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.


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.


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.


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 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.



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!


6 Simple Ways to Save this Christmas


Well, we’ve hit the 99 days until Christmas mark! I don’t know about you, but when I hear 99 days until anything, I think, “Oh crap….it’ll be here before I know it!” And sure enough, the days and weeks go by faster and faster each month it seems, especially with little ones around.

So since the secret is out that Christmas is in fact, on December 25th this year, let’s start preparing at least financially for the holidays, and avoid that credit card hangover in January! Instead of waiting until the new year to start a resolution saying, “This will be the year I get my money under control”, let’s start right now.



First things first, you’ll need to make a list and check it twice (like what I did there?). List who you plan to buy for and a reasonable amount for each person. If you want to take it one step further, add in some costs of your holiday baking, cooking if you host meals through the season, decorations, costs associated with travel, company parties and other activities that might be tradition around your friends and family. Don’t worry that it’s not perfect ~ you can add and change things as you go, but this is a great starting point. Now, take your total and divide it by 3 to be part of your October, November and December budgets. Here’s what you need to save each month to pay for Christmas in advance this year. Does it look reasonable? Achievable? If yes, AWESOME! Make sure to implement this plan starting in the October budget, if not sooner. If no, keep reading.


Let’s remember the reason for the season. My absolute favorite part about Christmas is all the gatherings. It’s seeing friends and family in settings where we let go a bit from daily stress. We forget about all the lists and chores waiting and just enjoy the company.

If your total on your list looked a little overwhelming, let’s first look at that list and see if there’s anyone that can be cut out. I know that sounds a bit Scrooge-ish, but the holidays can get out of hand over years passing and I’ve seen people buy for friend’s brother’s roomates…I mean, come on. Can you look at your list and see who you can bake for as gift instead? Or do a nice gesture for them? I LOVE to bake these Christmas Crock-pot Crack cookies every year and gift them to our mailmen, co-workers, clients, friends, family…I try to have a small box to take anywhere we go. They’re easy, delicious and everyone loves them. The recipe makes over 100 for about $15.

If you can’t cut anyone out, try gifting a group gift. Siblings can easily go in together for your parents! Friends in for friends! You can give something just a little bit nicer usually and spend less.

Personalized gifts are another great way to save. Shutterfly is famous for sending out emails in the fall to make free photo books, and discounts for calendars or coffee mugs. Make it a special gift and take advantage of major discounts! The trick on this is you usually need to start early!

Another way to save big is to take advantage of sales and the fact that you’ve started a list early. The closer we get to the holiday, the crazier we get with buying and falling for “sales”. We start buying things just to buy them and end up spending way more than we planned. If you have a well organized list now, you can start picking up things on sale as you find them and sit back and enjoy the season as it unfolds.

Use places like to buy discounted gift cards and then shop for those on your list. These places buy gift cards that are unwanted at a portion of their price and then resell them for just under their value, saving you $5, $10 or more depending on the value.

And lastly, if your family is older and grown, consider not buying gifts for each other at all anymore and taking that money and buying gifts for a family in need in your area. Our family started doing giving trees instead many years ago and it quickly became the best part about Christmas. We enjoy the giving so much more going to those who need it most!

What are your tips for giving on a budget? Share in the comments below!


Don't forget these 10 items in your September budget


I can't quite get a grip on the fact that September is almost here!  It's time for pumpkin everything to come out, sweater weather, nighttime bonfires and of course, Labor Day, signifying the end of summer has come.

And as always, the weekend leading up to the new month, it's time to sit down and reflect on how you did with August goals, set new goals for September and most importantly, create a September spending plan.


So without further ado, let's look at September's budget.

Top 10 things to remember for September

1.  School supplies and fees - These should have been budgeted for in August, but now's the time to catch any overflow or things forgotten.

2.  Fall clothes and shoes - you might have been waiting for Labor Day sales or maybe the summer bbq's got to your waistline, but if you need fall clothes, make sure you have it in your budget.

3. Labor Day - We also looked at this in August, but now it's here.  Need extra gas money for travel, cookouts or a last minute getaway?

4. CHRISTMAS - That's right...I said it.  As of September 1, Christmas is officially less than 4 months away.  In fact, as of my writing, it's 121 days away.  If you haven't started planning NOW is the time.  Take the total amount you plan to spend and divide it by 4 and stock that much away each month to spend.

5.  Birthdays/anniversaries/weddings - It didn't even register until now, it's our 3 year anniversary this month.  Awwwwwww.  Did you know that September is one of the most popular months for weddings?

6.  Winterizing expenses - Yes summer is just ending, but there will be snow on the ground before you know it!  If you have a pool to close down or a boat on the water, you'll need to start preparing for the costs to take care of them.

7.  Halloween - It'll sneak up quick and I know that some people put Halloween up as high as Christmas on the favorite holiday list.  And unbelievably, costumes, candy and decorations are already out.

8.  Tailgating - WE ARE PENN STATE!!!  And, Here we go Steelers, here we go!!!

9.  Quarterly bills - If you pay any of your bills quarterly (car insurance, water, sewage, taxes, etc), they're often due October 1st. 

10.  Family photos.  Being such a beautiful time of the year, fall is very popular for family photos and mini sessions to be offered. Take advantage of the scenery!


As always, every person and family is different.  You might not include all these in your budget and maybe I'm missing some things that should be listed.  What's in your spending plan for September?  


Why Cash Envelopes Are My Secret to Staying on Budget


My envelopes are well worn and probably ready for replacement. They embarrass the living heck out of my husband when I pull them out at the store or restaurant. But these right here, these are my biggest secret. They are the number one thing I tell clients that will lead them to success on their debt free journey.  

Finacial_Fitness_Coaching_Kristen _Ricupero_Cash_Envelopes.jpg

It doesn’t matter if it’s clips or envelopes, cash hurts to spend. You think twice and you spend differently.  You make it impossible to “blow” your budget. If there’s not enough money in the envelope, the item can’t be purchased.  You have to get good at planning with this system, but I guarantee it will help you decrease your spending.  I’ve been at the grocery store and have had to ask the cashier to put some things back a time or two. Eventually I became pretty impressive at totaling as I went.  And if you really want to be a nerd, you can buy a hand tally counter for around $10 or less. 

Setting up your cash envelopes

Common categories for cash envelopes are groceries, travel, dining out, kids needs, blow money (aka “allowance”), clothes, toiletries and entertainment.  Everyone’s going to have different envelopes depending on what you shop for and spend in person the most and label them differently depending on how you budget.  I combine toiletries and groceries to one category.  A lot of people don’t.   As long as you’re not severely overfunding an envelope, rolling what you don’t spend from one month to the next can be a fun motivator for things like clothes to save up for a fun spending day. 

When we spend with a credit card or even debit card, it doesn’t activate our pain points the same as cash.  We get that card back and don’t physically have to let go of anything, so it doesn’t register the same.  Research has shown that people are willing to spend up to 83% more for an item when they pay with a credit card.  On average, they actually spend approximately 12-18% more when paying with a card. 

Just say no to plastic

Credit card use is on the rise every year.  Think about it. When’s the last time you even saw a vending machine that didn’t accept credit cards?  Businesses make it so convenient and easy to do a magical swipe of the card, why wouldn’t you “add fries to that”?  It wasn’t so long ago that credit cards weren’t even commonly accepted at fast food chains for fear of slowing down the service.  McDonalds was one of the first to change that in 2003, and by doing so, their average ticket increased over 50% when consumers pay with a card. 

Have I got you thinking about converting to the cash envelope system?  I love the simplicity of my banking envelopes, but anyone who knows me will tell you I’m not the most stylish person you’ll meet.  Check out these fabulous hand-made cash envelope wallets! Happy shopping!