Racking up debt can happen for a variety of reasons: overspending, medical issues, a car accident, a layoff.
Often it can take just one or two unplanned instances to end up neck deep and struggling – especially if you’re already living paycheck to paycheck.
Millions of Americans are one paycheck away from accuring more debt, or worse – bankruptcy.
My family has been there. We’ve struggled with worrying about going negative every month and using the last small bit of savings we had to stay afloat. Forget figuring out how to eliminate credit card debt on top of that.
We didn’t spend lavishly or have fancy cars and clothes. But we did spend foolishly, by not keeping track of what we had coming in versus going out.
Not to mention we were so disorganized and constantly playing catch up in all aspects of life, including our money.
It doesn’t matter why you have debt – what’s important is that you’re ready to learn how to get out of debt and have the tools you need to finally become debt free.
In this article I’ll outline step-by-step how we officially, finally became debt free (hooray!) and the tools and tricks we used to get there.
Struggling to pay off your debt is no way to live. Why not make this year the year you finally drop the burden of debt once and for all?
5/01/18 Update: We’ve now paid off $26,619 of debt in just 17 months and raised our net worth by $57,952!
Our Steps to Being Debt Free
My husband and I had accrued various types of debt for almost 20 years. We were struggling to figure out how to get out of debt and stay there. While we weren’t necessarily drowning in debt, we weren’t killing it in savings and investments either. Just a lot of living for the day and never setting any financial goals.
Most of our debt was from life in general. Student loans, two costly births, a car wreck, credit cards, home improvements. Having a house on the market for almost a year after moving to a new state certainly didn’t help.
We finally sold our house when we had $700 left in savings to cover the next month’s expenses. The term “living beyond our means” couldn’t have more accurate.
All these decisions we had made stacked, and stacked, and stacked – until I realized just how dangerously everything was teetering.
It was like a bunch of wobbly teacups stacked in angles on top of each other, just waiting for a tiny push to topple them over. I began to realize just how one tiny thing, like a job loss, could topple everything and break us financially.
Everybody I know loves to bring home the spoils of a great sale, if only to brag about how much they saved on their score. And with the holidays quickly approaching, the sales are really ramping up. So now is the time to double down on those bragging rights and start using cash back apps to sweeten the savings!
There are a ton of cash back and rebate sites out there. Sifting through them to find the best cash back apps is time consuming at best. Luckily, I’ve taken the time to pull together a comprehensive list of the absolute best.
How to Make Money from Your Receipts
There are two options to maximize savings while shopping:
Cash back apps
Cash back apps have a list of items that they provide cash back on. Then, once you purchase them, you scan the receipt and depending on the app, the barcode of the product. Your earned cashback sits in an account until you hit a certain thershold (generally $20), and then you can request for the account to be paid out via Paypal, check, or directly to your bank account.
Examples of cash back apps are: Ibotta, Fetch Rewards, Shopkick, or Receipt Hog.
Rebate websites involve clicking through that website to the retailer you want to buy from. Not only do these sites offer cash back, but they often have some great coupons to help stack your savings. Sites like Ebates pay out quarterly, no matter how much is in your account.
Examples of rebate sites are: Ebates, Topcashback.
Whether it’s an app or a site, it’s really easy to submit your receipts or click through a link and claim your money. Once you get into the habit of looking at these spots for savings first, you’ll not only save cash but your time as well.
Next, I’ll cover which apps work best for shopping, groceries, gas, and other items.
The Best cash back apps for shopping
These are the best cash back apps for shopping that you can use to save your money. Stack these with sales and you’ll be golden:
Ebates is easily one of my top cash back apps to save money when I shop online. They have cash back for over 2500 stores online, and they’ve recently added cash back in stores as well!
There are three ways to save with Ebates:
Go through the Ebates website and click through their link to your favorite retailers
Install an extension on your Chrome browser that alerts you every time you visit a retailer that Ebates offers cash back at (my favorite way!)
Download their cash back app for Android or iOS
As an added bonus, Ebates offer coupons that you can’t get elsewhere. Ebates also gives double cash back offers that rotate through various stores as well, so your chances of finding additional savings are great.
Ebates offers payouts via Paypal or check, and pays out quarterly. Cash back categories include vacation and travel, health and beauty, electronics, clothing, accessories, gifts, flowers, baby, home, office, auto, and much, much more.
TopCashBack is a direct competitor to Ebates and is giving them a run for their money. You can get cash back at over 4,000 retailers and they have 17 different payout options! If you choose to take your payout via a gift card, some of the gift cards offer additional bonuses up to 5%.
TopCashback also offers cash back guarantee. They’ll match other cash back site amounts (with a few terms and conditions). They also offer coupons and promotions, and sign up bonuses as well.
Once your earnings clear, you can request a payout at any time, for any amount. TopCashBack offers savings in travel, home and garden, electronics, fashion, health and beauty, gift cards, and more!
I love using Paribus because I’m often super busy and don’t always have time or the inclination to scan receipts. With Paribus, I don’t even have to click through any links. I just shop like I normally would online, and Paribus tracks confirmation emails and watches for price changes.
Paribus instantly scores you money back if the price drops on something you’ve bought from any of the 25+ major retailers that they partner with.
If your shipment is late, Paribus negotiates on your behalf with the retailer and gets a reimbursement without you having to lift a finger.
Think that once you finally book your hotel room, you’re locked into that price? Nope!
Paribus also can help you save when you book hotels rooms. If they price drops on a room, they’ll find the drop and help you get the difference back. Paribus works with hotel rooms booked through: Expedia, Hotels.com, Hilton, Booking.com, Priceline, and Marriott.
There are a ton of great cashback apps where you can submit receipts for money. These are the best grocery rebate apps out there:
Ibotta is a game changer for grocery shopping – and it’s so easy! Rebates are organized by store so they’re very easy to find. Just select the items you want to redeem, scan your receipt, and scan the barcodes on the items you bought as you’re prompted.
You cash shows up within 48 hours (usually much, much faster!) and boom – you’re done! Ibotta also offers tons of great bonuses that change every month, which adds an extra bit of fun to the challenge of redeeming your rebates.
As of the typing of this post, I’ve personally saved over $456 through Ibotta. There’s nothing easier than getting paid to upload receipts!
Ibotta also allows your to link your loyalty card for certain retailers to redeem your rebates that way. No scanning involved!
Recently they’ve branched out to include mobile in-app purchases, which makes a great app even better. With over 290 supported stores, it’s easy to rack up the savings.
The Ibotta app pays out with Paypal, venmo, or gift cards. You can also earn bonuses as well as earn more by hooking up your Facebook so that you create a team of earners.Last, you can get a $5 referral fee for anyone that uses your referral link to sign up!
Another cash back app for receipts that I really like to use is SavingStar. This Ibotta competitor has very similar offers, but they’re redeemed a bit differently.
First, you add stores to your account so you can redeem rebates there. If you have a loyalty card, you can link the store automatically and be able to skip the receipt scanning. if not, you’ll just scan the receipt like on other apps.
Next, you’ll activate your offers, shop, and redeem your offers. Once you’ve hit the $20, threshold, you can select from Paypal, a bank deposit, gift cards, or choose to donate your earnings to American Forests.
This grocery receipt cash back app can be used at over 100,000 stores in over 1000 different retails chains, so there’s bound to be a grocery store you can use it at.
With Fetch Rewards, you can earn points with ANY grocery receipt. There’s no shopping at specific stores, clipping any coupons, or redeeming offers before shopping.
Fetch Rewards matches items on your receipt and credits you for every item you buy from their list of 250+ participating brands. You then cash out your points to purchase gift cards from hundreds of retailers.
Whether you shop at a local mom and pop store or a Sam’s Club, your printed receipt will be accepted up to 14 days after purchase. Also included are convience stores, club stores, drugstores, liquor stores, and of course, grocery stores.
While cash back apps specifically for gas are mostly non-existent, there is one app that will accept gas station and convenience store receipts:
The Receipt Pal app is one of the few apps that let you just scan receipts for money back, making it one of the few apps like Receipt Hog.
You don’t have to buy any particular products or shop at certain stores. Just scan those receipts to earn cash back. Simple, right?
This app is unique in that it accepts any receipt – from gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, car dealerships, online retailers, convenience stores, travel and entertainment, and more. The receipt must include the merchant name, purchase date, total amount spent and phone number or zip code of the store. That’s it!
ReceiptPal also has weekly sweepstakes to give you a chance to win a cash bonus (cha-ching!). Your earned points can then be cashed out to purchase gift cards.
Several mass merchandisers have created their own apps to help you save when you shop there.
The Target App
With the Target app, I’ve been able to save over $562 by stacking cartwheel offers, in-store digital coupons, sales, and my 5% redcard discount!
Saving with the Target app is easy. As you shop, scan the barcodes of the products to see if there’s a discount or manufacturer coupon that applies. When you checkout, scan the barcode in the wallet section to apply your savings, and that’s it!
The Target app also has additional coupons available in the wallet section, such as $10 off of a $50 food and beverage purchase. Plus, you can choose to store your redcard info in the app so that you just scan the barcode to pay.
It’s almost like they’re making it toooo easy to spend money there…
Walmart has replaced the Walmart Savings Catcher with Walmart Pay, but it essentially does the same thing.
When you pay with Walmart Pay, your digital receipt is automatically checked for lower prices at competitors. If a lower price is found, you get the difference! That cash back difference is loaded onto an egift card, which can be used with – you guessed it – Walmart Pay.
Ever wanted to be a secret shopper? Now you can with the Mobee app!
Start by finding a mission near you at popular stores and retailers. Next, answer questions once you’re at the location and submit it for review. You’ll earn points for every mission completed, which can be cashed in for gift cards and prizes.
You can also unlock achievements to earn more points as well, helping you level up to earning those gift cards quicker.
Earn additional points by referring friends as well, and cash them n for the gift cards to Dunkin’ Donut, Starbucks, Walmart, Best Buy, MasterCard prepaid gift cards, and more!
My wallet used to be full of half-punched loyalty cards from a bunch of different restaurants and coffee shops that I loved. With Punchcard, you no longer have to carry these around and can still earn rewards.
This app works at a ton of major retailers and restaurants, including: Target, Subway, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, McDonald’s, CVS, 7-Eleven, Chili’s, Vons, Chipotle, Safeway, Best Buy, Banana Republic, Chevron, and more!
Punch, spin and win points with every purchase, then use them to get gift cards, contest entries or give them away as a charitable donation.
Some businesses that participate in Punchcard see that you’re a loyal customer and offer rewards, coupons, or offers directly to you as well!
Whether you’re at the store or shopping from the comfort of your home, there’s an app or website to help you save money.
While not every app fits everyone, make sure to give each one a try for at least a couple of weeks before you throw in the towel. You’ll be surprised at how much you can save with apps like Ibotta and Shopkick!
Have you used any of the cash back apps or rebate sites to help save cash? If so, let me know in the comments below!
Beginning a money saving challenge is a great way to kickstart any of your financial goals. Whether your emergency fund needs pumped up, it’s vacation time, or one of the kids needs braces, having a padded savings fund is key to avoiding any new debt.
Can you imagine coming back from a weeklong vacation in Maui? Now, can you imagine coming back from a weeklong vacation in Maui…without credit card debt?
Have you ever been able to take a vacation without having to throw it all on a credit card? If not, do you have any idea how much you’ve paid in interest for that vacation, long after your tan (or burn, if you’re me) is gone?
This is why it’s important to set money savings goals. Without them, we’d be paying for those vacations (or braces, or emergencies) ten times over before everthing’s said and done. Having savings goals means never having to say, “Charge it!”
The best thing you can do is learn how to save money the right way, so that you can break the cycle of debt once and for all. Next, I’ll cover four types of money saving challenges and how each can help you acheive your financial goals.
The Four Major Types of Money Savings Challenges
In my research, I’ve found that there are four major types of money saving challenges. Some are more passive ways to save that will slowly build up and that change will be less likely to be miss.
Others are much more aggressive savings strategies that require being very proactive with your money. While these are more difficult, they also reap a much bigger reward.
Money Savings Challenge #1: Save by Type of Cash or a Percentage of Your Income
These types of challenges are smaller and tend to be easier. A popular one is to put aside 10% of your income every paycheck, prior to paying your bills. This is often referred to as “paying yourself first”.
If you use and spend cash, there are a lot that involve saving different types of currency, such as saving all your $5 bills for the year. Keeping all your dimes. These savings methods are easy to do and the outcome can vary wildly depending upon what type of change you receive throughout the year.
Some additional examples include:
Save any $5 bills received
Save all of your dimes in a two liter soda bottle, which equals approximately $700
A year long penny challenge, in which you save one penny on day one, two pennies on day two, etc. You’ll have saved $667.95 at the end of the year.
Automatically move 10% of every paycheck into savings before you pay any bills
Money Savings Challenge #2: Save by Using a Financial App
There are several great financial apps that can help you round up your spare change on purchases to put money aside. Heck, even some credit card companies offer these services as well.
The key is that once again you’re passively saving by pushing very small amounts into an account without realizing they’re gone. You’re not feeling the sting, since it’s always less then 5 or 6 dollars.
Acorns is a very well known and trusted financial app that can help you easily shuffle your extra cash around. Spare change can be rounded up from purchases and recurring investments set up. You can easily set up an IRA and Acorns handles all the investing and rebalancing of your funds.
Even better, you can earn as you shop. Acorns has partnered with over 200 Found Money partners that will automatically invest in your Acorns account every time you shop there. It really doesn’t get much easier than that! Learn more about the Acorns investing app here.
Money Savings Challenge #3: Do a No Spend Challenge
Here’s where the challenges stop being passive, and start to become very hands on. A no spend challenge is a period of time – say a week, two or a month – in which you proactively decide not to spend money.
For your no spend challenge, you set up rules and exceptions, such as you can purchase gas, but not groceries and much use this time to clean out the fridge and pantry.
At the end of the challenge, all of the money you would have spent goes into your savings. It’s another quick way to jumpstart your savings or create breathing room when you’re living paycheck to paycheck.
Money Savings Challenge #4: Creating an Intentional Money Savings Challenge
What do I mean by an intentional money savings challenge? I mean that you set specifics and define a goal.
Do you want to do a 30 day money saving challenge? Is it biweekly? Is your goal to save $5,000 or $10,000 in 52 weeks? Or is that too long, and you prefer a save $5,000 in 26 weeks?
Whether you want to save $10 or $10,000, you need to set solid, achievable goals. Without details like an end date or an amount to strive for, that money can easily blow away and get spent on small, throw away items that aren’t helping you reach the next step.
This money saving challenge is the most aggressive of the four. But with the hard work and sweat of pushing yourself, you earn the greatest reward.
Money Saving Challenge Printables
I’ve created some free money saving challenge printables to help you not only plan your savings challenge, but to help you execute it.
While these money saving challenge printables are geared towards helping you save $1,000 in 12 weeks, it can easily be changed to match any time period or amount of savings. Some other popular money saving challenges are:
52 week money saving challenge, saving anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000
26 week money saving challenge, usually geared towards saving $5,000
90 day / 3 month / 12 weeks savings challenge to save $1,000 – $3,000
Once again, this is all dependent on what your needs are and what your timeline is like. Download your free money saving challenge printables here:
Download Your Savings Worksheet Now!
Build your $1000 savings in just 12 weeks!
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A Step-By-Step Walkthrough of a 3 Month / $1,000 Money Saving Challenge
The first step to breaking the debt cycle is to build up a $1000 emergency fund. It’s also very important to learn to cash flow, or save for, other expenses such as vacations, medical costs, or car repairs before you need it.
While your personal money saving goals will vary, we’ll be using a 12 week, $1,000 saving example to walk through setting up your challenge.
Why You Need to Have at Least $1,000 Savings
We can plan all we want, but there are always unexpected expenses that pop up. Whether it’s medical, a wedding we’ve been invited to, or car issues, you can bet they’re going to show up at the worst times.
It’s not a matter of IF financial roadbumps come up, it’s a matter of WHEN.
The easiest way to stay out of debt when these roadblocks hit is to have some savings in place. I suggest having a $1000 emergency fund. $1000 is enough to cover your deductible for house issues as well as most medical issues.
Getting Started Saving Money
Now that you have your printables to help you learn how to save money, it’s time to get started saving!
Step 1: Find your motivation to Save.
It’s important to know your motivations for saving. Is your ultimate goal to be debt free, but you’re lacking an emergency fund? Do you want to take your family on vacation this year? Are you expecting a baby, or think you’ll need dental work?
No matter what the reason, take the time to figure out why you’re doing this. It’ll help you to stay motivated when things get tough.
Visual reminders are great as well – so make sure to use the saving tracker, as well as pictures of what you’re working toward to help with motivation.
Without figuring out why you’re doing the challenge, you’re much more likely to fall off the financial wagon and whip out that credit card at the next big sale you walk past.
Having a specific goal, amount and timeline really help to motivate and create drive. Which in turns makes it much, much more likely that you hit your financial target!
Step 2: Set Your SMART Goal.
As you decide on what you’d like your goal to be, remember to use the SMART method:
To build a $1000 savings in 12 weeks, you’ll need to save $83 a week. That’s just shy of $12 a day.
Let’s create an example goal. Rather than, I want to save $1000, let’s make it SMART:
I want to create a $1000 emergency fund by saving $83 a week for the next 12 weeks.
This goal is very specific: it has a measurement of time and debt amount, it includes an action, and it’s realistic and has a time limit.
You’re much more likely to be successful at saving $1000 if you break your goals down into smaller sprints, such as one or two weeks chunks, or even a month.
Decide how you want to break your savings up and write it down on your worksheet.
Step 3: Track Your Current Spending.
In order to get started saving you need to know where your money is currently going.
I know – a lot of people think tracking spending is a bore and a snore. I get it. But unless you can see where the money is most likely to leak out of your account (I’m looking at you, coffeeshops!), then you can stop the flow.
Saving money is going to take identifying needs and wants, and seeing where you can trim back.
If you don’t already use an expenses tracking software like ynab.com or mint.com, now’s a great time to start. It can help you look back over the past 2 – 3 months and gauge your spending.
Step 4: Create a budget.
Now that you see where your money is going, you need to make some decisions on where to make cuts. This is where a budget comes in handy. It’s an easy way to play with the numbers and see where it makes the most sense to trim your spending.
You want to trim your spending so that you’re able to hit that SMART goal that you created in the previous step. Next, I’ll give you some ideas on how to do just that.
The Best Ways to save Money
Now that you have your goal and budget in hand, this is where you need to get creative! There are only two ways to find money: Spend less or earn more.
Sounds simple, I know, but it’s not always easy to keep consistent with it. I’ve written a lot of in-depth articles about each. I prefer to do a little of both, so that I don’t feel like I’m being deprived by cutting too much, and I’m still able to meet my SMART financial goals.
Now that you’ve started your savings, how do you keep from accidentally spending it?
The best approach is to create a separate savings account. This new account can be linked to your regular accounts, but I really suggest keeping them in a place where it’s not as easy to access.
I also highly recommend automating the transfers to the savings account, so that you don’t forget and spend it.
For example, we have a savings account for my quarterly tax payments. Our checking is with a local bank, and this particular savings account is with CapitalOne. The monthly payments are automated so that they get taken out of checking at the beginning of every month.
If I need to access that money, it takes a couple of days to transfer back to my checking. It’s easy to set it and forget it – which means there’s no chance of accidentally spending it!
I highly recommend setting up your budget at the beginning of the month and immediately moving whatever extra you have into savings. If you don’t pay yourself first by putting your savings into a separate account, it will get bites taken out of it until it’s half of what it should be.
I’ve Hit my Savings Goal – Now What?
Saving for 12 weeks is long enough to have created a new “normal” for yourself and for your spending. You’ve adjusted to the new budget, and you’ve hit your goal. Now what?
The absolute best idea is to keep riding your momentum and continue your money saving challenge! Either keep saving, or begin paying off your debt, depending on where you’re at on the path to financial freedom.
Saving up $1000 is pretty easy if you have a plan and break it into manageable chunks. These tips to save money and printable worksheets will help to get your savings on schedule. Once you’re on track, you’ll find it easier every day to keep going until you hit your goal!
Bonus: When Should I use my Emergency Fund?
One of the biggest questions I get is “what’s the difference between an emergency fund and sinking funds?” (Don’t worry – I had no idea what sinking funds were a couple of years ago!)
Knowing the difference between sinking funds and an emergency fund will help you to understand when it’s actually a legit reason to break into your emergency fund.
The short explanation is that an emergency fund is for actual emergencies, like medical issues or an unscheduled car issue. Basically, anything you can’t really plan ahead for.
Sinking funds are a savings account that’s for those irregular expenses that you know are coming: yearly HOA fees, quarterly tax payments, or your car registration. Items that don’t happen monthly, but you know they’re coming.
What amount and length of time are you thinking of using for your money saving challenge? Are you going big and tackling a 52 week money challenge, or starting out a bit smaller? Let me know in the comments below!
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Build your $1000 savings in just 12 weeks!
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It just takes a bit of creativity to find cheap Christmas gifts that fit into your budget and the gift receiver will love. With some budgeting and planning, you can easily stick within your budget and still get that gift list checked off!
Why You Should Focus Your Gift List Around Cheap Christmas Gift Ideas
Everyone’s had that New Year’s hangover – I’m not just talking too much food and drinks, but too much holiday spending as well. You get caught up in the spirit of the holidays, end up buying waaaaay more than you intended, and come January’s credit card bill, your bank account is officially “hungover”.
Then the buyer’s remorse and belt tightening settle in, making for a painful start to the new year.
If you’re not convinced yet, here’s some gut-wrenching statistics out there on holiday overspending:
56% of Americans will take on new debt to pay for holiday gifts1
16% will take longer than 6 months to pay it off1
34% of parents will spend an average of $500 per child!1
The worst statistic I’ve read? 25% of parents are taking extreme measures such as withdrawing from 401ks, using emergency funds, or using payday loans to buy holiday gifts1.
When did it get like this? And how do we stop it?
It’s pretty clear we need to stop it before it starts by trimming down our spending for the holiday season.
Why not choose to start January off with financial peace rather than regret, worry and a HUGE credit card statement?
How to be smart about what you spend on Christmas Gifts
We all love to celebrate and show our appreciation for one another through gifts. It’s an tradition as old as the first caveman dragging home extra loin cloths made especially for his cave family, right?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with giving Christmas gifts. However, it shouldn’t cause you panic or wrack up a huge amount of credit card debt that you pay a ton of interest on.
Start by listing out everyone you need to buy for. Don’t forget non-family members, like teachers, coaches, neighbors, coworkers, and your boss, to name a few.
Got your list? Great. Next, decide how much you want to spend on each person. Once you add that up, you might find yourself a little overwhelmed.
See if you can either trim your list or group people on your list into subcategories. That way you think of creating or buying gifts that apply to multiple people.
For example, instead of buying individual gifts for coworkers, why not bring in one gift to share, like a dessert tray? Everyone’s covered, it’ll be cheaper, and it’s less stress and work for you. Done and done!
While the average American family spends approximately $1,000 on Christmas, there are a lot of great cheap gift ideas that you can give that can help keep you from burning a hole in your credit card.
Cheap Christmas Gift Ideas Don’t have to mean…Being Cheap
Now it’s time to get creative. Just because you’re looking to trim your gift giving costs doesn’t mean you’re going to give everyone a stale fruitcake or some plastic cheap Christmas stuff.
Think about what you’re good at, what you enjoy creating, and what you know your loved ones (or boss) will enjoy.
The trick is to find something that you know they’ll appreciate and enjoy – whether it cost $1,000 or $10.
The Best Cheap Unique Gift Ideas
Spoiler Alert! Anyone and everyone would rather spend time with you and your loved ones than to get yet another trinket. The gift of time is so much more precious than we realize. However, that being said, here are some other cheap holiday gift ideas to consider as well if you still feel like you want to give a physical gift:
Give the gift of a homemade meal.
I know, food sounds too easy, but bear with me. The average American is so incredibly busy balancing work, kids and home duties that we all struggle to get a meal on the table. Especially a warm, yummy homemade one on a cold winter night, right?
Give the gift of a family dinner. Prepare their favorite meal in a freezer safe dish with instructions on how to heat it, and add bread and a dessert to make it a meal.
While you’re at it, double the recipe and throw one in the freezer for your family as well. It’s a total win-win for those crazy busy holiday nights when you don’t want to cook, right?
Don’t forget that everyone loves to receive cookies, breads and cakes as well. If you love to bake, now’s your chance to give them something made with love in a beautiful container.
Give the gift of free fun.
Invite your neighbors or friends with kids to meet up at the best sledding hill in the city. Host a cookie exchange, or better yet, use your kitchen as cookie baking central and let all your friends’ kids work on frosting skills.
My absolute favorite free holiday activity? Having a sleepover under the Christmas tree with my kids.
While none of us get much sleep, it feels very magical to be surrounded by all the beautiful lights and the excitement of the tree. Every year, my daughter tells me it’s her favorite and asks if we can do it again!
Give the gift of memories.
One of my favorite money saving ideas for the holidays is to give experiences. Think back to when you were a kid during the holidays. What sticks out to you the most? Was it stuff? Or was it specific memories of times you spend with grandparents, parents, siblings and extended family?
While I can remember some of our gifts, I mostly remember very specific outings with family members. Now that some of those family members are gone, those times are truly cherished memories.
This year, we’re treating my in-laws to a train ride instead of giving gifts. My father-in-law is a huge train buff, so I know they’ll love it. There’s an awesome Chinese lantern festival here in Columbus that we’re taking my parents to. We’ll also be able to take them to see the holiday lights at the zoo for free with our zoo pass.
It’s a win-win because we’re able to give these experiences as their gifts, and they’re also getting time with their grandkids.
Check out local websites to see what free or cheap holiday activities are available in your area and plan around them.
Some frugal outing ideas include:
Driving through neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights
Cookie Crawls (where businesses hand out cookies in an certain area, and you visit each one)
Take advantage of free activities at school, like visiting Santa
Look into your memberships for discounted activities, like seeing the Zoo Lights
Give them the gift of time.
We can all use a helping hand, but some of us are better at asking than others. Think about what your loved ones need most and make them an offer they cannot refuse!
Here’s the perfect unique Christmas gift idea: offer to do something they hate, so you can free up their time. Clean their gutters, help them with opening the pool next summer, or even babysit for free for date night. Trust me, they’ll love you for it!
Heck, even go so far as to make those funny coupons that they can cash in to make it official. Some other services to offer gift certificates for are:
Wash and detail their car
Run an errand for them that they hate to do
Give the gift of creativity and fun.
For all you DIY junkies who are itching to make something, now’s your chance to make unique fun gifts for cheap!
Scented bath salts, lotions and bath bombs are amazingly easy to make. Whip up a big batch, buy some beautiful reusable containers, and hand them out everyone on your list. Finding something that you can buy and produce in bulk can help save money as well as time.
Use your artistic talents (or whatever talents you may have) to make something you enjoy creating and they enjoy receiving. You can even get your kids in on the action by having them help create keepsake gifts such as ornaments. There are a ton of cute and creative ideas out on Pinterest using kid’s handprints.
Other great diy ideas for christmas gifts include:
Holiday cookies, cakes, or breads in pretty, reusable packaging
Hair bows, jewelry or keychains
Re-pot plant clippings from your garden
Sew clothes, towels, pot holders, or bags
Make bath items like bath bombs, body scrub, or soap
Create keepsakes with supplies and craft machines that you already have
Maybe you’re not that creative? Etsy has some cute and fun thank you printables for teachers, coaches, babysitters, and anyone else you can think of! They have cute little sayings that match up with a gift, like lip balm or a Hershey’s bar.
Once you make the purchase on Etsy, you’ll receive a PDF to download. Just add some nice stock paper to the printer, print it, cut it out, and attach to the gift. Easy, beautiful, and creative!
Looking for gifts ideas for friends? Host a holiday potluck and movie night with everyone in their best ugly Christmas sweaters. Make it BYOB and play your favorite fun Christmas movies. A great party for friends or family doesn’t have to be expensive and everyone can contribute.
Some other great frugal fun Christmas party ideas include:
Hallmark Movie night (Everyone loves those, right?)
Cookie Exchange (or bake cookies together)
Decorate gingerbread houses
White elephant gift exchange
Spend time together while wrapping presents
Host a Christmas scavenger hunt through your neighborhood
Play “Minute to Win It” style games that are holiday themed
Decorate ornaments together
Do Christmas crafts or make presents
Give the gift of cash (kind of!).
If you must give gift cards, go to Raise.com to purchase discounted gift cards for up to 20% off! They’re 100% guaranteed for a year with purchase protection and refunds, so you don’t have to worry about anything weird with the cards after purchase. Buy these discounted cards for stores you know you’ll shop at for the holidays to save money as well!
Another idea is to cash in those credit card points for gift cards. We use ours for gift cards to gas stations for so we can travel to see family. I’ve also cashed out those points to get gift cards for family members to their favorite restaurants.
You can also earn gift cards through sites like Swagbucks. Fill out surveys, watch videos, and do small tasks to earn points towards gift cards (or cash!). It’s easy enough to do while you’re watching TV to earn some cash every evening.
Give the gift of charity.
While this isn’t necessarily a gift to family or friends, we often find that the holidays are a great reminder to give to those who are less fortunate. However, sometimes we find ourselves struggling to donate the money we’d like to.
There are several ways you can still give without breaking the bank. It’s a perfect time of year to go through your clothes, toys and other household items to see what can be donated to Goodwill or Salvation Army. Winter items that kids have out grown but are still of good use would make a kid in need so happy, not to mention gently used toys as well.
Charities need people to physically help as well. Sign up to ring a bell in front of a store or serve up hot meals to the homeless. A coworker of mine would take his kids every Thanksgiving to work at a soup kitchen. I was awed at not only his devotion to helping others, but his ability to teach his kids what’s truly important during the holidays.
Additional Ways to Save on Christmas Gifts
Let’s say your’e not crafty or don’t have the time to bust our your art supplies. You can still find ways to cut costs when shopping for unique Christmas gifts.
Just remember to use these guidelines when holiday shopping to help you from overspending:
Consider shopping with cash or a pre-paid card to stop yourself from overspending.
Use these unique and cheap holiday gift ideas to make your holidays better this year. You don’t have to be a painful financial statistic or go overboard in gift giving to show you care. Truly, what anyone really wants is time with you and your family. And maybe a pony. But we’ll settle for time together instead. 😉
Have other unique and cheap holiday gifts ideas? Share them below, I’d love to hear them!
One question I get asked a lot as a personal finance fanatic (say that three times fast!) is what the rules of a no spend challenge are. While there are plenty of very specific no spend challenges you can take, it’s a very personal choice as to which one to embark on.
The key takeaway of a no spend challenge is to reduce your outgoing money by cutting out non-essentials. Yes, you’re already doing that with a budget, but during a no spend challenge you’re amping it up and cutting even more.
So what’s the difference between a budget and a no spend challenge? And why should you start one?
What is a No Spend Challenge?
A no spend challenge is choosing a period of time, say a weekend, week or even a month, to not spend any money. Some people choose to have allowances, like groceries and gas.
The purpose of the no spend challenge is to help you reset after a holiday, vacation, or to get back on track from an emergency or spending slip up. It can also be a great way to kickstart your savings or debt repayment on things like student loans with the chunk of money you save from the challenge.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of the rules of no spend challenges, download this free worksheet and calendar to help you personalize the rules and goals for your challenge:
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Now that you’ve grabbed your free worksheets, read through the rules below, grab a pen, and get to planning your own personal no spend challenge!
Picking a timeframe for a No Spend Challenge
There are three suggested time periods you can choose:
No Spend Week Challenge: This challenge entails making changes to your daily habits – whether it’s getting a coffee from Starbucks or grabbing lunch with coworkers.
No Spend Month Challenge: This challenge can be a doozy, but the rewards are greater. This is about starting to make a permanent lifestyle change for good, rather than just for a week. It’s about stopping habits like shopping and replacing them long term with other cheaper (or free) activities.
How a No Spend Challenge Works
No spend challenges work by setting rules for spending and then locking away those credit and debit cards. The rules can vary depending upon your needs, but primarily there’s no shopping for wants, just needs.
Some people chose to do a bit of stocking up on groceries, pet supplies and personal needs prior to their challenge.
Allowed spending on the challenge includes items such as:
Groceries, if you’re not stocking up prior
Gas for your vehicle
Suggested items to cut during a no spend challenge:
Eating out, coffee, drinks
Anything else that’s not a need (vs. a want)
How to Get Started on Your No Spend Challenge
There are some key steps you need to do in order to ensure that your spending challenge is a success. They’re all about setting rules and making sure everyone is on the same page so there’s no miscommunication and “accidental” (ahem, side eyeing you, donuts and coffee!) spending during the challenge.
1. Figure out why you’re doing it.
Create a goal so you have something to focus on, especially if things get tough. Do you want to boost your debt repayment? Are you saving for a vacation? Figure out your long term goal. If you have that in mind, it makes it easier to focus on not spending when a large mocha is staring you in the face.
2. Decide how long you want to do the challenge for.
The point is to challenge yourself and see how far you can stretch! A month can be really difficult, but the longer the challenge, the greater the reward. If you’re worried about how difficult it might be, start off easier with a no spend weekend or week.
3. Set your rules.
Write them down and post them as a reminder. Are there exceptions, such as purchasing fresh groceries like dairy & produce? Are you setting up cash envelopes for groceries and gas? Make a list of what’s an acceptable purchase and what’s not and hang them on the fridge.
4. Review rules with your spouse/family.
Make sure everyone’s on the same page, otherwise it’s useless. It’s important that your spouse and family understand and agree to the goals, so that they’ll be much more likely to play along.
5. Use this period to eat the stock of items in the pantry/freezer.
It’s the perfect time to use up all those items that get pushed to the back of the pantry every week. Often, a no spend challenge can be used to rotate out your pantry’s stock and use up items before they expire. It’s the perfect time to get creative with your meals.
6. Research free entertainment for the kids/family.
Since having kids, I’ve found out just how expensive it can be to do anything – from eating out to an event, it can put a big dent in your cash flow. Use Google to find sites with free events in your city, have a family game night, or hit the park.
7. Put away the credit/debit cards to avoid temptation.
Just do it, as the saying goes. Don’t keep them on you. It’s just too easy to whip out a credit card and use it. Consider creating cash envelopes to help monitor and control spending as needed for things like groceries and gas.
8. Need a distraction? Use this time to get stuff done!
If you’re used to cruising sites for the latest deals, this is the perfect time to distract yourself with household activities. Clean out garage and basement, declutter and organize. Donate, throw away, and sell stuff. It’s the perfect time to pick up a side hustle selling your gently used stuff and get it out of your house at the same time!
9. Still want to buy something?
Write it down in a list and keep it. Promise yourself that if you can wait until the end of the spending period, you can purchase it. Chances are, after you’ve made it through your no spend challenge, you won’t want it anymore. It’s a great way to break yourself of those impulse purchases!
Another idea is to take the money you would have spent on that item and move it into savings. By the end of the challenge, you’ll see how much you would have spent on impulse purchases, which can be a real eye opener!
10. Move your money.
Put it into a separate savings account so that at the end of the month, you can apply it towards your goal. Don’t let it float away into the ether of checking account limbo.
No matter how you chose to do your no spend challenge, what’s important is that you are making an effort to change your spending habits. It can be really hard at first, but it’s a great way to reset your mindset and focus more on long term goals versus instant gratification.
How to Spend No Money for a Month
Spending no money for a month is a lofty goal but definitely doable. To spend no money for a month, you will need to have a budget in place where you’ve planned ahead for that month’s costs.
One of the biggest keys to success is thinking ahead. If you know you’ll be participating in kid’s events or extra curricular activities, plan ahead and pack snacks or food.
If you have a freebie, no spend weekends are the perfect time to cash them in. Keep an eye on your emails from retailers to see what kind of freebies you can cash in on.
Just this past week, I was able to grab an entire 12oz bag of coffee from World Market, just for being a rewards member. There’s nothing like the taste of free coffee in the morning!
Lastly, if you’re looking for even more inspiration, check out The No Spend Year: How You Can Spend Less and Live More by Michelle McGagh. In it, she details how she set a goal for herself to just pay bills with a minimal budget for groceries. The rest she saved while she learned how to socialize and travel for free for an entire year!
Have you ever done a no spend challenge? How’d it go? What tips would you recommend? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
As you’ve started diving into sorting out your finances, you’ve probably heard that you need a starter emergency fund of $1,000. You may have also heard some talk about building a sinking fund or two.
But what exactly is the difference between an emergency fund and a sinking fund? And why do you need more than one account?
Lastly, if you’re drowning in debt, isn’t everything an emergency at this point?
It’s important to not only understand the different between emergency and sinking funds, but why you need each, even this early in the debt repayment game. Especially this early in the game. Without understanding these funds and how to set them up, everything will always be an emergency. And personally, that is not how I want to live – it’s just way too stressful!
By learning about the differences between these types of accounts, where and how to set each up, you’ll be able to face any upcoming expenses – whether planned for or not – without batting an eye. Sounds amazing, right?
What an Emergency Fund Is (And Isn’t)
An emergency fund is for true emergencies. These are expenses that are unexpected and unplanned. Think of things like a job layoff, an accident, big health issues – basically anything that keeps you up at night.
Sadly, it’s not funds for when you’re too tired to cook, there’s a big sale on shoes, or when you’re forgotten that you need a haircut before a wedding.
For example, our roof was recently damaged during a storm. Since this was an unexpected expense, we took the $1,000 deductible out of our emergency fund at Capital One to pay it off, rather than putting it on our recently paid off credit card. Then we’ll use the next 2 to 3 months to build that emergency fund back up.
Emergency Fund Categories
Emergency health bills
Unexpected car issues
Items that are both unexcepted and unknown
The general rule of emergency funds is that $1,000 is a good starting point while you’re still paying debt. Once all debt has been paid off, then the suggested amount is 3 to 6 months of expenses (or even more!). Note that I said expenses, not income. It’s about covering your bills if you lose your job or get hurt, not matching your missing income. There’s a big distinction between the two!
Emergency fund money is earmarked for after something happens. It’s those things in life that you can only plan so much for and generally show up at the worst times.
If you’re wondering if an expense qualifies, here are some questions to ask yourself:
Is it an unexpected expense or was it known about it prior (like a yearly bill)?
Is it a want or a need? If it’s a want, it’s not truly an emergency, no matter how good that sale is!
Is it urgent, or can it be saved for?
A great example that’s come up in our house recently is the dishwasher. It’s original to the house, and is on its last leg. Sometimes it works ok, sometimes not. We can live without a dishwasher (in theory!). Replacing the dishwasher is a known expense at this point. It’s a want, not a need, and it’s not urgent. Based off these questions, replacing the dishwasher is definitely not an emergency.
What is a Sinking Fund Used For?
A sinking fund is money that you’ve saved up before something happens, so you’re thinking ahead and planning for expenses you know are going to pop up. Some examples are bills that aren’t paid monthly, car maintenance, and vacations.
The sinking fund method is recommended by financial guru Dave Ramsey to avoid using credit cards or going further into debt. Since it’s something you know you need, you can plan ahead and save up to cover it.
Back to the dishwasher example from before – if it dies, we’ve agreed to save up to buy a new one rather than put the cost on a credit card. That is a sinking fund. Even better, we could start saving for it now before it dies. This way we’re thinking ahead about our money, rather than starting saving after it dies, which could take several months.
Sinking Fund Categories
Bills that are not monthly, like water, sewer, garbage, etc.
Expected car costs, like tires, oil changes, tags, etc.
Sinking fund amounts will vary based on several factors, including how much time you have and how much money you need in total for each purchase. I use this sinking fund formula to figure out each individual monthly savings amount:
Write down all expected expenses for the rest of the year that aren’t part of your normal budget
Do your best to estimate how much each will cost (reference an average of last year’s cost if possible)
Add up the total, then divide by how many paychecks you have left for the year
Open a separate checking/savings account and keep the money there
One thing to note is that you won’t have all the sinking funds you need immediately. The best way to handle this is to prioritize the expenses you plan to cover with the sinking fund. Arrange them by due date as well as by urgency. This way, the most important sinking fund expenses will be covered first, and you’ll have time to save up for the rest.
Once you’ve prioritized your sinking funds, add the sinking fund budget line items to your monthly budget. This way you’ll be sure to pay them first and you’ll stay on track with your savings. If you make your sinking fund contribution first, right after getting paid, you’ll find that you are much less likely for that money to go missing by the end of the month.
For example, we are going on vacation with our family and owe my parents $500 for our lodging. Since it’s not until next summer, we’re able to divide those payments up into 12. I’ve created a separate savings account just for this sinking fund and we’ll be able to save up for it easily in $50 monthly increments. That means it won’t sneak up on us and “surprise” us next summer – and no scrambling to scrap up our part of the bill!
How to Keep Track of Sinking Funds
I highly recommend opening an account with Capital One to set this money aside. You can open a sinking fund account there, and then you’ll be able to create up to 25 sub-accounts with no additional paperwork. This is extremely handy when you want to earmark money for certain funds. It also links to your regular bank, so it’ll take a couple of days to move back and forth, but it’s a great way to keep that money for its original purpose.
A big mistake that I’ve made in the past is to keep my sinking funds money in my savings account (which also housed my emergency fund and quarterly tax payments, yikes!). As you can guess, I’d dip into it without realizing I was, and next thing I knew…we’d be short and struggling to replace that money come tax time.
I finally realized that the best thing we could do is that every time we get paid, I put those different chunks of money into those separate accounts. That way, we don’t spend what we don’t have, and every quarter, I can easily just transfer the tax money back to my checking account and write a check to pay it. I don’t even have to think or worry about it – easy peasy!
A Quick Review of Emergency & Sinking Fund Examples
Used reactively for the unexpected
Used proactively for bills you know you’ll need to pay
Used AFTER something unexpected happens
Saved BEFORE something expected happens
Examples: Job layoff, accident, big health issues, emergency car repairs
Examples: Christmas gifts, vacations, home maintenance, big purchases, remodeling, extra curricular activities, anniversary or birthday presents and parties
Recommended amount is $1000 until debt is paid off; then 3-6 months of expenses
Recommended amount is variable, based on known upcoming expenses
What Types of Sinking Funds Do You Need?
This will vary based on each family, but we have one for Christmas, vacation, anniversary, house updates, and taxes (I know – all the important stuff, right?). This way we can take a vacation without feeling guilty. And we can plan ahead of the kids’ extra circular activities without worrying how we’ll cover it, since they are insanely expensive.
Not everyone will have the same categories for sinking funds, or even emergencies, which is fine. What’s important is that you’ve sat down and mapped out possible expenses, and have decided to face them head on.
When Should I Start Creating Sinking Funds?
This really depends on what your debts are and how quickly (or desperately) you need money set aside for a sinking fund. We chose to wait until we were debt free to start our various sinking funds.
There are some instances where you know you’ll need the sinking funds before you can become debt free, like paying property taxes or your water bill.
There are some things that are just going to happen either way – like Christmas. Why not start a sinking fund for presents, so that in January you’re not afraid to open your credit card statement?
Having a set amount to use for presents will also curb your spending and help you keep within a budget. I’ve found that it can help me to really focus on finding creative and meaningful gifts since I’m spending less.
I also start earlier in the year to look for presents, so that I’m not last minute buying whatever ugly Christmas sweater that’s on sale (though, that is a thing now, isn’t it?). By creating a sinking fund at the beginning of the year, I have some money set aside every month that I can use to buy presents as I find them without using our credit card.
Burying your head in the sand and hoping extra expenses will go away if you ignore them isn’t making your money work for you. It’s making you chase your money, and work harder than you need to in order to get ahead. Creating emergency and sinking funds will only lead to making your finances a success, and will reduce your stress if (and when) something happens!
Do you have sinking funds and an emergency fund set up? What categories do you include in your sinking funds? Comment below and let me know how you’ve made these types of funds work for you and your money!
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If you’re wondering how to get out of debt, look no further. Using the following get out of debt plan, we paid off over $26,619 in debt in 17 months and raised our net worth by almost $50,000. These debt repayment steps will help you to organize your finances and learn how to get out of debt.
I am a stickler for details and always want to know someone’s exact process. I’m sharing our exact steps that we used to get out of debt and stay there in the hopes that it can help someone else on their journey.
Our Debt Payoff Journey
Our debt payoff journey started almost 2 years ago, after we had our second child. We cash flowed our health care deductible for that year, and we were tired of the struggle with the additional debt we’d been carrying for what seemed like forever.
Here we were, late 30s (me) and early 40s (my husband), and it still felt like we hadn’t hit that turning point in adulthood where you aren’t constantly playing financial catch up.
It was frustrating, and now that we had two kids to take care of, we’d had enough of struggling with getting out of debt.
We sat down and read financial books, blogs, and listened to podcasts. Our debt free journey was not a straight line in the least, but every extra payment helped us to get there eventually. We struggled through job loss and roof damage, fighting the urge to buy more, and saying no to purchases that weren’t an absolute need. The steps to being debt free weren’t easy, but they all paid off in the end. We’re now debt free and working on fully funding our retirement funds, we have cash for some home improvement, and we’re starting investing.
So if you’re looking for tips on how to get out of debt, look no further. I break down the exact steps we took to get out of debt and stay out of debt!
How to Get Out of Debt
The biggest pieces to getting out of debt are mental. It’s about being dedicated, being able to figure out the difference between needs and want, using some tough love, and last, having a positive mindset. Once you build up these strengths, you’ll be unstoppable. While you’re working on those, start going through our steps to get out of debt:
We added up all of our debts to see where we were starting.
While difficult, we had to face up to exactly where we were financially. Owning up to our situation was hard. As much as I hated it, we owed up to the damage we did and decided it was time to accept responsibility for our actions and work on changing them. Our first step in getting out of debt was to create a spreadsheet with all of our debt. Without knowing an exact amount we needed to pay off, we had no clue what we were aiming for. We wrote down all the pertinent information on each loan, credit card, and debt owed. The spreadsheet included information such as:
Total amount owed
Monthly payment due
Contact information for the company
Having a solid starting point took the fear out of our situation. Most of our fear stemmed from the unknown – not knowing exactly how deep we were in debt. Creating our spreadsheet to pay off debt helped us to face the unknown and take the first step in our debt repayment process.
We got mad at our debt.
One thing that Dave Ramsey has 100% right about debt repayment is that you have to get mad at your debt. If you’re not angry with it, you’ll never take it seriously. The next step in our debt payoff plans was to get mad at our debt. And we sure did. We got mad at it for everything it prevented us from doing, and everything we were missing out on.
Our love for travel had to be put aside. Education contributions for our daughters’ college funds had to be paused. We weren’t putting as much towards retirement as we’d have liked. It killed me that we were just handing money to several companies whenever we paid interest. That’s money that we could have been using to travel, save for our kids’ futures, or to do the house updates we’d been waiting on. It took getting mad and becoming clear in our intentions to keep us on the right path to pay off our debt. We also treated our debt like an emergency. Unless you prioritize it and make it into a big deal, you’ll never full get out from under it and you’ll just end up in the debt cycle over and over again. By making it our family’s priority, we were all on the same page and working towards the same debt free goal.
We admitted our weaknesses.
One of the best ways to get rid of debt is to avoid debt in the first place. My husband and I realized that we couldn’t seem to stem the bleeding when it came to credit cards. So we sucked it up and put our credit cards in the freezer and vowed not to take on any more debt. It’s impossible to climb a mountain when it keeps growing. So we decided to put the cards away so that we could stop creating extra work for ourselves. It was a hard habit to break, but it was the only way we were ever going to stop our debts from growing and conquer them. If you truly cannot avoid taking on additional debt then find ways to save money on your purchases. Whether it’s buying items discounted or used, do everything you can to avoid taking on extra debt you don’t need.
We prioritized our debts.
We looked at our debts and chose to prioritize them by focusing on the smallest debt first. Our family decided to take this route because we needed the psychological boost that came from crossing off those small debts quickly. We also focused on making sure that any zero percent interest credit cards were paid off one month prior to their introductory rate’s expiration. We wanted to make sure that we would never paid that accrued interest.
While it didn’t take priority for extra payments, they did take priority in making sure we were paying enough on them every month to completely pay them off prior to the introductory period. You can also choose to prioritize your debt by paying on the highest interest rate first. Some people feel that the savings in interest payments is greater than the psychological boost of knocking out the smallest loans first. Last, don’t forget to consider the type of loan. If you’ve borrowed from a family member, it can be good to pay them back first, especially to avoid tension or family drama. There’s no right or wrong way to choose how to prioritize your debts. Just take the time to make a game plan of how you want to tackle them, and stick with it.
We created a budget and game plan.
Creating a budget was our next step so that we knew how much we had each month to put towards debt. We used this exact budget workbook to figure out how to balance our bills with debt repayment. This budget sheet to pay off debt helped us to see our progress every month. It also helped me to realize that what’s budgeted for one month isn’t going to work for another. That we needed to create a new budget every month, depending upon upcoming events and expenses. We have failed previously with budgeting because I did a monthly budget once, and thought it should automatically work for each month after. When it didn’t, I got frustrated. It was only after having this new budget worksheet that I realized that I needed to do things differently. Create a budget for your family and give yourself time to get it ironed out right. Remember that it’s a living document that will change and adjust as your family’s needs do.
We printed out charts to visually mark our progress.
Now that we had a debt amount, budget and game plan, we created a debt payoff schedule. We were able to predict how soon we could pay off our debt by creating the schedule. In order to keep ourselves motivated, we used a pay down debt worksheet. By having a printed visual to hang up and color in, it worked as a daily reminder of our goals and helped us stay on track. Here’s a free pay off debt printable worksheet that I created that you can download to use to track your progress as well:
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We created a mini emergency fund.
Something always comes up that you forget or can’t budget for. Until you can work on creating sinking funds, an mini emergency fund is important. First we built up a mini emergency fund of $1,000 first before we started to tackle our debt. We made sure it was enough to cover a chunk of our family medical deductible or small car repairs or a couple of new tires. I didn’t want to tie up more than that when we were paying so much in interest. After we paid off our debt we started to save our full emergency fund, which is 3 – 6 months of our expenses.
We also started creating sinking funds for unavoidable items that we knew would irregularly pop up in our budget occasionally. It was better to have that extra cash instead of creating more debt by putting it on a credit card.
We cut the budget where we could.
One of the best ways to get out of debt is to either make more money or cut your expenses. Preferably, it’d be quickest to do both. First, we started by cutting our budget. Anything unnecessary was cut. We got rid of cable, switched to StraightTalk for our cell phones, and made a lot of other cuts to trim our budget down as much as possible. Start by working on trimming one bill a week so you don’t get overwhelmed. Also, use services like Trim to help you trim your expenses while saving you time and the extra work. You can read about how we were able to save $240 in about 5 minutes of work with Trim here. Also review your insurance coverage, health care deductibles, and even daycare expenses. We were able to negotiate our daycare costs so that we saved $25 a month. While it’s not much, it’s better than nothing.
The other half of the getting out of debt quick equation is to make more money. It’s the perfect time to reassess your earnings and see where you can step it up. Luckily, I am a website designer during the day, so I was able to pick up freelance jobs to help earn additional income. Look at ways to pick up freelance in your current industry first. It’s the easiest and quickest way to score a side gig and make extra money without too much of a learning curve. Also, don’t forget to look for opportunities to pick up extra shifts, holiday hours, extra work, or ask for a raise. You already work there, so it makes sense to start there when looking for extra income.
There are tons of ways to make extra income to eliminate your debts. You can start by reviewing these ways to pick up extra work without too much hassle:
One of the hardest ways to get out of debt was to turn down plans with friends or family or pass on opportunities to purchase items we really wanted. It sucked and felt so awkward to talk to our family out about situation and how it affected our ability to give presents at Christmas. While we felt like we didn’t have much to give, they didn’t care. What really mattered to them was that we were together and and got to spend the holidays at their house. It really does show that what matters is you, not the gifts you give. If you choose to follow this route, talk to them ahead of time about what the expectations are for the holidays and gift giving. Chances are you could even be providing them with a much needed financial break as well. Or, if you choose to skip this step, make sure to plan ahead and start budgeting for the holidays months ahead, so you’re not scrambling to put gifts on your credit card. You know it’s coming so there’s really no excuse for not planning ahead for it.
Also learn how to triple stack your savings when you make purchases by doing a little research. It’s worth the time and effort to be able to save a lot on those Christmas presents!
We put every extra penny towards our debt.
Getting out of debt quick isn’t easy, so we put everything we had into it. Every extra tax refund, bonus, raise or extra cash that came our way went to our debt. We even took some savings we had set aside for specific events and put it towards our debt. Even though it was a difficult decision to make, it helped us to realize just how serious we were to get out of debt quickly and for the last time.
We celebrated each win, no matter how small.
Every extra payment we made, every small debt we paid off were milestones worth celebrating. That doesn’t mean we went out to a crazy expensive dinner and movie every time we hit a milestone, but we found small ways to celebrate our financial accomplishments. We did things like buying a bottle of wine or renting a movie we really wanted to see. Once we started to see progress on our debt repayment, it was hard to put money towards anything other than our debt. So we compromised by remembering to celebrate, but doing so in a way that didn’t sidetrack us from our goals.
We didn’t let setbacks stop us.
Setbacks are going to happen no matter what. No journey is ever a straight line. No matter how hard that is to hear, it was important to take everything one step at a time and deal with whatever comes up. My husband lost his job four months into our debt repayment journey. Talk about crap timing. But we didn’t let it stop us though – he filed for unemployment, we busted our butts to temporarily cut costs even more.
We found ways to not only make ends meet, but to thrive as well. We also had roof damage from a bad storm later that summer. Rather than feeling sorry for ourselves, we just accepted it and got several estimates. We used our emergency fund and rather than get upset or frustrated, we used it as motivation to find new ways to pull in extra cash by selling stuff around the house and having yard sales. Remember that any setbacks are temporary and don’t seal your financial fate. Big wig financial gurus like Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman have figuratively hit rock bottom when it came to finances – and look at them now! Remember that a setback is as good or bad as your perspective. My husband losing his job turned out to be the best thing ever. He was miserable and hated his work. Getting laid off freed him up to find something he’s truly passionate about and he’s naturally excelling at his new workplace because he enjoys being there.
We surrounded ourselves with like-minded people to support and motivate us.
Learning how to get out of debt meant finding resources that gave us new and fresh ideas on how to approach our debt repayment. I love the support and friendship I’ve found in Facebook groups and with other personal finance bloggers. It’s so nice to have someone to bounce financial ideas off of and to discuss tactics with. Most people don’t “get” the debt free mentality and why you’d want to live that lifestyle. That’s their loss. Ignore the side-eye from them, keep doing your thing, and work on finding your tribe.
I also find that it’s important to fill your social media feeds with like minded people as well as a reminder. It’s a great way to remember your goals and where you want to be.
Learning how to get out of debt isn’t hard but it’s important to be consistent. Just like building muscle, it’s about those daily steps you take that really matter. Break it up into smaller pieces to focus on so that it’s not overwhelming.
Just like no one becomes Arnold Schwarzenegger overnight, no one becomes debt free in a week. Keep focusing on these small steps and you’ll be debt free sooner than you realize.
Have you started your debt free journey? If not, why not? What’s holding you back? Let me know in the comments below!
Whether you like it or not, your credit score affects your daily life. Everything from getting approved for a loan to getting a job can be dependent upon having a good credit score. This is why it’s important to learn how to boost your credit score and keep it there.
If you are a fan of Dave Ramsey, you know his stance on credit scores. If you’re not, I’ll sum it up quickly: essentially, Dave thinks you should pay for everything in cash. When you do this, your credit score will disappear, since you no longer have any accounts for it to base your “credit worthiness” off of.
While Dave Ramsey doesn’t approve of worrying about a credit score, there are still a lot of reasons to do so. Unless you can pay cash for everything – and I mean everything, like a house – you’re going to need to have a good credit score.
Until you can pay for everything in cash, it’s important to know your credit score and pay attention to it. Having a good credit score can also help you save money in the long run as well.
Credit scores are also important in determining your interest rates on loans, mortgages, cars and credit cards. If your credit score is horrible, you will not be able to get a low interest rate. Which in turn means that you’ll be paying more for the same products as people with great credit scores.
Having a great credit score means saving money in the long run. Here are the most important tips to learn how to boost your credit score.
Why Do I Need a Good Credit Score?
Having a good credit score is unfortunately important in today’s world, whether we (and Dave Ramsey) like it or not. Just look at all the items throughout your life that your credit score can affect:
Your ability to get a job since employers now check credit scores
You ability to get a loan
Your ability to get a good interest rate on that loan
Where you buy a house, your mortgage rate and how big of a house you can buy
If you can rent or lease an apartment or car
The cost of your car or home insurance
If you have to put down a deposit when opening utility accounts
Starting a business
How to Get Your Credit Score
Luckily, you can get your credit score for free at Credit Sesame. Just answer some basic questions, create an account and login to check your score.
Credit Sesame also helps you to analyze your credit score and tells you how you can improve it. I like it because it’s feedback that’s tailored to your specific situation, which takes out a lot of the guesswork. They also provide additional services, like credit monitoring to make sure that there’s nothing fishy going on with your credit.
Easy ways to improve credit
Everyone wants to know the fastest way to fix a credit score, so let’s dig in, shall we? There are several factors that make up your credit score:
Payment History (35% of credit score)
Credit Usage (or, Credit Utilization Ratio) (30% of credit score)
Credit Age (15% of credit score)
Account Mix (10% of credit score)
Credit Inquiries (10% of credit score)
I’ll go into detail about each so that you understand how each affects your credit score, and how heavily it weighs on determining your score. But first, grab a copy of your credit report and credit score and we’ll get into how to boost your credit score.
Start by Reviewing Your Credit Report for Mistakes
Begin by getting a free copy of your credit report at Annual Credit Report. You can do this once a year for free. It will not give your credit score, but you can review it for discrepancies in your credit history.
If you find any accounts that you didn’t open or that are incorrect, you need to address them immediately. Start by contacting the credit bureau that’s showing the account and asked to have it removed.
I suggest sending a letter via certified mail with copies of the credit report and any documentation showing proof of inconsistencies. Ask them to investigate the account in question. They have 30 days from receiving the letter to review the issue, and then remove it.
Contact Creditors About Recent Late Fees
If you have recent late fees, you can kindly call and ask your creditor for a pass. See if you can get them to drop the late fee. If so, it should remove the late payment on your credit report. Otherwise, those late payment notifications will stay until the loan is paid off and closed for good.
Payment history makes up a whopping 35% of your credit score. Set reminders to pay your bills on time. Print and mark up a calendar. Whatever it takes, make sure that you’re paying those bills on time every month.
Want to know how to increase credit score immediately? Start with on-time payments. Current on-time payments will impact your score more than old late payments. Get on a schedule and pay those bills first.
Not only will this up your credit score, but you’ll sleep better at night knowing those payments are taken care of.
One large factor in your credit score is your credit utilization. It makes up 30% of your credit score.
This means that if you have a credit card with a $10,000 limit, and a $5,000 balance, you’re at a 50% credit utilization rate. Which is not good.
The lower your credit utilization rate, the better. You want it below 30%, but lower than 10% will get you the best rates from lenders.
Do not go out and open additional credit cards to create a smaller credit utilization percentage. Chances are you’ll end up using the card and gaining more debt, and also end up lowering your credit score.
The best way to drop your credit utilization score is – you guessed it – make a payment on your credit card. Knock off anything you can in order to get that percentage to drop. This will have a much bigger impact on your credit score than getting a late payment mark removed.
Creditors and lenders want to see a variety of accounts, including credit cards, home loans, student loans, car loans, and other types of loans. Having a mix can be beneficial to your credit score.
Luckily, this only makes up 10% of your overall credit score, so don’t run out and grab an unnecessary loan just to give yourself variety. It’s not enough to bump your credit quite that much, so don’t worry about it if you don’t have a variety in your account types.
Keep Your Accounts Open
I know this sound contradictory, but you want old accounts. If you pay off a credit card, keep it open. The older, the better.
Credit age is based on an average age of your accounts. You want to try and have an average over five years if possible. So keep those accounts open – but cut up those cards!
Credit age makes up 15% of your credit score, and it’s a relatively easy task to accomplish. It doesn’t hurt if you choose to close a very recently opened card, but definitely keep any of the older accounts open.
Having 12 credit cards isn’t going to help either. Lenders want to see a variety, not quantity. This is my lowest rating on Credit Sesame, since I only have a couple of credit cards and a mortgage. And I’m totally fine with that! It’s worth it to drop the student loan and car payments we had earlier this year.
Keep the Number of Credit Inquiries Down
Every time you apply for a new loan, credit card, or mortgage, it’s a credit inquiry. You want to keep it down to only two per year, if possible.
Credit inquiries have a 10% impact on your credit score, so don’t apply for every store credit card you’re offered just to save 30% on your purchase that day.
This also means that if you don’t have a lot of credit accounts open, don’t open too many too rapidly. Spacing them out and opening only what you really need will boost your credit score much more. Opening too many at once will lower your score and it’ll take a year to fall off your report.
How long does it take for your credit score to update?
Depending upon the changes you make and how much they affect your score, you can start to see improvement in your score within 30 days. Lenders generally report to the credit bureaus once a month, so any changes will appear monthly.
Remember, fixing your credit is going to take a little time. So the sooner you start, the better!
How fast can you raise your credit score?
The burning question on everyone’s mind: how fast can you raise your credit score? Your specific situation and the changes you’ve made will dictate how fast you can raise your score.
But weary of any companies that promise fast results. Often, they can backfire and actually cause a lower score.
If you want tips to boost credit score quickly, your best bets are paying on time and lowering your credit utilization. Those items will give you the most bang for your buck. The others might take a bit, since they are based on time.
Remember, the key to boosting your credit is consistency. Being consistent with on-time payments, your credit utilization ratio, and keeping older accounts open will be the fastest way to fix your credit score.
Having a great credit score affects so much more than being able to get a loan at a low interest rate. It can affect everything from finding a job to how you raise your kids.
It’s important to not only check your credit score through a service like Credit Sesame, but to also keep checking it. You’ll want to pay attention to any changes that appear and address them as soon as possible to keep your credit score up.
Will Being Debt Free Affect Your Credit Score?
A debt free credit score could possibly be higher because your credit utilization will be zero. However, if you don’t have a good mix of types of credit, haven’t had the accounts open long, or have opened too many too recently, your score could possibly be lower than someone with debt.
While you’re not going to find Dave Ramsey free credit score services any time soon, understanding the factors that build a credit score are important. Once you’re debt free and are able to pay cash for literally everything in your life, that score will matter whether you like it or not.
Have you done any adjustments to raise your credit score? How long did it take to see a change? Let me know in the comments!
Our neighbors were recently preparing to go on an anniversary cruise when they realized their printer wasn’t working. She texted me to see if I could print some paperwork for them to put in their in case of emergency binder for their parents, who were watching their kids.
Of course, I obliged. And being the nosy nebby I am, I glanced at the paperwork before walking over to deliver it.
It was a power of attorney for consent to medical care for a minor.
First off – I didn’t even know that was a thing, until I asked her more about it. And then I panicked, since our kids were visiting with grandma right then, and I didn’t even think to send along their medical cards, much less a power of attorney paper. (I know, I’m the worst parent, eh?)
Secondly, I realized that we didn’t have an emergency binder pulled together, at all. What in the world would my husband do if something happened to me? I’m responsible for paying all of our bills and keeping track of our finances. He’d have no clue where to start or where some of our account information was.
Even worse was realizing that our parents would be even more clueless as to what to do with our accounts and finances if something happened to both of us. How could they possibly care for our kids and dig through the mess that I call a workspace?
Why We Needed an Emergency Binder
One of my goals this year was to review all of our accounts – from insurance coverage to investments – and make adjustments as needed. And since we’re touching essentially everything, I realized it’s the best time possible to create an in case of emergency binder.
Turning 40 has made me stop and think about a lot of things, some of which I do not like to dwell on. I realize though that hitting middle age is a blessing – some people don’t get to make it this far.
At the same time, it’s important to accept that my husband and I might not always be here for our kids, even though I hate to think about it.
This is where an in case of emergency binder comes in. By pulling together all of our important information, we’re able to rest easy knowing that anything that my husband, our parents, or our kids might need to know is at their fingertips. From passwords to account information, it’s all in these two ultimate binders.
What is an Emergency Binder?
An emergency binder, or legacy binder, is where all of our important family documents are stored. It can include financial account information, passwords, social media account info, burial requests, and even letters to your kids, to name a few items.
Building an emergency documents binder ensures that if an accident or death were to happen, anything family members might need to know is right there. The last thing they should be doing is digging for important information in old file cabinets that haven’t been cleaned out in years when they’re worried and grieving.
The best part is, emergency binders can be used for more than emergencies:
We can pull particular pages out when we hire a babysitter to watch the kids
We can use it to give Grandma power of attorney to make medical decisions on our behalf while we’re out of town
It’ll be easier to apply for financial things like loans or open new accounts since everything is in one place
We can use it as a snapshot to review our insurance coverage and investment accounts yearly
I’ll always have our paperwork instantly pulled together when it’s time to renew our licenses at the DMV 😉
Why an Emergency Binder Makes Financial Sense
Thinking about us not being there for our daughters was difficult – but it’s also to us to leave behind organized documents. Without those, they could miss out on all of the hard work and progress we’ve made financially. If we can’t be there to take care of them, it’s important that they can live comfortably financially.
Can you imagine your kids not getting to use money you set aside because they didn’t know it existed?
We have worked too damned hard paying off debt, saving, and investing to let our money go to waste, and for such a silly reason no less.
Organizing your financial paperwork is just as important as paying off your debt or investing. Without it, you’re letting money slip through your family’s fingers should anything happen.
How to Build an Emergency Binder
Now that I realized we needed an emergency binder ASAP, I began to create an important documents checklist. However, I quickly realized we had no clue as to what information our family might need outside of account numbers and passwords.
Chelsea’s in case of emergency binder is so thorough that I could have never hoped to think of half of the content on my own.
She not only covers the financial aspect of documentation, but the personal and emotional side as well. Anything your spouse, parents or kids might need to know, there’s a page for it. From the power of attorney for medical consent for a minor to a place to pull together birth certificates, this emergency binder has a spot for everything.
We chose to print our binder and divide it into two 3 ring binders. Each page has been put into a plastic sleeve, and any additional documents are in plastic sleeves as well.
Following the directions on the emergency binder PDF, we decided to split our binder into two sections. One we keep on a shelf in my office, the other in our fireproof safe.
The part that is in our fireproof safe has the important original documentation we need to keep locked and safe, such as wills, legal documents, birth certificates, marriage certificates, and more.
It truly has given me peace of mind knowing that everything is safe in one spot, and we don’t have to search to find those important documents every time we need to head to the DMV or register for something.
The In Case of Emergency Binder Downloadable PDF
Chelsea’s emergency binder is broken into two sections: the Basic Family Info piece, and the Need to Know piece.
Each of these sections has sub-sections, covering different aspects. The binder is a whopping 92 pages and includes sections on:
Key Personal Documents
Medical Information (including advanced directives)
Basic Financial Information (Properties, bills, cash accounts, credit cards, debt)
Social Media/Website Logins
Investment Information (Accounts, strategy, what to do with life insurance, real estate, etc)
Military Veteran benefit and obituary information
I appreciate that this emergency binder printable takes so many aspects into account and has created a spot for them. It even includes a power of attorney for consent to medical care for a minor form. Now I have no excuse for not having that filled out and sent along with my kids to grandma’s house.
Why It’s Not Just Documentation
Chelsea’s emergency binder PDF covers so many aspects of those vital documents your family needs. But it also directs your family with future decision making.
One example is a page on how you suggest any life insurance money is spent. When we purchased ours, we bought enough to cover our mortgage, the girls’ college educations, and some of our yearly income.
Obviously our parents or kids aren’t going to know what our intentions were without having a discussed it. Having this paper included helps us to convey our wishes for our children’s care.
Even though my husband and I are not veterans, my father is. It’s comforting to know I have a go-to resource to know what benefits he can receive and what to do to honor him when he passes.
Another example is the letters section. Not only can you write letters to your spouse and kids for them to remember you by, but there’s an additional section where you answer questions about yourself. It includes fun, interesting things I want my kids and grandkids to know about me, like my favorite memory of them as a baby, or what I was scared of as a kid.
I loved hearing similar stories about my grandparents and cherish them like jewels. I truly believe that it’s important to have those precious tidbits to help keep a loved one’s memories alive. I know it’s always a calming and wonderful way to cope with loss and hold them near and dear to my heart.
How to Store Your Emergency Binder
We chose to split our emergency binder into two. The more commonly used piece we kept on a shelf, the other in our safe. Or you can keep it in a safety deposit box, assuming you make family members aware of its existence and where the key can be found.
Another option is to create a digital version. Chelsea’s PDF is editable so that you can type directly into it. She recommends setting up a free account at LastPass to save it there. LastPass is a password management website, so your account is encrypted and will safely store this PDF.
You can choose to use Dropbox or Google drive, but those options are not encrypted. It’s recommended that you choose a very strong password that is not used anywhere else if you choose to store it here.
Why Everyone Needs to Create an Emergency Binder
Talking with a spouse about our wishes after we pass is such a hard subject to broach. Personally, it’s an even harder discussion to have with our parents.
While it might seem morbid or awkward, the best thing you can do is discuss your wishes with them. If it’s still too difficult, get your binder set up and let them know it exists. It will help ease the conversation, and give everyone peace of mind.
It’s emotional work, and I shed a couple of tears while working on some of the sections (I also just cry very easily, just ask my husband!). However, it’s worth it knowing that’s one less thing that my family has to worry about should anything happen.
I would strongly recommend suggesting that your parents and in-laws create an emergency binder as well, so that you can carry out their wishes exactly as they want you to. This will help relieve some of the burden and stress you and your siblings will encounter when they pass.
A Sense of Relief
While it was emotional to face some of the aspects of the emergency binder PDF, I’m glad that we did. I feel a sense of relief now that I know I’ve done what I needed to in order to ensure our kids are well taken care of.
The peace of mind it gives me helps me to let go of some of that fear and anxiety I’ve been having about turning 40 as well. And that alone is worth its weight in gold.
By saving money on expenses, we had more to put towards our debt. Finally paying off our debt meant we could put more money towards the things we loved, rather than the debts we owed.
Before we get to our smart money saving tips, it’s important to have a budget in place. Without a budget, you’ll never be able to save money fast on a low income. A zero sum budget will tell your money where to go, instead of you wondering where it went. You can learn more about our budget here.
How to Save Money on a Tight Budget
Once your budget is in place, the next thing you’ll do is pick out any red flags for areas that you know you’re likely to overspend.
For us, it’s groceries. So we worked on finding easy ways to cut our grocery bill. The key to saving money on a tight budget is pinpointing the most obvious overspending first and tackling those. They tend to be the easiest wins and can help motivate you to do more.
Now that you’ve tackled the easy ways to save money on a tight budget, next you’ll focus on more creative (but still simple!) approaches.
There are a ton of outrageous and unusual ways to save money out there. Rather than suggest you try a zillion and one oddball ideas, these are the top 11 easy ways that we were able to manage and save money every month:
1. Exchange services with a neighbor, friend, or family member.
Chances are you have some family members with a very particular set of skills. You know what I’m talkin’ about:
(No, not those skills, but that could be interesting at your next family reunion!) More like a mechanic, website designer, vet, or chef, to name a few. Offer to trade services with them in order to save money. For example, if your car needs repair work, purchase the parts yourself and offer to mow their lawn 3 times in exchange for them installing the parts. Or something of the sort. You get the picture. Do not use this as an excuse to get free work out of someone! I know you wouldn’t – but I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been hit up for free website work in exchange for “exposure” or passing my business card around. Uh, yeah – sure. I’ll get to your stuff right after I get through all of these paying clients first! While this is a great way to get services like oil changes, repair work, or other services cheap, make sure you’re doing an even trade, and don’t burn any family bridges. It’s not worth saving $30 if your grandma will never speak to you again.
2. Limit eating out, start cooking at home, and trim your grocery budget.
Listen, I get it. Grocery shopping, cooking and everything in between is about the last thing I want to add to my to-do list. But it was the biggest money suck in our budget. Being unprepared and hungry is just asking to overspend and overeat. Buying groceries on a tight budget can be tough. The best way to trim your budget is to organize your grocery shopping and meal planning, so that you are only buying what you need and use. Grocery shopping once a week helped us to keep enough food in the house to avoid eating out, and to meal plan quickly and easily. Figure out what timeline works best for you and start there. We were able to use the Grocery Budget Makeover to revamp our grocery spending, minimize eating out, and save money than half of our grocery budget. You can read my Grocery Budget Makeover review here.
3. Learn to coupon and work sales so you never buy anything full price.
Couponing is not difficult and doesn’t have to be time consuming. There are a ton of great sites that will find the deals for you like The Krazy Coupon Lady, Penny Pinchin’ Mom, and Hip2Save. Sign up to their email lists and follow them on social media so you are notified of sales without having to dig for them. Next, sign up for cash back programs such as Ibotta, Ebates and TopCashBack. Each requires you to submit your receipt or click through their site first to get cash back (when shopping online). Stack these deals with coupons, sales and cash back apps, and you’ll never pay full price on anything again. Learn more about how to triple stack your savings here. Or, learn more about mistakes to avoid when learning to coupon.
4. Ask for discounts on services you use regularly, like daycare.
While it might seem like a long shot, it doesn’t hurt to ask. When my husband lost his job, our daycare expenses were almost twice our mortgage payment, making it our highest expense. We were receiving a 5% discount for having multiple kids at the daycare, but I thought I’d ask about additional discounts anyway. While they didn’t have any other discounts available, they were able to move our youngest up to the next class just a little early, saving us $50 a month. It wasn’t a huge savings, but when you’re unemployed, every cent counts. Figure out what your top three monthly expenses are and challenge yourself to find a discount on them, no matter how small. Every bit helps!
5. Find ways to cut your personal care costs.
If you decide that certain personal care services can’t be cut out of the budget, try to find ways to get them discounted. For hair, massage, nail and salon services, hit a beauty school to get discounted services. Students are monitored and helped by the instructors, so no need to worry about subpar services. Many services based schooling will provide discounted services so that their students can practice. Anything from dental work to massages can be found discounted if you do the research for what’s available in your area.
6. Cut your technology costs.
I know everyone hems and haws about cutting cable – trust me when I say I was the same. We finally did it almost two years ago, and not only have we saved money, but have learned to spend our time differently in the evenings. We still have Netflix and Amazon Prime, but don’t sit and watching TV to just fill our time. Instead we find ourselves doing other things, like playing games together, reading books, or spending time outside. If you insist on keeping cable, try using Trim to cut the cost without sacrificing the services you have. We used Trim to cut our Internet bill by $240 a year in about 5 minutes. Trim can help you save on cable, internet, home phone and cell phone services. Read my Trim review here, or sign up for Trim here. Last but not least – get out of the never ending cycle of overpaying for cell phone services. This was a huge savings for us – $700 a year! We switched to StraightTalk and began purchasing our phones refurbished through Amazon, which is much cheaper than paying monthly on them through a cell phone company. StraightTalk uses Verizon’s cell towers, so it’s the same service, just a different provider. We just signed up for an account, ordered the correct SIM cards, put them in our phones, and started the service. StraightTalk is a prepaid service, so there are no surprises when you get your monthly bill. We were also able to take our phone numbers with us, and even use our existing phones. Talk about a win-win!
Saving on a tight budget doesn’t mean you have to give up everything you enjoy. Just find cheaper alternatives, or cut elsewhere if you don’t want to give up cable.
7. Start a babysitting co-op.
Let’s face it – when you’re cutting expenses, date nights are generally one of the first things to go, sadly. At least it was for us. But it doesn’t have to be. A babysitting co-op is a group of neighborhood parents that exchange babysitting services. You can easily save $500 or more a year, depending on how much you go out. It’s nice that it’s other parents, and not local teenagers. Some co-ops work on allotted hours per month, while others work on exchanges of hours. Do some research and decide which way everyone agrees to. Additional ideas and guidelines can be found online once you get your group together.
8. Cut entertainment expenses.
Now that you’ve got your babysitter squared away, it’s time to cut your entertainment costs. I love to check Groupon for local activities and discounts. They have tons of local activities that are great for date night. Groupon is also a great place to find activities to do with the kids, as well as discounted products. I’ve found several great Christmas presents on there, as well as discounted tickets to children’s events and holiday activities. We were able to get our daughter into a karate class for 75% off of the normal 10 session price. The great thing about Groupon Specials is that sometimes you can buy them again – so we continued to jump on the karate class special while the business still offered it. Any time you have a local business or service in mind, check out Groupon and see if they (or a similar company) are offering any Groupons for discounted services. It’s definitely worth the discount!
9. Stop giving your money away. Avoid bank fees – whether overdraft or interest charges, or monthly fees.
ATM fees, overdrafts, annual credit card fees – all of these can add up to be quite expensive and such a waste of your hard earned money. With a little planning, you can avoid all of these fees easily. I personally believe there is no reason whatsoever to pay for having either a checking or savings account with any bank. There are more than enough banks around that pay you interest to avoid having to pay account fees yourself. If you’re looking for a new bank, Capital One 360 is a great bank to check out. It is solely online, but also has higher interest rates than any local bank I’ve checked out. They also allow you to make multiple sub-accounts, making it easier to earmark money for different savings goals. As far as overdraft fees, we all make mistakes. But there’s no reason to keep making them. Plan ahead by keeping a $100 – $500 cushion in your account, and take the time to look up ATMs without fees.
10. Bundle insurance to save money and look into switching companies every year.
Insurance companies give better discounts the more services you bundle with them, much like cable companies do. Whether you need home insurance or renter’s insurance, see if your insurance company will provide discounts if you bundle your other insurance with it. Most insurance companies will bundle any type of insurance you can get. Also look for discounts through your employer, credit union, or even hit up a an ELP through Dave Ramsey’s site. An ELP is a Endorsed Local Provider that has to go through certain certifications to be endorsed by Dave Ramsey’s website. We used one when my husband lost his job and we needed health insurance. It’s free to speak with them and get signed up for insurance, plus they’re wonderfully honest. The provider we spoke to could not get us cheaper auto insurance, but forewarned us about our insurance company’s coverage on roofing. Turns out the info he gave us was true when our roof was damaged several months later. Also make sure to check into insurance prices once a year. It might not be the best way to spend an evening, but with an ELP doing the work for you, it’ll save you a ton. Don’t forget to ask about discounts for paying your insurance in 6 month or one year increments!
11. Do a savings challenge to boost your savings.
Savings challenges are a super easy way to boost your savings and cut your spending for a quick amount of time. Think of it like a one week diet or fast. The best thing about savings challenges is that you can do a different one each time, so you avoid becoming bored with them. Spend a month not eating out. Save all your $5 bills for 2 weeks. Stash all your change at the end of the day in a jar. Save only quarters. Whatever your whim, your savings challenge can be however short or long you want, and with whatever rules you like. Here are 10 simple rules for a no spend challenge, and a list of 37 easy money challenges to help you smash your financial goals.
There are a ton of other good ways to save money on a tight budget, but these address those items that are the biggest budget busters (say that three times fast!). It’s easier to cut those bigger expenses first – it’s a great motivator and you’ll see results really quickly. When you’re learning how to budget and save money on a small income, you need some quick wins to help you hang in there.
Remember to work this so that it fits your needs as you learn how to save money on a tight income. It’s not going to happen all in one day, and it tends to work in stages. Give it time, and you’ll find more and more easy ways to save money on a tight budget as you progress!