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This, too, shall pass

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I know I keep talking about how “busy-busy-busy” or “go-go-go” I am all the time now.

I love my job(s) and I’m very thankful for it them, but the schedule can also be a bit overwhelming sometimes.

The end-of-semester craziness has been kicking my butt and I’ve been looking forward to summer. Just hold on a couple more weeks…a couple more weeks and everything will calm down. That’s been my mantra.

And then I realized…it won’t.

At my part-time job, summer is pretty crazy. It’s great pay (because it’s the same amount of pay, but I’m paid in 2 separate chunks – one check in June and one in July – as opposed to having it spread across 4 months. So it essentially “feels” like double the pay). But it’s also a TON of work to do the same amount of teaching/grading/etc in a shortened schedule.

I’ve also reported how I managed to get my full-time job to extend my contract so I’ll now get paid all summer from the full-time job, too. That’s fantastic news on the financial front (the equivalent of a 33% raise compared to my current salary)…but I don’t get paid to just sit around watching TV. I get paid to WORK! So that means all summer long I’ll be doing just that…working my tail off. At two different jobs. And then fall will be here, and spring, and summer. Wash, rinse, repeat (side note:  I haven’t turned in notice or anything, but I’ve basically decided in my own mind that next summer – summer 2017 – will be my last semester working for the part-time job. The logic was that I want to work there the full calendar year of 2016, but then I won’t want to quit mid academic-year, so I’d wait until the 2016-2017 year is over, which ends summer 2017).

On a surface level, its a bit overwhelming. The cruise was fantastic for a short-lived stint of relaxation. But I’m also longing for summer time and the long days and carefree nature it usually has associated with it for many of us in academia.

But when I find myself stressing out over the lack of time and amount of work to get done, I just stop and take deep breaths. I focus on the moment, write up a To Do list (this is strangely therapeutic for me), and start knocking out line item by line item.

This semester has tested me. It’s pushed me to my limits and I joke that it’s caused me chronic pain (I now regularly suffer from tension headaches. It sucks.). But I’ve consciously made all of these decisions with my debt in mind. I’ve taken on extra work, have two jobs, etc. because I WANT TO GET OUT OF DEBT!!!! This isn’t just for fun. It’s serving a greater purpose.

One of my 2016 goals is to pay $30,000 toward debt this year. But what if I do more? What if I actually kick off $35,000 in debt?

Then next year, when we aren’t saving for a down payment toward a house, what if we get up to $40,000 or $45,000 on debt payments?

We may only be a couple years from being fully debt-free!!! I know once the debt number gets smaller it’s just going to fly by.

We’ll get there. Probably sooner than I even think. It will happen.

So, in the meantime, please excuse my occasional whining about how busy/chaotic/crazy my life is. This, too, shall pass. And when it does, we’ll be that much closer to financial freedom!

For those who are currently debt-free, how long was your journey? How long did it take? For those still on the path, what’s your projected timeline like?


More Online Savings

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Between working 2 jobs, having a family, and basically another part-time job tending to my Dad’s matters, “spare time” has been basically non-existent lately. I feel like I’m lucky, too, because I have such a supportive spouse/partner. I seriously don’t know how single parents or parents with traveling spouses (or military/deployed spouses) do it! I seriously don’t. Props to any and all of you reading here!

Anyway, due to the extreme lack of time I’ve found myself turning more and more toward online shopping. I’ve already posted about my new favorite app where I’ve been scoring cute clothes for cheap (though, warning: it’s totally addictive! It’s been okay for now because I’d already intended/budgeted for buying some new clothes before Cruise 2016, but after the cruise I may need to delete the app for awhile! It’s just too easy to shop!).

Today I’ve got another favorite online tool that has been helping me save money:  Paribus (<refer-a-friend link. If you sign up from my link we both get an extra 5% savings).

If you’re unfamiliar, Paribus is a little widget thing you install on your computer. It tracks your internet shopping (by recording e-receipts you receive from merchants for online transactions) and if you happen to purchase something that goes on sale later, they will contact the company on your behalf in order to get you a refund of the overage.

Paribus doesn’t support all merchants world-wide (I believe they’re U.S.-only right now), but they do support several big ones. I’ve received refunds from Target and Amazon for purchases I’ve made for items that have later been reduced.

My favorite part is that, after the initial set-up, it requires absolutely nothing on my part. I literally forget it even exists until I get an email from them saying that I’m getting some money back! I experienced this recently when I bought a glass canister set from Target for $24.99 as a gift (Target is my favorite for gift purchases since shipping is free and I get 5% off using my Target card). The canister set went on sale and I ended up getting back $2.34 automatically to my Target card. They contact the retailer and get them to refund you the difference through whatever means you paid (it’s online shopping, so I’m assuming this is mostly debit or credit). Getting the email about it made me think that I needed to share it because it really does work!

So how does Paribus make money as a company? Simple. Paribus takes a 25% cut from whatever your savings are on any given item. So, yeah, they take it from the customer. If something were to go on sale at a store and you take it in directly, along with receipt, you could get the price adjusted and not have to essentially pay a “commission” to anyone. You’d get the full amount back. But, to me, a 25% commission is well worth it given that, otherwise, I would likely never take the item back to get a price adjustment done. I’m just speaking for myself. But I know I’m terrible with returns. I’m sure as heck not spending precious time scouring the internet for possible sales and then taking the item (along with receipt) to the store for a price adjustment. It just wouldn’t happen. First, I’d probably never even know about the sale. Second, I just simply lack the time over a couple bucks here and there. But if Paribus wants to come in and handle all the heavy lifting for me and just give me back 75% of the savings, then I’m happy with that! Feels like “free money” to me (I know it’s not really “free” but that’s how it feels).

There you’ve got it. I give Paribus 2 thumbs up. If you use it, tell me what you think! If you’re thinking about trying it, use my referral link so you and I each save an extra 5% on the “commission” fees (ps: “commission” is my term, not theres. They call it a “success” fee. 🙂 )

 


Saving Money on Electricity

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Remember a couple months ago when we had an outrageous electric bill ($283 to be exact)? It was literally the highest it’s ever been. I was super worried, especially considering the bill was from a pretty temperate month. If it was that high in the Spring….what’s it going to look like in the blistering dessert heat of summer? *gulp*

If you remember, I took immediate action to try to lower our bill. Things like not running so many loads of laundry (taking effort to fill every load to the max so we weren’t running through half-loads of laundry), not flipping the AC on and off, and being more conscious, in general, about our electricity consumption.

On that original post, a couple of commenters suggested reaching out to my electric company to see if I could get a discount for using electricity during “off times” of the day. I did a little research and….no luck in my area. But I did find an awesome company that I wish we had where I live! I wanted to tell you about it in case anyone lives within the area.

The company is called OhmConnect. Get this – OhmConnect pays YOU for saving energy. Saving money & energy? It’s a win-win!

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Here’s how it works:  once a week you receive a text message that tells you to turn down your electricity consumption (during a time of high electricity usage in the area). If you are able to save electricity during that time, then OhmConnect will pay you money! It’s not a lot (an average of $100-$300/year), but every little bit helps, right!? And they have a really cool feature that allows you to donate your savings to local area schools if you prefer.

OhmConnect is not an actual utility-provider. It’s a third-party company. So you might be wondering how they make money if you don’t pay them (you pay your utility company), yet somehow they pay you. Skip this part if you aren’t into the logistics, but I think it’s pretty cool. The idea is that energy consumption data is projected based off of past usage. The goal is to have just enough power for the energy that everyone needs. But sometimes the projections are off and there’s not enough energy being generated by the existing power plants. At this point, smaller plants called “peaker plants” get booted on to make up the deficit. Turning on these satellite plants is expensive – it increases the wholesale cost of energy from $40-$1,000/mwh. Also, the peaker plants tend to be less energy-efficient, emitting 2-3 times the C02 emissions as the “normal” power plants (see here for more details).

It’s actually cheaper for utility companies to pay an outside company (like OhmConnect) to prevent the satellite power plants from turning on. It saves them money and using OhmConnect can save consumers money!

Here’s the bad news…OhmConnect is only available in California right now. But, due to recent legislation upholding a decision called “FERC Order 745”, it is likely that similar programs will expand out across the United States in the coming years. I’m just a hop, skip, and a jump from California so fingers crossed it bleeds across the border soon! I’d love to be able to save a few bucks just by saving energy (and helping the environment at the same time! Boom!)

Do you have similar energy-savings programs where you live?

California readers – let me know if you or someone you know uses OhmConnect! I’d love to hear about user experiences and real life savings!

This post was sponsored by OhmConnect. Even though I did receive a small compensation for sharing my thoughts about their company, all opinions are entirely my own. Thanks for the support!


Budget’s Busted!

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We’re nearing the end of the semester at my university and this time of year is notoriously crazy. Fortunately, I’m seeing a light at the end of the tunnel (and the cruise! Can’t wait!!!). But the past 4 weeks have been insane. It hasn’t helped that I haven’t had weekends to catch up on things, either! Last weekend I had a 2-day workshop that I hosted and ran (= TONS of work, not to mention the whole weekend was taken). The weekend before, hubs was out of town the entire weekend for a conference (= quality mommy-daughter time, but impossible to catch up on other household or work tasks because there’s no “time off”). So it’s felt like the past 3 weeks were just one continuous week with no end in sight. I’m really looking forward to this weekend.

But there’s one thing…

I’ve let time get away from me. The first time I sat down to reconcile the budget this month wasn’t until just a couple days ago (usually I enter purchases pretty immediately). I sat down and typed in all the numbers and discovered that we’d already blown our entire restaurant budget for the month…only 1/3 of the way through the month.

It’s kind of ironic coming on the tail of last month, where I’d finally tamed our food budget and was talking about what an impact meal planning and food prep had been making. This month has included far too many nights where I’ve had to unexpectedly work late, resulting in a quick run to a sandwich shop or chick-fil-a on my way home so the kids could eat immediately and not wait for food to be cooked. We’ve also been dealing with more illness (this entire semester has been back-to-back sickness! It’s been tough!). There was a solid week straight that was affected as first one child had a stomach virus, then me, then hubs, then other child. While hubs and I were sick (and our bugs overlapped. Ugh!), it was impossible to cook food for the kids, but they still needed to be fed. Take-out pizza to the rescue! I think you’re seeing the general trend.

Realizing what’s happened, I’m going to buckle down and try to have no more eating out for the rest of the month. That being said, we luck out a little since our cruise is on the horizon. Any “eating out” at that time will come from our cruise budget (not our regular eating out budget). However, my mother-in-law is coming out to help travel with the kids. While she’s here we’ve always treated her to at least one meal out at a local restaurant, so I know there’s going to be at least one more eating out expense.

It’s tough. There are giant peaks and valleys in academia. During summer, things are pretty tame. But right now I’m getting my butt whipped and just barely treading water as I keep battling illness, trying to plan for a vacation, etc. I’ll be honest. Early in our debt-reduction mission I might face this type of challenge with gumption and determination. Right now though…..when I added all the numbers and saw we’d blown the budget….I just felt defeated. Like it’s not even possible to go the rest of the month without any more eating out.

I really am going to try my hardest, but just wanted to be honest about my feelings. Don’t know whether the difference can be attributed to just the craziness of this time of year with work, or whether its a more general issue of being so entrenched in debt-reduction. It’s no longer this shiny new thing that I’m just beginning. I’m still just as dedicated to get out of debt, but I now feel like I’m dead in the middle of an ultra-marathon. I’ve come so far, but still have so far left to go and digging deep to find the energy to continue isn’t always easy.

I’ll just keep pressing forward.

How do you handle disappointment when you realize you’ve blown your budget? How do you continue with resolve rather than simply blowing off the rest of the month? What do you do to keep your spirits high?


A Different Perspective

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I posted several weeks ago about my Glamping Budget expectations, but I have been putting some thought into it think I want to change my perspective.  Before you jump down my throat, hear me out.

I wrote the budget anticipating income from two part time jobs, a small amount from child support and adoption assistance for the twins.  But two things, one of my part time jobs has thusfar been unreliable in producing hours (like 3 weeks with no hours) and two part of this move is to let me get on my feet, build a consulting business and save for the future.

So, since our overhead is going to be SUPER low, I have been thinking that I should budget my percentage rather than by actual number.  Ok, I don’t actually have a plan yet, but what are your thoughts.

It would look something like this I suppose and as any income came in it would be divided up based on these percentages.

Saving – 35%

Debt – 35%

Living – 20%

Giving – 10%

A little more of my thoughts on this:

Saving – when our Glamping time is over, I have to have a substantial amount of money to get us into something new, whatever and wherever that may be, having this savings is very important.

Debt – obviously need to pay off debt, big time!  So don’t want to slow down on that, but this would balance paying on debt with saving, and using percentages would leave no question of what to do on months I earn more, which I hope will come soon.

Living – In an ideal world, I think you are supposed to be able to live on 30-40% of your income, right?  Because our rent/utilities are going to be covered for the time being, I think we can live on significantly less, in fact, I’m wondering if we could live on less than 20%, but this seems safe for now.

Giving – I know many would say don’t give in the situation you are in, but frankly, we have been given so, so much that I cannot, cannot NOT give, so this is staying.

So with my regular income the last few months being right around $2,000 per month that would break down as:

Saving – $700

Debt – $700

Living – $400

Giving – $200

Breaking things down this way, really tell me I have got to get more work!  But aside from that, what are your thoughts on budgeting by percentage rather than by actual number? 

 


Ashley’s March 2016 Budget Update

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Hey guys! Only a week behind with March’s budget update. Trust me, one week behind isn’t too bad for me right now. heh. Work is a bit in overdrive, but I love it. I’m gearing up, getting ready to be out of town for a solid 8 day cruise and working like a crazy person to try to get everything set just right to run on auto-pilot (fingers crossed) while I’m gone.

Here’s how the month of March went for me:

 

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1200
Down Payment Savings 2000
Electricity 176
Water 61
Natural gas 105
Cell Phones (2 lines) 89
Cable/Internet 97
Trash 35
Preschool 1085
Gift-Giving 189
Restaurants 157
Entertainment 102
Kids Activities 142
Groceries 573
Gasoline 108
Household Goods 144
Clothing 157
Rainy Day Savings 1580 (minus deductions, see below)
Savings Goals 800 (minus deductions, see below)
Debt Payments 2134
Total Budgeted $10,934

 

Comments:

Down Payment Savings ($2000): This is right on track.” The goal is to get to $10,000 by summer time. I’ve had a couple questions about the house-hunting journey. We have NOT started “hunting” yet (though we’ve been doing searches on Zillow just-for-fun and grabbing flyers from homes that are for sale just for comparison). With everything going on, we decided to wait until after the cruise to start hiring people (e.g., realtor, mortgage lender). Our goal is to move late summer or possibly early fall. Our current lease is up at the end of August but our landlord will let us go month-to-month at our current rate (no increase) if we haven’t closed yet by that time. The ideal situation would be to close in late August so there’s just a little overlap of about a week or so. But I know these things can be so unpredictable and we’re lucky to have flexibility with our current landlord. We do NOT, however, want to move much earlier than August (since we’d then be paying double rent/mortgage). So we are not actively on the house-hunt yet. 

Electricity ($176): Remember our outrageous electric bill from February? Fortunately, we only got caught by surprise that one month. Since then, the A/C and heater have both been turned OFF. There have been some hot days (and some cold nights), but it’s been within a range that we as a family could deal with (nothing too extreme). It’s been in the mid-90*s a couple times this week already, so we’ll see how long we can go without any A/C. I already got the bill for April and it’s UNDER $100!!! I’m loving the lower electric bills right now but, like I said…we’ll see how long this lasts (Tucson’s summers are brutal!) The A/C will have to go on at some point.

Gift-Giving ($189): Similar to last month, almost all of this was a charitable donation I made so we could max out Arizona’s tax credit. $25 was for a wedding gift, which was the only non-donation portion of the gift-giving.

Entertainment ($102): A few bucks of this was for music on itunes. The rest was from a date night. As promised, hubs and I are planning to do about one date per month this year (in the past 2 years we rarely ever had date nights). So expect this category to be a bit higher this year in compared to previous years.

Kids’ Activities ($142): This was a high-spending month for kids’ activities. The bulk of this was from our weekly swim lessons (April is the last month for our lessons; we may re-start once it’s summer time, but the initial point of the swim was to get the kids comfortable around water before our cruise. They’ve been making great strides with safety and although they aren’t fully able to swim, of course, they have learned all kinds of life-saving measures if they were to fall in. Safety was my main concern). $40 of this was from horseback riding lessons and farm time that we did while the girls were on Spring Break. The person who does it is a friend-of-a-friend. She is the Benson Butterfield Rodeo Queen. She lives on a nearby farm and lets kids come out and experience “farm time” (basically feeding and petting/playing with all the animals) for $15/hour and horseback riding lessons for $20/hour. I split the lesson so each child had 30 minutes of instruction and tipped an extra $5 just because she was extremely accommodating. Still kind of spendy for us, but it was a ton of fun and was a great way to spend a couple hours during Spring Break week.

Groceries ($573):  After months and months of struggling to keep this number below $600, we finally pulled it off this month. I think it helped that I had increased flexibility over Spring Break (so I was at the house, able to do more food prep, etc.). I’ve also been making a really conscious effort to prep foods on Sunday for the week to come. I’ve gone so far as to portion out daily portions of fruits and snacks; I’ve pre-cooked chicken breasts for lunches; I’ve pre-washed, peeled and chopped up carrots into sticks for snacks; I’ve pre-made breakfasts (e.g., like making a big batch of pancakes that can be refrigerated/frozen and re-heated in a toaster), etc. etc. etc.  It’s tedious and time consuming and not always the way I want to spend my Sunday afternoons (I typically do everything while the girls nap), but it’s made my life MUCH easier during the week when I do my prep versus when I don’t.

Household Goods ($144): This category is pretty high this month because I spent $100 on stuff for my office. I bought a 5 x 7 rug, a big wall clock, and a painting (all from Big Lots).  I started this job last July, but it just now looks like I’ve actually moved into my office space. It’s really nice, especially since I spend a lot of time there.

Clothing ($157): This is a bit higher than normal for us. A good chunk of it was new shoes for the girls. Kids feet just grow so fast, I tell ya! But we’ve gone the cheap shoe route and they tend to fall apart, so we opt for slightly nicer tennis shoes. This also includes a couple of new work shirts from me from Wish (see my review here) and new summer PJs for the girls since they’ve gotten hot and sweaty a couple of times at night in their long-sleeved jammies (still using no A/C, remember?) ; )

Rainy Day Savings ($1580): I deposited $1580 into my various rainy day funds (though some money was also withdrawn from these accounts.) See below:

  • 3-6 Month EF: $1,000 (goal is to get to $5,000).
  • Birthdays: $200. The girls’ birthday is on the horizon in June. To date, we’ve never had an actual birthday party for them, but we want to this year for the first time. It will still be simple (at our house, not another venue), but we’re going to start throwing a couple hundred a month toward this savings category so we don’t get caught by surprise in June.
  • Travel/Christmas $50. We like to save at least $50/month in this category, as finances allow (sometimes we skip it if needed).
  • Annual Fees: $280 deposited (though I withdrew $484 for a vehicle emissions inspection and registration for 2 years. That leaves us with $150 still in the account currently)
  • Girls’ College Savings: $50. This is a standard auto-payment that we do every month. $25/month per child isn’t a lot, but it’s better than nothing and that’s what we’re comfortable doing right now while we’re still financially focused on getting out of debt (and buying a house!!!)

Savings Goals ($800): $800 was deposited but there were also withdrawals. See below:

  • Savings for 2015 Roth IRA: $300 deposited. Another note about this is listed below.
  • Cruise 2016: $500. I also withdrew $35 from my cruise fund to buy some new clothes for the trip.

Debt:  I gave a full debt update here.

Final Thoughts:

We ended up putting more toward debt this month than we’d originally thought we would because the balance transfer really needed to be paid off before April (and we did manage to make that happen). It all worked out, though, because we still hit our goal of $2,000 toward the house down payment fund, and we still started hitting several of our other savings goals. We’ll continue to beef up our emergency fund, specifically, in addition to our other “rainy day savings” funds in the months to come.

Related to savings, I didn’t report the “withdrawal” above because it technically occurred in early April, but I took $1500 out of the “savings for 2015 Roth IRA” and put it into our Roth account (last year was the first year we opened a Roth, with a meager $1300 contribution). Our contribution this year wasn’t great either, but it’s better than nothing and 10% of my paycheck is auto-deducted and invested into a 401(k), so this is actually a little deceiving because we certainly saved more than just $1500 this year.

So there you have it. The big goal remains the same: Save up money for a downpayment for a house, beef up our emergency fund, and continue knocking those student loans in the face. It’s more like little jabs right now while we’re saving so much. But soon it will be full-blown punches! I’m coming for you, student loans! Mwhahaha (<evil debt-paying laugh).


Make a Wish

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Hi all! Happy Monday!

Sorry I’ve been a bit quiet over here lately. Last week was a tough one. The girls missed two days of preschool due to illness (the frequency of illness this Spring has been crazy!), then I got sick, throw in some Dad-related drama and by Sunday night I was just barely keeping it together. I’ve written a whole post in my head about Easter and now here we are 2 weeks later, my phone seems to have swallowed our pictures (not really, I can see them on the phone…but they will NOT send when I’ve tried to email them to myself and I’m having some upload error when I’ve tried to manually plug-in to my computer.) So…I’m giving up on it at this point. You have to know when to pick your battles, right? ; )  Cliff’s Note version of the post:  I hoarded saved free stuff we got from our neighborhood & church Easter egg hunts. On actual Easter I didn’t have to buy a single thing. I re-used eggs, re-distributed candy (they don’t need much anyway), and filled in some empty eggs with pennies. We had 60+ eggs total and baskets were overflowing. We did dye easter eggs (using food coloring – no store-purchased dying set), but the extra dozen eggs were literally the only thing I had to buy! The grandparents both sent little Easter packages so the girls did get some new stuff (stuffed bunnies, sunglasses, a couple outfits), but hubs and I spent zero out-of-pocket and we still had a fabulous Easter! It can be done frugally, folks!

Moving on….(and, sorry there was no photo to accompany that. Like I said, I have to give up and move on at this point)….

Has anyone ever heard of the app, Wish?

It’s an app you can download and shop for cheap stuff on your phone. All of the items are coming from overseas (I believe they’re all Chinese manufacturers). The app essentially gets rid of the middle-man and puts consumers directly in touch with the manufacturers. Because of this, you can get stuff for pennies compared to store-bought stuff. According to this article, this is the first ever site that was designed specifically for people to shop through the app. No need to use a bulky computer or go to a phyiscal store. The shopping process really couldn’t be easier.

I’ve actually been using Wish for a few weeks to buy random things here and there for our cruise. Check out these adorable swimsuits I bought for the girls:

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(don’t ask me why i could get this photo and not the Easter ones. I don’t know)

They do have some down-sides. The big one is that the sizing is pretty consistently off. Everything is a bit smaller than standard American sizes, so I’ve always ordered up a size. The shipping takes awhile, too, up to 2-3 weeks.

But that being said, I’ve been receiving crazy compliments on everything I’ve gotten so far. It’s cute stuff and for CHEAP!

I hesitated to even share anything about this app with you guys. The main thing is that I was worried it was totally exploiting children labor and I didn’t want to contribute to that or suggest anyone else do so either. But my understanding from doing a bit of research is that the Wish app vets out the different manufacturers and will drop people who do not conform to the app standards. Admittedly, I don’t know that this is 100%, as I’ve seen some knock-off Polo or other name-brand items and I can’t be sure what’s going on at the manufacturing-level. But the app represents these places as the same types of places who sell to American stores already. The only difference is you don’t have to pay the mark-up because you get the item directly from them. So that puts my mind a little bit more at ease.

I want to be 100% up front that this post is not sponsored, nor have I received any type of compensation for this post. Actually, they have no idea that I even blog here. I’m just passing it along because I’ve been so impressed with the app. If you have the time to spare and are okay with ordering things without trying them on (and, read the reviews! They’ll help guide your sizing decisions), then this is a great way to save serious money! I think it’s on-par with second-hand prices, only you’re getting brand new stuff that’s really cute and fashionable.

You’ll see a mention about Wish in my next budget update (coming soon – probably Friday) because I’ve bought some clothes from there that will be appearing in the clothing line-item of my budget.

Let me know what you think if you use Wish.

Are there any other really cheap direct-to-buyer apps I need to know about? 

 


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