5 Ways to Stretch Your Money During the Furlough

An unexpected government shutdown (or any unplanned financial challenge) can catch you by surprise and put families in very precarious situations. 

Hopefully, you have been saving all along and have 3-6 months of living expenses saved up for this “rainy day.” You may be in the position to sit back, relax, and ride this thing out stress free. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many of the federal employees who are currently not receiving pay. While some may be able to maintain for longer than others, eventually we will all come to a breaking point if this furlough continues. 

Here are 5 frugal strategies that are helping me to maintain during the shutdown.

  1. Build Your Side Hustle

If you have been working on a hobby or side hustle in your spare time, now is a great time to kick that thing into high gear! Any earnings can be saved, and used to help pay bills that can keep pad your savings account.

  2. Grocery Shop Smarter

Use the ingredients that you already have in your pantry and fridge in your meals before purchasing more food. Now that you have more time on your hands, plan your meals in advance and stock up on sale-priced items when you can.

Also, if you have freezer space available, consider bulk cooking. This is when you cook enough food for 2-3 meals of the same dish. You eat one of the meals on the same day that it’s cooked, and freeze the others to be eaten within the next few weeks (check out this blog post on the top 100 Food Items that Should be Frozen). The benefit of this is that you will have sensibly priced, healthy meals ready to pop into the oven (that could cost $5 per meal), which will reduce the need for “take-out” food (that would cost $40-$50 per meal).

  3. Minimize Gas Usage 

If you do drive, when feasible run all your errands at the same time to minimize unnecessary gas usage. Also, when appropriate, skip driving all together and use another form of transportation such as walking or riding a bike. Now is also a great time to take advantage of services that provide free shipping of goods.

  4. Purge Your Home of Unneeded Items

Now is an awesome time to tackle the unused clothes, toys, and equipment that occupy your closets and storage space. Post usable items for sale online for extra cash. You may be surprised by what people will pay for gently used items. Recently, I was about to earn about $200 for a few gently used toddler items that we no longer need. You can also donate gently used items so that they can be put to good use.

  5. Shop for Lower Rates

Call your insurance companies and utility (cable, cell phone, internet, etc.) companies to inquire about reduced rates. Now is a great time to truly research and shop around for better prices.

What are some other ways that you can make your cash stretch during a challenging time (or anytime)? Leave your comment below, thanks!

Quadruple Your Savings with Stockpiling

To save money on the food you purchase, it is often necessary to buy in bulk and stockpile items. This requires foresight and planning so that you can determine how much food to store and safely use before it expires.

There are a few products that you will use consistently, without fail. These are the items that it is important to keep in stock in your home. In the long run, this will undoubtedly save you time, money and your sanity! If you are new to stockpiling food items, I advise you to make a list of the top ten items that you find yourself reaching for daily or weekly. To keep things simple to start, only list long-shelf life (nonperishable) items that don’t require refrigeration (steer clear of stockpiling bread, fresh produce and dairy products if you’re new to this).

Commonly Used Food Staples to Stockpile:

Rice
Flour
Sugar
Ketchup
Mustard
Dry Beans
Spices
Cooking Oil
Crackers
Canned Soup
Canned Vegetables
Peanut Butter
Oatmeal
Pasta
Tomato Sauce
Peanuts
Honey
Soy Sauce
Coffee
Tea

Once you have your list, determine how much of each items your family will use within a given time period (3 months, 6 months or a year). There are many items you can purchase and safely use up within a year, so that is an optimal time frame to shop for. If that is too ambitious, aim for 3 months.

For example, if you go through one bottle of ketchup per month, it would be wise to two or three bottles at once if you find a great sale. If the sale price is $1.00 per bottle, you may be able to get three bottles at $3.00, rather than purchasing each at the full price of $2.49 each. There are countless ways to save money this way both with and without using coupons. The key is to be aware of what you’re using and how much of it you are using, and with that knowledge you will be armed and dangerous!

It does not benefit you to have a bunch of random items that you’re not using and don’t need. That is why it is important to keep track of the items you have and use the items before they expire. Once you get a nice system in place with the nonperishables, you can add frozen goods, dairy and other items to your stockpile list.

Storage of a few staple products goes a long way in meal preparation. Additionally, with the knowledge of which products to store at home, you are able to purchase them at bulk prices, which are often 30-50% cheaper than regular prices.

What 5 items can you start stockpiling today?

6 Frugal Travel Hacks for Your Next Trip

Traveling by airplane can be very expensive! Don’t make it more expensive than it needs to be! After you spend hundreds of dollars on your airplane ticket, rental car and housing (costs that we often have little control over), you will still have some “hidden” costs for your trip. You will still need to get to the airport, eat and take care of incidentals. We can’t plan for everything, but there are a handful of things that we can anticipate and plan for (which are often NOT accounted for).

These extra expenses can quickly add up to hundreds of collars per year.

Here are some tips to save money during travel:

Avoid Paying Baggage Fees

Many airline now charge customers to bring luggage, and the fees start at $25 each way. Sometimes this cost is unavoidable. However, if you are traveling along for only a couple of days, challenge yourself to pack everything you will need in a smaller “personal sized” bag. Alternatively, if you are going to visit family or friends for a few days, you can ship most of your clothes to their home a week before your scheduled arrival. Not only will it make your load lighter and save a few dollars, it will eliminate the need to wait for luggage. This strategy is especially useful if you have little ones and need free hands.

Bring your own Car Seat or Booster Seat

If you have a small child and are planning to rent a car, bring your child’s car seat along with you. Most car rental companies will charge you $20 or more per day to rent a car seat. To make travel through the airport with a car seat easier, you could purchase a device that essentially puts wheels on the car seat and allows you to pull it with your child in it like a stroller. Also, most airlines don’t even charge extra fees to bring your car seat on the plane (check with the airline for details).

Use Public Transportation or Have Someone Drop You Off

If possible, avoid having to pay parking fees. Depending upon the length of your trip, parking fees can quickly approach and exceed $100. Most large airports can be accessed by public transportation, and this is a great option (depending upon your amount of luggage and who is in your travel party). With a little planning ahead of time, you can either have someone drop you off, or use public transportation to get to the airport. This way, you will avoid paying those parking fees, and save those funds for your next plane ticket.

Pack Your Own Reading Materials 

It is very easy to get bored while you are waiting to board your flight, which may lead to you perusing the bookstores or newsstands. To avoid spending $5 – $10 on magazines and newspapers, bring your own materials from your local library, your collection at home, or on your electronic device. Not only will it save you some cash, it is better for the environment.

Bring Your Own Food to the Airport

Most airports will allow you to bring food with you through the security checkpoint in your carryon luggage (not liquids). So, be sure to bring at least one meal and some snacks for your trip. Also, be sure to pack an EMPTY water bottle to fill up after passing through the security checkpoint. Many large airports now have water fountains that supply filtered water. A meal, drink and snacks purchased at the airport will very quickly add up to $25, so save that cash and bring your own (for under $3).

Plan Meals & Snacks

While it enhances your trip to enjoy the local cuisine of the place you are visiting, it may not be cost effective to do so for every meal. To avoid this expense, when you plan your trip, look for hotels that have at least a refrigerator and that offers complimentary breakfast. Also once you arrive to your destination, find a grocery store and stock up on quick meals and snacks that you can take on the go. If you are taking a larger suitcase, you can even pack some food items in your luggage. If you will have access to a kitchen, be sure to pack nonperishables like spices, rice and oatmeal. This way, you will only need to purchase things like meats, dairy and produce when you arrive.

What are some ways that you like to save money while traveling?

Top 100 Food Items that Should be Frozen

Stop, don’t throw out that food! Many of the foods that we eat regularly can be frozen and saved for later consumption. A large part of preparing food for freezing is having a plan for how the food will be consumed in the future. Often, preparation such as chopping, blanching, peeling, portioning, separating or slicing may be required before freezing. Additionally, many foods once thawed need to be consumed within a certain timeframe, and to be prepared a certain way. These steps will only make things easier when it’s time for consumption, and will preserve the quality and taste of the food. Here are a few tips to get started:

Basic Food Freezing Tips

  • Store food in air-tight containers
  • Leave room for liquids to expand
  • Store meals in serving sizes
  • Allow hot foods to cool to room temperature before freezing
  • Store produce after it has been cleaned
  • If an item can be found in the frozen foods section, it can be frozen at home
  • Fruits like bananas and mangos should be peeled and chopped
  • Foods like pasta and rice are good if they are slightly undercooked when frozen
  • Many foods can be frozen when they are raw or cooked depending upon
  • Thawed leafy vegetables (spinach, lettuce, herbs, kale, cabbage) are best cooked or in smoothies, not salads
  • Lingering leftovers like cooked pasta sauce or ground meats can be frozen after a couple of days and added to future meals
  • Organization is key, so label and date items

This list is by no means exhaustive. However, if you are new to cooking and food preservation, this list is a great foundation. After a little research, you will find many details on how to freeze and prepare the foods most commonly used by your family. Whether you have a standalone freezer, or just the freezer compartment of your refrigerator, you can use either to save thousands of dollars per year and to serve healthy food.

What are your favorite foods to freeze?

1.    Bacon

2.     Bagels

3.     Bananas

4.     Beans

5.     Beef

6.     Biscuits

7.     Blackberries

8.     Blueberries

9.     Bread

10.  Bread Crumbs

11.  Breakfast Bars

12.  Breakfast Sandwiches

13.  Broccoli

14.  Broth

15.  Brownies

16.  Buns

17.  Burgers

18.  Burritos

19.  Butter/Margarine

20.  Buttermilk

21.  Cabbage

22.  Cake Frosting

23.  Candy

24.  Cantaloupe

25.  Carrots

26.  Cauliflower

27.  Celery

28.  Cereal

29.  Chicken

30.  Chicken Noodle Soup

31.  Chicken Nuggets

32.  Chili

33.  Cocoa Powder

34.  Coconut Milk

35.  Casseroles

36.  Cookie Dough

37.  Cookies

38.  Corn

39.  Cranberries

40.  Cream Cheese

41.  Cream of Wheat

42.  Croutons

43.  Dried Fruits

44.  Dry Milk

45.  Eggs

46.  Fish

47.  Flax Seed

48.  Flour

49.  French Toast

50.  Grapes

51.     Ground Meats

52.     Heavy Cream

53.     Hemp Seed

54.     Herbs

55.     Honeydew Melon

56.     Hot Dogs

57.     Kale

58.     Lasagna

59.     Greens for Blending or Cooking

60.  Lunch Meat

61.  Milk

62.  Nuts

63.  Oatmeal

64.  Onions

65.  Pancakes

66.  Pasta (al dente)

67.  Peaches

68.  Peas

69.  Peppers

70.  Pie

71.  Pie Dough

72.  Pineapple

73.  Pizza

74.  Pizza Dough

75.  Pureed Vegetables (Baby Food)

76.  Quesedillas

77.  Quiche

78.  Rice

79.  Sausage

80.  Seeds

81.  Shredded Cheese

82.  Shrimp

83.  Sliced Cheese

84.  Smoothie Mixes

85.  Snack foods

86.  Spices

87.  Spinach

88.  Squash

89.  Stews

90.  Strawberries

91.  Sugar

92.  Tomato Puree

93.  Tomato Sauce

94.  Turkey

95.  Vegetable scraps for stock

96.  Waffles

97.  Whipped Cream (in tub)

98.  Yeast

99.  Yogurt

100.  Zucchini

Get Stuff Done

use Mini-Goal Setting to Get Stuff Done

Have you ever gotten frustrated trying to efficiently complete a major task? If you’re like most, your home is a place where there is always something that needs to be done. Creating mini-goals along the way is the easiest way to accomplish complicated and arduous goals. It is easy to become overwhelmed when a task seems momentous, overly complex or time-consuming. However, when you break the desired outcome down into smaller more easily doable tasks, you will set yourself up to accomplish those tasks and consequently motivate yourself to continue until you achieve your ultimate goal.

This concept is applicable to so many aspects of life, including in the home. For instance, let’s say that you have decided to cook a healthy dinner each night next week. If you’ve never turned on your oven before, this will not be a simple feat! Planning, shopping, prepping, and cooking all take time and effort. If you fail to grasp the full scope of this task, or you fail to allocate the right amount of time to accomplishing this task, you will soon become frustrated and revert to your previous mode of operation (i.e. fast food or other unhealthy but convenient food options).

Repeatable, Time Efficient and Motivational

The successful outcome is much easier to accomplish time and time again (and become habit) when your mini-goals are repeatable. Additionally, mini-goals should not be time consuming, and achieving each one should motivate you to progress to the next step.

Here is a sample of mini-goals that will lead to the outcome of having healthy dinner meals every night for a week.

Thursday

Mini-goal #1: Create a Plan (30 minutes):

If you are new to cooking, the key is to have a few easy recipes that only have a few ingredients. Do not become frustrated that you aren’t a gourmet chef, you will improve!
Also, make sure you have the basic cookware that you will need to cook each of the meals.

1. Write a list of 5 dinner meals that you would like to prepare
2. Find the recipes for the meals
3. Verify that you have the proper cookware for your meals
4. Write out a grocery list of the food and cooking items you will need

That’s it for the day. Congratulations, this is a great step towards successfully accomplishing your ultimate goal. You have done some research and are now prepared for the next step tomorrow.

Friday

Mini-goal #2: Shop (1 hour):

Take your list and go shopping! This should be straight forward, but some people get overwhelmed by food shopping options (i.e. using coupons, shopping at certain stores, buying organic, etc.). If you are new to meal prepping, DO NOT get stuck here. For now, just stick to the one store you are most familiar with, and aim to shop within your budget without using coupons (I know, the HORROR!! LOL). Once you get into the groove of things, you can modify your shopping trips to account for these options later.

Saturday

Mini-goal #3: Prep (1 hour)

This step involves cleaning, chopping and storing the food that you brought home. For instance, if you purchased onions and bell pepper for meals early next week, it would be very helpful if you chopped those up and stored them in the fridge for quick and easy use when the time comes.

The 2.5 hours you spent planning, shopping and prepping for meals should have greatly reduced anxiety and put you in position to cook and serve healthy meals each night with ease, which is the ultimate goal. Each of these mini-goals along the way are repeatable, time-efficient, and motivational. Imagine the disastrous outcome if you had tried to do all the aforementioned AND cook dinner on Monday evening after work? If you successfully achieved all your mini-goals, you should feel confident that you will achieve your goal of cooking healthy dinner meals each night of the upcoming week. By achieving measurable and doable mini-goals along the way, you will have set yourself up for success.

What goals are you aiming for, and how can mini-goalsetting help you achieve them?