15 Tips to Planning Your Wedding On A Budget

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

If you are getting married, you know how expensive weddings can be!  Check out these tips to help you plan your wedding on a budget

 

You are getting married!!  Congrats!!  As you get ready to plan your big day, it can be very overwhelming – and very expensive!  You might some ideas as to what you want but your beer budget doesn’t quite add up to that champagne wedding you have in mind.  While your wedding should be your dream come true, it should also not send you into mountains of debt either!  Here are some things you can do to keep your wedding budget in check, while still getting those things you want!

 

1. BUDGET

Before you even begin planing, you must have a budget in mind.  Don’t forget to include your venue, flowers, cake, invitations, decor and your gown when coming up with your amount.

So, how much should you spend on your wedding?  There is not a “right” amount.  It is only what you can afford.  The most important thing to keep in mind is that you do not allow yourself to go into debt.  Yes, this is a magical day, but don’t spend so much getting caught up in the day and focus more on the life changing event — you are getting married!

If, after you write down everything you want for your day, you find that you are overspending, it comes the time to prioritize.  What matters most to you? Do you have your heart set on the dream dress?  Then, make that priority one.  Perhaps you are not as picky about the food for the meal, then you might be able to spend less on this.  What is important to each person will vary, so don’t compare yourself to others and follow your heart.

 

2. GUEST LIST

This is the easiest way to overspend – trying to invite everyone to you wedding.  While you do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings, your budget really is something that matters.  If you can only afford for 50 people to attend, then just pair down the list and have only that many there on your wedding.

Then, when you can do later is have a get together with those friends you couldn’t invite.  You can celebrate the wedding, share the photos and even watch the video of your day with all of them!

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3. CHANGE THE DATE

The typical “wedding season” is the spring and summer months. If you change your date to be “off-season” you might find that venues might charge less.  Plan a November wedding and you can incorporate those gorgeous fall colors and might get that hotel ballroom you want – and still stay in budget!

The one thing to keep in mind if you are doing a destination wedding, however, is that summer is often off-season in these areas.  You may want to consult with a travel agent to find the time of the year when the costs might be lower.

You can also use the time of the year to take care of decorations for you!  For instance, if you get married in December or January, many churches are beautifully decorated with flowers, trees and lights – bringing in FREE decor!  The same may hold true for your venue.  They might have trees or other items decorating the space – and you won’t pay anything for them!

 

4. LOCATION! LOCATION!  LOCATION!

Rather than the usual hotel ballroom, why not try a different location?  Perhaps an aquarium or historic site has a great location for your event.  You might even know a friend with a beautiful backyard and garden.  Think outside of the box for your venue location and you might find something which costs much less (or is even free).

 

5. INVITATIONS / SAVE THE DATE

You can use online sites such as WeddingPaperDivas.com or even VistaPrint to order your Save the Date and Invitations, rather than using local printers.  They sometimes offer discount codes to knock down those costs.

You can even find beautiful fonts online and can create your own invitations. Then, purchase heavy card stock so you can print them yourself. If you do not find them in the size you want (some card stock will even come 5×7), you can just pay a service to cut them for you. You can go to Pinterest and search Wedding Fonts and you will see hundreds of options pop up!  Download the font and create your own custom invitation.  Add ribbon, stamping or even colored card stock to them to make them truly your own!

While Save the Date cards are not always necessary, they can absolutely be helpful if you are having your wedding during a busy time of the year.  You can create your own on sites like PicMonkey or even Canva and then just pay to get them printed, at a minimal cost!

 

6. KNOCK OUT THE NON-ESSENTIALS

One way to save is to skip some of the things you may see at other weddings.  By not having a program, you can knock some money off of your budget. You might even be able to bypass assigned seating, which can also save costs on those tags (but also stress of trying to figure out where everyone will sit at the reception).
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7 . SIMPLE DECOR

If large elaborate floral centerpieces are just out of your budget, you can still have beautiful tables, for a lot less!  Go to Pinterest and search.   Check out these few simple ideas:

  • If you want floral, why not go with mostly greenery with some floral accents (much less expensive).
  • Use small plants or florals for your centerpieces.  We did this with green plants and then, we sent them home with family and friends as a THANK YOU for being a part of our day.  That turned those plants into a 2-for-1 deal!
  • You might even be able to find mason jars with ribbon tied around them and candle lit inside – for little to nothing per table!
  • Mirrors with tea light candles (reflects the light up and gives a great illusion.

 

8. RENT IT 

When it comes to decor such as table cloths and even centerpieces, you can find retailers who will rent these items to you! These companies have already paid for the items and you just use them for a nominal fee.  They will sometimes even drop them off, set it up and even do the clean up for you!  This is a great way to bring in the design elements you want, without hurting your budget.

 

9. FLOWERS

The number one way to save here is to buy in season.  When flowers are not in season, you will pay a premium rate to get them sent to your florist to be used for your wedding.  Instead, ask your florist which are available at a lower cost.

If you really want those special flowers, use them sparingly. Instead of full bouquets filled with your favorite blooms, use other flowers and then add the expensive ones sparingly.  That way, the flowers are included, but you knock down the cost.

Another way to save money on your bouquets is to use a bit more greenery than flowers.  They will still look gorgeous, but since greenery costs less, you can save money this way as well!

You can also use larger flowers.  By doing so, it will take fewer flowers to make the bouquet, which can really drop the price of your flowers.

If you want flowers to adorn your tables, you can use plants with a few flowers mixed in or even lanterns with one or two flowers with a candle in them.  Scaling back on the flowers on your tables is an easy way save on your wedding budget.

Have your bouquets serve double duty!  When I got married, my bridesmaids and I all placed our bouquets across the head table.  We had instant floral decor – without spending any more money!  Then, when the day was over, they just grabbed their bouquets to take home with them.

Check with your grocery store rather than a flower shop.  Our wedding flowers were absolutely beautiful – and no one knew that they came from our grocery store floral department!  In fact, our floral bill ended up being around 1/3 of the quote from the florist!!!

If you feel silk flowers is the way you want to go, that is always an option.  Keep in mind that if you have to hire someone to make them into bouquets and more, you may quickly be at the same total you would be if you purchased real.  However, if you have a friend who can do this for you, maybe you could swap her work in return for babysitting her kids for her!  Where there is a will – there is a way!

 

10. GOWN

This is where a lot of money can be spent.  Make sure you walk in and tell your sales person exactly what you can afford to spend.  A good salesclerk will NOT show you anything outside of your budget (as you would hate to fall in love with something you can not afford).

When looking at your gown budget, make sure you also include the costs for your veil or headpiece, earrings, necklace, shoes and alterations.  These other items often get overlooked and can make that dress budget shoot higher in a minute!

If your mother or grandmother have a gown you want to wear, that would probably mean the world to them.  For the cost of alterations and a good cleaning, you can not only get a free gown, but also wear something of sentimental value.

Borrow jewelry and accessories.  Wear your grandmother’s pearls and your mom’s diamond earrings.  This will not only save you money, but also will instantly be your “something old AND something borrowed.”

Shop the sale racks.  There are times when bridal stores will sell off last season’s dresses.  Contact your store to find out when they will offer this and try to get in on that sale if you can.  You can do a search for a store near you to learn more.

Visit a mass retailer, like David’s Bridal, Macy’s, JCPenney, etc.  These stores sell gowns and sometimes, have prices which are much lower than higher end designers.  I actually bought my own gown (many years ago) at David’s Bridal and paid just $250!

Consider buying pre-owned.  This may not be the most ideal, but it is a fit for some women.  They don’t need or want a brand new gown, but have a dress in mind.  One such site is PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com.  You can search by style, size, etc, to find the dress that will work.  Keep in mind that you will need to know what you want before you buy from here and will need to also pay for alterations to make sure it fits properly.

You might even want to just rent your wedding gown.  After all, your guy will rent his tuxedo, so why not rent your gown too?  You can visit RentTheRunway.com (for example) and find a gown you can rent at a fraction of the cost! (You can also do this for your bridesmaids too – so they aren’t stuck with a dress they will never wear again).

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11. PHOTOGRAPHY

This is the one area where you don’t want to just hire “anyone.”  These are your memories of the day, so you want to make sure you use a good photographer (and videographer if you want one).

You don’t have to purchase a large album right away.  Just hire a good photographer for his or her time and see if you can’t pay for the images so you can print them yourself (mpix.com is a great site).  You can even order your own wedding photobook or album at a later date (when your budget allows).  You may pay a bit more for the rights to the photos, but it can be worth it to purchase add on items and prints as you can afford it.

Find someone who is just getting started doing photography.  These people usually charge much less than big name photographers, because they are getting started.  You may also find that they take even more photos since they are newer and want to ensure that they do what you want  (rather than higher end professionals, who are often set in their ways).

If you have your wedding on a weekday evening, you might save a bit on the cost of photographer, as you are not competing for the prime wedding time (which is Saturday).

Make sure you visit with several photographers and get their estimates. Make sure it is all spelled out in writing for you.  Are there hidden fees such as travel expenses?  Does the cost include any prints?  Do you get to the prints on CD to own yourself?  Does the fee include a set number of hours?  Then, don’t be afraid to negotiate.  If you find one person will charge $200 more than someone else will, try to negotiate the price down by offering to pay in cash or seeing if you can swap out an hours worth of time taking the photos to some prints instead.

When you send your thank you notes to your family and friends, include your email or create a DropBox folder which is open to sharing, and ask them to send the photos they took to you.  You might find some of the best shots were taken by someone other than your photographer.  In fact, they might get something your photographer missed!

 

12. MUSIC

There is nothing like a live band playing at your reception.  However, that can be very expensive.   If you opt for a DJ, you can often cut the costs by more than 50%.

Make sure you know the time you want them to perform or play.  If you stick with 4 hours, that is pretty average. If you want them longer than that, they may charge higher fees.  For that reason, let your DJ or Band know what time to start playing and when to play that final song.

Some musicians/DJs may offer a discount if you pay in advance and/or pay in cash.  It is always worth asking to see if they are willing to negotiate the price if you try this method of payment.

If you can’t afford a larger DJ or band, you might check with your local college music department. There are sometimes groups who will provide your musical entertainment at a fraction of the cost (just make sure you get references and check into them before you book them for your wedding).

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13. FOOD

There is a misconception that appetizers will cost less than an actual meal.  That may not be the case.  It is best to compare the cost of appetizers only, sit down meal or even buffet to find out which one is the lower priced option.  When my husband I got married, the buffet cost less than the meal.

This goes back with your venue, but if you can find one which allows you to use your own caterer, you might be able to save. This will allow you to visit with caterers and possibly even negotiate your price down.  If you go through a hotel, you will have to use their restaurant and will be stuck paying the price that they charge.

Have your family cook the meal.  If you have a family member who LOVES to cook, or perhaps even does some catering on the side, ask them to help!  Even if they do not cover the entire meal, you might be able to save on some appetizers or even desserts!

 

14. CAKE

This is the centerpiece of the reception.  Cutting the cake with your spouse and feeding one another a slice.  These can get very pricey rather quickly!!!

Have a smaller “real” cake and then have sheet cakes to serve guests.  There is no rule that says your guests have to be served cake from the tiered version.  Sheet cakes cost much less than a large cake, and are an easy way to save.

Opt for cupcakes.  This is an option which can be used along with the smaller wedding cake.  Have your cake in the center of your table and suround it by a sea of cupcakes for your guests.  Best part is no one has to cut or serve the cake as they are already served up for you!

Cut smaller slices.  If you do want everyone to have a slice of your cake, have the person serving cut the pieces a bit smaller.  The cake will go further to serve more.

Check with your local grocery store.  These bakers do a beautiful job making all sorts of cakes – including wedding cakes!  They often charge much less for them as well.

Visit your local culinary school.  This is great way for chefs in training to practice those skills.  They have an expert chef helping them so that your cake will still look absolutely perfect, so no worries that it will look like your 5 year old niece did the decorating.

Hire someone just getting started. Someone who has just started their own business will often charge a lower price for newer customers, as it helps give them experience, references and even advertising!  If you can find a local baker instead of hitting up a large bakery shop, you might find your cake for much less.

Stick with buttercream or whipped icing.  Fondant is very expensive. It looks very sleek on a cake, but it is the most expensive option when it comes to decorating.

You might also use a few small flowers as the topper and even to embellish the sides – saving you costs on decorating.

 

15. WEDDING NIGHT

Rather than pay for a high priced limo to whisk you away from the ceremony, have a friend drive you in a nice car.  We had a friend with a convertible which was gorgeous.  He decorated it and we were driven away in it rather than paying  hundreds for a limo.

Skip the honeymoon suite.  While it is romantic, it is also very expensive.  You can get a regular hotel room or even suite (outside of honeymoon) and save.  After the long day and all you’ve experienced, you will probably arrive late and get up to be checked out by noon.  Save the additional money towards your honeymoon, where you will be able to enjoy it more!

 

What other tips do you have to help save on a wedding?  We’d love to hear from you!

If you are getting married, you know how expensive weddings can be!  Check out these tips to help you plan your wedding on a budget

Three NOT So Obvious Things To Know About Investing

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

If you are new to investing there are many things you need to learn.  We've got THREE Not So Obvious Things You Need To Know About Investing -- so you get started on the right track!

 

Three Not So Obvious Things To Know About Investing

Investing can be scary. In fact, the number one reason people don’t invest doesn’t have to do with education, but fear. Almost everyone agrees you should invest. You see “market recaps” on the nightly news before dinner. You know you should be doing it… but you’re not. You’ve saved, scrimped, and built a nice little nest egg, and you know you should be doing more with it.

This fear…it comes from the thought that other people know more; or I might lose my money; or I don’t have time to do the work required; or I don’t know where to start.

But it’s easier than that – and here’s three things that aren’t very obvious, but will help you pave the path to investing success. Investing isn’t a “once and done” thing – it’s a journey, so let’s get started.

 

Make Investing Painless By Automating It

The best way to force yourself to start investing (while also making it super-easy) is to just automate the process.

For most Americans, you have access to a 401k or 403b through your employer. Take advantage of these plans. You can set it up to automatically take a small percentage of your paycheck and invest it. Plus, many employers offer matching contributions – that’s free money!

If your employer doesn’t offer a 401k, you can still automate your investing. You can setup an investing account to automatically invest a certain amount each week/bi-weekly/month, based on your preference. Some of the more popular options for this include Sharebuilder or Betterment.

The great thing about automating your investing is that you never have to worry about it again, and you have peace of mind that you’re building wealth for your future.

 

Don’t Pay More Than You Need To

The next not-so-obvious tactic to help you get started investing and overcome your fear is to never pay more than you need to.

Investing has a bad reputation as being a fee-sucking adventure. You have to pay advisors, you have to pay other commissions, you have account fees, and then you have fees on the actual investments you choose.

I’m here to tell you that, for most of you, you don’t need any of that stuff. If you use the services mentioned above (Sharebuilder and Betterment), they are both low cost and low fee options to get started.

If you want to have more control and do a little bit yourself, you can save even more by choosing a discount brokerage like Fidelity or Scottrade.

The important thing to remember here is that fees eat away your profits. The higher fees you pay, the less money you’ll earn. So your goal should always be to find the company with low fees that matches what you’re looking for.

 

Time Is Your Best Friend

One of my favorite quotes in life is “The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago. The second best time is today.The premise is that if you want to have a full-grown tree, you should have planted it a long time ago. But, if you didn’t do that, there is no better time to start than right now.

The same is true for investing. The longer you invest for, the more money you’ll have – it’s pretty simply math. But don’t kick yourself if you didn’t start investing when you were 22 years old. Just get started now.

Millennial have a very unique advantage when it comes to investing – time. If you’re 40 or 50, you can’t go back to your 20s and start again. But millennials have this time on their side, so the more money they invest, the bigger their nest egg will grow as they approach retirement.

 

What’s Holding You Back?

Now that you know a little bit more about investing, including some less obvious tactics, what’s holding you back? Don’t let fear prevent you from living a rich life. Share your story with me in the comments!

 

This is a guest post by Robert Farrington, founder of The College Investor. He is America’s Millennial Money Expert, and he helps millennials and young adults build wealth in their 20s.

Seven Different Types of Retirement Accounts

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Saving for retirement is extremely important.  However, how do you go about doing so?  There are several different saving vehicles.  Check out SEVEN types of retirement accounts.

 

We all know we should save for retirement, but how and where should we do it?

There are multiple types of retirement accounts, from the 401(k) or 403(b) you may have at work, to an individual IRA and a number of 401(k) equivalents for the self-employed. Which account is right for you depends on your personal situation.

You can open any one of these accounts at any number of financial services providers, including your bank, a brokerage service or sometimes even your credit union. Once you have the account, you can invest your money in a number of ways, including via mutual funds and individual stocks and bonds. When you open the account, make sure you understand the fees involved, both with the account and with the investments within the account. High fees can eat away at your profits.

The IRS has rules for all these kinds of account, as well as contribution limits. You can see those here. If your financial life is complicated, an accountant can help you determine which retirement savings option is best.

Here are seven types of retirement accounts to consider.

401(k) or 403(b) offered by your employer. This the best place to start saving for retirement. You can set up payroll deductions to save before you even see the money. In 2015, you can save up to $18,000 of your pretax income ($24,000 if you are 50 or older). If you change jobs, you can roll the money over into your new employer’s program or your IRA. You are likely to be offered a 401(k) if you work at a for-profit company and a 403(b) if you work for the government or nonprofit.

IRA. In 2015 you can contribute up to $5,500 ($6,500 if you’re over 50) to an IRA. If you have both an IRA and a 401(k), you can’t deduct your IRA contributions if you earn more than $71,000 annually (for single filers) or $118,000 (married filing jointly). Those earning $61,000 (single) and $98,000 (married) get only a partial deduction. However, the income limits don’t apply if you’re not covered by a retirement plan at work — unless you file jointly with a spouse who is.

SEP IRA. An SEP (simplified employee pension) is for small business owners and the self-employed. You can contribute up to 25 percent of your income or $53,000, whichever is less, in 2015. If the business has employees, the employer is required to make contributions for all who meet certain requirements.

Solo 401(k). If you own your own business as a sole proprietor, you can set up an individual 401(k) and make contributions as both the employee and employer. The contribution limit is a total of $53,000 in 2015 (or $59,000 if you’re over 50).

Simple IRA. With a Simple IRA, employers with fewer than 100 employees can set up IRAs with less paperwork. The contribution limit for employees in 2015 is $12,500 in ($15,500 for those over 50). Employers can make either matched or unmatched contributions.

Roth IRA. Contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax-deductible, because you are contributing after-tax dollars. But, the money you earn grows tax-free. Unlike with a regular IRA, you pay no tax on withdrawals after 59 1/2. You also don’t have to withdraw anything at age 70, as you do with a regular IRA. Plus, even before you’re 59 ½, you can withdraw your contributions (but not your earnings) without taxes or penalties. You have to meet income limits to contribute to a Roth IRA. In 2015, you must make less than $131,000 (single) or $193,000 (married filing jointly). Your contribution is reduced if you make more than $116,000 (single) or $183,000 (married filing jointly. Some people whose income doesn’t allow them to contribute to a Roth IRA make contributions to a regular IRA and convert the account into a Roth later.

Health savings account. This isn’t considered a traditional requirement account, but it is a way to save for retirement expenses. To have an HSA, you must choose a high-deductible health insurance plan that allows for one. An individual can contribute up to $3,350 a year in 2015; a family can contribute $6,650. Those 55 or older can add $1,000. Before you retire, you can withdraw money for certain medical expenses – but you don’t have to withdraw it. Any money you don’t spend stays in your account, and you can invest it. Until you’re 65, you can take money only only for allowed medical expenses, but after 65 you can use the money for anything you want, though you’ll pay taxes on those withdrawals. If you withdraw money for medical expenses in retirement, the withdrawals are tax-free. Before you turn 65, any money withdrawn for anything but medical expenses requires taxes and a 20 percent penalty. However, if you save your receipts for medical expenses you don’t reimburse yourself for at the time (eyeglasses, co-pays, etc), you can reimburse yourself years later without penalty or tax liability.

Teresa Mears is a personal finance writer and executive editor of Living on the Cheap, a website that helps readers live better on less. She specializes in writing about real estate and retirement.

Use Ibotta — Get Paid When You Shop!!

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An easy way to save money -- without clipping coupons -- is to use your phone!  One of the most popular (and easiest to use) apps is Ibotta!  We break this app down to explain how it works!

We talk about a lot of different ways to stack offers and to save on those items you purchase at the store.  These can be very overwhelming to understand.  I wanted to just take some time to revisit these and explain them to you, so that if you have not yet started using them, you can do so.

Today’s app is Ibotta yet?  This is a rebate app.  You make the purchase of the various items and they will give you cash back (yes – actual cash).  So, you won’t see the savings instantly at the grocery store, but you still are being paid when you shop!

Does this app work on all devices?

This is an app which you can access from your device.  Those included (as of February 2, 2015) include:

  • iPhone 4 and newer
  • iPod Touch 4th Gen and newer
  • iPad 2 and newer
  • Android devices (certain specs apply)
  • Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

Sorry, but at this time, Ibbota is not compatible with Windows or Blackberry devices.  You will want to click on the HELP screen of Ibotta to learn more if you are not sure you can use this with your device.

How do you use the app to save?

Once you have the app on your device, you are ready to use it!  Scroll through the Rebates.  You will see them divided by category, so you can look for those you can use towards groceries, pet and more!  Just click on the category you want to review.

From there, you will see the various retailers listed and the offers you can use at those stores.  Keep in mind that sometimes offers are available anywhere, but there are some which are limited to redemption only at the store listed.  Therefore, it is important that you review the offer at the store where you will shop.

Once you select the store you will be visiting, you can review the offers.  You will see the product image and below it, the amount of the rebate.  Click on the offer you want to redeem.  You will find smaller buttons which show dollar amounts. You will click on each one of those and do what it says to save.  Sometimes, you need to watch a short video and other times you need to share it with a friend.  The more you do, the more you will be able to save!  It is up to you!!  Complete all required steps and you will claim the maximum offer.

For instance, Target has a rebate for a 12 count box of Pop Tarts.  You see that if you watch a video you will earn $0.50 and if you get a recipe from them, you will earn another $0.25 – for a maximum rebate of $0.50 on  your purchase!

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You will visit the store and purchase the item on the app.  If you are not sure that you are buying the correct item, you can visit the offer on your phone while shopping and click on the Verify Product Barcode button.  Then, scan the product to make sure it qualifies for the rebate.

Once you are done shopping, click on the Redeem button on the bottom of the screen.  Click on verify purchases and follow the steps to upload your receipt.  Within 7 – 10 days the rebate is in your account!

How do I get my money?

At the time you are ready to get the cash, you will click the Cash Out button (from the bottom menu).  It will show you your balance.  You can now opt to get it sent to you via Paypal or use it towards the purchase of a gift card or other methods.

The minimum payout amount is $10, so you will not be able to request your money until your account reaches this balance.

That’s it!  It is really that simple to use!  I know many of our readers love this app and have made some amazing cash back by use ing!  So, what are you waiting for? Create your account with Ibotta and get started saving!

Lunchtime Money Saving Tips (Great Ideas for Shift and Emergency Workers)

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lunchtime at work

There are many times when your job may prevent you from grabbing something to eat at the “normal” times of the day.  For instance, first responders and emergency workers may be on the scene of an accident which happens right at lunchtime.  They can’t stop working to eat because their focus is on the incident.  This can mean that they have to quickly stop by a convenience store to grab something to eat when they can — which can quickly hurt the budget!

I previously asked this question on my Facebook page as one of my readers was asking for ideas for her spouse.  We had some GREAT ones shared by our readers!!!  Check these out:

1. Gift cards.  When it comes time to ask for gifts for any occasion, opt for gift cards for dining out.  This is a great idea for parents and friends  — and even your kids.  As you get older, you really want the things you need more often than not.  This is an easy way to do just that!!

2. Coupons / Entertainment Book.  We recently received an Entertainment Book.  This is FILLED with coupons to various restaurants, stores and more!  Many times, they are a buy one get one offer, so you could find a co-worker and split the cost of your meal – which helps you both!  You can pick up a book for just $21 shipped right now (a savings of 40% off of retail) — from Reader Julie.

3. Pack some snacks.  Pick up granola bars or other small items which you can place in your pocket or vehicle, so you can grab a quick bite when you are away.

4. Invest in a vacuum sealer and make meals.  Reader Teresa had a great idea!  She recommends investing in a FoodSaver Vacuum Sealing System.  You can take left over meals and seal them.  Make sure they are small enough packages where they can fit into a travel mug.  Then, when you stop by a convenience store, just fill the mug with hot water, which will warm your meal.  Then, you can pull it out and have something to eat!!

5. Think quick meals.  Create items such as wraps.  Make them ahead of time and keep them in your refrigerator so you can grab and take them with you.  Great idea from fellow Law Enforcement Officer JulieAnn and her husband!!!

There are even more great ideas on our Facebook page.  Thanks to our readers for adding some great ideas to this discussion!

Ten Hidden Costs of Home Ownership

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

If you own a home - or plan on purchasing one  - make sure you know about these TEN hidden costs of owning a home!!

When you sign for your home, you know right at that moment what your payment will be.  You can see it clearly outlined in your amortization schedule so you  know your principal and interest.  However, there is MORE to owning a home than just your mortgage payment.  You need to plan on these additional expenses and make sure that you fit them into your budget.

1. Insurance.

If you rent, you may have been paying a very small amount annually for renter’s insurance.  However, when you own a home, you will pay a lot more for home owner’s insurance.  In fact, it is much more!

You may not have to pay only homeowner’s insurance, but also private mortgage insurance (called PMI).  If you do not put at least 20% of the purchase price of your home down in cash, then you will have to pay for this additional line item.  This typically costs around .05 – 1% of the total loan amount.  If you purchase a $150,000 home, you could pay $1,500 per year or $125 per month. Once the amount you owe on your home drops below 20% of the value, you can request that this be dropped.  However, until that time, make sure you keep this in mind.

The average homeowner will pay more than $70 a month towards homeowner’s insurance.  You need to make sure that your policy covers not only the cost to rebuild your home, but also all of the contents inside.

Most of the time, both of these amounts will be rolled into the cost of your mortgage, but make sure you keep that in mind when looking at loan calculators, so that you do not forget that you will pay for these on top of your monthly payment.

2. Taxes

When you rent, you do not have to pay any additional taxes to live in your apartment or home.  However, when you own your home, you must pay personal property taxes (depending upon your state, of course).   These amounts can be thousands of dollars annually.

This is one thing to consider when looking at a home.  If you choose to live in a more affluent area, your taxes may be higher. This information is typically available on the MLS listing when you look at any properties.

This amount is also usually included in the monthly mortgage payment, so it can be held in an Escrow account and then paid annually, on your behalf.  This is often required when there is a lien on the property.

3.  Furnishings and window treatments.

When you move into a new home, some of the appliances are not included.  Make sure you know up front what you need to purchase.  This can include a refrigerator, washing machine and dryer.  If your home has more space than where you currently reside, you may have additional furniture costs as well.

You may also need to purchase blinds or shades (especially in the case of a brand new home).  These costs can quickly add up, so include these in your budget.

In addition, if you did not have a lawn previously, you will need to purchase a lawn mower to keep up with the growing grass – or hire a service to cover those lawn care costs.

4.  Utilites.

Some renters do have to cover utilities.  However, when you own a home, these costs can increase as they are typically larger than apartments.  That means more cooling and heating costs.    You can request this information when looking at the property, so you can have an idea of these costs before you put in an offer.

5.  Maintenance and repairs.

When you rent and the sink backs up, you just have to place a call to your landlord and he or she takes care of it for you.  When you own your home, you have to cover this yourself.  On average homeowners spend anywhere from $1500 – $5000 annually on home repairs.

This cost can be lower if your home is newer, but if you opt for an older home, it can often mean that there will be more repairs to be made.  You will want to keep this in mind when planning your budget.

6.  Pest control.
Most of the time, when you see a bug, you just kill it and go on with your day. But, what happens if you notice an infestation of ants or worse yet – catch a rodent eating dinner in your pantry! You have to get rid of them.

When you rent, you just call the landlord and they take care of this for you. When you own your home, you have to take the steps to get rid of these pests on your own. While many times you may be able to purchase products yourself, there are times when you have no choice but to call an expert (think termites).

What might work best is to pay for routine maintenance from a pest company to avoid the additional costs with losing furniture, food or worse, like replacing trim, your floor, or more!

7. Kids and Pets.

This may seem like a given, but it something you don’t plan for. You know you have to feed and cloth your kids, but you also need to plan on home repairs because of them.

When our youngest was 3, she stuffed a bunch of toilet paper into our upstairs toilet and I did not know it. That is, until I was standing in my kitchen and noticed water dripping from the ceiling. It was not that much damage, but still cost just about the same amount as our home owner’s insurance deductible, so we just paid it all ourselves to avoid filing a claim (I think we paid only $150 more than our deductible).

Thankfully, we had money set aside for this repair. We don’t want our kids to damage anything and even the best kids in the world can do something, without even meaning to.

8. Time.

When you rent, the landlord takes care of your maintenance. You don’t spend time mowing, or fixing that door that doesn’t close properly or even the leaky sink. That falls onto your shoulders. You have to make the time to fix those small repairs, before they turn into larger ones which take more of your time!

9. Closing Costs.

When you purchase a home, there are closing costs associate with the purchase. These average between 2 – 4% of the mortgage balance. You can often negotiate to have the seller cover all or a part of these costs. If you do not have the cash, they can be rolled into your mortgage, which can in turn increase your monthly payment.

10. Home Owner’s Association or Condo Fees.

Many areas have Home Owners Associations or Condo Fees, which you have to pay.  These are either due monthly, quarterly or annually.  

These usually cover the general maintenance of signage, flowers and sometimes even a swimming pool.  They can also be used for paving and other maintenance in your community.  You will need to ask up front if this is included, so you aren’t surprised when you get to closing and learn that you have more expenses. 

Saving Money Filing Your Taxes (Some Options May Be FREE For You)!

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Everyone has to file taxes each year.  However, you don't have to spend your entire refund just to pay for them to be prepared for you!  Here are some great options you can try to save money (or even get them prepared for FREE)!

We’ve all heard that saying — “There are only two guarantees in life — Death and Taxes.”  Every January, we all start to collect our paperwork to get ready for this annual ritual of preparing the taxes.  For many, this means a nice refund, but for others, it means handing over more money to Uncle Same.  Either way, it is NOT a fun process.  So, why pay more than you need to in order to prepare  your forms!

We’ve rounded up some of the best deals for you to save money by preparing your own taxes.  Now, keep in mind that if you have any unusual circumstances, own a business or your taxes are over your head, it is truly worth every single penny  to pay an expert to properly prepare your return for you.  An audit can result in additional money spent and possibly fines or penalties.  My husband and I fall into this category, so we never prepare them ourselves.  It is just too important to ensure that we fill out our return properly.

Of course, if your return is a bit simpler to prepare, there are services out there where you can get them prepared at at a discount or even prepare them yourself for free!

Just click the underlined name for each company listed below to be taken there for free!

 

H&R Block

You can file your basic federal return for free. If you have any state returns to file, they are just $9.99 each.  They also offer a bonus when you e-file.  If you select increments of $100 from any of the e-gift cards they list, you will get an additional 5% to your return if you use the free or basic version — or get 10% back if you use any other version!

You can even purchase the software instead, if you prefer to do that rather than to file online.

 

Turbo Tax

For the first time EVER Turbo Tax is offering a completely FREE return!!  They will even include the STATE for free!!  This is applicable for basic filers.  So, if your return is a bit more complex, you will pay more — starting at $34.99 for Federal and state will be an additional $36.99.

If you would rather, you can purchase the software instead for as low as $49.97.

 

eSmart Tax

This site also offers free simple returns as well.  If you need basic, the price is just $14.95 — with no products costing more than $34.95.  You will pay more for your state return. Your return will be efiled with the IRS.

 

FreeTaxUSA

You can also file your basic return for FREE through this site as well.  If you need the deluxe version, that will cost only $5.95.  No matter which version you need, state returns are $12.95 each — unless you are under 22 and then they allow you FREE state filing!!

 

OnePriceTaxes

This service may be better for you if your taxes are a bit more complex.  The most you will pay is $34.95 for your returns.  The basic is $19.95, so it would be better to use another service mentioned above, where the prices are much lower.

 

TaxACT

This site offers everyone a free basic Federal tax return. If your return is basic, then you will pay $14.99 to file a state return and if more complex your total will be $19.99 ($12.99 Federal and $7 state).

 

TaxSlayer

You can also get a free basic Federal return prepared for free here as well.  If you need to purchase more complex versions, the prices start at $12.95.

How to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Living Paycheck to Paycheck is a vicious cycle.  Find out how you can stop the madness and gain control of your finances!!

Payday arrives.  You pay your bills, pick up your groceries, fuel up your vehicle and then…..the money is gone.  You didn’t even have it in your account for 48 hours before it was all spent and here you sit, broke until payday arrives again.

This may seem like a vicious cycle you can’t break.  However, you CAN!  You just need to know where to start and how to get out from under that heavy weight.

1. You’ve Got To Have a Budget.   First and foremost.  Not just a budget that you know in your mind, but a budget in writing.  You have to know where you money needs to go before you can figure out where to free up money.

You can download our FREE budget template, or even Excel versions to use!

 

You will want to make sure you read more about How to Create A Budget so that you can fill out these forms the right way.

2.  Where Does Your Money Go?  Now, once you have your budget in place, look at those items where you may find you over spend.  Do you grab a latte on the way to work every morning?  If you spend $5 a day, that is $25 a week and $100 in a single month!  Imagine what you could do with an extra $100 in your pocket!

3. Step Away From the Plastic.  Another way to prevent overspending is with cash.  No, that doesn’t mean use your debit card.  We are talking cold, hard, cash.

I know, I know, they are so convenient.  However, if you stick with CASH, you can’t overspend.  If you have $100 to spend at the grocery store, you can’t spend $110.  However, if you use your debit card, it is easy to say “It’s just $10.”  If you do that every single time you go to the store, that is more than $500 overspent in just a single year!

It can be tough to start using cash, but once you do, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner!  To learn more, click over to read How to Use the Cash Envelope System.

4. Define needs vs. wants.  This is a tough one.  Take a look at your budget and what do you need?  You need clothes, shelter, food, utilities.  However, do you “need” cable?  Do you “need” to dine out every week?  By simply cutting back on your wants (even temporarily), you can free up money from your paycheck.  (Read more about Wants vs. Needs).

5. Ask for help.  If you are in debt or owe companies money, why not call and ask them if they can’t help.  Many times, they are willing to help you make changes to your payment due date, adjust interest rates and more.  If you don’t call, you will never know what they may be able to do to help you!!

6. Stop the waste.  Did you know that you do not have to fill the laundry cup to the top to get your clothes clean?  Did you know that you can use a smaller amount of toothpaste and your teeth will still get clean and freshen your breath?  By simply cutting back on the amount of product you use, you can save money by not having to purchase it nearly as often!  Here are some tips on How to Use Less Product (without sacrificing quality).

With some simple changes, you might find ways to free up some cash, and end that paycheck to paycheck cycle!

Living Paycheck to Paycheck is a vicious cycle.  Find out how you can stop the madness and gain control of your finances!!

 

Ten Money Mistakes You Might Be Making (And Not Even Realize)

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

There are things we all do which might be affecting our finances.  Check out these ten BIG money mistakes you might be making (and not even realize it)!

When it comes to money, most of us probably think we are doing pretty well.  I mean, we have a budget, we can afford the things we need and sometimes have extra money to spend when we want to.  However, could you do better?  I mean, in reality, can’t we all?

If you take a look at your spending, are you really being as smart as possible?  It may seem like it at first glance, but if you really sit down and think about it, you may be actually making mistakes with your finances and not even realize it!  This can mean missed opportunities to save or even overspending.  Check out these mistake you may be making – and what you can do to make it right!

1. Not having a budget.

I know, I know, I probably sound like a broken record here.  However, this is key to managing your money.  A budget is not a bad thing.  In fact, it it just the opposite.  A budget puts financial control back in your life.  Otherwise, your money just goes where it wants and you have no control over your finances.

I know it can seem scary to actually sit down and make a budget, but it really is not that bad.  In fact, once you do it and start to follow one, you will realize how much better you feel about your money.

If you need help getting started, read more about How to Create a Budget (including free forms or spreadsheet you can use to create your own).

 

2. Not being involved in your finances (allowing your partner or spouse to take care of it all).

If you are in a relationship where you both contribute financially (married or otherwise), are you both involved in paying the bills?  In most cases, it seems that just one person takes care of this.  It could be the person who is considered your head of household.  There are instances where it is the person who is better at handling money (and/or maybe enjoys it). It is not OK for just one person to be in charge of paying the bills and saving. You both need to be involved.

What you need to do is sit down together and start with your budget (see #1).  Fill it out together so you both see how your money is to be spent.  You can both contribute to how you will save, what you will budget for dining out or other items you want to spend your money on.  You both have an equal voice.  You both are in control of your money.

Once you have the budget, it can not stop there.  You need to look at your investments, credit cards, life insurance – anything with any sort of financial tie.  Make sure you both understand where this is held, be it a bank or insurance company.  Make sure you both know how to access the account by knowing login and passwords.  You can find some free forms to help you complete these lists here.

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3.  Not saving for retirement.

If you have a young family, your focus is more than likely on your children. You are concerned with making sure they have the the things they need, and rightfully so.  You may also be only looking forward as far as saving for college for them.  What about you though?  How will you support yourself when the children are no longer living at home?

Too many parents focus more on college than retirement.  Sure, we’d love to help our children financially with college, but if your children are intelligent, they may get scholarships.  They can take out loans.  They can save to invest in their own education.  However, who is going to help give you money when you retire?

If you plan on relying upon social security to cover your expenses when you retire, you are going to be in for a shock.  They will not give you enough money to live on.  Period.  It is up to you to take the steps now to ensure that you are looking ahead to take care of yourself and your spouse or partner for the future.

The simplest way to do this is to look to your employer.  Do they have a 401(k) plan?  Do they have a matching program?  Start saving right now and look ahead towards covering yourself for those golden years.

 

4. Using credit the wrong way.

I love to shop.  I really do.  However, I never use credit.  If I don’t have cash then that means I don’t get to purchase it.

That being said, many people are wise when it comes to using credit cards.  They use them and turn around and pay it off completely every single month.  If you are one of these people, the good for you!

The problem is when you fall for the traps.  The low introductory rate of 1% or the store offering a discount of 20% if you open a store charge.  While you may say that you don’t do that and will pay it off, that is not the case for most.  Most will allow the balance to carry as it is so tempting to have spent $400 and only have to hand over $15 that next month.  I mean, you get to keep $385 in YOUR pocket – right?  WRONG!

Take a look at this example:

You open a store card to save 20% off of your purchase that day and end up spending $400.  You saved a bunch of money already and so it was smart!

The bill comes and you open it.  You see that the interest rate is 18.9% and that the minimum payment is only $16.  Rather than hand over the entire $400 out of your account, you think – “Heck!  I’ll just send in that minimum and keep that $384 in my own pocket to spend on something else!”

If you continue to do this, it will take you nearly 3 years (34 months) to pay off this balance.  THREE YEARS!  Not only that, but you will accumulate more than $120 in interest making your $400 purchase end up costing more than $520!!!

Just pass on those credit card offers and stick with cash or your debit card and you won’t fall into these even money sucking traps!

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5. Listening to the bank instead of your budget.

If you want a new home or car (or anything which requires a loan), you will go to the bank.  You fill out an application for pre-approval and find out that they tell you that you can afford a $300,000 home with an interest rate of 3.76%.  Your monthly payment will be $1,391.05.

While that looks like it will work according to the numbers, you know that will really stretch things thinly.  However, a bigger house with that huge master tub and large backyard is so wonderful!  The neighborhood is upscale and it is everything you want.  However, is it what you can really afford?

Perhaps you really should spend only $900 a month instead.  That would mean you should not spend more than around $200,000 for a home instead.  That is $100,00 LESS than what the bank says you can afford.

By spending less, you have freed up money to allow you to actually live to love life – not life to pay for a home.  If you find yourself in this situation, it might be wise to consider down sizing or maybe trying to refinance at a lower rate to reduce the amount you are paying each month on your mortgage.

 

6.  Not doing research before shopping.

It is easy for us to overspend on things such as home repairs, clothing, gifts and more.  The reason is that emotion normally drives us.  If the refrigerator is no longer working, we worry and just know we have to get it fixed as quickly as possible. That may result in paying more than you should.

Instead, shop around and do your research.  You should even do so before the unexpected happens.  In the instance of an appliance repair, make some calls to find out the rates of various companies.  Do research to find out who does good work.  Then, write down that name and number so that when you need someone, you will know who you should call and know that they will not only do the work to your expectations, but also at a price you are willing to pay.

You should also look around for deals and the best prices on other items such as clothes and gifts.  By taking a few extra minutes to do some research online, you might find a better price at another store, saving you time!

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7.  Not teaching your children (now).

Kids are sponges.  They take in everything they witness and hear around them.  This can lead to them learning great things….but also not so great things.  You want your kids to be smart in all areas of their life as they get older.  Finances is one of them.

Start educating them at a young age.  When my kids go to the store, they know that we can’t just buy anything.  We talk about our budget with them and tell them that we have only a certain amount of money to spend on food, so we have to first cover the items we need and then we may be able to pick up that splurge item.

We also teach them financial responsibility.  It is important that you start young with your children so that they understand the concept of how to manage their own money.  Teach them about giving, saving and spending.  By starting young, they will learn no other way of dealing with money than the way you teach them.  That will set them on the path to financial independence as they get older.

 

8. Not planning for the unexpected.

Let’s face it. None of us ever plans on losing a spouse, divorce or other financial hardships.  But, the reality is that it can happen.  It is important to plan now so that you are ready should that happen.

You need to sit down with your spouse or partner and have a candid discussion.  As yourselves these questions:

  • Who will raise our children if we are both gone?
  • How much money will my spouse need should I pass away?
  • How will we cover funeral and/or medical expenses?
  • What happens if I become disabled and can no longer work?

Get your emergency fund in place.  It should cover upwards of 6 – 12 months of your expenses.  You will want to look at your budget and determine what would go away if you were out of work (things such as entertainment and dining out may have to be put on the back burner).  You also need to  add in the additional cost of health insurance premiums (if you get this through your employer). Then, work hard to try to build up your emergency fund so that you can support yourself, and your family, should you find yourself out of work.

Then, put systems in place.  Get life insurance.  Make sure your Will is up to date.  Look into disability insurance.    Check with your employer as they may offer some supplemental benefits to help cover some of these expenses.  They may offer some sort of disability insurance at a reduced premium rate.

 

9.  Not having a debt paydown plan.

There is no such thing as “good debt.”  The best debt of all is no debt.  You may think that you only owe $800 in credit cards, but that is $800 too much!

You should take the steps to get out of debt right away (read more about Getting Out of Debt).  There are some simple things to keep in mind with any debt plan:

  1. Make sure you do not spend more than you earn (that means do not use credit cards or loans to overspend).
  2. Figure out your monthly payments to get the debts paid down.
  3. Set a deadline to getting out of debt.
  4. Put it ALL in writing and stick to it!

 

10.  Ignoring them completely.

It is a fact that ignoring problems never makes them go away.  They are still there.  The same holds true with your finances. If you are ignoring them, things will not improve.

If you find you are in over your head, check with your bank.  For example, CommunityAmerica offers free assistance to anyone who wants to get out of debt.  They even have financial planners available to assist you.  You never know what services are out there unless you ask.

 

It is not how much you make that matters, it is what you do with it.  Making wise financial decisions can keep you from throwing money away and helps you gain more control, leading to happier life.

There are things we all do which might be affecting our finances.  Check out these ten BIG money mistakes you might be making (and not even realize it)!

How to Make Money on Your FitBit (Or Other Activity Tracker)

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Did you know that you can actually get PAID to use your activity tracker (like a FitBit,  JawBone and more)!  Find out FIVE great (free) ways to get paid for doing what you already do --  WALK!!!

Last night I made a status update on Facebook about reaching more than 15,000 steps in a single day on my Fit Bit and my friend Lauren, with I am That Lady told me that I could have made money on those steps!  She shared with me that you can actually get PAID when using your FitBit!  WHO KNEW!?!!

Check out these EASY ways to get paid for using your Fit Bit or other activity tracker!!!

1. Earn $5 from Shop Your Way (every 14 miles walked).

Believe it or not, Shop Your Way will actually give you money for staying healthy.  It is simple to get signed up, just follow these steps:

  • Visit Shop Your Way Rewards and click the orange BECOME A CLIENT button.  (Now, you will be able to get exclusive coupon codes directly from me!!)
  • Make sure you own a FitBit (you can buy one directly through Shop Your Way once you are signed up – and will also earn 1,000 points for doing so).
  • Next, you need to create an account at FitStudio.com. Just make sure you use the exact same login information you used when creating your Shop Your Way account above!
  • Now you can start to earn those points and then redeem your credit at ShopYourWay.com!!

 

2. Earn Walgreen’s Balance Rewards Points.

Another way to earn money is to connect your FitBit to your Walgreen’s Balance Rewards card.  It is easy to connect your device and start to earn points for walking!

  • Visit Walgreens.com and sign up for a Balance Rewards Account (if you do not already have one).
  • Once you have your card, create (or sign into) your account.
  • From the main screen, click on Account Home.
  • From there, scroll down to find Balance Rewards for Healthy Choices (Steps) and click the blue button EARN POINTS.
  • Click through the screens sharing information. Next you can click on connect a Fitness Tracker (so it updates for you automatically).
  • Select the type of tracker you are using.
  • Next, you will redirect to FitBit’s site and need to ALLOW the app to run (pink button).
  • Now, as you walk, you will earn points!

 

3. Earn Rewards from AchieveMint.

This is a new app I just learned about.  You simply sign up to connect your FitBit and get actual real-life rewards!

  • Visit AchieveMint and click on Register at the top of the page.
  • Enter your information on the first screen.
  • Next, you will see a link to connect your AchieveMint account to your FitBit account.  Click there and follow the steps.
  • You earn points for the activities you complete and when you reach 50,000 points, you will get a $50 Visa Card!!

I love that you don’t have to do anything more than just walk to build up those points!

 

4. Every Move to Earn Points.

This is a health rewards program which allows you to earn points via your FitBit  (and other methods).  You might even check with your insurance company or employer as some of them will even MATCH the points you earn!

  • Visit EveryMove.org and click the orange SIGN UP button.
  • Once your account is set up, you will be redirected to a page which shows various devices, including the FitBit.  Click to connect your account.
  • Once connected, you will then go and can add your Health Plan, Employer or even college (where you may earn bonus points or additional rewards if they participate).  If you do not have these, you can just skip that step.

What was great is that when I signed up, it went back and grabbed some of my prior activity, which added in some “retro-active” points for me!

The only down side to this one is that you don’t earn free items, but rather discounts on those products you may want to purchase.

 

5. Earn points to donate to charity (or keep them for yourself) through Higi.

This is an interesting app because it will allow you to earn points to redeem towards products, or, if you prefer, make a donation to a charity!

  • Visit higi.com and click the green SIGN UP button.
  • Fill out the profile information.
  • When you get to the screen to connect your device, click on the FitBit link.
  • Follow the steps to link your account.
  • Once you reach points, you can either cash them in towards discount codes or donate to a charity instead.

The great thing is that most of these apps will also work with any device you have, allowing you to earn money while staying active!