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Author: Shanah Bell

I am a Holistic Health Advisor with a Master's Degree in Nutrition. My partner is a Chef and we have a blended family with 5 children.

As a single parent of 2, I was able to still make things work while financially struggling with the help of food stamps. I was also one of the early children diagnosed with Celiac Disease in the US,which has driven my lifelong pursuit of using food for optimal health.

We focus on teaching people, and creating dishes, to help people learn how to make food that is:
- Quick
- Easy
- Delicious
- Nutrient Dense
- Budget Friendly

How to Start Your New Year Out Right, Financially

Every time a New Year begins it’s a great time for a fresh start. While a lot of people make New Year’s resolutions to do better than they have in the past, the majority of them fail. So, we don’t do that around here. Instead, we work on consistently creating better life habits to live a more financially freeing life. Of course, not all of these are easy to do all of the time, but with practice, they can really make a big difference. Therefore, here are my favorite ways to start the New Year out right from a financial perspective.

Create Overall FInancial Goals

Setting your financial goals is a very important piece of the overarching plan. This is because it can be extremely difficult to be disciplined about money if you don’t have clear cut goals lined up. So, we have created a habit of having a budget meeting every Sunday to go over every aspect of our financial goals.

Some of the most common things we discuss during these meetings are:

  • The status of our emergency fund (which is in a high yield savings account)
  • Our credit card statement balance
  • Any upcoming social events that will need to be paid for
  • Upcoming recurring bills that will be coming out
  • Any big ticket items that we’ll need to pay for (such as medical, dental, car maintenance, etc.)
  • Small household projects we may need to fund
  • Upcoming family vacations
  • Status of our retirement accounts

Staying Focused on Financial Goals During the New Year

Once you’ve figured out how you want to structure your budget meetings, then determining how to stay focused is the next big hurdle. There are many different ways you can go about this, obviously. But, I’ve found Personal Capital to be a great tool to have handy to make my life a bit easier. This platform lets you connect all of your accounts in one place so that it can consistently monitor everything for changes. And, as a huge bonus, it gives me a bottom line as to what our overall net worth is. This number is something we look at regularly to help propel us and keep focused on our financial goals.

The types of accounts that Personal Capital lets you connect for monitoring are:

  • Auto loan(s)
  • Checking account
  • Credit card(s)
  • Investment account(s)
  • Medical debt account(s)
  • Mortgage
  • Savings account(s)
  • Student loan account(s)

Needs vs. wants

Setting up your financial goals and a way to track them are the first steps. But staying on track with both of those can get tricky sometimes. This is where determining your needs vs. wants is important. While there are always going to be things we want to have, these are the things that can throw us off track really quickly.

Therefore, we use the budget meetings to help keep us reined in regarding this category. We discuss whether something we are considering spending money on is a need or a want and then determine if we’re going to pull the trigger or not.

Some good examples of needs are:

  • Fixing the car
  • Dental work
  • Medical appointments
  • Household emergencies (plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc.)
  • Vet appointments

Some good examples of wants are:

  • Clothing in more colors or patterns
  • Eating out with friends or family
  • Vacation
  • Coffee at the coffee shop (it’s so much cheaper to make it at home!)
  • More toys for the family pet

Avoid peer pressure this new year

While peer pressure may not be as tough as it is during the holiday season, it’s perpetually there. Typically, we find our friends to be the biggest instigators of our increased spending on wants. Of course, it’s not entirely their fault. We make the choice to spend money on things we don’t need, but the extra push from outside forces doesn’t help us make clear decisions sometimes.

A great example of this is going out to eat with friends. Since there are two of us adults, a dinner can easily be $100 or more. That extra money could have gone into our emergency fund or our investment accounts to help boost our retirement faster. Therefore,  something that sounded so innocent may have now completely derailed our budget for the month.

But, we all want to be able to have a good time with friends and family sometimes. So, it’s important to ensure a part of your budget is for things like this. Fun money, if you will. However, once you determine what this amount is, sticking to it for the month is key. A good way to do this is to limit how many drinks, appetizers, movies, etc. you choose to engage in.

This will also help you narrow down who you really want to spend time with as opposed to just burning your budget within the first few days or weeks of the month on everyone who asks you to do things. I have found that this has helped me to strengthen and solidify the relationships I really want to have in my life at the same time.

Start the New Year Out Right Summary

Overall, a New Year is a great way for a new start. It’s a good time to work on creating more beneficial, long term habits that can help you out financially. We have done this year over year since my spouse and I have been together and every year ends up being better than the last. In fact, the two of us together have done so much more together than we have ever been able to do apart financially. Even if you don’t have someone to share the financial load with, you can still hold yourself accountable. Creating healthy financial habits now will only help you year over year to get to where you’ve always wanted to be.

4 Ways to Push Your Frugal Christmas Budget

It comes the same time every year, and I can’t believe it’s almost here again. Time flies when you’re having fun, or just trying to make it through a worldwide pandemic. Even with all of that going on, we still try to stick to a frugal Christmas budget every year. And that seems to be getting more and more difficult with supply chain issues. However, over the years I’ve figured out a few tips and tricks that have really helped us keep things frugal. And we all still have a really good holiday season with each other. Which is really what matters the most anyway.

FRUGAL CHRISTMAS PLANNING

I don’t know about you, but our kids want something new ALL the time! And they have a really difficult time with delayed gratification, like most children do. But, this means we have no shortage of ideas when it comes to Christmas gifts for our kids at least.

At this time of the year though, there isn’t much time left to get moving. Proper planning throughout the year has really gotten me out of some gift giving jams in the past.

The first tip is to take a picture of each kid with items they say they really want throughout the year. I try to get a price tag in the picture with the kid and the item so that I have a frame of reference throughout the year, whenever possible. And this gives me a jumping off point so that I know when I might be getting a good deal.

The second tip is to have the kids send an email with links to all of the items they are interested in, with sizes and colors. This way I have the links in my inbox and can purchase them when the time comes, or if they end up on sale.

I have a few extensions on my computer that help me save even more money by either telling me where a better deal can be found, automatically applying coupons, or giving me a rebate. My current favorite go-to money saving apps are:

  • Honey – which alerts me when any of the items on my saved list drops in price and automatically applies coupons
  • Rakuten – gives me a percentage of my purchase price back in rebates and automatically applies coupons
  • Acorns – puts a percentage of my purchase price into my investment account

SELL STUFF

One of my favorite ways to push our frugal Christmas budget is to sell old and/or broken things that we no longer want or need. Since we have 5 kids, they have a tendency to outgrow their things fairly regularly.

There are a few different ways I do this. Typically, I try to sell their things through Facebook Marketplace groups first. Sometimes this works out well, but it does require quite a bit of work since a lot of people just don’t seem to communicate well these days. When it’s this close to Christmas, it can sometimes be much easier to get people to respond though, since everyone is on a tight deadline. So, if you have some things you’re considering getting rid of, I would highly suggest trying now. You will probably be able to get more money for the items also. Bonus!

The other way I try to get the most money for our kids old things is by using the Amazon Trade-In site. They typically only take things of the electronic variety, but we don’t have any shortage of that around here. I don’t usually get a ton of money from this form of selling, but the money goes directly into my Amazon account so that I can use it to pay for this year’s Christmas presents. And every little bit counts towards keeping our frugal Christmas budget.

Christmas NAME DRAW

this is a trick I’ve been using for years. It took a little while for our whole family to get on board. But once our family grew to a certain size, gift giving for everyone just became daunting and expensive. Once that happened, the whole family jumped on board with the idea of drawing names instead of buying for everyone.

Even if you aren’t together right now, there are plenty of random name pickers you can use to draw names. Once you have drawn names, then your family will need to set a budget for each gift. In our family, we set the budget at $25 for kids and $20 for adults.

The next most important step is to get each family to send an email with links of what each person would like. I usually ask for 3 or 4 items for each person, that way I have a choice. And it’s more of a surprise when they open our presents also, which we like. While it sounds like this might be more work, we have found that it actually makes holiday gift giving much less stressful. And it also helps us stick well within our holiday budget too.

Homemade GIFTS

As a person who used to own a gluten free bakery and has a Chef for a spouse, we spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Most people we run across just can’t get enough of our food, so it stands to reason that we might as well put it to work for us this time of year.

I’ve been making my toffee for longer than I can remember now and it’s one of the fan favorites at the holidays. So, I decided to start handing some of it out as Christmas presents, and it goes over like gangbusters.

Not only is it delicious and really easy to make this, but it only costs about $1.43 per person. I can go to the Dollar Tree and buy a 10 pack of fancy candy bags with the twist ties for $1.00, which only increases the cost by $.10 per gift.

However, even if baking isn’t really your thing, there’s probably something else you’re great at that people absolutely love. So just think outside the box and get creative with some homemade Christmas gifts this year. For me, I appreciate these kinds of gifts more than the store bought kind.

Frugal CHRISTMAS BUDGET

When it comes to sticking to a frugal Christmas budget, it can be done. It may be a bit trickier so close to Christmas, but I know you can do it. Just get creative, sell some old things, make some things, draw some names and/or find some great deals. And above all, spend time with your loved ones.

Which frugal Christmas budget tips have you tried that have worked for you?

How Much a Baby Costs in the First Year

Deciding to have a child is a really big, life altering decision. And it’s one that will definitely impact your finances. Not necessarily in a positive way either. Of course, becoming a parent is awesome. But, if at all possible, it’s best to go into parenthood with your eyes wide open about the financial ramifications. Especially because the most recent statistical reports show that raising a child costs between $12,000 – $14,000 annually here in the United States. In this respect, budgeting ahead of time is a great way to embark upon parenthood. Especially if you have an idea as to how much a baby costs in just the first year alone.

In the first year, you are more likely to incur a larger percentage of these costs due to a few fairly common factors.

CHILD BIRTH COSTS

The most expensive part of having a baby is the actual giving birth process. In fact, he majority of the costs come from this category alone. And how much you end up spending can vary widely, depending upon:

  1. Vaginal or C-section
  2. Insured or not, and insurance coverage
  3. The state you live in

If you have a vaginal birth, the range can be between $4,900 – $10,700, if you have insurance. But if you don’t have insurance, then the costs can range between $9,015 – $19,800.

If you have a C-section and have insurance, the costs can range from $7,500 – $15,000. But if you don’t have insurance, then you’ll be looking at a much higher range between $12,600 – $28,500.

I had vaginal births and used midwives for my children, so my costs were actually below the lowest number above. While some things, such as using a midwife or more natural childbirth methods can be within your control, every experience will be different. So, if you want to reduce costs in this category, think about alternative methods to the more traditional hospital, drugs and surgery, whenever possible.

FOOD COSTS

Before children came, our food costs were a bit higher than average anyway. This is due to the fact that I have Celiac, am vegetarian and eat an organic diet. But, once children came around, the costs definitely increased. Luckily, as the children got older, we learned how to save a bundle on groceries but not skimp on quality.

Even though we eventually figured this out, having a new baby in the house can increase the food budget also. This is something that a lot of people don’t even think about, but there are a few reasons why this is.

This is due to a few things:

  1. Breastfeeding requires a higher maternal caloric intake
  2. Formula costs can be astronomical if you can’t breastfeed
  3. Solid baby food can be pretty pricey, even if you make it yourself

For most women who are breastfeeding, the increased caloric intake hovers around an extra 500 calories per day. These extra calories just to account for the body processes needed to produce the milk, which translates to an extra 20% more. Which means that you’ll need to budget an extra 20% into your grocery budget for the extra food needed.

If you can’t or don’t want to breastfeed, then you’ll be looking at formula feeding. The costs for this option will certainly be higher than breastfeeding. In fact the average costs to formula feed are between $1,138 – $1,188 per year.

Once your baby is old enough for solid food to be introduced, you’ll be looking at even more costs. The baby will still be on either breastmilk or formula at this time, so these costs will be in addition to the already aforementioned. Typically, baby food runs close to $1 per jar. And depending upon the age of the baby, they can eat anywhere from 2 – 5 jars a day.

This can translate to an extra $60 – $150 per month for solid baby food on top of the breastfeeding or formula costs. If you want to save a little bit of money in this category, breastfeed whenever possible and make your own baby food at home. Both can be much more time consuming, but can save you a bit of money in the long run for first year baby costs.

insurance BABY COSTS

One the baby is born, you’ll need to add them to your insurance plan. Just this action alone will cause your insurance premiums to increase. But just how much they will increase will depend upon your individual health insurance policy.

Due to each policy being unique, just how much your premium will increase can swing widely. But, the average rate increase per month typically runs between $250 – $400. Which means you can potentially be looking at spending an average of $3,000 – $4,800 more per year!

Please note that this increased cost still doesn’t account for the possible higher deductible you may have due to the increased family size.

CHILD CARE COSTS

Besides the birth of the baby, child care costs usually come in second with regard to overall increased costs. This is especially true if this is your first child. These costs alone are enough to make people start sweating because of the astronomical costs associated.

According to a recent report compiling data regarding child care expenses, the average a married couple spends on child care is 10% of their income. This number drastically increases if you happen to be a single parent to 36% of your income. What this typically means is that the average family is spending between $10,000 – $20,000 per year just for child care alone.

As someone who was a single parent, I can tell you that I certainly couldn’t afford to do this, which is why I only worked part time when I could find free help with my friends and family for my kids.

CLOTHING & Necessities COSTS

For those of you who haven’t spend much time around babies, they tend to require a lot of clothes. They are growing like crazy in the first year of life, plus they have a ton of accidents regularly. This means a lot more wardrobe changes than you may have ever considered could even be possible.

Depending upon the season when your baby is born and where you live, the average cost for baby clothes runs around $60 per month. However, this number doesn’t include other things you need for them such as:

  • Hairbrush
  • Haircuts
  • Blankets
  • Bedding
  • OTC medicine
  • Shampoo
  • Soap
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Washcloths

Adding these things into your monthly budget can add an average of an extra $40. This means you may be looking at around $100 per month, or $1200 annually, for clothing and necessities.

Diapers

Don’t forget the diapers, because those can be pretty darn expensive also. I used cloth diapers for my kids, along with the wet washing method. So all I needed were the cloth diapers, a 5 gallon bucket and Borax. Since babies grow so much the first year of life, I needed 2 different sized adjustable diapers. The diapers ended up costing close to $500, which may sound like a lot, but it’s nothing when you compare it to how much disposable diapers cost. The current average cost of disposable diapers runs an average of $846 per year. This doesn’t include the wipes either, of course.

Overall baby costs

Ultimately, the bottom line regarding how much a baby costs in the first year can vary a lot. This depends upon a lot of different variables, such as:

  • Child birth = $4,900 – $28,500
  • Food = $1,320 – $2,988
  • Insurance = $3,000 – $4,800
  • Child care = $10,000 – $20,000
  • Clothing & Necessities = $1,200
  • Diapers = $500 – $846

That is a grand total (on average) of $20,920 – $58,334!

While this may seem like a huge chunk of money, budgeting ahead of time can help reduce the financial stress. And so can finding some good, frugal ways to reduce the overall costs on your end. By getting creative, you get to enjoy your baby and less financial stress.

How much did you find your baby costs to add up to in the first year alone?

My Favorite Frugal Fall Activities

To be honest, it’s really difficult for me to believe that the fall season is here again already. Although, it is my favorite season so I’m not really complaining. And it’s also my favorite time of the year to take advantage of as many outdoor activities as possible. Preferably for free, of course. So here are some of my all time favorite ways to ways to enjoy some frugal fall activities.

FESTIVALS

My family and I just love fall festivals! It seems as if every year there are more and more of them. Well, there were more and more of them before COVID hit. But, it looks like some of them are starting to come back. Which I’m pretty excited about. Due to that, the most difficult part is choosing which ones we want to attend.

Luckily for us, we live in an agricultural state. And this means there are lots of apple and pumpkin festivals popping up at our disposal. However, in addition to those there are also quite a few other festivals we’ve found to check out. Some of these include:

  • Arts and crafts festivals
  • Beer festivals
  • Corn festivals
  • Gluten-free festivals
  • Kids festivals
  • Oktoberfest
  • Pet festivals
  • Plant festivals
  • Renaissance-themed festivals
  • Scarecrow festivals
  • Vegetarian/Vegan festivals
  • Tree festivals
  • Wine festivals

Before COVID the list seemed endless, but since the pandemic hit, it seems that people are getting even more creative with their festivals. So, I’m interested to see what our options are this year. In most cases, the festivals we usually partake in don’t have a cost associated to get into which makes them great frugal fall activities. Although, some of them do ask for a donation, if you are feeling charitable. Others do require an entrance fee. So this is something to discern before you show up at a festival since you don’t want to blow your entire entertainment budget on just the entrance fee alone.

If you aren’t sure how to find festivals near you that fit your interests, it’s best to do a quick internet search to see if there is a master page with that information. For us here in North Carolina, I usually just check the NCFestivals.com website and it lists everything coming up, things in the past, cancelled events, etc. This tool has been extremely helpful to me in the past when it comes to planning out the festivals we really want to attend within our budget.

NATURE WALKS

Nature walks are some of my favorite things to do all year long. But during the fall they are so much better because the weather is cooler.

Even if you’re one of those people who lives in a sprawling city you can still find access to at least one nature trail. A lot of cities have recently been implementing more green spaces in their urban areas. The goal of this appears to be to get more residents outside for some fresh air and exercise, which boosts overall health. And the health of the citizens is extremely important to a city’s overall health and survival. Therefore, I always look for walking trails or greenway trails whenever I’m traveling, including around my own state.

One example of a great nature walk find we had was while we were on a family vacation in Greenville, SC. That city has done wonders with the natural river that runs through its downtown area by naturally incorporating it into their updated downtown vibe. Using the river as the focal piece, the city has created around it:

  • long greenway style walking trails
  • benches and swings for sitting and having conversations
  • native flowers and plants lining the walkways
  • awesome suspension bridges
  • an outdoor amphitheater with free productions

While this is just one of our favorite most recent finds, we have seen this sort of change in a lot of cities we have visited. Especially since COVID hit. So, even if you don’t live in an area that typically has a lot of hiking trails you can take advantage of, this may be another option to fully enjoy fall.

If you’re not sure what may be around you, Traillink is a great site to search for greenways and trails all over the country. You may just be surprised by how many walking trails and greenways have been right under your nose all of this time.

LEAF TOUR

Along the same lines as nature walks are leaf tours. These are some favorite pastimes of most people I know around here because of how many options we have nearby to appreciate the leaves changing. If you’re lucky enough, like us, to have deciduous trees near you, then this is a fantastic frugal fall activity to embark upon. Since it will only cost you the little bit of gas you may need to get there, if that.

But, if you have to drive to see the trees, you will have to pay more for gas and maybe food or lodging. However, if you choose this option, you could turn it into a frugal weekend getaway instead. And I’m all for that in the fall! Especially if there’s a way to combine every aforementioned fall activity into one weekend.

There is almost nothing else on earth as beautiful as watching the leaves change color. So take advantage of mother nature’s masterpiece if you can this fall. You won’t be disappointed.

parks and Rec

Parks and Rec has been one of my go to resources since my kids were small for free classes around me. Every state has a Parks and Recreation department where you can look up classes and events. In some cases, these can be free events, but others cost a minimal amount of money to participate in.

Just this year so far, we have engaged in the following free activities through this resource:

  • Birding classes
  • Nature hikes
  • Jewelry making classes
  • Art classes for kids
  • Dog hikes
  • Homeschool community groups

While this list may not seem long, these were all free, so I’m not complaining. There are some other classes that I’ve put my kids in since they’re homeschooled that have cost a minimal amount. These classes have certainly been worth it and I’m so grateful for this resource. So, if you aren’t sure what your state or city’s Parks and Rec department has to offer, I suggest looking it up because you may be surprised.

Frugal fall summary

Overall, there are so many great ways to take advantage of the fall season for free. It seems crazy to me that most people don’t even know about the options available to them in their area. But, with everything going on recently, I think more people have opened their eyes to the possibilities they were never aware of previously. And this can only be a boon to all cities and states across the United States.

Ultimately, get outside and check out what your city has to offer. Check out the festivals that may be going on around you, take some nature walks, go on a leaf tour or two, and check out what your Parks and Rec department has available. You won’t be disappointed in your options and you may even be pleasantly surprised.

What are some of the best ways you have been able to enjoy some frugal fall activities in your area?

My Favorite Frugal Immunity Booster

When it comes to cold and flu season, there are a lot of things we can do to help keep ourselves healthy. But, even the strongest of us can sometimes use a boost. Even though I very rarely feel off kilter at all, there are times that even I need a little help. And when this happens, I go to my favorite frugal immunity booster to kick things before they really begin.

Apple Cider Vinegar

The first and foremost ingredient in any immunity booster I use is apple cider vinegar. While I have never been a huge fan of any vinegar taste, or smell, I can tolerate this one a bit better than most others. It helps that I only need to use about 1 Tbsp of it per warm drink at a time.

Apple cider vinegar has a ton of immunity boosting properties. Some of the most potent and common are:

  • Antimicrobial due to high level of acetic acid
  • Antiviral
  • Helps lymphatic drainage
  • Helps restore a more alkaline pH
  • High in antioxidants
  • Improves circulation
  • Prebiotics that help boost microbiome immunity
  • Reduces blood sugar levels
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Thins out respiratory mucous
  • Weight loss assistance

This list of benefits is pretty darn long and shows that apple cider vinegar can really help total overall health. And when it comes to buying apple cider vinegar, you want to make sure to purchase one with the mother in it. Since the mother is the healthiest part of the apple cider vinegar, you want to make sure you have one with it. If your apple cider vinegar is cloudy then you can bet the mother is still present.

And, in addition to that, I always go organic to help avoid any potential pesticides and herbicides that might still be present. After all, those would negate the positive immunity boosting properties of the apple cider vinegar to begin with.

Spices

I may start my immunity booster out with apple cider vinegar, but that isn’t where it ends. To help complete my powerhouse, I usually add the following spices also:

  • Cinnamon
  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Cayenne

I suggest starting with 1/4 tsp of each to see how you handle the effects and the taste. As not all of us are fond of all 4 of these spices. I know that I generally prefer much less cayenne and ginger than the other 2 in my drink. But, all of these are added for a specific reason to help boost immunity. These are:

  • Cinnamon is high in antioxidants, antiviral, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties
  • Turmeric is high in curcumin which is a strong anti-inflammatory
  • Ginger has many anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory benefits
  • Cayenne contains capsaicin which can help reduce inflammation and treat colds and congestion
  • Add a bit of each to your apple cider vinegar in a mug and either stir or whisk. I personally prefer whisking because I feel that it gets a more uniform distribution throughout that way.

A Touch of Sweetness

After I have my apple cider vinegar and spices, a bit of sweetness is next. The best go-to I’ve found is local honey, but you can also use organic agave instead if you prefer. When it comes to boosting immunity though, local honey is a much better option. The reason is due to the fact that local honey tends to have:

  • Antibacterial properties
  • Antifungal properties
  • Antimicrobial properties
  • Antioxidants
  • Helps heal wounds
  • Can alleviate allergies to local allergens
  • Assists with sore throats
  • High in phytonutrients

As if these potential positive side effects weren’t enough, buying local honey helps local farmers. And I am always a fan of that! I usually only add between 1/2 – 1 Tbsp to each cup of my immune boosting drink, but you can add as much as you’d like. I would suggest less is more here though because you don’t want to risk spiking your blood sugar, as that would have the opposite side effect you’re going for.

Immunity Booster Summary

Once I have all of my aforementioned ingredients, I then add boiling water from a tea kettle and stir. If you want to get really fancy, you can add an apple slice and/or use a real cinnamon stick to stir it with instead of adding cinnamon powder.

Overall, this drink costs me very little to make, depending upon which ingredients I choose to purchase. And, since it is such a powerhouse when it comes to boosting my immunity, it helps to keep me well all winter long. By doing so, I eliminate trips to the doctor for weather related illnesses and am able to keep more money, and time. I call this a winter win-win!

Have you tried a drink like this to help boost your immunity? If so, what were the results?

How to Create a Frugal and Delicious Salad Dressing

If you’re someone, like me, who loves a good salad, then this article is for you. I detest the store bought salad dressings. Not only are they much too expensive for what you get, but I am not a fan of the ingredients. Plus, when you make your own salad dressing, you can give it any flavor you want. And for so much cheaper, and healthier, than any of the store bought stuff. So, if you want to make your own delicious salad dressing, frugally, then read on.

Olive Oil

When it comes to a good salad dressing base, olive oil is the way to go. Not only is it full of good healthy Omega 3 fats, but it’s extremely diverse. There are many different types of olive oil you can go with, so the price points will vary. I typically prefer to use Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the Greek region when possible. Sometimes I’ll go with the Italian olive oil if I can’t find any of my usual Greek stuff.

Usually, I’m able to find a few different options at Trader Joe’s. More often than not, I will spend between $6.99 – $8.99 for a bottle. This bottle can typically last me close to a month. But, if you want to get really fancy, and your budget will allow it, you could check out one of the olive oil and vinegar stores. This option is a big splurge for us. But, every now and then we get a wild hair and decide to purchase some of the flavor infused olive oils.

Balsamic Vinegar

Once you have your olive oil sorted out, next comes the balsamic vinegar. I can tell you that I was not a fan of vinegar for the majority of my life. Until my spouse opened my eyes to the fact that not all vinegar’s are created equally. I had apparently only been exposed to more of the table vinegar, which is not nearly as flavorful as balsamic is.

Once he opened my eyes to the diverse, and robust, flavor profiles of balsamic vinegar, my world changed. Currently, we have 5 different balsamic vinegar choices to use in our salad dressings. We have:

  • Mission Fig
  • Neapolitan Herb
  • Plum
  • Oak Aged
  • Cherry Wood Aged

All of these have completely different flavors and work well with certain foods. My two favorites currently are the Mission Fig and the Cherry Wood Aged because I love the little bit of sweetness they have that the others don’t. Depending upon what I put in my salad is how I determine which option might work the best.

And just like with olive oil, balsamic vinegar prices can range widely. The 5 we have range between $4.99 – $12.99 per bottle. So, if you haven’t dipped your toe into the balsamic vinegar land yet, it might be best to start out with one of the cheaper options to see if you like it. I can tell you that the more expensive ones tend to be a bit more balanced and smooth though.

Spices

After you have the olive oil and vinegar worked out, the last thing to add are your spices. A lot of people only think about adding salt or pepper to their dressings. We don’t actually add either regularly. In fact, I never add salt of any kind to my salad dressings. Sometimes I will add some cracked black pepper. But, typically I like to add some spice blends that are already made because they change the flavor so much.

I get a lot of my spice blends from Trader Joe’s. They do a good job of creating some delicious, and interesting choices. Plus, all of their spices are pretty darn frugal. My favorites recently are:

  • 21 Salute
  • South African Smoke
  • Chili Lime Seasoning Blend
  • Cuban Style Citrusy Garlic
  • Ajika Georgian Seasoning Blend

Out of all of these, my two favorite go-to’s lately are the 21 Salute and the Ajika Georgian. The former is a bit more on the herby side, while the latter is more on the smokey side. And most of the time I can find these spices for somewhere between $2.99-$3.99.

How to put together your salad dressing

How you choose to put together your salad dressing is completely up to you. But we typically do it one of two ways. The first way we make it is our most common since it makes things easy to switch up daily.

All we do is pour some olive oil on the salad greens, followed by the balsamic vinegar of our choosing. Sprinkle the spice blend on top of that and use your hands to mix the whole thing around.

If you want to make a larger batch, then I suggest a 3:1 proportion of olive oil to balsamic. Then add your spices to taste. Put all of this in an old salad dressing container or empty bottle that will store well. Shake it up and pour over your salad. Since all of these items are shelf stable, you don’t need to refrigerate this dressing either.

Salad Dressing Summary

Overall, it’s exceptionally easy to make your own salad dressing that’s both delicious and frugal. Just mix all of your ingredients together and mix up with your salad greens. If I purchase my ingredients on the lower end of the price points, then I’m looking at somewhere around $15 for a good month of so of salad dressing. Maybe even longer if I stretch it out, since you don’t need as much of this type of dressing. A little goes a long way with the olive oil based dressings.

If you’ve tried making your own salad dressing before, what has been your favorite way to make it frugal, delicious and healthy?

How to Frugally Feed Your Dog, Yet Well

When it comes to being a pet owner, there are so many ways to feed your dog that it can make my head spin. The amount of misinformation floating around out there is mind blowing, to be honest. Plus there’s the amount of dog foods and treats that are exceptionally overpriced but really not great for your dog. It’s amazing to me how many choices there are today, and how little cohesion there is between experts as to what is actually good for your dog.

Luckily for me, I have an educational background in this specific area. So, when we got a puppy last winter, it was much easier for me to weed through the noise. And by doing so, I’ve been able to find the best options for puppy, and all other dogs and cats we help through our business. So, the following are my best tips to help you frugally feed your dog, yet well.

Dog snacks

Besides dog food, the first thing I think of when it comes to feeding dogs are snacks. Most people only think of treats. But treats should be just that; only a treat. With dog snacks, these are things I add in regularly throughout the day or week to supplement feeding time. Plus, a lot of these work really well for training dogs too.

My favorite go-to dog snacks (always organic as long as I can find them) are:

  • Baby carrots – high in Vitamin C, Antioxidants, Fiber and Potassium
  • Sugar snap peas – high in Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Antioxidants and Fiber
  • Green beans – high in Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Folate, Silicone and Fiber
  • Beets (all colors) – high in Vitamin C, Vitamin B9, Iron, Fiber and Potassium
  • Salad greens – high in Magnesium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Fiber, Folate, Calcium and Beta Carotene
  • Nuts (usually peanuts or chestnuts, but sometime also walnuts, pecans, cashews and/or pistachios) – with all nuts, they shouldn’t be given too many of them but can be an addition to other snacks. I usually only give nuts maybe once a week or so, and even then only 1 or 2. Nuts are high in protein and can have a lot of other health benefits. But they can also cause issues if there is mold cross-contamination or if your dog has any gastrointestinal issues or are prone to swallowing things whole.

food additions

When it comes to dog food, that is probably a completely different article. However, since dog food can be so expensive, I’ve found ways to stretch it further. By adding some good, healthy food additions to my dog’s food, I am able to save a lot of money. Plus, I’m able to give her some added diversity in her diet. By creating diversity in my dog’s diet, I am assisting her gut microbiome health. And this directly impacts her overall immunity and wellness.

I not only add some of these food additions to our dog’s diet, but also for some of the dogs we watch. This is especially true of the older dogs or dogs who already have some health issues.

  • Organic beef broth – fantastic for dogs with arthritis or any other joint issues
  • Brown rice – high in Fiber and Magnesium, plus it stretches the food out much further
  • Organic low-sodium vegetable broth – perfect for introducing more vegetables into your dog’s diet and stretching their food further
  • Coconut oil – great for skin, coat, eyes, teeth, digestive tract, immune system, breath, etc
  • Green sauce (we make it out of organic beef broth and parsley, but sometimes add in some rosemary also if we have any fresh growing in our garden) – this helps tremendously with dogs that have UTI’s digestive issues and/or arthritis.

Our puppy gets a tablespoon of coconut oil added to one of her meals a day. She has had this since the day we brought her home. We have also added some beef broth into her meal a few times a week for added diversity.

dog treats

Dog treats should be treated just like dessert for us humans. And most dog owner’s have a tendency to give way too many treats. When doing this, you can cause a lot of harmful side effects for your fur baby, on top of the most common, obesity. Therefore, if you want to give treats, that’s awesome, but limit them to just treats.

We only give treats very sporadically so that they aren’t an expected part of any routine. We did use them more when we were housebreaking our puppy, but that is generally to be expected. Outside of that, I only give them sparingly. And I make sure they are high quality treats and not full of junk.

That being said, I am not a huge fan of most dog treats on the market. But a few of my favorites are:

While these may seem a bit pricey online, I’ve actually been able to find them for dirt cheap at Marshalls, TJ Maxx and Homegoods. So I would suggest roaming the pet aisle there regularly to see what treats you can find to feed your dog.

frugally feed your dog summary

Ultimately, when it comes to feeding your dog, there are a lot of different ways you can save money. While we all love our dogs, we don’t have to break the bank to do it. So, just remember to add in some:

  • healthy snacks
  • good food additions to stretch your budget further
  • healthy dog treats

If you’re able to do even one of those, it should not only save you some money, but also create a happier dog. Now who doesn’t want that?

Why I Love Swagbucks to Make Money Taking Surveys

In a lot of cases, surveys may not sound like a lot of fun. They can be pretty time consuming and aren’t always relevant. But, I’ve found one consistently good survey site to earn money on that has a multitude of ways to earn money. This site is Swagbucks. And they haven’t steered me wrong yet. So, here are the many reasons why I love Swagbucks to make a little bit of side cash.

How Swagbucks works

When you first sign up for Swagbucks, it may seem a bit overwhelming. They will want you to fill out a lot of personal information right out of the gate. But all of this is necessary for them to send you your rewards. And of course for their own marketing purposes. They also want to make sure that they are catering the surveys and tasks to your personal life.

This is important because the more specific you are with the answers you provide, the better they are able to match surveys to you. And by doing this they, and you waste less time in the grand scheme of things. I know, for me, I prefer to only take surveys that are relevant to my life currently. So, while this step can be the most time consuming of the whole onboarding process, it’s the most important.

Once you finish the initial sign-up process, Swagbucks will grant you with some initial SB to add to your account. Everything you do on the site, or through the desktop extension can earn you more SB. Once you have SB in your account, you can begin looking at different cash out options to use your rewards.

how to earn swagbucks

Once you’ve signed up, there will be quite a few options on the home screen to begin earning more Swagbucks. My favorite option is to take surveys. And this is a really easy thing to do while I’m stuck in the carpool line or waiting for dinner to finish cooking. I’m all about multi-tasking!

Another really good way to earn Swagbucks is by using the extension when shopping online. This is similar to Honey, Rakuten and Capital One Shopping. All of these sites will pop up when I’m shopping online to let me know if there are rebates or coupon codes they can try to save me money. Well, Swagbucks is similar but instead I can earn Swagbucks for my purchases. I usually use this option once I’ve tried the coupon codes on the other extensions and none of them work. Because, either way, I’d like to earn something for my online shopping purchases.

Another really great way to earn SB is by using their Magic Receipts option. This let’s you upload your receipts from certain stores and earn SB for purchases of certain items. It’s similar to how Ibotta works, except that you don’t earn actual cash back, but SB instead. Of course, SB can be turned into cash, so it’s really all the same in the end. And the best way to hack this is to turn your receipts in through Swagbucks Magic Receipts, Ibotta and Receipt Hog. Now, you’re really saving a bundle on groceries!

As if this weren’t enough of a reason to give them a try, you can also earn SB by donating to charities, watching videos and playing some mobile games.

what can you use your swagbucks for?

Once you’ve earned enough SB, you can start redeeming them for a myriad of different things. The most popular thing to redeem them for (and what I have always done to date) are gift cards. They offer a ton of different gift card options, as well as monetary values to choose from. Some of the most popular choices are:

  • Amazon
  • Visa gift card
  • American Express gift card
  • Home Depot
  • Walmart
  • Bath & Body Works
  • Google Play
  • CVS
  • Sony PlayStation
  • Door Dash
  • Apple Store
  • Target
  • The list goes on!

On top of this, they regularly have “sales” on their gift cards. This means you can purchase them for less SB than you normally would. So, if you want to get even more side cash, it’s good to keep an eye on the gift cards that are on sale and try to redeem your SB towards one of those.

Gift cards are the primary way to redeem SB, but they do also offer PayPal cash. So this is another good option if you don’t want any of the gift cards they have to offer. Or if you just need money in your PayPal account for an upcoming purchase.

summary

Ultimately, there are so many great things about Swagbucks that it’s hard for me to say anything bad about them. While you may not make a ton of money performing the activities on their site, you can also save some money by using them on regular purchases. It seems like they get more and more robust with their offerings each year, so I’m interested to see what they roll out with next. No matter what, if you haven’t given them a try yet, you’ve really got nothing to lose.

Have you tried taking surveys on Swagbucks to earn some extra side cash? If so, how has your experience been?

4 Ways to Frugally Travel With Your Pet

Since most of us have not gotten our travel fix in the past year or so, it’s about time to hit the road again. And we aren’t any different in that we can’t wait to explore the world again. But, now that we have our own pet, we had to look into ways to reduce the costs. Therefore, here are the 4 best ways we’ve found to frugally travel with your pet.

1. DRIVING

One of our favorite options, and usually the cheapest when traveling, is driving. Of course, isn’t always an option, depending upon where you live and where you’re going. But, if it’s a viable option, it can save you a ton of money. Plus, you get the experience of seeing things on the road that you would otherwise miss.

We’ve really enjoyed our summer road trips because we run across so many things we didn’t even know existed. And if you are traveling with a pet, like we are, this can make the whole trip easier. It gives us a chance to travel as a whole family, but doesn’t add too much more cost to our travel budget. And since we’ll probably need to stop more often for potty breaks, we’ll have more of a chance to stretch our legs and check out our surroundings.

2. TRUSTED HOUSESITTERS

As soon as I found out about Trusted Housesitters, I fell in love with the idea. Trusted Housesitters pairs people needing a pet sitter while they’re away with others who want to watch their pets, and their homes, in exchange for free lodging. Since we are huge fans of both pets and free lodging, it’s hard to go wrong here.

Not all Trusted Housesitters options will allow you to bring your own pet with you. So, you’ll need to narrow down your options within the platform to only allow those that do.

If you know the dates you want to travel, then you can search anywhere around the world for options. But, if you’re choosing to save as much as possible when you travel with your pet, you should probably only consider options that are within driving distance. Pairing the two options together can really help you save a ton of money. This is because the driving and the lodging won’t cost you anything extra at all to bring your pet with you. Huge bonus!

3. AIRBNB

Airbnb is another great option when you want to frugally travel with your pet. While it will cost money, unlike Trusted Housesitters, the fee to bring your pet can be nominal. And, since Airbnb is offered in nearly every country, the possibilities of where you can travel are fairly limitless.

With Airbnb, the host will note if pets are allowed and which type. You can even filter your possible options by going to the Airbnb Pet-Friendly link directly.

If you aren’t sure where you want to go yet, all you have to do is enter the following information to pull up a ton of choices:

  • Check-in date
  • Check-out date
  • How many adults
  • How many children
  • How many pets

Once again, though, if you want to save the most money, it’s wiser to choose options that are within driving distance. Flying with a pet can get pretty pricey, depending upon the airline and the size of your pet.

4. pet friendly NO COST HOTELS

Most hotels charge an additional pet fee to have your pet stay with you. Mostly, this is because of the extra cost of cleaning up after your pet when you leave. And if your pet destroys anything in the room (due to scratching or chewing) the fees can really add up. Hotels aren’t generally big fans of this, so their added pet fees reflect their attitude towards pet destruction.

Luckily, a few hotels have become a lot more pet friendly because they want to attract a different audience. Therefore, these 4 hotels may be the best bet for you to frugally travel with your pet at no extra cost.

ALOFT HOTELS

Aloft hotels will let any pet under 40 pounds stay for free. Plus, they also offer complimentary bowls, blankets and toys upon request. Pretty awesome, right?

KIMPTON HOTELS

The Kimpton hotel chain don’t have pet fees for just your cats and dogs, but other pets as well. This hotel chain usually offer beds, bowls, blankets and treats. But some of them are even fancier and offer more pet amenities, including pet massages! Plus, each hotel has a Director of Pet Relations and a Pet Concierge that can help pet owners find anything they might need to make their stay even better. This is really cool!

MOTEL 6

If you’re looking at more of a motel option, then you may want to check out Motel 6. will let up to two service dogs or well behave pets stay for free. They will even let your children stay for free too, as long as they are well behaved!

RED ROOF INN

Red Roof Inn is another lower cost option, like Motel 6. They will let up to one pet per guest room stay for free. The weight limit can vary between property types though. So, it can be either up to 40 pounds or up to 80 pounds, based on whether it’s a Red Collection property or any of the other Red Roof Inn property types.

TRAVEL WITH YOUR PET SUMMARY

Ultimately, there are so many awesome ways to frugally travel with your pets for low or no additional cost. Some of our favorites are:

  • Driving
  • Trusted Housesitters
  • Airbnb
  • Pet friendly no cost hotels

Overall, I always want to have the best experience with my family (pets included) for as little as I can get away with. So, combining driving with one of the other options is the best way to achieve that, in my book, at least.

What are some of the best ways you’ve found to frugally travel with your pet?

How Getting an Air Fryer Has Saved Time and Money

We’ve been holdouts on the air fryer hype. It’s not that we didn’t necessarily see the potential. It’s just that we have so many kitchen appliances and gadgets already. And we didn’t know if we really wanted to spend more money on something we might only use occasionally. But, a few friends convinced us to research them some more. We were told that getting an air fryer has saved them a ton of time and some money also. So, after some research, we decided to dive right in.

Deciding which air fryer to get

The first thing we had to decide was which air fryer would suite us best. Since we have 5 kids, we knew we would need something a bit bigger than the norm. One of our friends has a two basket air fryer. But the $400 price tag was a bit more than we planned to spend on an experiment. After all, we were hoping to use the air fryer to help incorporate even more healthy foods for the kids. But we didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg to do so.

Another friend told us about the air fryer he had. While it only had one basket, it was a larger basket than most other air fryers. Plus, it was a multi-function tool also. This particular air fryer could replace the toaster and the oven. It could bake, broil, toast and air fry. Which was pretty cool in our book!

Therefore, we ended up getting the Cuisinart TOA-60 for under $200. Which was half the cost of the other one we were recommended! We chose the black stainless steel color because all of the other appliances in our kitchen are either black or are being converted to black.

How it has saved us time

So far, this thing has saved us an amazing amount of time. This is due to the fact that it cooks so much faster than our double oven does. Plus, we don’t have to wait for it to heat up either. As soon as we put food into the air frying basket, we can pop it in. We just choose the setting we want, the amount of cook time and then turn it on.

A great example of this is sweet potato fries. Normally, it takes our oven about 10 minutes to heat up. Then, the fries have to cook for anywhere between 22 – 28 minutes. But with our new air fryer, they only take 10 minutes to cook, max. And no heating up time required!

We can also prepare meals faster with it because we are using it in addition to our oven. When we have multiple dishes that need to be cooked, we choose the longest cook time items to go in there. This way we are able to get the food out faster, so we spend more time with our family instead of in the kitchen.

And the clean up is super fast also. The fryer basket comes with a pan underneath it that we just take out and clean with warm soapy water. Or, sometimes we put foil on the pan to make clean up even faster.

How it has saved us money

Let’s face it, electricity costs money. And if we have to wait for our oven to preheat for at least 10 minutes, plus add in the cooking time, that’s a lot of electricity being used. Since we are trying to cut down on our electricity bill, it only made sense to try out the air fryer.

By cooking what we can in the new kitchen device instead of our old oven, it has saved us money right out of the gate. The air fryer cost less than a new more energy efficient oven and it has a lot of space for cooking. Plus, it cooks in anywhere from 1/4 – 1/3 the time of our oven. And it pulls less power to operate also. So, we are interested to see if our next electric bill reflects this change.

Air Fryer summary

Ultimately, we are thrilled that we finally took the leap to get one of these bad boys. If you are thinking about taking the plunge, it’s best to determine your needs first. There are so many different sizes, looks and versions on the market. Therefore, there is bound to be a good fit for you within your price range. And even though $200 was more than we originally wanted to spend on an air fryer, it has totally been worth every penny. We just can’t get enough of this thing!

Have you bought an air fryer yet? If so, how has it helped you save time and/or money?