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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?

Upgrades that are worth the investment.

Four Upgrades To Your Backyard That Are Worth the Investment

With our homes being our havens and the place we want to feel safe and secure, it’s also essential that we feel at peace there. There are easy ways to renovate your home, many of which can be done yourself to save money that turns your home into the oasis you need it to be. Just as important as the interior of your home in your backyard. If you’re like many people, you are hosting friends and family during the summer where you make many of your favorite memories. Let’s take a look at some easy upgrades to your backyard, many of which are DIY friendly and cost-effective too. 

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Do you have a plan to pay off your debt? While it can be a daunting task, check out these six tips for climbing out of debt.

Six Key Tips For Climbing Out of Debt Quicker

Statistics show that the average American household has $135,065 of debt. How much debt does your household currently have? How long will it take you to become debt-free? Do you have a plan to pay off your debt in the near future? While it can be a daunting task, many people are able to achieve this through having a clear plan and discipline to attack the challenge. Keep reading to learn about a few tips to climb out of debt quicker.

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Having a good credit score is important even if you do not care about acquiring the latest card. Check out this article to learn more.

Why Your Credit Score Is Important

In spite of all the credit cards that are out there, many people believe that a person will be happier if they live a credit-free life and only buy the things that they can afford. They may have no credit cards or one credit card that they use for emergencies.

Having a good credit score is important even if you do not care about acquiring the latest card. If you drive a car, you’re going to have to get insurance for that vehicle. Many insurance companies will run your credit score before deciding what premium to charge you. Read more

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?

Making a home office on a budget.

Creating a Fabulous Home Office on a Budget

Many Americans have spent the past year and a half working from home. This meant that they needed to create a space where they could get stuff done even if their home wasn’t designed for having a home office. You worked on your tables, at the couch, and sometimes even in the bedroom. While this ingenuity is to be applauded, it’s evident that many of you won’t be going back to the office. Whether you’re excited or discouraged by this reality, it’s time to create your own home office. You don’t need a huge budget to create a space to work, but you do need to set aside some money if you want to make a truly fabulous spot where you can get things done. Read more

Unfortunately for many, it means lots of debt. Here are some tips for tackling holiday debt.

Tips for Tackling Holiday Debt

The holiday season is an exciting time of year for many people. It’s a time to spend quality time with family and friends, enjoy delicious food, drink eggnog by the fire, and exchange presents with loved ones! But it can also be a stressful period for some people because they often overspend during the holidays. This article will provide tips for tackling holiday debt so you can have peace of mind this holiday season.

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Practical Ways To Boost Your Savings

Are you tired of spending every dime you make (or more)? Maybe you don’t like the feeling of not having a nest egg or want to save for a big-ticket purchase. Whatever the case is, your savings account balance isn’t increasing fast enough to accomplish your goals. While finding ways to increase your income or earn more money is one way to solve the problem, perhaps the answer is easier than you think. 

When you’re trying to save money, you have to evaluate your spending habits. By learning how to eliminate or reduce unnecessary expenses, you generate more money to put away for future use. What are some areas you might consider changing? Continue reading to learn more. 

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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?

3 Steps to Improving Your Credit Score and Why It Matters

Whether you want to buy a house, a car, or rent an apartment, you need a good credit score. If you don’t have a high score on your credit report, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t buy big-ticket items or find a place to live. But it does mean that you’ll pay more to buy the same items as someone who has a better track record with the credit bureau.

The good news is that a less-than-stellar credit score doesn’t have to be permanent. There are some easy ways to raise your score, and all it takes is a little time for your number to rise. Read more