April Showers Grow Free Flowers

 

April is not just the start of the Spring season for most of us, but it’s also Financial Literacy Month! Let’s start the month out strong! Don’t let the change in weather change your intensity with your budget. It’s easy to loosen up and get caught off guard when more spontaneous events start happening.

Create your April spending plan now and be prepared by checking out the 9 categories listed below that can easily get overlooked. And don’t forget, budgeting is a team sport if you’re married! Sit down after the kids are in bed with your favorite beverage in hand and make it a plan you both agree on.

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  • Easter - Whether you’re planning on hosting or planning on traveling to family or friends for Easter, there will be a few extra expenses to consider. Looking to keep kids baskets simple? Shop at the dollar store or 5 Below for a few fun treats!

  • Tax Day - April 15th is THE DAY. If you haven’t gotten your taxes done, now’s the time to do them and to ensure you financially prepare to have them done. And if you’re one of the not so lucky ones who owes taxes, make sure you’ve got the money in your budget to pay by the 15th.

  • Real estate Taxes - If your home isn’t escrowed, keep in mind that depending on where you live, you may have real estate taxes due or coming due soon. Carve some money out in your budget this month to be prepared.

  • Wedding Season - So it’s not exactly wedding season yet, but it’s coming on like a train. You might find yourself invited to some bridal showers starting this month to get ready for the couple’s big day.

  • Home Improvements - With the change of seasons, it’s common to want to spruce up your curb appeal. Budget some money for the projects you have in mind. If they’re bigger, start a sinking fund for them and start funding while you’re freshly excited!

  • Lawn Maintenance - Whether you take care of your own lawn or hire someone to do it, there will be costs associated in your budget. Your gasoline will go up if you go it alone and possibly some mower repairs to be had. If you hire a company, be ready for that first bill to come in.

  • Garage Sales - ‘Tis the season! With the warmer weather you’ll soon start to see garage sales and estate sales popping up all over your street. Add a category in your budget if you have some things in mind, or better yet, add some income to your budget by joining in the fun!

  • Family Entertainment - It’s time for cabin fever to end and you’ll soon want to be out and about doing more as a family on the warmer weekend days. Budget in a little more family entertainment for zoo days, ice cream stops and little fun to be had along the way. Of course there are a lot of great free options as well, but don’t let this category catch you off guard.

  • Summer Vacation - If you’re planning on traveling this summer take the stress out of the vacation and start saving now if you haven’t already. There’s NO better feeling than being on vacation knowing it’s all paid for!

By creating a spending plan before the month begins, you’ll feel more in control of your money and you’ll have more left over at the end of the month! If you’re still not sure how to get started, click here to set up your FREE introductory coaching session to see how I can help!

 
 

Approaching Your March Budget Like A Lion

 

You know what they say, March rolls in like a lion and out like a lamb, right? Let’s approach this month’s budget with the same fierceness!

Did you know that 80% of New Year’s Resolutions fail by February, so by March, they’re pretty much caput. Let’s get your financial resolutions back on the road with your March Budget. Don’t forget all the items below.

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  • Spring Break - If you have kids, they might have a week’s vacation and whether you go somewhere or not, it’s probably going to cost you a bit more. Even if they just go shopping with you, out to lunch or you take them to the zoo, make sure to plan for some extra spending.

  • St. Patty’s Day - It’s not just a holiday for the Irish, don’t you know. If you’re planning on going out to celebrate, make sure you pad your entertainment budget.

  • March Madness - We’re not just talking about betting, but you might want to leave some extra in your sports or entertainment for hanging with some friends for the tournaments.

  • Taxes - UGH - yes, it’s that time of year again! If you’ve paid in the past or had any major changes in job, income or life events, you may want to start preparing to pay some taxes by April 15th. Also make sure to budget for your tax preparer or filing fees and if you own any property that isn’t mortgaged (yay!) then be prepared for the real estate taxes coming due also. Every city is different, but one of our counties has a 2% discount if you pay by March 31. Yes please!

  • Clothing - It just might be the best month to add an extra few dollars to your clothing budget and buy next winter’s boots, coats and clothing on major clearance this month. Stores need to make room for the spring line up and you’ll find heavy discounts on winter clothing.

  • Spring Cleanup - If the weather keeps staying nice, you’ll be prepping your home for spring clean up by the end of the month. Plan a little extra in your home maintenance budget as well.

  • Summer Camp Registration/Sports - Believe it or not, registrations will be starting soon! How about starting a category so that you can be financially prepared for all the fun!

By creating a spending plan before the month begins, you’ll feel more in control of your money and you’ll have more left over at the end of the month! If you’re still not sure how to get started, click here to set up your FREE introductory coaching session to see how I can help!

 
 

Simple gifts that won't break the bank, but WILL make you look good

 

Over the years we’ve had so much generosity passed our way. We’ve had friends and family members gift and share children’s clothes and toys, we’ve been given subscription services for gifts that last a year or more, they watch our kids, bring over food, help with major home projects, have helped us move and the list goes on and on. Sometimes thank you just doesn’t seem to be enough. Here are some great gifts that are always loved and don’t break the bank. You don’t have to spend a lot to show gratitude.

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Homemade bread

Listen, who doesn’t love warm, soft homemade bread? I have a bread machine that was a gift from my mom probably back when I bought my first house. It’s been the gift that keeps on giving to us and to friends. This is one of my favorite go-to’s in the fall and winter to just say a little ‘thank you’ for a small favor or when going to someone’s house for dinner or drinks. I use the quick loaf recipe and have a fresh loaf to go in 58 minutes.

Don’t have a bread machine? How about just trying one of the many 5 star reviews of basic bread you can find on Pinterest? Or, just bake some good old fashioned chocolate chip cookies. From scratch or slice and bake, it’s the thought that matters.

Wine

Wait, I’m sure you’re thinking I must be mistaken because I said it won’t break the bank. Listen. There is nothing wrong with an inexpensive bottle of wine. I don’t know another mom who isn’t grateful for a bottle to have on hand in case of a meltdown. Costco has bottles (not in PA of course) for as low as $5.99, Fine Wines and Spirits has bottles that I’ve seen as low as $5.99 on sale and then there’s always Trader Joe’s two buck chuck (actually $2.99). My favorite thing to do is to pick up a bottle or two when I’m at the store anyway to have on hand.

Crock-pot Crack

Ok, I bet that I can find a way to fit this into everything I write. And I know I need a better name, but this stuff is addicting. It is seriously the best gift, the best candy and it makes such a huge recipe, it’s the gift that keeps on giving! One batch makes over 100 pieces of candy and the whole batch of items only runs about $15.00 shopping at Walmart or Aldi. You get at least 5 gifts out of it, depending on your serving size. Shop the Dollar Tree or Michaels for gifting tins or packaging that will run $1.00 or less each.

I start making pots of this in early November to have on hand anywhere we visit, for our mailmen, teachers, friends and neighbors. We give it throughout the holidays and every year I end up making one batch more than the last. Here is the recipe I like to use. Throw it in the freezer until you need it, or it will magically disappear.

Shutterfly Gifts

This takes a little more thought and planning, but if you have someone who regularly does you favors like a neighbor or friend, you can almost always find a Shutterfly coupon for 40-50% off, or freebie giveaways. If you don’t have any favorite photos of them, pick one they would appreciate of their kid(s), dog or family from their Facebook page and turn it into a fun gift for their home. You can do most of these for FREE-$10 including shipping.

Rice Bag Warmers

Do you have a sewing machine or any skill at all? I definitely don’t, but I have received, a rice bag warmer and I know that it’s one of THE most useful gifts I’ve ever gotten. It only takes someone who isn’t me, a matter of minutes to make. And if you’re already a crafter, you probably have some material on hand.

Saying thank you doesn’t need to be expensive or extravagant. Good friends just do those things because they want to, but it’s always nice to be appreciated for the things you do! What are your favorite things to gift that cost mostly time and thought?

If you’d like information on getting started on a budget, getting out of debt, learning how to save money, protecting your family financially and creating a financial plan to build wealth, click here to set up your FREE discovery call and let me show you how I can help!

 

10 easy ways to start saving money right now

 

Saving money shouldn’t be so hard, should it? I have a few simple tips that you can start today to help it along. These might not break the bank all by themselves, but they sure add up quickly over time! And there’s little effort required, just a few small changes at a time will add up to big rewards.

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1) Stop buying convenience/prepackaged drinks.

Do you stop at Sheetz to get an iced tea or soda daily? What about bottles of iced tea/lemonade/flavored water/you name it here for your house? If your drink allows, try buying powder at home and make the drink by gallon batches. Invest in a nice water bottle to transport and you’ll spend just pennies on the dollar and probably drink less because you have to make it!

2) Shop at low-cost grocery stores

I did a little experiment months ago comparing shopping at Aldi to even the generic brand at your big name grocery store. And the results were surprising to even me, being a savings of more than 40%. You can find the article here. I need to do another to compare brand name vs. generic but I can almost guarantee you’ll find similar results.

3) Stop with the paper cups, plates and baggies

They’re convenient, I get it. No dishes to wash, no dishwasher to unload but they’ll add up big time if you use one (or two or three) daily and toss after each use. We love to use reusable and dishwasher safe bento boxes and the take and toss bowls with lids to pack lunches and snacks on the go. (Hint: the take and toss are dishwasher safe and most definitely do not need to be tossed after each use!)

4) Shop in bulk and freeze or meal prep monthly

You’ll get better prices by shopping in bulk. I bought 2 1/2 lbs of 93% lean ground beef this week for $9.68. I could’ve bought just 1 lb for $4.38. So I bought bigger and made stuffed peppers, hamburgers and tacos for the week and still had burgers to freeze. Check out Costco, Sams Club or BJ’s for stores most convenient to you for dry goods in bulk. Just remember, a deal is only a deal if you’ll use it…think twice before buying a 5 year supply of yellow mustard (been there and done that). You can also consider sharing a membership or items with a friend who’s close by and share the savings.

5) Hang dry your clothes

Ok, now you’re thinking, “She’s lost her mind!” While that might be true, stay with me on this. First of all, your clothes will last longer. Line drying is gentler on fabrics and the excessive high heat and tumbling can cause strain and unnecessary wear and tear. On the money side, it can save upwards of $200-$300 depending on your dryer, the amount of clothing you do and your state. Check out this nifty calculator here to see how much you’d save this year by line drying your clothes! And lastly, if you hang them in the sun in the spring, summer and fall, they just smell nice!

6) Unplug it

I can go a lot of directions here, but staying with energy conservation and savings, did you know that the average US household spends more than $100 each year to power devices that aren’t even being used? Just for fun, I just walked around our house to count how many appliances, electronics and devices we currently have plugged in and I have to say, I was a little surprised to count 37! We don’t need almost half of those on a regular basis. Start unplugging the phone and tablet chargers when not in use, the handheld vacuum that’s always charging, the tv’s and lamps in the bonus and guest rooms you rarely use and watch your electric bill go down. If you happen to be in the market for a new appliance, if it’s Energy Star, you can receive rebates for your purchase. Check out the Energy Star website for more information.

7) Adjust your thermostat

I’m not saying to freeze it out, but if you’re wearing shorts and short sleeves in your home in the winter, put on an extra layer or two and turn the heat down 2-3 degrees. And vice versa in the summer, if you’re using blankets on the sofa, it’s time to turn it up just a bit. It’s been long debated whether it saves money or not to turn the heat down when you leave for work for the day, but I believe the final answer is yes, it does benefit you in energy savings. According to energy.gov again, the savings can be up to 10% a year by setting your thermostat back 7-10 degrees Fahrenheit when you’re gone. Read more on that here.

8) Clean out your pantry at least monthly

Most of us buy a can of “this” here, because we might use it, and a can of “that” there. And yet, we all open the pantry cupboards and say, “We don’t have anything to eat!” I’m willing to bet that if you go to your pantry right now, you can come up with 3 meals off the bat. I personally know if I put effort into it, I could come up with a minimum of 5. They may not be awesome, but I know we have soup, lentils and beans and different pastas and sauces. Last spring I ran a pantry challenge for a week where I challenged everyone to cut their grocery budget in half for the week and use as many items in your pantry as possible. It was fun, we shared recipes and it was eye opening! Maybe I’ll host another coming soon!

9) Brew your coffee at home

Ok, I know this sounds obvious and it kind of goes with #1, but it’s not obvious to all. Let’s briefly talk about the latte factor. The average small cup of coffee (just coffee) is right around $2.00 in the US. Mochas and Lattes an all that jazz will run you $4.00-$5.00 on average. But just coffee, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year is $520 a year, almost $45 a month. Using the higher end coffees, just one a day is $2600 a year and $216 a month. Wowzas! I know it doesn’t seem like much on a daily basis, but what would those numbers get you? I’m pretty sure our honeymoon on an amazing cruise was less than $2600. Hellllloooo! Save up one year and buy yourself a home espresso machine and have all the fun you would like for pennies on the dollar.

10) Use cash

This will always remain my number one (or two) way to save money. If you haven’t read it yet, check out my blog on why cash envelopes are my secret to staying on budget. I challenge you to go to the ATM today and take out cash this week for what you budget (or think you spend if you don’t budget) on groceries, gas, and other miscellaneous needs during this week. For just one week give it a go and see if you can spend less and save more. According to this article and research at CMU, Stanford and MIT, spending cash actually activates pain centers in the brain. Let’s say you need $70 for groceries and $50 for gas. If you start on payday, get 6 $20 bills and absolutely have to make it until your next payday, you’ll make different decisions throughout your day with that money.

I know we’re all looking for that magic bean that makes it all easy, but the truth is that saving money takes a lot of small steps and conscious behavior changes. I read on someone’s feed yesterday, “You are not Amazon Prime. It takes more than two days to get what you want.” These 10 steps are ones that you can take right now, today to make a change in your financial life. What are you waiting for?

If you’d like more information on getting started on a budget, getting out of debt, learning how to save money and creating a financial plan to build wealth, click here to set up your FREE discovery call and let me show you how I can help!

 

Owning your October Budget

 

It’s officially fall in Western Pennsylvania! The air conditioning has been off for over a week, pumpkin is in full swing and I’ve broken out the boots and sweaters. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

Monday starts another new month and I hope your September was successful! Take a few moments this weekend to reflect on the last 30 days. What did you do well financially speaking? Where did you leave room for improvement? What simple changes were you able to implement that made an impact? Then use your takeaways to spend some time planning October’s budget.

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DON’T FORGET THESE 10 ITEMS FOR YOUR OCTOBER BUDGET

1) Travel. You might have fall break or Columbus Day off, but regardless, extra time off often means extra money spent.

2) Halloween decorations, costumes and candy. Don’t be stingy!

3) Oktoberfest. Now THIS is what October is all about! It seems like everyone’s getting in on the fun these days with Oktoberfest and you can too…just make sure you plan a little extra in the entertainment, dining out or however you might categorize it!

4) Football. It doesn’t matter what level you’re watching or where, sporting events have a way of getting the best of our pockets when we’re not prepared.

5) Fundraisers are in full swing and if you can find it in your budget, it’s great to support your local kids and schools.

6) Winter tires. Depending on where you live and what you drive, you might need winter tires on your car. Maybe not for October, but it might take a couple months to save up.

7) Fall and winter clothing. Don’t be shocked when little Johnny puts his pants on and looks like he’s in a flood. Kids grow quick and you need to be prepared for some new fall and winter clothing. Consignment sales are a great way to take out the old and bring in the new!

8) School pictures. I don’t know about your Facebook feed, but mine’s been flooded recently with those silly and sweet smiles. Don’t forget to put some money in the budget to get a few sheets to share with your family and friends.

9) Increased utility bills. The air might be off, but that means the heat will go on soon! Consider putting your utilities on budget billing to eliminate the element of surprise.

10) Christmas. I said it in September and I’ll say it again in November. Plan ahead, not behind! What if you save up from October to December this year to pay for Christmas as you go, instead of paying for it January to March? Imagine the peace you’ll feel come January and the joy you’ll get in the giving knowing it’s all paid for.

By creating a spending plan before the month begins, you’ll feel more in control of your money and you’ll have more left over at the end of the month! If you’re still not sure how to get started, click here to set up your FREE discovery call to see how I can help!