How to Enjoy Summer Without Going Broke

Summer has arrived! Here are some less expensive alternatives to enjoying the season without breaking the bank.

Have a Picnic in the Park

Summer is a great time to be outside enjoying the warm weather. Gather your family, friends, or even just have a quiet day by yourself outdoors. Bring fruit, cheese, crackers, a blanket and a book. This is a great way to soak up the sun and relax. If you’re inviting a larger crowd – make it a potluck picnic, where everyone brings something to eat. Music, board games, and a Frisbee or ball to throw around also make great additions. A simple day at the park can be a lot of fun (and not too expensive either)!

Get Creative in the Kitchen

It’s nice to partake in buying yourself an iced coffee everyday, happy hour after work and trying new restaurants. But doing so several times a week can really add up. If you’re slightly strapped for cash this summer, think about getting creative in your kitchen at home. Make your own iced tea, iced coffee, and infused water. You can even add fruit and herbs to your ice cube tray, and freeze them to add refreshing flavor to your summer beverages. By working in your own kitchen instead of spending money out, you’ll save some cash and feel accomplished at the same time.

Enjoy Free Community Activities

In nearly every community, there are usually lots of activities in the summer ranging from free movies and concerts in the park, bike rides, festivals, craft shows, and more. Check out the various activities by looking at your community calendar, a local newspaper, as well as online. A little bit of research can result in a ton of free or low-cost activities that are fun for the whole family. If you’re in Monmouth or Ocean Counties in New Jersey – check out our monthly Things to Do on a Budget blog posts!

Go on a Summer Purge

If you didn’t partake in a major spring cleaning, now is a great time to go through all your clothing, paperwork, and items around the house.  If you haven’t used it in six months, it’s probably a good idea to either throw it out, recycle it, donate it, or sell it. Having a purge in the summer is a wonderful time to have a garage sale and declutter. You can make some extra cash and learn to live with only what you need.

Write Letters to Family and Friends

Have you ever noticed that nearly all of your mail is typically either a bill or junk? The only time our mailboxes really get any love is during the holiday season. If you aren’t traveling for the summer to see friends or family, write them a letter and maybe include some photos. It will be an unexpected surprise for the receiver and also boost your mood!

Explore Your Neighborhood

You may think you know your neighborhood inside and out, but there may be certain hidden corners and areas that are undiscovered. Be a tourist in your own city. Go for a walk and get lost. Enjoy a bike ride on a different path. Make a wrong turn. Appreciate the little things and actively look for things you’ve never seen before. Having a new perspective can show you things you may have been missing out on, right in your own backyard.

Host a Themed Party

As fun as traveling is, it can definitely be pricey. If you can’t get away this summer to your desired destination, do the next best thing and host a themed party instead. If you are dreaming of going to Japan, have a sushi night and invite some friends and family over. If you are wishing for island beaches, make some Caribbean food, put on some island music, and print out some tropical photos. Having a themed event can be fun and inspire you to save, so you can make your dream trip happen in the future.

Summer is a great time to explore, get together with friends and family, and enjoy the outdoors. There are plenty of ways you can do it for less, so you can still have some summer fun without breaking the bank.

Article Source:  Melanie Lockert for Moneyning.com

Buying Lunch Too Much? 3 Money Saving Tips

We all know in theory that brown bagging is a great way to save money and eat a bit healthier. However, for a lot of us, it’s hard to find the motivation and energy to pack a lunch, especially if it’s going to be the same old ham and cheese on wheat every day. Before long, we lose momentum and it’s back to eating burgers, pizza, and subs five days a week. If that sounds like you, here are some tips to help you pack an inexpensive lunch that will make you forget all about takeout and draining your bank account.

1. Get your kitchen organized.

The easier it is for you to pack your lunch, the fewer excuses you’ll have for skipping it.

Designate a cabinet or shelf for containers, bags and wraps, etc. Weed out any mismatched or damaged containers and lids. Make a point of keeping this area tidy and organized so that finding what you need is a breeze.

Clean out your fridge to make it easy to find condiments and salad dressings and to have room for leftovers, yogurt, prepared fruits and vegetables, and other easy to grab snacks. You’ll also want to keep a space available to store your lunch overnight if packing it the night before saves you time and forces you to bring your lunch.

Keep a basket on a shelf to store lunchbox snacks like granola bars, chips and crackers. You can portion out a week’s worth at a time in plastic bags – which is cheaper than buying individual servings.

2. Go beyond lunch meat.

Some people are happy eating the same deli meat and cheese sandwich every day, while others need variety. Foods marketed especially for lunch can also be more expensive than starting from whole foods and preparing them yourself.

Instead of deli meat – try slicing up chicken, turkey, beef and pork that you’ve cooked yourself at home and make sandwiches, lettuce wraps, and more. Not only can you save money this way, but you’ll also have more control over the ingredients.

If you like frozen meals for lunch, try making your own by freezing portions of lasagna, enchiladas, stews and other home-cooked foods that freeze well. The food will be tastier, and freezing to eat later is great for those who don’t like eating the same meals two or more days in a row.

Hummus with vegetables and pita bread for dipping can also be a very healthy lunch. Making your own hummus is incredibly cheap and you can even go beyond the normal chickpea version and experiment with black beans, edamame and other variations.

3. Make brown bagging it a fun, social affair.

You can encourage your colleagues to pack a lunch by talking to them about the benefits and encouraging them to give it a shot. Not only can they save money, but it can also help them lose weight and eat healthier.

Suggest fun ways to encourage each other to pack a lunch. Some workplaces have had great luck with a salad bar club (everyone brings different ingredients to keep in the fridge to make salads that week), or bringing dishes to share. For companies where people are interested in getting healthier, a quick brown bag lunch followed by a brisk walk during lunch hour can also be a great motivator.

As you can see – it’s easy to pack a lunch each day, and great for your health and budget!

Article Source: Tracy for Moneyning.com

How to Build Your Savings

Many Americans have little to nothing at all saved up. In the event of any emergency, most people just don’t have any resources to weather the blow. It can be difficult to understand how to build up your savings, but the key is to start little by little. Nothing is impossible once you get started. Here are five tips to help you:

1. Evaluate Your Priorities

To be successful at saving, you have to understand why you need to do it. We all have goals in life. What are yours? When you have a better understanding of what you want to achieve in the short and long term, you can then make plans to save for them. It’s very important to understand what your priorities are, because the reality is that you can’t spend on everything you want to. Be strategic with your budget and only spend where it can help push you further in life.

2. Make Small Changes

Your savings isn’t going to multiply overnight. Results will take time. Many people make the mistake of trying to save too much too soon. When you make too many drastic changes to your life at once, it’s difficult to sustain the effort. You’re likely just to go back to your old, bad spending habits. It’s best to start small and do little things that you barely notice, like making your own coffee in the morning or bringing lunch to work a few days a week. These small efforts sound minuscule, but the savings will start adding up.

3. Make It Automatic

Set it and forget it. That’s the name of the game. The easiest way to save is to make it automatic so that you don’t have the possibility of forgetting to make the deposit. Set automatic payment transfers from your checking to your savings account. You can do this for days you get paid. Start with small transfers and then increase them over time. Eventually, you probably won’t even notice anymore.

4. Get a Side Gig

If you’re just making ends meet and your budget is bare-bones already, it’s probably going to be difficult to start saving no matter how hard you try. In that case, it’s wise to find additional streams of revenue. Many people these days can make extra income right from the comfort of their own home, doing things like freelance writing or graphic design. If you prefer something more hands on, you can moonlight as a handyman, dog walker, or sell crafts on Etsy. There are plenty of options out there for people of any skill set. You just have to find it.

5. Plan Ahead

Lastly, the most important thing to do is to plan ahead. Most of the time, people can’t save because they are caught off guard by their own spending. Be proactive and plan out your weeks and even months ahead. Try your best to stick to a budget and if you find yourself having trouble, adjust the numbers as soon as possible. The more you plan ahead, the easier it will be for you to save any amount of money.

Start small, and work your way towards financial freedom. The effort will be worth it in the end.

Article Source: Connie Mei for Moneyning.com

Save Money By Taking Your Spring Cleaning to the Next Level

Springtime is here, and that means it’s time for that beloved annual tradition — spring cleaning. In surveys conducted by the American Cleaning Institute, responses indicate that as many as 91% of Americans and 96% of Millennials engage in spring cleaning, so it seems safe to say we’re all in this together.

As you open the windows and begin your routine of washing, sweeping, dusting, and decluttering, the goal is to spruce up your home’s interior while eliminating things you no longer need. When done correctly, spring cleaning can actually make you happier and healthier. So, it makes sense to be as thorough as possible. This year, while you’re busy cleaning your fixtures and furniture, it might be a good idea to update some common household items to more energy-efficient options. A more efficient home is an investment that can save you money all year long, and we’re pretty sure lower utility bills will boost your mood as well!

Simple Ways to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient This Spring

Energy Saving Power Switch: By completely cutting off all power when an electronic device isn’t in use, these plug-in adapters reduce the costly effects of “vampire energy.” While the term sounds scarier than it should, vampire energy refers to the power that still flows to a device even when it is turned off. These handy switches can be purchased online or in your local hardware store for $10 or less. And with prices that low, your return on investment can be quite substantial.

Low Flow Showerhead: According to a research project conducted by the Alliance for Water Efficiency, the average American shower lasts for just over 8 minutes and uses approximately 17 gallons of water. The average flow rate works out to be roughly 2.1 gallons per minute (gpm). By switching to a low flow shower head that reduces usage to 1.25 gpm, you can save an average of $32 per year per person. For a couple, that means about $64 in savings each year — especially impressive considering that most low flow showerheads can be purchased for $10-15.

Smart Thermostat: The Internet has revolutionized the way we communicate, shop, and even do our banking. Now, thanks to smart products like the Nest Thermostat, it appears that it has also changed the way we save on energy-related expenses. While the initial price of a Nest will set you back approximately $250, the average annual home energy savings of $150 per year means you’ll recoup your investment in less than two years. After that, the savings will continue to add up.

Energy Audits: Not sure where to begin? An energy audit can help! Depending on your location, energy audits can cost anywhere from $250 to $600. And while that might seem like a lot to pay up front, the potential savings can make it worth the investment. During a professional energy audit, efficiency experts utilize specialized tools to identify areas where your home may be using excessive energy, which in turn – can help you pinpoint which improvements will make the biggest difference. To find an energy auditor and prepare for an upcoming audit, check out these helpful tips.

Throughout this article, we’ve talked about a few relatively low cost ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency. But maybe you’re thinking a little bigger this spring. If you need a little more incentive to make big ticket improvements like installing new windows, updating your HVAC system, or adding solar panels, federal tax incentives may provide just the push you’re looking for. Usually available in the form of rebates, these incentives are designed to encourage homeowners to update their home systems to be more energy efficient and sustainable. If you’ve been thinking about making some major energy saving upgrades around your house, don’t forget to see if the upgrades qualify for valuable government incentives. When it comes to saving energy and saving money, every little bit helps!

Tips for Building a Fabulous Wardrobe on a Budget

It’s Springtime, and one of the most popular seasons to shop for clothes and do some spring cleaning. This includes your closet. One of the first steps is to eliminate anything in your closet that doesn’t fit, flatter, or you simply don’t love.

Is it possible to build an amazing wardrobe on a budget? If you consider the following tips, absolutely.

1. Plan Out Your Ideal Wardrobe

Like any financial endeavor, a successful makeover starts with a plan—in this case, your ideal wardrobe. Make a list of 10-15 key items you’ll need for each season, not counting accessories or activity-specific items. Some prefer 33 items that mix and match into four 3 month mini capsules. Whichever plan you choose, here are two things to consider:

Follow your personal style – what you feel and look good in, your lifestyle needs, and the image you want to project. Think about your favorite clothes and what they have in common.

Choose colors that will blend well with one another. Mostly neutrals tones (black, white, gray, ivory, brown/camel, navy) with a few pops of color will allow you to create the greatest number of outfits with the fewest pieces.

2. Determine Your Shopping and Downsizing Strategy

Seeing what you have and what you need, will allow you to target your shopping. If you can only afford to purchase one new item a month, which items are the highest priority? Take your time making decisions, because you’ll want each new piece to last as long as possible. If you won’t be donating your old clothes, sell them through consignment, a yard sale, or an app like Poshmark – and channel the funds into your new wardrobe.

3. Choose Quality Over Quantity

Many of us mark a successful shopping trip by how far we stretch our money, failing to take into account the quality of the clothing we’ve purchased. Instead of replacing three poorly-constructed items purchased for $100 after a few months, it’s better to purchase one $100 item that will last you much longer. How do you determine quality other than price? Try things on, read reviews, and test things out until you find a handful of brands you can count on for the right mix of quality and value.

4. Go for Timeless, Not Trendy

You’ll probably notice that high-quality pieces tend to be classics — items that will always make you look fashionable, regardless of the current trends. If you want to ‘freshen’ your wardrobe, look through fashion magazines for ideas on how to create new looks with the classics you already have.

5. Be a Savvy Shopper

While budgeting and saving for quality pieces, don’t forget to look for great deals. Stay aware of what’s in the stores, but wait for end-of-season sales in June/July and December/January. Don’t be afraid to mix in a few cheaper pieces with more expensive ones by shopping consignment and vintage stores, but again — prioritize quality.

6. Take Care of Your Clothes

Paying more for your clothes will make you want to take better care of them. Always follow care instructions exactly, and when in doubt, hand wash and air dry. To avoid ironing disasters, replace your iron with a garment steamer.

And there you have it – creating an amazing wardrobe on a budget!

Article Source: Jessica Sommerfield for Moneyning.com

8 Ways to Save at the Grocery Store Without Coupons

Grocery shopping can be a hassle, and having to take time to cut coupons can make it even worse. Here’s how you can shop without coupons and still save money.

1. Pick the right store.

Try comparing stores by shopping for identical items and figure out which store has the best value. Keep in mind the distance you travel to each store, because that can add up too.

2. Stock up on sale items.

When there’s a sale, buy anything you can freeze or that has a long shelf life. If it’s an item that goes on sale often, buy enough to last you until the next sale. Compare your store’s weekly ads and plan ahead.

3. Take advantage of loyalty programs.

Some stores require a loyalty card to get sale prices, so definitely sign up for one. It only takes a few minutes and you may even get other discounts as you use it.

4. Check the unit price.

Occasionally, buying in bulk will save you money. However – at a lot of grocery stores, the smaller quantity packages actually cost less per ounce.

5. Don’t buy prepared foods.

You may think having to wash and cut fruit and vegetables is an inconvenience, but it’s also a great way to save money. You may enjoy the ease of using already prepared food, but you’ll pay for that benefit. Buy the ingredients uncut, and create your meals. You’ll pleasantly be surprised to see how much you can save.

6. Don’t waste anything.

Make sure you’re not buying anything you haven’t already planned on eating. If you buy on impulse, you may end up buying something that will eventually just get thrown away. Map out meals and snacks and don’t get anything you don’t really need.

7. Cook the right amount.

Don’t make more food than you need. If you follow the recipe on a package, you may cook too much food, especially if you’re only cooking for 1 or 2 people. Sometimes leftovers are good to have, but a lot of times they end up in the trash can. Make sure you figure out the correct serving size and adjust your purchases accordingly.

8. Shop less.

This one is easy. The more you shop, the more impulse buys you’ll make. Look at your store’s sale schedule and shop only as often as you have to.

 Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com