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4 Ways to Create a Budget Without a Fight

I don’t know about you, but we are always trying to do better with our finances. One of the best ways we’ve found to do this is by creating a budget together. And having a weekly budget meeting where we discuss every aspect of our budget helps keep us on track and speaking the same financial language. Just these few things have really helped us in our financial journey towards getting out of debt and, hopefully, retiring early.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we always see eye to eye on everything in our budget. Therefore, here are 4 ways to create a budget without a fight.

#1. DETERMINing YOUR WHY

Determining the main underlying reason why you both want to create a budget is extremely important. While you and your spouse may not be on the same page regarding every aspect of finances, discussing your main reason WHY can really help get you more in sync. Ultimately, if you don’t have a strong reason to create a budget in the first place, then there really isn’t any point in doing so. And it may just cause undue stress on your relationship instead.

When it comes to most common reasons why couples choose to begin a budget, here they are:

  • Debt pay off
  • Build an emergency fund
  • Save to retire early
  • Fund travel
  • Home improvements
  • Purchase a house
  • Grow a family

While you and your spouse’s WHY may not fit into these categories, it really doesn’t matter what it is. As long as you both have on and discuss it in depth. You and your partner’s WHY will become your driving force to not only create a budget, but stick to it.

#2. CREATe THE VISION

Once you have determined both of your WHY‘s, then it’s time to discuss the best action plan to get to each of your goals. This can be both together, as a couple, and also separately. After all, you can’t do everything together all the time!

At this point, some great questions to pose are:

  • What is the ideal timeline for both of your goals to be reached?
  • How much do you both ideally want to save each month?
  • How much can you actually save a month with your current income?
  • Where are areas that you feel you both can cut back on?
  • What areas does your partner think you can both cut back on?

These questions are great jumping off points to create your budget because they are setting the foundation for all future budgetary discussions and goals.

#3. BUDGET CATEGORIES

The next step in this process is setting up the budget categories. Categories really help you see, on a monthly basis, what you are ACTUALLY spending on things, as opposed to what you THINK you are spending. Most of the time, what we think we are spending on things ends up being completely different than what we are actually spending. Therefore, this is a very important piece to any budget.

The categories I suggest to start with are:

  • Income
  • Recurring Expenses
  • Automobiles/Transportation
  • Food/Drinks
  • Household
  • Travel
  • Clothing
  • Gifts
  • Luxury
  • Savings
  • Investments
  • Misc.

These are the basic categories that we use, personally. However, if you want to break them down further to really dig into what you are spending on every little thing, then I highly suggest that also.

#4. BUDGET COMPROMISE

Once the budget categories are set up, then it’s time to determine how much of your income goes into which category. This can actually be the most difficult part of the whole process because it’s the most in depth. And due to this, it can create the most friction among couples. So going into it with an open mind and patience is really key to making your household budget a success.

The first year you do this can be the most difficult because you don’t have as much past data to pull from. While part of it is a guessing game, most of the big categories can be fairly easy to determine. These categories usually include:

  • Income
  • Recurring Expenses
  • Automobiles/Transportation

Once you have these categories figured out, you’ll need to take what’s left of your income and and divvy it up among the remaining categories. This can be much easier said than done though!

You and your partner should discuss how each of you thinks the remaining dollars should be appropriated. And this is where disagreements can come into play. So talk through each category calmly and in as much depth as possible to come to the best budgetary compromise on spending.

Create a BUDGET without a fight summary

My partner and I may not be on the same page with everything all the time (and who is, really?). However, we both respect each other’s point of view. We also both want to be financially independent by the time our youngest leaves the house, so we have a major goal.

Therefore, we talk weekly about our budget and change things accordingly when we feel like we are off track, if things change, or if one of us voices a concern. Sometimes, we decide that we want to pivot and reallocate our funds to one category more than another. This works well for us because we communicate well with each other. And we’re always careful to be respectful of each other’s opinions about where we would like to see the budget going.

Ultimately, good clear communication is the most important part when trying to create a budget without a fight.

What are some of the best ways you have found to create a budget without a fight with your partner?

5 Ways to Save Money on Gas

While it’s been a great relief to finally be on the tail end of the COVID pandemic, the cost of everything seems to have increased exponentially. And the price of gas at the pump is no exception. How much gas has jumped here is astronomical and fairly ridiculous. But, where we live, you simply have to have a car to get around because our public transportation is spotty, at best. Due to that, I’ve found some of the best ways to save money on gas to stretch my dollar further.

#1. TIME OF DAY

The most important tip, in my opinion, is to be very aware of when during the day you fill-up.

Filling up when it’s cooler outside ultimately costs you less money overall. This is due to the fact that there is less evaporation of gasoline fumes while fueling, so less loss. Therefore, shoot to fuel up in the morning or later at night, whenever possible.

Also, filling up early morning (and I mean EARLY) or late evening can sometimes net you lower fuel prices. Gas station prices can fluctuate during the day when refueling trucks show up. So if you go during off-hours, and when it’s cooler, you are more likely to get lower gas prices per gallon and retain more of the fuel you’re paying for.

As another caveat, do your best not to get gas from a gas station if a refueling truck is there. When the refueling trucks pump new gasoline into the tanks they disturb the sediment at the bottom of the tank. This is “gunk” that you don’t want in your tank because it reduces your gas mileage.

#2. LOCATION

Just like everything else in life, not all things are created equally. And gas stations are no exception to this rule. Gas prices can vary widely depending on which part of town you’re in at the time. For example, gas on the south and southeast parts of town are much much cheaper than the north side of town where I live. Sometimes they can fluctuate up to a $1.00 a gallon in difference. Which is absolutely crazy!

Therefore, get to know your home base better. Learn where better gas prices usually are. Once you do that, it makes it easier to save on gas if you hit those stations regularly. However, it may include some planning on your part, depending upon where you live.

#3. ROUTE planning

With regards to planning routes, this can be another important part of the puzzle. Planning where you need to go for the day, and maximizing your time and gas money is important.

Map out the routes in your head, or on your map app on your phone, and figure out the best time of day and route to get it all done at once. This way you won’t have to waste time, gas, and wear and tear on your vehicle going back and forth between home and these different places.

By planning your route out to spend the least amount of time, and miles, on the road, the further your gas will go and the less money you’ll ultimately be spending.

#4. APPS

Another great way to save on gas is with apps. There are two that I have been using for a while now. One much longer than the other, but both have helped me out a ton.

GET UPSIDE

The Get Upside app is one of my favorite gas apps. This app is expanding to offer more deals than just gas, which is awesome. However, how they operate is by giving rebates on gas, groceries, and restaurants.

As soon as you pull up the app, it pulls up a map of where you are and all of the participating stores on the map in relation to you. These are stores that they have an agreement with. Basically, it’s marketing for the stores to get you to shop with them versus their competitors. When you filter out all of the other stores and just look for gas stations, the prices you see will be the price of gas at each station after the rebate, not before. So this is a good thing to keep in mind.

All of the money saved goes into your Get Upside account until you cash it out. You can cash out at any time, but I usually wait until I have at least $20 in rewards. The way you can get the money out is either by PayPal or by choosing one of their many digital gift card options. I typically choose Amazon so that I can just use it for any of our many Amazon purchases.

GAS BUDDY

This is my second favorite gas app, which I’ve been using this one for years now. Since I found Get Upside, I haven’t been using it as often, I must confess. But, it still helps me out when I’m out of my home area a lot, so I keep it in my back pocket.

Gas Buddy is a free app, that works by tracking location and shows the best gas prices in the vicinity. You can search by city, zip code or by hitting the “Find Gas Near Me” button in the middle of the home page. This pulls up a map of where you are and shows you all of the gas stations nearby, with their prices listed.

You can also report gas prices when you are at a gas station. This is to confirm that the prices they are showing are correct. When you do this, you will get “points” that you can use to enter their daily drawing for a $100 gas gift card. While I haven’t won one of the gift cards yet, it doesn’t hurt to keep trying!

#5. REWARDS CARDS

Most of the gas companies also have rewards cards with perks for using them. I currently have a BP Rewards card and an Exxon/Mobile Rewards card.

The easiest ways to get these is by grabbing one of the applications at a station when you are there or by downloading their app.  These are not credit cards, but are solely rewards cards. Depending upon the card, and how often you have used it, the rewards can vary. I have been able to get anywhere from $.02 to $.13 off of each gallon of gas, per purchase. And these can be partnered with either of the aforementioned gas apps to help you save even more money. Which is an awesome bonus!

Save money on gas summary

Overall, even though gas is crazy expensive right now, there are ways to save money and stretch your dollar. By being cognizant of the time of day you refuel, location, route planning, using apps,  and partnering with rewards cards you can really help maximize your gas mileage and reduce costs. And by doing so, enjoy your summer travel just a little bit more.

What are some of the best ways you’ve found to save money on gas this year?

How to Make Homemade Craft Coffee on a Budget

If you’re like me, you love a good cup of craft coffee. But I really hate the price tag that’s associated with them when I’m out. So, I’ve been working hard to create my own craft coffee on a budget at home. This way I don’t have to spend nearly as much money, I can make them anytime I want to, and the ingredients are better. This is what I call a triple whammy! In order to do this effectively though, I’ve found a few tools that are necessary to have in my craft coffee arsenal.

1. FRENCH PRESS

I used to be an drip coffee maker kind of person, since that’s what I grew up with. But, I learned fairly quickly that the coffee those produce don’t taste nearly as good as that from a French press. Since I’ve found this, it changed the way I make and drink my coffee.

There are a few different ways you can go with the French Press. When I first got started, I went with a more budget friendly Bodum French Press. This one only cost me $30 at the time and worked fantastically well for my initial foray into homemade craft coffee. I more recently moved into the more expensive Frieling Double-walled Stainless Steel French Press. I bought this one for $100 but had a 20% off coupon, so it came in at $80 instead. And, it has a lifetime warranty and won’t break if you drop it. Even though the French press appears to be the most expensive part of making homemade coffee, it is totally worth it.

2. TEA KETTLE

If you don’t already have a tea kettle, this is the next thing you’ll need. It’s necessary for the French press, and if you want to add delicious homemade teas to your culinary repertoire also. While tea kettles can range widely in price, I was able to find one for un $15, which also matches my kitchen perfectly. you will need one for delicious homemade coffee.

No matter which tea kettle you go with, make sure it holds enough water for your French press.

3. GOOD COFFEE BEANS

Since everyone has different flavor preferences, the coffee beans are going to be indicative of that. I personally, like espresso beans for a more full-bodied flavor. No matter which beans you go with, you’ll want to go with whole beans instead of ground. First of all, they are cheaper than grounds. Second of all, the grind for a French press needs to be a larger espresso grind instead of what you normally run across in previously ground coffee.

Plus, if you are using already ground beans, the oils start to oxidize faster. This means you are losing flavor in your coffee, as well as potentially getting a more acidic roast.

Therefore, I suggest either getting a small coffee grinder to grind the beans each day, or by the bag, which is what I normally do. If you don’t have the time for that, or want to save money and not purchase a grinder , grind them at the store with the espresso grind. Then store the ground coffee in the cool, dark cabinet to slow and/or stop the oxidation process.

3. craft coffee on a budget accoutrements

One of the big perks about homemade craft coffee is that you can put whatever kind of accoutrements you want in there. Since there are so many choices these days, the sky is basically the limit. Some of my favorite options to have on hand for my craft coffee are:

Creamers:

  • Almond Milk
  • Cashew Milk
  • Coconut Creamer
  • Coconut Milk
  • Dairy Creamer
  • Golden Milk
  • Hemp Milk
  • Milk
  • Oat Milk
  • Rice Milk
  • Soy Milk

I prefer to use unsweetened coconut creamer because it adds just enough creaminess without the added sugar, so I can actually taste my coffee.

Flavorings:

  • Bitters
  • Carmel sauce
  • Chai tea
  • Essential oils
  • Honey
  • Hot chocolate
  • Peppermint chocolate
  • Vanilla

The sky is really the limit here. So get creative with what you might have on hand.

4. MINI WHISK

When it comes to making good homemade craft coffee on a budget, a mini whisk is a must. Luckily, we happen to have a plethora of kitchen tools lying around, so we had one on hand. Since we have different sized coffee mugs and travel mugs, I found that I really like this 3 piece set of whisks for a little over $5. It comes with a smaller 5.5″, a 7″ and a 9″ for those larger mugs. Plus, you can use them for cooking too, which really makes this a great purchase.

Typically, the mini whisk comes in handy with craft coffee to help get that frothy top at the end. Just add sweetener, creamer, and/or flavor additions to the cup first while the water is getting warmed up. I use the whisk to whisk everything together prior to pouring in the coffee. This helps create a creamier and frothier coffee drink than I would normally get otherwise.

HOMEMADE COFFEE on a budget SUMMARY

Overall, there are so many things you can do to create delicious homemade craft coffee on a budget, that it’s hard to tell where to stop. Most of us will have a lot of these items already on hand, but the biggest investment is probably going to be a French press if you don’t already have one. Once you have that, and a tea kettle, it’s time to get creative. And by getting creative at home with your coffee, you can save yourself a boatload of money on drinks that may even be better than what you’d get out at a coffee shop.

What are some of the best ways you’ve found to make homemade craft coffee on a budget?

How Can You Keep a Minor Car Accident from Costing You a Bundle?

If you’ve ever found yourself involved in a minor car accident, you know that it doesn’t necessarily feel so minor. Especially to your car or your wallet. But, a minor car accident doesn’t have to necessarily cost you a bundle, as long as to follow the proper protocol. As someone who’s been in more than her fair share of car accidents, I’ve got an inside line on how to get your car fixed and keep more money in your pocket. If you follow these steps, you should be good to get back on the road for little to no money out of pocket.

#1 Stay Put

Any time a car accident occurs, you should stop your car where the accident happened. This is true as long as it is safe to do so. If your car is blocking the flow of traffic it could be a major risk to other motorists. Since stopping at the scene of the accident is actually required by law, this practice should be followed whenever possible.

And keeping your vehicle in the exact position it landed in due to the accident makes recording the accident easier.

#2 Injury Assessment

Once you have exited your vehicle, begin performing an injury assessment on yourself and any other passengers in the car. In most cases, minor car accidents don’t result in many injuries, but you should never assume that you don’t have any. After an accident, it is normal for your adrenaline to be pumping and for you to not notice that you’re hurting. In fact, I’ve had quite a few spinal injuries from minor car accidents that I didn’t feel until the following day or two.

The things I typically check for after a minor car accident are:

  • Minor cuts or scrapes
  • Neck pain
  • Changes in vision
  • Changes in hearing
  • Pain or tingling in the legs, arms, and/or chest

If you have any of these, then your accident may not be as minor as you thought. You should immediately call 911 and ask for medical assistance.

#3 Contact Information Swap

After the first 2 steps have been completed, it’s time to swap contact information with the other parties involved in the accident. I’ve found that sometimes this can be easier said than done. Typically the times that have been more difficult to get information out of the other driver was when the driver was uninsured.

No matter what, it’s best you can to get all of the contact information possible and write it down in a secure place.

I recommend recording the following information about the other driver:

  • Full name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Email address (whenever possible)
  • Car Insurance company
  • Policy number
  • Driver’s license number and expiration date
  • Make, model, and year of their vehicle

I like to take a picture of the other driver’s license and insurance card, whenever possible. This way I ensure the information I have is correct.

#4 Take pictures

While I’m doing that, I take pictures of all cars involved and the damages for my own records. The things I do my best to make sure I include are:

  • My car
  • Specific damage to my car
  • The other driver’s car
  • Specific damage to the other driver’s car
  • The surrounding area
  • Witnesses near the accident
  • The positions of both cars
  • Any stoplights, stop signs, or traffic nearby
  • The weather conditions

All of these things can come be very helpful for both the police report and when dealing with the insurance companies.

#5 Police

And speaking of the police, now is the time to call them to get them dispatched to the scene. By calling the police, you are ensuring that there is a record of the accident on file. Plus the scene of the accident can be better secured. By having this documentation, it makes the insurance process much easier. And by doing so, you have a much better chance of getting the repairs needed to your car in a more expedient manner.

Where I live, we are in an at-fault state, which means that every car accident has a party at-fault. If you aren’t the at-fault party, then the other person’s insurance has to cover the cost of all repairs.  However, if you don’t file a report with the police in an at-fault state, your insurance will have to foot the bill.

#6 Call insurance company

And speaking of insurance, it’s extremely important to report all accidents to them. In a lot of cases, if you don’t report the accident to your insurance company, they will automatically you are the at fault party and will therefore become responsible for all damages.

Personally, I like to call my insurance agent directly whenever I’m involved in an accident. This is the easiest and most direct way to get the ball rolling. Plus, my agent gives me advice as to whether or not he feels I should be filing a claim in the first place.

Since this is one of the things I pay my agent for, I always greatly appreciate the insight and assistance. If you have a relationship with a trusted insurance agent, I highly recommend giving them a call before you call your provider’s general claims line.

#7 Talk to witnesses

Lastly, whenever possible, it’s great to speak to anyone who may have witnessed the car accident. Witnesses can be extremely helpful when it comes to piecing the accident back together. So do your best to get a statement from everyone who saw the accident happen. When you do, it’s best to collect the following information from them:

  • Full Name
  • Contact Information
  • What they were doing at the time of the accident
  • Where they were in the relation to the accident
  • What they saw

These statements could be written or recorded on your phone, but should always be given to the police when they arrive for documentation.

Minor car Accident Summary

Overall, getting into a car accident of any magnitude isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. But, if you follow these basic steps that are laid out, it can really help. Streamlining the process and making sure your car and yourself are taken care of are the most important parts.

If you’ve ever found yourself in a minor car accident, what steps did you take to help move the process along and keep more money in your pocket?

Is a Gym Membership Really Worth It?

At the beginning of every new year, gym memberships soar. And while they have typically dropped off significantly by now, there are still plenty of gym goers all year long. As someone who has been a member of a few different gyms in my lifetime, I’m no stranger to the circuit. But, in all reality, is a gym membership really worth it for most of us?

Why?

First and foremost, you should be asking yourself why you want to join a gym. What do you think you will get out of it? Both in the short term and long term. Is this something you can realistically stick with as a routine, or do you have a history of new things fizzling out? And what is your main goal of joining a gym? Is it to lose weight, tone up, get rid of baby weight, look good for summer or a wedding? The list can be endless. But, no matter what your why is, you should first tease that out before making any commitment.

Gym membership Actual costs

A lot of gyms will get you in the door with extremely low advertised monthly rates. I’ve seen some as low as $5 per month, which is crazy! But, I’ve also learned that those rates don’t last for life, but a generally just temporary to get you in the door. Once they have you signed up and inside their domain, then it’s time to start throwing add-on’s at you.

A lot of these include fees for things such as:

  • Towels
  • Lockers
  • Sauna
  • Pool
  • Steam room
  • Personal training sessions
  • Dietary plan
  • Spin classes
  • Zumba/Dance classes
  • Private classes with smaller numbers

These additional costs can really add up over time. And even if they don’t, the average cost of a bare bones gym membership runs approximately $60 annually (depending upon where you live, of course). This equates to approximately $720 per year, which can easily be a week long vacation for us. And if this is something that I’m not sure I’m going to fully commit to, or have the time to do, then I certainly don’t want to throw a week long vacation away.

other options

It’s also entirely possible that your budget doesn’t have the extra wiggle room for this kind of extra fee. I know that mine didn’t for a large part of my adult life. So, instead of joining a gym, you could consider some other really great options that don’t cost anything (or very minimal) to participate in. Some of my favorite alternative options to a gym include:

  • Hiking (one of my long time favorite go-to’s)
  • Biking
  • Speed walking
  • Yoga
  • Trampoline (Yes, we have a big one for the kids but I’ve also used it for workouts)
  • Workout at home with free weights, jump ropes and a heavy bag

One of my regular workout options at home is to walk around the pool in the backyard with some free weights. I do different arm exercises while I weave around the many dogs that are with us for boarding or doggy daycare. The dogs love it too!

group environment

While I am typically very good at doing things all by myself, a lot of people need a bigger support system. This type of network can help to create positive change. This is where a gym membership can really shine if you fall into this camp.

People who work out at the same gym have a tendency to create gym relationships that assist with their individual goals. When we feel the societal pressure to be accountable to others, we have a higher rate of success, because we don’t want to fail those in our accountability groups.

In fact, just having somebody to be accountable to, increases our level of success by 65%, according to a study ran by the American Society of Training and Development. That’s huge! And if this is what you need to help you create the change you want, then figure out a way to make it work.

Gym Membership summary

Overall, whether a gym membership is worth it all depends on you. The biggest questions to ask yourself before signing on the dotted line are:

  • Do you have a strong why for wanting to join a gym?
  • Is this a long-term or short term why?
  • How much is it going to cost you monthly to join a gym?
  • Will your budget allow for this increased cost?
  • Are there FREE alternatives you could use instead?
  • Do you need a group or network in order to achieve success?

Once you have the answers to all of these questions, then the decision should be pretty clear.

For somebody with my crazy lifestyle and lack of any regular time, it is simply not worth it. I would be one of the 67% of the gym membership population who is paying for something that I’m not using. And since I don’t like setting my money on fire, I opt to use the free options available to me instead.

Have you joined a gym and found the costs to be exponentially worth it for you? If so, why?

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?