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Browsing posts in: Saving Money

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!


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? 

 



Tips for Moving on a Budget

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moving company truck

By Noel Finley

I’ve moved a lot in my life and one thing I learned early on is that moving costs can turn out to be a nasty surprise. It’s unbelievable how many homeowners, including myself, fail to take the cost of moving into account. Then when the bill comes, not only is it a surprise, it’s a struggle to pay it. If you are moving on a budget, here are some of the money saving tips I have learned over the years.

Shop Around

All moving companies weren’t made equal. Shop around and find the best price you can get. There are often huge differences in what a company will charge. Take into account any added extras along the way. These ‘extra services’ can really hit your wallet.

Provide Your Own Packing Materials

Packing doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Instead of leaving this to the professionals, gather boxes and bubble wrap yourself. If you really want to reduce your costs, use the boxes left over from Christmas or get them from a store that’s throwing them out. You can also use layers and layers of newspaper instead of bubble wrap.

Take Smaller Items Yourself

Moving companies will charge by the size of the vehicle or the number of vehicles they need to move your life to the next neighborhood. Take smaller items by yourself. In other words, pack any smaller items you can into your own car during the move. You would be surprised at how much you can get into a car, and doing so will ensure you minimize the price you pay to the moving company.

Choose the Moving Date Wisely

The vast majority of moves occur between the months of May and September. This is where moving companies can really charge a premium for their time, and they most definitely don’t turn down the opportunity. If you move during the peak moving times when trucks and crews are already fully booked, you’re going to have to pay a premium price for your move. If you have the option, pick a moving date in the wintertime when many movers are desperate for the business. This will give you the power to negotiate a much better deal and save a lot of money.

Take What You Need Only

Before you begin packing, edit the household items that you own. Don’t waste time trying to take absolutely everything to your next residence. The extra cost of moving stuff you aren’t going to be using or will only end up in storage simply isn’t worth it. Instead, plan ahead and make some money from them. Sell them for cash months before and use this cash to fund the move and to purchase items you may need when you arrive at your new home.

(Photo courtesy of Jeremy Rempel)


Ashley’s Year In Review (2015)

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I know we’re now a full week into the new year, but I always like to look back and reflect on the previous year around this time. So indulge me in a week-late review of some of the big highlights of 2015.

Personal and Financial Goals

The year began (or really was preceded by) setting some big goals. We had one list of financial goals, and a second list of goals related to “growing up” (in my mind this meant doing things like getting wills, life insurance, etc.). By the end of the year we hadn’t quite met all of our financial goals, but we’d made incredible progress. In all, we paid off over $26,000 in debt!!! We did even better on our “year of becoming an adult” goals. We fully accomplished 3 of our 4 goals and are well underway on the 4th goal (see update here). We’ve set some pretty lofty financial goals for 2016, too!

Budgeting

In early January, we made some pretty big changes to the way we did our budget. This eventually lead us to using YNAB for budgeting (we’d previously used an Excel file). I still can’t say enough great things about YNAB. I really think it’s made a huge impact on how well we’ve been able to stick to our budget and, therefore, how well we’ve done with paying off debt (see my full review here).

One of the categories in our budget that we really struggled with this year was our grocery budget. I talked several times about our efforts to make cheap meals, saving money by making homemade yogurt (super easy and so tasty!), DIY-ing pumpkin spice coffee (a personal fave), and trying my hardest to meal plan (which was much easier when I worked from home compared to an office-setting, and I’m still learning to balance competing needs).

I also saved a lot of money on self-maintenance this year. With the exception of 2 professional cut/colors (which I did prior to big job interviews), I’ve saved money in our budget by cutting and coloring my own hair for the past 21 months (but who’s counting? hehe). I’ve even received compliments on my self-maintained hair and really like my new darker color. To be transparent, I did just barely receive a professional cut/color from my Mom as a birthday gift, so this totals 3 professional jobs (only 2 that I personally paid for) in nearly 2 years.

Employment

I interviewed for 3 separate jobs in 2015:  one in January (recap), one in March, and one in June. I was offered the third job (third times a charm!) and accepted the position soon thereafter. I started the position in July and have been very happy in the job ever since (though I have plans to try to negotiate for a title change and more money).

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Gift-Giving

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Before I started our debt reduction mission we really spent a ton of money on gift-giving. Since starting to blog here, I’ve drastically reduced the amount spent on gifts. I now try to spend an average of about $15-20 per gift (though hubs and I set a $50 limit on gifts to each other). I talked about a cheap classroom gift here and waxed poetic about the impact of a hand-written thank you note (as opposed to an expensive flower delivery). I also talked about a cheap going away gift basket, a cheap Mother-in-Law (or grandparent) gift, an inexpensive alternative wedding gift, and relatively inexpensive ($50 limit) anniversary gifts.

Kids Crafts

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The kids did lots of fun and cheap crafts this year. A sampling of crafts include: a  Valentine’s craft, a Mother’s Day craft, and an Easter craft. All of these doubled as cheap cards/gifts for family, too!

Entertainment

Our entertainment budget was really bare bones this year as we tried to funnel all our extra money toward debt. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun! I talked about a free family activity here and a free painting class (courtesy of Yelp Elite) here. I also shared how we got cheap Halloween costumes for the kids and had fun with a cheap-ish birthday day date for hubs’ 33rd birthday.

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Successes

In April we celebrated kicking hubs’ license fee debt to the curb! That left us with only the car loan, some medical debt, and the monstrous student loans to contend with. That same month I did a balance transfer of a higher-interest student loan (8.5%) to a 0% APR credit card to pay off one of my Navient student loans at a lower rate (just paid a 2% initiation fee). I also celebrated when we paid off another of my Navient student loans back in October. It’s no secret that I freaking hate Navient, so I can’t wait to rid them from my life!

Personal

In June I let you know something I’d been keeping a bit of a secret. I have a very close family member experiencing a debilitating illness for which there is no cure. I later told you all that the “close family member” is my father and divulged that his diagnosis is frontotemporal degeneration (a type of dementia). I had a rough time in regard to processing this information. I was painfully honest about the scary feelings and emotions experienced knowing that his health is quickly declining and my siblings and I will be tasked with becoming his caretaker and all of the other financial implications of the situation. I also discussed prioritizing the costs of therapy so I could take care of myself. I never updated, but I did in fact search for therapists but there was only one person who really stood out to me as a good fit. Of course, that person was not accepting new clients at the time and, feeling overwhelmed by life, the new job, etc., I never pursued any other options. To be honest, I do think I’ll try again to find someone to talk to in the New Year. I feel like I am in a much better place mentally than I was when I first wrote this post (or this one, too), but I know my Dad’s health issues will continue to be a HUGE deal in my life and I would like to see someone at least occasionally to help me process everything as his disease progresses.

Summary

2015 was a wild year! Lots of great successes – Can I get a high five for that $26,000+ of debt that was paid off!?! and some tough times, too. In 2016 we plan to split our priorities a bit between saving for a house and continuing to pay off debt, but I know that we’ll continue to make great progress along the way. I’ve admitted before that I may loosen up the purse strings slightly. I think it’s important to have more regular date nights and such. But I also can’t wait to make some big dents to our debt this year. This will be the first full year of me having a full-time job and income (in addition to my part-time job & hubs’ job). With the additional money we really hope to do some crazy things in 2016. A house, a car (not a new one, but our current one being paid off), punching Navient in the nose, and so on. Great things ahead, friends! Thank you for joining me on life’s wild ride!


Ashley’s December 2015 Debt Update

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Here we are on the last day of the month/year. How has your December been?

Aside from a couple little financial hiccups, ours has been fabulous! During the school break I’ve actually unplugged for full days at a time (a rarity, especially when you work online!) and its been great to just be around and enjoy family without constantly checking email!

But let’s not forget why we’re here. We had some lofty goals in terms of debt repayment that I wasn’t sure we’d meet this month (in fact, I have said several times we probably would not meet our goals).

After all the dust settled and the paychecks had been cashed, let’s see how things shaped up this month.

PlaceCurrent BalanceAPRLast Payment MadeLast Payment Date Original debt, March 2014
Capital One CC-17.9%-Paid off in March 2014$413
Mattress Firm-0%-Paid off in May 2014$1381
Wells Fargo CC-13.65%-Paid off in May 2014$7697
BoA CC-7.24%-Paid off in June 2014$2220
License Fees-2.5%-Paid off in April 2015$5808
Navient$82,1776.55%-8.25%$277December$80761
ACS Student Loans$85966.55%$20December$8215
PenFed Car Loan$31812.49%$1800December$24040
Balance Transfer student loan (Former Navient 1-01)$26120% (through April 2016)$400December$5937
Medical Bills$59360%$25December$9000
Totals$102,502 (Nov balance = 104,704)$2522Starting Debt = $145,472

After all was said and done, we ended up paying just over $2500 in debt this month. Our initial debt payment was actually about $300 lower than this, but I squeezed every spare penny out of the budget and was able to make an additional last-minute (December 30th) extra payment to the car loan.

Our final consumer-related debt, the car, is now at a balance of $3,181. And our overall debt balance is at $102,502. So we did NOT make our goals of paying off the car or dipping below $100k in debt this month as we had hoped. 

That being said, come hell or high water, we will meet both of these goals in January. So we’ll be a few weeks behind the initial goal, but not by much.

Another one of our 2015 Financial Goals included paying $30,000 total toward debt during the year. Here’s where our final debt payment numbers landed:

January $1678
February $1822
March $653
April $1796
May $1708
June $725
July $2125
August $2250
September $2575
October $5513
November $2751
December $2522
Total $26118

So, again, we didn’t quite meet our goal, but we weren’t terribly far off either.

Overall, I’m quite proud of how well we’ve done in 2015. Let’s not forget that hubs’ business has had a bit of a rough year. His income wasn’t as high as it was in 2014 (and he had a couple months with no income whatsoever). Plus, I didn’t start my full-time job until the end of summer, so my income didn’t increase until the second half of the year.

When I set our goals, I always like to set “reaching” goals. This means they’re not easily attainable in-the-bag type goals. They’re goals where the numbers don’t quite work and, yet, I set the goals anyway because I want something to reach for and work toward. So the fact that we didn’t quite make our goals doesn’t bother me as much as one might think (though, don’t get me wrong, I would have LOVED to reach our goals!). My point is simply that I think the goals did their job. They made us work hard to try to do something crazy – something the numbers said wouldn’t or couldn’t work. And we made incredible progress, so that’s something to be proud of.

And, I have a mini-secret up my sleeve. My “ace in the hole”, if you will.

Just as former blogger Adam posted that he and Emily are effectively debt free (see their update here), I have similar news to share. You know how every month I’ve reported that I’ve been saving money toward Cruise 2016? Well, guess what…

As of this month (December 2015), I have $3,300 in one of my Capital One 360 savings accounts for the cruise. But the next cruise payment isn’t due until February 2016. So what I’m saying is that we actually have enough liquid cash available to be entirely consumer debt-free today.

In fact, I had initially planned to “steal” from myself (from the cruise fund), pay off the car in full, and then spend January/February re-saving that money for the cruise. However, after the unexpected extra expenses this month coupled with the fact that we really have little-to-no additional savings to speak of right now (not to mention we’re still in Texas so if we encountered any problems on the trip back to Arizona, etc.) I wanted to err on the side of caution and keep that money in the bank.

That being said, mark my words:  We will be consumer debt-free in January 2016. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it the old fashioned way (i.e., using our pay to finish paying off the last consumer debt). But even if something crazy happened, we had extra expenses or whatever, and we didn’t have enough money to quite cover the full amount of debt, I fully intend to use all our available capital (including the cruise fund) to MAKE SURE our consumer debts are fully eradicated before the end of January.

So we are effectively consumer debt-free now (in the sense that we have the money to pay off the last of our consumer debt), but we will become actually consumer debt-free within the next couple of weeks.

You can imagine that this is one of the biggest things on the forefront of my mind and I basically can’t shut up about it. My family has asked if it feels amazing and, although it feels pretty good, I still think there will be a big difference once I actually transfer the funds and see zeros on the balance owed of our vehicle. Just thinking about it makes me smile. And now I’m totally “that person” because I bought both my sister & my brother a copy of Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover for Christmas (during their $10 sale! Couldn’t pass it up!) Edited to add:  This is totally creepy, but the link to Ramsey’s book automatically appears, perhaps since it’s tagged to this post. I did NOT link it myself, nor is the link an affiliate link. In fact, it seems like I cannot remove the link without changing the wording of the post to not include the book’s name. Really weird/creepy, and I don’t particularly like that, but just wanted to be transparent that the link appears to be an auto-generated thing and I do NOT make any type of money or kick-back if you buy the book.

Just to be clear, I don’t blindly follow everything Ramsey says (as you can tell from my 2016 financial goals), but I do credit him (and Bobby Bones!) with jump-starting my mission to become debt-free. And I want to spread the message to those I love! What better gift to give than the gift of financial freedom? LOL. A bit of hyperbole (it’s not like I’m paying off anyone else’s debt), but it’s like giving a roadmap that can help others, so of course I want to share that information!

Anyway, this post has become entirely too long and I’ve got to run! New Years Eve is my birthday and I have lots of fun plans for family time, getting my hair professionally cut/colored (gift from my Mom and the first professional job in a really long time), lunch with my Dad, sparklers with the kids, etc. etc. etc.

I wish everyone a safe and happy New Years! I’ll catch you on the flip side! 😉


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