Tax Refunds

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Tax day just past and many people are anxiously awaiting their refund checks.  Putting your check to work for you is a great way to help you get out of debt faster.  Refunds are a great way to put a sizeable dent in your debt, whether it is a mortgage, student debt, medical bills, a car payment or anything else you may owe on.  Let’s take a car payment for instance.  If you are paying 300 dollars a month towards your car, most of that is going towards interest.  However if you put 3000 down from your tax refund, 100 % of that can go towards the principle cutting a huge amount of your debt down and the time it will take you to pay it off.  The same works for any debt.  Sometime when you are looking at a debt over 100,000 dollars or more, you may not think that three grand really matters in the grand scheme of things.  But it does! If you do this with your refund every year, you will start to see results quickly.

 

If you aren’t getting a refund this year and had to pay more taxes, I would recommend going in and talking with your HR department and raising your tax contribution.  It is a lot easier to cut back on a few dollars a week then come up with a lump sum at the end of the year.

Just remember every penny counts!                   

Switching Insurance

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Home and Auto insurance can be costly. As I’ve mentioned before, insurance is one area where I don’t believe in skimping on.  If a disaster strikes you don’t want to have to be concerned if you have enough coverage, there will be plenty of other things for you to worry about.

I recommend shopping around every couple of years.  There are plenty of reputable companies out there and rates can fluctuate significantly. I am always surprised at how much money I save when I switch companies. At different times in my life I have saved hundreds to close to a thousand dollars a year by changing companies.

I will be shopping around again in July.  Why the wait? Sometimes it’s better to wait. If you have a claim on your record, or a ticket, it’s often better to wait until it falls off to start your search.  More than likely once the item is off your record you will be offered a better rate.

I have a hail claim that is going to fall off this summer, and you can bet that the second it does I am going to see what’s out there.

A word of Caution when shopping for insurance.  The insurance company is a business and wants to get your money.  I have found some less than honest. Make sure to ask for an e-mail or snail mail of the coverage that you are requesting so that you can make sure that the price you are being quoted matches the coverage.

I heard great things about an insurance company from a Christian radio station. So I thought I would give them a try.  I filled out the form, told them the coverage I was requesting and submitted it for a quote.  They called me the next day and quoted me an outrageously low price. Luckily, I had the sense to ask if this was for the coverage I requested (even though I thought it was silly, why wouldn’t the quote be of the coverage I requested). It was then that I found out the quote was just for liability and only what the state required me to have.  Imagine if I had not been more careful, and purchased the policy, believing it was the coverage I asked for. What if I had gotten into a wreck and it was my fault?  I would have been out of luck. ( I haven’t been in an accident in decades, but they are called accidents for a reason). I didn’t even check to see if the coverage I wanted was cheaper.  I felt like the company was dishonest and misleading buyers.  It was not a company I wanted to do business with.

So you switch companies and you are saving a bundle. So what do you do with this added wealth? Spend it?  NO! I would hope by now you should no the answer to that question. If you are doing well with your budget and your categories are not stretched too thin then save it.  If your budget has been tight for a while, divvy it up and give a little more breathing room to your monthly expenses.

Good Luck!

 

Freebie’s and coupons

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Entertainment! We all want to enjoy life. Who wants to wait until they are retired before they start living? Moderation is the key. We have a fairly small entertainment budget for a family of five. So I am constantly looking for ways to stretch it. After a long work week, everyone, even the kids want to burn off a little steam.

There are always lots of free things to do:

Go on a hike or walk

Spend the day at a park (some parks have free games, splash pads for younger kids, and trails for biking or walking)

Movies in the park ( in evening when the weather is nice, many areas offer this)

Libraries (movie rentals, books, cd’s, and more)

  • Also many libraries have free programs for kids, movie nights, guest speakers, book signings
  • Also reading programs during the summer is a great way to get your kids to read and be rewarded with free swag.  Some have adult summer reading programs too.

Another great way to help out your entertainment budget is signing up for newsletters and emails from your favorite haunts.

Before you go to the movies, out to eat, to an escape room, or any other place that charges check out their websites and see if they offer an e-club.  Most will give you something free just for signing up, and then also send you deals throughout the year.

Here’s just a few to get you started. Before you start open a “junk email address” where all your deals can go to, otherwise you can get overwhelmed and annoyed with all the messages, especially if you are signing up for multiple sites.

Nothing bunt cake – free buntlet on your birthday, plus B1G1 coupons frequently.

Chili’s- Free dessert on you birthday + coupons throughout the year for free appetizers and desserts and other deals

Texas Roadhouse- free appetizer on your birthday

Panera- free pastry on your birthday and free stuff periodically the more you eat there

Maggiano’s- get 10 dollars off your next visit

On the Border- Free Queso on your next visit

Raising Cane’s- get a free box combo

Taco Cabana- Free taco

Cold Stone Creamery – get 25 points (every 50 gives you 5 dollars off)

Redbox- free 1 night dvd rental for signing up and get another 1 on your birthday, plus coupons throughout the year

These are just a few.  So before you head out next weekend, check out the websites of the venues you intend to visit.  It only takes a moment and you can save a lot.  It adds up quick.  Some places take a day or two to send out their coupons, so if you can sign up a few days in advance, even better.

Feel free to comment below with your favorite deals or freebies!

*All of these are subject to change, and may vary depending on your geographic location.

 

Traditional and Roth IRA’s

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Investing in the future can be confusing. IRA’s are a great way to start.  So what is an IRA? An IRA is an Individual Retirement Account.  You make deposits into your IRA and they are typically invested in some sort of mutual fund.

There are two main types of IRA’s; Traditional and Roth

Both have contribution limits, the maximum amount you can deposit in a given year; $5,500 for adults under 49 years of age, and $6,500 for adults age 50 or older.

One of the main difference between a Roth and a Traditional IRA is when you pay the taxes.  With a Roth IRA you pay the taxes right off the bat, so that when you withdraw the money after you retire, you don’t pay any more taxes.

With a traditional IRA the money you deposit is tax exempt. You don’t pay taxes until you withdraw it.

With a Roth IRA you can make deposits at any age. A Traditional IRA only lets you contribute until you are 70 1/2.

Also with a Roth IRA, your income affects the amount you can contribute, while with a Traditional IRA your income has no affect on your contribution amounts.

Both accounts have penalties on early withdrawals.

I personally prefer the ROTH, just because I like to get my taxes out of the way. Whichever way you choose, the main thing is to start saving.

Life Insurance

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I am stunned at how many people do not have a life insurance policy. Life Insurance is something that MUST be built into every budget.  I hear my friends tell me all the time “I can’t afford life insurance.”  The truth is that you can’t afford not to have it.

No one knows the future and what’s in store. You could be hit by a car and killed tomorrow.  Take a moment and think, how would your family survive if the breadwinner of your family died unexpectedly?

These are a few questions you might want to mull over:

If you are a stay at home mom or dad, how long would you have before you needed to find a job?

Would you realistically be able to find a job in that time period making the same income?

Do you have money put aside for funeral expenses? 

Do you have young kids who would need a nanny or day care if something happened to one of you?

Therapy costs? If your child loses a parent, they might need grief counseling, or you might need some too.

Losing a loved one is horrific. Don’t let your family have the added stress and worry about how they are going to make due if something happened to you.

So how much life insurance should you have?  I think that’s a personal decision.  My father recommends a million dollar policy on the breadwinner. I don’t have quite that much.

I would recommend looking at how much it would take to pay off your mortgage, pay for a funeral and then do a little more. (at a minimum, if you can do more, do more) This would at least give your family a little breathing room.

When we first got married we got two small policies. One for my husband the bread winner and one for myself. I knew that if something happened to me, my husband would need money for day care or a nanny, as our three children were small at the time. Then we got a slightly bigger policy on him.  A few years later when we had a little more money, I added a 2nd policy under my husbands name.

We both have peace of mind knowing that if something happens to either one of us, there will be some money to help out. There is enough to deal with emotionally when a loved one dies, we don’t want to have to worry about the financial impact too.

Most people think nothing will happen to them, and believe me I hope that’s true. But I have seen brain tumors appear suddenly, cancer show up in seemingly healthy people, traffic accidents; all take young parents who thought they had all the time in the world.

You can get a life insurance policies for as little as 10 dollars a month.  Get something, even if you have to start small. Typically the younger you are the cheaper the policy will be.  Start today, even if it’s small. You can always add to the policy later!

 

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

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So I recently went to a finance class.  I went not expecting to get much out of it.  I thought, I’m doing pretty good, there is nothing this guy is going to tell me that I don’t already know.  Surprise, surprise, I was wrong.

There are a few basics about budgeting.

One, if you are married, both of you need to agree to the budget and be willing to follow it.

Two, you need to be living under your means if you want it to be successful.

and the Third, (the new thing I learned and have put to the test) you can’t rob Peter to pay Paul.

For those of you who may not be familiar with this phrase it means that you can’t take money out of one category to pay for something in another category.

Now I bristled at this.  I am stubborn.  I’ve been doing this for years.  I’ve still saved money. I was about to dig in my heels and stop listening, but then he explained something.

A budget is a budget and you either stick with it or you don’t.  The reason it works and helps you save money is that you need to be 100% of the time consistent.  If you stick with it you will always save money.  Why? Because no one is going to spend every penny in every category every month. (Now I like saving money so I decided to listen again)

If you put 50 dollars a week into your utilities category, it is highly unlikely that your bill will be exactly 200 dollars every month.

Now it takes a huge commitment to live this way.  But I have just been doing it for over a month and seen huge changes, mainly in my spending. I am spending less because when there is something I feel like I want or need and I don’t have enough in that category I DON’T get it, or I WAIT.  I use to just take it from another category.

Now often times when have waited and have the money, that item doesn’t seem as pressing anymore.

If you rob from your categories, I invite you to try this method with me and see the amazing changes it will have on your budget.

 

401 K and saving for retirement

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A 401k program is a great way to save for retirement.  Most companies offer some sort of program, although each will vary slightly.  A lot of companies also match the money you put in up to a certain percentage.

If your company offers an employee match program and you are not taking advantage of it, start now.  You are just denying yourself FREE money.  It’s like getting a raise for whatever percentage your company matches.  My husband company matches up to 3 %, so every year we get an extra 3% of income that goes straight to our retirement savings!

It seems like a no brainer, right?

Another big plus to a 401k is that the money is taken straight out of your salary and you are not taxed on it. So if you make 100,000 dollars a year, and your company matches 3 % so you put in just 3% which equals 3000 dollars.  So you just saved 3k and your company gives you 3k, so you saved 6k for the year and now you will only be taxed on 97,000 dollars.  It’s what I call a win win.

Another easy way to save for your retirement is to add one percent each year. So if you are contributing 5% now, next year try 6%.  These slow changes pay off big time down the line.  Every 1% adds up.  It is a lot easier to adjust your budget by 1% than by big amounts.

If you told me when I first got married to put 20 % of my income into my 401k, I would have said you were crazy and that I would never be able to do that.  But guess what this year starting in January 2018 we bumped our 401K up to 20%.  We have been adding a percentage a year, and it is feasible.  We are also seeing our retirement savings go up and up.  This is the first year we actually bumped it up by 2 %.

401k is an easier way to save in my opinion because you never see the money.  It’s hard to save the money I get every week.  I can always seem to come up with something we “need”. But having the money come out of my check before it ever gets to me is easy.  I don’t see it, so I don’t feel like I am missing anything.

Start small, build your way up, and you will be astonished at what you can accomplish.

 

Beef explained

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I love beef, but prices seem to get higher and higher every time I look. So what’s the solution? Toss out your grocery budget? Never eat beef again? Not in my house. I look for sales on beef. They exist. Some sales are good, others are just okay. When I see a sale on beef, I try and stock up for a while. There are so many different cuts of beef on the market. Some even have two names. So what do you buy? What can you do with each type of cut?

Well I lucked out. My Dad worked for a butcher when he was younger. So he learned a lot about beef. Which cuts are tougher and need to be cooked longer and slower, and which cuts are tender and don’t take that much time to cook.

So I am going to share that knowledge with you.

So let’s take a look at the types of cuts.

Chuck – Now chuck is a little bit of a tougher meat.  I ate a lot of this growing up.  I love chuck.  I typically eat it as a roast.  It’s great for pot roast.  Chop it up and use it in a stew, or shred it for tacos.  It’s versatile.  It’s one of the cheaper cuts of meat.  Chuck needs to be cooked low and slow.  If cooked right it is a fantastic cut of meat and just falls apart.

Brisket– I live in the south, so brisket is a staple.  I am going to pretend for a moment that not everyone has had this cut of beef or know what to do with it.  This is another great cut of meat, if cooked correctly.  I recommend buying a whole brisket.  This cut of meat typically goes on sale in the summer. You will have to cut it yourself and trim off some of the fat, although you want to leave some.  Believe me if I can do this you can do it.  I am sure their are probably even how to videos on youtube.  This can be marinated.  It’s great with bbq sauce.  It is another meat that can be quite tough.  Cook it low and slow.

Shank– Now this is a meat that I haven’t experimented with.  It is a tougher cut and needs to be cooked low and slow.

Ribs-Is another low and slow cut.  I haven’t cooked beef ribs before, I was raised on baby back ribs.  I might have to experiment with these.

Plate-This is where ground hamburger meat comes from. This is also used to make cube steak, which is used to make country fried steak.

          Skirt- Skirt steak is also cut from the plate section of the cow. It is mostly known because it is the cut most restaurants use to make fajitas.  This can be a tougher meat if not cooked slowly.  You can cut down on some of the cooking time if the meat is marinated like most restaurants do before grilling it for fajitas.

Loin– We are going to divide into 5 sub sections.

       Tenderloin– Filet mingon, comes from this cut.  It is the most tender cut of beef.

       Short loin– Also called NY, try-bone, filet, powerhouse, and club steak

       Bottom Sirloin– Also known as top round and bottom round.  This is a little tough to use as a steak but can be

used as an oven roast.  It is more tender if cooked at a lower temperature for a longer period of

time.

       Top Sirloin-Tender and makes a great Steak.

 

       Sirloin-This can be found bone in or as a filet.

 

Flank– Although it is a different cut of meat, this is sometimes substituted for skirt steak in fajitas.  It is also sometimes used in Chinese stir fry. Marinating this cut or cooking it slow will help make it more tender.  Some chefs suggest cutting across the grain.  This is supposed to help make the meat more tender also.

Rump-This makes a great roast.  It is another meat that is a little tougher.  But if you cook it low and slow, it makes a great roast beef.

Round-This is also a tougher cut of meat.  I typically use this for swiss steak.  It is great and falls apart with a fork if cooked low and slow.

 

Typically the tougher meats tend to be a little more value for your dollar.  Those are the cuts I normally buy.  They still taste amazing as long as you know how to cook them.  In this day in age of pinterest and youtube, you can find out how to cook pretty much anything.

 

Retail Me Not

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There are lots of ways to save money.  Retail Me Not has been around a long time.  But I am shocked at how many people don’t use it or haven’t heard of it.  Retailmenot.com is a website. If you read my previous post about the Honey add on for google chrome, this one works similar.  However you have to actually go to the website. It is a great place to save money when shopping online.

Here’s how it works:

To save money using Retail Me Not you simply type in the website you are purchasing something from and then it pulls up all the coupon codes or promos going on.  They are listed based on how many people have had success using the code and also by how new the code is.

Sometimes I have found codes on here that Honey hasn’t found.  So it’s always a good idea to take a moment and check the codes before you make a purchase.

I have found some great codes here.  I was ordering food for a large family gathering and I decided to check  retail me not.  I ended up saving 25 %.  Not bad for spending a few extra seconds on a website.

Take a few minutes and check it out.  It could end up saving you a lot of money over time.  http://www.retailmenot.com

 

 

Honey

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No, I’m not talking about the kind the bees make.  If you shop online a great way to save money is using an extension called Honey that connects with google chrome.  Honey works with tons of websites.  When you go to checkout click on the Honey icon (once you have downloaded it) and it scans the web for coupon codes.  It will then apply the best coupon to your order.

I use it a lot with Amazon.  There are multiple sellers on amazon that have the same product.  When I put an item in my cart, Honey will tell me if it’s the best deal or if another seller has a better price.

The best thing about Honey is that it’s free!  Try it out, every penny you save adds up!

Join Honey

Making a Grocery List

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Walking into a grocery store hungry and without a list is the fastest way to derail your grocery budget.  Making a list is the only way to do shopping.  If you read my earlier post than you already know the importance of meal planning.

Meal planning saves money and makes it a lot easier to cook at home.  Making a list and sticking to it is much more simple if you have your meals planned out.  You know exactly what you are making and what ingredients you will need.  When I have a list in my hand it makes it easier to avoid impulse buys because I know I don’t need that item for the week.

I find that making a list also cuts down on the amount of time I spend in a store.  I am in and out because I know exactly what I need, and I am less likely to forget something.  This cuts down on mini grocery trips throughout the week. (which also saves gas- another money saver) And if you are not running in the store three or four times a week, your not picking up extra items.  Because let’s be honest, who really runs in the store for just one item and comes out with only one.  That doesn’t happen to me too often.

Meal Planning 101

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Cooking at home as opposed to eating out, can be a healthier and more economical option.  If your like me you may eat out for various reason.  However one of the top reasons we eat out in my family, is because I have not planned dinner.  When I plan my meals in advance, I don’t have to think of a meal idea quickly.  I write it down, post the menu schedule on the fridge and shop accordingly.  It is a lot easier to cook when I know the meal I am making and I already have all of the ingredients.

Planning ahead cuts down on multiple trips to the grocery store.  Often times when I plan something last minute, I don’t have all the ingredients and that causes an extra trip, where more impulse items can be picked up.

Another Fantastic plus for planning meals and eating at home is leftovers.  Leftovers can make a great lunch the next day!

When making a meal plan I recommend writing it all out. When I don’t do this, I get halfway through the week and then can’t remember what I had planned. LOL

Since my husband and I both work I try to plan simple meals during the week and save the more complex meals for the weekend, when we have more time.

Are you tired of your meal ideas and need something new.  There are many great resources.  Ask friends.  With social media it just takes a minute to get ideas.  Pinterest and Allrecipes are other great websites. Nomoretogo is a fun website that sends you not only recipes but the grocery list as well.  They run a groupon periodically making it cost under two dollars a month.  It even lets you swap out meals in case you have an allergy or just don’t think your family would eat a particular meal.

Another great way to help stay in your budget is to plan your meals according to what’s in season.  In the summer we eat a lot of watermelon and corn on the cob.  We eat fewer strawberries and raspberries in the winter as their prices rise.

Adding in a vegetarian meal or two a week can help cut down on costs.

Need a few meal ideas to get you started?  Here are a few that frequent our table.

Spaghetti– with Meatballs, Meatsauce, Mushrooms, or sometimes just a little bit of butter garlic and veggies.

Tacos – shredded pork, chicken, ground beef, steak

Nachos – we eat these weekly.  You can throw anything on them.

Pot Roast

Pork Roast – this can be cooked and made with gravy, or put in a crockpot and shredded with some bbq sauce.

Soup & Grilled Cheese

Hamburgers

Wraps -fresh veggies, ranch dressing, chicken

Breakfast for dinner

Meatball subs

Taco Salad

Bean burritos

Tostadas

Enchiladas

Wal-mart grocery free pickup

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Let me begin by stating that I am not affiliated with Wal-mart in any way.

Grocery shopping.  Some people love it, others hate it.  Food is probably one of the top budget categories that we all have trouble sticking to. Entertainment would be my second choice.

So today I am going to talk about doing grocery shopping online through Wal-mart.  Now if you read my ebook A Penny at a Time, you will know I love Aldi.  So even though many a friend told me about this new service Wal-mart was offering, I dug in my heels and fought against trying it.  What can I say, I am stubborn and frugal, who knows where that comes from…cough cough (Dadd).  I know Aldi is cheaper.  I work hard for my money why would I want to try a service I know I will be paying more for?

But for some unknown reason, I finally decided to give it a shot.  And to my surprise I loved it.

So here are Pro’s and Con’s to doing the online grocery order.

Pro’s

Time- it’s quicker, pick up has taken me no more than about 5 mins. I can shop at whatever time, in the comfort of my home in my pj’s.

Weather- When it’s freezing outside, like it was last week I, I just stay in my warm car and the food gets loaded in.

Wal-mart makes it easier to make sure you are staying on budget. Every item you place in your cart tallies up at the side. So you constantly see your total.  That way you know if you need to put stuff back or can add more, instead of being surprised at the check out.  (At Aldi I do this with a pen and paper, but it is more work)

Impulse buys – You don’t have them.  You aren’t seeing everything in the store, (Unless you are searching for it).  So I don’t walk by the clothing and say…hmm these t-shirts are a great price and throw them in, messing my budget up.

I eat slightly healthier -I am not picking up that candy bar or two while I am waiting for the checkout line to move. Or the bottle of water as I wait realizing how thirsty I am.

I don’t have to remember my bags or my quarter.

Con’s

As far as my experience goes Aldi prices are still overall cheaper than Wal-mart.  So I am paying more product wise.

 

So for me when I am in a hurry or lazy I will be using Wal-mart.  When I have the time to manually add up everything in my shopping cart to ensure I am staying on budget, then I will go to aldi.  Find what works for you.  Which method will help you to better stay on track financially.

 

 

New Year, New Resolutions

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2018 has just begun.  It’s the perfect time to start a new resolution to start yourself on the road to get out of debt.  It may not be easy but it is feasible and worth all the effort it takes.  Take it from someone who knows.  At one time I thought I would never be out of debt.  But with hard work I got there and you can to!  It just starts with making the decision to begin today.

Don’t put it off another day.  Make the choice today to

start your path to gaining financial freedom.