5 ways to make your tax refund work for you

5 ways to make your refund work for you

 

As we draw closer to the end of tax season, you may be considering how to make a few last minute changes in your financial life that could make a big impact. One thing that is worth considering is to put your tax refund to good use by making it work for you. While not everyone has this option, many do receive a tax refund hat will help be a great relief to their debt situation.

I know that your tax refund is essentially money you loaned to the government by over paying but while most people don’t realize this–the refund is a great way to get ahead.

When we got our tax refund I used to have the mindset that I should go buy a new purse or take my kids on a shopping spree at Toys R Us. It was when we were living on unemployment and didn’t have a ton of money to go around that I realized those things were no longer important and we needed to be smarter with our money. Here are five ideas on how to make your tax refund work for you:

Pay for holiday presents with your refund. It is a great way to grab a few gifts without dipping into your regular household budget money. This can also mean a bit nicer Christmas shopping list for some.

Pay off one smaller debt. We all have that one smaller bill that lingers around annoyingly. Use that return to pay off that one little debt that you are always trying to get rid of. This may even be the time to consider negotiating for a lump sum payment in some cases.

Put into savings for your emergency vehicle fund or general savings. Make that money become a back up plan should you have an emergency come up. Most returns are enough to easily create a small vehicle fund or put a nice addition into your savings account.

Make a small investment. Put that money to work for you by making a small investment in a stock you have your eye on. Even $100-$200 in quality stocks can easily double over the course of a couple of years. A great choice to go toward your retirement fund.

Pay ahead a payment on your home, car or other large monthly expense. This is one of those options that is just handy and creates a bit of wiggle room in your month to month budget. Paying ahead a month on your home, car or other large monthly expense can give you a bit of relaxation in the week to week budgeting. Don’t change your budget, simply feel a bit less stress knowing you are just a little bit ahead.

Rather than blowing a refund on frivolous things, take the time to turn your tax return into debt relief Pay ahead, pay down or pay off your debt. Invest in things that will create funds for your future. Put that extra money to good use this year.

How we saved more than 50% on our water bill

how we save 50 percent on our water bill

Water is one of life’s necessities but if you use too much, it can be a real strain on your budget. Ideally, we could all keep our water bill under $20.00/mo, but with kids, laundry, pets and more it can be really hard to do. If your water bill is too high, there are a few things that you can do to try and cut that cost down a bit. Some of these tips will be a bit too much for some folks, but for those that are really looking to lower their water bill, they’ll be a great place to start.

One of the biggest costs to your water bill is waste. In our town, we pay a sewage bill that will cost me almost exactly what my water usage costs. To cut down on this waste water, we’ve installed catchment systems under one side of our kitchen sink. (read more about that here–with info to rebates if you choose to do it yourself!) 

These buckets catch what is known as grey water; or water that would normally go down the drain. 90% of the time, this water is clean and perfectly usable. Instead of using fresh water to do things like flush the toilet, mop the floors, water plants or even wash the car. We only use that particular side of the sink for things that shouldn’t result in a messy water so that there is no soap residue in the water. Never use grey water that has soap residue to water plants because the soap could easily harm them.

Another great way to get your water bill down is to stop using your dishwasher. You’ll use much less electricity and water by just filling up the sink and hand washing. When we stopped using the dishwasher, our water bill dropped by almost $10.00 per month. For me? The convenience is not worth $120.00 per year.

One final thing you can do to help is to start timing showers. 15 minute showers are more than enough time for everyone to do everything that needs done and to and have a few minutes to just soak up the hot water. For shaving, use the sink and fill it with water instead of letting the water run or turning it on and off.

By doing just these 3 simple steps, you can see a pretty significant difference in your water bill each month. Ours dropped by more than $35.00 a month because we were not only using less water, but we were being charged less in sewage costs as well.

Read More on how YOU can save more on your utilities here

18 ways we lowered our California electric bill

Piggy bank in hand against blackboard with drawing bulb lamp. Idea concept

Electric charges can do some of the biggest damage to your budget possible if you don’t watch them. Before you know it, you can be paying $500, $700 or even more per month! I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of money to just toss around. When my bill started to creep up beyond where I wanted it to be, I took action. The tips below are how we lowered our bill. Put them into play in your home and they should do quite well for your family too!

First,  you’ll need to take a look at your home to make sure that there are no drains on your power that you aren’t aware of. In my case, a closet light that we don’t use often had been on….for weeks. As a result I was paying big bucks for lighting a closet that no one uses for anything other than storage. It may not seem like much, but that one light being on helped jump my bill over $50 the month that it was left on.

Next, take a walk through your home along the outside walls. Take note of any place that you can feel cold air coming in…even tiny drafts. Make sure you pay special attention to doors and windows, but also be on the lookout for places you wouldn’t expect. In my home? Oddly enough, my kitchen cabinets leak cold from the ground below it into the kitchen and I have 2 random closets that apparently are not sealed well that leak. The dryer vent or oven hoods can also be places that will let in cold air if they were not installed correctly. Once you have those places identified, it’s time to plug those leaks.

For doors that you don’t use often (like my closets), go ahead and seal them off for the winter. Use thick plastic sheeting, garbage bags, blankets or whatever you have. Next, you’ll want to tackle the smaller leaks. Things like the dryer vent can be fixed pretty easily. Fixing this leaks means that less of your heat is running away. If the heat is staying in your home, your bills will be lower.

For us, these were to two biggest factors in dropping my bill, but there are other things you can do if you want to drop it even more! Things like:

  • changing your lightbulbs to CFL’s
  • Turning your furnace or a/c off for part of the day (or all day if you’re brave!)
  • using a crockpot to cook most of your meals
  • turning your water heater down (less power to heat the water up)
  • unplugging all of your appliances and electronics when they’re not being used
  • limiting the tv to only an hour or two each day
  • making sure your freezer is filled full (it will work better)
  • making sure your fridge is NOT packed full (better circulation)
  • lining the attic floor with thick blankets or insulation sheets
  • Not using your exhaust fan when you’re cooking
  • Not running ceiling fans when you’re not in the room. They do nothing when no one is there to feel them so there’s no reason for it.
  • Use low watt bulbs in hallways and bathrooms at night instead of regular ones.
  • Ban dryer use from your house. Use a clothes drying rack or line instead.
  • Close off rooms that you’re not using and make them off limits. Shut the vents so you aren’t heating or cooling them, close the door then plug the gap between the door and the floor.
  • Make sure that all of your walls are insulated properly. If not, fix that. It will take some money to do it now but you’ll save big in the long run.

Take a look at how you can lower your cable bill by 50% (and still watch your favorite shows)

New Series: Lower your Utilities by 50% in just 6 days

lower utility bills in 6 days

When is the last time you thought to yourself that your utility bills were just too high? If you’re like me.. It hasn’t been that long ago. Lowering your utility bills can be a hair raising process that can take a lot of out a person if we let it. It doesn’t have to be that way though. With a little work and some time, you can lower your utility bills by as much as 50% if you’re careful!

Over the 6 days, we will take a look at the different ways that you can lower your utility bills. We’ll cover all of the major bills; electric, cell, internet and more. The tips and tricks in each post will help you lower your bills, one by one. They aren’t the end all be all but they’ll certainly be a help and are a great place to start.

For some, the tips that I give you may be too extreme and for others they may not be enough. Only you can decide where you will draw the line. Most of them are not the typical “turn of the lights when you leave the room” kind of tips though so hopefully you’ll find something new to use in your own home! They may not be typical ideas, but they are all proven ways to lower your utility bills each month.

At the end of each post, I’d love to hear from you! If you do something that I don’t, share it! Maybe you can help me lower my bills even more!

Post #1: Get rid of your high cable bill (and still watch your favorite shows)

Post #2 18 ways we lowered our California electric bill

Post #3 How we saved more than 50% on our water bill

Post #4 4 steps to a lower internet bill

Post#5 How to pay less for your cell phone

Post #6: How to save on insurance

3 Steps we took to survive through unemployment

3 steps we took to survive through unemployment

Losing your job isn’t something that anyone wants to wake up and find has happened to them, but unfortunately, it happens more often than not these days. It can be devastating to realize that everything in your world has just exploded and that your family is now relying on the money you have in the bank, the food you have in the cupboard or worse…the lack thereof. It doesn’t have to be though because while you can’t prevent your company downsizing, going out of business or an accident on the job that results in you becoming unemployed, you can prepare for it without too much extra work. 

Our little family of five was once faced with this. We were lucky to have a two weeks notice before my husband was laid off from his job however, we were a single income family and the option of a relying on a second income wasn’t there.

[Read more…]

31 Day Budget Challenge | Creating a budget that works

Create a Budget without feeling deprived

Create a Budget without feeling deprived

 

 

I am re-posting this because I feel it is such a great post! A lot of people feel as though budgets are too restricting.. I’m here to prove that it isn’t! This post is part of the 31 day budget challenge– which is here to help you overhaul your budget in just 31 short days! Today we talk about creating a budget that works without feeling deprived.

Find the rest of the 31 day challenge posts at the end of this page.

Creating a Budget that works

A budget can be a scary idea to confront. After all, who wants to feel like they can’t spend their money as they please?  Well the truth is, setting a budget can actually help you find financial freedom, not restrict you. Take a look below at some helpful tips on how to create a budget. You will find that creating a budget can be simple, painless, and an effective way to manage your money. Take a look at how to get started.

Step #1. Track your expenses for 1 month.
For this step, you will need to be brutally honest with yourself. Whether you spend .25 on a piece of gum or $250 on a pair of fancy shoes, you need to document it. write down EVERY thing you purchased in the last two weeks. (this might require LOTS of thinking ;) )

Step #2. Categorize your expenses.
Now, sort your spending into categories. They should read as follows: Housing, Food, Utilities, Clothing, Education, Automobile, and Entertainment. Each of your items should fit into one of these expense categories. If not, create a MISC. category for those items to go in.

Step #3. Reflect on your earnings.
In this step, you need to take a realistic look at your earnings. Gather your pay stubs to get an idea of your take home every month. How do your earnings pair up with your spending? Your earnings should be greater than the sum you came up with in step #1. If not, prepare to make some cuts. We will tell you how to do that in step #6.

Step #4. Weigh your expenses.
You now know what you spend and what you earn. So, it is time to figure out how you should disperse your earnings to pay for the things you need, and even want. A breakdown of your spending should look like something like this:

– Housing (your rent or mortgage) : 25% of your take home pay.
– Food (grocery store trips, dining out, school lunches): 20% of your take home pay.
– Utilities (heat, electric, cell phone, water, cable, internet): 15% of your take home pay.
-Clothing (work uniforms, kids clothes, dry cleaning): 5% of your take home pay.
-Education (tuition, school loans, book fees): 10% of your take home pay.
-Automobile (gas, oil changes, car repair, car payments): 15% of your take home pay
-Entertainment (movies, games, trips, etc.): 5% of your take home pay.
– Savings: 5% of your take home pay (PLEASE don’t ignore this section. An emergency fund or savings is important for those unpredictable moments)

Example: This means if you make $3000 a month, then 5%, or $150 a month can go towards clothing. If you make $3000 a month and have rent or a mortgage, no more than $750 should be going towards it. If you find yourself spending more than these amounts, you are living beyond your budget.

On a side note, if you don’t have educational expenses, you can distribute that 10% elsewhere into the budget. In fact, you can do this for any of the categories that don’t pertain to you.

Step #5. Create a spending folder for each spending category.
Buy 8 folders (one for each category) at your local dollar store. Write the name of each category on the front of the folder. Inside each folder will go a variety of materials. Include the bills for that particular expense. You can also include an envelope with the money set aside for that expense each month. For example if you have allotted 5% of your $3000 a month salary towards entertainment, keep the $150 in an envelope in the folder. That gives you about $35 a week to use on family activities, movies, etc. When the money is gone, you are not to use any more towards that item until the next month replenishes it. Feel free to add money saving articles, goals for that category, or other helpful info in the folder as well.

Step #6. Use your folders daily.
Spend a few minutes with your folders daily. Take a minute to look at what you spent for the day and what your funds look like for the rest of the month. This will help you stay on track and not deplete your determined amount before the month is up.

Step #7. Use your budget to set goals.
Perhaps you have your eyes on a new winter coat. Based on the example above, you have $150 a month for clothing. If you have a family of 4, that doesn’t leave much for the new coat. Instead of feeling deprived, feel motivated. Perhaps you can cut your entertainment spending for the month down to 2%, or be conscious of your utility spending and cut that area down a few percentages. You can then carry those percentages over to the clothing category, giving you some money to buy the item you wish to have.

Sure it takes some work at first, but once you set a budget you will find it a habit that is easy to stick to. The folder system mentioned here is a great way to keep your budget organized, and the percentage system we have shown you as an example is a great way to make sure your money is going towards the things you really need.

Disclaimer: I am not a financial professional.. I’m just a mom who wants a budget that works. 

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10 tips to eating healthy on a small budget

eating healthy.jpg

 

One of the biggest expenses most families face is also one of the most necessary expenses in life. In a struggling economy where many families literally live paycheck to paycheck the simple act of keeping food on the table for every meal that is nutritious and inexpensive can be the hardest job a parent faces.

Here are 10 Tips To Eating Healthy On a Small Budget that will help you stretch those dollars just a little bit farther and manage to feed your family on a limited income. Even if you are not on a tight budget this can be a great way to eliminate unnecessary expenditures that will allow you to save in other areas.

10 Tips to eating healthy on a small budget

Buy Meats in Bulk: While not always the case, typically you can find the lowest price on meats per pound by buying in larger quantities. Depending on your overall budget this could mean something as large as buying a side of beef and having it butchered or something as simple as always buying the family packs of meats in the grocery store. Remember to always check the price per pound as well as look at the difference in price if bone in or bone out. Sometimes even with paying for the bone in your meats you are still getting a lower price per per pound of actual meat because of the extra you pay for the convenience of having it boned.

Grow Your Own Vegetables: You don’t have to have acres of space or even a fancy system to grow a few commonly used vegetables at home. For under $25 investment you can grow things like tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, herbs and other simple vegetables in small container gardens or small beds at your home. Canning or freezing your extra vegetables when there is overstock is a great way to save not only during prime growing season but year round. You can get a inexpensive Raised Garden Kit on Amazon and it will last you years!

Barter for Homegrown vegetables: If you don’t have the time, ability nor desire to start your own garden, check with local friends who do and barter for their home grown vegetables in exchange for things like babysitting, house cleaning or lawn/yard work.

Cook Beans from Scratch: Rather than paying $.50-$1 per can of beans or lentils, buy the dry version and cook from scratch. Pinto beans, black beans, great northern beans, kidney beans and lentils of all kinds are very inexpensive when purchased dry in bulk and are super easy to cook slowly in a slow cooker to be used in multiple recipes. Check out how I cook beans in my crockpot

Skip the meat: One of the easiest ways to eliminate excess cost in your food budget is to skip meat in some of your meals. Great vegetarian dishes are satisfying, full of nutrients and much less expensive than the calorie laden “meat and potatoes” variety many of us grew up eating. Use beans, hearty root vegetables, eggplant, eggs and more to provide the bulk you are used to without the calories or cost.

Ask for Coupons: Go right to your favorite organic or natural company and tell them how much you love their product. Usually they will send you coupons as a thank you for your time and effort in sending them a simple note.

Boost Flavor with herbs and Spices: Growing your own herbs is one of the easiest things you can produce in your garden. A $2 pot, a bit of soil and a few packets of seeds and you have amazing flavors to add to your dishes. Branch out of your comfort zone of salt, pepper and garlic and embrace rich flavors of curry, smoky paprika, a pinch of cayenne, cumin and tumeric for color, flavor and richness that will satisfy your taste buds without breaking the bank.

Meal Plan: I cannot begin to say enough about simply sitting down and making a basic menu plan for the week or month. The last minute expenses of stopping at the store on the way home add up to sometimes 3-4 times what your expenses would be if you only planned ahead. Here is a great meal planning guide for busy moms

Make Freezer Meals : Whether it’s because your family doesn’t like to eat the same thing two days in a row or because it is more cost effective to make in larger batches, freezer meals are an excellent way to boost savings. Utilizing sales on meats, vegetables or items about to go out of date is also a great way to make freezer meals for easy evening meals that stretch your budget.

Have Breakfast for dinner: Simple breakfasts of egg white scrambles with some spinach, salsa and whole grain toast are not only inexpensive but easy to make, tasty and healthy options that satisfy the whole family.

Eating healthy and staying within your budget isn’t impossible, it simple requires some planning and organization. These 10 Tips To Eating Healthy On A Small Budget should help you to focus on things your family can easily do that will save you money and help you maintain your healthy eating habits.

What other tips do you have?