The Holiday season has official begun and the shopping season is right around the corner. My family and I are already planning our meals, decorations, gifts, and travel. This, of course, costs money so I have to make a holiday spending plan and decide how much I want to budget.
Years ago it freaked me out to think about all the money that was flying out of my bank account. These days I feel calmer because I know that giving (spending) only means I’ll be receiving that much more in return. That is a mindset shift I hope to share more with you in the coming year. But back to the holiday spending plan.
The first thing to do is decide how much you want or have saved to spend for the holidays. If you were smart you opened a holiday savings account at the beginning of the year. I honestly didn’t do that but I will next year.
You can follow my lead if you didn’t do it but opening a free savings account with Ally bank or Capital One. Both are online and you can move you money in and out quite easily. You can also set up automatic drafts so the money comes out of your paycheck and it’s out of your mind so you don’t miss it. What a surprise it will be when you check the account in November and see all that money sitting there.
Now that you know how much you want to spend you can list all the categories you will be using the money for. Will you be cooking meals, decorating your home, buying gifts for anyone other than the kids, or traveling? List all the activities and then move on to the next step, dividing the money.
How much you choose to spend for each category is completely up to you. You might decide to do an even split across the categories. You may decide to use 50% of the money for the gifts then split the rest across the other categories. You have options.
For food you could use coupons and shop the sales to keep costs low. You may only have to buy a few ingredients because you are going to eat with family and only need to bring one dish. There will be sales all during the month of November and December so head over to your top three favorite stores’ website and look at the flyers and/or download their app.
For decoration you can use what you had last year and simply add a few items that rounds out the look you are going for. Making decorations with the kids is a fun activity. You can make snowflakes, ornaments, and garland with material you have on hand. You can also make decorated gifts to give to teachers, grandparents, and friends. The kids would absolutely love and feel they are a big part of the gift giving process. It doesn’t have to cost much but the value of a handmade gift is priceless!
If you are planning to travel be sure to check out travel deals on Groupon Travel, Expedia, or your favorite airline website. If you are traveling by car map out your trip using AAA’s travel planner or simply download the Waze app from the App Store or Play Store to get you to your destination. With the Waze app you can add stops and look for gas stations and food options along the way. It is my favorite GPS app. You should look me up and friend me on it.
Now that you have a budget, have set your categories, and know how to look for savings you can finalize your holiday spending plan. It does not have to be a long process but it does require you to be decisive so you remain in control of your purse strings. You can face the Holiday with confidence know you will not be in debt repayment mode for the new year.
If you need additional help creating a budget you can use the budget calculator below. Just enter your numbers and click the calculate button at the end.
I wish you a very happy holiday season and many blessings in the new year!
When college student Kara Skinner was short on cash, she started the blog Lover’s Quarrel, reviewing romance novels and including affiliate links in her posts. Thanks to her posts, she earned $60 from those links. But instead of splurging on pizza and a night out with friends, Kara decided to use her money in a different way: she donated it.
“I read I Am Malala and was so inspired,” Kara says. “Not everyone can get an education like I can because of where they live or their gender.”
Since launching her blog, Kara has donated to organizations like the Malala Fund and the Arbor Day Foundation. Because she uses her earnings from her website, she never has to dip into her bank account to contribute to charities.
Kara isn’t alone in her outlook: millennials are extremely generous when it comes to nonprofit causes. In fact, the majority of this age group donate to charity—an especially notable feat when you consider that debt is the biggest money-related stressor millennials face.
7 Ways to Donate to Charity
While that charitable mindset is admirable, finding the extra money to donate can be difficult. Between bills and debt payments, there’s often very little left over to give away.
However, a lack of money doesn’t have to hold you back from helping your community. You can make a big difference by doing one or more of the following things, without hurting your monthly budget.
1. Sign Up for AmazonSmile
If you shop on Amazon, you can help nonprofit organizations just by making routine purchases. Once a charity signs up with AmazonSmile, Amazon customers can select that organization to receive donations.
To take part in the program, visit Smile.Amazon.com instead of Amazon.com, and do all of your shopping from the new link. After you check out, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charity you choose.
That number might not sound like much, but it can add up over time. If you spent $1,000 on the site on regular purchases like toilet paper, laundry detergent, and other essentials, AmazonSmile would donate $5 to your selected charity.
2. Sign Up for Rebate and Reward Apps
If you’re short on cash, you can earn extra money to donate just by signing up for rebate and reward apps. Sign up for apps such as Ibotta and Checkout 51 and turn your receipts into cash.
These apps offer rebates for shopping at select stores or purchasing specific brands. After you’re done shopping, take a photo of your receipt with the app of your choice. Money will be deposited into your account.
Those rebates could add up to a hefty amount of cash. In fact, some people rack up hundreds with rebate and reward apps. With that money, you can make a sizeable donation without digging into your savings.
3. Donate Blood, Plasma, or Bone Marrow
If you’re a healthy adult, you can make a lifesaving donation. Those with severe illnesses or who have been in accidents often need blood, plasma, or bone marrow donations to recover. However, thousands of people cannot find a match, and there are sometimes donor shortages.
Donating your blood, plasma, or bone marrow can be a lifesaving act of charity in itself. In many cases, centers will pay you to donate plasma, allowing you to help someone in need while you earn extra cash to donate. When it comes to bone marrow, however, you’re not likely to be paid for donating—but you can still help save someone’s life.
Do you get compliments on your long, beautiful hair? You can use those lovely locks to help someone else going through a rough situation.
Children and adults with alopecia or those undergoing chemotherapy can experience hair loss. They often turn to wigs to cover their scalps and feel more confident. Human-hair wigs are the best you can buy; they look the most natural and can be washed and styled like regular hair.
However, human-hair wigs can cost thousands, and they are often unaffordable for many families. Several organizations try to ease the burden by collecting human hair to make wigs for both adults and children.
Your hair must be securely fastened in a ponytail.
If your hair is in a ponytail, the tail must be at least 8 to 12 inches long to be useable.
Your hair cannot be bleached or highlighted. In most cases, dyed hair that does not have any bleached sections is acceptable.
5. Donate Gently Used Clothing or Household Items
If you have old clothes, furniture, or household items lying around, you might be able to help someone in need.
You can donate items to organizations such as Goodwill, which can sell those items in thrift stores and use the proceeds to fund other programs—such as employment training and job placement services—for people in your community.
If you’re like Kara and don’t have much money to donate with your current budget, you can start a side hustle to make extra cash. Side hustles allow you to work as much as you want, when you want. If you want to make a donation around the holidays, you can take on seasonal work to get the money.
Because it’s extra income, you won’t miss it after you give it away. And you won’t fall behind on your rent or student loan payments, either.
7. Collect Spare Change
Even your piggy bank can be turned into a source of donations. At the end of each day, empty your pockets and bag and deposit any loose change into a jar.
You can also boost your donations by looking for forgotten change on sidewalks or streets. One blogger collected $27 just by looking around at car washes, in gutters, and in parking lots.
Once your change jar is full, take it to the bank to turn it into cash before donating it to a charity of your choice.
Donating to Charity
When you’re broke, it’s hard to scrounge up the money to help others. But if you’re determined to help your community, thinking creatively can help you make a tangible difference. Try accounting for donations in your monthly budget to make it a regular part of your spending habits or try looking for credit cards that make it easy to give to charity. By taking on extra work or sacrificing your time, you can help change someone’s life.
Are you struggling to create or manage a budget? If so click the button above to watch the video of the #CreditChat conversation I had with the Experian team.
We discussed everything from creating a stable financial future, establishing budgeting best practices, staying on top of your credit, starting an emergency fund, and choosing the right insurance.
You can download the Budget Sanity Saver worksheet to get a head start with creating your budget automatically. You need Microsoft Word to use it.
Chat Q & A
Here are the questions that were asked during the conversation and my answers:
Q1: What are the first steps a single parent should take when creating a stable financial future for his/her family?
Access where you are, decide where you want to be and create a written plan. Ask for help. check out Financial Planning Days for free financial planning in your area.
Q2: How should a newly single parent establish a budget? What are best practices? Write all current expenses like rent, food, car, etc. Subtract those expense amounts from your income. Best practices: Live below your means. Budget each paycheck before you spend. Pay yourself first.
Q3: What steps should single parents take to ensure they are staying on top of their credit? check your credit report regularly. Your bank may offer free monitoring. Get your annual credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. Spend only what you can repay immediately. Pay your bills on time or at least make arrangements to pay.
Q4: What financial documents should newly single parents review when creating a financial plan? Review your bank statements to see the history of your spending.
Q5: Are there any tax credits or deductions that can help reduce the amount of taxes single parents pay? earned income credit. child care credit. Student loan credit.
Q6: What are best practices for establishing an emergency fund? Pay yourself first in each paycheck. Add most or at least half of your tax refund. Sell items you don’t really need and put it in the fund.
Q7: What insurance considerations should single parents take? Term life seems to be a good policy to have since it covers you for a specific period of time while your children are still in your home.
Q8: What should single parents know about creating an estate plan? Talk with a financial planner who has information and/or an attorney. Get your will made so your family and the state knows what to do with your property and your children in case of your death
Q9: What advice do you have for a single parent who is struggling financially? If it feels like you are drowning stop the leaks. Take a deep breath. Remember it is temporary. Create an action plan to slow your spending, increase your income, focus on what you have instead of what you do not have.
Q10: Do you have any final financial tips for single parents? You have the power to become financially free. Learn all you can about money management. Focus on increasing your income rather than cutting everything from your life. Get the kids involved and teach them the value of money but more importantly the value of life and family.
Great grocery tips for single moms whether you are in school or not!
Whether you’re spending your Freshman year in off-campus housing or you just left a dorm—and meal plan—behind, one big change is on the horizon this school year: you need to make food for yourself with your own kitchen, two hands, and brain. And that means besides making time in your busy schedule to cook, you’ll also have to budget for the shopping as well, which can be tough on a college student income.
While it might seem overwhelming to feed and shop for yourself, you’ve totally got this. Let us help you put your money worries to rest with these grocery shopping tips. (Unfortunately, you’ll have to go somewhere else for help with calculus.)
1. Check Student-Friendly Stores
The easiest way to save money while shopping is to frequent local markets that offer student discounts. Usually, stores close to campus know they’ll get more customers if they offer a 5%–10% discount for those with university ID cards. Buying your weekly groceries from these shops at a discounted price is perfect for sticking to your budget.
2. Buy Generic or Store Brand Products
Most supermarket chains offer generic packaged products. These store brand products are usually cheaper than brand name products, even though they’re virtually the same. To save some cash, switch to store brand whenever possible.
3. Shop (Mostly) Vegetarian
Besides being bad for the environment, meat is pretty expensive. So whether you plan for Meatless Mondays or go completely vegetarian, you’ll definitely save money. And if you do buy a little meat, avoid steak and expensive seafood entirely, as those purchases will take up a lot of your budget.
4. Buy Frozen Vegetables
Perusing the produce section might be fun, but buying frozen vegetables is often the best way to go. Bags of frozen veggies are cheap, and as a busy student, you’ll save time by not having to chop and prep anything. Frozen vegetables still have lots of nutrients, so you can easily eat healthy with minimal effort.
5. Plan Your Meals (and Stick to That Plan)
One of the most important things you should do before grocery shopping is plan out your meals for the week. A meal plan will help you stay on track and (hopefully) under budget when shopping because you’ll know exactly what you need. You can save a lot of money—and start to drop that Freshman 15—by skipping over those impulse buys like Cheez-Its and Oreos.
6. Use Coupons—Seriously
While it might seem silly to pick up a newspaper or coupon booklet, you should make the effort to clip coupons before shopping. You can plan your meals around items that are on sale, and you might even end up trying a new food or recipe. The cents and dollars you save will really add up. Plus, even if you’re against wasting paper or money on newspapers, you can still find plenty of coupons online.
7. Save Money on Bags
Some states have implemented bag taxes to reduce waste, meaning plastic bags at the grocery store cost money. Bring your own bag (any free bag from a college club will do) to both save the environment and save money. Those few cents would make a dent in your wallet after a few weeks.
8. Eat Before You Shop
Studies indicate that being hungry while looking at food only leads to greater perceived hunger—which could lead to more impulsive thoughts about food. Make sure to grab a snack at home or have a friend grab you something from the dining hall before you head to the store. That way, you can avoid spending more on things that excite your hungry stomach.
9. Use Technology to Your Advantage
These days, there’s an app for everything. Grocery shopping is no different. As a tech-savvy college student, you can easily download several apps that help you keep track of your pantry’s inventory, budget effectively, or eat healthier. There are quite a few different apps out there, so give several a try to find out which ones make your shopping experience easier.
10. Don’t Waste Anything
Along similar lines, you should use Supercook.com to turn whatever’s left in your fridge and pantry into a meal. All you have to do is plug in what you have, and then your edible odds and ends can be used instead of thrown away. It’s easier than you’d expect to make food—even older food—taste good.
11. Check Out the Dollar Store
Surprisingly enough, you can actually find plenty of affordable groceries at the dollar store. If there’s one near campus, make sure to frequent it to get great deals on basic necessities like bread, milk, and peanut butter. If there isn’t a dollar store nearby, make a trip every once in a while to stock up on shelf-stable food items like pasta or canned goods.
12. Shop Alone
Going shopping with friends can be fun, but shopping on a budget is not a social activity. If you’re serious about saving some cash, hang out with your friends another time. Shopping with others will increase the number of unplanned purchases you make, whether that’s desserts, extra snacks, or weird produce they want you to try on a dare.
13. Buy What’s in Season
Produce that’s out of season can be unreasonably expensive, so you might not want to buy strawberries year-round. Instead, check out the USDA’s website to see when your favorite produce buys are in season.
14. Freeze Anything and Everything
Yogurt, bread, vegetables, tomato sauce, you name it—almost everything lasts longer when you throw it in the freezer. Freezing leftovers from meals works great, too. Put some individual servings in the freezer to eat when you have to cram instead of cook.
15. Be Alert at the Cash Register
Make sure all the sale items you purchase are sold to you at the correct price. Be attentive when you’re checking out, and don’t be embarrassed to ask questions. After all, everyone knows college students work with slim budgets. If a can of beans or a bag of frozen chicken rings up incorrectly, simply ask the cashier to double check the price.
16. Avoid Perishable Bulk Item Deals
While some deals might seem really tempting, it’s not worth it for a college student with limited space and money to buy four gallons of milk, 10 pineapples, or seven cucumbers just to get a cheaper price per unit. The food will definitely go bad before you use it up, and then you didn’t really save money at all. If you want to buy in bulk, opt for nonperishable items like oats or rice.
If you’ve used all these steps and are still worried about your food budget each month, a credit card—used responsibly—could be the answer. Many cards offer rewards for groceries, which could help you earn a bit of cash back on purchases you’d make anyway. Read our guide on Credit Cards for Students, and don’t forget to check your credit report for free at Credit.com before applying.
If saving money was easy, everyone would be doing it. Unfortunately, the excuses for not are easy to stack — what with mortgage or rent, utilities, kids, student loans, pets, food and just the slightest social life, it can seem like there isn’t a penny to spare.
The trick to saving more is to make it simple, make it automatic and make it something you never have to think about. Still not convinced you can hack it? Check out some of these easy ways to save more every month and you might be surprised how much your bank account grows.
1. Sign Up For an Account That Automatically Saves For You
Many banks make it easy for customers to save these days by doing it for them automatically. For example, enroll in Bank of America’s Keep the Change program and for every purchase you make using a Bank of America debit card, the bank will automatically round your purchase to the nearest dollar and transfer the difference from your checking account to your savings. How easy is that? Check with your own bank to see if they offer a similar program.
2. Automate Your Savings Yourself
If you’re more of a “do-it-yourself” kind of person, automate your savings yourself by signing up for a monthly transfer directly from your checking into your savings account. You’ll know the transfer is coming every month, which will make you feel good, but you won’t have to go in and physically make the transfer yourself, which will feel even better. If you can, try setting up multiple savings accounts for your different goals (i.e. house, travel, emergency, etc.). By purposefully diverting your hard-earned money into specific buckets, you’ll feel more like you’re working toward an actual goal, rather than just generally saving for a rainy day.
3. Use a Financial App to Track Your Progress
If you find that it’s hard for you to save because you aren’t seeing your progress at any given time unless you log into multiple accounts, there’s an app for that. Download a budgeting app and you can connect all of your banking in one area for ease of use. Don’t feel comfortable with an app? Your bank may offer something similar on their website. Now every time you make a purchase, put money into savings or take cash out of the ATM, you’ll be able to see exactly how your money moves have affected your current savings, goals and budget.
4. Make the Most of Your Credit Cards
If your current credit card isn’t garnering you some type of rewards, it may be time to make a switch. These days, credit cards offer such great incentives through rewards programs, so unless you’re prone to carry a balance on your card from month to month (rewards cards can come with higher annual percentage rates, which can cut into any rewards you earn), you could be missing out on some serious savings. If it’s pure cash that you’re interested in, check out Credit.com’s guide to finding the right cash-back rewards credit card.
5. Learn to Haggle
Remember, cars aren’t the only things you can haggle over. Check with your internet and cable provider and call your cell phone company to see if the price you currently pay is the best they can do. Ask for discounts on items in the grocery or retail stores, too. Take the difference between what you would have been paying and the final price you end up with and stock it away in savings.
6. Avoid Paying ATM Fees
You might think ATM fees aren’t worth worrying about, but those quick trips to the ATM can really add up. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to avoid paying ATM fees.
Remember, you’ll save money on everything from your mortgage and auto loan to credit card interest if your credit scores are good. If you don’t know where yours stand, you can find out by taking a look at your free credit report summary.
Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.
Last summer, the New York Times ran a piece about families who can’t afford summer camp or other programs for their kids. It highlights a problem for many working parents: Summertime care for kids is expensive.
This is especially true if your kids are in public school during the year. You suddenly go from paying nothing to have your kids cared for all day to paying a whole lot of money. Many parents may not have much choice but to find summertime childcare.
If this is the boat you’re in, here are a few ways to find a summer camp for your kid and options that may make it more affordable.
1. Check Online for Summer Camp Options
These days most states and major metropolitan areas have parent blogs or magazines devoted to the local area. In my local Indianapolis, for instance, we have Indy’s Child magazine and IndywithKids.com. Both feature a listing of local summer camp options.
Chances are you can find something similar for your area. If you can’t, there are national resources, too. The American Camp Association has a database for finding day and overnight camps in your area. It leans towards ACA accredited camps, though it will list some not accredited. When I ran it for our area, it turned up some but not all the options I know are available. Still, it could be a place to begin your search for a summer camp.
2. Choose a Less Expensive ‘Base Camp’ Option
One thing that makes summer camp expensive is the specialized options. I’ve seen sports camp, Lego camp, technology camp, horse camp and more. If your kid goes to these specialty camps for the summer, you’ll undoubtedly spend more money.
However, many local YMCAs, schools, daycares, churches and city parks programs offer more traditional summer camps. Our daughter’s daycare, for instance, offers a school-aged summer camp program where they hang out at the daycare for much of the day, but also take trips to local parks, libraries, and pools. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s safe, fun, affordable childcare.
If you can find an option like this, build your summer around it. Then you can splurge on a week or two of more expensive specialty camps for your kid.
Where do you find these less expensive options? Check out the following:
YMCA: The Y runs summer camps all over the U.S., and sometimes offers a sliding scale fee to make things more affordable. While they offer more expensive specialty camps, most local Y’s also offer traditional day camp options.
Churches and religious centers: Many churches and religious community centers offer summer-long day camp options that are quite affordable.
Schools: Local schools with before- and after-care programs may transition those into affordable summer camps with fun activities for kids.
Parks and recreation: City and county parks and rec departments also run summer camps, and these tend to be more affordable than other options.
Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts: If your child is a scout, look into their summer camp options. These are often overnight options, but they tend to be very affordable.
Local businesses: Sometimes local businesses offer summer camp-like programs that are for mentoring older kids who may want to become entrepreneurs. These camps may be based on an application process, so be on the lookout well ahead of time.
Local colleges: Often local colleges and universities provide camps as a way to get their own students teaching, leadership and coaching experience.
3. Consider a Nanny Camp
Can’t find any affordable summer camp options in your area? Consider putting together a “nanny camp” with friends or neighbors. This is basically a summer-long nanny sharing program.
You’ll hire a nanny to take care of a reasonable number of kids — say four or five — and the nanny can do some summer-camp activities, like going to local parks and pools. This works best if the kids in the nanny camp are around the same age, and if you can provide the nanny with a safe way to get the kids around town.
4. Ask for Assistance
If you can’t afford even the least expensive camp option on your list, ask for financial assistance. Many summer camps offer scholarships for enrollment fees. Sometimes the information about these options isn’t easy to find, so ask about it. Even if you feel like you make too much money to qualify, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
You should also check for discounts. Some camps offer early registration discounts, and others will give you a reduced rate if you pay for the whole season at once. Tons of summer camps also have sibling discount options, which is why it often makes sense to enroll your kids in the same summer camp.
Making summer camp fit into your family’s budget can be tough, especially if you’re not already used to paying for full-time childcare. But there are plenty of excellent, affordable options out there if you just know where and how to look.