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Lowering Your Food Budget

Michelle —  November 26, 2012 — 3 Comments

Food always seems to be our biggest budget buster. Between going to restaurants, going out with friends, buying too many snacks and everything else, we can never manage to stay within our food budget.

Our main reason for being so bad with our food budget is almost entirely due to laziness. And the fact that the Mexican restaurant up the street has the best food ever. Not kidding… We really want to work on our food budget so that we can save money for other things in our life, and also to pay down my student loans.

However, until we get this under control, it will make everything else in our lives just a little more difficult to achieve. Every loan and savings goal that we have will take just a little longer than necessary.

Below are some things that we are doing to cut down on our food budget:

1. We are limiting our going out to eat at restaurants.

We are really working on going out to eat less. Food at home can taste just as good, as long as we put some effort into it. Also, now that we have similar schedules, it makes it easier for us to eat at home together. When you go out to eat, you need to factor in the actual meal, taxes, tip, and the gas to get there. It all adds up very quickly.

Eating at home more often is also nice because you can spend more quality time together, which a price cannot be placed on.

2. We have a menu plan.

Having a menu plan has been a lifesaver for us. It works wonders in so many ways. Planning what we will eat is actually fun, and I can mix up what we usually eat. It is also great because if I menu plan and write out exactly what we need at the grocery store, then I am cutting down on any food waste.

Households waste a lot of money on food waste. Have you ever thought about how much leftover food you have thrown away recently? What about anything that you had past expiration and had to throw away? Menu planning allows you to buy only exactly what you need, since you know what you will be cooking!

3. Don’t go shopping hungry.

This is something that probably everyone knows, yet a lot of people still do it! I still do this a lot and this is something that I am working on. Try to at least get a snack in before you leave to go grocery shopping.

If you don’t eat before hand, then everyone knows what will happen: EVERYTHING will look delicious and you will be thinking about all kinds of recipes in your head that you “should try and make” but in reality probably never will.

4. Use a basket instead of a cart.

If you know that you don’t need or want to buy a lot of things when you are at the grocery store, then just get a basket instead. You will be forced to buy only what you truly need because there are only so many items that you can carry before your arms will hurt like crazy. I do this a lot and it has really worked for me.

Whenever I think about getting something, I wonder how much weight it would add to the basket and whether the item is worth it or not for me to carry. Most of the time, the item is not worth it.

5. Use coupons.

This is also something that we are currently working on. I haven’t couponed in a while, but in the past it did work. The main thing to remember is to use coupons on things that you actually NEED and not to just use coupons because you have one. Buying things that you will never use it wasted money, no matter how much money you actually saved.

What are you doing to lower your food budget?

Holidays can be very expensive. Whatever holiday it is that is celebrated, there are most likely numerous dinners, presents, parties and so on that are going on between your family, friends and work. Last month I talked about how to save money on travel over the holidays, but what about all of the other expenses that feel like they are “required” over the holiday season?

We tend to spend a lot over the holiday season (luckily almost none of it on travel because almost everyone is right here in the same area), but the costs of attending dinners, parties and giving gifts can really add up quickly.

For example, this year we have Thanksgiving to go to which is at the same place as always (his grandmother’s home). The WHOLE family goes which is over 100 people. Each person just brings one item that will be enough for everyone. Our job this year is to supply hot chocolate. Doesn’t seem like a lot, but the hot chocolate maker that we need is $75, and the hot chocolate, water jugs, cups and marsh mellows will probably be at least another $30 to $40. And this is JUST hot chocolate!

Of course I do realize that this is not a lot of money (and I really do not mind spending money on holidays at all, because I love them so much), and that the holidays are not all about money, but it just adds up very quickly!

With the hot chocolate idea above, I could do things to make it cheaper (such as just using a very large pot), but with many young kids, it would just be too difficult and probably not safe for a pot to be running for half a day. Thinking of other ways to save money is never a bad idea and this is what we plan on doing.

Ways that you can save money over the holidays:

1. Stick to your budget.

Try and find the best deals for the food and presents that you need. Don’t try and justify one purchase, because you will most likely do this across the board and before you know it, you will have spent twice what you wanted to.

If you think that you cannot control your holiday spending, maybe hide your credit card from yourself for the month. “Saying” that you will pay it off when the bills come but not being realistic about it is not a good idea.

2. Gift exchanges.

If you are a part of a big family which will require a lot of gift giving, try and see if anyone would want to have a “secret santa” type of gift exchange. Not having to give so many gifts can greatly cut down on the costs.

Most likely, there will be other people who would want to do this as well. It also cuts down on the time needed to find gifts. Instead you can find one really good gift instead of 10 “average” gifts.

3. Use coupons.

Many stores and restaurants have lots of coupons available over the holiday season. Matching up coupons to the items that you have already planned to buy can help you save a lot of money as well.

Using coupons on your purchases will only really work well if you have everything planned out well. Buying things just because you have a coupon is most likely not a good idea either because you might change your mind and decide that the present is not good enough.

4. Holiday cards.

Holiday cards are always nice to send and receive, but if you can, try taking the pictures yourself and printing them off a website yourself. They will most likely still look great and the personal touch will definitely be liked.

Also, instead of taking the holiday pictures yourself or having them professionally done, you can always glance over pictures of you and your family from earlier in the year. I am sure there is something great out there, and you never know, something might work out! I know of many families who do this instead of spending $300 on professional holiday pictures.

5. Make gifts.

Not all handmade gifts are cheap, which is a big misperception that many have. However, if you already have the materials on hand, then why not use them? There are so many gifts out there that are possible for you to make. Maybe you could bake cookies, knit mittens or something else. I’ve always loved receiving handmade gifts much more than anything else.

How do you find ways to save over the holidays?

It has been nearly two years since my wife and I were struggling to make ends meet. Luckily we had a large emergency fund, but that is about all we had going for ourselves. We both were working jobs that paid us little money and we were living in one of the most expensive regions in the country. Luckily, we both had a four year degree and some work experience. Many other young people face far worse in many respects, but that doesn’t mean what we went through wasn’t difficult.

It very much was. As a way to get through the financially difficult times, we had to cut back. This often meant passing up on opportunities to go out with friends, simply because we couldn’t afford it. It also meant sacrificing in many other areas. But, what we came to learn through this challenging time, was that it didn’t mean giving up on life altogether. It is easy to understand why many people think this – because this is often what it becomes, but there are creative ways to enjoy life to the fullest without breaking the bank.


The first thing we had to do was prioritize our expenses. This meant taking a close look at our entertainment budget. Going to a movie and spending $30 did not mean as much to us as buying tickets to see michael mcintyre┬áin concert. While everyone may not share the same passion for concerts, it’s all about setting your priorities. This also means that you have to cut some things out. It’s not a matter of saying which are most important, but also how far can your limited number of dollars reach.


After you have prioritized your spending, you can start to think of ways to make the most of your money. This means looking that those priorities and trying to make your dollars reach the farthest. This may mean cutting back on some more areas, but it may also mean that you spend more money in certain areas. For example, my wife and I learned that we enjoyed going to the movies (the few times that we went) when we got a giant diet coke. Yes, it was expensive, but it made the experience for us. It doesn’t mean you can’t be creative and bring snacks with you, but find out what is most important to you and optimize your experiences.

Create Memories with Others

The last and perhaps most important tip that I have learned is that creating memories with close friends is most important. While it may be cheaper to spend time at home alone, it is much more enjoyable if you do it with friends. The best part is that you can find creative ways to hang out with friends without spending money. This could mean board games, sports games, etc. There are many cheap and/or free things to do with a group of people.

While you may not have a lot of money, enjoying yourself is still possible. Be creative and see what you can come up with to save yourself some money while also enjoying life. The last thing you want to do is to live with regret.

What Will You Do In Retirement?

Michelle —  November 6, 2012 — 6 Comments

Have you figured out how much you need in order to retire? Have you adjusted this for how you actually want to retire? Retiring young would require you to start saving more upfront. Maybe you want to work part-time because you could never see yourself with empty hands. Or maybe retirement to you means finally doing things that you love, whether you make money from it or not.

Retirement may be awhile away for you (it sure is a long time away for me), but I’m sure all of us have thought about how we would spend retirement.

Yes, at first all you might want to do is lay on the beach for hours and hours, but what about after that? I’m sure most of you want to keep busy at least some-what, I know I do. So have you ever thought about how you would fill your time?

Ways that you can possibly spend your retirement:

1. Volunteer.

Volunteering might be on your mind right now, but maybe you’ve been putting it off since you don’t have enough free time. But what about when you retire? You will have a lot of time available, and you can finally spend your time dedicated to organizations that you believe in.

There are so many organizations that need your help, so open up your phone book or your laptop and start calling places when you have time. This is something that I definitely want to do when I retire, but something that I should be doing now. Giving back to your community has so many positives, so why would you not volunteer when you have so much free time?

2. Travel.

Love traveling? Travel the whole time in your retirement! Some countries can be insanely cheap to travel in, and thus you can stretch your retirement dollars in these areas. Of course some areas and countries are more expensive, so you should save and budget accordingly.

Since you won’t have a job tying you down, exploring new countries when you are retired is a great time to do so. You can do adventurous things such as go on safaris, skydive, try exotic foods and so on. Being able to travel without something or someone to tell you to come home would be my dream.

This is something that I definitely want to do, but not full-time. Maybe for a couple of months (maybe even a year, depending on my health and how old I am) since I know that it would be exciting. Having a stable place to call home in my actual home town is something that I love.

3. Have a part-time job.

You’ve been working your WHOLE life most likely, and some of you might not see yourself being 100% jobless. You can find a nice part-time job that is stress free and still allows you to interact with others. The extra income is another positive! Some part-time jobs even offer full benefits such as health insurance.

Part-time jobs could include dog walker, store greeter, customer service, nanny, instructor, tour guide, translator, blog owner, etc. The list is really endless, so of course don’t think those are the only jobs included.

4. Start new hobbies.

Do you have a long list of things you want to try, such as knitting, painting, teaching, collecting, DIYing, etc.? Well now you finally have more time! Maybe create some kind of list and cross things off as you complete them. Is having too many hobbies a bad thing? I don’t think so :)

5. Start a new business.

Have you always wanted to start your own business? I’m sure a lot of us have dreamed of what our personal businesses would be. If you aren’t as reliant on income, then this can be a fun and stress-free way to begin your dream. And you never know, without the extra stress, you might become extremely successful!

How do you want to spend your retirement?

Saving Money in Colder Weather

Michelle —  October 29, 2012 — 9 Comments

Lately, we’ve been having some cold days where I live. Just the other day it was almost 90 degrees, then the VERY next day it was only 35 degrees. What?! This crazy weather is most likely hurting my wallet. One day I have the air conditioning on and then the next day I have my heat on.

Some of you probably don’t do this and would tell me just to adjust myself to the temperature, but I like to feel comfortable in my house :)

If you’re like me, all you did was flip the switch to turn on the heat but didn’t think of anything else that you could’ve been doing. However, every year my gas company gives me a comparison of my usage and costs compared to the year earlier, and this year I would like to beat that and use less heat and spend less money on my bill.

There are many things that you can do to save money on your heat bill this year. All of the tips below are really quick and easy things that you could be doing, but maybe you haven’t thought of them yet since we are so early into the cold weather season so far this year.

1. Curtains.

There are curtains that you can buy that can help keep the heat in and keep the cold drafts out. They might be fairly expensive near you, but they can be a good investment. Also, opening curtains on sides of the house where all of the sun’s heat comes in is good also. Open up those blinds and soak up the sun!

2. Wear warmer clothes.

I’m still running around in my warm weather clothes and pajamas around my house, when I should be bundling up. Wearing an extra layer of clothes such as a cardigan or pants can help a lot once it starts getting colder. Wearing socks and slippers definitely helps as well.

3. Thicker blankets.

Instead of cranking up the heat when you’re about to go to bed, buy a warmer blanket! Seems like a no brainer right? I’m sure you have extra blankets around the house, get them out of storage and put them on your bed. Heated blankets work wonders as well and they usually don’t cost too much.

4. Adjust the temperature for when no one is home.

If no one is home for hours and hours during the day, then turn the heat down so that you can save more on your bill. However, if you will only be gone for 1 or 2 hours, then it’s probably best just to leave it where it’s at, as your furnace will have to work extra to get it back to where it was before you left (thus eliminating any gain that you could’ve made).

5. Monitor the thermostat.

Do you notice a big difference between 68 degrees and 72 degrees? Your body may not notice that big of a difference, but your wallet definitely will. Adjust the thermostat to see what you are comfortable with. Higher temperatures of course equal higher bills. Lately we’ve been keeping it at around 68 degrees and I believe last year our bill averaged around $150 a month.

6. Change your fan setting/direction.

A tip that I didn’t know of until last year was that you should be adjusting your fan setting. Usually there is a “winter” setting that is located right on your fan. Just click it over and that will help you save money as well.

What do you do to save money on your heating bill?

Everyone who is human has struggled financially at some point. It may not be to the same degree as others, but the statement still holds. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone is always learning new things. While many people will try to convince others that they have it all figured out, it is a lot of deception.

When lies are unveiled and the truth is not hidden from sight, we all begin to realize that personal finance is complicated. Not only do unexpected expenses pop up out of nowhere, but we also face difficult financial times that are beyond our control. This recent recession is evident of that idea. While managing your personal finance is often difficult and challenging, forcing you to make decisions without certainty of success, there some basic principles to managing your personal finances.

1. Spend Less Than You Earn

The one way that you can alleviate much of the stress associated with finances is by reducing your spending. In fact, the less you spend the better. Start with spending less than you earn. Not just some months, but all months. This will prevent you from financing your current situation on hopes of future pay raises and will keep you in the black. If there is one thing that I have learned over the past few years, it’s that life is much better in the black than in the red.

2. Create an Emergency Fund

The second thing that I have learned is that expenses pop up. Some people may have no other choice than to use payday loans, but you should do everything you can to give yourself a cushion. If you have a little extra money coming in each month, do yourself a favor and save that money in an emergency fund. Establish a certain amount and promise yourself that you will only touch it in an emergency. Some emergencies may be unexpected unemployment, car repairs, etc.

3. Invest Aggressively

Investing regularly is one of the only ways to build wealth. Unless you plan to live off of the minimal payments you get from social security, you will need investments in order to retire. While it may be hard to eliminate the lifestyle inflation, it will be worth it in the long-term if you can prioritize your savings and investing now.

4. Help Others

One of the core tenets of this personal finance blog is to do everything you can to help others. Our wealth that we build is a privilege. We need to use this wealth to help others who are less fortunate than ourselves. If we ignore this aspect, we run the risk of losing sight of what is important and becoming obsessed with money. While money is nice to have, it’s a means for something greater – it is not the end result.

While these are some of the basic principles of managing your personal finances, these are only the beginning. They help us with the basic framework, from which we can overcome some of the greater challenges that come our way.

Is going back to school in your future? Maybe you can no longer move up in your company and a degree with help move you up, you want to brush up and increase your skills, increase your professional network, etc. However, what else should you think about when you finally decide to go back to school?

Your finances!

Your finances will be effected of course. Now that you’ve decided (or are planning) to go back to school, there’s a lot of planning to do, especially if you’ve been out of school for some time and have many bills to pay. Just quitting your job and going back to school isn’t a plan for most people. Those bills need to be paid and your debt that you currently have needs to be paid down. Also, what will happen to your retirement?

With the right amount of financial planning, going back to school doesn’t have to kill your budget and your goals for retirement, savings and paying down debt. If your financial plan is well thought out, then hopefully you’ll come out ahead after you graduate.

What you should financially think about when you decide to go back to school:

1. How often you’ll work.

Working while attending school can be tough. Will you attend school full-time while working still? Attend part-time and work full-time? Will your work allow you to do both at the same time? I’ve heard of companies that will not allow you to attend school full-time while working at their company because they don’t want you to have to choose which one that you’ll give more effort towards.

I did my whole undergraduate and graduate degrees while working full-time. It was definitely hard, and I only did it that way because I had things to pay for. Working part-time wasn’t really an option, but maybe if I had a better plan then it would’ve worked.

You can also majorly cut expenses and try as hard as you can to live like a student. You can find somewhere cheaper to live, find a better fuel efficient vehicle, eat cheaper, coupon, and so on. The list is really endless. Cutting expenses can really help you financially if you are unable to continue to work the same amount of hours while attending school.

2. What the costs are.

There are many costs to think about when going to school besides just the college tuition. How much will food cost between classes? Will you be able to go home and grab a snack? How much will the added cost of gas be? If you’re driving from work to class (or vice versa), then your gas costs will most likely increase.

Some people fund all of their costs by tacking it all onto their student loans, but I don’t think this is always a good idea as you will be adding a lot of unnecessary debt which will be a burden after you graduate.

3. Your budget.

Now that you’ve finally decided whether you’ll attend full-time or part-time, and whether you’ll work full-time or part-time, now is the time to decide your budget. You need to calculate how much you need every month, and also estimate how much you’ll be earning (if you’ll be working).

Also think about whether you will work on paying down debt (including any student loans that you may be adding toy our current debt) and if you’ll be saving any money towards retirement.


How were your finances affected when you decided to go back to school?