This strange lockdown we have found ourselves in and the resultant loss or decrease in income has left many people to ponder their financial situation and ways they have been managing their money up until this point. As I mentioned in the previous blogs, some people are just now waking up to the need for setting money aside for times such as this. The idea of the emergency fund has resurfaced into people’s consciousness, and the term is being batted around quite a bit of late. So I thought I would dedicate this space to the topic.
First of all, what is an emergency fund, and why do we need one? The general consensus is that we should have about 3-6-months-worth of living expenses put aside, that is there to be used strictly for emergencies only. This money is best kept in an online bank account (slightly better interest rate) and completely separate from your everyday checking/savings accounts. The exact amount in there is up to you. If your income is very variable or otherwise unstable, then the larger amount (6 months) would be advised. Some people prefer to have even more than 6-months-worth if their income is very unstable, or they are very risk averse, or prefer more of a cushion. Everyone, no matter how stable they think their income is, should have at least 3 months at the bare minimum, because no matter how good things are going for you right now, “s#@t” happens!
The purpose of having that fund is to keep your finances from being derailed when the unexpected happens. If you have that cushion put aside you can just dip in, pay that medical bill, or home repair or live on it through a job loss and get right back on track where you left off without throwing your whole finances into a tizzy. And even more importantly you won’t be forced to reach into your wallet for the credit card and put yourself into debt over the situation.
Someone posed the question to me recently: “How do I determine when to take money out of my emergency fund?.” An excellent question, and that is why I chose to address it in this month’s blog.
The bottom line is this, the more you budget for the unexpected, the less you will ever have to dip into your emergency fund. It’s as simple as that. So how do you determine when you really do need to break that piggy bank?
Before dipping into the emergency fund you should ask yourself:
“Do I really need to use this money right now?” Do you have some time to save up the money that you need, and get by without it for a while. Can you get by without whatever the expenditure is altogether?
“Is this something I really need to buy?” Can you borrow something (at least while you save up)? Can you make do without it in some other way?
“Is buying this thing right now really necessary?” Maybe it’s not the “need” you think it is, but more of a “want”.
“Is this purchase right now really worth the sacrifice it will take to replenish my emergency account?”
“If I don’t spend the money right now on this emergency will this situation cost me more money in the long run?” (i.e. a car or house repair that will get worse if left unfixed). In that case, by all means, do it.
And after you have dipped into your emergency fund consider if this expense is something you should be adding to your monthly budget so that you are prepared for this type of emergency in the future (I.e. beefing up your “car repair” or “home repair” fund, or adding a new category to cover whatever the expense was).
Ideally, if you have budgeted for every possible “unexpected” expense that may come your way, your emergency fund becomes just a big fat luxurious cushion for you to sit on and enjoy the security of. Wouldn’t that be a nice feeling!
Wishing you a bright secure future!
It’s May Flowers month, so I would like to take this month’s blog to look on the brighter side. We began this quarantine journey during the raw March winds when we too were raw and reeling from the shock of what was happening. Many people experienced a job loss or at least a reduction in pay. We could barely wrap our brains around what was happening. All we could do was retreat to our homes, as we were told to do, and try to make sense of it all.
We remained hunkered down through the rains of April, for the most part even unable to get outside much in the soggy world out there. As the temperatures plummeted out there so did our investments, and often our spirits. Things looked pretty bleak. All we could do was take stock of where we were financially and in every other way. For those of us who still had jobs it was just a matter of staying afloat and ignoring the stock market plunge (as we are always told to do), and stay the course. For those struggling with income loss it was a matter of prioritizing and taking care of the most pressing needs (shelter and food). The rest would have to be figured out eventually.
“But Victoria”, I can hear you saying now, “I thought this was going to be a silver linings message?” Ok, well now it’s May. The month of flowers. We are still home, but the initial shock has worn off a little. Those that have lost income have hopefully figured out a way to get their most important needs met. Maybe they are getting unemployment, SNAP benefits, food from a food bank, their stimulus check, or help from other sources. The rest of us are learning to live at home, creating new routines, keeping ourselves busy and occupied.
But the real May flowers are going to be what we take away for having gone through this. For many this time has given us somewhat of a wake-up call. We were hurrying along through life without even thinking about where all our money and time were going. This has given us time to pause, and think, and live a different way, whether we wanted to or no
Many are surprised to see how little they are spending now that they are forced to stay home, unable to go to restaurants, coffee shops, stores, bars, movies, concerts, etc., etc. Some never paid attention to how much all that was really costing them. And some are finding that they actually can lead a pretty good life without all that spending. Perhaps they will rethink it when life returns to normal. So that’s a silver lining. Forced savings helps you discover a different way.
Some people were caught short with no savings to help get them through a time of no income. It’s a hard lesson to learn for sure, but a lesson learned nonetheless. In either case being at home gives you the time to step back and examine the way you have been living, where your money has been going and to make some changes moving forward. What was once an abstract notion “I know I should be saving up for an emergency fund” becomes stark reality, and hopefully, brings about positive change for the future. A silver lining!
The silver linings go beyond all that though. As usual when we go through tough times, it brings out the goodness in people. Acts of kindness and generosity abound. It is heartwarming to hear the stories of people going above and beyond for their neighbors, friends and people they don’t even know.
And staying at home has given us a chance to live at a different pace, to stop all the rushing about and really spend time with each other in ways we rarely do when life is going full tilt. We have been playing board games, making meals and baking together, even just talking and going for long walks together. Some people have reconnected with old hobbies that they never had time for when life was in full swing. Knitting, gardening, painting, playing an instrument... All that is the best silver lining of all as far as I am concerned. If you know me at all, in person or from my writing, you know that I have long championed the slower, simpler, frugal lifestyle that has now become a forced reality for many.
I would like to think that some of this will stick, that at least some people will come away from all this with a new perspective. Priorities will shift. People will slow down just a little. Spend more time home with their families and less money on needless frivolities. I think that would be the biggest silver lining of all. A beautiful May flower indeed!
Now if only something would come along to force us to reduce our screen time…
Wishing you all a bright and beautiful flowery future!
Have you been caught short with a sudden loss of income? Or even a reduction of income, at least temporarily? Times like this can turn your world upside down. Your priorities become putting food on the table and keeping a roof over your head. It’s hard to think beyond that and you may never have experienced anything like this before.
It’s hard to believe but not so long ago, historically, this was how most people lived throughout most of their lives on a daily basis. In the 1800’s this was how many people struggled through life. They lived a very frugal existence without even thinking about it. It’s just what they had to do to survive, but then came industrialization and things began to change. People could feel more secure in their daily lives.
The Great Depression brought it all back. Food insecurity and the daily scramble just to survive. Frugal living was once again the norm. There have been a few more lean times, WW II, and a few lesser stock market downfalls that have shaken people’s financial worlds… but with no real lasting effect (on people's behavior), and now this...
Most people who came through the Great Depression tended to continue to feel that insecurity and lived the rest of their lives in a frugal manner. Their children were raised in that manner, and learned frugality to some extent. But now we have gotten too far away for it to have any real impact on the way we live now, and we all live a much richer lifestyle than those people of yore.
So, this coronavirus situation and the financial repercussions has really come as quite a shock,
and is leaving many people at a loss as to how to proceed from here.
It all depends on your own personal situation. If you still have a paycheck coming in, then the worst of it is psychological, the fear, and stress of dealing with our new upside down world. But if you can stay calm and just hunker down and get through this it will all be ok in the end. If you have investments you have obviously seen them drop, but don’t panic. Sit tight and they will rise again. That is just how the stock market works
If you have experienced loss of income and you don’t have an emergency fund, then just concentrate on your most pressing needs at the moment to get through this. You need a roof over your head (and the recent rent/mortgage freeze will take care of that for the time being) and you need food. If you really can’t afford even that then there are charities and agencies to help you with free food right now. And you can apply for food stamps as well (unemployment too). Beyond that don’t worry about your monthly bills. Contact your loan and credit card companies. They all know the situation and will hopefully defer them for now. The same for any medical bills you are paying. Luckily heat season is over, so that's one less thing to worry about. If you can’t pay your electric bill contact the company. Insurance companies must give you a grace period right now as per the CARE act. That takes care of your monthly bills for the time being.
When your stimulus check comes in, prioritize it for the best possible use. If you need it to live on, then put it in your checking account and use it for your most dire immediate needs. If you are not going to need the money for your current emergency situation, then it is a good idea to use it to pay down your debt and/or put it aside for an emergency fund if you don’t have one. Put this in a separate bank account that you don’t ordinarily access, such as setting up an account in an online bank.
And finally, now that you are stuck at home, if you never want to feel the bottom drop out from you again (financially), it is a good time to re-examine your spending habits. Take a good look at what you have been spending money on. Write down some savings goals. (Hint: one of them should be to save up an emergency fund.) Is your spending keeping you from your future goals? Are you robbing yourself of financial security and a decent future by giving in to reckless, unnecessary spending today? Do you ever want to find yourself in a scary financial situation like this again?
Now is the time, while you have the time, to think about what your priorities are and make a budget to reflect them. Now you have time together at home to discuss your goals and dreams for the future with your loved ones. This could be a turning point in your life. Make the most of a bad situation and turn it around to work for you. You can do it!
Wishing you all safety and good health! And a bright Future!
There is panic all around us. What should we be doing to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe? How long will this last? What supplies do we need? Do we have enough toilet paper? Sometimes we can be blindsided by what life throws at us. The best way to be prepared for the unexpected is to, well, be prepared.
In the case of a new disease coming your way, you are in a much better position to deal with it if you have been living a good healthy life up until that point, eating good fresh whole foods, getting proper rest and exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, etc.. If you have been living this way, chances are you have a much better immune system to fight off the infection. But if you have been eating a poor diet, are out of shape and overweight, leading to possible chronic conditions, can you suddenly start living a healthy lifestyle and expect to have the same healthy immunity as the infection invades your community?
Obviously you would have had to been building up that immunity and living a healthy lifestyle for quite some time for it to be effective for you now. I guess you are getting the idea of where this is leading to. The way we live our everyday financial lives also has a big impact on how well we are prepared for whatever life may throw our way.
Perhaps this coronavirus has directly (or even indirectly) affected your income. Are you financially prepared to weather the storm? Times like this bring home just how important it is to live below your means (when you have means) and constantly be putting money away for the lean times (or that big “lean time” in your future, otherwise known as retirement).
If your ordinary life includes having no debt, having a good emergency fund put aside, and saving on a regular basis, then you are much less likely to feel panic and upheaval when you come to a bump in the road. The more “padding” you have the less you will feel those bumps. Things that are a (financial) crisis to the ill prepared are merely blips to those that have the money to deal with them and move on.
If you see the sense in this and would like to shift from a living-on-the-edge (paycheck to paycheck) lifestyle there are many actions that you can begin to take to shift to a saving way of life. If you don’t know where to start I have many blogs on various aspects of money saving strategies that you can implement. Right now, while you are likely sequestered at home, might be the best time to finally sit down and take a good look at your financial situation and take control. Here are just a few that you might find particularly helpful:
New Year Savings Resolutions
Would You Love to Save More Money?
Spring Clean Your Finances
Strengthen Your Frugal Muscle, Lighten Your Stress
Easy Peasy Savings, Make it Automatic
Saving Money Every Day
The Perks, Pluses, and Payoffs of Prioritizing
My Message to Millennials
Ready, Set, Goal!
Money Saving Grocery tips from your “Auntie” Victoria
And if you scroll through the rest of the blogs, you may find some more that apply to your particular situation and needs. If you need further individual help feel free to contact me at (845) 758-0250, or brightfuture2budgt4.gmail.com for a personal appointment.
Wishing you all the best for staying healthy now and moving toward a healthy financial future.
A while back when my niece was moving out on her own, I made this guide for her to help her save on grocery shopping. And now I thought it would be a good idea to share it with the rest of you. So just consider me your "Auntie" Victoria, as I present you with some of my sage tips on getting the most from your food shopping dollar.
#1 – Do not start with a menu list for the week!
#2 – Look at the circulars every week, and make your list from the sale items (you
have to know your prices, just because it says it’s “on sale” doesn’t mean it’s a
good price). Learn your prices. You can keep a book/ list of them if you want to.
#3 – Then plan your meals for the week, based on what you have.
#4 – Stock up on items when the sale is super good.
#5 – Buy store brand / generic. It is almost always just as good (and, in fact, the same
exact product) as the name brand. And you will pay much less.
#6 – Keep a running list of what you are getting low on (to replenish), and keep a
well stocked pantry. This eliminates the need to go out shopping for a few
needed items between (weekly) shopping trips.
# 7 – Which brings us to: Shop only once a week! (In fact, some savvy shoppers shop only once every other week), This saves time, gas, and the temptation to impulse buy!
#8 – Plan meals based on inexpensive ingredients! Rice, pasta, eggs, etc.
Eat less expensive meat. Chicken, ground beef, stew meat, things like that.
Eat meatless as much as possible, See my blog on how eating healthy (vegan) is cheaper.
#9 – Don’t buy prepackaged food (i.e. boxed “mixes”, frozen “meals”)
Make things from scratch. It's cheaper and healthier too!
#10– Don’t buy things in single portion sizes. Portion out your individual size snacks
yourself into baggies, little containers, etc.
#11 – Use reusable containers as much as possible. Not “throwaways” (such as
tin foil and plastic wrap,) Always ask yourself if a reusable container would
do for this purpose. (Baggies can be washed out and reused, but even better to
use an actual reusable container).
#12 – This goes for cleaning products too. Use rags instead of paper towels (you can
wash them, and reuse).
#13 - Don’t buy bottled water! Tap water is fine. In fact most bottled water comes
from a tap somewhere! If you are worried about your tap water, you can buy
a filter for your tap, or a filtered pitcher for your fridge. Buy reusable water
bottles to fill yourself when going out. If you absolutely must buy bottled
water (which you don’t), buy the gallon size (of store brand), and fill your water
bottles (or glasses) from that. This also saves the environment from all that
#14 – In fact don’t buy drinks! They are a super expensive, and unnecessary product,
and usually just glorified sugar water. Not good for your budget or your health!
Stick to water, or non-dairy milk drinks, or maybe orange juice (which you can buy from frozen
concentrate, and make yourself). I know they sell “100% juice drinks”, but they
are even more expensive, and even though it is “fruit” sugar, it is still just sugar.
If you must buy juice (which you don’t), then at least water them down (a lot!)
when you drink (serve) them. And don’t even get me started on soda!
#15 – Use the smallest amount of product necessary to get the job done. Experiment to
to see what this would be (by using smaller and smaller amounts – or starting with a
tiny amount, and working your way up. For instance, shampoo, conditioner, lotion,
toothpaste, laundry detergent, dish soap, cleaning products, and also expensive
ingredients in recipes (if you can’t eliminate them altogether). Make a game
out of it. “Waste not want not!”
Does anybody even know what this expression means anymore?
(#16– And now for the subject of coupons. I know you would think being frugal,
I would be one of those crazy coupon ladies, but actually I’m not. The problem
is they are mostly for expensive, prepackaged, processed junk food. And it is
way too expensive (and unhealthy) to buy that crap anyway. If you do come
across a coupon for something other than that (usually for health and beauty
products), it is still usually cheaper to just buy the store brand. The only time
it is usually worthwhile, is if the store is having a sale, and you have a coupon
(especially if the store has a double coupon policy). But, of course you have to
know your prices (what that item usually sells for, and if store brand is cheaper).
#17– You also have to know your prices, when it comes to Bulk Buying. I often
find that the prices on those giant bulk packages (i.e. Sam’s Club) are
not better than you can get when that item goes on sale in the grocery store.
So, if you are going to bulk buy, make sure you check the unit price (you should
always be comparing unit prices anyway!) and know what it typically goes on
sale for. And make sure you will be using that item up, before, say, 2 years past the
expiration date or (if it is perishable) it turns into a science project. It’s not a bargain
if you end up throwing half of it away.
#18 – Speaking of Expiration Dates, they are not that magical. The item is not made
to self destruct, or go suddenly bad, on that very date on the packaging. And
the companies give themselves plenty of leeway on that (better to be safe
than sorry on their end) – it also keeps you buying more of their product as the
one in your pantry “expires” and you have to replace it. Take them with a grain
of salt (so to speak). I have eaten things long past the expiration date, and am
still here to tell about it.
#19 – Don’t throw any food away!! Save even the tiniest amounts. You can use them
for your lunch the next day, or incorporate them into dinner, or whatever.
Learn to be creative with leftovers!
#20 – Always start your dinner plans with “What has to be used up first?” (vegetables
or meat “on their way out”, leftovers that have been in there a while, etc.). (Things in
your pantry past the expiration date!).
In other words: Don’t waste food!! You should never be throwing out food that you spent
good money on!
#21– You can also take advantage of this concept at the supermarket. They will
usually have a ‘bargain rack” of bread, etc., just at it’s expiration date, or fruits
veggies that have to be used up in the next day or two, at very reduced prices.
Take advantage of this. Buy them and use them right away.
Well I guess 21 tips are good to start with. LOL!! I could go on and on . . . .
Not only with food shopping tips, but ways to save money on everything!!
If you ever want help on budgeting to raise a family and “get by on less”, you
know who to come to! Your “Auntie” Victoria, of course!
It’s resolution time again! Want to lose weight? Get healthier? Will this be the year you buy that new car? Declutter the house? Ditch the spouse? So many possibilities! We always start each fresh new year with such high hopes and expectations. And often high on the list is finally getting those finances in order, paying off debt if you have it, and getting started on that savings plan. Then the year rolls along, and what goes wrong?
Well, generally the optimum word here is plan. Do you have one? This quote says It all:
So whatever your financial goals are, you need to actually devise a strategy to achieve them. And you need to be as specific as possible. You first need to take stock of where you are. You can read about how to do that in my very first blog "New Year Savings Resolutions"
When you are writing your goals (and yes, you should be writing them down) you should be as specific as possible. No vague “wishes” here, but very concrete plans for what you are saving for, how much you need to save and when you want it saved by. With this down in black and white you can now devise a plan of action to achieve your goal(s).
Here is an acronym that you can use to help you with this:
."Specific: Exactly what are you saving for? (or what debt do you want to pay off?
Measurable: Put a very specific dollar amount on your goal (i.e. I want to save $10,000 for a car by next fall).
Achievable: Do not state goals that you cannot possibly reach. You will only frustrate yourself. But by the same token, you don’t want to make them so easy that you’re not really accomplishing anything (and still frittering most of your money away).
Relevant: Is this an appropriate goal for you at this time, that you want to achieve? (Not saving for a house or a big wedding because everyone else is telling you it’s time.) (Not saving for a big boat when you have credit card or school loan debt to pay off.)
Timely: Give your goal a deadline. "I want to save up a down payment for a house ($50,000) by spring of 2022."
This way you can break it down as to how much you will need to save monthly to achieve this goal.
Once you have a firm grasp of your goals and how much you will need to save each month to attain them, you can do what you need to do to get there. The first thing you should do is make the savings automatic. Set up an online bank account and have the amount you have decided upon deposited into that account each month, right off the top. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s amazing how you can learn to live on a reduced amount when you never see the money in the first place.
If you need to pay off debts before you move on to savings, pay the minimums on all debts except one and throw as much as you can into the debt you are paying off. Once that one is paid off, move onto the next one. It will get easier and easier as you pay them off as you will have less minimums to pay as you knock off each one.
The other bonus of having these very specific, measurable, and methodical goals is that it makes it easier to sacrifice where you need to as you see your money going towards a higher priority. It feels good to forgo a few immediate pleasures for the sake of your future goals when you can watch your steady progress towards your own financial bright future!
Many people tend to view the holidays as a time of abundance and exuberant gift giving. They equate the season with bountiful shopping and lavish piles of gifts. And while I understand the spirit of generosity and kindness that this custom represents and originates from I can’t help but feel that it has lost something through the years as it has been taken to the extreme.
Of course, being the frugalista that I am, I first must note that, for one thing, it “inspires” (forces?) people to spend beyond their means. So many people today are going into debt for the sake of (the societal pressure to create) a lavish holiday. Do you regret the bills in your mailbox come January? Are you able to pay them off? You can read more in my December 2018 blog about how to have a festive holiday without the debt hangover.
But it goes even beyond the new year regrets. How does this excessive holiday feel to you? Most people report feeling frazzled and stressed out and overwhelmed trying to pull it off. So then, what is the point of it all? Is it for the children? Well, I can tell you right now that children’s happiness not only is not dependent on how many gifts they receive, but is, in fact, negatively impacted by over abundance. They are actually more appreciative of a few well thought-out gifts than a mountain of “stuff." And what message are you sending them with all this “generosity?" Does the word “spoiled” have any meaning to you?
So, if you are currently wrung out by all the stress and overindulgence of the past month, and you are dreading facing those bills in the mailbox come January, it may be time to consider another way next year. Just try it. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
Wishing you all joy, peace, and contentment at the holidays and always
I spoke on these pages last year about how thankfulness affects your budget and spending habits, so I will not reiterate that (though it bears repeating not only every Thanksgiving but also every day of your life. Read more about that here)
This year for the Thanksgiving season I would like to explore another food related topic and blow a common misconception right out of the (over-fished) water. It is often said that eating healthy is expensive. This is one of the usual arguments I get from people when I implore them to save money on their groceries.
I have always been all about eating for less, and have also been mindful of eating a healthy nutritious diet. Rarely has there been a dilemma about choosing one over the other for me. But recently I have discovered that not only is it not more expensive to eat healthily, it is in fact, much cheaper to eat a healthier diet.
I have always been a pretty healthy person but I do have a family history of diabetes and heart disease so when my blood test #’s started creeping up I knew it was time to take more serious action to avoid those golden years full of drugs, tests and procedures.
I did a lot of reading on the subject of what kind of diet and lifestyle changes can help control this metabolic syndrome that can lead to an impaired existence in later years, and found the research coming time and time again back to one conclusion: The best diet (for just about any health problem you have) is a vegan diet.
Now I am not really a stranger to that way of life. Two of my kids are vegetarian and the one that lives with me is vegan. So I have a head start in knowing how to cook without meat and even to some extent without dairy products and eggs. Never the less, it is somewhat of a learning curve to eat like that on a daily basis. But we are finding more and more that it is quite easy to come up with delicious meals that contain no meat or dairy, and not feel deprived in the least. Yes, I said we, my husband has quite willingly come on this transformative journey with me. We are not completely there yet. We do occasionally “cheat” and use a dairy product in a dish. And we are still using up the meat that is in our freezer, having it in small portions once every 2 weeks or so. But we have come a long way in the process and feel that we will be eating a totally vegan diet for the most part in a short time.
I am not writing about all this to get on any high horse about veganism. Although I have also, in the process of my research, discovered just how healthy it is for the planet (and of course the lives of the animals) as well. But the real surprise that I would like to impart on these pages is the effect on our food budget! Think about it for a moment. The most expensive items you put in your grocery cart are the meats and dairy products. When you eliminate them your bill goes way down!
The trick is (and I think this is where the “expensive to eat healthy” myth comes from) is not to replace that meat and dairy with specialty “health foods” and vegan “meat” substitutes. We just buy (and eat) basic inexpensive ingredients like rice, beans, legumes, quinoa and other grains, pasta, potatoes (white and sweet), oatmeal, vegetables and fruits. And our (already low by most people’s standards) food bill has dropped to practically nothing!
Cheap and healthy (and delicious, I might add), it’s a win, win, (win) all around! How can you beat that! And we will also save on health bills in the long run. Add another win to that last sentence!
So a little food for thought for you to contemplate this Thanksgiving season. Bon Appetite! Wishing you a wonderful holiday and a bright future!
I know I am dating myself here, but back when I was a wee lass, Halloween was a simple holiday, simply for kids. And when I say simple I mean that a few weeks before October 31st, we kids, (not our parents) would start thinking about what we wanted to dress up as for Halloween. Then we would scrounge our closets and other parts of the house for things we could use to accomplish our goal. There were usually things like cardboard boxes, tin foil, old clothes of our parents, yarn, fabric scraps and other such items involved. If our parents went all out and bought us a costume, it would be this thing that came in a 12” x 12” box consisting of a flimsy cover-up with a picture on it to represent what we were supposed to be and a cheap mask with a rubber band in the back to hold it on, like this:
These are way more ambitious homemade costumes than we ever came up with. LOL!
On Halloween day itself we would rush home from school, put our costume on and head out with an old sheet or grocery bag to go around the neighborhood trick or treating. We would be home by dinner to review, organize, and trade our loot and that was it. Halloween over.
As for decorations, maybe we would have a few cardboard cutouts of pumpkins, or bats, or ghosts, that we would tape on to our door or windows. And these we saved and used year after year. Oh, and the adults did not celebrate at all. They were not really involved other than to help us with our costume, if we asked, and buy and give out the candy for the trick-or-treaters.
Fast forward to today and it (like almost every other holiday, and so many things in our society) has become a multibillion dollar industry that goes on for an entire season.
Now I know I am sounding rather curmudgeonly here and don’t get me wrong I am not against people having fun for Halloween, adults included. I am just saying that if you are in debt, or not saving enough, it would be prudent on your part to reign in the holiday spending. Even my own (frugal) family has gotten into the spirit. When my kids were little we began hosting a spooky bonfire party each year at this time, adults included, which even though my kids are all adults now, we still often continue to this day.
As I said we held our annual Halloween event, but I never went crazy with the spending. Since I knew it would be happening I kept it in mind all year long when I was shopping at yard sales and thrift shops. And I would take a look for clearance sales in the stores in the days after Halloween. And, of course, I would save things and use them year after year.
I would also pad the decorations with things I had around the house, such as many candles in jars. Even Christmas lights can work for a spooky effect. I would recycle old halloween costumes into creepy scarecrows strategically placed around the yard. My kids would often put together a haunted house or trail, also cleverly using whatever household things they could find. For instance, one year “Dr. Ner’do well’s” lab contained body parts in jars, A cauliflower for the brain, grapes for eyeballs, chicken bones for fingers, etc.
We also invited everyone to come prepared with their favorite scary story to tell as we sat around the fire. Free frights and chills for everyone!
So I think you can see what I’m getting at here. I don’t think we will ever be getting back to that simple sweet Halloween of my childhood years but there are still many ways to get into the spirit and have tons of spooky holiday fun, adults included, without giving up your hard earned money. A little imagination can go a long way towards making your piggy bank happy and still making your Halloween spooktacular!
The author and a friend in our homemade costumes at last years bonfire party.
Happy Frugal Halloween!
Perhaps you have heard there is currently an epidemic of people in our country crippled under outrageous student loan debt. Some people are heading into retirement and still struggling to pay off their college loans. This is completely unnecessary.
Don't end up like this!
I recently gave a talk at the local community center about the smart way to go about planning with your kids for their college so that they can get a degree with as little as possible, or better yet, no debt, and I realized that this is a subject that I have yet to address in this blog space.
I would like to start off by saying that all four of my children have college degrees, one with a PhD, and not one of them has ever taken out a college loan. I don’t say this to brag, but rather to illustrate my point that it can be done and it’s not even that difficult to do. But you have to have the right mindset. And my kids did not even all follow the same “formula” to achieve this, but each found their own way to achieve their degree with no loans bogging them down at graduation time.
When I say the right mindset, I mean to go into the college years with a clearheaded view of the objective, which is to obtain a college degree that will help launch you into a decent paying career. Some people have taken to making too big a deal about the “college experience” and to this I say it is only four years out of a young person’s life and not worth going into crushing debt for many years to come for some perfect college adventure or “high end” degree. You can pay a reasonable price for that degree and still have a good experience and some good times and you will have the rest of your life for adventures as well.
So here are some things to consider when planning for those college years that can help in obtaining that debt-free degree:
#1. Keep the scales balanced – Be realistic in your approach to college. Do not go
deeply into debt for a degree that will not lead to a lucrative career. Remember you are
paying for a service. Keep your R.O.I. (Return On Investment) in mind.
Make it your objective to avoid debt if at all possible
#2. Getting ready for college
- Get good grades
- Earn college credits. Take AP courses and/or college courses at a reciprocal college
during your high school years if your school offers them.
- Get involved, follow a passion (do not just do a “checklist” of things to beef up your
- Give to your community in a meaningful way in line with your own interests and ideals.
- Start looking for scholarships in sophomore year. Start applying in junior and senior year.
- Look at both local scholarships and online scholarships.
#3. College Choice:
- Be realistic. Go where you can afford!
- Community college for the first two years
- State schools
- Only go to a private school if you get a very good scholarship (to bring it down to at or
below state school tuition). Make sure that scholarship is guaranteed for the entire two or
- Do not get caught up in the prestige of a college name. After your first job or two it’s not
really going to matter anymore where you attended college. It’s your job performance that
will stand for itself.
#4. Choose a practical major:
- Do some research as to your options
- What kind of jobs are available in that field?
- What kind of salary can you expect to make?
- Apply to as many as possible
- Use these websites to find online scholarships: Fastweb, or Niche.com. There are many more.
- Ask the individual colleges about them. One of my sons applied for a scholarship that the young
tour guide happened to mention on a college visit and won a four year full scholarship to that
- Fill out the FASFA (some scholarships are tied to it)
- Keep applying for scholarships even when you are in college
- While in high school
- Over summers
- While in college
- Be entrepreneurial! Rather than work an hourly wage job (such as a cashier or flipping burgers) work for yourself. Even things like babysitting, dog walking, mowing lawns, or tutoring, tend to be more lucrative. If you have a special talent, use it. Give music lessons,
make something to sell, help people with their websites. These types of jobs often
pay more than the hourly wage jobs.
- Be an RA after your freshman year
- Live at home if possible. One of my kids lived at home and commuted to two years of
community college and then another two years at a local state school, all the while
working at a grocery store and paid off the tuition as he went along.
- Take all expenses into account if considering off-campus living (utilities, food shopping,
- As for transportation, seriously consider not having a car through the college years, especially if you are going away to college. Most colleges have a decent mass transit system to get around the
area. None of my kids that went away to college had their own car during those years and they got by just fine.
- Embrace minimalism! Do not go crazy shopping for college housing “stuff”.
If you look like this heading off to college, you spent too much:
- Meal plan-vs-grocery shopping? Carefully consider which would work the best for you and
be the least expensive option.
- If you take the meal plan, use it! Don’t pay for food not eaten. Every meal you paid for but did not eat is wasted money!
- Limit eating out and take-out.
- Cook your own food
Brew your own coffee
Drink water (get a reusable water bottle)
- Do not buy college text books at full price. Use websites like “Chegg” and “Bookfinder” to buy used books or rent them. You can also download them (sometimes for free) on
sites like the Google ebookstore. You can double your savings by sharing them with a
friend taking the same class.
#10. Graduate on time!
- Do not take extra semesters to graduate, paying more for your degree than necessary.
This is especially important If you are taking out any loans for your education.
- In fact, try to graduate a year, or at least a semester early if you can. This is especially
feasible if you have transferred college credits (i.e. AP courses) from high school.
Have a Bright (debt-free) Future!