Category Archives: Budget

Our Debt Tracker Tool (Free Printable)

track your debt payoff, debt tracker

We’ve been knocking out debt left and right.

We’re debt ninjas over here! These past few months, J and I have been making some excellent progress on taking down debt.  Our goal is to be as debt free as possible so all of our extra money can go into building our dream home.  We’re still years away from it, but I know that with out these monthly expenses we would really save up a good portion towards our new home.

One way I keep track of our debt and our money is by having a budget binder.  I keep it in my desk so when I pay bills, I’m able to update it that moment.

In our budget binder I have:

  1. Our monthly bill tracker so I never miss a payment.
  2. Recent copy of our monthly budget so I can keep track of our spending.
  3. Our debt tracker tool.
  4. Our debt record keeper.

For our debt record keeper here’s what I do:

Each debt has it’s own sheet of paper. I write out the starting amount for each debt, then I add our monthly payment and the date it was paid.  After that I write down our new balance.  This way I’m able to see at a quick glance how we’re doing on paying down our debt.  I no longer have to log-in to each individual bill to get an idea of our most recent balance.  It’s all right there in my budget binder.

I’ve even made our debt record keeper free to download, too.  Click here to get your copy.

My favorite part of our budget binder is our Debt Tracker tool.

Debt Tracker Tool

I created a simple thermometer. Then when we pay a debt off in full, I had the original amount to the tracker.

The thermometer’s max is the total amount of debt we owed when we started really working towards paying it all off. I love seeing how much money we’ve put towards are bills and the progress we’re making.

It’s such an eye opener to see it!

I wanted to share my Debt Tracker Tool with you all. So feel free to download and print a copy for yourself. I kept the totals empty, so you can add your total debt to the top then equally split the amount to create benchmarks.

You can even do something fun when you hit each mark. Of course whatever you do should be within your budget or free so you don’t incur more debt while you’re celebrating getting out of it!

We like to splurge and use some of our eating out budget on a nice dinner out. Or sometimes we just like to tell others. My family is a huge support for us. So once we hit a mark, I usually send a mass text to my parents and sister letting them know. Their words of encouragement are enough celebration.

What do you do when you hit a milestone when paying off debt?

Why You Should Compare Your Baby’s Health Insurance – How We Saved $1,000 a Year!

Why You Should Compare Your Baby's Health Insurance

Months before our son was born J and I were already thinking of his health insurance. Being first-time parents, we really didn’t know what all we needed to do. We had a ton of questions –

When does the baby’s insurance start?
When do we need to sign up for it?
Should be under my employer, J’s employer or under his own plan?
What all would it cover?
What would be the monthly premium cost?
What should the deductible be?

Too many questions. Luckily, our office has a wonderful insurance lady that I’ve known for awhile. I was able to ask all of my questions to her. So helpful!

Here’s what I would recommend to any new parents:

Ask your HR officer or office manager what the monthly premium cost would be to add your new baby to your plan. Then ask for the details – deductible, what all is covered, etc. They should be able to tell you or find out for you.

Next, have your spouse do the same thing. That way you can compare.

When we did this we found out J’s insurance would be almost double the monthly cost when compared to my office’s insurance.

Finally, talk to an independent insurance agent and have them run a quote for you. They can compare different insurance companies to find a good deal and a plan that will fit you.

Once you have all of the information then you will be able to make an informed decision. Don’t blindly add your newborn to you or your spouse’s plan without doing the work.

You could be costing yourself an extra $1,000 a year!  That’s how much more our insurance cost would have been by adding our son to J’s plan.

We decided on the best plan that fit us, our baby and our budget. We not only looked at the monthly cost, but also the benefits of each plan. How much were the co-pays going to be, what was the in-network and out-of-network deductibles.

If our little one needed prescriptions, we wanted to know the cost we needed to cover.

We also wanted to make sure the pediatrician we wanted was in our network. That way we wouldn’t have to worry about the extra cost.

There are so many aspects to health insurance outside of the monthly cost. So you need to ask around, do your homework and not be afraid to make a decision. You aren’t going to hurt anyone’s feelings by selecting one plan over another.

We ended up saving over $1,000 a year, how much could you save?

Make sure you compare your baby’s health insurance to see what the best options are.

We also didn’t know when to add him to my plan.  After talking with my employer’s insurance agent, we found out that we just need to email her or call her once the baby is here.  She was clear that we could wait until we got home from the hospital since it would probably be the last thing on our minds that day.  That was a relief!

How to Get Free Mac Makeup

How to Score Free Mac Makeup

Alright, I have a confession to make. Mac Makeup is my favorite. I blame my sister for my obsession. It started because of her.  She introduced me to it years ago when I was in high school and I’ve never looked back.  But… free Mac makeup makes my heart pitter-patter.

I just think their quality is outstanding and the fact their makeup stays in place all day is a major win for someone like me. I have a habit of touching my face without thinking about it and most other makeup brands are gone before lunch, but not Mac.  I try not to splurge on too many items since we’re working hard at sticking to our budget, but I just can’t convince myself to put that cheap of products on my face.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Covergirl products and use those, too.  But I have pretty sensitive skin so anything lower in quality will usually cause me to breakout after one application.

It’s no secret that Mac isn’t the cheapest around. But quality is worth it when it comes to putting something on my face. I have to admit that I can’t always afford Mac. But when I splurge for it, I make it last as long as possible!

Over the years, I’ve learned the ways of Mac.  Just like any good cult-follower there are tricks you need to know.

I wanted to share how to score free Mac makeup with you.

Mac has this awesome recycle program that rewards their loyal customers.

free mac makeup

Turn in 6 empty Mac containers to any store and they will give you a free lipstick of your choice. They have so many lipstick color choices to choose from and they average about $17 each. Quite a savings!

Just remember to hold onto your Mac containers.

I keep a plastic bag under my bathroom sink and whenever I empty one out, I just toss it in there. Then when I’ve saved enough, I make a trip the Mac kiosk in the mall. I would love to live near an actual Mac store, but I think that would be dangerous.

Another money savings tip for Mac Makeup: If you setup an appointment to have one of their makeup professionals work their magic on you then you usually get a coupon for any of the products they used. It’s not too bad of a deal!

The Rule to Afford Anything You Want

The 70 Rule to afford anything you want

I may be frugal, but I am not cheap.  I spend my money wisely so that we can live a debt free life.  Now don’t get me wrong, we have a long road ahead of us to becoming debt free and affording everything we want…

But we’re getting there with baby steps.  As I’ve learned and mastered this whole budgeting thing, I’ve realized that I don’t want to go without.  One of my biggest fears is having to live paycheck to paycheck.  Most people are afraid of drowning, or dying alone…mine is living beyond my means.  I do have other fears (dang clowns!), but I just don’t want to be a burden and live a stressed life because of my money choices.

J and I have an agreement – we can have anything we want, but we just have to save for it.  He wants new bowling equipment – that’s fine, save for it.  I want a new design for this blog – then I have to save for it.  It’s simple.

We’ve started living by the 70-10-10-10 rule… It has a long name, but it’s a game changer!

Jar of Money

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Here’s how it works:

70% of our income goes to our expenses.

Expenses like cell phone bill, utilities, groceries, gas, insurance, etc.  This is where those irregular payments go into.  I shared about our sinking fund before.  We count those as monthly expenses since they are expenses in the future.

Here’s an example:

You and your spouse take home $4,000 a month.  This amount is what you deposit into your checking account.

70% of $4,000 is $2,800.

All of your monthly expenses should be $2,800 or less.  Groceries, car payments, car insurance, life insurance, entertainment, gas, utilities, credit card payments, loan payments, etc.  Even the expenses that aren’t on a monthly basis, such as personal property taxes, home insurance, etc. are all treated like a monthly bill.  You can read more about it in my sinking fund post on how we do that, but we treat any current or future expense as a monthly bill.  In the end all of your monthly expenses should all be around $2,800 or less.  Not more.

how to spend your tax refund

10% goes towards savings.

We put about 10% of our income into our savings accounts each month.  We have an emergency fund that we put money in.  We like to keep at least $1,000 in there as our zero balance.  I put a little more in the account every month just in case we need to fix the car, replace the hot water heater or have an unexpected medical bill.  Especially with the baby on the way, we like the thought of having an extra cash cushion in our savings.  

Again, using $4,000 as our take-home amount.  You should be putting an extra $400 a month into your emergency fund to build it up or into an extra savings account.  

NOTE: Be careful on your savings account.  If you have more than 3-6 months worth of living expenses then you need to start using your money to pay off bills or for another purpose.  You want your money to work for you.  It’s not doing any good sitting in a savings account collecting a small amount of interest.  Put it to work.

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

10% goes towards paying down debt faster.

We’re able to afford about 10% of our monthly income and put it straight to debt.  Some months are easier than others, but on average we’re paying more and more.  We’re doing the debt snowball method to get ourselves out of debt and it’s working.

Let’s use our $4,000 take home as an example again.  

10% of $4,000  is $400 a month.  You should be allocating an extra $400 a month towards your debt snowball.  If you can afford more or already have your emergency fund built then you should definitely put additional funds to get out of debt faster.

10% goes towards retirement and tithing.

Some will say that you should work on getting out of debt first then start on your retirement.  However, I don’t like that theory.  I love compound interest.  So by putting money into our retirement plans and roth IRAs now, we will have more than if we put in a larger amount later down the road.  Eventually our goal is to max out on our annual contributions to both of our 401(k)s and IRAs, but we’re a long way from that.  

Being in our late 20s, almost 30s I thought it was important to get started on our retirement savings.  We have it automatically come out of our joint checking account in the middle of the month so we don’t even have to think about it.

If you have any money leftover or would like to split the last remaining to donate to charity or your church, then that’s what you should do.  This last 10% can be shifted to fit your needs and wants.  You go with what’s most important to you.  Just make sure you’re covering your monthly expenses and working on getting out of debt.  Those are the big kickers for any budget.  

If you’re living above your means then it will be a revolving door of stress and worries.  Trust me.  The first step in implementing the 70-10-10-10 Rule is to work it out on paper.  Take out your handy budget and start playing with the numbers.  See where you’re overspending and where you need to pick up some slack.  The first thing to go for many families is savings.  So make sure you’re working on building your emergency fund and then start finding extra money to pay towards debts.

NOTE: Please don’t think these percentages will work for everyone.  They won’t.  No matter how hard you try.  They are a guideline.  Some months we go over and others we’re right on the dollar.  Find a combination that works for you.  Just make sure you’re hitting all of the areas that you can afford.  I started with the most important categories – expenses and savings.  Then I worked in paying down debt and retirement/tithing.  So that’s how you need to create your budget.

Let me know how this spending rule works for you!

How to Score Cheap Party Decorations

How to Score Cheap Party Decorations

Not too long ago I threw a nice little gathering at my work. You see, at the end of every tax season we like to celebrate with our clients and friends. Thanking them for another successful year.  I also throw an open house during Christmas time to wrap up the year. This past year, I switched out the Christmas theme for a surprise birthday party for my Dad (who happens to own the firm).

Outside of work, I just love throwing parties for friends.  Right now it seems like all of my close friends are having babies so I’ve been the queen of baby showers recently.  Not too mention, with me being pregnant – babies are on my mind!  A few years back I was really good at throwing wedding showers since my now pregnant or new-mom friends were getting married.  It seems like life goes in a cycle, doesn’t it?

Anyway, any excuse to throw a fun party is always welcomed around me.  I love a good theme, yummy food and a place to gather with friends and family.

Since I like to be pretty crafty, I have a tendency to make my own signs or invitations then have printed at a local print shop.  But for decorations, I like to make a splash.  Now, I try not to go overboard and I really don’t like spending a ton of money.  So I’ve found a good way to get a great impact on the cheap!

cheap party decorations

Here’s how I score cheap party decorations…

Dollar Tree.

Yep, that’s right. I shop at the local Dollar Tree for all my party supplies – for any event.  Birthday parties, anniversary parties, new year’s parties, open houses, baby showers, wedding showers, and so much more.  If you can think of a party to throw, then you can probably get your decorations at Dollar Tree.

Balloons aren’t very expensive ($1), plus they are one of the only places in town that will do same-day balloons for me. I could call a local florists, but their prices are so much higher and typically, I need to have an order placed a few days in advance.  We only need balloons for a day, so as long as the last 24 hours, I’m good!  But these balloons always ended up lasting a few days or even close to a week before they start deflating.

I also like their streamers, which they have a bunch of different colors that come in 2 rolls per pack for only $1.  I bought several different colors when we were hosting my Dad’s birthday party.

They also have table centerpieces, confetti,and wall hangings. You guessed it… everything is only $1 each.

cheap party decorations, dollar tree cheap party decorations, dollar tree

cheap party decorations, dollar tree

I also am a huge fan of their plastic plates and silverware. You can buy colored plates, glasses, napkins, silverware and guess what? Each pack is only $1.

I typically by the plastic silverware from Wal-Mart because I can get a larger count for less money, but the plates and napkins are hard to beat.

Plus Dollar Tree has serving utensils and platters on the cheap, too! We’ve actually put ours in the dishwasher a few times and they are still holding up. But for only $1 it’s not a bad deal in case they get tossed after the party.

I’ve even used their gift bags as part of our favors.  I couldn’t find enough gift bags and the right sized bags anywhere in town for our last open house.  I was browsing Dollar Tree and there they were.  The perfect bags, the perfect amount and at the perfect price.  $1 for 12 bags was perfect.  I ended up grabbing a few packages to make all of the favors and ended up with some leftover.

I never break my party budget at the office or our personal budget when I’m hosting a party.

I am not being compensated from Dollar Tree for my opinions on their awesome party decorations.  I am just a huge fan of cheap party decorations that are easy for me to get.

30 Free Weekend Activities

30 free weekend activities

I love having free time on the weekends and with tax season winding down… I’m going to enjoy having both Saturday and Sunday back.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m super grateful to be busy during tax season and I really don’t mind working longer hours. But it will be nice not having to set an alarm on Saturday morning anymore.

I came up with 30 free weekend activities for us to do. I can’t wait to get started on my list.

30 free weekend activities

Free weekend activities to do at home

1) Movie Day at home – we have a ton of old movies that we haven’t watched in a long time. We can have a movie marathon, curl up on the couch and just enjoy some down time.
2) Try some new baking. This past summer, I got really into baking cookies and decorating with royal icing. I need more practice, but it was super fun to mess with during those long summer days. There are even some Youtube tutorials you can check out.
3) Catch up on your favorite Youtube stars. I have a few Youtube channels that I follow and I’m not the best on staying current with them. So it’s nice to just take some time to catch up on them all.
4) Read a good book. You can head to your local library to rent a classic or something that catches your eye.
5) Start a new DIY project or if you’re like me… finish a DIY project that’s been in limbo for awhile
6) Go for a long walk. I love this idea. There is a nice walking trail not too far from us. We usually only take 1 or maybe 2 dogs with us. It’s too hard with all three, especially since one doesn’t like to walk long distance, one wants to play with everyone, and the other one doesn’t like strangers. So we typically stick to where we each control one and we’re good to go.
7) Go for a picnic – no boat and don’t like fishing, then just have the picnic!
8) Go swimming at the community pool, neighborhood pool, or a friend’s house
9) Start a garden
10) Catch up on your favorite TV shows

30 free weekend activities

Free activities to do with others or out and about:

11) Geocaching – if you’ve never heard of it, then look it up. It’s awesome! It’s basically a scavenger hunt. You can do it with kids, without kids, with a group, or by yourself. You just need a GPS tracker (preferably not a cell phone in case you lose signal). We’ll take our old Garmin GPS with us. You type in your coordinates and then go hunting for a little token. You can keep track of everything through their website.
12) Have a game day with friends. Invite some friends over to play games. We have a few outdoor lawn games, bag toss, washers, etc. It’s nice to get together and just play.
13) Visit a free museum. Around here there are a few art or history museums that don’t charge admission.
14) Go camping. This one might not be entirely free depending on where you camp since some campsites charge a small fee. But it’s never very much and it’s fun to just get out for the weekend.
15) Go boating. I understand not everyone has a boat, but for J and I this is a favorite past time. I pack a picnic lunch and then we’re off for the day.
16) Go fishing. Last summer we found a few good spots that don’t require a boat. So we like to pack our lunch, grab some snacks and take off for the day. Make sure you have your fishing license though!
17) Volunteer at a local charity
18) Go sledding (if in the winter)
19) Have a bonfire with friends and neighbors
20) Go for a hike

30 free weekend activities

Here are some great free activities to do with kids, besides a few from up top:

21) Attend the free movie at the public library
22) Go to the park
23) Ride bikes
24) Work on a puzzle together
25) Create a play or story together
26) Organize a scavenger hunt
27) Read stories at the public library
28) Create science experiments
29) Make a giant slip in slide using a tarp in the backyard
30) Create a scavenger hunt around the house or park

Tips for Sticking to Your Grocery Budget

Tips for Sticking to Your Grocery Budget

Grocery shopping can be hard.  Especially when you’re hungry and tired. The last thing on your mind is taking your time to get groceries bought. You want out. And you want out now.  Walking down every aisle is the last thing you want to do in this moment.

Do you ever feel like that when grocery shopping?

I do, almost every single time.

I’m not a fan of grocery shopping. It’s long, the store is usually crowded with people that like to stop in the middle of the way. You can never find the item on sale that you want.  It’s just not my favorite thing to do.

Plus, I find it hard to calculate your total sometimes.  Especially when J comes with me.  I tend to keep my phone out so I can add up my purchases to stay within my budget.  I usually know how much I need to spend before going in so I want to make sure I’m under it by the time I leave.  If J is with me then I have to stick with him or have him tell me the total.  He’s a guy so he usually says $3-ish.  Well is it $3.19 or $3.99?  I usually end up rounding up to be on the safe side, but it’s frustrating.

One time I had him in charge of the calculator while we shopped.  Half-way through he looks up at me and it was like it’s gone.  What do you mean it’s gone?  He accidentally cleared out my total.  So we had to just kind of guess at what was in the cart and keep going.  I’m pretty sure we were right on the line that trip, but it ended up being okay.

I also don’t like having to keep track of my list and remember everything else you need to be getting.  I’ve worked on organizing my list better and I’m sharing that in my Tip Number One down below.  An organized list is your best friend when you don’t want to be grocery shopping.

I’ve come up with tips for sticking to your grocery budget for those really hard days.

Tip One:

Tips for Sticking to Your Grocery Budget

Make your list into more of a game plan. I like to write out what I need then re-write it in order of the store. That way, I don’t have to scan my entire list when I’m in each aisle or back track. I’ve learned my Wal-Mart pretty well and know just about every aisle the items I need will be on.

That way I can start at the front door and only walk down the aisles I need to. Plus, my list goes in order so if I skip something then I know it’s because I couldn’t find it and I need to ask someone.

Tip Two:

Eat a snack before you go. If you’re headed there right after work then grab a snack. Nothing crazy or super filling, but something that will be enough to keep the hangry pains away.  Otherwise you might find that box of Little Debbie cakes in your cart and will have no recollection of putting it in there.  I also come up with crazy side dishes or snacks when I’m hungry.  At the time they sound amazing and super easy to prepare, but when I get home I never want them.  It’s a waste.

Tip Three:

money savings app

Remember to use your money saving apps. They can really add up and help keep you on track with your budget.  I’m a big fan of Wal-Mart Savings Catcher since that’s where I do most of my shopping.

Tip Four:

Don’t spend forever in the store. Once you have your game plan in hand, then get going. Don’t stall or get side tracked by other items on the shelves. Get in, get your stuff, and get out.

Tip Five:

Use online options when possible. I order our dogs’ food from Amazon. Not only does it save me money, but it’s one less thing I have to hassle with at the store. There are a few household items I order online each month or so. The less I have to buy in store, the better.

What are your top tips for sticking to your grocery budget?

What is a Sinking Fund? And Do You Need One?

What is a sinking fund

You might be thinking, “what is a sinking fund?”  Well, I’m here to help you out.  I want to explain what exactly a sinking fund is, why you might need one and how much you should be putting into it.

Simply put a sinking fund is a budget category that you put money into each month, but you only use the money occasionally.

Here are some examples of how we use a sinking fund in our budget:

Personal Property and Real Property Taxes

I mentioned this idea in the post about why your family needs multiple bank accounts.  However, I didn’t actually call it a sinking fund – I called it my tax fund.

Basically I take the amount I believe our annual personal property taxes and real property taxes will be and divide it by 12.  So for example, if I believe our personal property and real property taxes will be $1000 then I divide that amount by 12 (1000 / 12 = $83.33).  Each month I put back $83.33 into our sinking fund (tax fund).  So by December I will have the $1,000 we need to pay our property taxes.

Home Owner’s Insurance

More than likely your home owner’s insurance isn’t due every month.  Maybe it’s due annually or semiannually.  What you need to do is take the amount that will be due divided by the number of months you have until you need to pay it.  Then each month set aside that amount into your sinking fund.

Let’s say your insurance is due end of September and is $650 a year.

If you start the sinking fund in April then you would have 6 months until it’s due.

650 / 6 = $108.33

You need to be putting back $108.33 each month (including September) to cover this cost.

However, if the amount isn’t due until a year from now then the calculation will change:

650 / 12 = $54.17

See if you plan further out for those irregular bills then the monthly contribution will be a lot less.

Home Repair Projects

This is a great reason for a sinking fund.  You put money in each month and then when you need it, it’s there.  We’ve used our emergency fund before when our fridge went out, but a sinking fund could have prevented dipping into our emergency fund.  Basically it’s the same idea as putting money back for an irregular bill.  You and your spouse decide on the amount to put back each month.  Then when the water heater goes out or the AC acts up then you’re able to call a repairman without having to worry about how to afford it.

Jar of Money

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Other sinking fund examples:

Christmas Spending
Auto Insurance
Vacations
Water Bill
Car Expenses (new tires, oil changes, repair, new vehicle, etc.)

A sinking fund is great.  You can really adapt this budget category to fit your needs.  Plus, you can have multiple sinking funds depending on the different bills you have.  We use our tax fund for multiple sinking funds – property taxes, income taxes, and home owner’s insurance.

Here’s how to think about a sinking fund to make it work for you:

  1. Treat it like a monthly bill
  2. Only use it for the expense it’s intended for – don’t use the funds to pay for a weekend getaway when it’s suppose to be for your taxes
  3. Count the number of months until the bill will be due so you can save enough
  4. Add it to your monthly budget

How to calculate the correct monthly amount:

  1. Decide on the total amount needed
  2. Count the number of months you have until it’s due
  3. Take the amount and divide by the number of months you have
  4. Establish this amount as a monthly expense

Does your family need a sinking fund?

Possibly.  Do you have irregular bills that are quite expensive?  Most families do and if that’s the case then a sinking fund can really come in handy.  It can take the stress of a bill off your shoulders.  You won’t have to sacarfice those months that those larger expenses are in.

Do you use a sinking fund for anything?  If so, what is it?

How to Meal Plan to Save Money

How to meal plan to save money

With a baby on the way, I have become very aware of our finances. We’ve been focused on being prepared for the baby, not just with having a nursery completed, but also financially. I would be lying if I said I knew what I was doing when it came to being a first-time mom.

I have no idea!

But I know me and I know my personality. I like everything in order. Not knowing what to do has really screwed me on what I like.

The one thing I can control is the house and our budget. So, I’ve been nesting pretty good trying to get the house ready for our boy. I’ve also been working hard to save money where I can because not knowing how much anything is going to cost and how much we’re going to need is really throwing me for a loop.

My plan is to breastfeed, but what if I can’t? Then what will I do? What if my baby has allergies? I mean, the list can go on and on. I’m doing the only thing I can do – controling our budget.

One area that I have found amazing savings is with our meal planning. I use my hand-dandy meal planning sheet.

2 week meal planner

Download yours for FREE here.

I used to only plan for a week at a time, but I’ve found that I am saving quite a bit more by planning for two weeks. I try to go to the store every other Sunday afternoon. That way we aren’t tempted by high-priced snacks by going throughout the week when I’m tired. I also follow some great tips that I want to share with you on how to meal plan to save money.

Here’s what I’ve found from meal planning for two weeks at a time: Not only is it a time saver, but we’ve been able to cut our grocery budget by over 30%.  That’s a huge savings!  Plus, we haven’t been eating out as often, which is saving even more money.

Tip 1: Make a meal plan that actually sounds good and is easy to prepare.

I know it sounds crazy, but if you go searching for all of these tasty look recipes that require a lot of prep work then your meal planning might as well fly out the window. I like to keep it simple with dinners that take less than 10 to 15 minutes of prep. It’s a lot easier to convince yourself to stay in and cook dinner after a long day.

meal planner - merelynne

Tip 2: Shop your cabinets first.

Make sure you’re looking in your cabinets, pantry, fridge and freezer for ingredients you have on hand. I usually take stock of what I have first, then start building a meal plan around it. That way I can really save money by using what we already have. Plus, it’s such a bummer when you go grocery shopping just to figure out when you get home that you already have 2 packs of ground beef sitting in the freezer.

Tip 3: Make a grocery list from your meal plan.

I know it sounds simple, right? But how many of us will try to remember what’s on our plan for the week instead of pulling it out? If you try to go from memory then you will almost always forget an ingredient or buy something you don’t need.

Stick to your meal plan when you’re making your list.

Tip 4: Keep a grocery list in the kitchen.

I have a notepad that we hang on our fridge. Anytime we’re out of something then we add it. If it’s not on the list by Sunday then I don’t buy it and we have to go without. I do make exceptions for toilet paper and dog food, but you get the idea.

Tip 5: Share your meal plan with your family.

I found one of the best things I’ve done is share my meal plan with J. That way he knows what we’re having for the week and he actually likes to help me out. So if he knows how to prepare the meal then he’ll have it started by the time I get home – it’s awesome!

I use my meal planning sheet, but I also put it on our Google calendar so he can see what’s for dinner.

Tip 6: Price match, coupons and money saving apps.

I love to price match. I learned a lot about price matching from Jordan at Fun Cheap or Free. I also don’t mind using coupons, but only if they are easy to come by. I don’t want to spend hours searching for coupons and printing them out. If I see one in the paper or on a product box then I will cut it out and use it.

money savings app

I also am a huge fan of money saving apps for my phone. I’ve written an ode to them in the past! My favorite right now is the Walmart Savings Catcher app. Mainly because that’s where we do most of our grocery shopping and it’s super easy to do. I typically let my savings build up so I can use them on our Christmas shopping. I saved a ton on our Christmas presents this year by doing it that way.

What do you do to save money on groceries? I would love to learn more!

Do You Really Need A Budget?

Do You Really Need A Budget

Do you get to the end of the month and wonder where your money went? Well you are not alone. Most families struggle with keeping a healthy balance in their checking and savings account each month. The dreaded “B” word is thought of as un-fun and so out dated. But in reality, it might be just what you need to really get ahead in life. To stop living paycheck to paycheck and start building wealth.

That’s our goal – wealth. No, not like the crazy Donald Trump or the billionaires that have 30+ homes. Simple wealth. You know the kind, right? Where you don’t have to worry about where your money is coming from. You can send your children to college without them or you incurring debt. You live in a home that is paid off. You can have fun with your family and travel to see new places.

That’s the kind of wealth we’re working towards. It’s going to be a long process and will not happen in the blink of an eye – although I’m sure most of us wish for our own magical genie that could grant us three wishes.

What do you want out of your life?

Do you want to stress in between paychecks about how you’re going to pay your bills? What about never getting to do anything fun like a spur-of-the-moment trip because you will never have enough money in reserves?

Once you decide, let’s take a look at whether you and your family really need a budget.

Do you have expenses?

Most people do. I can’t think of any situation where someone doesn’t have any expenses. Unless you’re still a minor living at home with no car.

The average person has plenty of bills to go around – rent/mortgage, utilities, car payment, insurance, food, etc. A budget can help you keep track of your expenses so you know where you stand. That way you can watch your spending and know where every dollar is going.

Do you have income?

If you have money coming in to your household then you really need a budget. A budget can help you from overspending and help you reach your goals of accumulating wealth.

Do you wonder where you money is going?

If you’ve looked down at the end of the month and wondered where all your money went, then you need a budget. Most families get confused about where they are spending their money. Did they eat out too often? Are they spending majority of their money on gas? Are the kids’ extracurricular activities costing a small fortune? Having a budget in place can really help you get a handle on where your money is going. Once you see how much you’re spending in one area then you can find ways to reduce it.

Do you want to get out of debt and build your wealth?

If you answered yes then you need a budget. A budget is a tool to utilize to get out of debt and start planning for the future – retirement planning, children’s’ college funding and so on.

If you answered yes to one, all or a combination of these questions then your family needs a budget. I have created a quick 10-minute budget template to get you started. Don’t put it off any longer. The longer you sit in denial the worse your situation can get.

If you’re looking for more budgeting tips and tricks, check out my top posts.