mango $5 reward $2 reward
Red Robin Free birthday burger
Shari’s Free slice of pie Free slice of pie
Rita’s Italian Ice Free birthday treat
Romano’s Macaroni Grill Free dessert
Ruby Tuesday Free burger or garden entree Free appetizer
Sbarro Special offer that varies Free XL NY slice with purchase of beverage within 24 hours of joining
Smokey Bones Free dessert $10 off your next $25 purchase
Sonic Special offer that varies
Sonny’s BBQ Free Big Deal Meal $5 coupon
Souper Salad Free meal during your birthday week $3 coupon
Spaghetti Warehouse Free meal during your birthday week Free appetizer with entree purchase
Sprinkles Free cupcake on your birthday
Starbucks Free birthday treat
Steak ‘N Shake Free specialty milkshake Free Double ‘n Cheese ‘n Fries
Subway Receive 20 points (good for a 21 oz fountain drink, bag of chips, or 2 free cookies)
Taco Bueno Birthday surprise
TCBY Birthday surprise
Texas Roadhouse Special offer that varies
TGI Friday’s Free dessert Free dessert or appetizer
The Cheesecake Factory Free sundae
The Melting Pot Free box of six chocolate-covered strawberries Free dessert or appetizer
Tijuana Flats Free birthday treat Free Tijuana Trio
Tommy Bahama Free dessert on your birthday $10 restaurant credit
Tony Roma’s BOGO entree
Tropical Smoothie Cafe Birthday surprise
Tucanos Free birthday meal
Uno Pizzeria & Grill Free dessert with purchase of an entree Free appetizer with purchase of an entree
Waffle House Free waffle
Wienerschnitzel Coupon for your birthday Free chili dog
Wingstop Free gift
Yogurt Mountain Free yogurt Free sandwich meal
Zaxby’s Free Nibbler Free sandwich meal

Free Birthday Gifts from Retail Stores

Again, most retail stores will want you to sign up for their rewards club or email list to in order to get your free coupon. Many offer great coupons that make it worthwhile though.

I like to save up any new clothes shopping for right around my birthday. There’s usually a ton of summer sales going on, plus the coupons boost my savings. I can’t resist a good coupon stack with a sale!

Store Birthday Freebie Link Sign-Up Bonus
Ace Hardware $5 coupon  
AMC Theaters Large popcorn r large popcorn and fountain drink (depending upon level)  
American Eagle Outfitters & Aerie 15% off coupon  
Anthropologie Free birthday gift  
Aveda Free birthday gift valued at $23; double points 15% off first purchase
bareMinerals Special offer that varies  
Banana Republic Special birthday offer  
Barnes & Noble Free cupcake for kids 30% off any kids’ book or toy
Benefit Boutiques Free birthday brow arch
Bliss Free birthday surprise 30% off any kids’ book or toy
Clarins Free birthday gift  
Columbia Free birthday gift  
Container Store Special & anniversary offers 15% off
CVS Free birthday gift Free welcome gift
Dave & Buster’s $5 game play $10 FREE Game Play with $10 game play purchase
Disney Movie Rewards 100 points  
DSW $5 or $10 to spend depending on level  
Famous Footwear $5 coupon plus 2x points on purchases during your birthday month Download the app and get 50 points (halfway to $5 coupon)
Gamestop Free birthday offer Buy 2 Get 1 Free pre-owned games (depending on level)
Hallmark Free card and discount (unable to verify this offer) $5 off your next purchase of $10 or more
IKEA $15 coupon; no minimum purchase
J. Crew 20% off and free shipping 15% off next purchase
JC Penney Birthday gift  
Journeys Special birthday offer (as well as ones specifically for kids)  
Kiehl’s Free lip balm or travel sized product (depending on level)  
Kohl’s Special birthday gift 50 points when you download the Yes2You app
Madewell $25 off a purchase (minimum purchase of $26)
Nyx Professional Makeup Special birthday gift  
Old Navy Special birthday gift 20% off your first purchase
Pet Supplies Plus Free birthday present for your pet (limit 1 per month & 3 per year)  
Petco Free birthday present for your pet  
RedBox One free DVD rental during your birthday month Free 1 night DVD rental
Regal Cinemas Free birthday reward  
Sephora Choice of 2 – 4 birthday gifts depending upon level  
Showcase Cinemas Free regular popcorn  
Smashbox Free birthday gift  
Tarte Cosmetics Free birthday gift  
The Body Shop $10 discount  
Ulta Beauty Free birthday gift  
Urban Decay Free birthday gift  
World Market Birthday gift 15% off coupon

Now that you’ve seen the possibilities of free stuff on your birthday, which ones are you going to cash in on? Let me know in the comments below!

Don’t forget to check out this great list of free things to do to go with your free birthday deals! Enjoy, and happy birthday!

Cupcake with sparkler

Cupcakes and text that says "Free stuff on your birthday: How to cash in on 170+ deals!"

The Best Cheap Places to Eat when You Don’t Want to Cook

The best cheap places to eat when you don't feel like cooking

Having a handy list of cheap places to eat might not sound like a frugal hack at first. But being prepared for those days when you can’t stand to cook can be a great way to avoid blowing your food budget for the month.

Meal planning is a great way to save money, but sometimes, schedules can get thrown off track. Surprise guests, bad days, or late work nights are all culprits to pushing the best-laid plans aside.

There are tons of great cheap places to eat – so how to pick? I’ve asked some fellow bloggers to send me their favorites.

While some offered up local eateries, and other chain restaurants, all of them had terrific tips on where to find a great cheap meal. Many even threw in tips for additional savings!

Here are the best cheapest places to eat out when you’re too tired to cook.

Cheap Places to Eat with Friends

Try the local supermarket. Back when I was in high school, my friends and I used to sometimes go to the local supermarket on our lunch break and gather ingredients for some ‘mega subs.’ A few baguettes, some deli meat, cheese, and lettuce split between 5 of us came out to something like $4-$5 a person…and that left you with an awesome sub that was more than a foot long. Not exactly a chain or typical restaurant experience, but it was a fun way to make a tasty lunch! – Tom Blake from This Online World

Share a drink. My wife and I enjoy eating at McDonald’s for breakfast because the coffee only costs $1 for any size. Depending on the day, we might split their largest coffee and then each of us have a breakfast item off the value menu. We usually get fed and caffeinated for under $5! – Riley Adams from The Young and Invested

Make sure to bring your coupons. We love eating at the Outback steakhouse. You can get some really great steaks for bargain prices there and they even have coupons to get the steaks for an ever lower cost! – Russell Barbour from Unconventional Prosperity

Use loyalty programs at your favorite restuarants. Red Robin’s royalty program is bottomless source of free food. Most notably, every 10th food item (burger, salad, sandwich, entree) is free. You will also get exclusive deals sent to your email, as well as one free burger on your birthday. And don’t forget to take advantage of their bottomless fries that come *free* with your burger! Evan Sutherland from Budgeting Couple

Try out local fast food. I’m from California, and every time friends come to visit they are shocked by how expensive the restaurants are…until they go to In-N-Out! California food, at a great price! I recommend splurging to make your fries animal style. – Sally French from Wire Cutter

Check out the lounge. The airports! I’ve visited over 35 lounges in the last 6 months and I always eat free and often come home with leftovers thanks to the restaurants that have been added. My favorite lounge are the Centurions and my favorite priority pass restaurant airport is Portland. – Justin Taylor from Saving Sherpa

Cheap Foods for Families

Put your Costco membership to good use. If you really need to eat on the cheap and you’re a Costco member, then definitely their $5 Rotisserie Chicken….$5 and it feeds the whole family of 4. – Pinyo Bhulipongsanon

Pick up a pizza. Instead of going out to a restaurant, getting a “take and bake” pizza is a big hit with our kids! Our local Aldi has huge take and bake pizzas that are priced around $5 each. Last time, we invited a neighbor kid to share the pizza, too. I instantly became the cool mom in the neighborhood! It’s our new favorite way to feel like we’re eating out. – Jamie Gibbs from Bubbling Brook Budgets

Add some ice cream. Our go to cheap place to eat is Dairy Queen for their $5 buck lunches. It helps that we both have flexible schedules that let us eat out for lunch rather than dinner. You get a burger or chicken strips, fries, a sundae and drink all for $5. You can even upgrade to a small Blizzard for $1 more. You can upgrade the ice cream to a larger size for the difference in cost between the small and the size you want. We use this hack to get a large sundae for just $0.69 cents more so we can split it with our son. If we bought another sundae on our own, it’d cost an additional $4. – Lance Cothern from Money Manifesto

Try a vegetarian option. We love Waffle House, Qdoba and Taco Bell. We are both vegetarian so those three places never let us down with the meatless options and we always spend less than $15 for both of us. – Danielle Flores from I Like to Dabble

Go to a restaurants where kids eat free. We love to eat out at the chain Cafe Rio. They have huge portions and all kids under age six get a free kids quesadilla. My husband and I can easily split one of their entrees and then our kids eat free. For under $10 it is a steal! – McKinzie Bean from Moms Make Cents

Visit the food court. My favorite place to get a cheap bite to eat is Costco. There’s plenty of pre-made food that’s pretty cheap including the famous rotisserie chicken. However, beyond that, if you’re just looking for a quick bite, you can rock the sample carts and try a variety of great foods. If you’re a bit hungrier, the food court is awesome too as you can get some cheap pizza or a hotdog at very affordable prices. Hell, even the bottle of water in the vending machine is 25 cents. Those are prices you can’t beat for the quantity and quality of food. Also, if you’re in a place like Hawaii where the weather is nice, you can rock the outdoor food court without even being a member. – Jarek from Time in the Market

Sign up to get free shakes and other discounts. My kids and I love eating at Ruby’s Diner, especially on Tuesdays when kids eat free after 4pm! You can also sign up for their rewards program and get free shakes, and discounts! – Lauren Mochizucki from Casa Mochi

Use a gift card. My family likes IHOP. My daughter and son love pancakes, and the rest of us like omelletes. We’d use our $10 OFF $25 coupon from Restaurant.com, which I only bought for $1 or $2. We order two meals and split those to four people. Since pancakes are included in the price of the meals, we only pay for those two meals. Sometimes, we go there when kids can eat free. With the coupon, we always end up spending less than $12 for a family of 6. It’s not bad at all since we have leftovers to take home. – Allen Liwanag from The Practical Saver

Grab a bite while shopping. I know this may sound crazy, but one of my favorite places for cheap eats is IKEA. While most people go there strictly for furniture shopping, I’d stop in there just to get a cheap bite to eat. They have a restaurant inside most of their stores where you can buy their pretty well known Swedish meatballs meal that comes with mashed potatoes and a veggie side for under $6. They also have several other options available in the restaurant, including a salmon dinner, but the meatballs are my favorite. And if you have kids, they have kids meals starting at $2.99. Now if you want to get really cheap, IKEA also has a small food counter by the exit where you can buy a hot dog for about a $1, or for about $3 you can get 2 hot dogs and a drink. – GP from Entirely Money

College Food Hacks / Cheap Student Meals

Take advantage of BOGO specials. I’m not sure if Chipotle is considered “cheap”, but I make it cheap by always answering the “how was your visit today” survey on the receipt. By answering it, I get a buy-one-get-one-free burrito or bowl on my next visit. So sure enough, I’m able to get Chipotle at basically 50% off every time I go in. I eat one burrito or bowl while I’m there and then save the other one in the fridge for the next day. I’m pretty sure this strategy isn’t unique to Chipotle and that a lot of fast food places have these deals for completing the survey on the receipt, but I was surprised at how few of my friends take advantage of these deals! – Logan Allec from Money Done Right

Try something new. Our favorite thing to eat when we’re in the mood for cheap for are Banh Mi’s. Most vietnamese restaurants offer them and they’re usually less than $6 and plenty of food to eat. Depending on your appetite, you could easily stretch them into two meals. – Richmond Howard from PF Geeks

Split a meal. We love to split a chicken finger sub from the Publix grocery store deli. The thing is MASSIVE. We get it sliced in half so that we can each pick our own toppings. It’s a super tasty $8 dinner for two. – Clint Proctor from Wallet Wise Guy

Use the restaurant’s app for discounts. I would say Mc.Donalds. I downloaded the Mc Donalds app, that alerts me of sales, shows the current menu, and most importantly it gives you all the current coupons that can be scanned right from my phone. – Swati Chalumuri from Hear Me Folks

Order off the value menu. I love Wendy’s. They have the 4 for $4 deal.You can get a combo of sandwiches, wraps, brugers, nugges, fries and a drink for 4 bucks. You can’t beat that. – Jason Butler from My Money Chronicles

Take a survey for a discount. Wendy’s and Panda Express offer free sandwiches and entrees, respectively, for guests who take the time to fill respond to simple surveys on the back of their receipts. It’s a quick and easy way to save several dollars! – David Cahill from Finance Superhero

Don’t forget your doggie bag. One of my favorite cheap (but still healthy) places to eat is Chipotle. And if you know a few Chipotle tricks you can eat for even less! I always get a bowl because the portion sizes are larger, and if you ask for half chicken/half steak (or some other combo), more often than not you get a decent amount of extra meat vs. asking for just a single option. You can also get a tortilla on the side as an extra bonus! I usually get 2 meals out of one bowl this way. – Andrew from Wealthy Nickel

Local Cheap Restaurants

Try the local noodle shop. My favorite cheap place to eat is Umaido it is a Japanese Noodle Shop here in Atlanta and it has some of the best food for very low prices. You can get a ton of food for under $20.00. – Sa El from Simply Insurance

Visit a food truck. It might be only prevalent in southern California, but one of my favorite cheap eats are authentic Mexican taco trucks that serve a variety of simple meat tacos. Each taco may be small, but the flavors are usually fantastic and the prices are catered to locals. One of my favorite in Orange County is Tacos Manuel. Their tacos start at a dollar each. – Jonathan Huang from Mr. Centsible

Try a local grocery. If you’ve ever been to Texas, you might have seen H-E-B around—it’s the local grocery chain that’s named after the initials of the founder, although it’s also said to stand for “Here, everything’s better.” The local H-E-B near me used to offer an “orange plate special” at their deli/prepared foods section. With this special, you were able to pick one entree and two sides for $6 to $8. (Pricing varied based on the choice of protein featured in your entree.) The service person would heat up your plate if you wanted, and there was even a small dining area in the store so you could enjoy it immediately. The portions were also quite generous, so you could have reasonably split the plate into two meals or at least one and a half. Unfortunately, this special was discontinued—likely because it was too good of a deal—but I used to love grabbing a quick and affordable meal there! – Joyce Chou from Financial Impulse

Hit up happy hour. My favorite cheap place to eat is this rooftop sushi bar in downtown Baton Rouge, La. On Tuesdays, they have happy hour all day (Half off sushi rolls and Sake). I usually order a tasty shrimp tempura roll and a large, cold pineapple sake for $7. The bill ends up being $9 because I leave a $2 dollar tip. – Jerry Brown from Peerless Money Mentor

Use your frequent buyer card. I love Rosita’s Fine Mexican, which is very small local chain in metro Phoenix that’s been around since the 60s. It’s awesome because the food is delicious, there are unlimited fresh chips & salsa, and they have what I call a frequent eater card that gets you free meals when it’s full. So in addition to the already cheap prices, you save even more by getting that card stamped. – Jackie Beck from JackieBeck.com

Earn cash back with your credit card. We have a local restaurant that has amazing food. The prices on lunch specials are always a steal at around $7. I then use my credit card to earn cash back and they are a partner with Swagbucks so I earn cash back there too. – Jon Dulin from Money Smart Guides

Try street food. For traveling, eating street food is a great way to save money rather than going out to eat at restaurants, especially in touristy areas! I always look for places that are busy and have a lot of locals eating there. You can easily pay half the price for street food compared to eating out at a restaurant and still get the same quantity of food. – Dale from Wander Her Way

Ask around about local gems when traveling. The place is called Lucky’s Golden Phenix and Lucky (yes, singular) has been around for 45 years in North Park, a trendy suburb of San Diego. I have been going here for over 20 years and they have only served breakfast during that time but I read he started out serving Chinese food.

Here’s the two crazy things about this place, #1) It literally is the cheapest place you can get breakfast in San Diego. You can eat a complete coffee, egg, bacon, hashbrown breakfast for under $5. #2) Lucky is a one man show. He takes your order, he brings you your drinks, he makes your food, he brings you your food, he then cleans up the table and the process starts again. It can take quite a while to get breakfast at Lucky’s but the entire experience is pretty unique and cool. – Mark B. Huntley from Credit Knocks

Do you have any other cheap places to eat to add to the list? Add them to the comments below!

The best cheap places to eat when you don't feel like cooking

50+ Cheap Date Night Ideas to Fit Your Budget

50+ Crazy Fun & Cheap Date Night Ideas to Fit Your Budget

Date nights can be a great way to reconnect with your partner when overwhelmed with all the tasks of daily life. It can also be a not-so-great way to reconnect with your wallet or credit card once you pay the babysitter, eat a fancy dinner, and catch a show.

Choosing cheap date night ideas over expensive ones means you’ll be able to have date nights more often. And while you should be budgeting for date nights, they don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. 

No matter where you’re at on your debt repayment journey, cheap date nights are important. Putting your relationships on pause just to pay off debt can cause a lot of regret and possible damage. However, you don’t have to spend a ton of money to nuture those relationships and keep the ol’ home fires burning while paying off debt.

While you should be budgeting for date nights, they don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. And by choosing cheap date night ideas over expensive ones, you will be able to have date nights more often. Here are 50+ crazy, fun and cheap date night ideas to fit into your budget. #frugalliving #cheapdateideas #datenightideas #budgeting

Cheap first date ideas

Listen, it’s been a good while since I’ve been on a first date, but I’m sure the premise is still the same: find fun things to do that aren’t too awkward and still allow you to talk with each other. Sound about right?

Even though it’s been a while, I know there are still things that you want to achieve. (No, not that. Sheesh.) I mean, getting to know the other person without shelling out an arm and a leg, but not looking super cheap either (save that for the 3rd date, at least). Here are my favorite creative cheap date night ideas for first dates:

1. Find discount tickets on local events.

Groupon always has lots of discounted tickets to local activities. Just put in the name of your town or zip code, and you’ll find discounts on anything from painting pottery to escape rooms. It’s also a great way to find new and unique experiences that you haven’t done before, creating some interesting talking points with your date.

2. See a movie with discount tickets.

Try by signing up for movie theater email lists or ticket providers to snag savings on tickets or refreshments. While it’s not one of the most cheap date night ideas ever, any savings counts when it comes to buying movie tickets. (I also won’t tell if you sneak in your own candy!)

Also, see if you have a Regal Cinemas in your area. They tend to have cheaper pricing as well. 

3. Find amazing happy hour deals to share some appetizers.

Appetizers are great not only because of their price point, but because you don’t have to feel guilty for ordering more than one for the variety. Nachos and wanton tacos? Heck yeah. Often there are discounted drinks during happy hour, so if you’re not too picky, it’s a great way to save as well. Don’t forget to sign up for emails from your favorite restaurants to grab additional discounts if you stay for dinner.

4. Find a local arcade and have a skeeball challenge.

Everyone knows the best game at an arcade is skeeball, and you can go pretty far on $5. Challenge your date to a skeeball competition to find out how fierce their trash talk is, and if they can live up to the hype. And who knows? Maybe this cheap date night idea will pay off and you’ll even win a prize!

5. Find a coffeeshop with a music night.

There’s a reason why coffeeshops can be a great first date place. They’re comfortable, coffee’s cheaper than dinner, and you can part after a drink if there’s a lack of compatibility.

Whether you go just for coffee or stay to enjoy some music, meeting at a coffeeshop is a great cheap date night idea.

6. Visit a farmer’s market.

Free samples, interesting folks, fresh veggies. What’s not to love? It’s a great cheap first date idea since you’ll find out where they stand on cilantro and if you should persue a second date. 😉

7. Find local community events like food truck events or local festivals.

Again, it can be a cheap way to try new things that will help you learn about your date’s interests, not to mention, trying new foods. Check out your city’s events websites to see what’s happening this weekend.

8. Volunteer together.

Volunteering is a great first date idea – it sets a great impression and you’re helping out others. Everybody wins! Help out at the local animal shelter, a 5k, or at the food pantry for a free activity to connect with your date.

9. Grab cheap tickets to a local sports team.

Local or farm team sports events are always really cheap and a ton of fun. The food is inexpensive too, so if your date loves sports, it’s a great way to see some games without paying a lot.

10. Hit the park.

Parks have so many great events that make the best first date ideas. You can have a picnic, see a free movie in the park, or attend a concert. There’s also a lot of educational and seasonal activities as well that make for some cute date ideas. Check out your local park system’s website for events and activites.

Cheap date night ideas at home

Exhausted after a rough day at work? These stay at home date ideas for couples are perfect for some rest and recovery. It’s about spending time together, not about spending money.

1. Cook a nice meal together.

A nice surf and turf dinner doesn’t need to break the bank. If you can work the cost of the ingredients to your weekly grocery budget, that’s a double win. It’s also the perfect time to try out a new recipe or learn to cook a new dish together that you’ve been wanting to try. Just make sure you have a frozen pizza in the freezer if things don’t work out! 😉

2. Go with the old standby: Netflix and chill.

Plenty of romantic date night ideas at home start with Netflix. Horror movies are a great excuse to curl up with your popcorn and partner. Need I say more?

3. Have a book club night.

Find a book you’re both interested in, and have book club nights to discuss them as you read them. Break out some cheese and Three Buck Chuck, and you’ve got not only a relaxing and cheap date night idea, but some intellectual stimulation as well.

4. Watch the sunset together.

Sit on the porch with wine or go find a primo spot on the apartment rooftop to view the spectacular colors of the sunset. It’s the perfect way to relax and peacefully enjoy each other’s company

5. Participate in your partner’s hobbies.

Partake in your spouse’s favorite hobby, especially if they already have all the tools so you don’t have to spend more money. It’s a great way to learn more about what interests they have while spending time together. Rotate so that the next time they participate in one of your hobbies that you’d love to share with them.

6. Just talk.

Groundbreaking, I know. But shut off those electronic distractions and spend time talking about your dreams, fears, anything. We are lacking connection lately with all of the daily distractions we have in our lives, and this is truly a great way to reconnect.

7. Find a new podcast to binge together.

Love true crime? Financial advice? Conspiracy theories? Find some new podcasts to binge while you make dinner, eat or relax together by the fire.

Date night ideas for married couples

Start by Saving Money on Babysitting

Before I get into my favorite cheap date night ideas for married couples, let’s talk the cost of babysitters. Ouch. I get it – we all want generally well-adjusted, honest, good-in-an-emergency folks watching our kids. (Preferrably one that won’t drink our vodka and refill the bottle with water, eh?)

So while I don’t necessarily recommend cheaping out on who you pay to babysit your kids, there are ways to save money on babysitters. Some of my favorite are:

  1. Swap babysitting with a friend or neighborhood folks. You watch all the kids one night, and then they take all the kids in return another night. Free babysitting, since you know you’ll be home with yours anyway – what’s a couple more kids to the mix?
  2. Cash in your chips with Grandma. Or Grandpa, auntie or any other family member willing to help you out. Don’t forget to bring them home some dessert as a thank you, or you’ll burn that bridge mighty quick.
  3. Utilize “Parents Night Out” with your daycare, church or other local community centers. Our daycare does this and I love it. The kids are already friendly with the teachers, I know the teachers are trained in CPR, and it’s cheaper than having a babysitter come to your house.

Now that we have some cheap babysitting alternatives figured out, let’s get to the cheap date night ideas. I like to think just about any activity can be a cheap date night idea for married couples when you add wine or beer, amiright?

1. Do something you loved to do when you first met – before kids.

Maybe you liked to listen to music and dance through the house, or do shots while cooking stirfry. Maybe you liked to hang out in coffeeshops, or hit art galleries. Use your date night to remind yourselves of what you used to do before having kids.

2. Have a budget date night! (Just kidding. Kinda.)

My husband and I can barely have a conversation without being interrupted, much less plan out a budget for the following month. It doesn’t have to be super intense or take all night – just grab a beer and a half an hour to review upcoming expenses and discuss if any specific budget items need reviewed.

3. Daydream together and research your next vacation.

We love to use this time to talk about what our next trip is going to be. Again, it’s kinda hard to have an in-depth discussion with our kids around, but this cheap date night idea is perfect for connecting and dreaming together. Not only do we get to talk through places on our bucket list, but we have something to easily connect over that’s fun and brings out our adventerous side.

We also use this time to research how to cut travel costs and get where we want to cheaply. Check out 35 Stupid-Simple Ways to Travel on a Budget for planning your next trip.

4. Work out together.

It’s hard to find time to work out, and it’s a great way to spend time together. Not only are you getting one-on-one time, you’re becoming healthier and taking care of yourselves as well.

5. Trade massages, pedicures, or foot rubs.

I love a good spa night – it’s an easy way to take care of yourself and your spouse while you relax. Take turns trading massages, pedicures, or hop in a bubble bath with a glass of wine to unwind for a romantic date night at home.

6. Go on a bike ride, hike or walk.

If you want cheap date ideas near you, nothing’s closer or easier than going on a bike ride, hike or walk. Go on one through your neighborhood, at the local park, or find a trail in your hometown. If you don’t already own bikes, you can find companies that have rental bikes pretty cheap.

7. Have a cheap date night planning challenge.

Challenge each other to plan cheap date night ideas for under $25 (or $50 or $10 – you decide). See which of you can plan the most inexpesnive date night idea and who can plan the best cheap romantic date night idea. The winner gets bragging rights to being the best planner.

8. Stroll through a new section of town and window shop.

We have many neat and interesting sections of our city with lots of art, unique shops, and restaurants. We don’t get out often to visit these spots with the kids in tow, so a date night is the perfect time to do so. Grab an ice cream and take a leisurely stroll through while window shopping and exploring these new parts of town.

9. Find a trivia night at a local bar.

This could get expensive if you have a lot of drinks, but if you can limit it to one or two drinks, trivia night can be a fun way to get out of the house without spending a lot. There are trivia nights for a lot of crazy topics – everything from general trivia to super specific ones, like Harry Potter. Find one you’ll both love and test your knowledge!

10. Go for a drive and talk.

While it’s beautiful to go for a drive in the fall, it can be fun during the other seasons as well. Especially as the weather starts to warm up, there’s nothing like hopping in the car with no destination and cranking up some great music.

Or, even better – plan a day trip to something local and cheap that’s within a couple of hours. It’s a great opportunity to talk abou topics that aren’t work, kids or family. Reconnecting over your love of music or over a quick road trip can be a lot of fun.

11. Play a game of horse.

Grab the basketball you have lying around and challenge your partner to a game of horse, one-on-one, around the world, or any variation. Loser buys ice cream afterwards!

Indoor date ideas for couples

If it’s too cold or too hot (or too humid, or…just too outsidey for you) there’s always tons of fun, unique (and dare I say – possibly educational?) cheap indoor date ideas.

Some of the previous inexpensive date night ideas listed above can apply to this category, but I saved some specifically for for when the weather’s bad or it’s too humid to be outside. These are the best indoor date ideas:

1. Play games.

Whether it’s a board game, video game, poker or Twister, playing games is the ultimate cheap night in. Challenge your partner to a competition and see who can buy up all the property on Boardwalk first to win bragging rights til the next game night.

2. Go to a book reading or signing.

Watch for your favorite authors to do book signings in your area, and attend a reading/signing. Between bookstores and your local library, there are lots of unique events that you can attend for free. And you might actually get to meet an author you love in the process!

3. Find free/cheap museum days.

This one takes a little bit of research but will save you some big money if you can find cheap or free passes to your museum of choice. Some ways to score free or discounted tickets include: using your military ID, attending on free days, Seeing if your local library has passes you can have, and using your Bank of America card. Every year, Bank of America has a free pass day to certain museum on a specific weekend. If you already have the credit card, it’s worth persuing to see if any of the opportunities peak your interest.

4. Go on a free tour.

I love taking tours of distilleries, wineries, chocolate factories, and more. It’s also so intriguing to see how things are made and to learn about the process. Luckily, many companies give free tours of their facilities, complete with samples. Check out what companies in and around your city provide free tours and learn something new while getting some free samples. Now, if anyone knows of a cheese factory next to a winery, I’d be happy to hear about it!

5. Find discounts for local art studios and try your hand at pottery, painting, or photography.

Again, Groupon to the rescue! I love checking Groupon for fun, creative activities. It’s the perfect opportunity for a spontaneous and unique date. In our area, we often have creative activity offers for paint studios where you bring your own wine, music classes, and more. It’s an easy way to try out a new hobby without committing to see if it lives up the hype before you and your partner fully commit.

6. Take a community education class together.

Our local community college in Pittsburgh had the best education classes – everything from yoga to wine tasting. They had something for everyone, and while not every class isn’t super romantic (estate planning, anyone?), there were still a lot that could be a great opportunity to connect on a weekly basis with your partner.

There’s nothing like bonding over learning a new skill while exploring cheap date night ideas. Keep your connect strong by picking up a new hobby through the inexpensive classes at the college. If you find out you don’t like it all that much, they’re generally only about 8 weeks long so it’s not a huge loss of time or money. And who knows, you might find out you both really love to cook Indian food or really want to get your motorcycle licenses.

7. Study at the library together.

Assuming you’re both in school, and find that kind of thing fun (no judgement, my friends), studying at the library can be a good way to spend quality time together. Or, grab a coffee and just go to  browse and wander the stacks together at a local bookstore.

DIY date night

There’s just something about learning a new skill or working on a project that can really be a great way to spend time together. There’s always that amazing sense of achievement and pride after your done that makes it worthwhile. Plus, you learn to work better together, and you find out what buttons trigger your partner. 😉

1. Geocaching

I’m fanscinated by the idea of geocaching but haven’t had the time to try it out yet. Geocaching involves using a GPS or your phone and other navigational techniques to essentially find buried treasure. These caches can be found at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world. Sounds awesome, right? Not to mention a great way to exercise, spend time together, and act like a pirate searching for gold.

2. Learn something new.

Learn how to do something you’ve both always wanted to – how to cook a steak, bake bread, or change the oil in the car. Teaching each other new things can be fun, not to mention really useful. Or,  learn something brand new to both of you by watching videos on YouTube or taking a class.

3. Do the (side) hustle.

Pick up a side hustle you can do together. Sounds crazy, I know – but it’s a way to spend time together and earn money. It’s definitely a win-win! Try your hand at any of the great side hustles here to spend time together while earning cash to pay off debt. Not only is it a free cheap date night idea, but you’re making money as well!

4. Window shop at your favorite home improvement store.

Browser your favorite home improvement store or website together to daydream about DIY updates. Follow it up estimating costs, budgeting it out, and with binging some HGTV.

5. Visit a public garden for landscaping inspiration.

Conservatories often have special events where you can buy plants. Even if you don’t hit one of these sales, they’re a great way to go and look around for landscaping inspiration. Our conservatory gives discounts with AAA memberships, military IDs, college IDs, and even has the first Sunday of every month free for residents of Franklin County. Check out your local conservatory to see how to get discounted tickets.

6. Find local farms to go pick fruit in the spring or summer.

While this isn’t a ton cheaper than grabbing them at the grocery, it is a fun way to get out and do something different. Purchasing the fruit you pick on the farm is cheaper than purchased fruit they’ve already picked. Plus, you can make pies, desserts or jelly together afterwards wth your pickings.

7. Do actual DIY.

I might be weird, but I love doing DIY. My husband, not so much – but probably because he works at a home improvement store and stares at this type of stuff all day. I ask to do a project for Mother’s Day or birthdays, instead of a present. I know that’s super weird, but it’s something I really love. I love it because I love figuring stuff out, and it’s a fun way to work together on something. Plus, you get something really cool when you’re done, like new floors or a sweet new desk!

Late night date ideas

1. Go stargazing at an astronomy park.

We have an astronomy park that’s about an hour and a half away that just opened. They offer events on Friday and Saturday nights during the summer. Even better, the events are free and you don’t need to rent a telescope. Checking out a meteor shower or a special stellar event is a really unique and romantic night idea.

Find a great cheap diner that’s open late.

Review this list of cheap eats and find a unique and fun cheap diner for some late night disco fries. People watching is best done late at night with some greasy diner food.

Go on a ghost tour.

Many of the cities we’ve lived in or visited run ghost tours. Even if you’re not big into the paranormal, it can be a really interesting and fun way to learn more about the history of the city. Some local haunts even include overnight excursions for the truly devote ghosthunters. Make sure to check Groupon for discounted tickets for a ghoulishly fun night date.

Try your hand at night photography.

Spark your creativity and give night photography a try. One of you can man the camera on a slow exposure while the other uses glow sticks, sparklers or lights of any kind to produce so funky photography. Or, grab a tripod and find a spot with low light pollution to see if you can grab a beautiful photo of the city skyline or stars.

Relive your (no so long ago) youth by hitting a local pizza joint or dive bar.

We all like to relive our glory days and youth from time to time, right? Not to mention, the best (and probably only time) to really hit a dive bar is late at night after some drinks (for even more drinks). Hang out for a bit, sing or listen to some karoke, and follow it up with a late night visit to a college pizza joint that’s open late. Just don’t forget the Tums. 😉

Attend a midnight movie showing.

Depending on what types of movies you’re into, you can find some pretty amazing midnight movie showings in your city. While Rocky Horror Picture Show is the most obvious choice, there are lots of other options out there both new and old and can be a fun late night date.

Find a drive-in.

Drive-ins might not be as common as they were before, but there’s still plenty around. They’re generally open in the late spring and throughout the summer, which means movies don’t start until after 8:30 or so. Plus, they often have double features, so the price per movie per person is much cheaper than visiting the theater. Pack your own snacks, drinks, blankets and lawn chairs if you feel like sitting outside of your car. This is one of my favorite cheap date night ideas!

Enjoy the skyline.

Find the perfect spot to view the city lights at night. Bring snacks, coffee, and a blanket and enjoy some time to just relax and talk.

Test our your karaoke skills.

If you’re brave enough, karoke can be a great late night date option. Whether you’re singing or just watching, it’s a fun way to get out and test those singing skills ouside of the shower.

Set up a fire pit in the backyard.

There is nothing better than enjoying a nice fire with some beers, smores and your partner. It’s a cheap date night idea that’s easy, and you don’t even have to hire a babysitter. Just get the kids to bed, grab a baby monitor, and relax by the fire.

Fun date night ideas don’t have to expensive, or require a ton of work. There are plenty of cheap date night ideas, whether you’re in a couple or on a first date. I hope you enjoy these ideas!

Looking for more cheap date night ideas? Try 50 free things to do on a no-spend weekend or 75 (mostly) free things to do with kids this weekend! Let me know which ones are your favorite in the comments, and any other cheap date ideas that you love!

Couple on a cheap date eating ice cream

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.


  • 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


  • 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.


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


  • 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.


  • 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


  • 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’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.


  • 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


  • 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.


  • 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


  • 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 >


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.


  • 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


  • 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!

Cable tv remote control

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 Quickly 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 save money quickly and manage it long term. 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!


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.

shephard's pie

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.


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 of any form are an easy go-to for cheap healthy dinner ideas 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 one of those great family dinner ideas 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.


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!


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

Still don’t feel like cooking? Check out this list of cheap places to eat for more inspiration!

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