How We’ve Had a Debt-Free Vacation 


It is time for vacations all around! Summertime just screams vacation, doesn’t it? We once thought we would start taking our vacation time in January, due to the nature of our jobs. That was quite a difficult adjustment to my way of thinking. You go from having all this extra time at Christmas with family and friends, relaxing, shopping, eating, paid vacation days for Christmas and New Years…and a couple weeks later you’re supposed to take your vacation for the whole year? Additionally I grew up taking family and/or church trips just about every summer. Again, summertime screams vacation!

Last year we decided we would go to Ohio for Jesse’s grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary. More details on that to come. Suffice it to say, this trip to the Cleveland area was absolutely worth the saving and scheduling in order to celebrate such an occasion and to be with family that we so rarely see.

I’m not saying that this is a savings plan to follow in order to get to an incredible international or far away destination vacation. This was a more simple vacation, but we still made it across the country for a little over a week and have relaxed and enjoyed our time without going into debt. Some basic ways we accomplished that include:

We made the savings of the plane ticket cost a line item in our budget for months. This is the most obvious and worthy way of not going into debt (the rest are mostly practical ways of keeping costs low). Each month, we would save a particular amount because we budgeted to “pay ourselves.” Instead of looking at it as if we had saved $200 in a month or two for just anything, we knew we had that money specifically for the time to pay for our flights, and in our budget, it looked as if it were already spent. (More on why a budget is important here and how to keep track of a budget here.)

We are lodging with family. Though we might stay a night in a hotel (and have saved to do such a thing), we are with family for about 7 nights. That most certainly adds up into major savings for us!

We have not had to rent a car because we have had so many different people to ride around with, as well as an extra car available should we need it. We might rent a car for a day or two, but ride sharing has still kept our cost down tremendously.

We have rarely had to pay for food. We have eaten out and can afford to eat out more, but for the most part, we’ve been eating together as a family at home, and we prefer home-cooked food anyway!

We packed a lot of snacks for the plane ride; this particularly came in handy for our 7 hour layover through the night.

We don’t need any souvenirs. Since this isn’t a “destination vacation,” we don’t really feel compelled to buy a bunch of mementos of our trip.

Of course, vacations to see family are not always possible or practical, but when or if we can work it out, it can certainly result in great savings as well as great memories! If you’re looking for some easy ways to relax this summer without spending any money, here are some ideas.

Photo credit: Scott J WaldronJGrace Photography, and Joel Jones

Happy 60th Anniversary to Grandma and Grandpa Jones!


And these parents are celebrating their 35th anniversary this month!


Don’t we look so relaxed?

Why Have a Budget

Yep, I just said the B-word. And maybe you should, too. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, nearly 67% of Americans do not have a detailed budget.

So I’m not surprised Forbes reported last June that 63% of Americans do not have enough cash on-hand to pay for a $500 emergency. $500 is a considerable chunk of cash, but a $500 emergency can easily pop up. Did you blow a tire? Well, of course, you should always replace them in pairs. Poof. You are in debt (or getting in great shape as you ride your bike all over town), and your $500 credit card swipe becomes $600 or more after interest. These statistics say that “normal” means being broke.

Have you ever looked at your bank account and thought, What happened to all of my money? Do you know what it feels like to have the cashier inform you that your debit or credit card was declined? Maybe you’re tired of juggling bills, trying to keep the lights from being turned off. I’m here to tell you that there is a better way, and you can live it! All it takes is a little planning and learning how to control yourself.

Someone smart once said, “Money flows from the careless to the conscientious.”

I’m not here to convince you to sell your furniture, ditch the car, or eat Ramen noodles for the next fifteen years. Gross. All I’m saying is that you don’t have to live that way any more.

How would you like to:

  • Tell your money exactly where to go instead of wondering where it went?
  • Stop going further into debt, and not have to worry about who is calling?
  • Get the best deal possible on pretty much every major purchase you ever make?
  • Never have to wonder if you can pay your bills?
  • Decide for yourself how much you want to have available to cover an emergency?
  • Ditch the debt hole you’ve been digging and start to build real savings?

Okay, so a budget is not magical. It won’t do any of those things for you. But unless you have an uncle on this list (and if you do, call me: we should be friends), it is highly unlikely that you will experience any of these things without a budget. We’ll get to specifics in my post next week, but for now, just answer this question:

Who makes the decisions in your home: you or your bank account?

PS – If I still haven’t convinced you to come back next week for how to create a budget, take a look at this. Or this. Or this.

 

Photo credit: Pictures of Money

6 Money-Making Ideas for the Entire Family

I am very fortunate to have parents who know the immeasurable value in teaching children at a young age to work hard and to earn what they want. I once wanted a very expensive baby doll, and my parents agreed that they would pay half if I would earn the other half.  At the age of seven, with a burning desire for that new doll, I would have done just about anything. My parents had me pick cherry tomatoes in the backyard for $.10 each tomato. Little did they know this was such an enjoyable job for me! I not only learned how to work, but I also learned how tomatoes should look before they get picked.  Come Christmas, I was $1 short on my half of the bargain, but my parents, seeing I had learned my lesson, got me that doll for Christmas. I still remember the joy I had running up and down the hallway with that baby in tow, knowing I had done my part. That doll’s name is Jennifer, and she is a treasured reminder of the precious gift of hard work.

Teaching children to work is a priceless gift, not a punishment. I am grateful beyond words that my parents knew and taught the principle of working hard to earn what you want as it’s come to my aid in massive ways. The entitlement mentality that many live by is robbing them of the joy and contentment that hard work brings.

I understand that not everyone has the luxury of paying his or her children to do chores around the house (especially when their “toys” start becoming more expensive). This is absolutely not the only method of teaching your children to work for what they want. The possibilities are endless, but here are some ideas to get you started:

Garage/yard sale – Have them contribute some of their own items, help price items or set out the items on the day of, or hold signs to point people to your sale.

Bake sale – Have them help you measure or package or advertise. You could even add these baked goods to the list of items to sell at your garage sale! (Tip: I suggest incorporating popcorn: most people love it, and it’s so cheap when made from scratch!)

Lemonade/hot chocolate stand – I was so excited as an 8 year old to make $10 from this! I don’t remember having much help from my parents on this one, but I probably did! I’m sure it depends on your children’s ages.

Neighborhood car wash (or at a business)This is a great time to teach them how to wash a car, and most people are just so impressed that kids are learning to work that they don’t notice that their tires aren’t perfectly cleaned.

Candy bar selling door to door – This was my JAM! If you don’t have a Costco or Sam’s membership, ask a friend who does have a membership to buy a couple boxes of chocolate candy bars for you and head on out to sell those babies! By the way, the younger children can do really well with this if you’ll but teach them to do the asking!

Taco/Burger/sandwich stand – I would opt for an easy lemonade stand, but with all these food trucks becoming the rage, I say why not give it a try?! You may have a chef in the making!

Not all of these will work for every family, (and I tried to stick to only family-oriented ideas, not individual “fundraising” like card marking, lawn mowing, etc.), but I’m certain that if you’re committed to teaching your children to work, you’ll find a way to show them how to earn money. These ideas may not be your ideal way of teaching them or your ideal way of making some extra income, but maybe it will be the start of something beneficial for your family.

How about you? What are some ways you’ve tried to teach your children to work? Are there any ideas you could add to the list?

Photo credit: Clem Onojeghou

Quote: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. —Chinese proverb

20 Items to Remember to Budget!

Ever built a budget for the month and realized later that you forgot about something so obvious? Been there! If you’re like me, you had an extensive meeting with your spouse to make sure every detail was cared for, but yet something came up that you probably should’ve expected and should’ve discussed in that “extensive meeting” and just didn’t.

Well here’s a list of basic things to be sure to add to your budget so you can build your best budget possible. It works for our family of 2, but I think it will be a decent guideline for any size of family (food is still food and bills are still bills, right?). I’ll start with the obvious and move to the less common.

Side note 1: we use a free app called Every Dollar for our budget, and we love it!!

Side note 2: get out your calendar for the month so you have an idea of the extra items like birthdays you’ll be spending money on!

Side note 3: for extra tips on saving money on your bills, check this out!

Here we go! (and if you use Every Dollar, you can choose to have your budget copied from last month, create an entirely new one, or edit your last month’s budget for the coming month…so no need to remember these items each time!)

1. Mortgage/rent

2. Food – groceries and restaurants (will you be having company at all this month?)

3. Gasoline

4. Electricity/gas

5. Water/garbage

6. Phone bill

7. Car insurance

8. Car maintenance/savings for car maintenance

9. Clothing – dry cleaning or needed items

10. Entertainment (Don’t forget your friends asked you to go to that show with them!)

11. Gifts (Whose birthday or baby shower is coming up?)

12. Emergency fund (for a flat tire, sudden death in the family, etc; $1,000 is a good goal for this!)

13. Savings

  • Short term funds (for things like computers and vacations that need more than one month’s budget to purchase)
  • Long term savings (for a house, a new car, bigger emergencies; Dave Ramsey suggest saving 3-6 months worth of income for the bigger unexpected things)
  • Retirement (don’t rely only on the government, please!)

14. Life insurance

15. Health/health insurance

16. Travel

17. Home maintenance

18. Homeowners/Renters insurance

19. Education

20. Miscellaneous

Bet you didn’t think the list could be so long for “basics!” Let me know if I missed something!

Photo credit: Pictures of Money | Cropped

3 Ways to Save $2,400 a Year on Bills

TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read): Call or shop around to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible on your monthly bills.

Ever looked at your account and wondered where all the money went? Ever think that it’s disappearing before your eyes? It’s easy to feel that way in a normal day of adulthood and even easier when you don’t have a budget you stick to and check up on. I – of course – would urge you to get a budget if you don’t have one. And if you do have a budget and disparage of your finances still, it might be time to take a look at your bills to know for certain you are getting the very best deal possible.

Here’s a look at some of the ways we’ve saved at least $200 a month on our bills. That’s $2,400 in a year!

Shop around for the best car insurance rate. “We switched to Geico and saved $60 a month!” isn’t just a statement you hear on a commercial! Geico might not be your best option, but for us, switching from Allstate to Geico literally cut our bill in half, and we are getting the same, full coverage! If your insurance rate increases every time your policy is up for renewal, it’s highly doubtful you’re getting the best price. Geico has actually gone down a bit from the time we started. Don’t be bashful or feel bad about calling to ask for a discount. The easy switch saves us $60 a month.

Check your phone carrier’s competitors. We made the switch to T-Mobile and save at least $120 a month! Again, maybe T-Mobile isn’t the best deal for you. When we were faced with a large phone bill for average service and coverage and very average data, we asked AT&T to lower our rate, and when they didn’t, we decided to shop around. T-Mobile was having an excellent deal, and we were able to get unlimited data, talk, and text; 2 lines for $100 total. That is half what our other bill would have been. And there’s no contract. Consider what you could be saving and ask yourself this question: would I rather have great cell service or $100 extra per month? 

Get smart about your utilities. 

  • Electricity – Did you know electric companies charge more per kilowatt at certain times of the day/days of the week or after passing a certain threshold of electricity? It does pay to be smart about your utilities! If you really want to save more on electricity and/or gas, you’ll change your tolerance level for the temperature in your home. It may mean adding or shedding a layer of clothing or adding a fan to your home (look here for even more helpful tips from a real guru). I even try little things like ironing all at once so that the iron doesn’t waste electricity getting heated up each time. Yes, it can be inconvenient, and it might not feel like you’re making a difference, but when you get your electric bill, you’ll know it’s paying off. We recently received a $15 bill for electricity (for our 2 bedroom apartment, to be fair), and I was one happy woman!
  • Gas (natural) – Our heat is from natural gas, so during these winter months, we are especially careful. Personally, I now enjoy bundling up when I go to bed, so I don’t think of it negatively. You might be able to close a vent in a spare room or keep the curtains closed to help keep the heat in. Between the two of these, we’ve cut our gas and electric in half, saving at least $20 a month.

You may not be able to cut $200 of your monthly bills, but I certainly hope you can look at your budget, determine where you might be overpaying, and decide what to do about it. Call the company and ask for a lower rate. Shop around and let competitors know your current rate and ask if they can do better. Figure out where electricity is getting wasted and fix it. Feel free to let me know some ways you save on your bills each month or if there’s something I missed! I’m all ears.

Photo credit: 401Kcalculator.org

Best Free Things To Do in Los Angeles

 

Living in or just visiting Southern California can get quite expensive, especially if you don’t know your way around. Not only that, but there are opportunities for fun everywhere! It’s hard to know where to start. If you’re in the LA area and are trying to have some fun on the cheap, you need to cross some of these items off your bucket list! Disclaimer: some of these destinations may require a parking fee. If you get creative about your parking and find a good, free spot, please let us know in the comments!

This list could very well apply to all of SoCal. I can only imagine that some of the best things to do in San Diego would include beautiful beaches, breath-taking mountains to hike, and pleasant shopping and social areas. However, I decided to stick to Los Angeles, at least for this post.

Check out these places and you’ll see why we rarely spend money on entertainment.

The beaches (here are some favorites):

Redondo Beach. Such a beautiful beach area! The vacation homes are so fun to look at and dream about. We actually saw Troy Aikman (famous, former Dallas Cowboys player!) on vacation with his family there! We had fun just looking at the homes and talking about what we liked about each of them. (Sorry, my pictures don’t do it justice!)  Cost: gasoline and parking money

Santa Monica Pier. With their recent enhancements, this is a big tourist attraction now and rightfully so. Come here to experience a care-free fun time, seeing different performers along the pier, just hanging out at the beach, or fishing from the pier. Cost: gasoline and parking money

Photo credit: Pacheco

El Matador Beach. If you’re looking for some scenic beach pictures, this is the place to go! There’s not a lot of room between the cliffs behind you and the water when the tide starts coming in deeper, but the rocks makes for some great pictures! Cost: gasoline and parking money 

 

  • Griffith Observatory. This is a fun place to go to see LA from a higher perspective! Parking is free, and there’s some educational displays and potential hiking (particularly if you don’t get the parking at just the right time). Cost: gasoline

Photo credit: Frank Steele

  • UCLA performing arts. We went to a free symphony and enjoyed their fabulous music, twisted with a little drama. On a separate day, we went and explored their beautiful campus.  Cost: gasoline 

 

  • Hiking trails. If you enjoy the great outdoors at all, the possibilities are endless!!! Here are some of the places we’ve hiked: 

The bridge to nowhere. The waterfalls at the end of the trail make it all worth it. Warning: it’s a 10 mile round trip hike. Please don’t go if you’ve never hiked before or if it’s been a while for you. And take lots of water. There’s a river along the way to help you stay cool and welcoming waterfalls at the end (did I mention I love those?). My husband and I got engaged on the bridge, so it’s somewhat sentimental to me :).

Malibu Beach area. It’s so nice to hike right along the beach!

Vasquez Rocks. A season of 24 was filmed here, as well as several other popular movies and shows. This place will suit all your exploring desires with trails, vast hills, little coves, and rocks that beckon you to climb them.

Seriously, endless possibilities in SoCal. Cost: gasoline (just be sure to plan your drinking water and meals properly)

  • Shakespear plays at the park. This was a neat little experience for us! Take a blanket to sit on and maybe a pillow or two for comfort. The actors did a great job, and the sound quality and staging was pretty good as well! Cost: free

 

  • Snow! I absolutely love the snow in Tehachapi in the winter months. Just wow. There’s also Wrightwood, but I find it quite overwhelmed with tourists, as is Big Bear. My husband found this amazing area of Tehachapi where we saw next to zero snow-deprived Californians, and if there had been many people, there would have been plenty of snow to go around. It started snowing while we were there… I was in heaven!!! We didn’t have to pay for parking, and there were even bathrooms with toilet paper along the snow-covered trails (always a plus, right?). This only required gas and warm clothes, and we made some AMAZING memories!!! Cost: gasoline

 

 

  • Downtown Disney. Parking is free for the first two hours. Walking around and getting the essence of Disney without the price of Disney is great for us. Visit the lego store and other fun shops (this girl has awesome pictures!). Just don’t get so carried away that you forget about your car’s time limit! Cost: gasoline and potentially parking
  • The Grove. This is such a beautiful shopping area to walk around in. They have lots of shops, a nice fountain, and a little bridge. My best friend got engaged on the bridge; her fiancé sang and played his guitar and then proposed. It’s especially romantic at night if that’s what you’re going for. Cost: gasoline and possibly parking

Photo credit: Prayitno

  • The Americana (Glendale). While this place is awesome all year round, I have to say that Christmas time is the best!!! They have a beautiful fountain running through the middle of the outdoor shopping area, and at Christmas time, the lights make it even more inviting. As my husband and I were enjoying the scenery, we hear “Let it Snow” by Michael Buble, and snow starts falling from above!! It was fake of course, but it was still magical! Just magical. Cost: gasoline and possibly parking
    This is certainly not a comprehensive list (and I hope to keep adding to it!), but I hope it helps some locals to figure out inexpensive ways to create family memories! Yes, some of these places may tempt you to spend money. However, the goal is simply to give you some fun destinations that don’t require a huge entrance fee and certainly don’t break the bank. Now, please. Let me in: what are some of your favorite, inexpensive things to do in LA? 

7 Tips for Saving Money in the Kitchen

I tend to spend a lot time in the kitchen, and that’s also where I get to do a lot of thinking. So I started thinking of ways I could be saving money in the kitchen. These are some random, money-saving tips for the kitchen: basic and unusual. 

1. Use washcloths instead of sponges. I get that some things just clean better with a sponge (or so we like to think), but if you’re trying to save money, use a washcloth that can be washed and reused, and if you think some items might need a sponge, soak them for a while.

2. Rinse all your dishes before washing, particularly if you don’t have a dishwasher. Having food and beverage residue stuck and dried onto your dishes will undoubtedly require more soap. And since water is cheaper than soap, rinse those babies! This also keeps away bugs if you’re not able to or choose not to wash them right away, and that saves you more than just money!

3. Meal plan. If you’ve never tried this before, you must try it! There are some great, free meal plans out there! If you’ve tried it and it didn’t work out as well as you’d hoped, I encourage you to give it another try. I’ve experienced personally the savings from this – savings of money and time and stress, simply by making a comprehensive grocery list for the next week or two. If it seems daunting, try doing just one week. You’ll be glad to not have to make more than one trip to the grocery store, and you’ll save money by having food on hand and not going out to eat or making impulse purchases during another trip to the grocery store.

4. Save resealable, plastic bags and containers. Unless you use the plastic bag for raw meat, why not wash and reuse? My husband taught me the easiest way to wash plastic quart or gallon sized bags: turn them completely inside out and then wash! Works magically. I’m only referring to quart and gallon sized bags, as sandwich bags are so flimsy and thin that it’s not worth the time and effort to me. But hey, if you can get another use out of it, why not?

5. Wash and reuse foil. I just recently started doing this, but so far I like it and appreciate not messing with tearing off the foil again!

6. Save paper bags from take out or other shopping and use them as lunch bags or whatever else you want to transport! I use these again and again for taking lunches or snacks to work.

7. Repurpose citrus peels to make an amazing aroma on the stove (that’s my favorite use for them – just add some cinnamon, clove, or rosemary and water!) or use the peel to make a zest to save for later (dry out before storing), or if nothing else, use it to freshen your disposal.

Have you tried any of these? How do you save money in the kitchen department? I’d love to know. Let me know in the comments!

Photo credit: Ginny | Cropped | No endorsements