Tag Archive | "frugal living"

Simple step-by-step way to have fun while keeping costs down

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Simple step-by-step way to have fun while keeping costs down

I have found that sometimes it is difficult coming up with ideas of what to as a family for fun. The danger is that without a source of ideas, you can fall back on costly activities.

For example, taking a family of five to the movies costs around  $60-70 and if you are like me, that’s usually the first idea that comes to my mind when deciding to go out.

There isn’t anything inherently wrong with spending money on family outings, but spending $50-100 a week can stop you from reaching other family financial goals.

In my last year of college, a visiting lecturer to one of my classes gave us several ideas on how to be more frugal and better investors. I loved one of his ideas for having a great time as families without breaking the bank.

First, Create a List

Spend some time with your spouse and kids creating a list of everything you like to do together as well as vacations that you’d like to take. At this point, don’t discriminate. The idea is to be exhaustive and not reject any activities.

I’ve created a short example list for my family below. Don’t be surprised if you don’t recognize everything on the list since some of it is specific to our local area.

Family Activities

Second, Assign a Satisfaction Level

The next step is to assign a satisfaction value to each activity. For this example, I used a scale of Low-Medium-High. I recommend keeping the scale simple, but you could add Very Low and Very High to the list if you’d like.

A side benefit to doing this as a family is that you might be surprised by what is important and fun to different members of the family. After creating our example list for this post, I had my wife run through it quickly and I was a little surprised by one or two changed she made.

Satisfaction Level

Third, Assign a Cost Level

With the satisfaction levels in place, now assign an approximate cost level to each activity.

Again, I recommend using a simple scale instead of actual dollar values (though you certainly can). In my example below, I used None-Low-Medium-High-Very High. What I found really interesting was that we didn’t have any activities that fell into the High category. There was a leap from Medium to Very High. Again, you might learn somethings about you and your family’s preferences as you complete this exercise.

Cost Level

Last, Rank by Satisfaction and then by Cost

The last step is the easiest. First, re-order your activities by Satisfaction with the activities that provide the most satisfaction at the top. Then, rearrange all of the activities within a given satisfaction level by cost with the lowest cost being at the top. I know that might sound a little confusing, which is why I include pictures :)

I recommend doing all of this in Excel so that you can easily make changes, rearrange and save your list.

Family Activities sorted by cost and satisfaction

Review the Findings

If you’ve followed each of the steps, you now have a list of activities that you enjoy doing as either a family or couple sorted by how much satisfaction you get out of each activity and the cost associated.

Hopefully, you’ll see that you have plenty of low to no cost activities that you really enjoy doing. So the next time you are wondering what to do, you can just pull out your list and pick something.

Important Note: I am not saying that you shouldn’t do the High and Very High cost activities. What I am saying is this:

  1. Focus mainly on doing things that you love and don’t cost much.
  2. Pick a couple of the expensive activities to do each year, or maybe once a year, and save for them.

Also, keep adding to and changing the list as time passes. Make this a living document.

How do you decide what to do for fun?

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5 Cheap Halloween Costume ideas for when you’re on a tight budget

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5 Cheap Halloween Costume ideas for when you’re on a tight budget

Halloween Pumpkin

Happy Halloween! I hope you have something fun and safe planned for tonight. Many of you are probably like us and are trying to save a few dollars as we head into the Christmas season. As much as I enjoy each holiday, I often feel frustrated that it seems like holidays demand extra expenditures.

Halloween can definitely get expensive after buying decorations, costumes for the whole family, food for parties and treats for the trick-or-treaters. Personally, I’d like to celebrate holidays in a less expensive style.

Maybe that makes me a Scrooge (oops, wrong holiday), but maybe it doesn’t have to. A little creativity can go a long way. Our two girls are still pretty young, so they are pretty easily satisfied. Here are some Halloween costume ideas for creating something fun without much expense.

Open up the dress-up box

Wearing a costume that the kids already have and play with may not be the most exciting Halloween costumer, but it saves a lot of money. Using what you already have is also a great way to teach your kids to be frugal. Just because it’s a holiday, doesn’t mean that you have to start spending money. We can be content with what we already have.

Also, a little bit of make-up can take an ordinary costume and transform it into something new and exciting. For example, a princess or cowboy outfit with some white face paint and a little bit of red for blood turns your kids into the undead. So consider spending a little money on some make-up and then just use what you already have.

School and sports uniforms

This is kind of like opening up the dress-up box for teenagers. If your older kids are on any type of sports team (including cheerleading), then there’s your costume right there. I’ve seen football players dress up their uniform with just a crazy wig.

Borrow outfits from the neighbors

This money saving technique is one of my favorites. In part, because it works for almost any age. My oldest loves to be a kitty for Halloween (and just about any other day that we let her dawn the outfit). What’s great is that we got the outfit from a neighbor. In our case, we had originally just borrowed it, but they later said we could just keep it.

As a teenager, I borrowed my neighbor’s fatigues for two or three years in a row. Even as a teenager or adult, many of your friends or neighbors may have outfits that you can borrow. So don’t make shopping for a new costume at a store your first choice. Try shopping at your friend’s house first.

Hit the second hand stores

I’ll admit, I don’t care for shopping at second hand stores too much. It’s probably an ego thing. But for an outfit that I’m going to wear just once a year, hello thrift stores! What’s even better is that I usually donate the clothes right back to the store afterwards. So I tell myself that I’m actually spending a few dollars on charity.

Start sewing

If you own a sewing machine, then you can really get creative. But even if you don’t, just a needle and some thread can go a long way. For example, that kitty outfit that we borrowed from our neighbor was just a black leotard with a black cat tail stitched to the back. The mother had quickly and easily done it herself.

Make-up can be the only thing you buy

You are probably noticing a theme by now – just be creative. Usually, if you use some pieces of a costume that you already own, borrow something from a neighbor and spend a little money on make-up, then you can put together a great costume that your kids will love. And little kids often like going as the same thing each year. The make-up kit that we bought has lasted us two Halloweens so far.

Let me know in the comments other ways that you have saved money around Halloween time.

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STUDY: Americans still spending less, but won’t give up cell phones

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STUDY: Americans still spending less, but won’t give up cell phones

Harris Interactive polled 2,576 Americans between January 18 and 25, 2010. Over the last six months, we have decreased our morning coffee purchases and increased brown bagging lunches, but still won’t give up our cell phones.

Harris InteractiveHere’s a brief highlight of some of the findings directly from the study:

  • Almost half (45%) say they are brown bagging lunch instead of purchasing it, with 8% having considered doing so; 34% say this is not applicable to them;
  • Two in five (39%) are going to the hairdresser/barber/stylist less often and 8% have considered doing so;
  • One-third of Americans (34%) have switched to refillable water bottles instead of purchasing bottles of water while 10% have considered doing so;
  • The media is also taking a hit as 33% of U.S. adults have cancelled one of more magazine subscriptions, one in five (19%) have cancelled a newspaper subscription and 22% have cancelled or cut back on cable television service with an additional one in five (20%) having considered doing so; and,
  • One in five Americans say they have cut down on dry cleaning (22%) and stopped purchasing coffee in the morning (21%).

What was amusing though, was that 52% said that they had not or would not consider cancelling their cell phone plan, while 15% have already done so.

Could you give up your cell phone?

I have to be honest, I’ve considered cancelling my plan at the end of the contract this summer. The challenge then though is that we don’t have a home phone and everyone I know has my current number. So I don’t think we’ll be cancelling.

Of course, a two year contract makes it difficult to cancel your contract without paying an exorbitant termination fee. I’m personally very interested in seeing the outcome of the FCC’s inquiries into Verizon and their new $350 termination fee.

Specific results

Harris asked respondents, “Have you done or considered doing any of the following over the past six months in order to save money?” Here’s how America responded.

Harris Interactive Poll

They also dissected the responses by age group. Apparently, older or mature individuals have made fewer cuts.

Harris Pool Consumer Spending

So what are you doing to cut back? Are you returning to any of your old habits? Let us know in the comments.

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Valentine’s Day: 5 inexpensive last minute ideas, procrastinator

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Valentine’s Day: 5 inexpensive last minute ideas, procrastinator

I have a confession to make – I haven’t made my Valentine’s Day plans yet.  I hope this is the one post that my wife doesn’t read. I’m to the point where I’m calling into radio stations trying to win Valentine’s Day packages that they are giving away.

Valentine's Day GiftsUnfortunately, that’s not working out so well for me. And I’m going to guess that I’m not the only one at this point.

Go ahead and admit it, you don’t have anything either. It’s okay. I think it’s part of being a guy. However, your marital bliss is on the line right now. So I have a few suggestions that won’t hurt your pocketbook too much.

  1. Prepaid Debit Card – Now maybe this sounds like a cop out. But Ace Cash Express is offering a special Pink Prepaid Debit Card where a portion of the proceeds go to fight Breast Cancer. So basically, buying your sweetheart a Pink card let’s her pick-out just what she wants and you help another woman be with her beau next year. This is a great win-win situation. And if you are on a budget, this options is perfect since you can pick the amount.
  2. Name a Star – I thought this was just in the movies. But you can actually name a star at Name a Star Live for about $20.
  3. Try the Thift Store – So I lied, but just a little. I don’t know what I’m going to do this weekend, but I do know what I’m getting my wife. And I’m headed to the local thrift store to get it used.
  4. Write Love Letters – If you are really on a budget, then write her love letters. Leave her the letters where she’ll find them throughout the day. Make them themed. For example, each letter gives her a reason why you love her. Last year, I wrote my wife a poem. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell my buddies that little fact.
  5. Sing Her a Song – I surprised my wife by singing at our wedding reception. I offended everyone else’s ears by singing at our wedding reception. But my wife loved it. One of my favorite pictures is of my wife smiling ear to ear while I sang and my brother played the guitar. If you really feel ambitious, learn to play the song on the guitar.

My Challenge to You

Here is my challenge to you guys this year. Be creatively cost conscious. Meaning, determine to surprise your wife with something meaningful but without spending much money. In fact, I guarantee that if you don’t spend a lot, but simply put some thought into what you give her, then you’ll find the results surprisingly effective.

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5 Reasons people don’t like free or discounted goods

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5 Reasons people don’t like free or discounted goods

I’ve encountered what is a most amazing phenomenon – people do not like to “buy” free stuff. I personally look for every discount that I can when making a purchase.

Free MoneyYet, I have noticed a good number of individuals who when faced with the opportunity to receive something for free or at a discount, they chose to pay for it instead.

After observing this phenomenon on a number of occasions, I decided to compile a brief list of common reasons why people like to pay more than is necessary.

Reason #1 – Fear

We all know the saying, “If it’s free, then it’s too good to be true.” Unfortunately, that is sometimes a lie.

Example: Wirefly.com offers cell phones for free with a new two year agreement with any of the major US carriers. The phone is the same. The plan is the same. In fact, the agreement is with the carrier and not Wirefly. I have shown this site to many people. And yet, they always end up going to the carrier and paying for the same phone that they could have had for free because it’s scary.

I have purchased several phones form Wirefly without a single problem. In fact, we will be “buying” some new phones in the next few months and all we have to do is agree to a two year extension on our contract. I’m not leaving Sprint in the next two years, so why not?

Reason #2 – Pride

It’s one of the seven deadly sins.

And it will kill your finances if you are not careful. I have a friend who as a matter of pride will not use coupons, take advantage of discounts, or buy anything that is not full price. He is afraid that the vendor will think he is incapable of paying the full price.

My grandmother believed it was a matter of social status. She wanted to be able to tell others just how much she overpaid for the item.

Fortunately for both of these individuals, they have the financial means to always pay full price. But why not save some money to spend on something else (or leave in savings)?

Reason #3 – Laziness

Some people are just plain lazy.

The next time you are about to check-out online, try searching for the name of the retailer with the phrase “promo code.” You will be amazed how many discounts you can find online.

For example, I purchased a bunch of domains last year from GoDaddy.com. Instead of paying full price for each domain, I saved myself about $30 with the promo code I found online.

Or the next time you are in a retail store front, just ask for a discount. Sometimes they will say yes and sometimes they will say no. But at least try asking, you might find yourself surprised.

Reason #4 – Strings Attached

In all fairness, there are times that Free comes at a price. Even though the item may be free, some other obligation places a contingency on the item or service. While thinking about this reason, I became curious about what phrases Googlers use when searching for free stuff. Here’s a screen grab of what Google suggests if you type in “free stuff online.”

Google Search Results

As you can see, most people searching for something free know that something is usually attached to the offer. Though life is full of trade-offs. You have to decide if the trade-off is worth it.

Reason #5 – Convenience

There are times that paying is just worth it.  For example, I can wash my car. I’ve worked as a lot boy at a car dealership and have washed a lot of cars. But my time is worth more these days. I’m happy to pay the guys at the car wash down the street to wash and dry my car in 10 minutes.


Many of us are trying to be frugal, but for some reason, do not take advantage of free goods. If you really want to spend less money, then take a little time to research and take advantage of authentically free goods and services.

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Eat food in your pantry, you’ll save money. Really.

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Eat food in your pantry, you’ll save money. Really.

My wife and I recently made some changes to our budget and how we handle cash versus credit. The result is a stricter, more disciplined cash management system. As a result, we are having to rethink how we approach certain budgeted areas such as groceries.

As is probably the case with many of you, groceries are one of the largest bills we have. It’s amazing how many resources are consumed in sustaining the life of very tiny people.

I think we’ve all read articles talking about how we should make a shopping list before going to the store. That way, you avoid impulse purchasing or making several trips during the week. We almost always make a list. And yet, we still have what I’m going to call “unintentional food storage.” You know what I’m talking about. There is that can of tuna or box of pasta in your pantry that has been in there for ages. We never consume the food since it usually requires more ingredients which we don’t have on hand to make a meal.

Let me give you an example using that can of tuna. The reason my family usually doesn’t eat the tuna is because we often don’t have bread. My wife doesn’t like me eating a lot of breads (something about a low carb diet that I’m supposed to be on). But we have the tuna, some mix-ins like celery, nuts, and apples for flavor, and Vegenaise (I don’t like Mayo and don’t get me started on Miracle Whip). So all we need is bread and we’d have a sandwich. But go figure, we bought roast beef, provolone, and bread tonight so that we can make sandwiches. Now granted, I prefer roast beef over tuna. But, we could have saved money, or at least postponed the purchase until the next paycheck, had we just bought bread.

The point that I’m trying to make is that when planning a trip to the grocery store, dive into your unintentional food storage and see what you can use. One thing that you might try is eating through your freezer or pantry before making any large trips to the store. Make a list of only ingredients that are needed to finish off the half-meals already in your pantry. We recently tried this tip and found that we were able to spend much less money while we paid off some bills.

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Dave Ramsey said to sell my stuff and payoff debt

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Dave Ramsey said to sell my stuff and payoff debt

Dave RamseyI decided to write this post in the form of a letter to Dave Ramsey:

Hey Dave,

My company decided to offer your Financial Peace University course to any employees interested. Always hoping to learn more and better my financial situation, I signed up. In your latest lesson, you spoke about dumping debt and specifically advised people to sell stuff.

Well Dave, I’ve started to sell my stuff. For example, my wife and I aren’t big TV watchers. In fact, the only TV show we regularly watch is Fox’s Dollhouse and we almost always watch it on Hulu.com. So we sold the TV…the TV Dave. I’m not sure what all the ramifications are yet of that decision, but I’m hoping that my family will be better off with less digital garbage coming in. One thing you didn’t talk about though was getting a good deal for all the stuff I’m out selling. In my haste and desire to cleanse my home and earn some extra cash, I completely undersold the TV. A nice, young college student and his roommates are now enjoying my TV at a hefty discount. I loved getting the subsequent five phone calls that day asking about the TV. Each person willing to pay more than what I sold it for. So you might want to tell your viewers/readers that they should get excited about selling stuff, but don’t get stupid about it. Do you know anyone that wants a nice, solid wood TV stand from IKEA?

While we are on the subject Dave, I’m not sure where the selling stops. For example, I preempted my wife this week by telling her that “the golf clubs stay!” So what if I’ve only used them once in the last two years. Doesn’t that just make me an average golfer? Actually, I would golf more if my wife weren’t so bad at it that she refuses to go. The one time I used them last year was when she went to her brother’s wedding out East. I went golfing twice that week – it was a good week. So my point is, you told me to sell, sell, sell. But do you offer any guidelines? I would sell anything that I owe money on to pay it off, but that’s only my car and my house – and the house stays.

SantaFeSo Dave, that leaves my car. I’ve only had my car for six months, and I love my car. I drive a 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe. I haven’t driven an SUV for years and I’m not sure that I’m ready to make the mini-van commitment. My kids don’t play soccer yet, so what does driving a mini-van say about me? Of course, I sure wouldn’t mind a reduced car payment. It’s not that I can’t afford it, but I sure could do other things with that money. So I did a little research online and I’m pretty sure I can get more than what I owe on my car. But the problem now is finding a cheaper car that is big enough for my family and double stroller. I found a 2005 Town & Country for sale but it has 98k miles on it. Come on Dave, 98000 miles! And that’s the best deal I’ve found so far in a price range that makes selling my car and getting another one worth it. So do you have any advice to go along with your simplified statement of “sell the car”?

What I’m saying Dave is that we are trying. We are filling Craigslist with more stuff for people to buy (which doesn’t that encourage this problem for other people?). However, I would appreciate it if you could answer three questions: (1) Am I being a good guy and helping someone out if I undersell my stuff, or should I get every penny for it that I can since I’m using it to pay off my debt? (2) Do you have any guidelines on what I should and should not sell? At what point have I sold my life? Notice I didn’t say “lifestyle.” (3) You said in your video not to get a clunker, but you were adamant about selling the car. So where’s the happy medium? I can find a cheap commuter car no problem, but a quality, cheap family vehicle is harder to find.

Dave, I like you. And I like your course, even if I don’t agree with everything. I also think we could all do with a little less stuff in our lives and homes and on our credit accounts. I’ll let you know how it all turns out once the selling spree ends.


Adam “I’m keeping the clubs” Williams


If you’ve taken Dave’s courses or have read his books, what are your experiences with selling stuff? Any good answers for my questions? Let us know in the comments.

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