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Budget

Mini Series Part 1_ How to Tackle Your Student Loans
Student Loans

Mini Series Part 1: How to Tackle Your Student Loans

In this four part mini series you will find all the tips to tackle your student loans regardless of where you are in the process. Student loans affect almost everyone now, which is a very sad reality. From the time a person graduates high school, it’s usually an issue in their life. So, I’m starting this mini series with tips for before you go to college and ending it with tips for after you graduate and have entered repayment.

Mini Series Part 2: While You’re in School

Mini Series Part 1_ How to Tackle Your Student Loans
Before I went to college, I had no idea I would end up having roughly $200k in student loans 5 years and 2 degrees later. My parents always told me that I would need to take out some loans, but they were going to able to help me with school. Unfortunately, they couldn’t help me with school as much as I thought. I’m not saying I expected my degrees to be paid for by my parents, I never once expected them to give me a dime, until they told me they would. Here are a few things I wish I had known and done before I began my higher education and student loan journey.

1. Know your financial situation completely

This is the biggest one for me. I did not fully know my parents financial situation and didn’t ask for details about what it meant for them to help with school. Unfortunately, I did not get much financial aid because the FAFSA is filed based on your parents income and finances, not mine. This is why it is so important to understand how your education will be paid for. Don’t do what I did and not ask questions. Be specific with your parents about how this is getting paid for. This is a HUGE financial decision and since it’s all based on your parents finances (usually), it’s important to understand how it will be paid for.

2. Seek out advice on filling out the FAFSA

Usually your high school has someone to talk to about filling out the form, but it is best to talk to an expert on how to fill the form out. It’s a pretty straight forward form, but there’s some things they don’t need to know and other things they absolutely need to know. My best advice is to seek out an expert on what the form absolutely needs to have on it because it determines how much financial aid you are going to get. Unfortunately, my mom took responsibility for all of this for me, which at the time was wonderful for me, I didn’t need to deal with it. But once my sister and I received practically no financial aid, we talked to an expert. He quickly told us we provided a lot of unnecessary information, which made our financial situation look very different from what it actually was.

3. Choose your university wisely

If I could go back to when I was applying to colleges, and knew what I know now, I might not have picked the university I went to. It’s very hard to say that after the amazing program I went through. However, it was incredibly expensive and far from home. I could have gone to a closer university and commuted, saving me a lot of money. Of course, I went to a university that has the #1 program for teaching, so would I have landed a teaching job so quickly after graduation had I not done the program, that’s the tricky part. You will never know what will happen in the future, but my advice to you is to avoid having to go into a ton of debt, like I’m currently in.

4. Apply to every scholarship you can find

I made the mistake of not applying to a lot of scholarships because I thought I had no chance of getting it. What I have learned since then is that some scholarships aren’t given out because no one applied to them. That could have been money for my college education. I learned in grad school that you NEED to tell people your situation in order to get the help you need. In our society people don’t talk about their debt or financial situation, but that’s exactly what you need to do. Once I confided in the grad recruiter that I was drowning in debt, she called the right people and within a week I had an email saying I earned a scholarship. Of course, I had done a lot of work for my school in undergrad and my grad studies at that point, which definitely paid off.

5. Take out the maximum amount of federal loans you can before private

Federal and private loans are very different. Federal loans have some loan forgiveness programs, usually lower interest rates and offer a bunch of options for repayment. Private loans have no forgiveness options usually, limited or no payment options, and usually very high interest rates. Stick with federal loans if you can, you’ll be happy you did when repayment time comes along!

The next part of this mini series will explain some tips for when you’re in school. What are some tips you have for tackling student loans before you start school?

Frugal Date Ideas
Money Management

Frugal Date Ideas

Frugal Date Ideas

As a twenty something it can be a bit challenging to be on a debt free journey because most twenty somethings aren’t doing anything like this. Most are out exploring new cities, traveling the world, and trying out the newest restaurants. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t do these things because I have totally done this by putting it into the budget or cash flowing a frugal vacation. A really tough area in the budget is finding date ideas that aren’t going to break the budget. I know I struggle with this a lot and I feel like I finally have a handle on ways to enjoy date night without completely blowing the budget.

Frugal Date Idea #1 Go For a Hike

I love being outside and I love being active. One of my favorite date ideas is going hiking because it’s free other than gas and it’s great exercise. I always pack a backpack before heading out with snacks and drinks so we aren’t tempted to buy anything.

Frugal Date Idea #2 Movie Night

It’s so much fun to go to the movies, but sooo expensive. I can’t believe how much they charge at the movies now, it’s absolutely mind blowing. But, it is fun watching the new movies. Of course, you won’t get to see movies as soon as they come out, but having a movie night at home can be super enjoyable. Make lots of popcorn, get drinks ready, and enjoy a great movie together. Even better, you can wear pajamas! 🙂

Frugal Date Idea #3 Cook Dinner Together

Of course it’s always enjoyable to go out to eat, but it can very quickly become expensive for just one meal. It’s so much cheaper to cook a meal at home and enjoy it together. This way you can control the cost based on your budget and control the ingredients. This makes it better for your budget and your health.

Frugal Date Idea #4 Go to the Beach

This can get expensive if you don’t prepare properly. But, pack a cooler full of food, snacks, and drinks and that should make it much more affordable. Also, parking can be very expensive, but if you park a little further, it’s usually cheaper and if you invite another couple to come with then you can split parking.

Frugal Date Idea #5 Work Out Together

Yes, this isn’t the most romantic date, but it is so much fun working out together. Whether it’s a run outside or lifting at the gym, it just feels good to be doing something healthy together.

Frugal Date Idea #6 Free Concerts

My town offers free concerts in the park, check out to see if yours does the same. It’s a great way to get out of the house and enjoy some music.

Frugal Date Idea #7 Go For a Picnic

Pack a picnic and head to a park you’ve both never been to. Then you can explore the area afterwards.

Frugal Date Idea #8 Play Board Games

Get a bottle of wine and your favorite board games from your childhood to play together.

It can be fun just thinking of frugal date ideas or ways to have fun without spending a ton. Surprisingly, most activities can be done for a lot less money if you just get creative with how you’re thinking about it. What are some frugal date ideas you have?

5 Tips to Save Money on Gas
Money Management

5 Tips to Save Money on Gas

5 Tips to Save Money on Gas

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The summer months usually mean more driving because of the beautiful weather and usually some time off. Unfortunately, gas companies know this and hike their prices up so kindly. Currently, gas prices continue to climb and I’ve been finding myself going over budget basically every month because it keeps increasing. Because of this, I have been focusing more on ways to save money on gas.

1. Don’t Buy Cheap to Save Money on Gas.

I know. This sounds counter productive. But, I learned the hard way the importance of good gas. I’m all about convenience when it comes to gas. So, I always bought gas from the same two gas stations that I passed on my way to work. It was also nice that the price was low. To me, gas is gas and I had no idea that there actually is a difference in quality. My car was running terribly for the last 4 years and the dealership couldn’t figure it out, they just kept replacing the muffler, 3 times, with the issues still happening. Finally, they realized it was due to bad gas and I needed new fuel injectors. Thankfully, they replaced these for free because they had failed to diagnosis the problem for so many years. Now that I am paying more for quality gas, I am noticing that I am getting better gas mileage and I know my car will run better in general.

2. Slow Down to Save Money on Gas.

This has made my gas go so much further for me. I try to keep my speed under 70 MPH on the highway now (I do live in NJ, so this makes me a snail on the highway lol!). It has allowed me to go from averaging 22 MPG to 28 MPG, obviously this in combined with all my tips, but slowing down on the highway has helped the most!

3. Slowly Accelerate to Save Money on Gas.

Along with tip #2, this has also helped me a lot making my gas go further. Whenever I need to accelerate I always do it slowly to burn less gas. Obviously, when you are accelerating it’s going to burn more gas, but by going slowly it helps in lower the amount.

4. Monitor Your MPG to Save Money on Gas.

My car has this wonderful little feature the tells me my MPG and it helps me so much. Whenever I see the number go down I know I am using more gas and maybe I need to adjust how I am driving. I’m a totally visual person, so having this constant reminder is super helpful. If your car doesn’t have this, you can calculate your own MPG when you have the chance.

5. Use a Rewards Card to Save Money on Gas.

One of the best ways I make gas more affordable is by using a rewards credit card (Find out why I use credit cards throughout my debt free journey here). Of course, the only way that this is beneficial and actually saves you money is if you pay your balance in full each month. If you have had credit card debt in the past, I definitely don’t recommend you opening an account just for rewards. It just isn’t worth it. I personally use the Chase Freedom card, which has rotating categories each quarter. The summer is 5% cash back on gas stations, which means I earn money back with each transaction.

These are the tips I have found to save me the most money on gas. I hope these tips can help you to save money on gas. What are some things you have done to save money on gas?

Tips to Make Your Fourth of July Cost Less
Money Management

Tips to Make Your Fourth of July Cost Less

Tips to Make Your Fourth of July Cost Less

Holidays usually mean spending money, especially a summer holiday like the Fourth of July. Some people take advantage of the time off from work and head out on vacation. Some people have BBQs to celebrate the occasion. Even though money usually gets spent on holidays, it doesn’t mean a lot has to be. I’m definitely not saying staying home and binge Netflix to save money. Come on, I’m a twenty something, I definitely think you should be enjoying the fun holiday, especially since it’s the Fourth of July! Here are some tips I have for you to spend less this Fourth of July while still having fun!

1. Attend or have a BBQ.

BBQs are the best for the budget. The food you have at a BBQ is generally speaking cheap when you buy it in bulk. If you’re having the BBQ have everyone bring something potluck style, and if you’re attending, then you bring something to share. Potlucks of any kind are my fave during this journey because you get to eat lots of yummy food and socialize, but you don’t have the high cost of going out.

2. BYOB.

The fourth tends to be a holiday that include drinking, which obviously can get expensive. When I go to a BBQ I usually bring myself a couple of drinks and that’s it. Yes, I’m the girl bringing loose cans to a party, but I don’t care! I can’t drink much and this way I can stretch that 6 or 12 pack over multiple occasions.

3. Free fireworks.

With a quick google search you can find local, free fireworks in your area. Yes, setting off your own and having sparklers is a lot of fun, but it does cost money. The free fireworks are usually pretty great and much bigger than you can buy.

What are some tips you have to save money on the Fourth of July?

Buying in Bulk
Money Management

Buying in Bulk (Even Though I’m Single)

Buying in Bulk

Throughout this process I have found many ways to cut my spending, which is one of the ways to increase your wealth (or in my case, pay off my student loans). In order to make more money, you need to cut spending, increase your income, or do a combination of the two, which is what I have been doing. I’ve added many different streams of income that have allowed me to now live on my side hustle income and then put some towards my debt on top of my salary. But one of the best ways I have saved money is by buying in bulk, even though it’s just me, myself and I.

Now, this might sound crazy, but it really does save me a decent amount each month by buying the family size or bulk size. The reason this works is because the prices are almost always lower on the bulk and family size of products. To save even more money, you can buy the generic version of the bulk products. So, if you’re only buying for one, you really get a great deal from it, as long as you are smart about the items you buy in bulk.

Obviously there are certain things you just aren’t going to buy in bulk because you just can’t use them fast enough. For me, I never buy my greens in bulk, like spinach. This is because I can never use it before it goes bad. There is nothing worse than throwing out food. I feel like I’m just tossing my money in the garbage every time I have to.

There is a way to get around this and this one thing will be your best friend when buying in bulk, your freezer. I put everything in the freezer, it’s such an incredible way to stretch your grocery budget when buying in bulk. I always bulk buy things that can be put in the freezer and easily thawed. Another thing I like to do is freeze any fruits and veggies before they go bad. I find it so easy to throw some smoothie bags together of foods that are about to go bad. This way the food is saved and I can quickly make a smoothie just by dumping the bag into the blender.

Buying in bulk has allowed me to add extra savings to my grocery budget every single month. The less I spend, the more money I can put to my student loans. Every little bit counts. Do you buy in bulk? How has it helped your grocery budget?

The Most Important Lesson Budgeting Taught Me
Personal

The Most Important Lesson Budgeting Taught Me

The Most Important Lesson Budgeting Taught Me

Recently I’ve been sharing my tricks on how to save more money by making simple fixes in your daily life. It’s incredible how much the little things add up when it comes to your budget. A lot of little changes make a big change in your entire budget. When I first started my journey in 2015, I tried to budget for the first time and cut spending at the same time. This was such a fail I try not to even think about it! I’m glad it happened though because I learned a valuable lesson that I have taken with me in all aspects of my life.

Ever since I can remember I have had a problem with getting an idea and going a thousand miles in that direction. I throw myself into whatever I’m doing and get all of these ideas that I try to put into action. But the problem with that is it’s just too much at once. I have almost always failed when I try this approach. When I tried it with budgeting and taking control of my finances I went into it with everything I had and wanted to make all the changes right away. But that doesn’t change the behaviors, it just puts things down on paper. When I slowed down and made small changes to my budget each month I was so much more successful. Yes, it took longer, but ultimately I was more successful in the end.

I’ve now applied this to all areas of my life and it has made me more successful and much more productive. I no longer have all the ideas and no action. I now have ideas and know how to plan them into action. With my new teaching jobs I have used this to be more successful with my students. I have applied it to this very blog and have found myself putting so much more into action now, rather than just ideas in my head and on paper. I’m getting things done finally and being successful because of my lesson learned through budgeting.

I encourage you to try this strategy in your life, don’t try to tackle the big changes all at once. It can be overwhelming and most likely will only make you quit. Try to break down the big, scary goals and changes into smaller manageable tasks until you have reached the goal. What is the most important lesson you have learned through this process?

Why You Need Sinking Funds
Money Management

Why You Need Sinking Funds

Why You Need Sinking Funds

When I found Dave Ramsey about 3 years ago I was all about it and I loved that there were steps for me to follow. Fast forward a few years and I have definitely tweaked the system to fit my needs, but generally follow them. The scariest part for me was only having a $1,000 emergency fund for baby step #1. I mean, I live in New Jersey, a trip to get an oil change one time ended up costing me $1,000. The first thing I did was bump up my emergency fund to be $2,000, it just makes me feel so much better just in case something were to happen. Eventually I found sinking funds, too. This was actually life changing for my budget and my stress level.

What is a sinking fund?

I had no idea what a sinking fund was when I started this journey. I mean you heard about my car situation and literally blowing my entire emergency fund just on a trip to the mechanic, which never would have happened if I had a sinking fund. A sinking fund is when you set money aside each month for an upcoming expense. This is for things that you know are coming and have time to prepare for. By setting aside small amounts of money each month, the large expense doesn’t hit your budget as hard when the time comes.

How to start a sinking fund

This was tricky for me in the beginning. I knew it would be better for my budget in the long run to put small amounts aside for my upcoming expenses, but it was hard not putting that money to debt. However, the first time I actually used money from a sinking fund, it was a total game changer for me. In order to set up a sinking fund you need to figure out how much you are going to need and when you will need the money. For example, I know I’m going to need new tires and was told probably around the end of summer. I’m over estimating my tires to cost me $600 because I would rather have money left over and just put it towards debt after, then not have enough and scramble trying to find money. I started the sinking fund in February, so I have 7 months to save. I divide the total cost, $600, by the amount of months I have to save, 7 months, and I know I have to set aside $86 each month for my tire sinking fund. $86 is a lot easier than $600 in one month. Or, I save $3,000 for the summer when my income is not set, since I am a 10 month employee. I divide $3,000 over 10 months and put aside $300 each month. By the time summer comes around I have $3,000 in my account to use in case my income is lower than expected. At the end of the summer, I make a loan payment with whatever is left over.

Sinking funds have completely changed my finances because I no longer have to pull from my student loan extra payment when something major comes up. Now, my emergency fund is truly for emergencies and not just for big items that come up, like tires or brakes. How have sinking funds changed your budget?

Switching to Generic Brands
Money Management

Switching to Generic Brands

Switching to Generic Brands

I was always a die hard name brand girl for as long as I could remember. I’m not sure if it was because of my parents, or just I felt like it was what everyone did though. For some reason, if I was grocery shopping or shopping in the pharmacy, I felt like I had to buy the name brands. Then, I started getting my financial life in order and wanted to find all the ways to lower my monthly expenses. That’s when I realized how easily I could save money just by switching to the generic or store brands. So, I quickly made the switch and realized my life continued on as normal.

Saving Money with Generic Brands

If you are like me, I never used generic brands. I’m not sure why, but I always thought the quality wasn’t as good as the name brand products. I was completely mistaken though. I have pretty sensitive skin and I assumed the generic would cause my skin to get irritated, but that wasn’t the case. The generic brands are exactly like the name brands, but so much cheaper. Of course, for some people, it’s not going to work. But that comes with anything, even name brands. I also have found that I can get a lot better deals on the store name brands. I’m constantly finding buy one get one free on the generic and store brands, totally worth it!!

More Coupons on Generic Brands

I was very surprised to find that a lot of stores offer extra coupons when you buy their brand products. I don’t know why I found this surprising, the store is making more money by offering you that coupon! For example, I shop at Wegmans and they regularly offer a coupon for any Wegmans Organic purchase. I’m going to buy my organic groceries regardless, by buying the store brand it is usually cheaper and now I get to add an additional coupon. The savings are wonderful just by sticking to generic brands instead of the name brands.

Like I have recently been sharing, I’m all about finding ways to save money within my different areas of my budget. I tried tackling my entire budget in the beginning and totally failed. Once I started focusing on single categories, I was so much more successful. One way I have saved money in my grocery and toiletries budget is by switching to generic brands and this didn’t require any change to my life style. Have you switched to generic brands? Did you notice any difference?

Why You Need to Meal Prep
Money Management

Why You Need to Meal Prep

Why You Need to Meal Prep

Trying to tackle buying food can be quite the task. I’m just buying for my self and I find it challenging at times, so I can’t imagine what it is like for a family. When I started my debt free journey, my grocery spending was out of control, price wise and being just total junk. It was bad and I definitely needed to make over my entire grocery budget and what I bought. I decided to switch to organic and knew that it would increase my budget (but lower other budget categories, find out more here), so I had to find ways to save money in other ways. That’s when I found the wonderful world of meal prep and here’s why you need to also meal prep.

#1 Healthier

There is no doubt that when you meal prep you will eat healthier. Whenever I get home from a long day of work and side hustles, the absolute last thing I want to do is cook a meal. Before meal prepping, I’d end up eating whatever took the least amount of work to make, which usually meant junk. Once I had meals prepped, I’d just have to pop it in the microwave or oven and I was eating a well balanced, healthy meal with minimal work.

#2 Lower Grocery Budget

Of course, you’re going to save money if you meal prep in your grocery budget. I wrote a whole post just on lowering your grocery budget, but it is obvious that you would with meal prepping. When you meal prep, you no longer wander aimlessly around the store, but shop with a list of items you need for the meals you are going to prep. I personally go to Wegmans and through their app I can make my list, which also tells me where to find the item and organizes it in the order it is found in the store. This has seriously saved my budget because I go directly to those sections and don’t wander the store looking for what aisle everything is found in.

#3 Eat Out Less

This was huge for me because if I wasn’t throwing together some junk food for dinner, I was definitely stopping on my way home, or getting delivery. When you have all of your meals prepped at home, you’re going to eat them because you don’t want them to go bad. Once again, you’re going to save money by not eating out or ordering food by meal prepping.

#4 Save Time

Not only will you save money by meal prepping, but you will save so much time throughout the week. Of course, you’re going to need to spend some time making your meals, my day is Sunday. But when you’re making large amounts of meals it saves time then cooking each night. For example, I will cook a bunch of tofu that will last me a few nights on Sunday instead of cooking a small amount each night. I save time throughout the week by spending time cooking on Sundays.

When I learned about meal prepping and how to meal prep, it completely changed my life. I know this sounds a bit dramatic, but I was able to get a handle on my health, my money, and my time. It really is a wonderful way to help with a crazy schedule, get healthy, and save some serious cash. Do you meal prep? What is your opinion of meal prepping?

Homemade Cold Brew Coffee
DIY, Money Management

Homemade Cold Brew Coffee

Homemade Cold Brew Coffee

I strongly believe in focusing on one part of your budget at a time when you’re trying to cut expenses. When I first started this debt free journey, I tried to cut from my entire budget. Boy was this a total fail. I got too overwhelmed and felt deprived, so I would splurge on items not in my budget. It was terrible. Then, I started trimming smaller sections of my budget and was so much more successful. One area I needed to drastically cut was my spending on coffee. I was definitely that person that would stop at Starbucks or Dunkin’ on my way to work before I started paying off my debt. My first way to save money was to simply use the Keurig my parents had, which saved money, but I knew there were ways to do this even cheaper. That’s when I stumbled upon cold brew coffee and let me tell you, this has been life changing for me.

The first thing you will need to do is get a quality coffee blend, I recommend getting a flavored one, I find it tastes a lot better in the cold brew. I get an $8.00 organic one from Wegmans, I know I can save even more if I went for a cheaper one, but I buy organic due to food sensitivities. I’m able to get about 30 cups of coffee from this one bag, which is about 6 weeks for me. This amounts to about $0.26 per cup, which is huge savings compared to my old habits.

Once you have the coffee ground, combine 1 cup of coffee grounds with about 3 cups of water. I tend to just fill the rest of my mason jar with water and call it a day. Once it is combined, stir it with a wooden spoon until it is mixed and put the lid on. Let the jar sit on the counter for 12 hours.

After 12 hours you need to separate the coffee grounds from the coffee. I do this by placing a coffee filter in a funnel and then place that over a glass. There are many ways to do this, this is just how I do it. Once the coffee is strained, I put the coffee in a clean mason jar, this is your coffee concentrate. I keep this in the fridge during the work week taking from the concentrate each morning.

To make my cold brew coffee each morning, I take half a cup of the concentrate and half a cup of water and combine it with ice, almond milk and a bit of no sugar caramel sweetener. I stir it all together and enjoy! I have found this to be a great way to save money in my budget and a huge time saver for this teacher as I’m flying out the door! How do you save money on coffee?