EMERGENCY! WHY YOU NEED AN EMERGENCY FUND NOW!

In Case of Emergency…

Sooner or later an emergency is bound to happen. Sometimes more than one will happen in a short time. Sometimes they’re not so little. Whether you call it your E-fund, your Murphy repellent, or just your savings you need at least three to six months worth of expenses set aside. This money is not your 401K, your Roth IRA, or another type of investment account that comes with penalties for early withdrawal.

This is a separate account (think high-yield savings, traditional savings, or even a money market) you can easily access funds from when you need them.

What is an Emergency?

An emergency is an unavoidable, unplanned circumstance that leads to an unavoidable, unplanned large expense. Think job loss, a major illness, unplanned leave-of-absence from work, not plane tickets are cheap so we’re going to Maui. True situations you need to make sure that as unpleasant or traumatic as they can be your family is ready to weather the storm financially.

Not ready for one?

Most Americans aren’t; in fact, according to a recent Bankrate survey, most American households can’t even handle a $1,000 setback. This in itself is an emergency! If you really think about it, $1,000 doesn’t go far in a true emergency. It might not even cover your deductible if you settled for a low premium, high deductible plan. It probably won’t replace the old hot water heater that seems like a ticking time bomb in your basement either.

So what do you do?

You need to adjust your budget to start saving for that emergency before there is one. Ever heard of Murphy’s Law? “If anything can go wrong, it will.” Isn’t that the truth! Don’t wait for an emergency to start your emergency fund! Look at your monthly budget and see if you have any wiggle room to add to your savings. Don’t have a budget? That’s an even bigger emergency! See my Budgeting pages for information about how to get started.

Any amount you can set aside will be beneficial. If you just save $100 for a year at the end of that year you will be in a more comfortable position than most American households.

Maybe you have a side hustle. If you don’t, but want suggestions, see my article “How do You Hustle? Legitimate Side Hustle Ideas,” for more information. Instead of throwing the additional stream(s?) of income at debt consider funding your emergency fund first.

However you choose to fund your emergency fund, be sure to start! You can’t prevent bad things from happening, but we can do our best to make sure we are prepared if and when they do happen. Don’t let that inevitable $1,000 emergency wreak havoc on your family’s finances; get your emergency fund ready as soon as possible!

My family is in Baby Step 3; we are out of consumer debt and beefing up our emergency fund. We currently have almost 32% of our goal saved. I am trying to get creative stretching our budget and working some small side hustles to add to it. You can follow our progress on Instagram under my handle @alifeonadime. We are 9 days into July and I’ve managed to save $30 so far! It isn’t much, but every little bit helps! Follow along for updates on my family and share yours with me here in the comments! I would love to cheer you on too!

SINKING FUNDS

avoid that sinking feeling

Avoid the Sinking Feeling that Comes with not Planning Ahead

Set Money Aside for Larger Expenses in Advance

Sinking funds are an excellent way to cover infrequent, larger expenses and avoid that sinking feeling you get when you reach for the credit card to cover an expense you knew was coming but just didn’t plan for. They aren’t as complicated as they may sound either! We used them to cash flow home renovation projects and major purchases long before we knew what they were called.

In essence, a sinking fund is a separate bank account or cash envelope you contribute to for a specific, typically larger expense. Say you plan to “sink” money into vehicle maintenance, a new(er) car fund, or save for a down payment on a house. You may pay your insurance premiums quarterly or annually for a discount. You expect these expenses and set aside money on a regular basis. These are all sinking funds. You may have one or more going and simply refer to it by its purpose; the car fund, new house fund, maintenance fund…

More recently we employed the sinking fund method to cash flow our property tax bill. We set aside a specific amount each month for three months and then paid the bill in full. This avoided an uncomfortable budget deficit one month or the need to raid our primary savings.

Or, you may find it beneficial to set up sinking funds for other recurring expenses that add up but don’t necessarily happen every month. Examples include a birthday fund, Christmas gift fund, clothing, etc. Avoid that sinking feeling and the urge to go into debt when the kids hit that inevitable growth spurt or tear through the knees of all their good pants.

You know it’s going to happen, so why not plan for it?

If you have any questions or just want to join the conversation drop them in the comments to this post or send me an email. I would love to talk more.

HEALTHY ON A BUDGET IS POSSIBLE AND HERE’S HOW

Yes, you CAN eat healthy on a budget! Very healthy!

Put down that boxed meal and hear me out…

This post is coming to you per the suggestion of a follower. Not following along yet? Just click add your email address and click the pink box to the right of the large image at the top of the post. If you have suggestions or questions about future content feel free to contact me. Or, just leave a comment!

I know it can be hard to get a meal, any meal, on the table in a decent amount of time when you work full-time, have kids to haul to various activities… Heck, it’s hard if you’re home with the kids all day. Any of the above scenarios can make you want to give up and dial take-out. In fact, according to the USDA Americans spend more money eating food away from home than they do on groceries. And we have for almost a decade! You may be tempted to just open up a box and cook up a meal in 30 minutes or less. Been there, done that, gained the weight…

Wanna know a secret?

You can make a healthy meal from scratch in one dish in under 30 minutes as well. It doesn’t always require meal prep in advance either. Still with me? Good. Cooking at home can be healthier, less expensive, and have a ripple effect across your lifestyle and budget!

Instead of pulling up to the drive-thru on the way home prepare a simple, healthy meal (like the sheet pan chicken posted on my Recipes page) with a side salad and homemade dressing. The dressing is easy; pour a little olive oil in a jar, add minced garlic and other spices to taste, put the lid on, and shake. Voila! Salad dressing without preservatives! Maybe cut up a cantaloupe (under $2 in season here in Northwest Arkansas) or other fresh fruit for dessert.

After dinner, you probably feel pretty good (instead of bloated and icky from your fast food meal that sat who knows how long under a warming light) so you gather up the kids, or the dog, your spouse, and take a walk or play together outside as a family.

Not only did you eat well, but you also got some healthy movement in too without really even thinking about it. Over time this can result in a smaller waistline, fewer medications/doctor visits (even just a reduction in indigestion would be nice, right?), and money typically spent dealing with those issues can now go to beef up your Emergency fund or pay down debt.

Examples of healthy meals that can be made inexpensively are included on my Meal Plan on a Dime page. Eating healthy on a budget is so much easier if you make a meal plan before you go grocery shopping. This helps ensure only what you need goes on the list and saves you the headache of wandering the aisles hoping for some dinner inspiration before settling on the frozen food aisle.

Dinner doesn’t have to be complicated; you need a protein, a few vegetables, and if you choose a (preferably) whole grain. One handy trick I like to use is to make sure to eat the rainbow; the food on your plate should be really colorful, not monotone. This will help you make sure you are getting a better variety in your diet. I am no nutritionist, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

Don’t have a lot of time to cook or just don’t like to cook? Batch cook! You can easily double a recipe and freeze one batch to heat up for an effortless meal on a day you’re not feeling the motivation or won’t have time to prep a meal. I love batch cooking a turkey meatloaf or in the winter chicken pot pie filling. It makes the second time around a breeze! Either place the frozen batch in the fridge the day before or allow more time in the oven.

Batch cooking can also come in really handy if you are fixing a meal for friends or family. Just double the recipe and you won’t be left wondering what you’ll be eating for dinner when you get back from delivering the gifted meal.

Portion control is also a lot easier at home than in a restaurant. This is both healthier and good for the budget. We eat pasta two to three times a month, which is very economical and filling. Pasta dishes at restaurants tend to be much larger than a typical, healthy portion. It is much easier to control how much you eat when you control the plate size!

Stretching your meat out is both good for your bottom dollar and your waistline; when cooking pasta dishes opt for a meat sauce or make it a casserole and use less than you typically would by cooking up meatballs or individual chicken breasts or tenderloins to serve on the plate next to the pasta.

Sheet pan meals are an excellent way to stretch your meat as well; simply chop up several veggies and add chopped meat to the mixture. Clean up is a breeze when everything is cooked together as well!

Take a dish you typically order out and hack it to make it cheaper, easier, and healthier to prepare and eat at home! This can be a great way to get your “treat” meals in without breaking the bank going out to eat when the urge to eat it hits. If the ingredients are simple enough keep them on hand so you can make them without making an extra trip to the store. Incorporate them into your regular meal plan.

It helps a lot to have ten to fifteen tried and true recipes you know you can pull off easily, are health conscious and don’t have expensive, hard to find ingredients. Once you have a good set of recipes to fall back on meal planning and list-making gets easier and less stressful. Free recipe apps and food blogs can help a lot for inspiration and cook times. Eventually, you will find yourself coming up with your own favorites and new combinations.

What are you waiting for? Get cooking! Can’t figure out how to hack a recipe to make it healthier? Reduce sugar and/or salt. Reduce the portion size. These are always good places to start.

Would you like to see healthy, budget-friendly recipes/meal plans in your inbox on a regular basis? Let me know! If enough people are interested we will make it happen!

DON’T PAY TO CHECK YOUR CREDIT! BUT – STILL CHECK IT

check your credit

Please do not allow yourself to be scammed! You don’t have to pay to check your credit

Check your credit, just don’t think you have to pay for it. You can check it free annually at AnnualCreditReport.com It is the only place authorized by Federal law to check your credit free.

check your credit
if you don’t see this you’re in the wrong place

Don’t be Scammed…

Please do not be misled by pop-ups of dire warnings and exclamation points saying visitors to a certain cite have been hacked. They will probably do exactly what they want you to believe has already happened.

If you get a notice or a pop-up or any sort of alert prompting you to check your credit STOP! I had this happen last week when I tried to log in to my bank website. Mobile banking was down so I was wondering if they really had an issue. I called them and asked. And you know what? I wasn’t the only one reporting seeing the pop-up. And it most certainly wasn’t from the bank.

Turn those pop-ups off when they show up. You should see a logo in the toolbar showing you what pop-up is working. Turn it off, delete the extension if there is one, and run a security scan on your computer to be safe. Someone is trying to scam you!

Be Safe Out There

By all means, I want you to check your credit. Just don’t think you have to pay to check your credit. There are sites that claim not to affect your score and are free out there but I don’t bite. Check your credit and your spouse and kids’ credit reports on a yearly basis using the Annual Credit Report site.

If you have it in the budget to pay for identity theft insurance that is completely different. You get value because you are paying for a service to protect you and do the leg-work during recovery process if your identity is stolen in addition to checking your credit. That is different.

I see no need to pay a site to show you what you can see free of charge. I have not used the service, but a quick search told me that Zander Insurance offers identity theft protection starting at just $6.75 a month. That sounds like a much better deal than paying $1 for a trial subscription on a site like Experian just to read your report. Save your money for other things.

What credit protection services do you use? Have you ever fallen prey to a credit-related scam or identity theft? I would love to hear from you. This is definitely an area most of us use a little more education!

BUY CLOTHES SECOND HAND TO CLOTHE YOUR KIDS ON A DIME

buy clothes second hand

Summer Edition

Buy clothes second hand because clothing your kids for the summer doesn’t have to be expensive. For the most part,I don’t invest in a lot of clothing over the summer. Really, to be honest, I don’t invest a lot in kids’ clothes period. Here’s why; they outgrow it or ruin it very quickly.

My daughter was my “daycare kid.” I learned quickly it does not pay to dress your child to impress at daycare; the teachers are outnumbered, underpaid, and basically just trying to keep your kid alive all day. Stains and the occasional rip are just part of the deal.

Kindergarten wasn’t much easier on clothes but I was so glad I hadn’t bought new, expensive items when I saw my daughter get off the bus each day. First, there was the experimenting with the scissors ( on the knees of leggings and her bangs!), then there were the endless grass stains. No sweat kid. Keep it up and you’ll be out of clothes, but at least I didn’t spend a lot of money on clothing.

Swimwear can be so Expensive!

buy clothes second hand

A quick browse on shopping apps such as Amazon and Target made me realize the annual gifted swimming lessons were going to be major budget busters after my daughter had outgrown two of her three swimsuits. Tempted to run to Target to save 10% off on an in-store purchase I decided to check a local resale shop and scored! It cost less to buy both kids new swimwear than it would’ve to buy my toddler a rash guard and trunks. He isn’t even a fan of the water, so why waste $20 to watch him NOT get in the water?! Use that money elsewhere in the budget!

buy clothes second hand
$8 total!
buy clothes second hand
toddler’s rash guard and trunks

 

Moral of the story? Get out there and check out the thrift and consignment shops for swimwear! Buy clothes second hand and keep more of your hard-earned money in your pocket!

BENEFITS OF BUILDING SMALL – BUILD SMALL, SAVE BIG

Three Choices we Made to Save Money and Sanity

Our first home was a 1970s ranch style. We loved it; with all its quirks and inefficiencies, it was home. We realized the equity in our fixer-upper was the key to secure our family’s financial future. The outdated home we’d slowly renovated with cash and started our family in was also the way out of our consumer debt. We needed to build small, save big.

When we decided to build we were determined to build small. Build small, save big. Yes, we were building our dream home, but we were also building a better future. We needed a low mortgage, small utility bills, and big peace of mind. 

Build Small, Save Big

1. Get rid of the Wasted Space

Our new house isn’t huge. It doesn’t have multiple roof lines and isn’t filled with closets and narrow hallways. It is that way by design. Build small, save big. Hallways block light and allow for closets where your stuff goes to hide for ages before ever seeing the light of day. Why not skip it all? 

We kept an open floor plan for the living area with the living room, dining area, and kitchen mostly open. We have large sliding windows across the house and a sliding glass door in back. There isn’t a whole lot of empty wall space, which will save me time and money decorating and dusting. 

2. Invest in Energy Efficiency Now for Ongoing Savings

This is pretty obvious, but the smaller and more energy-efficient your home is the less money you spend each month on utilities. One of the bigger expenses of our house was the insulation. We have a tightly sealed little home with very low electric bills, which is desirable since we are all electric in our neck of the woods. 

One thing our builder sold up sold us on that we are very happy about is our hybrid hot water heater. We paid more money upfront, but after doing our homework and checking out a video our builder sent a link to we realized that the hot water heater we planned to buy actually has a higher cost of ownership over the life of the appliance.

The heat pump pulls warm air in from the room (handy in the laundry room) and uses it to heat the water. If you’re a tech person it is pretty cool. I just like the fact that our electric bill stays low and my water stays hot!

We bought a stainless steel suite of Samsung appliances in our kitchen and scored big savings during the Black Friday sales which just happened to fall around the time we needed to buy appliances anyway. An error made with delivery scheduling (only one appliance showed up the first time) was made right with quick turnaround delivery of the rest of the order as well as a 10% refund. Prior to landing on the sale, we had price comped the appliances we wanted at multiple stores around the area.

 

3. Basic Fixtures

For the most part with this build, we kept it simple; the entire house is painted the same soft shade of gray. There are no granite countertops in this house either. We opted for good old laminate countertops in the kitchen and engineered stone in the bathrooms.

The cabinets felt like a bigger investment. They were made by a local cabinet shop and we saved big there too. Ten years from now if we change our style I will not feel like I have too much invested in the countertops to replace them. The farmhouse sink in the kitchen seems like a huge upgrade, but came from Ikea, and cost far less than anticipated. 

With a small deck in back and full-length front porch we have increased space to watch the sun go down and entertain. The kids don’t feel trapped inside when it rains either.  

In the end, our small home is only about 60 square feet smaller than our previous home. Most of that space was cut out of the hallway and endless closets. The majority of what was in those closets has been donated or sold.

What we gained by losing those 60 square feet was financial freedom for our future. Cleaning takes a lot less time than it did when we had countless shelves housing all our unused possessions.

3 “WEIRD” WAYS TO SAVE MONEY

weird ways to save

Three ways to save money you may have overlooked

Looking for more creative ways to cut your budget? Here are three weird ways to save we use every month you may not have considered. Maybe even put that saved money toward your emergency fund.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualified purchases.*

  1.  Dump your trash service. In our entire almost 13 years of marriage we have not had trash service. This was initially the result of sticker shock.

We recycled a lot when we first married (by recycled I mean I organized items in bins in the garage and when they got full/stinky my husband took them in) and only had a couple of bags of trash a month. It didn’t seem worth it to pay for the service when once a month we (again, him) could drive it to the transfer station, drop off recycling, and pay a nominal fee per bag.

Once we moved out in the county this option became even easier. We live 15 minutes from the transfer station. Sometimes transfer stations take more recyclables than your city service. Check around. The less trash you have the better right?

Trash service where we live costs about as much as in town but usually involves an individual company operating by driving a single truck with a metal cage in the bed. Recycling isn’t included. It’s still more cost-effective to keep doing what we do.

I slacked off on recycling the last few years but recently started up again. My daughter and I take it in weekly. I don’t have a fancy blue bin or tote to keep up with so for the moment we use an empty box or bag and just and recycle that too once we’re done.

I can honestly say we take out the trash a lot less often since we started recycling again. Win, win! Check out Earth911 for recycling options near you.

2. I refuse to pay shipping if at all possible. This may not be weird but I definitely think it is overlooked.

Have a Prime subscription? Set your search filter to Prime-only and don’t even consider items that don’t have free shipping. Don’t have one? Sign up for a free trial here.

Buying online from a retailer with a brick and mortar location close by? Most items ship free to store.

3. Lastly, you can save money by participating in surveys and research studies for things you’re going to do/buy anyway. I was selected for an Arbor Day Foundation survey and in return got 12 tree slips for a nominal donation. We needed the trees and would’ve bought them at a higher cost anyway.

If you know you can resist the sales pitch you can even score a free night or two at a timeshare. I haven’t personally done this, but know families who have done this for a weekend getaway to Branson or other weekend destinations. 

There are lots of creative ways to save money. I’d love to hear your favorite “weird” ways to save? Leave a comment below and keep the conversation going!