Tips to Keep Your Fall Spending at a Minimum

Regardless of the climate around you or your pumpkin spice tendencies, using your money wisely in the fall of 2018 can ensure you start 2019 in a healthy financial situation. This year, skip the impulsive fall spending with these 26 painless tips. 

1. Adopt the "pay yourself first" method. Whenever you get a paycheck, pay your savings account first to make sure putting away money gets prioritized over impulse spending.

2. Satisfy your fall shopping craving at a thrift store. If you're looking for the perfect new sweater or purse, buy it secondhand.

3. Plan your meals for the week to avoid eating out. The season of the crock pot is upon us. Make big meals and freeze the leftovers so you aren't tempted to order in.

4. Eliminate “bad day” spending by finding go-to fixes that aren’t costly. Weather changes can make us grumpy, which can lead to splurging on something totally unnecessary. However, mood remedies don’t have to break the bank. Free podcasts break up an anxiety-inducing commute, and going for a run at the end of a long day can boost your mood. So can fixing up a great dinner with ingredients you already have — or making a frozen pizza, for that matter.

5. Switch to buying generic for a few of your groceries every week. You don’t need to do a complete shopping list overhaul. Instead, just target three or four items whose name brands you aren’t attached to and make the change.

6. Try a “no-spend weekend.” Doing a full week (or even month) of not spending any money out (i.e., no restaurants, bars or recreational shopping) can be daunting. So instead, just try two days at a time. Use your food at home to make meals, skip alcohol for the weekend, and plan to invite friends over or spend some quality time with Netflix. 

7. If you have children who are begging you to buy them pricey Halloween costumes, try to cut costs by having a costume swap with the other parents in your neighborhood.

8. DIY your fall decor this year. Make your own candles, your own potpourri and your own sugar body scrubs.  

9. Break up with espresso. Creeping down the rabbit hole of pumpkin spice lattes (which lead into peppermint mochas, which lead into gingerbread lattes) can cost you about $5 every time you feed your craving. If you get three fancy espresso drinks a week for the next four months, you're spending roughly $240 on hot beverages from now until the end of the year. As a solution to this, whenever you go out for coffee, limit yourself to only ordering drip coffee or tea.

10. And if you require the chic espresso drinks, make them at home. You'll need concentrated coffee or cold brew, simple syrup, chocolate syrup and milk. If you want to go really crazy, you could even opt for pumpkin or gingerbread syrup instead of chocolate.

11. If you feel like your credit card spending is getting out of control, freeze your credit card. Literally. Try a hands-on approach to budgeting and put your credit card in a plastic cup of water, then freeze it for a month. It's one foolproof way to guarantee you don't rack up credit card debt in the last few months of the year.

12. Start working toward savings goals for the holidays in September. Some say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Well, similarly, setting aside money for gifts in September means not having to battle a monstrous credit card bill in January.

13. Get specific about the amount of money you need to save for holiday shopping. If you’re trying to budget for gifts in a few months, calculate how much they cost you last year, and make a plan that will allow you to cover them without incurring debt.

14. Be equipped with a free activity suggestion so you aren't always paying for brunch or dinner when you want to see friends. When you make the decision to go out to eat, you often think about it as how much the actual meal will cost, as opposed to factoring in tax, tip and maybe a drink. Instead, think about it this way: a $20 entrée isn't a $20 bill. In fact, with tax, tip and a drink, it could be as much as a $40 bill.

15. Get rid of flash sale emails, because 'tis the season for inbox spam. Do not get distracted by pop-ups guaranteeing 40% off your favorite denim brand. Go through those emails and unsubscribe, and make sure your favorite shopping websites are not bookmarked on your browser.

16. Go without heat or air conditioning for September and October. Cut utilities down by abandoning the service that drives up your electric and/or gas bill the most.

17. Go through the subscriptions attached to your credit card and make sure you’re using them enough for it to be worth the expense. If you haven't used it in the last month, get rid of it.

18. Cut one app out of your life that pushes you to spend more than you need to. It doesn’t matter whether this is a shopping app, a ride-share app or anything else. Pick one that’s hooked up to your credit card and delete.

19. Replace that app with a savings app. If you need help tracking your spending, Mint could be a great choice. If you're looking for a quick way to invest, consider downloading Acorns If you just want to cut down on gas spending, try Gas Buddy. 

20. Call at least two providers of your monthly bills to see whether they could be charging you less. I've done this for most of my bills recently, and I had the most luck reducing my car insurance, renter's insurance and internet bill. 

21. If you are trying to stick to spending a certain amount each week, withdraw that sum in cash to help you commit. For me, watching the bills disappear from my wallet holds me more accountable.

22. Do a massive decluttering at home and sell some of the things you're getting rid of. Take advantage of thrift or vintage stores that buy back clothing (or use online alternatives, like ThredUP and eBay.) Put all the money you make directly into savings.

23. Don’t forget about tax deadlines. If you’re self-employed, you'll want to make sure you’re hitting all the deadlines this fall. If you feel like you aren’t on the appropriate timeline, consult with your accountant or dig up tax vouchers they may have previously prepared for you. I have a deadline September 15 to ensure I don’t get charged late fees in April.

24. Get rid of your gym membership until January. Unfortunately, I think we all realize that the holidays are when gym memberships get used the least. So as an alternative, challenge yourself to stay in shape by ditching the gym and doing at-home workouts. Opt for a free workout solution, like the Nike.

25. If you’re hosting a fall or holiday gathering, don’t do it all yourself. Instead of planning the menu on your own and funding the whole operation solo, go potluck style or assign everyone a dish (or an alcohol) to bring.

26. Tap into the free (or cheap) entertainment that these next few months have to offer. In the fall, you have apple festivals, harvest festivals, haunted houses and turkey trots. Then once it gets colder, there are winter carnivals and free holiday shows and concerts. Cut your entertainment budget by only opting to attend the free (or under $10) activities.

Fall Home Maintainance Tips

Before the temperatures drop, it is important to be prepared for those cold months in order to prevent costly damage.

Gutters and Downspouts

By cleaning the gutters and downspouts frequently, you prevent the build of leaves, debris, wood rot problems, and pest infestation. Make sure that the water drains properly and doesn’t pool or you will be experiencing damage to foundations, driveways and walkways.

Windows and Doors

Check for any damaged or loose window and door frames. Also, install weather stripping or caulking around windows and doors to prevent drafts and to lower heating bills


Make sure that you replace the filter in the furnace. Clean your ducts to better your heating system’s efficiency as well as to reduce household dust and to provide relief to those with respiratory problems. Also, consider having a heat professional who keeps in check your heating system before any major damages that will cost you.

Chimney and Fireplace

Having a professional inspect and clean your chimney is a great way to prevent any dangerous chimney fires. Consider testing your fireplace flue for a tight seal when closed.

Attic Ventilation

Keep your attic insulation from covering the vents in the eaves to prevent winter ice dams on the roof. Make sure that the vents are not covered with any plants and debris, and also check any bird or rodent screens to keep your attic from unwanted guests.

Landscape and Yard Work

Although grass appears to stop growing in the fall, the roots are actually growing deeper to prepare for winter. Now is the best time to fertilize and reseed your lawn. Prune your trees and shrubs after the leaves turn to encourage healthy growth and trim any tree limbs that are dangerously close to power lines or the roof of your house.


Ensure that your pipes are well insulated to prevent them from freezing and bursting. Know how to locate and turn off the water shut-off valve in case pipes do freeze.

Money-Saving Hacks for Expecting Parents

Your little bundle of joy can cost you big. Check out these tips to avoid completely blowing through your budget. 

1. Don’t buy baby clothes in advance

- Newborns can have sudden growth spurts, so if you bought a winter jacket and it’s only summer, your infant would have grown a lot by then and the jacket would be useless; therefore you would have wasted money.

2. Choose unisex shades and styles

- Do not get a certain gender color because of your first born. If you were to have another child; therefore being either a boy or a girl, that certain style might not be as convenient as to the gender of the baby.

3. Do not buy crib pillows

- Crib pillows are cute, yes, but useless. Whenever your child is in the crib you will have to remove the pillows since they can be a SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) hazard.

4. Test-drive a stroller before you buy it

- Before buying a stroller you like because of its exterior design, test-drive it first. You don’t want to find yourself not liking the stroller once you first use it.

5. Hold on to free formula samples and coupons

- A lot of moms stop nursing after the baby is 6 months old, so don't be so fast to throw away special offers, and do sign up for formula companies' newsletters on their Websites. 


4 Ready to Go Checklists You Need Before College

The transition to a college life is looming. It is not what you need to take that is so important, it’s the process you will go through - the way you will change yourself and your environment. Here are a few helpful tips.


1. Emotional Preparation

- Identify any academic, social, and personal goals you may have. That will help you build confidence and better preparation, knowing that you will change because of many new experiences.

2. Financial Preparation

- First off, you have to figure out where your tuition money is coming from and then create a budget, so necessary expenses are covered. Decide on how much money you will spend on necessities, like food and college cost.

3. Logistical Preparation

  • -  Tour the dorms before move in.

  • -  Contact your roommate WAY ahead of time and decide who’s

    bringing what.

  • -  Look into stores that ship to dorms so you don’t have to pack items

    like bedding and refrigerators.

  • -  Know where the local stores are near the dorm for last minute

    forgotten items and don’t forget to ask for a college student discount.

4. Stuff to Take

- Forgetting things is inevitable. This is where checklists can help out. Make sure you have written down the things you need to take on the top of the list, and the want on the bottom. 


dorm room.jpg

5 Tips to Plan a Last-Minute Family Summer Getaway

5 Tips to Plan a Last-minute Family Summer Getaway  

You may have been looking forward to a long summer relaxation time, enjoying your backyard, but your kids just got out of school and you are ready to feel the sand between your toes or mountain air. There’s still plenty of summer ahead and it’s full of opportunities to find last-minute deals for a quick family trip.


1. Travel at the right time

 Traveling between Tuesday and Thursday beats any beach crowds and traffic, but if you are planning on going to the city, the opposite is true. Also check for any festivals, concerts, and sporting events in the community you are planning to visit.


2. Look for off-season deals

- If you’ve got a favorite winter destination, chances are it is offering sweet incentives to get you to visit during the warmer months. Many Caribbean resorts offer deep discounts for travelers in July and August, including kids-stay-or-eat-free packages and even inclusive airfare.


3. Find family-friendly packages on hotel websites

- If you have a specific hotel chain that you like, check if they are offering any special deals for families. If you’ve got a specific hotel in mind, but don’t see any discounts or availability on their website, pick up the phone and give them a call directly. You may find that they’ve had cancellations or have an unadvertised special.


4. Purchase tickets for any attractions before you leave

Arriving at the places you want to visit and having to wait in line to buy tickets is a complete nightmare. If there are any attractions you would really like to visit, buy tickets in advance.


5. Check out day camps

A great way to make sure your kids have fun on vacation is to check for local day camps in the area you’ll be visiting. Resorts, state parks,

and museums all offer fun for local kids, but they may also have space for an out-of-town visitor as well. 

beach bag.jpg

5 Tips for Back to School Budgeting


Fall is right around the corner, which means “back-to-school” time. Here are some tips as you get everything together for your child’s first day of school. 


1. Make a budget you will stick to - You need to make sure all your back-to-school costs are included in your monthly budget and if you’re not in the habit of making a monthly budget, well, this is a great opportunity to get a little practice. 


2. Focus on needs not wants - Your child might the fancy Lightning McQueen backpack, but that doesn’t mean they need it, especially if it’s $20 more than a basic backpack. This doesn’t mean that you can’t make back-to-school shopping fun, but don’t overspend just because your kid throws a fit in the backpack aisle. 


3. Keep it simple - If money is tight, buy the minimum your child needs right now instead of buying everything you’ll need for the entire school year. 


4. Talk with your kid’s teacher - If you haven’t received a list of items or an email, make sure you reach out to the teachers. Most schools are pretty good at covering this type of information during orientation or open house.


5. Look around online - Some of the best deals are online. You can find the items you need for cheaper and more affordable prices. You will definitely save money and time.

5 Summer Tips for Small Businesses

For some small businesses, the summer is the busiest time of year. For others, it’s the slow season. Regardless of what time of year it is for you, there are things all small business owners can do this summer to be proactive and productive. 

1. Snap Away - Take or collect fun pictures of your customers or members enjoying the summer weather. Then, share those pictures on your social networks during the cold days of winter to give them something to remember fondly of or look forward to. You’ll have fun doing it and create some great engagement with your loyal followers. 


2. Discover Something New - Take advantage of the potentially slower summer months to try out the visual social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, or Twitter. Set a reasonable goal considering trying a Facebook quiz/trivia question, a caption contest, an ‘if you could…’ question or feature a customer story. - Also, make sure that your profile of your business is up to date reflecting summer and your brand as well. 


3. Attract customers by improving your website and deals - When adding an email sign-up to your website, be sure to include the “Join My Mailing List” feature at or near the top of each page of your website. Also, when offering a local deal, don’t discount too deeply and set a limit to the total number that could be bought. 


4. Manage Your Cash - Small businesses live or die on cash, not profits. The single-most important step for long-term survival of a seasonal business is managing cash flow. If summer is your high season, start setting aside a percentage of income in a reserve account. 


5. Keep offseason costs down - In addition to managing your cash is managing your costs. During your slow season, reduce expenses as much as possible. If practical, employ workers on a seasonal rather than permanent basis


summer .jpg

How to Save for Home Improvements

Simplify budgeting for home improvement projects with these tips on how to create a savings strategy and reduce overall spending to create the home of your dreams.

Are you considering some home improvements or renovation projects in the coming year?  Maybe you’re thinking about making some changes that would make your home easier to sell, or perhaps you’re simply ready to take the plunge and turn your current house into your dream home.  You may be ready, but is your budget ready? Here are some tips on how to save for home improvements.

  • If possible, have designated savings or checking account set aside for home improvements to keep those funds separate from other home-related expenses. Having a dedicated account can help you keep better track of your savings goals and progress, and will help eliminate the temptation to dip into your savings for other expenses.
  • Get an accurate, realistic estimate of what the total cost for your home improvement project will be.  Talk to contractors and price out the materials that you’d like to use.  Ask other homeowners in your area about their budgets for similar projects.  Once you think you have a good idea about how much you need to save, add in some wiggle room for the inevitable surprises that always seem to occur.
  • Formulate a savings strategy.  You can go about this in different ways, depending on your income, other expenses, and home improvement goals.  First, you can set aside a certain percentage of your home’s value each year toward home improvement projects.  For example, you can set aside 2 percent of the assessed value of your home and land each year and divide that into a monthly savings amount.  Or you can estimate the total cost of the home improvement project that you wish to pursue. Then divide that total into monthly installments that your budget can handle, stretched out over one year, two years, or multiple years.  To help boost your savings, consider committing any financial windfalls, such as tax refunds or monetary gifts, to your home improvement account. 
  • Look for creative ways to save money that you can earmark for your home improvement savings plan. Cut back on your home’s energy usage and save money on utility bills that can go toward home improvement projects.  Check with your cable television, telephone, and internet service providers to see if there are lower-cost plans you can switch to and deposit the difference in your home improvement account.  Clean out your attic, basement, garage, and closets and hold a garage sale with the proceeds going into your home improvement savings account. 
  • While you’re saving for your home improvement project, take time to learn some DIY skills that you can develop to help save money on contractors. For example, you could do the painting instead of hiring a professional painter for your project, or perhaps you could learn to install tile. Choose something that interests you, and you might just get a new hobby that you enjoy in addition to savings.
  • Consider adding a home warranty to help protect your budget from unexpected home breakdowns while you’re trying to save money for home improvements. Home system and appliance malfunctions can be real budget busters, and they always seem to happen at the worst possible times. Instead of dipping into your home improvement fund for unplanned breakdowns, a home warranty can offer protection for the repair or replacement of covered items

If your savings plan doesn’t go as well as you had hoped in spite of your best efforts, you can always scale back your home improvement project and still get the benefit of some updates.  For example, consider making some cosmetic changes instead of more expensive structural alterations. Refinish outdated kitchen cabinets instead of replacing them, or install new countertops instead of tearing out the entire kitchen and changing the layout. Put in a new bathroom floor and paint the walls instead of installing expensive new fixtures.  Or, approach your project in stages and make improvements a little at a time, as your budget allows.

College Saving Plans and Other Good Accounts for Saving for Your Kids

Opening a savings account in a child’s name may seem like a really smart move, a way to give a little one a head start on a lifetime of thrift. However, it’s a decision that you might come to regret when college years approach.

Picking the wrong savings vehicle for your children’s future college cash needs could cost them thousands in avoidable taxes and missed financial aid.

“There is an asset protection allowance, or APA, that protects a portion of the parents’ assets, based on the age of the older parent,” when determining financial aid, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of strategy at and an expert in student loans and financial aid.

But students’ income and savings have a bigger, more negative, impact on the availability of financial aid than parental assets and income.

Because financial aid is determined based on income and assets from the year prior to applying for aid — in most cases, the student’s junior year in high school — students with sizable savings in their name could end up losing a large sum of free college money.

Fortunately, there are several ways for parents to save that will not put their children’s future financial aid in jeopardy. Here are four places to safely stockpile cash:

529 college plans

One popular way is to save for college through a college savings plan.

Operating in a fashion similar to IRA and 401(k) plans, 529 college savings plans allow parents to save for a child’s education tax-free through a variety of investment options. Some age-based investment packages put funds in aggressive investments when the child is young, then automatically switch funds to more stable options as the child nears college age.

These plans offer big tax advantages, says Craig Parkin, a managing director at TIAA-CREF, the investment organization that administers state-sponsored college savings plans in California, Kentucky and other states.

“The gains on the accounts are tax-deferred, and once the funds are used to pay for qualified tuition expenses, parents will never pay taxes on those funds,” he says.

Money in these accounts can be used for undergraduate or graduate studies at any accredited two- or four-year campus in the United States. Savings in a 529 plan belong to the parent, not the child.

“A 529 college savings plan is considered a parent’s asset because the parent is the account owner and they can change who the beneficiary is,” Parkin says.

Kelly Campbell, a certified financial planner and founder of Campbell Wealth Management in Alexandria, Virginia, cites another advantage of these plans.

“An additional benefit with a 529 plan is that if the child says they don’t want to go to college, the parents or whoever owns the account can change the beneficiary,” Campbell says. “That way, you know the money will be used for education. They can’t just take it and run.”

While 529 savings plans offer major advantages, they also come with some restrictions. According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission website, 529 college savings funds can be withdrawn tax-free only for qualified education expenses, including tuition, books, fees, supplies, and room and board. Money spent on unqualified expenses is subject to income tax and a 10 percent penalty on earnings.

There are also restrictions on how money in these plans can be invested. For instance, account owners can switch the investments in their plan only twice a year.

Prepaid tuition plans

A prepaid tuition plan is an alternative to a 529 savings plan that may appeal to some parents. Designed for parents who are sure that their child will attend an in-state public university, this plan allows parents to simply pay for tuition credits in advance at a predetermined price.

Prepaid 529 plans retain the same tax, financial aid and parental protections as 529 college savings plans, but without being subject to swings in the stock market.

“The major limitation to a prepaid plan is that if the child decides to go to school out of state, they’ll get a return on their money, but they won’t get the full value of the plan,” says Parkin. “For example, if someone bought one year of tuition at a Kentucky state school for $12,000 and now tuition is up to $20,000, they would get a full year of college. If they decide to go to school in, say, Ohio, they would get a return — probably $13,000 or $14,000 — but they wouldn’t get the full $20,000.”

Like 529 college savings plans, prepaid plan holders can change beneficiaries at any time, but must pay a 10 percent penalty plus income tax on funds used for anything other than college tuition.

“You can have the prepaid plan to pay for tuition and a 529 college savings to pay for other expenses,” says Parkin.

UGMA and UTMA accounts

If the child doesn’t plan to attend college and therefore isn’t at risk of losing financial aid, UGMA and UTMA custodial accounts offer standard tax breaks for children under 18.

UGMA stands for the Uniform Gift to Minors Act. UTMA stands for Uniform Transfer to Minors Act.

In these accounts, the first $1,000 in gains is tax-free, the second $1,000 is taxed at the child’s income tax rate and the remainder is taxed at the parent’s income tax rate, according to the IRS. Plus, there are no restrictions on how the funds may be used as long as they directly benefit the child.

The downside of UGMA and UTMA accounts is that parents have less control over how the child eventually spends the money, says Michael Kay, a certified financial planner and president of Financial Life Focus, a financial planning firm in Livingston, New Jersey.

“If money is in a UTMA or a UGMA account, it becomes (the beneficiary’s) at the age of majority, which is 18 to 21, depending on the state,” he says. “There’s no legal way to prevent the child from using money that was intended for college or a house to go to Europe.”

Roth IRA

Finally, parents can give a kid a financial head start by opening a Roth IRA in the child’s name once he or she begins earning income.

While offspring over the age of 18 retain control of the account, restrictions on Roth IRA withdrawals keep investors from taking earnings out penalty-free until the age of 59 1/2.

However, there are exceptions to this rule that allow early withdrawals due to certain circumstances (hardships such as a disability) or for specific types of spending (such as purchasing a first home or for qualified education expenses).

A trust in the child’s name is another option for parents. However, these plans come with legal and administrative fees parents won’t face with a Roth IRA.

Common mistakes

Meanwhile, some parents may believe that it makes more sense not to save at all for their child’s future. The idea is that having no college savings also means having no assets to assess.

However, that strategy may not work because even if parents don’t save anything, they’re still going to have an expected contribution once they fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form.

Another common error is for parents to save for their children’s future before addressing their own long-term financial circumstances.

After all, most parents don’t expect their children to finance their retirement.

college fund.jpg

19 Clever Ways to Eat Healthy on a Budget

Healthy Food can be expensive. Therefore, it can be difficult to eat well when you're on a tight budget. However, there are many ways to save money and still eat whole, single ingredient foods. Here are 19 clever tips that can help you eat healthy on a budget:

1. Plan Your Meals

When it comes to saving money at the grocery store, planning is essential.

Use one day each week to plan your meals for the upcoming week. Then, make a grocery list of what you need.

Also, make sure to scan your fridge and cabinets to see what you already have. There are usually a lot of foods hidden in the back that can be used.

Only plan to purchase what you know you're going to use, so that you don't end up throwing away a lot of what you buy.

Bottom Line: Plan your meals for the week and make a grocery list. Only buy what you're sure you will use, and check out what you already have in your cupboards first.

2. Stick to Your Grocery List

Once you've planned your meals and made your grocery list, stick to it.

It's very easy to get sidetracked at the grocery store, which can lead to unintended, expensive purchases.

As a general rule, try to shop the perimeter of the store first. This will make you more likely to fill your cart with whole foods.

The middle of the store often contains the most processed and unhealthy foods. If you find yourself in these aisles, look to the top or bottom of the shelves rather than straight ahead. The most expensive items are usually placed at eye level.

Additionally, there are now many great grocery list apps to help you shop. Some of them can even save favorite items or share lists between multiple shoppers.

Using an app is also a great way to make sure you don't forget your list at home.

Bottom Line: Stick to your grocery list when you're shopping. Shop the perimeter of the store first, as this is where the whole foods are generally located. 

3. Cook at Home

Cooking at home is much cheaper than eating out.

Make it a habit to cook at home, rather than eating out at the last minute.

Generally, you can feed an entire family of 4 for the same price as buying food for one or two people at a restaurant.

Some people find it best to cook for the entire week on the weekends, while others cook one meal at a time.

By cooking yourself, you also gain the benefit of knowing exactly what is in your food.

Bottom Line: Cooking at home is way less expensive than eating out. Some find it best to cook for the entire week on weekends, while others like to cook one meal at a time.

4. Cook Large Portions and Use Your Leftovers

Cooking large meals can save you both time and money.

Leftovers can be used for lunches, in other recipes or frozen in single-portion sizes to be enjoyed later on.

Leftovers usually make very good stews, stir-fries, salads and burritos. These types of food are especially great for people on a budget.

Bottom Line: Cook large meals from inexpensive ingredients, and use your leftovers during the following days.

5. Don't Shop When You're Hungry

If you go to the grocery store hungry, you are more likely to stray from your grocery list and buy something on impulse.

When you're hungry, you often crave foods that aren't good for you or your budget.

Try to grab a piece of fruit, yogurt  or other healthy snack before you go to the store.

Bottom Line: Shopping while hungry can lead to cravings and impulsive buying. 

"If you're hungry, have a snack before you go  grocery shopping,


6. Buy Whole Foods

Some foods are way cheaper in less processed form.

For example, a block of cheese is cheaper than shredded cheese and canned beans are cheaper than refried ones.

Whole grains, like brown rice and oats, are also cheaper per serving than most processed cereals.

The less processed foods are also often sold in larger quantities, and yield more servings per package.

Bottom Line: Whole foods are often less expensive than their processed counterparts. You can also buy them in larger quantities. 

7. Buy Generic Brands 

Most stores offer generic brands for nearly any product.

All food manufacturers have to follow standards to provide safe food. The generic brands may be the same quality as other national brands, just less expensive.

However, read the ingredients lists  to make sure that you're not getting a product of lower quality than you're used to.

8. Stop Buying Junk Food 

Cut out some of the junk food from your diet.

You would be surprised to see how much you may be paying for soda, crackers, cookies, prepackaged meals and processed foods.

Despite the fact that they offer very little nutrition and are packed with unhealthy ingredients, they are also very expensive.

By skipping the processed and unhealthy foods, you can spend more of your budget on higher quality, healthy foods.

Bottom Line: Stop buying junk food at the store. it is expensive and packed with unhealthy ingredients. It also offers little or no nutritional value.

9. Stock up on Sales

If you have favorite products or staples that you use frequently, you should stock up on them when they're on sale.

If you're sure that it's something you'll definitely use, you may as well stock up and save a little money.

Just make sure that it will last for a while and won't expire in the meantime. It will not save you any money to buy something you'll end up throwing out later on.

Bottom Line: Stock up on staples and favorite products when they're on sale. Just make sure they won't go bad in the meantime. 

10. Buy Cheaper Cuts of Meat

Fresh meat and fish  can be quite expensive.

However, you can get many cuts of meat that cost way less.

These are great to use in burritos, casseroles, soups, stews and stir fries.

It may also be helpful to buy a large and inexpensive cut of meat to use in several different meals during the week.

Bottom Line: Less expensive cuts of meat are great to use in casseroles, soups, stews, and burritos. These types of recipes usually make big meals and lots of leftovers.

11. Replace Meat With Other Proteins

Eating less meat may be a good way to save money.

Try having one or two days per week where you use other protein sources, such as legumes, hemp seeds, eggs or canned fish.

These are all very inexpensive, nutritious and easy to prepare. Most of them also have a long shelf life and are therefore less likely to spoil quickly.

Bottom Line: Try replacing meat once or twice a week with beans, legumes, eggs or canned fish. These are all cheap and nutritious sources of protein.

12. Shop for Produce That Is in Season 

Local produce that is in season is generally cheaper. It is also usually at its peak in both nutrients and flavor.

Produce that is not in season has often been transported halfway around the world to get to your store, which is not good for either the environment or your budget.

Also, buy produce by the bag if you can. That is usually a lot cheaper than buying by the piece.

If you buy more than you need, you can freeze the rest or incorporate it into next week's meal plans. 

Bottom Line: Produce that is in season is typically cheaper and more nutritious. If you buy too much, freeze the rest or incorporate it into future meal plans.

13. Buy Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh fruits, berries and vegetables are usually in season only a few months per year, and are sometimes rather expensive.

Quick-frozen produce is usually just as nutritious. It is cheaper, available all year and is usually sold in large bags.

Frozen produce is great to use when cooking, making smoothies, or as toppings for oatmeal or yogurt.

Furthermore, you gain the advantage of being able to take out only what you're about to use. The rest will be kept safe from spoiling in the freezer.

Reducing produce waste is a great way to save money.

Bottom Line: Frozen fruits, berries, and vegetables are usually just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts. They are available all year round and are often sold in large bags.

Bottom Line: Many foods are available in bulk for a way lower price. They keep for a long time in airtight containers, and can be used in a variety of healthy, in expensive dishes. 

15. Grow Your Own Produce

If you can, it is a great idea to grow your own produce.

Seeds are very cheap to buy. With some time and effort, you may be able to grow your own herbs, sprouts, tomatoes, onions and many more delicious crops.

Having a continuous supply at home saves you money at the store.

Home-grown produce may also taste a lot better than the store-bought varieties. You can also guarantee that it is picked at the peak of ripeness.

Bottom Line: With some time and effort, it is easy to grow your own produce, such as herbs, sprouts, tomatoes, and onions.


16. Pack Your Lunch

Eating out is very expensive, especially if done regularly.

Packing your lunch, snacks, drinks and other meals is less expensive and way healthier than eating out.

If you have adapted to cooking large meals at home (see tip #4), you'll always have a steady lunch to bring with you without any additional effort or cost.

It does require some planning, but it should save you a lot of money at the end of the month.

Bottom Line: Packing your own lunch reduces the expense of eating out. This can save you a lot of money in the long run.

17. Use Coupons Wisely 

Coupons are a great way to save some money.

Just be sure to use them wisely. Most coupons are for unhealthy, processed foods.

Sort out the good quality deals from the junk, and stock up on cleaning products, healthy foods and other staples that you'll definitely use.

By cutting the cost of products needed around the house, you can spend more of your budget on healthy foods.

Bottom Line: Coupons may be a great way to stock up on cleaning products and healthy foods. Just make sure to avoid the ones that involve processed and unhealthy foods. 


18. Appreciate Less Expensive Foods

There are a lot of foods available that are both inexpensive and healthy.

By making some adjustments and using ingredients that you may not be used to, you can prepare many delicious and inexpensive meals.

Try increasing your use of eggs, beans, seeds, frozen fruits and vegetables, cheaper cuts of meat and whole grains. 

These all taste great, are cheap (especially in bulk) and very nutritious.

Bottom Line: Incorporating more inexpensive yet healthy foods into your daily routine will help you save money and eat well. 

19. Buy From Cheap, Online Retailers

There are several online retailers that offer healthy foods for up to 50% cheaper.

By registering, you get access to daily discounts and deals.

What's more, the products are then delivered straight to your door.

Thrive Market is a very good online retailer that focuses exclusively on healthy and unprocessed foods.

Buying as much as you can from them can save you money.

Bottom Line: Online retailers sometimes offer healthy foods for up to 50% cheaper, and deliver them all the way to your doorstep.


You don't have to break the bank to eat well.

In fact, there are many ways to eat healthy even on a very tight budget.

These include planning your meals, cooking at home, and making smart choices at the grocery store.

Also, keep in mind that junk food costs you twice.

Bad health comes with medical costs, drugs and even reduced work capacity.

Even if eating healthy was more expensive (which it doesn't have to be), then it would still be worth it down the line.

You really can't put a price on good health.

healthy food.jpg

How to Save for that Major Home Purchase

Buying a home can be nervewracking, especially if you’re a first-time home buyer. Not only is it probably the biggest purchase of your life, but the process is complicated and fraught with unfamiliar lingo and surprise expenses.

To make the first-time home buying journey a little less stressful, NerdWallet has compiled these 25 tips to help you navigate the process more smoothly and save money.

1. Start saving for a down payment early

It’s common to put 20% down, but many lenders now permit much less, and first-time home buyer programs allow as little as 3% down. But putting down less than 20% may mean higher costs and paying for private mortgage insurance, and even a small down payment can still be hefty. For example, a 5% down payment on a $200,000 home is $10,000.

Play around with a down payment calculator to help you land on a goal amount. Some tips for saving for a down payment include setting aside tax refunds and work bonuses, setting up an automatic savings plan and using an app to track your progress.

2. Determine how much home you can afford

Before you start looking for your dream home, you need to know what’s actually within your price range. Use a home affordability calculator to determine how much you can safely afford to spend.

3. Check your credit

When you’re taking out a mortgage loan, your credit will be one of the key factors in whether you’re approved, and it will help determine your interest rate and possibly the loan terms.

So check your credit before you begin the home buying process. Dispute any errors that could be dragging down your credit score and look for opportunities to improve your credit, such as making a dent in any outstanding debts.

4. Pause any new credit activity

Any time you open a new credit account, whether to take out an auto loan or get a new credit card, the lender runs a hard inquiry, which can temporarily ding your credit score. If you’re applying for a mortgage soon, avoid opening new credit accounts to keep your score from dipping.

5. Explore your down payment options

Struggling to come up with enough money for a down payment? First-time home buyer programs are plentiful, including federal mortgage programs with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that allow loans with only 3% down.

Other low down payment options include:

  • Federal Housing Administration loans, which permit down payments as low as 3.5%.
  • Veterans Affairs loans, which sometimes require no down payment at all.
  • You could also try crowdfunding or asking if family members are willing to pitch in with a gift.

6. Research state and local assistance programs

In addition to federal programs, many states offer assistance programs for first-time home buyers with perks such as tax credits, low down payment loans and interest free loans up to a certain amount. Your county or municipality may also have first-time home buyer programs.

7. Budget for closing costs

In addition to saving for a down payment, you’ll need to budget for the money required to close your mortgage, which can be significant. Closing costs generally run between 2% and 5% of your loan amount. You can shop around and compare prices for certain closing expenses, such as homeowners insurance, home inspections and title searches. You can also defray costs by asking the seller to pay for a portion of your closing costs or negotiating your real estate agent’s commission. Calculate your your expected closing costs to help you set your budget.

8. Set aside more money for after move-in

Sorry, that’s not all you need to save up for before home shopping. Once you’ve saved for your down payment and budgeted for closing costs, you should also set aside a buffer to pay for what will go inside the house. This includes furnishings, appliances, rugs, updated fixtures, new paint and any other touches you’ll want to have when you move in.

9. Consider what type of property to buy

You may assume you’ll buy a single-family home, and that could be ideal if you want a large lot or a lot of room. But if you’re willing to sacrifice space for less maintenance and extra amenities, and you don’t mind paying a homeowners association fee, a condo or townhome could be a better fit.

10. Research mortgage options

Is a 30-year, fixed rate mortgage a given, or is another loan type right for you? If you can afford larger monthly payments, you can get a lower interest rate with a 20-year or 15-year fixed loan. Use our calculator to determine if a 15-year or 30-year fixed mortgage is a better fit for you. Or you may prefer an adjustable-rate mortgage, which is riskier but guarantees a low interest rate for the first few years of your mortgage.

11. Compare mortgage rates

Many homebuyers get a rate quote from only one lender, but this often leaves money on the table. Comparing mortgage rates from at least three lenders can save you more than $3,500 over the first five years of your loan, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Get at least three quotes and compare both rates and fees.

12. Decide if paying points makes sense

Lenders often allow you to buy discount points,which means prepaying interest upfront to secure a lower interest rate. There may also be an option for negative points, in which the lender pays some of your closing costs in exchange for a higher interest rate. How long you plan to stay in the house is one of the key factors in whether buying points makes sense. You’ll need to do some calculations or speak to a mortgage broker or loan officer to help you decide if buying points is worth it for you.

13. Get a preapproval letter

You can get prequalified, which simply gives you an estimate of how much a lender may be willing to lend based on your income and debts. But as you get closer to buying a home, it’s smart to get a preapproval, where the lender thoroughly examines your finances and confirms in writing how much it’s willing to lend you and at what terms. Having a preapproval letter in hand makes you look much more serious to a seller and can give you an upper hand over buyers who haven’t taken this step.

14. Hire the right buyers agent

You’ll be working closely with your real estate agent, so it’s essential that you find someone you get along with well. The right buyers agent should be highly skilled, motivated and knowledgeable about the area.

15. Stay under your preapproval limit

As your agent shows you homes, look for properties that cost a little less than the amount you were approved for. While you can technically afford that amount, it’s the ceiling — and it doesn’t account for a broken washer or dryer or any other expenses that arise during homeownership, especially right after you buy. Rather than maxing out that amount, set a lower purchase budget to leave yourself wiggle room for unexpected costs.

16. Pick the right neighborhood

Finding the right neighborhood is just as important as locating the right house. Research the schools, even if you don’t have kids, since that affects a home’s value. Look at local safety and crime statistics. How close are the nearest hospital, pharmacy, grocery store and other amenities you’ll use? Also, drive through the neighborhood on various days and at different times to check out traffic, noise and activity levels.

17. Make the most of an open house

Use this as another opportunity to scope out the neighborhood and your potential neighbors. During the open house, pay close attention to the home’s overall condition and look for any smells, stains or items in disrepair. Ask a lot of questions about the home, such as when it was built, when items were last replaced and how old key systems like the air conditioning and the heating are. If several other potential buyers are viewing the home at the same time as you, don’t hesitate to schedule a second or third visit to get a closer look and ask more questions.

18. Buy a home for tomorrow

It’s easy to look at properties that meet your current needs. But if you plan to start or expand your family, it may be preferable to buy a larger home you can grow into. Consider your future needs and wants and whether this home will suit them.

19. Let little things go

When you’re looking at a home, it’s easy to get caught up on superficial details like paint color, fixtures and carpets. These features are easy to change once the home is yours, so don’t let those little details get in the way.

20. Be prepared to compromise

It’s rare to find a house that’s perfect in every way, so think carefully about what you’re willing to compromise on and what you’re not. Perhaps no walk-in closet in the master bedroom is a deal breaker, but an outdated guest bathroom will be tolerable until you can renovate it.

21. Make a strong offer

Your real estate agent can help you with this, but consider how much under or over the asking price you’re willing to pay to obtain your dream home. If there are multiple bids, think about tactics to win over the seller, such as a personalized letter.

22. Avoid a bidding war that blows your budget

In a competitive real estate market with limited inventory, it’s likely you’ll bidding on houses that get multiple offers. When you find a home you love, it’s tempting to make a high-priced offer that’s sure to win. But don’t let your emotions take over; stick to your purchase budget to avoid getting stuck with a mortgage payment you can’t afford.

23. Negotiate

A lot can be up for negotiation in the homebuying process, which can result in major savings. Are there any major repairs you can get the seller to cover, either by fully handling them or by giving you a credit adjustment at closing? Is the seller willing to pay for any of the closing costs? If you’re in a buyers market, you may find the seller will bargain with you to get the house off the market.

24. Buy homeowners insurance

Before you close on your new house, your lender will require you to buy homeowners insurance. Shop around and compare rates to find the best price. Look closely at what’s covered in the policies; going with a less expensive policy usually means fewer protections and more out-of-pocket expenses if you file a claim. Be aware that your insurer can drop your property if it thinks the home’s condition isn’t up to snuff, so you may have to be prepared to find a new policy quickly if it sends someone out to look at the property and isn’t happy with what it finds. Also, flood damage isn’t covered by homeowners insurance, so if your new home is in a flood-prone area, you may want to buy separate flood insurance.

25. Know the limits of a home inspection

Once your offer is accepted, you’ll pay for a home inspection to examine the property’s condition inside and out. But not all inspections test for things like radon, mold or pests, so be sure you know what’s included. Make sure the inspector can access every part of the home, such as the roof and any crawl spaces. Attend the inspection and pay close attention. Don’t be afraid to ask your inspector to take a look — or a closer look — at something and ask questions. No inspector will answer the question, “Should I buy this house?”, so you’ll have to make this decision after reviewing the reports and seeing what the seller is willing to fix.

new home.jpg

How to Leave the Nest After Graduation

Life after graduation signals a new world of opportunity and responsibility. You’re most likely kicking off your career, moving out of campus housing and becoming financially independent. To help you take control of your finances, here are a few essential money-saving tips:

1. Start a budget. The first step to handling your money is understanding where it is coming and where it is going. Establishing – and sticking to – a monthly budget is essential for long-term financial health. Since you’re a member of the tech-savvy generation, put your smartphone to good use by downloading a free personal finance app to automatically track spending, account balances and credit on the go.   

2. Understand living expenses. When you leave the comfort of campus housing, you’ll discover how quickly expenses can add up. From utilities to transportation to rent, you’ll suddenly face a lot of monthly expenses that were previously negligible or nonexistent. Make sure you consider these new expenses when setting your budget and understand how costs will vary based on service packages and time of year, allowing yourself to make smart financial decisions that best suit your needs. 

3. Pay off student loans. According to a recent Edvisors study, over 70 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients will graduate with loans, and the average 2015 graduate will have more than $35,000 of student loan debt. While it’s tempting to make the minimum monthly payments, opt for as aggressive a repayment plan as possible. The sooner you pay off those loans, the less interest you pay and the sooner you will have extra money to put into saving, or plan a treat for yourself. 

4. Plan for retirement. Sounds crazy, right? But even though retirement seems a long way away (you just started working!), it’s never too early to start saving. Automate your savings so that a portion of each paycheck goes directly into a savings account. If your employer offers a 401(k) and matches your contributions, take advantage of this offer. It’s basically free money.  

5. Establish an emergency fund. It might not be pleasant to think about, but emergency funds are crucial protection from life’s unexpected and costly events. Whether your car breaks down, you get injured or lose your job, having this safety net will give you financial peace of mind. To establish your emergency fund start by putting away $1,000. Then contribute spare change or a little from each paycheck until you have between three to six months of net pay. The trick here is to reserve this fund only for emergencies.    

6. Pay your bills on time – every time. It is crucial to keep track of expenses and make all payments on time to avoid hefty late fees and negative impacts to your credit rating. To avoid late payments, consider scheduling automatic payments, setting calendar reminders before due dates and downloading an app like Mint Bills that aggregates all your bills in one place. 

7. Establish and track credit. Building credit and a good credit score is a must, as it shows you are a responsible borrower and worthy of loans for major purchases like a home or car. To build and maintain good credit, remember a few basic rules: Keep your oldest credit card open,  pay your bills on time and avoid maxing out cards.  

8. Live within your means. Happy hours, lunches out and expensive exercise classes are all fun and tempting when you start receiving your first paychecks, but these daily or weekly luxuries will eat away at your budget fast. Identify a few classes, restaurants or bars you’re really eager to try, so that when you do treat yourself, you’re doing so mindfully and responsibly. 

9. Be a social deal seeker. One of the best things about being fresh out of college is that most of your friends are likely in the same financial boat as you – cash-strapped and paying down debt, but free from the time and financial responsibilities of family. Keep your college crowd together and grow your new city circle of friends by planning fun, low-cost activities such as picnics, pickup games and free outdoor festivals. Also look out for activities on daily deal sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and Gilt. 

10. Set a long-term goal. Budgeting does not always mean just saving; you can also budget in fun. Whether it’s a new couch, tropical vacation or dream home to own, setting a long-term goal will motivate you to stick to your budget and reward your financial responsibility. 

If you don’t have the time or the money to embrace all of these tips, that’s OK. Pick one or two to get you started on your way to a prosperous postgraduate life.  

=moving out.jpg

Some Surprising Tips for Buying Your Very First Car

Thinking about buying a shiny new car?

Before you get caught up in sleek ads plastered with Matthew McConaughey's face (or even better, Jon Hamm's voice), it’s time to take a step back and do some careful planning.

Plunking down beaucoup bucks for a new car isn’t exactly the most money-savvy move by traditional standards.

But say you want a new car. You think you've earned a new car. Maybe you had a bad experience with a used clunker, and you’re scarred for life.

Here are a few tips for buying a new car that should sound vaguely familiar — and a few that might surprise you.

1. Get Preapproved for a Loan

Visit your bank, or go online to see what sort of rates and terms you can get for an auto loan.

“Know what you can afford,” said David Bennett, manager of AAA’s automotive program. “It can give you a reality check right off the bat.”

And if you don’t know your credit score, it’s a must-find before you head to the dealership.

Knowing your creditworthiness along with the loan terms you can get from your own bank helps you negotiate with the dealer’s finance office.

You can’t judge how good of a financing offer they’re making you if you don’t know what you deserve!

2. Keep a Business Mindset

“This is a business decision, not an emotional decision,” Bennett said.

If a salesperson tries to get you to test drive a car that’s out of your budget or has bells and whistles you don’t care to pay for, don’t get snookered.

“Bring it back to center and remember, ‘what financially makes sense to me?’ If you get excited about features, you lose your edge.”

3. Research Incentives Before You Test Drive

Auto manufacturers often give dealerships rebates on certain vehicles. You might see these advertised on TV or in the paper as cash-back offers of a few thousand dollars off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or MSRP.

Some of these offers have conditions. You might have to finance through the manufacturer’s preferred lender, or you may not be able to combine it with any other deal.

 Search the web and check the automaker’s website before you visit a dealership.

If you don’t see any manufacturer incentives, be sure to ask (casually, so you don’t sound too excited) if there’s anything available for the car you’re considering.

Some incentives stay off the advertising radar, and dealers can offer them at their discretion.  

4. Bring Your Student ID

Some manufacturers and dealers offer new-grad discounts for buyers who have graduated college in the past few years or plan to earn their degrees in the next few months.

Be sure to read the fine print on this one, as you may need good credit to take advantage of this offer. You may also need proof of employment or income.

For details, call the dealership you’re interested in or check online.

5. Repeat Customer? That’s a Discount

Say you drive a Honda and are thinking of getting a new one. Not only could you trade in your old Honda, but you might also get a "loyalty" cash-back offer just for being a repeat customer of that manufacturer.

If you’re not planning to trade in your old car, you’ll probably have to prove you own the same make.

6. Call it a Conquest

OK, what if this is your first time buying a Honda? If your old car is a competing make, you may be eligible for a “conquest bonus” of a few hundred dollars knocked off the MSRP.

7. Show Off Your Military Status

Car dealers love to wave a flag. If you or your spouse is a veteran or active-duty military, you may be eligible for cash back or a discount of $500, $1,000 or more. Call the dealership you’re interested or check online before visiting.

8. Get the Basic Package

That fancy Bluetooth package may be sexy, but what if it becomes obsolete, and we can make calls through some other newfangled technology? (Through our minds, obviously. We’ll make calls with our minds.)

Richard Reina, product training director at CarID, warned against lusting over high-tech features. “These models often have a lower resale value than a more basic model when it comes to trade-in,” he said.

9. Haggle That Interest Rate

The price isn’t the only thing you can negotiate when buying a new car — your interest rate is on the table, too. If you have good credit but get a quote for a high interest rate (5%? That’s too high!), see if they’ll ding a point or two off. It can’t hurt to ask.

10. Don’t Compare Your Deal With Anyone Else’s

“A good deal is one you’re comfortable with,” Bennett said. He warns of situations with friends where you might get to talking about what you paid — and what others paid for the same car. Someone else’s total price might be better than yours, but you don’t know about their credit, down payment or any other factors of the sale.

“If you’re comfortable with the price of the vehicle and your monthly payment, it’s a good deal. You’re the one who has to live with the payments or the check for that much money.”

new car.jpg

Engagement Rings: 10 Tips to Save Money

Guys need engagement rings. Only problem: they don’t happen to have $X thousand dollars just burning a hole in their pocket. Check out these great tips on how to save when buying an engagement ring. 

Rule 1 Pretend You’re Buying A Car It starts with your mindset. If you’re like most guys, you don’t know squat about diamonds. If you’re like most guys, you don’t ever want to know squat about diamonds. You think it’s effeminate, like learning about window treatments, opera, or The Jonas Brothers. Only one problem with this mindset: it will cost you money. When you buy a car, you make choices, you make tradeoffs, you weigh the pros and cons. Should you splurge for the hard-top roof? 4 cylinders or 6? GPS system? You can’t just walk into a dealership and say, “I’d like a car. Give me the cheapest one.” And you wouldn’t buy one without a test drive. If you don’t know the tradeoffs, you won’t know where to cut back and save money. Start your diamond education. And if you’re like anyone else, you’ll assume that you will never, ever, ever be able to really tell the difference in cuts of diamonds. Yes and no. Yes, you will never truly become an expert, so it’s a good idea to enlist some real help. Inspect lots of rocks. You will soon get a feel for what you like and what you don’t like, which will let you purchase a diamond ring with confidence.

Rule 2 Go Channel Surfing

There are two channels for buying your engagement ring: traditional brick-and-mortar stores and online stores. Use them both. Pit one against the other. Yep. It's safe to buy diamond online. But no, you should never buy a stone unseen.

Instead, we recommend trolling the brick-and-mortar jewelry stores, looking at lots and lots of different diamonds, and then, when you figure out the exact configuration (i.e. car specs), you can order a near-identical version online. Or, you can find a cheaper quote online, and use that to negotiate a lower in-store rate. 

Rule 3 Sacrifice A Smidgeon Of Size

People like round numbers. We obsess over things like “The First 100 Days” of a presidential administration, 10,000 points at the Dow, batting .300, etc. In reality, of course, Day 99 isn’t that different from Day 100, and the Dow’s 9,999 is about the same as 10,000…your portfolio’s battered either way, right? And that brings us to a diamond’s size. People pay a premium for the “round number” of a Carat. But you can pocket some dough by purchasing slightly lower than the size-echelon; instead of a full carat (1.00),  buy a .85-.95;  instead of a full three-quarter carat,  go for a .60-.73, etc. The only one who can really tell the difference is the jeweler.

Rule 4 …Do The Same For Color

Use the exact same philosophy with a diamond’s “Color.” By the way, for the true rookies, a diamond has "Four Cs"- Carat, Color, Clarity, and Cut. To save some money without sacrificing much look, push your color out one additional grade. Get an "I" not an "H." You are unlikely to notice when the diamond is mounted, in its setting, and on the hand.We know, we know, you’re asking what in holy hell we’re talking about. Diamonds have a color continuum which represents how much yellow color they show, with  DEF "colorless" on the higher-end, then G, then H, etc. Careful, though. Each person sees colors differently, and it takes some time to train your eye. One more reason to look at plenty of diamonds. Don’t go lower than a J if you can possibly avoid it.

Rule 5 Get A Lower Clarity 

Notice a pattern here? Just like with Color and Carat, you can get a slightly lower Clarity and shave off some dollars. For example, you can get a SI1 instead of a VS2.  However, when making this tradeoff, it’s important to make sure the “inclusions” don’t endanger the structural integrity of the diamond. Yes, we know that as far as you’re concerned, VS2 and SI1 sound like a strand of swine flu.

Rule 6 But Never Sacrifice Cut

You can take shortcuts on Clarity, Color, and Carat, but never Cut. A pity, since Cut can represent up to 50% of the price of the diamond. Here’s why. When a diamond is well-cut, its facets are perfectly positioned to reflect incoming light right back at you. It’s what makes the diamond sparkle and shine–frankly, it’s what makes it look like a diamond.  When you first buy it, a lower-Cut diamond might look okay. But it will get dirty. As it gets dirty, the shoddy Cut will trap light inside the diamond–so, in other words, it won’t shine. Sort of like the ozone layer and global warming. Buy the best cut you can afford. 

Rule 7 Buy More Than One Diamond

….More little diamonds, that is, instead of one big one. A three-diamond ring can give a much larger "show" for less money. And no, this doesn’t look cheap, it’s done all the time. A halo style ring will also make it look like you're getting more for your money. 

Rule 8 Don’t Fear Platinum

The old conventional wisdom: platinum is super-expensive, gold is cheaper. And that’s sorta true, in the sense that yes, in absolute terms, platinum is still slightly more expensive than gold (recently, about 25% higher.) So if you’re on a cutthroat budget and are trying to build a ring for under $1,000, say, you wouldn’t have the budget for platinum. But. And this is key. The price difference is nowhere near where it used to be. Less than two years ago, the spread was 82%. The short version: the spread between platinum and gold has tightened dramatically, to the point where platinum is the smarter buy.  Given that it’s a more durable metal, and often more desirable, it’s no longer an obvious place to save money. Much more specifics on the tradeoff between  platinum, yellow gold, white gold, and palladium.)

Rule 9 Avoid A Diamond Altogether

This obviously has some pitfalls. You’re taking a big gamble. But if you’re on a ruthlessly tight budget, or if your girlfriend honestly doesn’t care too much about the rock, or if you’re both cool with upgrading later, then a non-diamond ring is a perfectly viable option.  Your safest bet? Sapphire. It’s strong, has great hardness, and it’s easy to make a classic, beautiful ring with sapphire as your anchor.  Avoid stuff like emerald and tanzanite; pretty stones, sure, but they’re more delicate than Greg Oden’s ankles.

Rule 10 Buy Safely 

Back to the car analogy. You wouldn’t buy a Jetta from some random dude without any paperwork, right? There are certain precautions you must take. Always insist on a legit “Grading Report” for your diamond, preferably one from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) or the American Gem Society (AGS. Make sure you get a reputable jeweler.  Get ring insurance for this baby. And make sure you get a 100%, full, money-back guarantee, ideally with at least 30 days from when you take delivery. And if the store doesn’t offer that, you’re not in the right store.

5 Ways to Slice Summer Power Bills


As the temperatures skyrocket, power bills seem to do the same, but you can stop them!

If you want to cut your power bills this summer, remember three things: vampires, ice cream and poker parties.

Cutting your electric bills doesn’t have to mean buying a bunch of gadgets — or sitting alone in the dark.

Here are five low-cost, no-stress ways to slice your summer power bills. And some of them are almost as much fun as eating ice cream.

Slay The Vampires

Where’s the one place people waste power and don’t even realize it? Vampire power: It’s the energy some appliances and electronics drain from your home when they are turned off.

“I think the biggest one is one we all should know but probably don’t: that ‘off’ means unplugged,” says Bob Hart, a real estate broker in Santa Barbara, California, and green designation instructor with the National Association of Realtors. “People have no idea how many things in their house (use) electricity 24 hours a day.”

Signs of a vampire: Anything with a clock or light that’s on when the item is turned off. Also, any kind of plugged-in charger can be a vampire appliance — whether or not it’s charging anything.

Staking vampires doesn’t mean going around constantly plugging and unplugging your electrical items. (Unlike real vampires, that would get old fast. See what we did there?) Instead, hook things up to surge protectors. Or use outlets that connect to wall switches for vampire items. When the wall switch is off, there’s no power to drain.

Actually Program Your Thermostat

You might be planning to get one. You might already have one. But until you actually learn how to use it, that programmable thermostat isn’t doing you any favors.

It’s kind of like buying a Ferrari key chain to go with a broken-down old car. Sure, it looks cool, but it’s not going to make things run any better.

So get out the booklet that came with the thermostat and read it. Or have the customer service department talk you through the basics. Some power companies have special help lines for just that purpose, too.

When you use it, a programmable thermostat can save up to 10 percent per year from your heating and cooling bills, says Ronnie Kweller, director of communications at Emerald Cities Collaborative and past spokeswoman for the Alliance to Save Energy.

And who couldn’t use a little extra money?

Washing machines: Full and cold is better

Jackson Browne was right: You don’t want to be “running on empty.”

Especially if you’re talking about a dishwasher or washing machine. You use the same amount of water and energy whether or not the machine is full.

But with full loads, you get a lot more for your money. And you run the machine less often. Win-win.

Some other ways to save:

  • Do laundry in cold water. Running the water heater — for things such as showers, dishwashers and laundry — accounts for about 14 percent of your total power bill, Kweller says.
  • Skip the “dry” cycle on your dishwasher. Either hand-dry dishes as you put them away, or let evaporation do the work for you.
  • If your neighborhood allows it, check out one of those “solar clothes dryers,” says Hart. (It’s a line stretched between two poles that allows you to hang laundry outside.)

If clotheslines are prohibited in your area, try a discreet drying rack on your back patio or deck. Or, if you’re not jonesing for that fresh-air-and-sunshine laundry smell, you can even set it up in a tub or shower stall.

Skip the arctic AC

Who doesn’t come in from the sweltering heat and vow to crank the air conditioning down to a temperature usually reserved for penguin nesting grounds?

But icing down the whole house just to cool you off for a few minutes is expensive. So keep the air conditioning at a reasonable setting and look for other ways to chill when you first come inside. Have an icy drink, put a cold compress on the back of your neck or change into some cool, absorbent clothes.

Another effective strategy: a quick, cool shower.

Go wireless

Sometimes it pays to get away from the two-dimensional electronics for a little while. Literally.

Ditch the Facebook friends to spend a little time with people you know from the real world (not to be confused with “The Real World”).

Organize a game night, a poker party or a craft night with friends.

Close Candy Crush long enough to grow something healthy in your yard. Or, have some fun with a container garden on your patio. (Real tomatoes don’t require wattage. And if you eat what you grow, you can save on your food bill, too.)

The goal: Get unplugged, unwind and connect in a way that has nothing to do with power cords and networks. You’ll save some electricity and recharge your own batteries at the same time.


summer power.jpg

Best Affordable Summer Vacation Destinations 2018

Your summer get-away doesn’t have to cost you a fortune.. Check out this list of the most affordable vacation destinations!

Whether you want to fly across the country or drive across the state line, here are destinations that offer plenty to do (or not much at all, if you prefer), along with advice on plotting the ultimate getaway and a last-minute escape.

HOBBIES & HELPING DESTINATIONS“Travel is no longer just about vacation,” says Keith Bellows, editor of National Geographic Traveler. “It’s about self-discovery, opening yourself to the world. That’s why learning vacations are becoming so popular.”

Cooperstown, New York, and St. Louis, Missouri: “If baseball is your passion, plan a trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, or make your way to St. Louis during the all-star break for the Major League Baseball All Star Fan Fest (July 10 to 14). This five-day family event gives you a chance to live out your baseball fantasy by pitching against life-size video images of your favorite sluggers or recording your own play-by-play.”
—Lauren Goldenberg, co-owner, Family Traveler

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: “It’s called Golftown U.S.A. because it’s probably the No. 1 golf destination in the States, with over 100 public courses. Grande Dunes has the best course in the region. Two older clubs—the Dunes and Tidewater—predate the golf explosion and are the area classics. They’re also the only two courses on the ocean.”
—Larry Olmsted, coauthor, Golf Travel by Design
Maine and North Carolina: “A lot of folks are following their hobbies on vacation and going places where they can improve their knitting, learn to quilt, make pottery, or do metalwork or woodworking. Consider the John C. Campbell Folk School ( and the Penland School of Crafts (, both in North Carolina, or the Hay Stack Mountain Craft School (, situated on the Atlantic Ocean in Deer Isle, Maine. Prices start at $400; room and board are extra.”
—Pauline Frommer
The South: “Take the Southern barbecue tour if you’re a foodie. You can get fantastic food in small, affordable, out-of-the-way places. There’s the Blue Mist Barbecue in Asheboro, North Carolina, and the Dreamland Drive-Inn Bar-B-Que in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Dreamland has two locations, but make sure you go to the one at 5535 15th Avenue E: It’s a real shack, and the ribs are zesty and juicy. Mop up the sauce with sliced white bread.”

Wassaw Island, Georgia: “At the Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge, part of Georgia’s barrier islands, you can help tag loggerhead sea turtles when they crawl out of the sea to lay their eggs. Cost is $750 a week, including transportation to and from the island, a bunk in a rustic cabin, and all meals. Plus, you can sleep late: Beach patrols take place at night. Don’t forget to write off your experience as a charitable contribution.”
—Pam Grout, author, The 100 Best Volunteer Vacations to Enrich Your Life
The world: “Volunteer opportunities exist worldwide. Tutor kids in Ghana or paint a classroom in Peru through Global Volunteers ( Build playgrounds on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana with Visions ( Or help out on an organic tea farm in Japan through Service Civil International (”
—Max Hartshorne
Old Orchard Beach, Maine: “There’s an old-fashioned boardwalk and amusement park that’s a fraction of the cost of one of the brand-name theme parks. We spent the morning playing in the waves and lying on the beach and the afternoon at Palace Playland.”
—Beth Harpaz, travel editor, Associated Press
Panama: “Stay in an over-water bungalow on Isla Colon, one of the islands in the Bocas del Toro archipelago, and get the feeling of Fiji for one quarter the price. Plus, the American dollar is widely accepted.”
—Stacy Rapacon, travel reporter, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance
BEST BIG CITIESFor anyone who can’t bear to sit still, big cities are the best bet for weekend trips. Zero in on cities that attract business travelers during the week—New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco. The big-name hotels empty out on the weekends and will give leisure travelers a better deal, says Peter J. Frank, editor in chief of
Chicago, Illinois: “One of America’s best-looking urban centers, especially in the spring and summer. Take a docent-led cruise (tickets start at $28; and see more than 50 awe-inspiring skyscrapers and other architectural sites. Spend a sunny day in Millennium Park, or consider an indulgent evening at Grant Achatz’s Alinea restaurant in Lincoln Park. It’s a 12-course extravaganza for $145.”
—Heidi Mitchell, features and travel editor, Town & Country
Las Vegas, Nevada: “It’s never been so easy to score a deal on the Strip. Five-star resorts are marked down to three-star prices. The Trump International Hotel is offering a package through June called the Suite Escape. Book a luxury suite for $89 a night at and get a $50 spa credit. The three-star Palace Station Hotel and Casino has rates as low as $24 per night.”
—Nina Willdorf, editor in chief, Budget Travel
Montreal and Quebec, Canada: “Can’t afford the City of Light this year? Consider Quebec and Montreal. They’re Paris in North America, at one fourth the price.”
—Pauline Frommer, creator, Pauline Frommer’s guidebooks
Nashville, Tennessee: “Everyone thinks of Nashville as honky-tonk, and yes, that still exists in spades, but it has this incredible emerging food scene with restaurants like Bound’ry, which offers lobster BLT pizza and grilled ostrich. And in newish neighborhoods like East Nashville, there are terrific galleries: The Plowhaus and the Art & Invention Gallery are just two.”

—Norman Vanamee, editor in chief, Sherman’s Travel
New York, New York: “It’s the best place for immigration history. My family chose the living history tour at the Tenement Museum and assumed the identity of newly arrived immigrants visiting a 14-year-old Sephardic Jewish girl, played by an actress. We stayed in character, asking her about adjusting to life on the Lower East Side. My kids (they’re 10 and 11) were riveted. Be sure to get your tickets for the ferry to Ellis Island in advance—or risk waiting in line up to three hours.”
—Mindy Goldenberg Valenci, co-owner, Family Traveler
San Francisco, California: “It’s rare for a major city to have such a spectacular physical setting—the views of the bay from the hills and the Ferry Building Marketplace are stunning. It’s also a compact, walkable city (those hills notwithstanding) with great museums. The new California Academy of Sciences building in Golden Gate Park features an aquarium, a planetarium, and a four-story rain forest. Go early! There’s also a long tradition of Bay Area bands (the Grateful Dead got its start here). Check out the Fillmore and Bottom of the Hill. And it’s an exceptional food city, with great eateries like Michael Mina and Restaurant Gary Danko—named after their chefs—and the pleasures of picking oysters at the counter of Swan Oyster Depot in Nob Hill.”
—Laurie Werner, contributing editor, ForbesLife
Seattle, Washington: “Three national parks protect the city’s natural beauty. It’s so enchanting that an entire vacation can be built on side trips. On the other hand, the city proper is brimming with fantastic restaurants and compelling sights. Seattle is a best-of-both-worlds destination. Fresh-caught Dungeness crab at McCormick & Schmick’s delicious. A day amid the fragrant wildflowers on Mount Rainier—intoxicating.”
—Eric Wechter, editor, Fodor’s Travel guidebooks and
Portland, Oregon: “The International Rose Test Garden is the one place I never tire of visiting. It easily represents what the whole city of Portland is about—it’s green, friendly, and laid-back. There are over 10,000 rosebushes, and because it’s a test garden, the public has never seen many of these 550 varieties. The Rose Festival is one of the biggest celebrations in the city and runs May 22 to June 14.”
“Some Americans are putting off long-haul travel in favor of visiting destinations in neighboring states—sometimes for the first time,” says Daniel Levine, executive director of the Avant-Guide Institute in New York. It’s the perfect time to slow down and enjoy the pleasures of small towns.
Baja California Sur, Mexico: “This is a terrific last-minute destination because airlines frequently offer discounted flights. My husband, my toddler son, and I recently flew to Cabo San Lucas from LAX for $250 and drove from there to Todos Santos, an artsy little beach community. We had a blast and spent less than $100 in four days on food and shopping.”
—Kimberly Lisagor, coauthor, Disappearing Destinations
Door County, Wisconsin: “Known for its cherries, this gem sits on a peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan. Stay at the little inns in Egg Harbor or Sister Bay, explore lighthouses, and gather shells on windswept beaches. It’s called the Cape Cod of the Midwest and has its own version of the New England clambake: the fish boil. Whitefish, potatoes, and onions are heated in a kettle over an outdoor fire. Once the water boils, the chef tosses kerosene on the fire. When the flames die down, the meal is ready.”
—Laura Begley, deputy editor, Travel + Leisure
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: “It’s rustic and relaxing. Towns like Marquette are a step back in time. It’s never hot, and you get a real Yooper flavor (residents are called U-Pers—get it?). Don’t miss the tasty pasties (that’s a Cornish meat pie, not a typo). Munising is the gateway to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, an ideal spot for hiking.”
—Todd Dulaney, editor, AAA Living
On the road: “Take what I call a one-tank trip, itineraries you can plan on a tank of gas. Cincinnati, Ohio, to Louisville, Kentucky, is about 100 miles. Along the way, you’ll see Churchill Downs, the Louisville Slugger Museum, and the Kentucky Speedway.”
—Peter Greenberg
Bisbee, Arizona: “Spend the night at the Shady Dell trailer park in a 1949 Airstream, have breakfast at Dot’s Diner, then check out the rest of this historic copper-mining town.”


Quick Guide to Purchasing Your First Swimming Pool

Think you might be ready to take the plunge? If you’re planning to buy your first backyard swimming pool, you probably need a few tips to get started. Learn how to establish a budget, find a pool builder, and always remember to put fun on the list.

1. Create a wish list.
You may have been dreaming of a swimming pool for years, and you may think you know exactly what you want. But it pays to read up on the latest technology and gather ideas. Once you’ve done a little homework, you’ll be ready to speak to your pool builder who will suggest styles, materials, designs, and blueprints to make your dream a reality.

2. Research the three types of in ground pools. 
Some pools are made of concrete, others are made of fiberglass, and still others are vinyl. Then there are various coping options, cleaning systems, filtering systems and artistic finishing touches. Knowing what you may want will kick start the process with your pool builder.

3. Find a credible pool builder. 
Take your time with this process. Check with friends, your local and regional pool builders associations, even the Better Business Bureau. Interview several candidates, and ask for examples of their work and references. You’ll be working with this person for many months, so choose someone you feel comfortable with.
4. Decide what kind of pool shape you want.
From infinity pools and overflow swimming pools to rectangular, kidney shaped swimming pools to custom designed pools, the options are almost endless, which is why it’s important to choose the best design that suits your style and needs. The shape of your swimming pool should be chosen for its aesthetic appeal and a lifestyle fit. For example, rectangular pool designs are perfect for almost any type of style and ideal for people wanting a classic, timeless pool look. They’re also great for games and swimming laps. On the other hand, Kidney and free-form swimming pools are more easily able to blend in with the surrounding vegetation and appear more natural. They also lend themselves to waterfalls and grottos.

5. Consider the weather in your area. 

Depending on where you live, the weather can dictate certain pool building decisions. People in cold or wet climates should consider enclosures to prolong the pool season. Does your climate warrant the inclusion of a heater? Windy areas, heavily treed areas, or winter climates will definitely want a pool cover to stem evaporation, keep debris out, and protect the swimming pool when not in use.

6. Know how you want to use your pool. 
Picture you and your family in and around the pool. Is it mostly for your kids? For entertaining? Is it an investment? Do you want it to make a dramatic architectural statement? Or is it a relaxing retreat for you and your spouse? Answering these questions will help determine the need for a slide or wading area for kids, high-end glass tile finishing, a vanishing edge or a built-in water feature.
7. Consider long-term costs.
Along with establishing a budget, consider the long-term costs involved with owning a swimming pool. Owning a swimming pool is actually quite affordable. Upkeep, especially if you take a few energy-saving steps (more on that below), can literally cost pennies a day. But it’s important to have an idea of what those costs are. For example, factor in how much water it will take to keep your swimming pool full, cleaning and water maintenance costs, and any accessories (pool covers, filters, toys, etc.) you’ll need to purchase.

8. Check your local building codes. 
Yes, your pool builder can help you with this part immensely, but it’s a good idea to know the rules yourself. Some areas require perimeter fences of a certain height. Some require the fences to lock. Others require a fence around only the swimming pool itself. You’ll also want to inquire about building permits, building restrictions, noise policies, and property tax concerns.

9. Don’t forget about insurance. 
When establishing a budget, don’t forget to think long term. Contact your insurance carrier and find out if owning a swimming pool affects your homeowner’s policy—no one likes to be surprised.

10. Be energy efficient.It’s easier than ever to save on a swimming pool’s energy costs. Enclosures, pool covers, variable speed pumps and lighting timers can all pay for themselves in energy savings in a short amount of time. In cool climates, it can sometimes pay to shut your swimming pool down for the winter, rather than heat it.

swimming pool .jpg

10 Fun DIY Graduation Party Ideas


1. A homemade “congrats” banner is a simple piece to DIY for your decorations.

2. If you’re into a more vintage vibe, you’ll love this shabby chic DIY photo wall.

3. Make sure to announce your graduation to family and friends, so they know there’s a party coming.

4. To light up your party, decorate your candles with the year of your graduation.

5. What party would be complete without gold balloons with tassels?

6. How adorable are graduation cap cookies? Best part is they’re super-simple to create with a cookie cutter.

7. Use dishes in the shape of your graduation year for the perfect decoration that doubles as a dessert.

8. Get custom sunglasses made as party favors for your guests.

9. Have your guests leave a note for you to read once the party is over.

10. Save some cash and create your own photo booth for your guests to enjoy and remember for years to come!


Creative Stay-Cation Ideas

No money in the budget for an exotic vacation this year? Don’t despair. You can plan a fabulous, fun “staycation” in your hometown, full of spontaneous and invigorating new experiences (including plenty of downtime and some of the fun things you haven’t had time to do). With a creative mindset, you can have a fun vacation at home for a fraction of the cost of traveling. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Set a Budget

You aren’t paying for airfare or a week’s worth of lodging and meals out, so you can get creative with spending when you vacation at home. Figure out how much you can extend from your everyday budget, then relax and enjoy yourself within those limits. Remember, one of the biggest benefits of any vacation is having loads of free time without rules and obligations.

Send Your Brain to the Beach

As if your body were there, too, let co-workers know you will be unavailable. Tune out emails and other distractions on your phone and computer. Catch up on errands, chores and grocery shopping beforehand. Tempted to tackle a house project? A fix-and-clean staycation will leave you … needing a vacation. Unless you will enjoy painting your living room or planting a new tree, let the project wait for a future weekend or day off.

Turn Routine on its Head

This is especially fun for young kids. Make eggs for dinner or eat dessert for lunch. Wear pajamas all day. Camp out in the living room or backyard. Stay up late. Get creative. This is still a vacation even if you're at home, so let loose and have fun.

Empower Your Kids

Each family member takes turns choosing an activity for the day. This may be as simple as a board game, a bike ride or cruising to the mall. Say “yes” to your kids whenever possible, even to your teenager who wants to spend the afternoon alone in his or her room.

Be Spontaneous

At least one day, plan absolutely nothing and see where the day takes you. Sit on a café patio, go shopping, visit the library, go for a walk or take a nap. When a creative idea for something fun to do on your vacation at home strikes, go do it — right now.

See Your Hometown Through Foreign Eyes

Check local tourism websites and brainstorm new destinations and activities — be that a special hike, art exhibit or sporting event. Venture to a museum or bookstore that you have been meaning to visit. Bay Area-dwellers, have you been to Chinatown lately? Chicagoans, when’s the last time you were at the top of the Willis Tower? Plan a fun staycation a few towns or neighborhoods over. Then bike their trails, learn about the local history, eat in their restaurants and pop into their shops.

Book a Mini-Vacation

A week skiing Vail or surfing in Costa Rica was out of the question, but perhaps you can afford an evening on the town and an overnight stay at a hotel or B&B. Weeknights go for less. Check websites for last-minute deals. Request an early check-in or late checkout so you can lounge with a book or good movie. For an added bonus, schedule for your house to be cleaned while you are away.

Visit a Faraway Place—at Home

Pick a country and spend the day learning about it. Dress in traditional clothing, cook the food (or go out to eat it) and play a game native to that culture. This idea requires a bit more effort and will force you to get creative, but since your vacation is at home, you've saved some energy by not planning hotels or plane tickets.

Learn More about Something you Enjoy

Scout newspaper, university and museum websites for events and classes. See an author speak, learn how to play chess, grow orchids, rock climb, taste wine or cook Korean food.

As with a regular vacation, a “staycation” is only as successful as the effort and planning you put into it. Your only limits are your creativity!


How to Budget Your Dream Vacation

If you’re dreaming of a getaway this summer, the best thing you could do right now is to stop dreaming and start taking action to save money for your vacation. You still have plenty of time to make small adjustments to your everyday life that can result in a big impact on your travel fund.

The best part is, these ideas to save money can be applied to whatever goal you want, whether it’s traveling, hosting an large event like a wedding or a buying a new car. Try a few of these tips and see how much you can save:

1. Make your vacation fund separate from other savings and checking accounts. This way, you’re less likely to dip into it when you need some extra cash. Plus, that’s what your emergency fund is for.  

2. Factor saving for travel into your budget, and then automate deposits into your vacation fund so you don’t have to think about it. Automated savings make it easier to store away cash without spending it first.

3. Sign up for a few email alerts from travel companies and airlines that share flash sales and limited-time-only offers. You’d be surprised at the deals you can find!

4. After you decide on a few places you’d like to visit, research when they have their off-seasons. You can find much more reasonable rates if you’re not traveling there when everyone else is (and smaller crowds).

5. Consider an all-inclusive trip. This will help you keep costs down throughout the vacation, as your meals and drinks will already be paid for.

6. Check to see if your credit card offers a rewards program if you’re not already using one. You can use points you earn for hotel and dining discounts.

7. Streamline your expenses for a few months. Consider cutting out one or two things: Can you substitute web streaming for cable? Bring a bagged lunch instead of eating out? Then, deposit whatever you save each month into your vacation fund.

8. It’s spring, so get started on your spring cleaning and sell your unwanted stuff in a yard sale or online. Everything you make can go right into the travel fund.

9. Use coupons and cash back when you’re shopping for things you need. Coupons, whether you print them or use them online, are an easy way to save money on things you’re already buying. If you start clicking through a cash back site before you shop online, you can build up money in an online account and then cash out for extra money towards your trip.

10. Create a change jar and add your spare change to it whenever you have any. Bonus if you can add in small bills, too.

11. Sign up for a library card to rent books, e-books and movies. It’s free!

12. Offer your services instead of buying gifts for a while. Babysitting, cooking dinner or housesitting for friends can be really helpful and needed more than you think.

13. Only withdraw money directly from your bank or your bank’s ATM. These fees can add up quickly.

14. Never go to the grocery store hungry, and always arrive at the store with your shopping list. This makes it less likely that you’ll give in to impulse purchases.

15. Tax refunds are coming up. Though it’s tempting to spend any refund you receive right away, put some or all of it right into your vacation fund.

Lastly, one of the best travel budgeting tips is to total the approximate cost of your entire vacation (factor in transportation, hotel, dining and entertainment), and then divide up the amount you will need to save each month leading up to the trip. If the monthly amount seems like too much, then push your travel dates out further – or as suggested above, cut out some of your other monthly costs. Remember, the total you’re saving for is just an estimate, so aim high to be safe. If you find a really great deal, you might even be able to go away for longer or pick up some souvenirs while you’re gone. Happy travels!