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How Sound Is Your Budget? 26 Ways To Make Your Money Go Farther

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Today we have a guest post from fellow blogger, Jon from Money Smart Guides.

Many of us know that the best way to get out of debt and put your financial house in order is by setting a budget. The idea behind the budget is to understand how much money you bring in every month and how much goes out, and the goal is to set it up so you don’t spend more than what you have.

In the process of doing that, though, you find that it might take you a month or two to line it all up where you have the right amount of money in each category. And now you see that every single dollar is accounted for. But is that all?

If you take a step back, you might be able to find some areas in which you could scale back your expenses and save yourself some money, stretching your budget in new and creative ways.

Well, maybe not so creative as just being able to think outside of your comfort zone. To get out of debt quickly or to save for a big-ticket item, you have to find areas in your budget where you can save some money, and with an open mind, you can find it possible to save hundreds of dollars a month, even when you think you don’t have any more money to squeeze. Let’s look at some of the more popular categories and discuss areas where savings can be had.

26 Ways To Ensure A Sound Budget

Transportation

Getting to and from work or getting the kids to or from school can be expensive. With gas, maintenance, registration, not to mention any car payments, you could shell out $8,000 to $9,000 a year on average operating your car. But your car is necessary, so what can you do to save money in this area?

  • Carpool a couple days a week.
  • Use public transportation, keeping your car at home.
  • Keep your tires inflated properly. That alone could add 1 percent of fuel efficiency.
  • Get regular oil changes and tune-ups. Dirty fluids, spark plugs or filters will cost you gas.
  • Consolidate trips. It’s easier and more efficient to run five errands in one trip, doing a loop around town, than to run three or four trips. If considering going out, make a list of all the errands you can run before you head out, and map your course.

Food

Food is a vital part of life, so in no way would I suggest that you starve yourself or fast for a couple days every week. But, food is an area that can take up a lot of our budget if we allow it, simply because we can easily want foods we don’t need but we can justify them as helpful to our living. Here are some quick tips to save in this area without missing out.

  • Get to know and love store brands. Eschewing brand names, especially with ingredients that are part of dishes (like beans for a soup or chili or a Mexican dish). Ingredients that are store-brand are much cheaper and are negligibly different in taste.
  • Plan meals. Make a list of meals for the week, and buy only what you need to finish those meals. And make meals out of what you already have on hand in your fridge or pantry.
  • Shop specials only.  Look in your favorite supermarket’s weekly ad or check out the app and find items on sale. If you can plan meals around those specials, do so. Do not buy cereals or sodas at anywhere near full price.
  • Don’t go out. Restaurants are expensive, even fast-food places. Even leftovers don’t work in keeping costs down. Avoid going out as much as possible, even at work. Pack a lunch instead. And when cooking at home, make plenty of leftovers for lunches or dinners the following day.

Clothing

It can be tempting to head out every season and find the latest fashion trends and make sure you are wearing what is hot. But clothing, for all practical purposes, is about being modestly covered and comfortable. To save money in this area, here are some ideas.

  • Avoid department stores.
  • Find clearance racks.
  • Shop only for what you need. If you work, buy only enough clothes to mix and match for five days a week. This can be five blouses and two or three skirts or two or three pairs of slacks or pants. No more, no less.
  • Buy only to replace something that is worn out. If you wear out one blouse, buy only one blouse. From the clearance rack. At a non-department store.

Utilities

Utilities? Really? How can you ave money on utilities without lacking some level of comfort? If you think it’s impossible, then skip this part. But there are some things you can do to keep your utility bills down and save some money.

  • Stop phantom energy. Unplug appliances that you don’t use every day. If you use your clothes washer and dryer mostly on weekends, unplug them during the week. Every appliance that is plugged in but unused leaks electricity through the outlet, which added up can cost you a few bucks every month.
  • Don’t stack up. Don’t run your air conditioning and dishwasher at the same time while you take a hot shower.  Electricity is most efficient when it is focused on one thing at a time, so run appliances one at a time and have your heater/AC unit off during that time. This means running laundry or dish machines in the mornings during the summer and afternoons during the winter.
  • Energy-saving bulbs. CFL or LED bulbs are on the market, providing 100 watts of light using less than half the electricity. Having these all over your house will save you energy in the long run. As long as you don’t leave them on all the time!
  • Turn it up (or down). The heat and air conditioning are not about being warm or cold, they’re about neutral comfort. Each degree you turn your cooling up or heat down can save you as much as 3 percent on your bill. And you could easily adjust your temperature up two or three degrees without losing much comfort, and your body will adapt to the new setting.
  • Use a broom. It might be easy to clean sidewalks and driveways with a garden hose, but it’s better for your water bill to use a broom.
  • Calibrate irrigation. If you have a drip system for your plants, program it for the right frequency and time so that you don’t have to add water later.  And check your system for leaks often so you don’t waste water and starve plants.
  • Stream TV. Cut the cable and subscribe to services like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu to get your entertainment. Even all three subscriptions would be cheaper each month than even a basic cable TV package.
  • Borrow. If you enjoy reading or listening to audiobooks, you can get them from your local library.
  • Can you hear me now? Find savings in your cell-phone plan. Get a slightly larger data plan than you would normally use, to avoid any overage charges. Find discounts for being military or an educator – ask your carrier. Buy a new cellphone with cash. Do not “finance” it by rolling it into your phone bill.  And don’t upgrade your phone every year or two because you can. As long as you like it and it still works, keep it as long as you can – just like a paid-for car.

Entertainment, Vacation and Miscellaneous Expenses

This is perhaps the easiest part of your budget in which to save money, so I decided to save this for last. Sometimes it’s harder to pinch the “necessities” in a budget. But outside of that, there are very simple steps that can save a ton of money without really sacrificing your life much.

  • Make theaters seem strange. Don’t go to a blockbuster movie in the theater. It’s better to be patient and wait until the movie comes out on DVD/Blu-ray. Or you can see it on your favorite streaming service (see above), or perhaps rent it from the library.
  • Vacation close to home. Or even stay home and just hang out during your breaks from school and/or work. Or take day trips. Don’t save each month for a big vacation trip. Stay close to home to save money.
  • Ditch the mags. You can probably cut out magazine subscriptions, and instead find articles online that fit your interests. If you have several months or weeks of magazines in your house that you have barely touched, you are wasting money with subscriptions.
  • Gifts. Whether it’s Christmas or birthday, you don’t have to buy all your gifts, and you certainly don’t have to spend at least a certain amount based on how much you love the person. Keep your gifts simple, don’t give multiple gifts to a person, and add a handwritten card for extra personal touches. Hand-made gifts are appreciated just as much (if not more) than those purchased.

Final Thoughts

Using these tips as a guide, you can probably find a couple hundred dollars in savings every month, no matter how tight your budget is, just by being creative in locating opportunities for savings. And you can use those savings to knock out your debt, or save for something big later. Claim your freedom sooner rather than later, and be willing to sacrifice for it!

Jon writes for Money Smart Guides, a personal finance blog that helps people get out of debt and start investing for their future.

52 Week Reverse Savings Challenge

52 week Reverse savings challengeSavings challenges are a great way to increase the size of our bank accounts or save up for a special expense.  With tax season well under way, many of us are looking forward to receiving a tax refund.  This is a great time to start a savings challenge, and since you’ve got money coming in, it’s the perfect time to start a 52 Week Reverse Savings Challenge.  To make it easy for you, I’ve created a handy printable chart, which you can find at the end of this post.

Many savings challenges start you out easy.  Just save $1 this week and $2 next week and so on.  That is a perfect way to start out.  But when you have just received an influx of cash, such as with your tax refund, rather than letting it burn a hole in your pocket, use that money to begin a 52 Week Reverse Savings Challenge.

With a reverse savings challenge, you start out with the biggest number first, then reduce the amount you save every week.  So for week one, you put away $52, in week two, you save $51 and so on.

One thing that I really love about the 52 Week Reverse Savings Challenge is that you hit some nice round numbers throughout.  In week 25, you will reach $1000.  In less than 6 months, you will have put away $1000!  That’s a great milestone to reach.  In week 40, you hit $1300, and by the end of 52 weeks, you have saved $1378.

You can put away the money in a number of different ways.  Personally, I like setting up a separate bank account for the challenge and then transferring money into it every week when I sit down to balance my accounts and pay bills.  Of course, only do this if you have the ability to open free bank accounts.  I do a lot of my banking with Capital One 360, and they allow you to have multiple savings accounts, so it’s easy and free to open a new account and transfer money in every week.  Another benefit to a bank account is that you can get one that earns interest.  Sure, rates aren’t all that high right now, but those pennies start to add up, so at the end of the year, you’ll have saved more than $1378 (how much depends on what the rate is at your bank, but hey, even an extra $2 takes you to a nice round number).

If you are more of a cash person, putting the money away in a mason jar or special box is also an option.  Just be sure that you aren’t tempted to take the money out when you need some quick cash.  Also, be sure that you’re keeping it in a safe place where it isn’t at risk of being stolen.  I have to admit, I can see the joy in opening your safe every week and putting in a stack of dollar bills.  It would make me feel like a fancy rich person in a movie, even if I was only putting away one dollar bills each time.

If you find yourself receiving a large tax refund or surprise windfall of cash, take this as an opportunity to start a 52 Week Reverse Savings Challenge.  Turn that small amount of money into almost $1400 in only a year by making smart savings choices and growing your savings every week.    Proudly check off the amounts every week and watch that number grow!

52 Week Reverse Savings Challenge Printable Chart

Blue Apron Review - A Non-Chef Takes on Meal Prep

blue apron review logoI am not a great cook.  I freely admit this.  But I would love to become a better cook, and so when the opportunity arose to do a Blue Apron review, I jumped at the chance.  I’ve actually been using Blue Apron on and off for a while, but I was excited to learn more while I put together my review.

What is Blue Apron?  Blue Apron is a service that delivers fresh, high quality ingredients as well as detailed recipes to allow you to put together great tasting meals and also try out foods you might never try.

blue apron review calendarOne of my favorite things about Blue Apron is how customizable it is.  This isn’t a service where you sign up and have to get a box every week.  Not only do you get to select from 6 unique meals for each week’s box, you can also skip weeks.  I schedule all of my boxes on Fridays so that I can cook over the weekend.  I actually only get boxes about once a month, when I know that I will have the time to cook, when the meals are really appealing, or when I just want to try something new.

Let’s get the cost out of the way up front.  You can get a 2 person plan or a 4 person family plan from Blue Apron.  The 2-person plan contains 3 unique recipes, each with 2 servings, for a total of six meals.  Each week’s box costs $59.94, or $9.99 per meal.  The family plan contains either 2 recipes or 4 recipes, and the two recipe plan costs $69.92, or $8.74 per meal.  Not too bad, especially as I often consider my meals a replacement for eating out, and $9.99 is clearly cheaper than a meal out!

blue apron review recipesFor this week, I selected three different types of meals:  Spicy Shrimp Coconut Curry, Oaxaca Cheese and Plantain Tortas, and Moroccan Chicken.  All Blue Apron meals come with these awesome large recipe cards, showing you just what goes into each meal and giving you photographs of the steps along the way.  And if that’s not enough for you, their website is also filed with all sorts of tips for cooking the meals and also learning about the different foods you’re about to eat.  For example, this wasn’t the first time I was going to be eating plantains, but I certainly wasn’t sure how to prepare them.  I know they look like bananas, but I also know they’re somewhat different from bananas, so this was something new.

A peek down into my box when it arrived

A peek down into my box when it arrived

Blue Apron boxes are really well packaged.  They package their boxes based on where they’re shipping and what’s inside, and there’s never any worry about your box sitting on your porch if the delivery comes early and you’re still at work.  Even on the warmest days in the summer, I’ve come back to very cold Blue Apron boxes.  And the best part is that the packaging is all recyclable, or you can ship it back to Blue Apron if you live in an area where recycling is more complicated.  Or you can reuse the packaging.  The giant freezer blocks are awesome in coolers in the summer!

The food is designed to stay fresh for an entire week, as well, so once you unpack your box into your fridge, you have a week to cook everything.  Of course, it’s recommended you cook any seafood first, but I usually want to try everything right away!  The box comes with everything that you need – they only assume you have salt, pepper, and olive oil in your pantry.

The first meal I prepared was the Spicy Shrimp Coconut Curry.  One of the reasons I selected this meal is that I knew it would reheat well.  Frequently, I cook up my Blue Apron Meals and package both away to take to work for lunch.  I really like eating my big meal at lunch, and Blue Apron makes it easy for me to bring something tasty.

blue apron review shrimp1This recipe didn’t really have anything too complicated for me to do, and I love that they tell you how long the recipe will take to cook, from the prep to the actual cooking.  If you’re a slow chopper, it might take you longer, but the more you use Blue Apron, the more your knife skills will improve.

As this is a curry, it can be a spicier dish.  The recipe warns you about this and instructs you to put in as much curry as you prefer.  So if you like your dish milder, don’t use very much curry.  If you love spicy like me, dump in all of the curry!  Whatever works best for you.  That’s one of my favorite things about Blue Apron – you can customize the recipe to your tastes.  Following the very simple step-by-step instructions, I prepared my meal and got it to cooking without any problems. It smelled absolutely delectable!  Of course, I was cooking it to package up for lunches, so I haven’t gotten to eat it yet, but the taste of the sauce was delightful.

blue apron review torta2The next meal I cooked was the Oaxaca Cheese and Plantain Tortas.  I actually made this for Sunday brunch, because I love a good sandwich at breakfast.   This one had a couple of ingredients I hadn’t ever cooked with before – both the Oaxaca cheese and the plantain.  Neither were particularly hard to work with, and now that I know what I’m doing, I know that this combo is one I will likely put together again.

This sandwich was supposed to have marinated shallots on it, but I am just not much of a shallot fan, so I opted to not include that part, and I have no regrets about it.  Another great thing about Blue Apron – you can feel free to doctor the recipe a bit and make changes to suit your tastes.

After all, the name Blue Apron is an homage to the blue aprons that chefs around the world wear while they are learning to cook, so why not take that to heart and experiment a bit with the recipes?  (But I don’t experiment too much – I’m not a good enough cook for that!)

I did learn one new trick while cooking, and it was such a simple one: Placing a heavy pot on top of a sandwich while it cooked to flatten it a bit.  It’s so obvious, but the difference was amazing.  It helped keep the heat down on the torta and made sure that the cheese melted properly and everything was cooked to perfection.

I may have slightly over-grilled this sandwich - but it was still delicious!

I may have slightly over-grilled this sandwich – but it was still delicious!

This sandwich actually came with a side salad as well – delicious – but I forgot to photograph it, as I had tossed it in a bowl on the side.  And this wasn’t just a plain salad either.  It had bits of citrus in it to give it a perfectly summery flavor.  Such an easy salad to toss together.

My final meal was the Moroccan Chicken.  Oh my goodness, this was delicious.  I never would have thought to cook with prunes (I think we all think one thing when we consider prunes), but they were just perfect in this sauce.  Again, such a simple set of ingredients, but what a beautiful end result.

I love the way Blue Apron packages their recipes – I always take the cards and slide them into page protectors in a binder so I can use them again.  You can also find all of the recipes on their website or their app – even if you didn’t get that recipe for that week!  So if you just can’t pick between four recipes, you can choose your three and then copy the fourth recipe from their website to try on your own later!  They don’t repeat recipes for an entire year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t repeat them on your own at home.

I took a few additional pictures during the process that I wanted to share, so I put together a quick little gallery at the end of this review.  In sum, I really like Blue Apron.  I like that it’s reasonably priced, easy to use, and that you aren’t locked in to preparing three meals every single week.  You can get the boxes as you see fit, and that sort of flexibility is perfect for those of us with very busy lives!  You should sign up if you get a chance – this link will get you $30 off your first order.

Don’t forget, if you liked this review and do want to sign up – please use this link – it will get you $30 off your first order.

Full disclosure: This review was sponsored by Blue Apron, but all opinions (and cooking mistakes) are my own.

If you enjoyed this article, please leave a comment below or share it on social media.

 

 

Paribus Review - Get the Most for Your Money

paribusreview-logoI recently learned about Paribus, an app that helps you automatically get the best price on a purchase.  There are a number of stores out there that agree to price match, but in order to be sure you’re getting the best deals, you have to be doing a whole lot of monitoring and checking of prices and sales.  And let’s be honest, who has time to do that, especially after you’ve made your purchase?  I admit, I’m not even the best about making sure that I’m purchasing at the lowest price.  I do a few searches, but I certainly don’t scan every store to make sure that yes, this price I’m paying is the best price available.

That’s where Paribus comes in – a price monitoring and savings app.

Parabusreview3757Here is my Paribus review. Paribus monitors your purchases and when you’re owed money back, boom!  There it is!  You don’t have to do anything. It’s a pretty great deal.

And though it is a deal, Paribus isn’t free.  But wait, hear me out.  You won’t ever pay anything for Paribus until they get you money back.  And all you pay is 25% of that refund.  So you still get money back, money that you wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for Paribus.  You can even have that 25% fee reduced – for every friend you refer to Paribus, 5% of the fee gets chopped off. Refer five friends?  No fee!

Plus, let’s be honest.  Nothing is really free.  So many “free” apps are hugely ad supported.  Paribus doesn’t make you watch ads.  And since you don’t pay until they get you a refund, this gives the company incentive to get you the most money possible.  Each refund is a win for everyone.

Clearly, I had to try it out.

Here’s how it works.  Paribus monitors your email account (and you can link it to your Amazon account too) and every time you shop at one of your sites, they pull that purchase information into the app.  Then the wonders of the Paribus programming does its work and hunts down whether a better price is available and continues to monitor these prices.  When a lower price is found and you are due a refund, Paribus does all the work for you!  They contact the company and provide the necessary information to get you your refund, which is credited back to you, typically in the form of your original payment (so money back to your credit card or debit card in most cases).

How does Paribus get paid?  They can’t take money out of the refund, so what you do is enter your credit card information and when your refund is credited, they take their 25% cut.

Downloading and logging in was easy.  Paribus is available for both iOS and Android, so I already like them.  I linked my email account and I was up and running.  As soon as I made a purchase, Paribus was there, monitoring for price drops.

Paribus isn’t yet working with every store out there, but they’ve got a solid list of very popular stores, and that list continues to grow.  The list includes:

  • Amazon
  • Walmart
  • Macy’s
  • Best Buy
  • Target
  • Nordstrom
  • Zappos
  • Gap
  • …and many more

On the app, you can see recent payouts, and it looked like the day I wrote this, Walmart and Gap were the big winners.  Some of the savings was small, some quite large.  But as we all know, that money adds up.

As part of my Paribus review I did a bit of quick searching, and I found comments from people on social media indicating that people are definitely saving money with Paribus.  Of course, how much you save all depends on how much you’re spending.  If you buy a $20 item, you’re less likely to be getting a chunk of cash back.  If you buy a $400 item, the odds are much higher for a good refund.

If you want to use Paribus, you need to be aware that you are giving them a lot of information – email, credit card, and sometimes Amazon account access.  Not everyone is going to be comfortable with this.  The risks are likely quite low.  Credit cards come with a lot of protections, and many different products use things like your Google Account to give you access to services.  But this is a step that not everyone is going to be willing to take.  Paribus is also aware of this and they answer a number of privacy questions on their website.

I think the risks with Paribus are relatively low, and if like me, you do a lot of online shopping, the potential rewards are high. Take a look at Paribus and give it a shot.  Before I put together this Paribus review, it was the sort of app I wouldn’t have considered, but now that I’ve looked into it, I think it’s going to be worth using.

This Paribus review was sponsored, but all opinions are my own.

What is the Cashflow Quadrant?

cashflow quadrantRobert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame developed the Cashflow Quadrant to show people how to achieve financial freedom.  He even wrote a whole book about it.  But what exactly is the Cashflow Quadrant?

The Cashflow Quadrant, in its most simple terms, is a chart showing how people can make money.  On the left side of the chart are the more active ways of making money and on the right side are the more passive ways of making money.  Clearly, we all want to try to get further and further into the passive side.

The first section of the cashflow quadrant is E for Employed.  Most of us fall into this category.  We have a job.  When we go to work, we make money.  We’re trading our time for an income.  Someone else is in charge of our job.  Now, Employed isn’t a bad category to be in.  Clearly, everyone has to start somewhere, and there is a lot of financial security in employment.  Yes, we can lose our jobs, but in general, this is a safe area to be in.  On the downside, if we don’t work, we don’t get paid.  We are also at the whims of someone else.  And let’s be honest, there’s someone above us making more money thanks to our hard work.

Moving down to the second section of the quadrant, we find S for Self-Employed.  This is one step above Employed.  We’re still working, and if we don’t work, we don’t get paid, but we are in charge of our work.  There is no one above us making more money because of our work.  According to the Cashflow Quadrant, this is still a better situation than Employed because of the self-determination.  You make more money based on how hard you work.

Next we move to the right side of the cashflow quadrant.  According to Kiyosaki, this is the section we all want to be in.  At the top, we have for Business Owner.  We own a company and other people work for us.  We make money thanks to the work of others.  I take issue with how Kiyosaki views this category, as he considers this a passive method of making money, and many of the business owners I know work incredibly hard.  I will discuss that in a future article.  Either way, the benefit here is that you don’t have to be working all the time to make money.  You can go on a vacation and the business continues without you, which continues to generate income.

Finally, we have I for Investor.  This is the section of the cashflow quadrant we want to be in.  We invest our money in stocks, bonds, and real estate and we make money without any work at all.  This income is completely passive.  You don’t have to be doing anything at all to be making money.  You can make money while you are on vacation or while you are sleeping.

Okay, great.  But how does this apply to me?  I’m not in any position to be a business owner.  If I can’t get myself over to the passive side of the quadrant, what does this mean?

Well first, off you don’t have to be in only one section of the cashflow quadrant.  In fact, it’s beneficial to be in multiple sections all at once.  Many people also have full time jobs but also are self-employed on the side with an evening and weekend job to bring in additional cash.  Many of us are still in the employed category, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also be investors.  In fact, we should be investors in the form of our retirement funds.  The goal is to make our money work for us.

It’s all too easy to look at the cashflow quadrant and say “Okay, but I don’t want to be a business owner,” or “I appreciate the security of a regular job. I don’t want to be self-employed.”  There’s nothing wrong with that.  From my point of view, aim towards that last quadrant.  Work towards being able to invest more of your money.  You will be able to take that money you work for at your full time job and put it to work for you.