Category Archives: Budget

5 Frugal Holiday Tips | Help You Save The Most Money This Christmas

Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget, thanksgiving dinner ideas, thanksgiving on a budget, budget thanksgiving, cheap thanksgiving, thanksgiving dinner for cheap, meredith rines, merelynne

I’m coming at you today with my top five frugal holiday tips to save you the most money this season.  I know this time of year can be hard.  Like, really, really hard. We have our normal, every day lives to manage and now we have to make sure we buy gifts for a lot of people, host dinners and attend parties.  Not to mention if you have school-aged kids the Christmas programs you have to help with.  This time of year can be stressful.  

To help you out, I’m sharing these top frugal holiday tips so that you don’t have to stress about money.  

You can watch the 5 Frugal Holiday Tips video online or down below:

The first tip is to create a Christmas Budget.  You can read this post from earlier in the week where I shared just how we create our budget, what we track and where we get an idea of how much to spend on every person in our lives.

Your second tip to saving money is DIY. I know this one might seem a little hard, especially if your pressed for time but you can easily find a simple project that takes hardly any time and costs hardly anything.  For me, I love the idea of making something for someone I love over buying a gift.  It seems so much more personal and shows just how much I care.

Here are a few DIY ideas:

  • ornaments
  • wreath
  • oven mitts
  • framed photo

A third frugal holiday tip is to host a potluck instead of exchanging gifts.  Let’s be honest, gift buying can get overwhelming and expensive. So get together with friends or neighbors and suggest a potluck instead of a gift exchange.  Have everyone bring a dish and then just spend time together.  I’m sure having a few hours laughing over a meal would mean more than a gift that will end up collecting dust.

The fourth tips is all about shopping smart.  You can find amazing deals online by using coupon codes and promotional discounts.  Always search on Google for a coupon code before checking out to make sure you’re getting the lowest price.  Another great way to shop smart is by going to the Dollar Tree, Big Lots and other discount stores.  If you’re willing to go earlier in the holiday season you can find some great items for a fraction of the cost as other retailers.

My final tip for racking up those holiday savings is host a cookie party. Invite a few friends over and each of you bake 1-2 cookie recipes, but make sure your batches are big enough to share.  Then at the end of the day you have about 6 different recipes you can split between you to pass out as gifts. 

How To Setup Your Christmas Budget

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The holiday season is upon us.  The moment Halloween is over, it seems that Christmas is in full swing.  I need time to slow down just a little, it’s going by way too fast.  I can’t believe it’s going to be our little guy’s second Christmas this year.  In a recent Budget Q&A I shared the concept of our Christmas Budget – what we include, how it works and what all I track.  Well in that post I promised I would bring a more in-depth tutorial on how you can setup your Christmas Budget to help you tame the chaos this year.  

You can watch the video online or below:

You need to create a simple spreadsheet in either your journal, Excel or you can even use Google Sheets to create one.  You need 7 columns to get you started:

  1. Who
  2. What
  3. Budget
  4. Spent
  5. Bought
  6. Received
  7. Wrapped

Who

This one is pretty self explanatory, who do you need to buy a gift for.  Make sure to include all of your family members, friends, co-workers, any hostess gifts for dinner parties, mailman, trash pick-up guys, etc.

What

The what category always takes you a little longer to complete.  This is where you will brainstorm a gift idea for everyone on your list.

Budget

Fill in how much you plan on spending for each person.  You can use this guide to help with gift limits.  

Spent

Once you buy a gift, fill in this section.  As I said in the video if you go over by a few dollars on one person’s gift – that’s okay.  Just make up for somewhere else. For instance, if I spend $5 more for my sister’s gift than I had budgeted, then I need to spend $5 less somewhere else.  It could be on one other gift or I could save a $1 or so on several different people to make up the difference.  

Bought, Received, Wrapped

Use the last three columns as a checklist.  Now you can look at your budget at any moment to know who you need to buy for still, what gifts you’re waiting on to get in and which ones still need to be wrapped.  These three additions to your budget are a game changer. I promise! No more waiting until the last minute to get a gift for someone because you forgot.  Now you will know exactly who you have left and about how much you still need to spend.  

For more tips and budget help, check out these great posts:

How We Use Our Credit Card Rewards

how to use credit card reward points, Credit Card Reward Points, using credit card cash back, budgeting for credit cards, how to use a credit card

Our Favorite Money Saving Apps

money savings apps

How To Make Money Shopping Online

ebates.com and walmart savings catcher, making money shopping

 

Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget

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Thanksgiving is just around the corner.  Are you prepared? This year we’re staying in town and having dinner with my family.  It’s going to be great getting together with my sister (and brother-in-law), my cousins and their kids.  My cousins and I are about the same age and even are kids are close in age.  So it’s great when we all get to be together.  We usually laugh until we get headaches, we tell stories of our past and just enjoy ourselves.  

You may remember from October’s Budget Q&A from not too long ago.  We mentioned taking the time to plan out your holiday budget.  I do have a post all about preparing your Christmas Budget, which includes Thanksgiving dinner coming this week (so stay tuned!). Your holiday budget not only includes gifts you have to buy for everyone, but also anything you have to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner, road trips to see families and much more.  

The first think you need to do is to go through your holiday budget and make sure you know exactly what you planned on making or buying for Thanksgiving.  It’s important to remind yourself so you don’t overspend.

Today, I wanted to share with you a few tips for hosting Thanksgiving dinner on a budget:

Have a Potluck

Don’t put the stress and responsibility of preparing every dish on just one person.  Ask for help.  Ask each couple or person to bring a dish or two.  It really helps on the food costs and the time it takes to prepare.  My family does this every year.  That way everyone is contributing some dish to dinner and is helping out.

Prioritize Your Dishes

Make a list of every dish you would like to have at dinner.  From there you can see what people are bringing and then anything left over needs to be prioritized.  Let’s be honest, there’s usually too many dishes and foods at Thanksgiving dinner.  So, don’t be afraid if something doesn’t make the cut.  

Do Without Store Bought Decorations

If you have any decorations or centerpieces from previous years then use those.  If not, then get creative.  You can find a ton of fall decor ideas on Pinterest.  Another option is to head outside and use leaves or pinecones you find in your backyard.  Use a little spray paint or imagination and you can make your own perfect pieces.

Make It Yourself

Obviously hiring a caterer sounds like a genius idea, but they can be costly.  Another way your budget can jump is having a bakery prepare your cakes, pies or other bakery goods.  Do without hiring someone to make dishes and do it yourself, from scratch.  Buying goods from bakeries and stores can be costly, but so can buying pre-made or pre-mixed foods too.  

There you have it! Simple tips to help you stay within your budget and still enjoy time with your family.  It’s too easy to get wrapped up in this idea of the perfect Thanksgiving dinner.  The food has to be perfect, the decorations have to be spot-on and the house has to be spotless.  But that’s not what Thanksgiving is about.  It’s about time with family, being thankful for what’s most important and enjoying the moment.

 

How To Prepare For A New Month

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It’s that time of the month again – I swear as I get older time just seems to keep going by faster and faster.  I do wish it would slow down so I could enjoy my little boy a bit longer.  Everyday he’s learning something new and becoming so much of a little boy as opposed to a baby.  When we went to the pumpkin patch a few weeks ago watching his determination and excitement was just awesome.  He was willing to try just about anything (he didn’t care for the slide in pitch black though) and he absolutely loved the big boy slide.  He just kept wanting to go down it over and over again.  When it was time to leave, a full on meltdown followed.  

Anyways… this post is about how to prepare for a new month, not the challenges I’m having watching my little boy grow up.  

Let’s get back on track.  Focus Meredith, focus.

There are a few things I do at the end of each month to help us kick off the next on a high note.  I highly recommend coming up with a monthly routine for you and your family to follow.  It helps to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

The first thing we do is take a look at our 3-month plan.  Awhile back I talked about how we plan our life 3 months at a time.  This is how we approach just about everything.  We sit down once a quarter to really get a big picture view of what we have going on, what we need to be planning for and budgeting for.  Then we like to break it down by a month-to-month basis. 

After we make sure we’re on track for our big 3 month plan then we go forward with preparing for the new month. 

Here’s what our 3 months looks like:

January, February and March are planned end of December/beginning of January

April, May and June are planned end of March/beginning of April

July, August, and September are planned end of June/beginning of July

October, November, and December are planned end of September/beginning of October

Here we are getting ready for November, so our 3 month plan is already set.  However, if this was the end of the quarter then we would be going through our steps to get ready for the next 3 months.  

Here’s the rest our monthly plan:

Money Date 

You should end each month with a money date.  Now you typically should have a money date at least once a week (or every other week), but make sure to have one at the end of each month.  This helps you know what each person has coming up and what they would like to do for the next month.

Review Your Budget 

Next you need to take a look at your budget.  Make sure you finalize any calculations or figuring to know exactly how you did the month before.  This is the time to review any receipts, bank charges, expense tracking, etc. to make sure everything is accounted for and your numbers are correct.  When you spend a little bit of time each week then this doesn’t become too overwhelming.  

But it’s a good idea to review your budget before the start of a new month so if there were any overspending or surprises then you can be better prepared.

Plan Any Events

You should know a few weeks in advance of any dinners you need to attend or birthday parties.  This is the time to make sure they are in your calendar and you have prepared your budget in case you need to bring a gift or spend money at a restaurant.  Hopefully you’ve had more than a month’s notice, but sometimes that isn’t the case.  Especially when it comes to children’s birthday parties.  

Also, this is the time to make sure you have a date night scheduled at least every other week (or once a week).  You can swap out babysitting with a friend or see if the grandparents wouldn’t mind keeping your little ones for an evening so that you can relax. 

Before having kids I never understood the importance of date night, I mean we had date night but it didn’t feel special.  Now that we have our son, I get it.  Date night is a chance for you to reconnect with your spouse, have adult conversations and just be together.  The other week J and I had a date night at home.  Grandma and Grandpa kept little man and we did nothing.  We sat outside in our backyard, had the fire pit going and enjoyed a glass of wine.  We then came in to heat up some leftovers and were in bed by 8:30.  It was perfect.

Meal Plan

Finally, you should spend some time meal planning.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you can take stock of what you already have on hand so that when it’s time to grocery shop you aren’t buying something you don’t need.  We like to meal plan for two weeks at a time so we aren’t wasting food and can rearrange meals if needed. Typically if we eat leftovers an extra night or go to my parents’ for dinner then I can take a meal and push it back to later in the month.  It makes grocery shopping easier and we aren’t wasting food.

You can find more about meal planning and eating out back in September’s Budget Q&A.  We found that by meal planning for two weeks we can save a lot more money.  

What do you do to help prepare for a new month? Leave a comment letting me know!

How To Get Started With Cash Budgeting

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Recently I shared a video about how to get started with cash budgeting and I realized that I never shared it over on the blog. Shame on me! 

Cash budgeting is a great tool to use when you’re learning how to budget your money properly or if you need a little kick in the pants to stop overspending.  J and I go back to cash budgeting time after time because it’s just so easy.

If you hate budgeting and really don’t want to keep up with spreadsheets to track your money then cash budgeting is the way to go.

You can watch the video online or down below.

 

I can’t recommend cash budgeting enough!  It really is the perfect way to budget your money when you hate budgets.  The first step you need before getting started is decide what exactly you can pay cash for and what you can’t.  For instance – mortgage, utilities, credit card payments, loan payments, and so on – it’s probably easier to setup online bill pay or mail a check in each month.  However, I would highly recommend paying cash for groceries, eating out and any other category you find yourself going over each month in.  I’ve been asked before about gas for our cars, do we use cash or card.  Well, w\e tend to use a card for any gas that we need for our cars.  I used to pay cash, but after having a kid I realized it wasn’t really feasible to get an infant (now stubborn toddler_ out of the car seat just to walk inside to hand over cash then try to strap him back in.  So not worth it! But you have to find what works best for you.

For some more tips on how to get started with cash budgeting check out these other posts. 

Creating your budget in under 10 minutes

how to create a budget in 10 minutes

Getting started with cash envelopes

how to use the cash envelope system

What is the debt snowball

tips on doing the debt snowball, how to do the debt snowball

Why we have so many bank accounts

multiple bank accounts, why we have 6 accounts, cash budgeting, cash envelope, the easier cash envelope, dave ramsey, meredithrines, merelynne

Why your bills should be on auto pay 

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How Much Do We Meal Plan, Budgeting With Inconsistent Income, Getting Ready for the Holidays | October Budget Q&A

How Much Do We Meal Plan, Budgeting With Inconsistent Income, Getting Ready for the Holidays |

Friends!

It’s time for October’s Budget Q&A!

Last month was my first every Budget Q&A and it was a huge hit!  I answered your questions about how we spend only $100 a person for groceries each month, how much we spend eating out and how we meal plan.  The Budget Q&A was so popular and I received a ton of questions from you.  So I decided to make it a monthly theme. 

Today I’m answering a few of the questions I’ve received lately from you.  With the Holidays coming up, now is the time to get your budget in check.  Budgeting doesn’t have to be perfect every single month, so please do not let the fear of mistakes stop you from creating a budget.  This time of year is absolutely perfect to get to work on a new money plan for your family.  The holidays are always the time of year people tend to overspend, use credit cards too often and not put money back into savings.  So by starting your budget today you can at least have a good starting point before we get into the chaotic Christmas season.  

Watch the video online or down below:

If you’re looking for a specific answer check out the time stamps:

How Much Do We Meal Plan At A Time: 2:10

Budgeting With Inconsistent Income: 5:55

Getting Ready For The Holidays: 8:52

For more help with your budgeting problems and to get your ready for the BEST Christmas ever check out the posts below:

How We Meal Plan to Save Money

how i meal plan, free meal planner template

How to Create a Simple Budget

one tip to create a simple budget, how to create a simple budget, budgeting made easy

How To Do Christmas On A Budget

Christmas on a budget

If you have any questions you would like answered, please send them to me.  You can leave a comment below or email me at meredith@merelynne.com. 

How To Budget For Your Pets

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Not that long ago I shared over on Youtube Live all about budgeting for your pets.  I get asked ALL THE TIME if we include our three dogs in our grocery budget or if they have a budget all their own.  Well… watch the video to find out what we do to cover vet bills, food costs and boarding fees.

You can watch online or down below.

How do you budget for your pets?  Do you keep it separate or lump it all together in your other monthly categories?  You have to find what works best for your family.  We played around with our budgets until we found a system that worked for us.

If you need more help with budgeting, check out the posts below:

How To Create A Budget in Under 10 Minutes

how to create a budget in 10 minutes

How To Create A Sinking Fund

What is a sinking fund

Why Amazon is Mom’s Best Friend

amazon is mom's best friend

Why You Should Have Your Accounts on Auto Pay

Why You Should Have Your Accounts on Auto Pay, auto pay, meredith rines, merelynne, meredithrines, streamline your life, streamline your budget, streamline bill paying, auto bill pay

Today, I’m popping in to share with you a quick video that will transform your budget.  I am all about being efficient and streamline with my life.  I love helping families that want to get out of the scarcity mentality so they can start paying down debt.  The first step I share with clients and anyone willing to listen is why you should setup your bills on auto pay. 

This one feature can help minimize (or completely stop) late payments.  It can also help decrease your monthly cost of paying bills (watch the video to find out how) and so much more.

You can watch the video online or down below.  For more helpful posts, check out below.

How to Streamline Your Life

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How To Afford Paying Off Your Credit Card

How to Afford Paying Off Credit Card Debt

Why We Have So Many Different Bank Accounts

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How To Set The Right Financial Goals

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One of the biggest issues I see with families is not knowing how to set perfect financial goals.  Goals need to be specific and measurable, as well as what is best for your situation.  Don’t get me wrong, I love having big goals.  My husband and I have some pretty big dreams and goals that we are working towards, but the first step with any goal is breaking it down into smaller ones.

You can watch this video online or below to learn more about creating the right financial goals for your family.

Creating the right financial goals doesn’t have to be complicated or overwhelming.  You just have to do some research to know how much you can afford each month and how much the final goal is going to cost you.

For instance, if you want to save money for a down payment on your dream home that’s great.  However, it can be overwhelming to say I want to save 20% of a $200,000 home – that’s $40,000 you’re trying to save.  When you look at $40,000 that can feel almost impossible, which is why so many families struggle with the paycheck-to-paycheck mentality.  You see a big number and are immediately discouraged.  You result in giving up before even trying.

Instead what you should be doing is setting your $40,000 goal with a realistic time period.  For example, you want to save 20% for a down payment and you would like to do it in 4 years.  Well now you need to save $10,000 a year or $833 a month.  Once you see the smaller number it becomes much more manageable.

BUT if that smaller, monthly amount is still too high then there are a few options you can pick from.  First – spread out your goal.  Instead of 4 years, try 5 years.  Now you’re talking about only $667 a month to reach your goal.  

Second – re-prioritize your goal.  Do you really want a $200,000 home?  Can you reduce any current expenses so you can put back even more towards your goal?

It’s all about making your goal more manageable and then having an honest conversation with yourself and your spouse.  Maybe you realize there is a better option than a $200,000 home – perhaps you could get $150,000 home that’s a bit more out of town so it’s the same size.  Or maybe you realize you don’t need a new car every 3 years and can work on paying off your car loan so you can have more spending cash each month to put towards your goal.

I’ve been talking a lot about a house, but your goals are anything you want to accomplish.  A vacation, a new car, buying a boat, saving for your children’s college costs, remodeling your home, etc.  

To set the right financial goals you need to make sure you are following this formula:

  1. Decide on the final amount for your goal
  2. Decide on a time frame to reach your goal
  3. Break it down into a monthly (or weekly) payment
  4. Re-prioritize your goal if it’s not feasible to save that amount or reach your goal in that time frame
  5. Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate because goals change with time

 

Why We Have So Many Different Bank Accounts

multiple bank accounts, why we have 6 accounts, cash budgeting, cash envelope, the easier cash envelope, dave ramsey, meredithrines, merelynne

Today is the day. I’m finally going to explain why we have so many different bank accounts. 

I shared this post not too long ago and I received so many questions about how we handle our family’s finances.  Then I thought I was going to clarify everything with this video about how we follow the easier cash envelope system, but I think I just got you even more confused.  

For that I’m sorry. I didn’t want to sound too complicated or overwhelming.  That was never my intention.  Because you should easily be able to control your money.  When you find a system that works for your family then it’s golden.  I had questions about how we manage our banking, but I didn’t answer them very clearly.  

Apparently the number of bank accounts we have is abnormal. Like, most people don’t get it. I wanted to explain maybe a little bit better to why we have so many different bank accounts and how we use them. I decided to make it a lot easier to understand once and for all.  I created another video.  

Don’t worry!

This video is a lot more visual to make it clear.  I don’t know why I didn’t do this the first time around.  I am such a visual person I should have realized this is what’s needed.  Even in high school, college and even during my Certified Financial Planner classes I prefer to watch videos or the professor’s lecture while I take notes.  For some reason I understand so much more when I can visualize when I heard it or what my notes looked like.  Reading from a book or post doesn’t really do much for me.  

I created some helpful diagrams and pictures to make the whole process of all different bank accounts make sense.

Now before I get into the video, please note that this is how our family handles money.  This does not mean your family should adopt what we do.  It’s just another way to organize finances and keep track of spending.  If what you’re doing works for you then that is great!  The traditional way – 1 checking and 1 savings was not working for us.  I found something that kept us within our budget while making it easy to follow.  

Remember the reason you want to have a control on your finances is

You need to control your money. Don’t let your money control you. (Click to tweet)

Watch the video online or below and leave a comment with any questions you have.  I’ll be happy to answer what I can.

What do you think? Does this make more sense now? If the way your family is handling money isn’t working then don’t be afraid to switch it out.  My advice though – whatever you try you must commit to at least 60 days to work out any kinks.  Now the doesn’t mean don’t make adjustments along the way.  We’re still making adjustments to the way we handle our money.  However, you have to be committed to not make any major, drastic changes for at least 2 months.  That is a good time frame to pay bills a few times, put money into savings, and to work on your budget. 

Maybe the best solution is to think outside the box when it comes to getting ahead.

Need More Help?

If you’re looking for a great tool to help keep your family on budget, then check out out my budget spreadsheet.  Each month is laid out right in front of you where you can keep track of what you budget and what you actually spend. Now you’ll know in real time how you’re doing each month.