Category Archives: Budget

Planning For A New Year, Revising Your Budget, and Setting New Goals | December Budget Q&A

Planning For A New Year, Revising Your Budget, Setting New Goals and Planning Your Year, meredith rines, merelynne

This month’s Budget Q&A was too important to skip. With the end of December and 2017 just a few days away I realized I needed to get this months answers to your questions done.

This month has flown by, with trips to see family, holiday parties, Christmas, and so much more I’m just surprised I let this month’s Q&A slip by.  I started trying to find a time to post this month’s video and realized I needed to just do it.  So that’s why I’m coming at you on a day outside my normal posting schedule.

This month’s Q&A is all about how to plan for a new year to make sure your family is off on a good foot – I’m sharing with you tips on how to plan your year in advance (we do ours in 3 month intervals), why you should revise your budget, and make sure you’re on track to meet your short-term and long-term goals.

Make sure to check out this month’s Q&A online or down below:

For more help, check out these posts:

How We Plan Our Life 3 Months At A Time

How We Use Google Calendar To Stay Organized

The Easiest Budget Template Ever!

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.

How To Afford Christmas on a Budget

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Christmas is a magical time. I have the best memories of Christmas morning from when I was a little girl. 

Santa’s gifts were in the stockings at our house growing up. My sister and I would each have our own stocking laid out in the family room. Because of being a working Mom, my Mom just ran out of time to wrap all the gifts.  So it became a thing to have Santa’s gifts unwrapped in our stockings.  Now as I get older I realize just how much work Christmas can be. I love how my Mom found a way to take the pressure off of her and made it so memorable for us! I can pretty much guarantee our son’s stocking probably will have only unwrapped gifts from Santa.

One year my Dad dressed as Santa and ran out our front door with us chasing after him. My Mom barely caught us and told us to hurry to get our shoes on. We couldn’t move fast enough! By the time we got outside we followed Santa’s footsteps until they disappeared at the end of our sidewalk. They literally disappeared! My Mom dragged us back inside and there was my Dad drinking his coffee wondering what had happened.  Years later we figured out Dad had jumped from the end of the sidewalk into the garage, quickly shut the door, threw the Santa suit in his trunk and ran back through the backdoor.  

Those are the memories I remember as a kid – not the gifts we received, but stuff we did together.  That’s what makes Christmas magical.  I love being able to make Christmas such an amazing memory for our son.

How To Create Christmas on a Budget

Create a budget before buying any gifts.  By creating a Christmas budget you’ll be able to determine, on paper, how much you want to spend before actually spending a dime. It’s important to have a plan for your money so it doesn’t control you. Take a few minutes to determine who you need to buy, what you want to get, and how much you want to spend.

Cut out everything that is sucking your time away from family. Your kids, your family and your friends would much rather spend time with you then have another gift under the tree. So try to be more present when you’re with them and carve our special time with each other.

Gifts for spouses. J and I don’t actually exchange any gifts between the two of us. In the past we set a $15 budget for gifts, but with J being back in school we decided it would be easier to just not do any gifts. It works. If we could spend $30 on ourselves or spend the same amount on our son then we always pick our boy. Always.

Shop smart. Make sure to activate your Ebates before doing any holiday shopping. This time of year is when we earn quite a bit of reward dollars. Ebates give you cash back for doing your usual online shopping and even a bigger bonus when you signup.

Sell anything you don’t use. A great trick to help create some extra cash flow is to go through your house and get rid of any unwanted items. You can easily sell items on Facebook Swap Shops, Craigslist, and Ebay. 

Don’t be afraid of DIY Christmas gifts. There are some great DIY gift ideas you can make. You might even have everything for a great gift at your house and it won’t cost you anything.

Bake your gifts for neighbors. I love the idea of being kind to our neighbors, trash men, and mailman. However, it doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money. You can having a baking day with friends where each of you bake one or two different cookie recipes then at the end of the day you split the cookies. You can go to the dollar store and buy an inexpensive serving tray to deliver them to your neighbors. 

Plan to give back. One of the biggest gifts you can give to someone is by helping them out. This time of year is a great way to help local charities and churches. When I was little, I remember my Mom having us go through our toys to donate. We learned so much from doing that and it made us feel so great. You can easily get your kids involved by donating toys or volunteering to help create care packages. Anything so they can understand the bigger picture and the true meaning of Christmas.

For more tips on how to do a frugal Christmas check out my Youtube channel where I have plenty of holiday budget help.

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.

Simple DIY Christmas Gifts On A Budget

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I love a good deal. I mean, that should come as no surprise since I am a budget strategist.  During the holidays budgets can kind of take a backseat with all the stress we put on ourselves. I love the idea of a few simple DIY projects to make for people. You can find a ton of great ideas over on Pinterest that can help take some of the financial stress off you this time of year. I usually make one to two different gifts by hand for family each year. That way I can make sure to give something with meaning all while sticking within my Christmas budget.

For us, especially with J back in school this year, Christmas is more about being present with family. It’s not about the presents we give or how much we spent of our family and friends. To be honest, this year has probably been the least stressful holiday yet. We know how much we can spend on Christmas gifts and that’s it. It has made justifying what we spend (or how little we spend) a lot easier in our heads. We’re able to treat everyone equal – from his family to my family. Everyone has the same budgeted amount based on our gift guide.

Here are a few of my favorite past DIY Christmas gifts:

Personalized Oven Mitts

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Easy Sharpie Mugs

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Personalized Photo Frame

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Front Door Wreath

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Personalized Wall Art

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Christmas Photo Ornaments

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What are some other DIY Christmas gifts that you love to make for family? Leave a comment below!

Grocery Shopping On a Budget – 2 Week Aldi and Walmart Haul

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It’s here my best tips for grocery shopping on a budget!  

I don’t know about you, but groceries are always the hardest to stay on track with.  It just seems items not on the shopping list mysteriously end up in the basket.  It’s so weird!  But for the past few months we have been focused.  We have been working hard at sticking to and coming under our grocery budget each month.  It hasn’t been easy, but we have been rocking it!  So it’s time I share with you my secrets to staying in and under budget. 

Before we start, I want to let you know we do most of our grocery shopping at Aldi.  Ever since Walmart did away with their price matching we have found ourselves shopping more and more at Aldi.  I have to admit – I like it!  I probably should have made the switch a long, long time ago.  Now if you don’t have an Aldi or prefer another store, that’s fine!  You can make this work just about any grocery store, I promise.  If Aldi doesn’t carry something we need then we will run to Walmart.

I have already shared with you a quick Aldi shopping haul from after our vacation.  It was a little shorter than usual and we didn’t do our typical two week meal planning.  So this time around I wanted to give you the full effect of how we meal plan, make our grocery list and then stick with our budget.  

The first thing we do is we create our meal plan for the next two weeks (you can even use my easy template, too).  I have found we spend less money by shopping every two weeks instead of weekly.  Now if we run out or need a few produce items then we may make a run after the first week, but that’s pretty rare.  I have discovered we go through a gallon of milk in about a week at our house. J and I hardly drink it (I have a real aversion to cereal and it’s super hard to for me since our son loves it!) and we just don’t go through that fast.  I can buy 2 gallons of milk at a time, but I have to watch the dates. If they expire before our two weeks are up then I have to only buy one and go back the next week.

When we’re creating our meal plan we always start with what we have on hand in our freezer, fridge and pantry.  That way we can save money by using up what we have.  Now I like to keep some ground beef and chicken in the freezer for any time we have company over or need to tighten our budget.  So I do this by keeping an eye on the sale prices.  If there is a good deal that week on meat then I may stock up a little more than what’s needed, but only if I have room in my budget after getting everything else we need.  So I typically go to the meat section of the store at the very end. 

After our meal plan is set, I take a look at what else we need around the house.  I made a quick video about what all I include in our grocery budget.  Basically anything that is consumed or used in our home is on the budget.  So I do a run-through to make sure we don’t need shampoo, toilet paper, paper towels or cleaning products.  

*I order wipes from Amazon and have them set to a monthly subscription.  I automatically deduct that amount from my grocery budget each month.

Next we look at our budget.  This way we know exactly how much we have to spend before ever leaving the house.  I also track our spending using envelopes, which means I can take a quick glance to see just how much we can spend.  It makes it fresh on our minds how much we have to spend.  I also keep my phone’s calculator open so I can subtract the items I put in the cart to make sure I am not going over.  This helps so much!  Just make sure you leave a few dollars at the end to cover your tax!

Here is how we did this week.  You can watch the video online or down below:

If you find your grocery budget a little too tight then plan on doing No Eating Out Challenge to save a little money.  They work really great to make you cook at home and use up all those leftovers that usually go to waste!

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.

Our November Budget Recap

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On the blog, we’re going to start something new. Each month, I’m going to record a quick video sharing with you a budget recap.

I think it’s important to be real and show you that some months are better than others.  It’s okay no to be perfect all the time, but what we have found what is most important is just making progress towards our goals.

I use this very simple budgeting template to help us keep up with how we’re doing, which is great. I highly recommend to anyone trying to get their budget in check to make sure you actually know two things: how much you want to spend and how much you actually spend.  By creating a starting point with your money then you’ll be able to gauge how you’re doing and what areas you are succeeding in. For instance if you budget $100 in eating out for the month and then you only spent $75 that’s a big win!  On the other hand, if you budget $100 and spent $125 then you know that you need to either work on lower what you spend or up your budget.  

After I create my starting budget at the beginning of each month, I then track my spending using envelopes to help me stay on track.  This technique allows me to only spend a few minutes each week updating our budget template, because I go off our envelopes.  

So I’m going to show you my envelopes for last month and our completed budget spreadsheet, so you can see just how good (or bad) we did. I won’t be afraid to hide our mistakes or mishaps from you. Budgeting isn’t about being perfect, it’s about making progress and working towards your goals.

You can watch November’s budget recap online or below:

How did you do for November? It never hurts to review your budget or your envelopes to make sure you’re on track. We started our budget with knowing what our big financial goals were – paying off student loans, saving up to buy some land and putting more back towards our retirement. By being on the same page when we created our budget, we understand the pressures we put on ourselves to watch our spending.

How We Stay Motivated, Chores For Our Toddler, and Budgeting for Christmas | November Budget Q&A

How We Stay Motivated, Chores For Our Toddler, and Budgeting for Christmas, meredith rines, merelynne, budgeting for christmas

Can you believe how close we are to Christmas? I have to admit I was feeling pretty proud of myself on Black Friday because of two things: One – I stayed home all day and didn’t step foot into one store.  And two – I finished 98% of my Christmas shopping while sitting on my couch.  

The best part of my Christmas shopping is I am way under on our budget for gifts, which is awesome! That means the money we saved on gifts can be put towards debt or savings or anything else we want/need.  It’s a good feeling to have a plan and stick to it.  Now I just have to sit back and wait for the gifts to start arriving.  

Once the gifts arrive I have a few craft projects in mind to make them even more personal, which is the whole goal of Christmas (in my opinion).  Don’t get me wrong, I love giving gifts, but I love the idea of giving something one-of-a-kind that actually means something to the recipient.

In this month’s Q&A video I’m going in depth on how we stay motivated with our budget – what our number one tip is for other couples. 

I’m also talking about chores for our little guy. At 19 months there are a few things we let him help us with around the house. It takes a lot of patience, which I talk about in the video below.  

Finally, I‘m talking even more about how we are budgeting for Christmas and just how I make it all possible.  You can watch the video online or down below:

Check out September’s Budget Q&A and October’s Q&A.

For more help with your budget check out these posts:

How To Create Your Budget

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What We Use Our Credit Card Rewards On

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How Much We Spend On Gifts

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Don’t Shop Black Friday

Friends! I am going to save you so much time and hassle this shopping season.  Make sure to watch today’s video before it’s too late.  I’m sharing all the reasons I HATE shopping on Black Friday and what I do to make sure I get the same great deals without the stress.

You can watch the video online or down below:

Let’s face it the stress and competition of going to the store on Black Friday is enough to send me running in the opposite direction.  Now by utilizing our Christmas Budget I can have a plan in place that helps me stay focused and I can do everything from home.

Before you do any shopping, make sure to create your plan.  You need to know who you are buying for, what you want to get them (even it’s just an idea of what you want), and a budget on how much you want to spend.  From there then you can look over your favorite online stores to come up with a plan on what you need to buy.

I gave up in-store Black Friday shopping years ago and I’ve never looked back.  Honestly, it was the best decision I made to keep my stress levels down during this time of year. To help with how overwhelming online shopping can be, we tend to only pick 2-3 stores to shop from for everyone.  Now we’re not always perfect sticking to only two to three stores, but it makes things a lot easier to narrow your list down.  Watch the video to see which stores I prefer to do all of my Christmas shopping at.

For more helpful tips check out these posts:

Why I Love Ebates and walmart savings catcher, making money shopping

Holiday Budgeting Help

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How Much We Spend on Gifts

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What We Use Our Credit Card Rewards On

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

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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


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.


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.


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


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

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Our Favorite Money Saving Apps

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How To Make Money Shopping Online 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.