Budgeting Tips – 9 Easy Swaps…I Promise They Don’t Hurt!

Budgeting and saving doesn’t have to mean sacrificing. It might just mean making small changes or tweaks in what you’ve been accustomed to. Swapping should be easy and painless, it just takes creativity and preparation!

Budget Swaps that are easy and painless! {Saving up for Disney}

Secondhand Charm

Secondhand books and clothing are honestly just as good as new most of the time. Buy new only for gifts and buy used the rest of the time and you’ll save a ton, especially when it comes to kid’s clothes. My tip is always to buy the best that you can afford, so I’d much rather have a nicely made but gently used item than something new but cheap and poorly made.

I have sung the praises of ThredUp previously for their great variety and high quality of gently worn (or new!) clothing, handbags and shoes. When my kids ask, “Is this new?”, I tell them, “Yes, it’s new to you!”.

Consider pulling together a few girlfriends and host a swap. Bring jewelry that doesn’t get worn, shampoo or lotions that was only used once, or best-selling books that you’ve read and shelved. Trade or borrow and make those thing “new to you, too!”.

Know Where to Shop & What to Buy

Know your stores and where you get the best deals. Pay attention to prices and specifically your cost per ounce. Take notes if that helps you with your budgeting and shopping list.

I’m a Target lover but I know that if I buy my office and craft supplies or fresh fruit and dairy there, the price will be at a premium. However for some grocery items like canned soup or shampoo, it’s often cheaper for me to purchase at Target than at the grocery. And of course Costco is king for bulk so we only buy our peanut butter, bread, dairy and meats there. I know that Costco isn’t the best place for me to buy cereal though, because I can usually score a better deal at the grocery store with a coupon. And of course, there is always the dollar stores to consider especially for party and craft supplies.

Talking about bulk, consider items you purchase now in single uses that you could be purchasing in bulk and dividing up. Yogurt is number one for us. Instead of the 75 cents or more for one tiny yogurt, we buy a huge tub at Costco for around $5 and serve a scoop of it into a reusable container to take with us for breakfast on the go. Same with snacks for my kid’s lunches. The single serving chips and cookies are very pricey and often more than I want to give my child as “one serving” anyway, so I buy bulk and divide items up into individual baggies in advance.

Drink water

I love a nice glass of orange juice as much as the next gal, but juice is expensive and frankly, sugar-laden and unnecessary. At the very least, juice should be watered down 50/50. If you need flavor (and believe me, I am not much of a water drinker), squeeze in fresh lemon to make it more palatable. My favorite is to drop a few frozen raspberries into the glass and it will flavor your water tremendously, without the cost or calories.

Work in Leftovers

Eat your leftovers…or don’t prepare as much in the first place. If you always have leftovers and they sit in the fridge untouched until they spoil, you have several options.

  • When preparing something, plan what the following day’s meal will be so you can work any leftovers in.
  • Freeze leftovers for future use. I doctored up a jar of spaghetti sauce the other day with sauteed green pepper, onion and ground beef. I immediately divided up half into a freezer bag to save for another meal.
  • Don’t make so much! Make only enough for each person to have one dish to eliminate leftovers.
  • Have a leftover night (I call it “potpourri night”) where everyone has their choice of leftovers from dinners during the week and we round it out with a green salad and call it good!

Many foods are marked with a “sell-by” date that is mistaken for an expiration date. Read here to see lists of foods that are still good to eat after their “best by” date so you aren’t mistakenly tossing food that is still good.

Shop less often

If you are used to running to the store every day to “just pick up a few things” you are probably spending more than you need to. You should be doing the bulk of your buying only once a week (or every two weeks if possible) with perhaps just one side trip for fresh fruits and veggies.

In that vein, try planning meals one week out to make sure that you already will have all necessary ingredients on hand and eliminate those last moment trips to the store.

Eliminate Trash

Don’t throw it away if you can wash and reuse. This goes for paper products including plates, towels and napkins. I only use that stuff if I’m having a party and need mass quantities. For everyday use we use our dishes at breakfast, lunch and dinner, melamine plates if we are eating outside, dish towels instead of paper towels and cloth napkins instead of paper. Very easy to toss the place mats, towels and napkins into the hamper after dinner for washing and reusing and nothing has to be thrown in the trash.

If your kids are good about remembering to bring home their lunch bags, then of course a bag that can be washed frequently and used everyday is going to be more economical than paper bags. Same goes for reusable containers and sandwich bags rather than foil or plastic zip-top bags. Unfortunately I have one child who lost three lunch bags and the reusable containers inside last school year and at some point I had to cut my losses and start sending her with a paper sack and plastic bags. With the cost of the lunch bags down the drain, it was going to be more economical for me to use paper bags instead. Consider what is best for you and your family in cases like this.

Turn it Off

If you aren’t using it unplug it or turn it off…I’m looking at you blender, toaster, ceiling fan and nightlight! Get in the habit of turning off electronic devices when not in use to save batteries (I only buy rechargeable). This goes for water too…turn it off when you’re washing pots and pans. We even turn off the shower water when we’re scrubbing clean and then turn back on to rinse. Saves us from wasting gallons, which is very important in our drought area.

The DIY Alternative

Why buy if you can make at home? A quick search of Pinterest and you can find the DIY alternate for everything from bleach to Bisquick. The DIY alternate is almost always going to be cheaper, just as effective and infinitely more satisfying to use when you see the dollars you save!

And yes, finally..Make Your Coffee at Home!

This also goes for making your breakfast at home instead of driving through fast food for something expensive and unhealthy. A smoothie at home is going to be better for you and help you pocket the $3.50 or more you’d spend buying it out. Packing a salad-to-go instead of buying a premade one at the deli could save you $6.00. It’s all in just being prepared for the days ahead by making sure you have it already on hand so you aren’t scrambling out the door without a plan.

Helpful links:

Ready for Zero – Budgeting tips

Holy Craft – Things to Buy in the Dollar Store

Pinterest – DIY Alternatives



Budgeting Steps to Savings – Learning to Live Without

Learning to Live with Less {Saving up for Disney}

Certainly never an easy topic. Learning to live without.

It probably feels better to think, I’ll just “Learn to live with less“. And that’s definitely the place to start!

I’ve used the analogy of dieting in comparison to budgeting before. It’s the same here…work your way into the changes and you’ll be more likely to stick with it long term, maybe even the rest of your life. Live with less and eventually it will be easy to slip into living without.

And before you start thinking about what you are losing when you learn to live without, think about what you’ll gain. More on that in a bit…

Learning to Live with Less {Saving up for Disney}

When I got remarried and my husband and I combined our families, I had a challenging time learning to live with less. I was accustomed to a certain lifestyle that involved eating out several times a week, decorating the house with adorable and useless things and buying cute clothes when they were on sale (regardless of if I needed them). After several rather upsetting talks with my husband about how we couldn’t afford the mindless spending, I did what any other gal in my situation would have done. I bought the stuff and hid the receipts! I tore the tags off new blouses, disposed of the evidence and snuck the new items into our closet.

And I felt lousy about it.

Since I was also the one budgeting for our household, I knew firsthand how our expenses were laid out and decided that I needed to change. We were in the process of saving for a home and anything I’d been spending frivolously before now went directly into our savings account. I felt so much better and a load of relief not hiding the spending anymore. I tell you this to let you know that I have learned to live without. It was hard. It took time. But it is possible.

Learning to Live with Less {Saving up for Disney}

Key note here: Learning to live without in your every day life doesn’t mean a forever sacrifice or complete abandonment of fun. If you have a goal in mind, you are learning to live without in order to advance upon and accomplish that goal. In our case, we forgo cable television and restaurant meals because we’re saving the difference for a trip to Disney World. We scrimp now so we can splurge later!


Game plan for learning to live without – 

Purge what you don’t use, want or need. Be brutal. If you haven’t looked at it or touched it in months and you have no immediate plan for it, then ditch it. Have a garage sale, give it to someone who can use it or donate it. This first step was very hard for me. I come from a background of close family that had a hard time getting rid of anything (yes, bordering on hoarding) and it’s my natural instinct to keep it, “just in case”. But 99% of the time, I’ll never need it. We purge and clean so we can mentally start fresh. Only keep what you love.

Keep what you have in good condition. Now that you’ve narrowed your “stuff” down, you should only be surrounding yourself with things you absolutely love and use frequently or everyday. Maintain what you have by taking the best care of them. Keep your appliances in tip-top shape with regular cleaning (even in-between the buttons on the blender!). Put DVDs back in their case each time to avoid scratches. Clean up that spill from the carpet or sofa immediately before it stains. Fix the loose buttons on your sweater before they fall off. Take care of what you have and you won’t have to replace it as soon.

Take a look at your budget. Do you see any areas in your budget that seem a bit high? Any areas that you feel could be cut back upon? We took a close look at our budget and realized that we watch very little cable television. Why were we paying for 300 channels that we very infrequently watched? So we nixed the extensive cable and got basic (which gives us perhaps 10 channels) and a subscription to Netflix. Not only do we save about $50 a month, we also don’t feel chained down to the television or feel like to we have to watch it because we’re paying for it.

Borrow. If the time comes when you need something short-term, see if a friend or neighbor will allow you to borrow it. This is good advice before you make a large purchase (like a new bike, power tool or 8-foot kayak…speaking from experience here.). Borrow (with a firm return date) and see how often you really use it before buying one yourself.

Learning to Live with Less {Saving up for Disney}

Tweak Your Thinking.

I remember reading in a book something about paying bills that has stuck with me. The writer noted that each time she mailed a bill instead of getting upset about the money she was paying she would send the letter off with positive thoughts and mental thank yous. Thanks to the water company for the fresh clean water in her home. Thanks to the landlord for the safe and cozy home. Thanks to the department store for extending credit. It was her point of view that changed her thinking from a negative to a positive.

Learning to live without isn’t so much about what you lose, it’s in your point of mind and in what you gain when the excess is stripped away. It’s a simplicity that cannot be bought.

Back to what I’d said earlier about what you gain when you learn to live without.

  • Time – Because I don’t have 300 channels to surf through, I’m more likely to have time to work on my hobbies or play with my kids.
  • Appreciation- I am thankful for what I have already been blessed with…and try to remember this before I buy.
  • Organization- Less to keep track of and so much easier to organize and clean.
  • Creativity – If we don’t have tons of new toys, we’re more creative with what we do have.

Learning to Live with Less {Saving up for Disney}

Live with less and eventually you’ll find that you can easily live without. The photos accompanying this article are my own, taken of my family at La Jolla shores in California, about 30 minutes from where we live. It was a beautiful warm day in January when much of the country was covered in snow. It was a day that stuck with me because of its simplicity. A walk along the coast, wading in the water and watching the sunset. I was so happy I’d taken my camera to capture the moment.


Other helpful links about learning to live with less:

Andreabcreative – Learn to Live with Less: My 365 Experiment

Kanelstrand – Learn to Live with Less and Enjoy It

Gaiam – Learn to Live Simply

Tripping – How I Became a Minimalist

Budgeting Steps to Savings – Realistic Ways of Cutting Back in Your Budget

Realistic Ways of Cutting Back in Your Budget

It’s not always fun to cut back, but if you have a set goal in mind, then cutting back in your budget can be a game and less of a bummer. If it’s time for you to figure out where you can shave off in your expenses, here are some realistic ways of cutting your budget.

Be realistic.

Anyone who has ever been on a diet, knows the rule that “Slow and steady wins the race”. You aren’t going to be able to stick with anything long term if you do drastic things with your budget. If you immediately cut out everything fun or stop buying toothpaste and start making your kids brush with baking soda then you are going to have some very disgruntled family members! Budget changes should feel natural and not too much like a sacrifice or you won’t be able to keep it up. It’s definitely a balancing act.

Cutting your budget doesn't have to be a scream! {Saving Up for Disney}

Cutting your budget doesn’t have to be a scream!

Plan Your Frivolous Purchases

You really want something. However it’s something you don’t need. Planning these kinds of frivolous purchases instead of just buying on the whim will give you the time to rethink and reevaluate whether you want to spend money on it or move on. I love to shop online because it gives me time to put things into my virtual cart, walk away and do something else. Then after thinking it over, I can either click submit or close the window.

And another thought for online shopping, if you do decide to buy always do a quick search for a promo code. Ebates is a great site to find a coupon and also earn back a percentage on your purchases (affiliate link).

Assess the Need

Before you buy it, assess the need of it in your life. Are you okay without it or do you just really want it? Before buying new clothes take a good look in the closet, clear out stuff you don’t wear and then assess what it is you really need. I realized a few years ago that I needed to do that when I assessed my closet and saw that I had six nearly-identical black tees…oops!

Before grocery shopping go through cupboards, fridge and freezer. Toss out old stuff and make note of what isn’t getting eaten (don’t buy that again!). Take a quick inventory before you buy, make a list and stick to it.

One of my pet peeves is back-to-school shopping! There is a big push in the stores to buy everything new for the first day of school. Assess the need for new clothes, a new backpack, fresh pencils and markers and only buy what is absolutely necessary. I bought a great backpack for my son three years ago from L.L. Bean and it’s still looking good and going strong…no need to buy a new one each year if you buy a quality item that lasts longer than one season. Read also my post, Top Tips for Budgeting for Back to School.


Cut it Out

There was a time that whenever I went to Target, I literally strolled down every single aisle. I would go in to buy lunch supplies and end up buying really cute (but totally unnecessary) home decor items, seasonal stuff, Dollar Spot goodies, DVDs for the kids, t-shirts, etc. I was spending $50 more than I needed to each time I stepped in the door.

I know you…you do the same thing, don’t you? *wink*

So I did something drastic. Because I had such a hard time keeping myself in check at Target, I stopped shopping there for a while. If I needed to buy lunch stuff, I only bought it at Costco or the grocery store. I didn’t die from not have those adorable (but totally unnecessary) items and I had a lot more money in my account.

If you can’t make it through Target without picking up cute (but totally unnecessary) home decor like me, maybe you need to resist the Target urge and shop somewhere else for a little bit. I have done the same thing with other stores, simply cutting them out of my routine. I recycle my unused Kohl’s 30% coupons, delete my Gymboree emails about a sale before I start adding things to my online cart and absolutely, never-ever go to the mall!

Buy it Used

Someone else’s family outgrew it and now you can own it for pennies on the dollar. We have a large family and tend to trade clothes, books and toys between the cousins. Most of my kids clothes come from ThredUp (affiliate link) and I’ve started buying clothes for myself here too. Clothes from ThredUp are all in like-new condition so I know I’m getting clothes that are only gently worn (some still have the tags on them). I just bought some gorgeous dresses for less than $13 each and they would have easily been around the $100 mark at full-price!

Keep it at Home

Eating out costs more than cooking at home. Taking the entire family to the movie theater is way pricier than pulling out a favorite DVD and having movie night in your living room. When you’re watching your budget, try to minimize those “out on the town” times and enjoy a fun evening at home…where it’s free and you can hang out in your pajamas! Instead of going to the ice cream shop and getting scoops all around, hit the store, buy a few fun toppings and a big tub of vanilla bean and make sundaes at home. Put the money you would have spent on a night out in your Vacation Bank!

Do it at Home

If you can make it at home instead of buying it at the store, you should! Some things are easy and more cost effective to make at home, like popsicles, smoothies, salad dressing and birthday cards. Need your morning coffee fix? Make it at home and take it to-go in a thermos. Handy with a sewing machine? You can quickly whip up your own pillowcases, shorts or skirts and of course, Halloween costumes. Need a car wash? Get a bucket and sponge and do it in your own driveway. We minimize water use with a pressure washer. Why pay a premium price for having someone else do something that you can easily do yourself at home.


Bring it from Home

Planning a day out? Don’t forget to bring stuff from home so you’ll resist spending money while you’re out. Maybe that means packing lunch in a cooler for a mid-day picnic between errands, filling bottles of water so you aren’t stopping for drinks on the go or toting a few snacks in your purse to appease kids when they see treats in the check-out line. If it’s sunny don’t forget the sunglasses, hat and sunscreen. A first aid kit in the trunk, stocked with bandages and pain reliever can be a life saver. And I always keep a bag in my car with a clean shirt for everyone in case someone has a run-in with a bottle of ketchup (hey, that happens!). If you already have it all with you in the car, there’s no need to buy it when you’re out.

Big Bills

Take a look at your larger expenses or rotating bills and see if there is any way of cutting back. As much as I enjoy going to the gym, I can get just as good of a work out walking around the block and lifting my kettle bell at home, so I cancelled my $10 a month gym membership. We hardly ever watch TV outside of the local news, so bye-bye pricey cable bill. Check with your utility departments and see if the rate that you have is the best they can offer. Sometimes just threatening to leave will be enough for them to offer you a better rate.

If you shop at a grocery store that doubles coupons, this can be a great savings…however, it’s only practical if these are items you already buy! Don’t buy unnecessary items just because you have a coupon! I recall when I was coupon shopping and decided to stop. I was driving all over town to shop at several stores and had enough shampoo in my closet to soap up a small army! I very rarely coupon shop anymore because most of my purchases are in bulk from Costco.

Get Everyone on Board

Families need to be united with the same goal in mind if you want to be successful in your budget trimming. That goes for the kids too. Our kids know that if it’s not their birthday and it’s not Christmas, that they can look but not ask for toys when we go to the store. When they really want something they have the option of using their own money (which we have to approve) or doing without. Generally they make the choice to do without. Our kids know that we’re saving up for a Disney trip so it’s easier to tell them that is where our money is going. And they are saving along too in their own bank accounts.

Save now and splurge later, on your dream vacation!

Save now and splurge later, on your dream vacation!

It Gets Easier

I know, even small changes can be an adjustment if you’re used to doing things a certain way. Before I remarried, my son and I had Disneyland Annual Passes along with the San Diego Zoo, Sea World and Legoland!  We were eating out a lot, shopping whenever we wanted to and sadly, spending money I didn’t have. I was in debt and though we were “having fun”, I was stressed out about money. When I remarried, my cutback was drastic and it was very hard at first. However now that we’ve been doing this for a few years, it’s very easy for me to see where we can continually improve on our budget. I’m having a lot more fun now, knowing I have minimal debt (one car and our home mortgage) and I’m much less stressed now that we have money in a savings account!

Having your set goals (ex. being debt-free, developing a savings account, saving up for a dream vacation) will help keep the spotlight focused. Don’t look at your neighbors and what they are buying. Buy what you can afford and make do without. Keep your eyes on the prize and make saving lighthearted. Take your focus off what you aren’t doing (ie: spending) and look at what you are doing instead, like spending more time at home with your family and saving up for that big vacation, of course!


My Secrets on How to Enter Contests…and Win!


My Secrets on How to Enter Contests...and Win!

You probably have a friend who always wins contests, right? She’s the “lucky one”. Why can’t you be the one to win?! You can! I am the “lucky one” and I’m ready to give you the secrets about how to enter contests and win!

Back when I was a girl (long before the internet, of course) my dad would occasionally receive a newsprint mailer that had national contests. I was intrigued by the thought of possibly winning a vacation, cash, even a car. I recall a few times, filling out postcards with the contest addresses as per the instructions and sending them off in the mail, fingers crossed. I never won anything, of course.

When I was in high school my dad won a contest in the newspaper to name a casino in Las Vegas. He was one of many who chose the name (“Excalibur”) and was awarded a weekend stay at the new hotel and my mom and he got all their meals for free. That was fun!

I won this two-day Disney vacation on the radio!

I won this two-day Disney vacation on the radio!

I’ve been pretty lucky through the years, including an appearance on Wheel of Fortune (won $5300 cash!) In the last few years, I’ve really devoted more time to contest entry and it’s paid off. Locally I’ve won San Diego Safari Park tickets, Disneyland Park Hopper tickets and an overnight weekend at the Disneyland Resort complete with 2-day park tickets for all four of us.

Online I have won cash prizes (nearly $3000 in American Express & Visa gift cards in one year), year-supply prizes (like King’s Hawaiian Bread and Campbell’s Soup), a set of my favorite dishes from Lenox, 3 trips (a weekend in NYC from Armitron Watches, 9-day trip to Europe from Skype and a vacation to Greece from the Greek Tourism Board), as well as over a hundred other things.

Winner, winner! A selection of kids clothes from Tea Collection.

Winner, winner! A selection of kids clothes from Tea Collection.

My motto: Someone has to win, why not me? 

You know, you can’t win if you don’t play. I am by no means a professional at this and there are many websites that will go into more detail but this is how I do it:

  • At least once a week, I do an internet search for contests that sound interesting to me and load the links into an Excel spreadsheet. There are websites that list tons of contests in a directory like Sweepstakes Advantage and Sweeties Sweeps. These are the two I use most. I like to look for specific contests too, like travel to Walt Disney World, and I find Disney-themed contest on Mousesavers.
  • I don’t enter contests with prizes I don’t want or need.
  • I do “like” certain companies on Facebook that run frequent promotions and then check their sites to see when they start new contests.
  • I also follow blogs that I enjoy reading and enter their contests as well. I won a gift certificate last year to Party Box Design on a blog and was able to get the baby’s birthday invitations designed for free. Some blogs have more complicated entry processes like tweeting, following their Pinterest boards, liking them on Facebook and others only require a simple comment.
  • I like Pinterest contests and essays best because they take a certain creativity. The Ellen Show frequently has essay contests with fantastic prizes.
Enjoying our trip to New York, courtesy of Armitron Watches.

Enjoying our trip to New York, courtesy of Armitron Watches.

Reading the fine print:

  • Read those Official Rules. Really. At least the parts that tell you how many times you can enter, how long the contest lasts, how the winners will be contacted and what it is exactly that you’re entering to win.
  • Pay attention to how many times you can enter. I steer away from contests that tell me I can enter “up to 100 times a day”. ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that! I prefer contests that only allow one entry per person/email address. This really evens the playing field. But if you’re in it to win it, make sure if it’s a daily entry contest that you really do enter every single day to get the best odds.
  • Look at the starting and ending dates of the contest. Try and get in on the beginning of the contest if you are able to enter once a day to give you the best odds. I’ve entered every single day for the HGTV Dream Home contest; technically twice, because they let you enter at both and They also offer a flooring contest from Lumber Liquidators & another for a GMC vehicle. I entered them all, every day of the contest so my odds are as great as they can possibly be! Of course, I’m in the mix with millions of others, but remember, someone has to win! Why not me? (or you!)
  • Some contests will ask for a code or something from a proof of purchase but there are often alternate ways of obtaining the entry (some as easy as just clicking a link that will supply you with a code without a purchase).
  • Watch those clickable boxes at the end of the entry form! If you don’t want to receive a bunch of unwanted spam or junk mail or accidentally sign up for something you don’t want (like a magazine subscription). Make sure you know what you’ve clicked (sometimes the boxes are already clicked and you need to unclick them each time).



  • Find your favorite stores and internet shops on Facebook and Pinterest and see if they are running any online contests. Click the Facebook “pages feed” to show the recent posts of those you follow. Many of these will host simple comment-and-win daily contests. I won a $500 necklace from Jared The Galleria of Jewelry this way!
  • Magazines often have contests or sweepstakes so a quick online search of your favorites should let you know what is available to enter.
  • Your local radio station probably has call-in contests (that’s how I won a $50 Macy’s card) but they often have online sweepstakes as well (that’s how I won the Disney tickets and trip!).
  • Blogs are great place to enter and depending on the number of readers/entrants, the odds can be pretty good!

Last of all, good luck! Be consistent with your entering, have fun and have hope. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t win anything. But at least you are casting your net and I have my fingers crossed that you’ll win a big one someday! Here’s to hoping we win ourselves a Disney trip and we can use the savings bank for souvenirs!