5 Very Simple Budget Cuts You Can Make Today

5 Very Simple Budget Cuts You Can Make Today

Saving money and cutting expenses are never the favorite dinner table topic, but they are vitally important for individuals and families to discuss. And while there are quite a few drastic ways to save money on your monthly bills, there are actually quite a few small but simple ways to save that you can start TODAY. These seemingly easy adjustments probably won’t have that big of an impact on your day-to-day, but could result in some substantial savings.

Here are five very simple budget cuts that you can make today:

Change Your Thermostat

Did you know that adjusting your thermostat by just one degree can result in up to 10% energy savings? Keeping our homes cool in the summer and warm in the winter is expensive, and takes a lot of energy. And, the amount of energy that you save by adjusting the temperature is substantial. Depending on where you live, the results could be even more staggering.

Part of the reason the energy savings are so high is because most electric companies charge in a tiered rating system, which means that higher users get charged substantially more. This is why even cutting back a little bit can have a dramatic effect, because it can move you out of a higher tier and into a lower one.

Start by seeing if you can handle a temperature of 68 degrees in the winter and 74 degrees in the summer. Throw on a sweater in the winter if it feels a little cool, and make use of a few box fans in the summer if it’s still a bit hot.

Continue pushing until you find a temperature that you are comfortable with, even if it isn’t perfect. If you want to take it a step further, try adding insulation to your attic, and making sure that all your doors and windows are sealed tight.

Make Coffee at Home

Grabbing coffee on the go is convenient, but it’s also extremely expensive. Cut this habit out and you’ll see immediate savings. And, it isn’t very hard to do.

Figure out how to make the equivalent of what you buy at home. If you drink regular drip coffee, this should be pretty simple. Get a cheap coffeemaker, and make sure it has a timer. Set it up the night before, so that your coffee is ready when you get up to leave. One of the biggest reasons people pick up coffee on the go is because they ran out of time to make it in the morning.

If you tend to prefer a fancier drink, like a latte, look into purchasing a used espresso machine. This will add time to your daily routine, as making a latte can take 5 minutes. But, you’ll save yourself quite a bit of money. You can also try purchasing a machine that makes the drink for you, like a Nespresso.

If possible, try cutting back on the expensive coffee drinks. Perhaps only grab one on a special occasion, or once a week.

Turn your Hot Water Heater Down

Similar to point #1, keeping your hot water heater warm takes a lot of energy. Your hot water heater has to keep an entire drum of water hot all the time, so that you have hot water when you want it. Depending on what temperature you have it set to, this ongoing process can take a lot of energy.

You would be surprised how hot you actually need the temperature set to. You might have the temperature set much higher than needed. Test different temperature settings to see how low you can go.

Cut Out On Subscription

Chances are, you have at least one monthly subscription you don’t utilize to the fullest of it’s extent. Perhaps this is a daily newspaper delivery, or the more obvious one: your cable TV subscription. Either way, try finding one subscription that you aren’t making use of, and get rid of it.

If you have an expensive gym membership, perhaps try making a portable home made gym out of a spare bedroom and picking up a few used dumbbells and kettlebells. Or make exercising a family event and workout with your kids!

Of course, you can also try cutting your cable bill, and instead go with Hulu, Netflix, or Sling Box.

The list goes on, but for most families, you’ll be able to find at least one subscription to cut out.

Stop Drying with the Dishwasher

Another easy one to put into place right now, stop using the dry setting on your dishwasher. While dishwashers have become a lot more efficient in their water usage, their energy usage for drying has not gotten a lot better. Dishwashers use a tremendous amount of energy when drying dishes, and you don’t really need to use them for this task.

Just wash, and then open the dishwasher up and let the dishes air dry. It doesn’t take any extra work out of you, except to just wait a few hours for the dishes to try.

Saving money is not necessarily a fun topic, but there are simple things you can do right away to start saving. Once you see how easy it can be to save money, you’ll have the motivation to tackle the bigger and more challenging money saving tactics.

Allen Michael Brown hair male smiling

 

 

Allen Michael is the founder and editor of The Stick Vacuums (https://thestickvacuums.com/), a website focused on helping others keep a clean home as efficiently as possible. Allen stumbled onto stick vacuums while trying to help his family keep their home clean with less work, and has since become an expert on saving money and time in your home.

Sorting Out The Basics: Insurance and Health Care Tips

Sorting Out The Basics: Insurance and Health Care Tips

Overwhelmed by health insurance options? For Americans, few things conjure the financial dread of an unexpected hospital or doctor’s visit because let’s be real – even with insurance it can be painfully expensive.

Getting your financial life in order does not mean that you should ignore your health, something that could be far more costly in the long run. That said, with the future of healthcare and insurance so up in the air right now, the fear regarding this facet of American life has probably never been more heightened, but don’t fret!

This list, while only a mere starting point, can help you identify some of your options when it comes to healthcare and ideally keep you from over/underpaying to keep yourself (and your family) protected.

Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare – What’s the difference?

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. If you don’t earn much money, you can qualify for one or more of these programs. They’re designed to assist the most vulnerable members of our society; Medicaid and CHIP for lower income families and families with children respectively, and Medicare for seniors.

Medicaid is a state-run program and the rules that govern the program can vary a bit state-to-state. The criteria for qualification is established by your state legislature, so you can check your state government website to find out more about income criteria. For most, it’s being under ~115% of the poverty level.

Here in Illinois that’s about $1,337 a month, but the Affordable Care Act expanded those mandates – people ages 19-64 who have income less than 138% of the federal poverty level are eligible. Again, that’s about $1,350 as an individual or $1,845 as a couple.

The coverage also differs, with various co-insurances, copays, deductibles, and premiums based on your income level, but it prevents you from going bankrupt from medical expenses. Many people won’t pay much of anything, so it’s a very good option when you’re getting back on your feet, financially.

CHIP is the same as Medicaid in terms of criteria being based on income, but it expands coverage significantly for people with children (Children’s Health Insurance Program).

Medicare is a program open to Americans aged 65 years or older, people with certain disabilities under the age of 65, and everyone who has end-stage renal failure or ALS. Like Medicaid, this program covers certain things more or less, depending on the level of coverage you want. Premiums and deductibles also change.

The enrollment for all of these programs has been simplified (to an extent) with the introduction of www.healthcare.gov, following the introduction of the ACA. You can go to that site and look up your specific state, determining if you qualify for any of the above programs. They’re not completely on-par with many private insurers, but can be better in some cases, depending on your income level.

Free Clinics & Teaching Hospitals

Many cities – particularly larger ones – have teaching hospitals with free clinics. These are a great place to get checked out without spending much or any money. Most don’t even check income levels – you simply sign in and wait to be seen.

The problems that arise from these clinics is that they are often understaffed or inundated with patients. If you yourself have the patience to wait, however, you can be seen essentially for free, but you may not be seen as thoroughly as you need to be. So be mindful that a free clinic may seem great, but it’s not necessarily a great choice unless it’s the only choice.

Thought not exactly medical, some cities also have teaching clinics for dentistry, where you can get very low cost cleanings, fillings, etc done. Again, it’s a waiting game, but it may be better than paying all your savings for a cavity, or worse, not getting the care you need.

Charity Care

Many hospitals – particularly religiously affiliated ones – offer a program called “Charity Care” or something similar. Essentially, you need to prove financial burden or sufficiently low income, and they will pay off some or all of your bills.

Quick story here – When my husband and I first started dating (like maybe four dates in), he sent me a text at 3am saying “You probably won’t want to date me anymore…”

Yeah, anyone else thinking he cheated? Because I did. And I lost it. Like what the hey, we JUST started dating and you’re already cheating??!

Oh. But no…

He had a blood pressure issue and passed out at a friend’s house, concussing himself on the way down. Unfortunately, his insurance had lapsed, because he’d just graduated college two days prior. The ER bill total was around $3,500 – a bill that was pretty insurmountable for a guy working at a sandwich shop with no insurance. He spoke to the financial services department and got the bill reduced substantially, and fortunately was able to pay the rest of it off with no problems.

Negotiation

Along the lines of #3, many hospitals are very willing to work with you on your bills, provided you contact them as soon as possible after the services. Solutions include bill reduction, payment plans (some will take anything over $10/month, no matter the size of the bill), or temporary forbearance of the bill for a period of time. Failing everything else, this is almost always going to work in some way to alleviate the burden of a huge bill all at once, so don’t hesitate out of fear. The longer you put off talking to them, the harder it’ll be to reach a deal that benefits you both.

Healthcare Exchanges

This goes back to #1, because the same website – www.healthcare.gov – that you use to qualify for Medicaid will also bring you to the exchanges if you make over the Medicaid limit. The exchanges are set up to offer a premium discount on the insurance you end up buying.

The amount is, once again, dependent on your income. The issue here, however, is the exchanges appear to have a rather sizeable blind spot; for a single person without children, income amounts between around $18,000/year and $29,000 a year don’t get any assistance. Under that amount, and you probably qualify for Medicaid. Over it, you get the premium assistance. It’s frustrating at times, but it’s another tool to ensure that you’re insured, and the premium assistance is actually pretty significant – typically at least half.

Student Insurance

Because of the ACA, most colleges – particularly state colleges – have started mandating that their students are covered by some level of insurance. Because of this, those same colleges usually offer student insurance at a significantly reduced rate.

For instance, a local University’s plan looks like this:

Blue Cross Blue Shield
$400 deductible
~ $110/month premium
They pay 80% after your deductible is met and they only require copay on prescriptions

This is incredible coverage, even if the price were doubled. The only caveat is you need to be taking at least 1 credit hour of on-campus classes, but one credit + the cost of insurance would still only be about $210/month.

Enrollment is automatic, and even with class fees and tuition, you’re still possibly looking at less total cost than healthcare on the exchanges, depending on your situation. In addition, if you’re already going to college, it’s totally worth it in most cases to be enrolled in the student insurance (unless you’re still under your parent’s plan).

Charities

Along the lines of charity cares specific to a hospital, local charities often help pay difficult medical bills for families in need. Check with local churches, and often food banks or crisis/domestic violence care centers will have contact information. Again, this is more of an “emergency” sort of situation, but it’s worth asking if you need the help.

Health shares

Health shares are newer programs that are typically structured around faith communities. In it, people share the cost of medical procedures across a very large group. This creates a scenario where someone will be covered for anything because everyone pays into the pool, and everyone benefits. These are typically tied to Christian communities, but if you’ve got the option, they may be great for you.

Living frugal means living healthy!

Medicine is about helping people, not bankrupting them. Without going into a broader, more convoluted conversation, let me just say that health insurance shouldn’t be as intimidating as it is. We all deserve the opportunity to make healthy choices and see a doctor when needed. And as I said, I know this list is just a small dip into the world of health insurance, but hopefully it’ll help you get started on making better choices today.

Do you find making health insurance choices overwhelming?

Sound off in the comments below and let me know what you think!

Is Civic Withdrawal Now the Norm?

Is Civic Withdrawal Now the Norm?

As a frugal living blogger, you’ve seen me post from time-to-time about how I firmly believe living a “frugal life” requires not just letting go, but also giving back. Meaning, not only do you have to consciously let go of the “stuff” (and live a more minimalist lifestyle), but you have to be WILLING to give that which you may very well need – such as money.

Now I’m by no means encouraging you to put yourself in debt in order to better someone else’s life – that’s just silly – but rather to simply recognize that giving may very well be a part of the path you must travel in order to find the freedom you’re looking for.

When was the last time you helped a stranger in need? Or are you too busy? Too lost in your own chaos? Or, like many of us, are you too overwhelmed by constant access to information that sometimes you’re just blinded to it all?

Despite the motivational memes and inspirational pins flashing otherwise, we are often discouraged when it comes to shaping the world we’ll pass on to our children. We instead leave the tough choices to corrupt political leaders, money-hungry corporate directors, or social activists whose lifestyles seem alien and jarring. It is both sad and ironic that in a country born from a revolution, few of us do more beyond “signing” yet another online petition.

For many, civic withdrawal is now the norm.

Is it any wonder, though? You can’t log into Facebook or open your e-mail without being bombarded by sad stories of families in need, babies dying, or homes burning. It’s easier to ignore it, turn a blind eye and go on your merry way.

Those who don’t, those who choose to feel, are often thought to be crazy. Deemed “zealots” or “drama queens” by their peers.

When our individual autonomy is brought into question, by ourselves or others, our instinct is to bristle and call the others obsessed or ignorant. You can’t get onto any public thread these days without hate raging from all sides, name-calling like school yard bullies.

Perhaps it’s because we need this cynical submission to numb the pain of our own unrealized hopes…?

Imagine, though, if we applied that cynicism to all areas of our life. Rather than encouraging little Billy to try to hit the ball just one more time, we tell him to lay down the bat and go home, he’ll never go pro!

Or when our toddler runs up to us after a day away, rather than swoop her up in a hug, we jerk away and look at her with suspecting eyes, assuming she wants more from us than simply our love.

We have to take chances on people, to believe in them and motivate them, lest we crumble as an entire society. If we continue to turn in and look only at our screens, the physical world WILL gray and decompose.

Being an adult is brutal, especially if you’re an adult born of the “Millennial” generation.

You’re caught between those who recall life before “the Facebook” and those who think you’re old because you’re not sure just how SnapChat works, but you’re pretty sure you want to avoid any risk of d*** pics.

It’s exhausting trying to balance it all, to keep all those balls in the air while remembering to breathe.

We have to, though.

We must carry on and set a better example for our children.

We must be involved, not just from our computer screens, but actually, physically, involved.

March in a protest. Attend a political rally. Volunteer one weekend a month with your children.

While I by no means think everyone should constantly worry about everyone else, nothing will ever get better in this world if we all remain on autopilot, hiding behind our screens. Break free from your routine and become an active member of your community. ANYTHING that gets you out that door and physically involved in molding our world.

Change your world by changing someone else’s.

As Howard Thurman once said: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

What makes YOU come alive, my dear reader? I’d love to know in the comments below.

My Top 6 Gift Ideas for a WAHM

My Top 6 Gift Ideas for a WAHM

As a work-at-home mom, I don’t ask for much — just quiet children, a clutter-free work space, a muse that never shuts up…ya know, simple things.

That said, I’ve been blessed with two VERY vocal children, a folding table shoved in the corner of our guest room, and a brain that thinks about sleep more than writing. So rather than dwell on that which I’ll never have, I want to share with you what’s on the top of my gift wish list as a work-at-home mom and why I love them so. I’ve picked out these gift ideas specifically for work-at-home moms, but I’d be willing to bet ANY mom would love them!

Please know that some of these links may be affiliate links, which just means you’ll help fund my coffee habit should you choose to click through and make a purchase.

Unique Gift Ideas for a Work-At-Home Mom

Noise Cancelling Headphones – $30

Oh please, oh please, Santa, bring me a pair of these! It’s so hard to focus on writing a blog post when I can hear my children downstairs begging for attention. Note: Their dad is with them, but they’re like that guy you were into Freshman year of college who only started liking you back after he found out you now have a boyfriend.

Fun Twisty Tripod – $15

I have a regular ol’ boring tripod and it functions fine, but this one looks SO fun!! Not to mention it would make my life oh-so-much easier when I’m trying to do a livestream on my “desk” and I have to put the keyboard on the floor in order to make space.

Ring Light – $10

Remember when I mentioned the whole “sleep vs work” issue? This ring light could fix all of that! Well okay maybe not ALL of that, but hey, it’d at least make the bags under my eyes look a little less frightening for young children. 

Inspirational Mug – $10

I am a mug addict. There. I said it. But you know what? I’m also a coffee addict, sooo…

Oh and if you’re going to pick up a mug, you may as well grab a mug warmer, too. Heh because if you give a mouse a cookie… 😉

Bulletin Board Paper – $10

This one seems weird, I know, but stick with me – I use bulletin board paper ALL the time to map out work plans, goals, blog posts, etc. I can tape it up high enough to keep away from the kids and won’t run the risk of misplacing it. Plus it’s big enough that once you’re done, you can take a picture of it and then toss it to the wolves children to shred. Errr or maybe don’t do that, unless they’re also willing to sweep it up later, which in that case, send them to my house next.

Another great one is dry erase paper – did you even know that was a thing?! It is. And it’s amazing. Find it here.

A Warm Meal – $17

I am such a huge fan of Blue Apron, especially during the holiday season. Not only do they save you time (no meal planning, no grocery shopping, no worries) but they offer such DELICIOUS options, often times things you can’t get in your area. I’ll never forget one of our first meals from them, it was a breakfast tostada with watermelon radish and oh. my. goodness. It was heavenly and immediately ensured I’d be a repeat customer. Yum.

I could continue on down the list of things you should buy for the work-at-home mom in your life, but I’m confident this will at least give you a decent head start on what to buy. Oh and if you want to buy something for your favorite blogger (that’s me, right?) send it to: PO BOX 694 Springfield, IL 62705 (I’m only like half joking…)

I would love it, though, if you’d comment below and tell me one thing YOU’RE hoping Santa brings you this year!

 

 

Homeless Kits: How Helping Others Helps You, Too

Homeless Kits: How Helping Others Helps You, Too

Making kits for the homeless might not seem all that thrifty, but it’s such a beautiful way to give back to your community. In fact, one of our core values as a family is volunteering and teaching our children to volunteer.

That said, part of a thrifty lifestyle is saving and making money in efficient and sometimes unique ways. This might mean shaving $10 off your grocery bill, renegotiating your cable (or cutting the cord all together), or starting up a side hustle walking dogs.

These are all great things that will improve your bottom line, but at a certain point, you need to reevaluate what is important to you if you truly want to become debt-free once and for all. If you live for your morning Starbucks routine, do you realize that dropping that $5/day coffee habit will save you $1,825 a year? Are you a smoker, because if so, that $7 a day is $2,555 a year up in smoke (literally!)

Evaluate the Essentials

Being aware of what we consider “essential” to our lives and what is ACTUALLY essential to our grandest dreams and fullest life is the first step towards really achieving those dreams. One great way to refocus yourself is to stop and look around you at those who may have significantly less than you.

Chances are good that if you live in a larger city, you have a fair amount of homelessness around you. While I’m not suggesting you compare your level of suffering to theirs, I will ask that you consider the concept of “essential” in light of their way of living versus your own. What do you throw out daily that could be of huge benefit to them? What do you refuse to give up weekly – like dinner out or that daily coffee run – that could drastically improve their life?

How Much Will It Cost?

I am not suggesting you completely alter your lifestyle for someone else, but just stop and think for a moment where that $5 coffee or breakfast or random goofy app on the Google Play store could go if you focused where you spent it. If you were spending $5/day on non-essentials, but cut 2 days a week out, you’d save $520 a year.

Would you significantly feel the loss of that “wasted” $10/week? Probably not – in fact, missing 2 of your 7 indulgences per week would make those other 5 more significant! In addition, you’d have another $520 to throw at a credit card or student loan or car payment. That’s a great deal!

But imagine for a moment that you socked away $5 a week and the other $5 you put towards improving the lives of those around you who are in poor circumstances. You’d still have a decent amount to pay off debt, you’d still NOT feel the sting of deprivation, and you’d be setting an example for your children and possibly DRASTICALLY helping someone else.

DIY Blessing Bags for the Homeless

During the winter, I like to create care packages for the homeless, but they are just as important during the summer. So I took my $5 to my local Aldi and looked at what I could get. A box of granola bars was $1.20 for 8, and a 24 pack of bottled water was $1.99. Add in a box of bandages and we’re at $5. This isn’t a lot, but hydration, some food, and some first aid can be a major deal when you’re living on the street.

 

blessing bags for the homeless

If you prefer to watch instead of read, check out my livestream below for this next part! —

If you were to get together with some friends/family and assign them each a $5-$10 grouping of items you could contribute a small amount but maximize the impact of each package.

Things to Include in a Homeless Kit

Some things we included were:

  • Hygiene products
  • Lip balm
  • Other non-perishable food items, like cereal bars, peanuts, dried fruit, trail mix, etc
  • T-shirts that would otherwise have been donated to Goodwill or thrown away. In addition, old ball caps or other hats are great during summer months.
  • Sunscreen
  • “Hot Hands”
  • We also printed out information on shelters, cooling centers, food banks, breadlines, and other places that help the homeless with day-to-day needs.

You can include a LOT in a gallon freezer bag, so turn to those for these kits. Again, Aldi or other cheaper grocers have those cheap. Pack each bag with essentials, and keep them in your car to give out as you come across someone in need.

Did you know you can change someone's life for less than $7?Click to Tweet

The Power of Giving

The power of a bunch of small sacrifices lumped together for a good cause can be dramatic, and not just in a dollars-and-cents sense. The impact of this giving can help alter your perception of what is necessary for you to be happy. It cultivates kindness and empathy in your children (and in yourself). It creates a sense of community and fosters responsibility. Thinking outside yourself creates perspective that is invaluable, and on top of everything else, you’re helping another person.

So trust me; the small self-denial it will take to give up some indulgence, even if it’s only scaling it back, is 100% worth it in the long run. You won’t miss it and you’ll be better in the long run for it.

Have you ever created a homeless kit before?

I’d love to hear other ideas/suggestions of what to include, post ’em in the comments below!