Category Archives: Budget

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.

5 Ways To Spend Your Tax Refund

ways to spend your tax refund

It’s that time of year again, tax season.  Working in a CPA office, tax season can be a bit overwhelming especially for someone who is new to the field.  This is only my second tax season and I’m still learning a lot.  I’m in a great position to not only meet all different types of people, but also to help them.

A lot of clients anxiously wait for our call letting them know if they owe money or are getting a refund.  Most of the time those that have to pay in already expect it, but those that get a refund are usually surprised.  I think it’s that old saying “prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.”

One day there will be a time when we are in a position to go crazy with any refund we get.  Fly by the seat of our pants and do something unplanned.  But that’s not where we are right now.  Right now we use any refund to help get us a step ahead for the next year.

Here are 5 ways to spend your tax refund:

Set it aside for real and personal property taxes.

I talked about irregular bills awhile back and how you can set aside a little money each month to not be thrown off track.  Using your tax refund is a great way to be ready for that year’s property taxes.

how to spend your tax refund

Grow your emergency fund.

An emergency fund is crucial for being successful with your finances.  Unexpected expenses pop up and by having an emergency fund ready then you won’t be thrown off course.  Stash the money aside in your emergency fund for those unexpected needs.  I always say that $1,000 is a great starter amount for a fund, but sometimes you need to have a little extra on hand.  Another great use is to actually start an emergency fund if you haven’t been able to yet.  Take a portion of your tax refund and set it aside in a savings account.

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

Pay down debt.

There are two approaches for looking at debt. You can start with the smallest amount and work your way towards the largest OR you can start with the debt with the highest interest rate.  Either way works, but you need to find what works best for you.  A debt snowball is a great technique for getting out of debt. I recommend knocking out the smaller debts first, but if you have some that are similar in balance then take a look at their interest rates.  Put your tax refund towards a debt.  It’s a great feeling when another one bites the dust.

Invest in your retirement account.

Once you have your emergency fund and debt paid off, then you need to work on your retirement planning.  You can put aside $5,500 per year (if under the age of 50) into your IRA.   If your employer offers a 401(k) with matching, make sure you’re at least putting in the minimum to get your free money.  After that talking with an financial planner to make sure your doing enough to hit your retirement goals.

Put it towards long term goals/debt.

I put long term goals and debt in the same category for this one.  I’m talking about mortgages here.  If you’re saving for a home or wanting to build one like J and I then this is for you.  If you already have your home then this applies to you, too.  It’s important to have your emergency fund, paid off short-term debt, and your retirement plan is fully funded for the year before moving on.  Once those are done then you can put your tax refund towards the long-term goals.

Tax season only comes once a year so it’s not often we have disposable money on our hands.  Make sure you have a plan for it so your hard earned money can do the most good for yourself.  It’s not really fun to be financial responsible all the time, I know.  As adults, though, we have to do it.

Why We Have Multiple Bank Accounts and Why You Should Too

multiple bank accounts

I shared awhile back how we had been using the cash envelope system for quite some time. We have been following Dave Ramsey after we took Financial Peace University before we were married. We loved the simplicity of it and how only spending cash really helped us stick to our budget. We were paying down debt, had built up our emergency fund and were no longer having to stress about any bills that came our way.

The Easier Cash Envelope System, Dave Ramsey

However, I hated. I mean hated having to get cash every few weeks and then having to carry it around with me. Not that we lived in an awful, crime-filled town, but I just didn’t like it. I came up with an easier cash envelope system not too long ago and it has been working beautifully. We switched our cash for debit cards and now have multiple bank accounts to work from.

I would highly recommend anyone wanting to tackle their budget to setup multiple accounts. It really has streamlined the way we run our household and has made everything so much easier.

In your budget you (should) have multiple categories for expense, right? So why not do that with your bank accounts? It makes sense to actually separate out your money just as you do on your budget.

You might be asking yourself….

How do you track multiple bank accounts?

Well, it’s really not that hard and not any different than tracking one. Actually, it makes seeing where your money goes a lot easier. On our budget we have a category for each group of expenses: food, misc. bill paying, emergency fund, tax, etc. Then we have a bank account for each category.

I found that when we had one checking and one savings account it was harder to track our spending. We would have to go back to add up how much we were spending on eating out, how much on gas, how much we were saving, and so on. Now, the charges are separated out.

We track our accounts online. One our banking website there is a master dashboard that we can access each account. So it’s nice to login and see what’s been spent out of each account. So much easier to track then having to dig through our budget and check register each month to add up the totals.

If your accounts are not with the same bank then I recommend using mint.com to track your spending. This free online platform will help track your spending and categorize expenses that are similar. It even has pie charts and graphs to help you visualize how much you’re spending in each category. You can input your debt to track how you are doing on paying off your bills. It’s pretty handy.

Does having multiple accounts hurt my credit?

No. Unless you don’t pay your bills and overdraft your account(s). That will hurt your credit. But if you’re careful with your spending and make sure you never draw out more than you have, then you will be fine.

Does it cost money to open multiple accounts?

If your bank charges you to open multiple checking and/or savings accounts then you need to switch banks. When we opened ours there was one rule – keep a minimum of $100 in your savings account to avoid any penalties. Other than that, we could open as many accounts as we needed. We just know that each savings account has to have a $100 balance at all times. So we deposited $100 and treat that has our new zero balance amount. It’s nice because we also have an extra few hundred dollars that we don’t use or try to tap into.

Here’s the Multiple Bank Accounts Your Family Needs:

multiple bank accounts

Emergency Fund:

Just as it sounds – this savings account is for emergencies only. Not weekend trips out of town or new shoes you saw online, but emergencies. I’ve shared how our emergency fund really helped us when we woke up to a broken fridge one day. If you follow Dave Ramsey, he suggest starting with $1,000 emergency fund. Which is a good number to start with. If your car breaks down then you will have some money to get you going again. If your heater goes out in the middle of winter then you will be able to have the repairman out to fix it and not have to cut into your house payment or grocery money.

J and I like to have enough to cover our deductibles in our emergency fund just in case anything should happen to us. That way if we’ve been in an accident then we will be able to get our insurance going while we figure out what to do.

Once you have most of your debt paid off (everything, but your house) Dave Ramsey suggest bumping your emergency fund up to 3-6 months worth of living expenses. That way if you or your spouse lose their job then you will not have to disrupt your family life while you try to find more work. I’m a firm believer in having 6-12 months of living expenses saved up. Anymore than that then I feel like you’re not having your money work for you. Any extra money should be placed in some sort of interest-bearing account (IRA, money market, retirement plan, etc.) and should be helping you reach your long-term goals.

Tips for building your emergency fund:

Have the money withdrawn automatically from your checking account into your savings account. I recommend having this setup the day your paycheck hits your account so you won’t even miss the money.

If you have a habit of withdrawing money from your emergency fund for non-emergencies then move the account to a separate bank. That way you can’t login to the online portal to transfer money. You have to actually make an effort to do so. There are online bank accounts that give a higher interest rate and when you need to withdraw money it takes a few business days to get to you. Online bank accounts are great if you’re passed the $1,000 emergency fund stage. But when you’re just starting out I would recommend keeping the funds within a car ride of your checking account.
Save at least 15% of each paycheck or more until you reach the $1,000 emergency fund level or your selected amount. Once you have reached the first phase amount then start putting extra money from your paychecks to paying off debt.

Tax Savings

Taxes are apart of life. You can’t really avoid it. This tax savings works for both income taxes that are due in April as well as personal and real property taxes that are due in December. Your state might be a little different on personal and real property taxes, but ours are due by December 31st of each year.

I take our previous year’s amount, add 3% for any increase that might happen then divide by 12 months. So if we pay $1,000 in personal and real property taxes in 2015 then I would add 3% (1000 * 1.03 = 1030) then I would take our new amount of $1,030 divided by 12 (1030 / 12 = 85.83). So each month I put back $85.83 so that by December 31st I will have enough to pay for our county taxes.

For income tax time, the goal is to not owe anything and to not get a refund. That’s the magic formula, but it’s hard to achieve every year. So I like to have a little put back just in case.

I also use this account for our home insurance that’s due in July. I take the amount and divide it by 12 then put that amount into this account to cover that cost, too.

Dave Ramsey envelope system

Family Checking

This account is our hub. All of our income comes into this account. Most of our bills are paid directly out of this account. I have our car payments, internet, utilities, car insurance, and any other bill setup to automatically draft out of this account.

This is where your money starts and then is allocated to other checking and savings accounts for the family to use. I make sure that we keep enough to pay all of our bills and then transfer our miscellaneous spending., food budget, savings, etc. to our individual accounts.

Family Checking Tips:

Setup auto-pay when possible to avoid any late payments and penalties.

Setup auto-transfers into your savings accounts to streamline those transactions.

I recommend spending your money on paper first in your budget then start moving money around in the actual accounts. Any money leftover should be kept in this account until the end of the month. Then the extra money should be allocated to savings or any other fund where it’s needed.
You need to keep enough in this account to cover your monthly expenses.

Make sure your bills are paid first before you allocate to any miscellaneous accounts.

Wife’s Checking Account

This is my account – I can spend my money however I want. I pay for any haircuts, girls’ trips, shopping, etc. from this account.

Once our monthly bills and savings are taken care of I allocate money from our family checking account to my checking account. I even have it titled with my name on our banking dashboard so it’s easy to follow. I get to spend this money however I see fit. I can spend it, I can save it, whatever I want. I don’t have to talk it over with J before I purchase something.

When the baby comes, we plan on using my account to cover any non-grocery item costs or daycare costs. Meaning when he gets older, I will cover his haircuts and so on.

This account should not include any family expenses – utility bills, car payments, etc. You can add extra responsibilities to this account, if it fits your family’s needs. Here are a few examples:

  • Groceries, if you do all of the grocery shopping then you can add that budgeted expense to the wife’s checking. In our family, I do most of the shopping but not all. So we have a separate account for groceries and eating out.
  • Gas for your car. You can add extra funds to cover gas for the month.

Husband’s Checking Account

This one is very similar to the wife’s checking account, but is for J. He can spend this money how he sees fit. As I shared in our easier cash envelope post, J likes to carry his cash with him. So that’s up to him to get. I transfer the amount on payday and then from there it’s on him. I no longer have to worry about it.

Tip for both Wife’s Checking and Husband’s Checking:

Add up any expenses you want to be covered from these accounts. For example, J bowls on a weekly league. So we make sure the amount for each week is going to be covered by his miscellaneous account. That way he is responsible for keeping at least how much he needs for bowling in his account. There is no double dipping in our Family Checking to cover the cost if he didn’t spend wisely.

Grocery Checking Account

This one is simple – it’s our grocery and eating out fund. You can add this amount to your Wife’s Checking account or the Husband’s Checking account, but we found that it didn’t work best for us. I do majority of the grocery shopping for our family, but sometimes J will go for me or will stop to pick up something. So by having a separate checking account then he doesn’t have to cover an expense not in his budget or vice versa.

For awhile I would just let him take my debit card for my checking account, but we found out quickly that it wasn’t going to work. He would spend more than I wanted to and I would be without money for other plans.

Now I transfer our grocery and eating out budget to this account twice a month. We can either spend the money on groceries or spend the money on eating out. Either way it has to last us and provide for our food.

Having a separate grocery checking account just made sense for us. It’s not for everyone and that’s okay.

Optional Accounts:

multiple bank accounts

Slush Fund

Once you have your debt mostly paid off, you have your emergency fund built up to cover 6-12 months of living expenses, and you’re putting money away for retirement then I would recommend a slush fund. This is where you put extra money from each month that your family can spend on whatever you want.

Right now whenever J and I want to take a trip or purchase something big we save for it. It may take us a few weeks or even a few months, but we work as a team to put money aside to get what we want. However, one day we will have a slush fund.

A slush fund could also be call the fun fund. Want to take a weekend trip on a moment’s notice – use the slush fund. Want to head to the water park on a hot day – use the slush fund. Once our little one is here, we might enact a slush fund a little early just so we can do fun stuff together as a family. But trust me, it won’t be costly. I feel that debt should be paid off, savings should be built and you should be putting away for retirement first.

Health Savings Account (HSA)

If you can setup an HSA then I would recommend it. J and I don’t have one and so far, haven’t had a need. My old employer offered a Health Savings Account so I took advantage of it then. But with Obamacare and Insurance changing on a daily basis it’s hard to know keep up with the rules. Make sure you do your research on HSAs before starting anything.

HSAs are great if you have a high-deductible insurance plan. HSAs cover any medical costs that are not covered by your insurance. HSA money is tax-free and can add up for larger families with high-deductible insurance.

DO YOUR RESEARCH ON HEALTH SAVINGS ACCOUNTS THOUGH.

Child Savings Accounts

We don’t have to do this yet, but we will soon enough. Most banks offer a child savings account – our bank calls it a Looney Toons Savings Club. Each bank is different so look on their website or ask a personal banker the details.

I propose opening an individual savings account for each child in your family. It will help teach them how money works and can help teach them to save for something they want. My parents did it for me and I just loved going to the bank with my mom to deposit my savings.

My parents had a weekly allowance that I could earn. I had to complete simple tasks to even qualify for any money – make my bed and straighten my room. Once those were done then I could do extras to earn cash. I could bring in the trash cans from the street, empty the dishwasher, dust, etc. I earned a certain amount for each chore. At the end of the week it was payday. We would add up how much we made, then we put 10% back into savings and 10% into tithing.

About once a month, mom would take us to the bank and let us put our savings into our very own account. I just loved seeing how much money I had and watching it grow – it might be why I work as a financial advisor these days. Money just fascinates me!

That’s the checking and savings accounts I have and would recommend to your family.

Getting your money in order can be super beneficial to you. It can really make budgeting and tracking your money easy. Your goal for your money should be to have it work for you!

Let me know how having multiple bank accounts works for you and if you’ve found anything easier. I love to know!

How Did You Do for Financially Focused?

finance focus, merelynne

Well February is done, which means our financially focused is over. Well not really over. Can being focused on your financial well-being really be done? Probably not and shouldn’t be.

But let’s recap how we did for the February challenge.

We started preparing for the baby by already budgeting as if he is here.  That was a huge one for us.  By taking a goal or a life event that you know is coming up and adding it into your budget then you’re a step ahead.  We decided early on that we didn’t want to be surprised by how expensive the baby will be.  I mean, let’s be honest – I know we aren’t budgeting enough, but as first-time parents we just have no idea what’s enough or not.  So we’re doing the best we can.  We budgeted for extra grocery expense to cover diapers and factored in the cost of daycare.  One thing we didn’t budget in until now was the cost of adding him to our insurance.  Both J and I are lucky because our employers cover most of our health insurance costs, but the baby will be a different story.  We compared the plans between employers and are now saving that amount, too.

We setup an extra savings goal of $300 about half-way through the month, which we knocked out of the park.  The extra $300 to save was a bit tough.  We had to cut back on eating out and buy anything that we really didn’t need.  But it was worth it!  It’s great to see that extra money in our account.

We saved money on our laundry by switching to using DIY foil dryer balls instead of a Bounce sheet.

The Easier Cash Envelope System, Dave Ramsey

We also re-positioned our money to work better for us by creating an easier to use cash envelope system.  I love not carrying cash with us anymore.  It’s nice to have a simple debit card lined out for each spending activity.  It makes it a lot easier when I’m a the store and I have to say – my wallet is loving not carrying around all that extra weight!  Just make sure you’re keeping track of how much you have left in each account.  It would not do you any good to overdraft and have an extra fee!

Thrift Store and Flea Market Shopping Tips

We even talked about some great thrift store and flea market shopping tips that could save you so much money.

How did you do?  Did you take control of your money this past month?  Money is a great tool to utilize, but you have to make sure you don’t let it control you.  It’s easy to do.  Easy to spend too much and save too little.  So with a little thought and preparation, you can really show it who’s boss.

DIY Dryer Balls – How to Save Money on Laundry

DIY Dryer Foil Balls, diy dryer balls

To go along with our Focus on Finances this month, I’m sharing a tip on saving money with your laundry.  This one little tip can really add up the savings!  These are the easiest DIY dryer balls you will ever see! Hands down!

This past weekend I decided to really catch up on all of our laundry.  When I say really catch-up that means run close to 6 loads in one day.  For two people that’s a lot.  Now if you have several children and they all play sports or are just kids then you may feel 6 loads is an average.  But around our house, 6 is a lot.  

DIY Foil dryer balls, save money on laundry, diy laundry balls

What can 2 people dirty up in one week that requires 6 loads of laundry?  Well… let me tell you…

I did our clothes, J’s work uniforms, sheets and towels, blankets from our bed, blankets from the couch, and rugs.  I probably could have broken up our clothes into at least 2 loads, but our new washer is the best.  We just purchased a brand new washer from Sears.  It is the first new washer I’ve ever owned.  I’ve always had hand me downs, which was great!  They were free and did the job just fine.  But now that I’ve had the taste of what a new washer is like… boy! I can’t wait to get a new dryer to match!  This new washer really holds a lot, especially compared to the little guy I had beforehand that got me all the way through college.

By the end of the day, our clothes were full of static.  It didn’t help that I had been going non-stop and the fact it was barely 30 degrees outside all day.  Whenever the temperatures drop, the static goes up in our house.  I have been researching like crazy on a way to handle all of our static electricity without adding too much to our laundry costs each month…

how to save money on laundry

Let’s be honest, when it’s 30 degrees or even when it’s 90 degrees, I am not going to hang our clothes on a line to draw.  During the summer months, we have too many mosquitoes and the last thing I want is to give them a landing ground that will end up inside.  Plus, I’ve never hung clothes on a line.  Sure, we hang our nice clothes up to dry, but not t-shirts and towels.

I think I found it… I found the solution…

Foil dryer balls.

DIY Dryer Foil Balls

I’ve seen the wool, felt balls all over Pinterest and they look great.  But let’s be honest for a minute, I am not going to take the time to make them.  It’s just going to happen.  I need a quick-fix.  Plus, I don’t have the yarn I would need to make these amazing dryer balls and I’m frugal… so I like using what I have on hand.

Enter in…

Foil dryer balls.

What?!!?

You read that right!  I am now using foil dryer balls in my dryer.  They work great!  I did some research to make sure I wouldn’t be starting a fire by putting foil in my dryer.  After reading about it, I realized that it would be safe.*  The dryer hose is foil, right?  I gave it a try and I’m in love.  

Here’s what you need for foil dryer balls:

a few sheets of foil

tennis ball (optional – see below why you may want one)

make your own dryer foil balls

If you want to just use foil, then wad one piece of foil into a ball and then wrap the other sheets over it to make it a bit bigger.  The foil dryer ball will last quite awhile so there isn’t a need to replace after every cycle.  These will really, really help with static cling.  Especially right now with the weather getting colder and the air getting dryer, I’ve noticed most of our loads of laundry are full of static electricity.  

dryer balls

Ever since I started using the foil dryer balls, our static issues have vanished.  

Why is a tennis ball optional?  Well let me tell you…

A benefit of the felt dryer balls is the weight.  The weight of the balls causes them to bounce around while the dryer is going, which helps make your clothes softer and fluffier.  So, that’s where the tennis ball comes into play.  

You can wrap a tennis boil with the foil.  Do several layers of foil.  They will hold up in the dryer and provide the weight you need to get your clothes and towels extra fluffy.

Soft and fluffy cloths aren’t really a necessity in our house.  I hang-dry most of our nice clothes and I don’t really care if our bath towels are extra fluffy or not.  But it is a great option that’s still inexpensive.

I bet you will notice a difference when you start using foil dryer balls in your dryer.  I did!
*please do your own research to make sure.  Just because it worked for me, I don’t want anyone blaming me for any mistakes.

The Easier Cash Envelope System

To go along with our Finance Focus February theme, I’m sharing a cash envelope system technique that is way easier then carrying cash.

The other day while doing our budget, which I update almost daily (I share why below), I took a close look at how we were doing using Dave Ramsey’s envelope system.  I shared how we got started on it and how we set it all up.

We so enjoyed carrying cash with us and that it was always super easy to have at our finger-tips.  I even loved going to the bank twice a month to pull a wad of cash out – I need so many $20s, so many $10s, so many $5s, etc.  It was awesome!

Dave Ramsey envelope system

NOT!

It got old, real fast!  So I came up with something else… a technique that works best for us.  I call it…

The Easier Cash Envelope System.

The Easier Cash Envelope System, Dave Ramsey

I know, I know.  I’m super creative with my names.  You don’t have to tell me how I should win an award for coming up with the best name ever!

I was at the bank one day, waiting in line to withdrawal our cash and I was just annoyed.  Don’t get me wrong, I love our bank.  The people are nice and they are so easy to work with, but it was getting old.  On this particular day I decided to go inside.  It was always easier to go inside to do a mix-match of cash withdrawal.  Plus, it was raining so I thought it would just be easier.  I guess everyone had the same thought as me because the line was long.

As I’m standing there I kept thinking that there had to be an easier way to do this.  There just had to be!  

I came up with an idea and ended up talking with one of the personal bankers.  I would open up two more checking accounts.  One for me and one for J.  I would connect them to our main account and then every two weeks I would just transfer the money over.  Genius!

Our bank is great!  There is no limit to the number of checking accounts you can have and no minimum balance requirement.  That way if J or I ended up spending every last dime then we would not be penalized.  I even set up overdraft protection (at no cost, unless we used it) that our main checking account would cover.  We never plan to overdraft, but it doesn’t hurt to have the protection.

This easier cash envelope system was working perfectly!  I had my debit card, J had his and we were in happy-happy land.  J was never crazy about the  idea of a debit card.  He likes cold hard cash.  That way he knows at any given moment how much he has left.  I like the debit card because I don’t spend it as fast.  He has weekly bowling that he has to pay for and it’s either check or cash.  So the debit card wasn’t the easiest tool for him.

So we compromised!  Marriage is all about compromise, right?!

I took his debit card and made it my grocery account.  He goes to the bank and withdrawals his own miscellaneous money.  

Now every two weeks I transfer my miscellaneous funds to my account and I transfer our grocery budget to our other checking account, then J goes to the bank and withdrawals his cash.  Which means no more waiting in lines for me!  No more post-it notes with how many bills I need and feeling like I’m slipping the teller this awful “hand it all over” note.

cash envelope, merelynne

So easy!

Here’s how our banking situation looks like:

Joint Checking – all of our incomes comes in and our bills come out of this one.

My Checking – whatever I want to spend the money on – hair, clothes, books, etc.

Grocery Checking – we spend this at the grocery store (#duh)

Emergency Fund – we keep at least our insurance deductible amounts in here, plus a little extra

Tax Fund – we transfer money into this account each month so that by the end of the year we have enough to cover our personal and real property tax.  Plus, we have our home insurance that is paid from here in the summer.  

I could probably add a vacation savings, but until we’re debt free that’s not a huge priority.  If we have a trip plan then I just transfer bonus money into our emergency fund and keep up with it on our budget spreadsheet.  I’ve shared how I use Google Sheets as our check register, well I use it for our budget too.  That way we can access it from anywhere.

I’m telling you, if your bank will let you open up multiply checking accounts that are connected AND it doesn’t cost you a monthly fee… do it!  This is the easier cash envelope system that makes it much more likely for you to stick with it.  

No more having to remember to run to the bank, no more carrying a bunch of cash and a massive wallet with you.  This is what works!

To read more focus on finance tips and posts, check out here.