November 8th, 2016

How To Focus On Being More Frugal

How To Focus On Being More Frugal

Many of us could stand to spend a little less money. It’s so easy for all those little purchases to add up over time. Before you know it, your finances aren’t where you would like them to be, whether you’re getting deeper into debt or having trouble saving money for the future. You have to find a way to focus more on being frugal. These steps may help.

Set a Goal

Why do you want to be more frugal? Are you saving up for a particular item or for the long run? It’s helpful to know why you’re trying to save money.

Your goal can be “spend $100 less per week (or month)” or “save enough for a down payment for my next car by (date).” You might be saving for retirement or college for your kids. You might be paying off massive credit card debt or even a small debt.

You may even set multiple goals. Most of us, after all, have several things we should be saving money for, that next car, the kids’ college, a house, retirement. Don’t overdo the goal setting – you want goals you can reach with some effort.

Write Down Everything You Spend

Writing down everything you spend, making a spreadsheet for it or using a budgeting app can really help you figure out where all your money is going. Finding out how much you spend on what seems like small purchases can be a real shock.

Look At Where You’re Overspending

With detailed information about what you’re spending and where, you can figure out where you’re spending too much money. The answer won’t always be a comfortable one, and changes won’t always be easy.

Some people will be able to get their finances into better shape simply by eating out less or going out for coffee less often. Others will need to make bigger changes, such as cutting cable television. There can be hard decisions to make, such as whether you need to find a cheaper place to live, even though moving itself has expenses. Hopefully you don’t have to do anything drastic to get your finances back in shape, but sometimes that’s what it takes.

Make Your Budget and Spending Rules

Now that you’ve reviewed where your money is going, it’s time to figure out how you would like to spend your money each month. Time to make a budget.

Some things are easy to put into a budget, such as your rent or mortgage, and other recurring expenses. Other expenses, such as food and clothing will take more careful thought. You may need to average these out over time to get a good estimate for your budget, and then see how well your budget matches with reality.

Don’t forget that some bills will change by the season. Your power bill may be much higher in the summer, for example, if you have an air conditioner and use it during that time of the year to keep your home more pleasant. Then there are birthdays and holidays that you may spend money on at certain times but not at others. Be prepared for those expenses too.

Such bills can still be a part of a monthly budget, even if it’s an amount your save and roll over until the time comes to spend it. Planning ahead for such things means their costs won’t hit your regular budget too hard.

Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself

You goofed and spent too much. You’ll be over budget this month, a little or a lot. This whole thing has gone wrong. Now what?

The most important thing to do here is not give up. Look at where you went wrong and why. Could it have been avoided? Was it a self control issue or beyond your control? What can you do to avoid such situations in the future?

Sometimes you may go over budget because you didn’t give yourself enough leeway. You set too strict a budget and just couldn’t handle the pressure you put on yourself. Many people do that. If you make sure that your budget has room for a little fun spending, you can often keep it under better control than if you completely deny yourself that little treat.

It’s often more helpful to give yourself permission to get a small treat occasionally, rather than completely giving it up. Find a reasonable balance for your needs, so that you’re still spending less without feeling utterly deprived.

If things were completely out of your control, don’t feel bad about it. Cars break down at inconvenient times, for example, and it can be very hard on a budget to deal with such things. Ideally, build room for such things into you long term budget, rather than considering it a part of your weekly or monthly budget.

Don’t Give Yourself Too Much Leeway

Being too hard on yourself is often counterproductive, but so is giving yourself too much leeway. Give in too often on the urge to spend money and you may as well not have a budget at all.

If you realize that you are going off budget too often, look at why. Is it a matter of self control or is it a problem with your budget? There are times when you need to take a look at your own behavior and decide to do better. Other times you may have miscalculated your financial needs.

Budgeting Apps Can Help

If you have a smartphone, you will probably find it far easier to track your budget using an app rather than a program on your computer or on paper. This way you’ll always have your budget information with you, right at your fingertips. Here are some popular apps to consider.

Mint

Mint is a very popular budgeting app because it can do so much for you. It connects securely to your bank to make it easier to track your spending. It’s made by Intuit, the same company that makes TurboTax®. They use 256 bit encryption and 128 bit SSL to keep your information safe.

The Mint app makes it easy to set up your budget, but it also alerts you to unusual expenditures. It also gives you your credit score for free, which certainly can’t hurt if you’re saving up toward a house or car.

Mint is available free for iPhone, iPad and Android.

You Need a Budget (YNAB)

You Need a Budget gives you four rules to make budgeting easier. These are give every dollar a job, embrace your true expenses, roll with the punches and age your money. Visit their website to learn more about what these rules mean.

YNAB is free for 34 days, then $5 a month or $50 a year. Students can get a free year by sending in proof that they are a student. Their average user saves quite a bit more than that, so the expense can be worth it. At the very least, you can try it long enough to know whether or not you’re willing to pay for the service.

They offer live online classes every day, help guides, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel to help you change how you think about money. The app syncs with your bank and credit card accounts so that you can keep up with your financial situation.

YNAB is available for iPhone, iPad and Android.

GoodBudget

GoodBudget is an app version of the envelope system so many people have used through the years. It can help you save for big purchases as well as manage your regular expenses. The basic app is free, but you can pay if you want the Plus system ($5 a month or $45 a year) which includes unlimited envelopes, unlimited accounts, use across 5 devices, 5 years of history and email support.

GoodBudget is available for iPhone, iPad and Android.

Wally

If all you really need is an expense tracker, Wally may be a good choice for you. It’s free, which is nice if you don’t need a lot of extra help. It doesn’t link with your accounts; instead you enter expenses yourself or photograph the receipt. Paid features may be added in the future.

Wally is available for iPhone, while Wally+ is for Android.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

May 13th, 2016

A Much Overdue Update on Cutting Our Cell Phone Bill With Ting

A Much Overdue Update on Cutting Our Cell Phone Bill With Ting

Nearly two years ago, my husband and I decided to drag our phone numbers off his parents’ account and switch to Ting. We had realized that it was beyond time to get onto smart phones, not to mention onto our own service. We signed up with Ting, having determined that it was likely our best option. The monthly cost of service with Ting, we figured, would be less than what his parents were paying for cell phone service that lacked both data and texting services.

So, how has it gone?

Great, I would say. We’re still generally light users, although we do sometimes hit the medium level for one service or another with Ting. Our most recent bill came to $39.43 – our biggest ever! This past month was a little on the busy side, and there’s good reason why that one came up higher than usual.

Our bills mostly run in the low $30s. I’ve included a screenshot of some of our bill totals so you can see. That’s pretty good considering that we added our teenage daughter to the plan last year, making it three smartphones on our plan. She doesn’t talk on the phone a lot, but does she ever text with her friends! Fortunately, most of those go over our home wifi, and don’t impact the cost of our plans. She uses the iMessage app on her iPhone, which defaults to wifi texting whenever possible. With how much she and her friends text each other, that’s a very good thing.

Ting screenshot

I am considering upgrading my iPhone 4 later this year – the screen is just a little smaller than I’d like. Considering that I bought it for $227.45 on Amazon, I’d say I’ve done well to avoid having a contract. My overall costs have been quite low. My current phone will go to my son when I upgrade, as it’s still a decent phone.

Ting has changed some in the past two years. They used to only offer service over Sprint’s CDMA network. They now offer GSM service as well, and the great part is that you can have phones on different networks but still be on the same plan.

Service at our new house isn’t quite as good as it was at our old one. I really need to look into getting some kind of a booster for it. I just need to make the time to figure out what the right solution is, probably an Airave. Coverage at my address is on the weak side with most cell phone coverage maps I’ve seen, so this isn’t a surprise.

As you can probably imagine after reading this, I definitely still recommend Ting as a cell phone provider, especially if you’re not a heavy user. Go over your old phone bills, check your usage and see if you’d save money too. If you’re not trapped in a contract, it may be worth the switch. You may even be able to bring over your current smartphone if it’s not under contract. You can check the BYOD link on the Ting website to be certain.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

July 21st, 2014

Will You Save Money On Your Cell Phone Bill By Switching To Ting?

Will You Save Money On Your Cell Phone Bill By Switching To Ting?

My husband and I are not phone people. We don’t call people a lot. We barely text. For the longest time, we only had cell phones because his parents insisted on paying for them. I finally decided that it was ridiculous at our ages to be on his parents’ plan still, so I decided to do some research and pick a company to use. After a lot of looking, we went with Ting, and I’m so glad we did.

Ting is an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator), which means they lease wireless and data spectrum from other providers, Sprint in this case. They also have domestic voice roaming (not data roaming) over other CDMA cell phone networks when you’re out of range with Sprint at no extra charge.

We are really pleased with Ting so far. Our first bill was about $19 (told you we’re light users), second month was about $37, and that’s with two iPhones on the account. You see, there’s a per line fee you pay for each line every month no matter your usage, and the rest of the bill just depends on how much you use your phone. The second month we went on vacation to see my dad about 1000 miles away, so there was a lot of driving, calling and using data by our standards. Still light to others, I’m sure, but just for reference, that was 171 minutes of voice and 253 megabytes of data, which were both well within Ting’s medium level for each of those services. Texting only reached the small level. First month, voice and data were within the small level and no texts at all, and so that’s what we were charged for.

You are charged at the end of your billing period just for what you used. You might be charged on the small level for voice and medium for data if you use that much data, but barely call.

What I really like for when I start getting phones for my kids as they get old enough is that you can set up alerts to control their usage. That means no shocking phone bills for you. You go into the alerts section to set their limits, and you can have the system disable them if they go past a certain level. It won’t cut off an active call, but after that, they’re done until the next billing period. This is something you really want when you’re paying based on usage rather than unlimited. You can set alerts on any phone in your account.

If you want to know if Ting might be a good choice for your cell phone provider, take a look at your current usage over a few months, then use Ting’s savings calculator to see if you would get a good deal from them. If you use your cell phone like I use mine, it’s probably an amazing deal. If you’re a heavier user than I am but still not an extremely heavy user, it may still be a good deal… at least worth trying out the calculator to see how it goes.

Ting doesn’t charge for you to use tethering or to use your phone as a portable hotspot. No extra charges for voicemail or anything like that. The only added fees are the ones they’re is legally required to charge.

You won’t get any amazing deals on a smartphone through them, but if the savings are good enough you’ll make up for that soon enough. All phones must be compatible with Sprint’s network, so if you’re with Sprint already, your phone might just come over. Any other carrier, you probably have to buy a new phone. We bought our phones through Amazon. Ting has a supported devices list on their BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) page that you should pay attention to when shopping.

Now here’s a nice deal for you if you go through my link to Ting – they’ll give you a $25 credit. I get a credit too once you’re a paying customer. There’s no contract or anything, so if someone comes up with a better deal or you don’t like them, you’re always free to go to another carrier.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

February 24th, 2014

21 Steps to Make Being a Stay at Home Mom or Dad Work Financially

21 Steps to Make Being a Stay at Home Mom or Dad Work Financially

For some families, the decision to have a stay at home mom or dad just happens. It’s not always planned. There’s just the sudden realization that having mom or dad stay home is going to make the most sense. Maybe there’s a layoff while she’s pregnant or the kids are young, or the sudden realization that childcare costs more than one parent’s job brings in. If you aren’t prepared, going from two incomes to one can be quite a shock.

Others know from early on that they’re going to be a stay at home mom or dad. The income may not even be a part of the decision as such; it can be based more on the desire to have one parent at home. Still if the family doesn’t prepare financially for the changes, things can get difficult.

This is why it’s so important to plan before your family goes to a single income due to one parent staying at home if at all possible. You can avoid some nasty financial surprises if you know how these things may go.

1. Practice living on one income first.

If the decision to have one parent stay home with the kids is a deliberate one, not one caused by circumstance, try living as though your family only has a single income for a time while both parents continue to work. Not only will this show you how things are going to be, it allows you to save up the money from the second income. A little financial padding is always a good thing to have.

2. Review your finances.

You can do this even if staying at home wasn’t planned in advance. Calculate all your living expenses – rent, food, utilities, vehicles, taxes, insurance and so forth. Make sure the income of the parent who continues to work will be enough to pay all your regular expenses… ideally with some left over for savings.

3. Cut down on monthly bills.

Rethink your monthly bills where possible. Are you on the right plan for your cable TV/internet? Do you really need it? Can you cut down on your cell phone plans (consider what early cancellation fees will do)? What other monthly expenses can you cut down?

The great thing about cutting back on monthly bills is that once you’ve decreased a bill, it stays down unless your service provider increases the basic cost. You don’t have to change it every month – just review your needs occasionally and make sure it’s still right for you.

4. Plan for emergencies.

Life never keeps things simple for long. Cars break down. Kids get sick. Parents get sick. Something in the house needs to be repaired or replaced.

If you don’t plan ahead for emergencies, they can ruin all your financial planning. Have some money set aside for those times when things need to be repaired. Have insurance to help out with the things insurance can help with.

5. Avoid credit card debt.

Credit can be a very tempting way to pay for things you can’t afford at the moment. I still have credit card debt to pay off, although things are steadily improving these days. If it weren’t for the debt (taken on for reasons that were generally good at the time, not so much frivolously), we’d easily be living within our income and have money left over to save.

6. Pay off debt.

Beyond credit card debts, there are other debts that can make having a stay at home parent more difficult. Pay off or pay down those student loans, car loans and pay down the mortgage if you have them. The lower you can make those bills, the more flexibility you will have financially.

7. Pick your sacrifices.

Most single income families have to make sacrifices to keep mom or dad at home. Talk as a family about the things you’re willing to sacrifice, and which things you’d prefer to keep.

8. Look at taxes withheld.

Take a look at the taxes being withheld from your spouse’s paycheck once your family is down to a single income. The fact that your family is now living on one income means you can probably adjust the withholding so that you get more money now rather than a big tax refund. Big refunds feel like a windfall, but what they really mean is that you didn’t have that money earlier.

9. Talk about money.

Have a talk about your attitudes toward money, especially that only one person will be bringing it in for the family. A lot of tension can come from the bread winning parent feeling as though that money is his or hers, not both of yours. It’s just as important for the stay at home mom or dad to have spending money as it is for the working parent. Don’t let the “I earned it, it’s all mine” attitude ruin things.

10. Consider or increase life insurance.

The expense of life insurance may seem like an unnecessary extra, but if your family is unfortunate enough to need it, you won’t regret the expense. Should one parent die, whether that’s the working parent or the stay at home one, the money from life insurance can help keep the family going.

11. Discuss how long you’ll stay at home.

What is your plan for being a stay at home parent? Is it just while the kids are babies? Until they go to kindergarten? Until they’re adults? Forever?

What you decide at the start may not be what you want forever. Some find that staying at home isn’t right for them. Some think they’ll only stay home for a while, but find it so good that they want to stick with it always. Some realize that while they love it, the financial aspects aren’t working out, and that it’s necessary to go back to work. However things seem to be going, talk about the stay at home decision occasionally to be sure everyone still considers it to be a good thing and to deal with problems as they come up.

12. Consider your financial future.

One major problem many long term stay at home parents don’t always take sufficiently into consideration is retirement. Not working for years will impact what you could get from Social Security. If you aren’t saving for your retirement even when you don’t have an income, it could become a problem in later years.

13. Consider part time work or work at home.

Not every family will be able to get by on a single income. My husband and I don’t. I earn pretty good money working at home – enough that it isn’t worthwhile for me to look for an outside the home job even when all the kids go to school.

For others, a part time job when your spouse can be home is the best way to handle things. A part time job can also be nice for getting time with other adults. If a single income isn’t enough, make sure you find a way to bring in enough extra money so that your family doesn’t have trouble with debt.

14. Consider furthering your education.

Furthering your education can be very important when you’re a stay at home parent looking to return to work someday – or just because you want to learn more about something. If you take online classes, look carefully into the school to make sure it’s a good quality program – there are a lot of low quality schools out there.

An improved education may help you land a better job when you go back to work outside the home. It’s not a guarantee, even from a good school, as there’s still a gap in your paid work history, but it should help.

15. Keep up professional credentials.

Even if you don’t plan to go back to work soon, keep up any professional credentials you may have. If you need to go back to work, even part time, this can be a huge help in getting a better paying position.

16. Keep up professional contacts.

If you left a professional position to stay at home, keeping in contact with old coworkers and other professional contacts can be a huge help if you decide to go back to work. It’s not just about working outside the home – you may be able to use these contacts for freelance or work at home positions if you don’t want a regular position. Keeping your foot in the door can be a huge help if you need to increase your family’s income for any reason.

17. Learn to find bargains.

Knowing how to find bargains on the things you need can be a good help when you’re a single income family. Seek out ways to save money on the things your family needs, but make sure you don’t buy things you don’t need just because the price was good.

Clip coupons, go to thrift stores, pay attention to sales in local stores, buy in bulk when appropriate, find out what’s cheaper from programs such as Amazon’s Subscribe and Save. There are many ways to save money that won’t take up more time than you’re willing to give it.

18. Cook more.

Eating home cooked meals is generally far more budget friendly than eating out. If this isn’t already a habit, make it one.

19. Learn to do basic home maintenance.

The more repairs you can handle around your home, the less you’ll have to spend on professionals. Painting is relatively easy, a project many people are comfortable with taking on, but you may find that you are capable of handling more than you think.

That said, when professional help is called for, get it. A poorly done repair may cost more than the original problem would have if it had been fixed correctly the first time.

20. Don’t be too hard on yourself up over mistakes.

It’s easy to be hard on yourself when you make financial mistakes when you stay at home. Maybe you overspend and have to take on some credit card debt. Maybe you didn’t prepare enough for unexpected bills, and ended up having a car repair ruin all your plans.

Whatever happens, take it as a lesson, and don’t be too hard on yourself. We all make mistakes, especially when we’re learning.

21. Adjust your plans.

Review your finances regularly. Make changes where things aren’t working or where they could work better. Not every money saving tip will work for every stay at home parent. There may still be times where convenience trumps money saved. On the other hand, you should also be able to find more ways to save money over time that will suit your lifestyle. Just because one thing isn’t working out doesn’t mean something different won’t work either.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

February 18th, 2014

6 Keys to Smart Frugal Living

6 Keys to Smart Frugal Living

I prefer to live a fairly frugal lifestyle. While it’s in part due to the limitations of my family’s income, it’s also a personal preference. Being careful about how much you spend, even when you can easily afford it, is just sensible.

You have to be smart about frugal living, however. It’s not just “here’s the cheap way, let’s do that!” The immediately cheap way isn’t always the cheap way in the long run, after all. You have to consider the long term, at least as much as you can fit it into your budget.

1. Go for quality.

Within reason, you have to consider quality when you buy things. The cheapest product can cost more in the long run if you have to buy it more often than you would a more expensive product.

I’m fond of how Terry Pratchett has Samuel Vimes explain it in one of the Discworld novels, in terms of the cost of boots. A cheap pair of boots costs $10, and lasts about a season or two. Better boots run about $50, but would last for years. This leads him to reason that the rich don’t have to spend as much money on such things because they can buy products that will last longer and cost less in the long run.

Of course, most of us can’t always afford the things that will last best. Still, when better quality and longer lasting products are within your budget, it can be more frugal to spend the extra now, rather than spend more over the long run.

This is especially true for expensive things such as furniture and cars. You want these to last as long as possible, and some extra money spent now can save you more in the future.

Kids clothes, and shoes in particular, on the other hand, think about how long it will be until they grow out of them. Some things you really don’t want to overspend on. Buy better if they’re something that can be handed down, but if you know your child is going to ruin it, go for the quality that should last until they outgrow it. We pay more attention to the quality of my son’s running shoes, for example, than my daughter’s, because he uses them hard and can wear them out before he outgrows them. He needs better quality so they last and we don’t have to buy more in the same size. By the time my daughter wears her shoes out, she usually needs a new size anyhow.

2. Buy as much as you need.

This rule is especially important when it comes to food. People in the United States throw out somewhere between 14-25% of the food they buy.  That’s a lot of food wasted, and of course money wasted too.

Think about how you handle your grocery shopping. Do you buy in bulk because that’s what you’re going to use, or because it’s a lower price per unit, and you hope to use it before it goes bad? Are you only buying the fresh meat, dairy and produce your family will use before it goes bad? Do you eat the leftovers you put back in the fridge, or do you throw them out a week later? Do you know what the sell by dates really mean or when the expiration date really matter?

This goes for other things too, of course. Think about what the right size wardrobe is for your needs. Rethink that next gadget, and so on.

3. Get repairs done right.

When something in your home or car needs repairs, get the job done right. This doesn’t mean be a sucker for every suggested repair, but to spend enough to have the job done right the first time, so that you won’t have the thing break down again in a month or two. Mechanics and repairmen can sometimes suggest a cheaper alternative to what really needs to be done when you’re concerned about price, but sometimes that only delays the work that really needs to be done.

Whenever possible, get it done right the first time… and know how they warranty their work in case something goes wrong again. I’ve had my mechanic repeat a repair for free because something didn’t go quite right the first time he did it.

4. “Sale” doesn’t mean “buy now.”

We all love a bargain. Sales are wonderful ways to save money on the things you need, but they’re also great for getting you to spend more money than you should. Just because you see a good deal doesn’t mean you should forget to consider whether or not you need that item right then.

I find it helpful to remember that most items will go on sale again at a later date if it’s something I might need later, but not right now. Stores often have a cycle they go through for their sales. If you know how often things go on sale, you can buy them at a good price when you need them, not just because you saw the deal and didn’t want to pass it up. And if you don’t really need it, even a great deal on it shouldn’t matter at all.

5. Consider your health.

Don’t be so frugal that you damage your health. Don’t be too cheap to eat right, go to the doctor and dentist, take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself in general now can save you a lot of money and discomfort in the long run.

6. Remember to enjoy your life.

No matter how frugal you are, remember to sometimes spend money on things because they’re fun. Take a family vacation. Go on a date.

These things don’t always have to cost a lot of money. A trip to a local campground can be a wonderful, memorable family experience. If you want to spend more money on experiences, have your family come up with ways to save money up for it. You can make that family vacation to Disneyland all the more memorable if you give the kids the pride of having helped save up for it.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

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Disclosure: Home with the Kids is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. I also review or mention products for which I may receive compensation from other sources. All opinions are my own.