Posts Tagged ‘Personal Finance’

Kelly Whalen’s Down to Basics Money Series

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

K. Whalen Money Series

All through 2014, as our Money & Finance contributor Kelly Whalen, from The Centsible Life, walked us all through the basics of budgeting from start to finish so that we would be able to have a stronger grasp on managing our family’s personal finance. One of the best things we can do to save our family money is to begin to control our funds (and to not let them control us).  As part of our m challenge focus on money management, I thought this would be the perfect time to gather all of Kelly’s brilliant tips in one place! 

Kelly Whalen’s Down to Basics Money Series

Budgeting 101: 5 Easy Steps to a Budget that Works

Reducing Expenses: Put the ‘Personal’ In Your Finances

Money Savvy: How to Deal with the Unexpected

Earn More Money to Help Save More and Pay off Debt Faster

Evaluating the Cost of Home: Renting vs Buying

Cars, Trains, Bikes, and Feet: How to Get Around for Less

Can Debt be “Good” Debt?

5 Ways to Teach Kids Money Management

Do You Really Need That Degree? College Loans, Options, and Savings

Planning for your Second Life: The New Retirement

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Planning for your Second Life: The New Retirement

Monday, November 17th, 2014

From our money & finance contributor, Kelly Whalen.

Note: This will be my last post as a contributor for MomAdvice. Thank you for all the thoughtful comments, support, and most especially thank you to Amy for the opportunity. My hope is that if you look through the archives of my posts you will get a clear financial education from beginning to end. It only seems fitting to end our journey with retirement.

Planning for your Second Life The New Retirement

Most of us grew up with the notion that retirement came after 40+ years in the workforce and came with golf, social security checks, and retiring to somewhere warm. For most Americans that dream of the ‘golden years’ has disappeared. Somewhere during our recent recession it became more obvious that the idea of traditional retirement wasn’t going to be an option for most people. In fact over 60% of Americans have under $25,000 saved for retirement. *

That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though. You no longer have to tie yourself to a cubicle or labor every day and then sit on your buns from 65 on. Instead you can plan for a second life that will be just as fulfilling as your first career — a second life that may even start sooner than you think.

Planning for your Second Life: Financial Planning

Start Saving Now

Saving early means your savings have longer to grow. If you haven’t started saving now is the time to start. If you have been saving for retirement consider ramping up your savings for 2015.

Take Advantage of your Retirement Options

  • 401ks are popular for companies and they offer a great advantage—free money in the form of matching from your employer.
  • Roth IRAs are another great option. In addition to using the funds for retirement you can also use them for educational costs. This allows you to bank money for your kids’ college educations, but if they don’t need or use it you can continue to bank on it for retirement.
  • If you’re self-employed look into a self-employed 401k. They offer you the ability to save more than most retirement options and have low maintenance costs.

Live on Less
It’s always good to live on less, but especially when you start to think about retiring. Cutting back on expenses now not only means more savings to grow, but you will become accustomed to living well within your means.

Planning for your Second Life: Work

Don’t Stop Working
The reality for many of us is that we will continue to work well past the traditional retirement age of 65. While you may not be suited to your current career there are other opportunities to use your skills to earn an income. Below are a few options to consider.

  • Finding a Work/Live Job: House sitting, live-in jobs such as caretaking or management can provide you with a place to live rent-free. This can be a great option in retirement to slash housing costs, and allow you to earn an income.
  • Offering your Skills as a Consultant: While you may leave your 9 to 5 gig you can still use your skills to earn income as a consultant. Whether you work with a consulting company or strike out on your own you may find you can earn even more than your typical paycheck as a consultant.
  • Bartering or Work for Trade: Relying on your skills and hobbies will allow you to barter or trade services with others. For instance, a former CPA may do taxes for a small business client bartering for their services. You can also trade your time for services such as working the front desk at your local gym for 5 hours per week in exchange for free membership.

Planning for your Second Life: Housing

Go Multi-Generational
As housing costs and expenses soar it makes sense to share housing costs, but instead of renting out a room to a stranger, or downsizing consider living with family members. While it may not work for everyone it can be a huge money saver and a way to stay connected with your family members. The big benefit comes in divvying up the housing costs and the household chores.

Planning for your Second Life: Phase Two Begins

Start Phase Two Now
Instead of waiting until your kids are all grown and you’re in your 60s to retire take a hard look at what it would take for you to be able to work less, downsize, or move somewhere more affordable now. While you may not be able to retire in the traditional sense you can realign your budget and thinking to fit a lower stress phase two of life and possibly even find room in the budget to take on a project or build a new career based on your passions instead of the need to climb the corporate ladder.

With careful and strategic planning you can move into the next phase of your life and find it just as fulfilling (if not more so) than your first life.

*Source: Employee Benefit Research Institute

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Can Debt be “Good” Debt?

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

From our money & finance contributor, Kelly Whalen.

Debt is a four letter word for many of us. We don’t want to carry debt. We don’t want to owe money to anyone. We work hard to eliminate debt and keep ourselves from going into debt through careful spending and strategic saving. But is there ever a time when debt is good? Can it help us meet our goals?

Can debt be good debt via

Mortgage Debt

While it would be lovely to buy a home outright, for most of us a little mortgage debt is necessary. Mortgage debt can be considered ‘good’ debt since the mortgage interest is tax deductible, mortgages allow you to settle into a home (and community) for a long period of time, and it offers you a stable monthly payment for your housing.

In the boom of the 2000s when mortgages were cheap and houses were expensive everyone was buying a house whether it made financial sense or not. Now the market has stabilized somewhat and in many housing markets it’s a great time to buy. You can find a home for much cheaper than you can rent in the same community. In addition, you may be able to build value by buying a home that has been foreclosed or needs some TLC.

Already own a home? Consider that debt to be a stable ‘rent’ you’re paying each month. You’ll get to live ‘rent’ free once your mortgage is paid off allowing for a lot more flexibility than an actual rental home.

If your home is underwater or you owe near what it’s worth consider your options when it comes to housing. Could you refinance and save on monthly payments? Could you pay it off faster with a shorter term mortgage? Would a short sale make sense for you financially? In some cases it may still be cheaper to stay in your home than move and pay for a rental home.

Education Debt

Americans owe over a trillion dollars in student loan debt, and student loan debt now tops all other forms of debt. While there is a cautionary tale here about not going too deeply into debt for your education, there are times when student loan debt is ‘good’ debt.

Education debt can be a smart financial move if you want to go into certain careers like becoming a doctor or lawyer. Mastering certain skills may require higher eduction as well. In addition some careers or jobs benefit from the networking that happens on a college campus.

Beyond college-aged kids though, there are other reasons you may go back to school as an older student. You may have had a life issue interrupt your schooling at the typical college age, or you may go back to school for a higher degree like a Master’s in Education. In these cases you may get some help from your employer to cover school costs or qualify for different grants and scholarships than younger students.

Earning a degree may be expensive but if it allows you to improve your income and offers you more stability in your career, then the benefit can outweigh the costs.

Car Debt

In most cases automobile loans are ‘bad’ debt, but in some cases a reliable car is a necessity and can help you earn a better income. If your job relies on a car, then having a set of wheels and good insurance is key to maintaining that job. In many suburban areas a lack of public transportation, reasonable transportation options, or safe walking and biking lanes can keep you from commuting to your job via an alternative method (you can read more about saving with these alternative methods of transportation here).

While saving and paying cash for a car is ideal, in some cases taking on car debt instead of spending all your savings may make sense. Just be sure when you’re weighing the cost of a new or newer used car versus something you can buy outright you take into account the maintenance needed or cost to own.

Other Debt

When you’re weighing whether debt is ‘good or ‘bad’ you need to take into account four things:

  1. Is your current debt-to-income ratio less than 35% (at the high end) or 25% (a more conservative balance)?
  2. Will the debt increase your earnings or earning potential?—Earning more can make a big impact on your bottom line.
  3. Is the reason you’re adding debt a need? Or a want?—Can you find a reasonably less expensive alternative?
  4. Are there other options that are less expensive but still provide what you need?—Would a local college give the same experience as an expensive university?

Do you think there is such a thing as good debt and bad debt? What do you consider to be ‘good’ debt?


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Budgeting 101: 5 Easy Steps to a Budget that Works

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

From our money & finance contributor, Kelly Whalen.

I am so excited to introduce you to Kelly Whalen from The Centsible Life. Not only is Kelly a fantastic resource on frugal living, but she is also a dear blogging friend! Kelly has promised to walk us all through the basics of budgeting from start to finish so that you will be able to have a stronger grasp on managing your family’s personal finance. No matter when you join us, you can go back through our archives and read all of Kelly’s words of wisdom on money management. I am so thrilled she is joining us! 
Budgeting 101

Creating a budget will allow you to take charge of your money and save more than ever before. You may also find that you are able to spend on the things that matter to you whether that’s travel, home improvements, or charity when you have a budget in place.

In today’s post I’ll show you 5 easy steps to create and keep track of a budget that will really work for you and your family.

1. Where is your money now?

The 1st step to creating a budget is to sort out what accounts you have and where. For some folks this list will be small, but you may find between savings, checking, retirement, college savings, and credit cards you have more than a handful of accounts to track.

The simplest way to do this is to make a list. Include what you owe, what you’ve saved, and all your assets (savings, cars, your home, etc.). You can find a printable debt tracker at my site.

In addition to knowing where your money is you can easily tally up your debts and your assets to find your net worth too.

What is Net Worth? Assets (money, investments, value of your property) – Debts = Net Worth

Below you’ll see an example of how to calculate your net worth:

$25,000 (emergency savings) + $75,000 (retirement accounts-401k and Roth IRAs) + $125,000 (value of home) + $25,000 (value of cars)= $250,000 in assets

$5,000 (credit card debt) + $10,000 (car loan) + $15,000 (student loans) + $75,000 (mortgage)= $100,000 in debt

$250,000- $100,000= $150,000 (Net Worth)

2. What are you spending?

Now that you know what money you’ve accumulated it’s time to look at where you are spending your money. Gather up the last three months of bank and credit card statements and let’s dig in.

To start, you’ll want to use a handful of categories. If you’re using a pen and paper you can choose the categories that make sense for you. If you are using a website, app, or program like Mint or Quicken you can use their preset categories.

Some examples of categories are:

  • Savings, Retirement, and Investments
  • Charity
  • Rent/Mortgage
  • Childcare
  • Healthcare
  • Insurance (Car, Health, Life, Home, Renter’s, etc.)
  • Loans and Debts
  • Maintenance (Car & Home)
  • Entertainment (including outings and services like Netflix or cable)
  • Clothing and Personal Care
  • Food and Dining Out
  • Travel
  • Hobbies or Allowances (for kid or adult allowances)
  • Holiday
  • Misc.

With 3 months of data on hand you can see some slight fluctuations like spending increasing at the holidays or dining out costs going up when work is busy.

Now that you have that data, take a deep breathe. That’s what you did spend, and your future spending and saving habits are going to change with our next step.

3. What are your goals?

Most often we’d jump into what to cut, and we might even judge ourselves a bit when we see how much we really spend on manicures or on our kids’ clothes. Instead let’s turn that around and focus on the positive. What are your personal goals? What are your goals as a family? As a couple?

It’s time to sit down and think about what you want your money to do for you. After all, we work hard for every dollar so it should work hard for us, too!

I find this process works best if you lay out not only your own goals but the goals of your spouse or partner and family as well. For instance, your #1 personal goal may be to save for an anniversary trip with your spouse, but that goal could effect a family goal to get a family pet, or your partner’s goal to have an emergency fund that would last you a full year.

Start by writing out every goal you have. Do you have a ‘life list’ or ‘bucket list’? Include some money that will go towards those goals. Next you’ll want to order your goals. Now some will be tie for a spot on your list, and that’s ok. The idea is we want to bring the most important things to the forefront.

I recently shared this concept with a reader who sent back this list after she and her family prioritized their goals.

  1. Emergency Saving: Emergency Fund for 1 Year’s Expenses
  2. Reduce Food Spending: Learn to cook more meals, find ways to slash budget 25% by end of year.
  3. Family Trip: Save for a family trip to the Grand Canyon.
  4. Pay off ALL Student Loans: Get rid of our student loan debt by 2015.
  5. Fully Fund College Savings: Make sure both girls have enough in their accounts to fully fund their tuition.

While there were many other things the family wanted to do with their money these goals were their top 5. Once they have completed the goals they have outlined they can bump up more items from their list or reassess their goals.

Bonus Tip: Make a vision board to create a visual reminder of your goals (such as a photo of the Grand Canyon) and create a spreadsheet to track your progress.

4. Stop spending on ‘stuff’ you don’t care about.

Now that you know where your money is, where your money has been going, and where you want it to go it’s time to start making that happen. Now is the time to get really serious about where you want your money to go. Look at each and every category and assess if it’s worth the money it’s pulling away from your goals. In some cases we have no choice (yes, you need to pay your mortgage) but you can often reduce or eliminate some of your expenses.

For instance, cable TV is a great example of an unnecessary expense. Your cable bill may be close to $50/month or more if you have speciality channels. Consider cutting the cable. You can watch less TV and utilizing free or low-cost services to watch some TV and movies.

I call this process an expense audit. Each expense will be considered. Can you reduce it? Eliminate it? Choose a lower cost provider?

5. Make a budget.

Only after steps 1-4 are you able to make your budget. Using the same categories you used to assess your spending create a budget based on what you have been spending. While it’s tempting to say you’ll slash your grocery budget from $1,000 to $500 it’s not very realistic. Start with where you are, and as your spending decreases or your dump expenses that you’ve opted to do without you can adjust your budget.

The key to remember is once you’ve made a budget that it is NOT set in stone. It will guide you when it comes to your spending habits, but your budget should shift as you reduce expenses and focus on reaching your goals.

Bonus Tip: Remember that your financial goals are personal. Keep yourself on track by reminding yourself of your goals, and not looking at what the Joneses are spending.

Let’s look at a sample budget to help you get the idea.

Anna’s Family Budget
(Based on $3,000/month income after taxes, 401ks, health care premiums)

  • $250 – Savings (Retirement goes directly to her 401k)
  • $125 – Charity
  • $850 – Rent/Mortgage
  • $150 – Childcare (after-school)
  • $125 – Healthcare (this is an average spent per month on co-pays and medication)
  • $100 – Insurance (Car, Health (premiums come out of paycheck), Life, Home (included in mortgage))
  • $200 – Loans and Debts (Student Loans)
  • $200 – Maintenance & Gas (Car & Home)–goes into savings fund for repairs
  • $100 – Entertainment (including outings and services like Netflix or cable)
  • $100 – Clothing and Personal Care (clothing for 4, haircuts, makeup)
  • $400 – Food and Dining Out
  • $100 – Travel (savings or day trips)
  • $200 – Hobbies or Allowances (for kid or adult allowances)– $50/per adult, $50/child for activities
  • $50 – Holiday/Birthdays (goes into holiday savings account)
  • $50 – Misc.

Total: $3,000 Expenses

Now that we’ve covered the basics of budgeting, I want to know what you’d like to know more about in the future. Share with me in the comments!


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5 Ideas for Offsetting The 2% Tax Increase

Thursday, February 21st, 2013


With the new year in full swing, you may be noticing that your paychecks are a little smaller than they were last year.  Social Security taxes were raised by 2% which may not sound like a lot, but this can truly impact families who are already financially strained or striving to build their savings & retirement. Today I want to share with you 5 ways to offset that 2% tax increase so that your family can prepare for this adjustment to your budget.

Let’s break down what a 2% tax increase might look like:

If you earn $30,000 per year, you will pay $50 more per month in taxes.

If you earn the national average of $41,000 per year, you will pay $64 more per month in taxes.

If you earn $50,000 per year, you will pay $83 more per month in taxes.

For the families that are already struggling, $50-64 a month is a huge chunk out of their budget that could go towards food, utilities, and housing.

Here are five easy ways to offset that 2% tax increase. These are all relatively painless, but yield an incredible amount of savings over the course of your year. 


Ditch Your Cable Bill

Last year our family gave up cable television and it is has truly been one of the most financially rewarding and best things I have ever done for our family. We now rely upon Hulu & Netflix for our television watching, reducing our bill from almost $100 a month to under $20 monthly. We are still able to watch all of the shows we want, but we don’t find ourselves wasting hours and hours of our day consumed with the television. The other financial bonus is that we are not exposed to endless commercials, which can send you running to the stores to pick up the latest and greatest things. To learn more about alternative options to cable, be sure to read my article on ditching your cable bill.

(Monthly Savings: $80 or more)


Calculate Your Personal Latte Factor

David Bach, author of Debt-Free for Life coined the term “Latte Factor,” to describe the way small indulgences and expenses add up to a lot of money down the drain. Consider the example of a three-day-a-week Starbucks habit. At $3.80 a latte you will spend $11.40 a week, $45.60 a month, $547.20 a year, and $5, 472 over a ten-year period on JUST take out coffee.

You may think, “I don’t buy takeout coffee,” BUT we all have small drains on our budget that can add up over time. That dinner that you pick up at the drive-through each week because your kids have sports activities, the trip to the store for one item that turns into a cart full of junk, even our thrifty endeavors (like thrift and garage sale shopping) can cost us $10 or more a week.

Figure out what that drain is on your budget and stop the leak. One little change like whipping up your latte at home, setting your slow cooker in the morning on busy days, or allocating time towards organizing items you already have instead of buying more can easily save you $10 or more weekly!

Be sure to visit my article on 7 apps to get your family organized to help get your finances back on track this year!

(Monthly Savings: $45 or more)

Get Savvy About Grocery Shopping

When families ask me how to save their family money, the first thing I talk to them about is rethinking their grocery shopping. We all get in habits and ruts when it comes to grocery shopping. Do you buy the same box of cornflakes you grew up on? Do you refuse to try a generic ketchup because you truly believe a certain company is the only one who can make ketchup? Do you have a habit of shopping without a list? Do you find yourself making multiple trips because you didn’t execute your menu plan well for the week?

I highly recommend downloading the free Grocery IQ app for your phone to effortlessly make a grocery list for your family. It pulls the coupon savings for you and you can use your lists from week to week instead of starting a fresh list each time.

Instead of shopping multiple stores, search fliers from all of the grocery stores and jot down the best deals of the week. Take this list with you to Walmart, for example, and have them price match the items for you. You will not only be able to cherry pick the best of the best, but you also will experience the savings of not spending on gas to shop at multiple stores.

To make effortless menu plans to go along with the savings, be sure to visit our Take Five Fridays each Friday on the Facebook group to get 5 budget-friendly meals to create in your kitchen!

(Monthly Savings: $40 or more)

Declutter Your Way to Savings

Clutter not only weighs us down physically, but clutter causes us to spend money when we don’t need to. One look at a cluttered pantry or bathroom closet and you know exactly what I am talking about. Duplicate purchases occur when we don’t have a strong grasp on our inventory in our home and clutter hides us from the real treasures that are in our lives.

Think of clutter not only as the items that fill our home, but also the items that fill our fridges. Do you constantly throw food out because you have “too much” food in your fridge or pantry? Is your freezer full, but you still run to the store because you have, “nothing to eat.” I can raise my hand to these scenarios too and there is a sickening feeling in my stomach when I know that I haven’t done a good job managing this aspect of managing the family finances.

Accountability of our items brings enormous savings and satisfaction. Being a good steward of the stuff that fills your life forces you to edit your belongings and keeps you from  buying as much. I try to live my life by the infamous quote from William Morris, “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful.” If it is not bringing beauty or usefulness to my space, then I can feel good about passing those items on to someone else in need.

I often hear that people think their home is “too small,” but I also often wonder if the excess from their lives was removed if that space wouldn’t feel spacious once again.  When my home is decluttered, suddenly, my kitchen counters feel spacious, the basement really does have a spot for everything in storage, and the house really does have enough space for us all.

I honestly consider cutting the clutter as, not only a way to decrease buying duplicate purchases, but as a project to devote my time to rather than spending it out in the stores spending money. When that boredom spending starts to hit me, I focus on a spot in our home that needs to be reclaimed. Even in a smaller home, there are MANY corners to devote my efforts to.

To learn more about our commitment to our smaller home, read this article on the power of living small.

(Monthly Savings: $30 or more)

Get the Good Life For Less

The entire focus of my first book, “The Good Life for Less,” is truly about achieving good times and a happy home on a budget. The book is filled with make-your-own recipes for commonly purchased items like food mixes and cleaners, as well as outlining simple ways any family can save money on their family budget each week.

In it, I outline how our family paid over $13,000 in credit card debt from unemployment and are on the road to financial freedom.  Our family is living proof that any family can pay down their debt with small switches.

The switches I outlined above, are switches that we worked towards and have freed our family of credit card usage and have allowed us to have a beautiful life that is well within our means.  You can find my book on the shelves of your local Walmart store or purchase it online!

Check out our Debt-Free party we threw for our family when we paid off our $13,000 in credit card debt and how we are living our version of the American dream.

(Monthly Savings: $50 or more)


What are some small switches you have made to be able to offset the 2% Social Security tax increase this year?


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Giving With the Scraps of Life: 10 Painless Ways to Give to Charities

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Do you ever feel like you don’t have the means to donate to make a difference in someone’s life? I often felt that the size of my wallet was a hurdle to the type of giving that I imagined that I could do in my adulthood. When financial times were particularly difficult for our family, I always envisioned the day that would come when I could give more to worthy organizations.

In the last few years though, I began to realize that there are so many more ways to give than I ever imagined possible. I refer to this giving in my house as my, “scraps of life giving.” There are so many things that I have within my possession and that I can do with the limited talents and budget that I possess that the possibilities for good old-fashioned giving are endless.

Today I wanted to share with you a few, “scraps of life giving,” opportunities that you just might not be aware exist! Within this list, I am confident you can find a few opportunities for giving a few scraps from your life to a worthy organization.

Clean Out Those Couch Cushions & Pockets- Do you have a spare change jar in your house that has been gathering dust? Rather than saving it for something for yourself, consider taking that donation to a worthy organization instead.  Ronald McDonald House Charities is just one great example of where your change could be put to good use.  While you are visiting the drive through for your next dollar soda (one of my own favorite inexpensive indulgences), consider dropping your change off in the boxes at your local McDonald’s and know that your change is being put to great use.

While that little bit of change may not seem to really make a big difference, the organization collected over $20 million dollars in spare change last year. That change goes to helping keep families together by providing shelter for them while their child is being cared for at a nearby hospital.  Just think of that impact you are making on a child and family’s life with that simple gesture of donating your change!

PS- RHMC’s Day of Change is happening on September 9th! Plan to take your change to your local McDonald’s & RSVP for the event here!

Call Up a Cell Phone Donation– The rapid rate that families go through cell phones these days is quite amazing!  With most cell phone plans now, the opportunities to upgrade come around every couple of years.  The dilemma of what to do with those old, outdated cell phones is no longer a problem now that organizations like are around. Visit the website to find a place to drop off those gently used cell phones to the cause.

Cell Phones for Soldiers will recycle the cell phones, and use the proceeds to provide pre-paid calling cards and cell phones to troops serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Just imagine that you can give a child or spouse the opportunity to hear from their loved one with something that was just taking up space in your house. How beautiful is that?

See Any Worthy Donations In Your House?– The cost for eyeglasses is astronomical when you don’t have an insurance plan that covers them. For lower income families, a pair of glasses can be the equivalent of a week’s salary or more, and is a cost that most just can’t afford. Consider taking your gently used glasses to a local Goodwill, Lion’s Club, or to LensCrafters and donating them to the worthy cause of helping those who need them.

Think of that child who is struggling in school because his family can’t afford a pair of glasses for him and think of that pair of glasses that are gathering dust in an old drawer in your house that could be benefiting him. It seems like a win-win situation to share the gift of sight with someone else.

Craft Your Way to Giving– Do you have the gift of crafting in your possession? You may not realize how valuable that talent is, but it can make the difference in the life of a child, a soldier, or someone who is undergoing treatment for an illness. A quick Google search of your craft skill and the word charity should pull up a number of worthy organization that you can give to.

I am a knitter and am currently working on knitting caps for a chemo drive through an organization. It is something that I can easily do while watching a little evening television with supplies that I already have on hand, but can make the difference in the life of a patient undergoing chemotherapy. I have found though that knitting has been a fantastic gift to share in so many ways and I always try to keep one charitable giving project on my needles at all times. Whether it is whipping up a cap for a chemo patient, donating a blanket to a project like Project Linus, or knitting a prayer shawl for someone who could benefit from this comfort, I am so proud I can use my talents for someone else.

Consider donating your crafting talents to a local homeless shelter, teaching a craft to underprivileged children, or just creating crafts in your spare time that could make someone’s day a tiny bit brighter. The possibilities with the gift of crafting truly are endless!

Whittle Down Your Shoe Collection Charitably– I will admit that I have a bit of a shoe purchasing habit and have developed quite a shoe collection over the years. The good news is that your old shoes do not need to go to waste because of a worthy organization called Soles4Souls.

Soles4Souls is a Nashville-based charity that collects shoes from the warehouses of footwear companies and the closets of people just like you. The charity distributes these shoes free of charge to people in need and has donated over 10 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes. These shoes have been distributed to people in over 125 countries, including Kenya, Thailand, Nepal and the United States.

In our town, the local New Balance offers a drop-off location for the organization which makes donating just as easy as all of the errand-running that you are already doing. Consider weeding through your shoe collections and giving to someone who doesn’t have the creature comfort of a good pair of shoes.

As you can see, the possibilities for giving are endless without really spending a dime. Of course, the best gift you could ever give to any organization is the gift of yourself. Read to a child, mentor a child, serve at your homeless shelter, visit a nursing home, or help at an animal rescue shelter… these are just to name a few!  For oodles of volunteer opportunities, please visit to find a worthy organization to donate your time and talent to.

Not enough giving opportunities  here? Here are 5 more easy giving ideas!

5 Surprising Things You Could Be Giving Today

  1. Soda Can Tabs– Collect these for a metal donation to Ronald McDonald House charities.
  2. Expired Coupons– Military families can use expired coupons for groceries.
  3. Books– Better World Books can take your old books, pay you, and the books that are sold create a donation to literacy programs.
  4. Old Cars– Goodwill will happily take your old clunker off of your hands.
  5. Diapers– Give your diapers to the diaper bank charity in your town to benefit needy families. If you are a Michiana resident, call 237-7888 and leave contact information to arrange for a donation drop off in our town.

What are your favorite scraps of life giving opportunities for your family? I would love to hear the giving opportunities that your family takes part in!

We Lived Thrifty So We Could Do This…

Monday, February 1st, 2010

I feel like a confession today. Over six years ago we purchased our first home and  have been steadily making progress on the house ever since. We have done everything from painting kitchen cabinets, painting walls, more painting, renovating our patio, and getting our children situated in their rooms. We have also outsourced things like getting a new roof, knocking out walls, landscaping, new furnace, and new air conditioner that were all desperately required updates on our late-sixties home.

We are coming to the end of the DIY road and now moving into uncharted territory…a major home renovation. We will be knocking out a wall to create an updated family room complete with built-in storage and fresh new drywall with crown molding. We are finishing our basement to create a private home office that will be away from the family chaos so I can write my first book (editor’s note- let’s see if anyone actually picks up on what I just said). We will also be creating a walk-in pantry with a cubby for our kitchen computer. To top it off, we are getting new flooring throughout our home.

We will be doing all of these home improvements and paying for them with cash that we have been saving. Truth be told, we are paying for all of our home renovations with the money that I earned from my site. Although we don’t do “his” and “hers” accounts, we keep my income in a separate account to track income earned and business expenses. That account is where we will be withdrawing the funds from to complete the project.

I have gotten some criticism from family and friends that we should just move into a new house and skip renovating this home.  If the housing market was better, if there were better houses on the market that fit in our budget, and if I had a desire to get out my neighborhood, I would…but I just don’t. I didn’t pour all of this money, blood, sweat, and tears into this home to abandon it because it is lacking two rooms that I would like. It makes more sense to me to invest in the home that I have learned to love so much and make the most of it. These renovations offer a long term solution for making the most of our space as our children get older.

When I think about it, it makes my heart beat really fast and I find my hands getting sweaty. Spending money makes me do that. Spending this will greatly diminish the financial cushion that I love so much. It doesn’t mean we will be eating beans and rice every night, but it will mean careful management and hard work to restore the cushion again.

You just can’t be a frugal blogger and not address something major like pouring money into a home renovation. I am very proud that we can pay cash for it, that we continue to live in a home that is within our family’s budget, and that we will be able to renovate our home to accommodate our family’s long term needs.

I look forward to sharing with you what is happening in our house, how we saved on our projects, and why these renovations will offer long-term living space for our family.

Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to know that we are still living within our means. Still paying cash. And still committed to a life of no debt. I want you to know that we even bartered my husband’s web design services to save on the project. I want you to know that the reason this blog works is because I am authentic and committed to the goal of living my life on a budget.

Basically, it feels good to share it with someone who understands the beating heart, the constant questioning of yourself that you are making the best choices, that even though you save so you can spend on what is important that it is so incredibly hard to part with your money, and that is still cheaper in the long run to update your home then to move and start paying on a new mortgage, and I am absolutely making the right choice.  Can you tell me that?

Are you saving for a long term goal in your family? What is a dream project, trip, or family experience that you have been saving for?

How You Can Help the Unemployed Today

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009
Photo Credit: David Reece

It is no secret that our family endured almost a year of unemployment and a mountain of credit card debt that came along with it. I often look back on that time in our lives and wonder how we ever did it. How did we make that situation work? How did our marriage survive it? How did we manage to keep our home and our car?

There are so many families right now that are truly suffering… in much worse ways than we have ever had to endure. This time of difficulty is supposed to turn around in our economy and in many ways it has for many. I know though that many others are still enduring hardship and struggling to overcome these difficulties.

With that being said, I wanted to share with you some ways you can make a difference in the life of someone who is undergoing financial struggle and unemployment. You can make an incredible difference in the life of someone who is struggling and, in most cases, it won’t even cost you a dime!

Lend an Ear– The most important thing you can do for someone who is having a hard time financially is to just sit and let them talk. Let them share with you the anger that they have over their situation, let them cry tears of grief over the struggles they are enduring, and celebrate with them when those times turn around.

Let them talk about what they feel like talking about and try not to push them to tell more than they feel comfortable with. It is a very brave thing to do to open up and tell someone that you are struggling and it takes time and trust for them to want to share this private information with you.

Photo Credit: Jim Sisko

Offer To Babysit
– The #1 cause for divorce is money problems. When a spouse is unemployed, particularly the male in the family, it is such a difficult time in a marriage because so much of one’s pride and self-esteem comes from being able to contribute financially to the family.

The best thing you can do to keep that marriage growing strong is offer to support them by babysitting for them. Give the family the time they need to have a date night or just to have time to quietly do some job searching.

If you have the finances to offer a gift card for a night out, that is a wonderful and thoughtful touch. Think of fun budget-friendly things they could do like going bowling, or a gift card to Barnes & Noble for books or coffee, or a gift certificate to the movie theater.

Better yet, supply a gift that they could use for several nights in like a new board game, an electronic game, a Netflix membership, or ingredients for a fun meal that they could make at home. These are simple gifts that could supply many nights of fun for them during a difficult patch in their marriage.

Meals on Wheels- One of my favorite things to do for people during these times is to just drop off a dinner to them or to bring a meal when I come over to spend time with them. Try to make a big batch of food that could get them through one or two nights when money is tight.

If you lack the cooking gene, head over to the supermarket and pick up a take-and-bake pizza, popcorn, and some break-and-bake cookies. These are likely fun food that have been removed from the grocery budget and will be just as much appreciated as a home cooked meal.

Photo Credit: David Kosaco

Hire the Unemployed– Check around at your own place of unemployment, contact your friends through social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, and tap into as many people in your network as you can to find a job for your loved one. Do your part to get their resume out there!

If you aren’t able to find them a job, consider hiring them for some odds and ends jobs around your house. When one of our family members lost their job, we offered to hire him to remove wallpaper and paint our bathroom. It was a job in our house that we were not looking forward to doing and he was looking for a way to make some extra money. We both felt really good about the project and, in the end, it was the money that helped put the Christmas gifts under their tree. In my opinion, that is a total win-win situation!

Be an Anonymous Giver– Pride gets in the way of sometimes getting the help that someone might need. No one wants to say, “I don’t have money for groceries this month. Can you give me some?”

I have some very prideful people in my life who would never tell me when they were struggling. I have learned that anonymous gifts are sometimes the best kinds of gifts to give in these situations. Mail them a gift card or leave pantry ingredients on their doorstep.

Little Things are Sometimes the Best Things– There are so many little ways that you can help those that are struggling that can add up in big ways. Clean out your pantry and bring over the extra food to someone who is struggling, pick up a movie for them, stock them up on diapers for the baby, buy them detergent or paper products that can typically drain the grocery budget, offer to babysit while they run resumes, pass on your old magazines or books for a sweet little pick-me-up, weed through your children’s clothes and share those hand-me-downs, send them a card that you are thinking of them, pray for them daily, and cheer them up when you talk on the phone.

Even though I don’t like to focus on the negative, here is a little advice on things not to do-

  • Don’t harass them every day to ask if they have found a job yet. Know that you are likely going to be one of the first people that would be contacted and let them talk about their successes when they occur.
  • Don’t criticize their unemployed spouse. As I have said before, marriage is hard when a spouse is unemployed and it is important that you do your best not to contribute to the negativity. Allow them to vent, but don’t fuel the fire.
  • Do your best not to chastise them if they are angry or hurt over what is happening in their lives. Many well-meaning people try to correct anger instead of letting them work through it. Simply saying, “I know this must be tough!” will go a lot further in these situations then correcting their feelings.

As someone who has been on both sides of the fence, you will never know what it will mean to that person to be a steady rock for them to lean on. Try to think beyond yourself and do one nice thing for someone who is unemployed today. It will mean more than you will ever know!

Are you struggling with unemployment or have you struggled with it in the past? What is one thing you could recommend that others can do to help? What is the best thing someone has done for you or someone you love?

Play It Again, Momma: 35 Ways to Reduce That Grocery Budget

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

I wanted to bring back this entry because it really is the best showcase of all of our grocery saving advice on the site and on our blogs. If I could add only one tip, I would urge you to pull your fruit basket up so your child does not sink her teeth into each piece of fruit to stake her claim on it.

With grocery prices rising and package sizes shrinking, it can be difficult to stay within your grocery budget. Here are 35 steps towards improving your grocery budget and making the most of your money.

1. Buy the least expensive ground beef and rinse the meat instead to reduce the fat content.
2. Stop buying baby carrots and chop the carrots yourself.
3. Milk your milk budget by using powdered milk when the milk prices are too high.
4. Try making your own coffee syrups and coffee creamers to help save on your coffee expenses.
5. Dispose of the disposable items and switch to cloth napkins, washcloths, and and microfiber cloths to replace your paper napkins and disposable wipes.
6. Try making your own bread using a bread machine or making bread the good old-fashioned way.
7. Start keeping a price book to cash in on the best deals (you can download a free one here).
8. Take advantage of grocery delivery services or free in-store shopping services to help avoid impulse shopping.
9. Give wholesale club shopping a try for items that you use frequently, just be sure to use your price book to compare the prices.
10. Start making your own homemade cleaners.
11. Learn the art of stockpiling and create a system for storing your stockpile that works for your family.
12. Create a series of menu plans that you can rotate so you can make your grocery shopping easier and keep yourself under budget.
13. Try using coupons and utilizing free coupon services to help you score the best deals for your money.
14. Start gardening with simple foods that are easy to grow like tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers, and squash.
15. Try canning items from your garden to help cut costs in the winter months.
16. Make your own baby food or find a way to buy it cheaper.
17. Give cloth diapering a shot! They have come a long way and can save you hundreds and hundreds of dollars.
18. Sign up for free samples of food and toiletry items. You will waste less money trying new items out and these samples can help get you by when times are more lean.
19. Make your own mixes instead of buying them.
20. Try shopping at a less expensive supermarket.
21. Bring your own grocery bags for a grocery bag credit at most supermarkets.
22. Shop at stores that will double your coupons.
23. Bring cash and a calculator instead of using your debit card. This will help you to stay on budget better.
24. Utilize a slow cooker so you can buy cheaper cuts of meats and use the slow cooker to tenderize them.
25. Try making your own condiments like pancake syrup, croutons, and salad dressings.
26. Take inventory in your fridge, pantry, and freezer before shopping to avoid buying repeat and unnecessary items.
27. Try replacing one evening meal with breakfast foods instead. Most brunch dishes are less expensive and you can omit or stretch meat in these dishes a lot further.
28. Instead of buying prepackaged bagged ingredients, try packaging your own ingredients once a week instead. It will help get dinner on the table faster and it will save you money in your grocery budget.
29. Make a homemade pizza instead of buying pizzas in the frozen section.
30. Schedule a day in your kitchen every week to make cooking easier and to help save on the cost of buying convenience foods.
31. Feed your freezer and/or give once-a-month cooking a try to save on time and money.
32. Eliminate meat or make one night a m
eat-free night.
33. Make snacks items convenient so you don’t have to buy the prepackaged goodies.
34. Buy and prepare whole chickens instead of buying chicken breasts as a meal or shred this meat for your casseroles.
35. Buy your meat in bulk.

Am I missing a tip? Feel free to share the ways you reduce your family’s grocery budget?

Read Our Family’s Story in Redbook

Friday, March 20th, 2009

The April issue of Redbook is out and I am so pleased with the results! If you aren’t able to snag a copy, they have made the article available online and you can read more about our debt-free journey.

My real-life friend and fellow Eleven Mom, Lynnae at Being Frugal, was also featured and you can read about her own story here.

A big thank you to Jonathan Sprague, Kathy Friend, and Gabrielle from Camellia Cosmestics for all helping me look and feel like a superstar.

It was a wonderful day and I will never forget it. I am so proud to have been featured for our family’s financial choices and I hope we can inspire others to live a debt-free life and celebrate!