7 Not-So-Obvious Reasons You Need a Library Card

“I need to get a library card,” a friend told me last night after I explained that she could read a book she had saved in her Amazon wish list by downloading it through the Libby app. I had just finished listening to it on my phone. When I shared with her how to set up a Libby account, I assumed that she had a library card. I assumed everyone did. But they don’t.

There are so many amazing benefits to getting that free piece of plastic that go beyond just walking into a building that smells like history coming alive and walking out with a hardcover book or two. From saving hundreds of dollars to helping you start a side hustle, the library is a wealth of resources that every person needs to tap into. So, if you haven’t yet applied for a library card or you haven’t been using your local library for its many purposes, read on to find out the world you’re about to unlock by filling out a simple short application.

Why You Need a Library Card…

1. Major Money Savings

Between myself and my four children, we go through over 30 books per week, most of them are children’s books that my kids do not want to read more than a couple times before looking for another subject or character to read about. I’d be buying books constantly to keep up. Thankfully, we’re able to load up on dozens of books every two weeks from our local library. When we check out, there’s a summary at the bottom of our receipt that shows how much money we saved at that visit and how much we’ve saved so far this year. On September 14th, 9 months into the year, our check out receipt revealed that we’ve saved $1,310 on books this year… BUT that was on just one of our accounts. On another one of our cards, the savings is listed as $746. We have two additional accounts, so it really adds up to over $4,000 in savings per year, assuming I’d actually buy that many books for my children, which brings me to reason #2…

2. No Budget Limits

For most things in life, we’re limited by our budget or affordability, but at the library, expendable income bears no weight on how many items or which types you can take home. If you’re interested in the newest best seller that would cost $35 new at the book store, it’s yours (if available), If you have a voracious young reader at home, you don’t have to limit him or her to one book at a time due to budget restraints.

3. Free Classes for Adults

Have you ever browsed the list of classes your local library offers? Have you checked libraries in nearby neighborhoods? I just did a quick search of the 5 libraries closest to my home, and here are just a handful of the skills I could learn for free:

  • Spanish or French
  • Qigong
  • Budgeting/Financial Planning
  • Emergency Preparedness
  • Designing with Inkspace
  • Gardening Secrets
  • Genealogy

4. Free Kids’ Activities

Need an indoor activity outside of the home for your kiddo? Check your library first. Every library offers story times and crafts for young children. Most libraries also offer book clubs, robotics meet-ups, lego fun, and other after-school events for grade school children and teenagers.

Libraries also host many free, fun, family-oriented events, such as petting zoos, dinosaur talks, summer reading parties, cooking competitions, movie nights, live music, and so on.

5. Cheap Office Services

Libraries offer free wi-fi and computer access (reservations usually required). Most also have printing services for a nominal fee and the latest design software or educational apps for you to try before you buy.

Use your local library before driving all the way back to your office or to the overpriced, overcrowded copy and print shop.

6. Enter Fun Contests and Win Cool Prizes

“I just won a kindle!”, I announced to my family after a quick phone call from a librarian. I had entered a contest the library offered that asked me to track my reading for a month on a bingo card. All I did was place an “X” on a card each time I read a certain type of article, book, or periodical. I returned my card, and a week later, I had a brand new kindle in my hands.

Libraries offer fun contests for both children and adults throughout the year, but they’re especially exciting during the summer months. You might be asked to enter a book review or a creative poem. You might just have to track your reading hours or the number of books your child has read. You might just have to leave a public comment on a jar. These contests are simple, and the prizes are fantastic! Over the last decade, my family has won restaurant gift certificates, two kindles, pool passes, dozens of toys, children’s books, free ice cream, and tickets to professional sporting events. Walk in to your local library, read the bulletins or flyers on the check out desk, and enter to win!

7. Find Affordable Gifts

Your local library probably has a room with books for purchase at a very low price or for a minimal donation. You can find books from every niche to give to your family and friends. Not only are you saving a significant amount of money and time by shopping at your library, but you’re also able to give a gift that is very personalized to your loved ones’ interests.

Many libraries also host huge book sales a couple times per year as a fundraiser. It’s a win-win … you get great gifts for others at a highly discounted price and the library can keep offering all the amazing opportunities listed above.

Bonus Benefit: The library can be a natural laxative.

Have you seen that Seinfeld episode during which George takes a book into the bathroom soon after entering the library, and then the book gets “flagged”, after which he’s forced to purchase the expensive book and then can’t find anyone to take it from him? I still laugh at just the thought of that moment when he squawks to the librarian, “What do you mean it’s flagged?!”

This might be a bit of TMI, but the library laxative has been an unexplained truth in the life of my children. I don’t think we’ve made it through a single library visit in the last 6 years without at least one child needing to gooooo. So, if all of the other convincing reasons in this post don’t send you straight to the membership desk at your community library, keep this last tip in mind to create an even greater sense of urgency.

If you’re looking for more ways to live a frugal life with your family without sacrificing all the fun, check out my step by step guide to financial freedom.

Words to Live By in the FIRE Movement

In the famous, life-changing book, Rich Dad Poor Dad, author Robert Kiyosaki shared in Chapter 2 that financial literacy is what sets the rich apart from the middle class and the poor. I agree completely, but there’s A LOT to learn. In my previous article, Day 18 of Financial Freedom in 2021, I defined a list of terms to get acquainted with when developing your personal finance vocabulary. Understanding different retirement investment vehicles, tax terms, and the basic steps of financial independence is important, but there are additional terms that many people in the FIRE community use quite often.

I repeatedly hear the following words or phrases from individuals who have reached financial independence, and while technical vocabulary is important, these seem to be the ones to truly live by.

“Simple Life”

Many FI families emphasize living life to the full but in a more simplistic way. It’s not necessary to fill your home with excess material goods, travel to the hottest tourist locations, stay in 5-star hotels, live in the biggest house in the neighborhood, or drive the newest luxury SUV to have an abundant life. The happiness factor on all of these things fades.

What makes life full is the people in it and the experiences you have. Think of someone you look up to, maybe a grandparent or neighbor or civil rights leader. What do you admire about that person? Is it their stuff or what they did/do with the life they were given?

I admired my aunt who lived in Michigan. She was a devout woman who worked as a special education teacher and served her church community multiple days per week, including bringing communion to elderly residents in a nursing home. My aunt didn’t travel much except to visit our family occasionally, and she lived in the same house for nearly 40 years. She raised two boys on her own and lived with a debilitating kidney disease for many years before she passed. Despite all of that, she was able to retire early and paid off her house. I don’t remember much of what she had in that house other than several crosses and religious paintings, but I remember fondly how much joy I felt while staying there. My aunt was always happy. Every day in her simple life seemed joyful, and it was contagious. Her frugal life had a greater impact than the life of luxury and debt that I see many people living today.


Relying on a community of like-minded individuals is a common thread in the FI culture. I often hear FI folks speak of how much they rely on their neighbors and close friends for help with babysitting or carpool, to participate in clothing and toy swaps, to agree to share meals in each other’s homes rather than going out to a popular restaurants, and for support on common goals.

If financial independence is a goal of yours, then a community of Joneses, and those chasing after them, won’t do you much good. You need to find a community of Frugalwoods, Money Mustaches, Rich Dads, and Mad Fientists, along with some kind and like-minded neighbors. There are Facebook groups and meetups related to the topics of minimalism, frugal living, financial independence, swapping, and cheap travel that can be great places to start when looking for the type of community mentioned above.

“Lucky” or “Blessed”

Gratitude is one of the biggest mindset shifts necessary to achieve financial independence. Being grateful for and recognizing the blessed life you already have is the first step in financial freedom, in my opinion. I practice daily gratitude in prayer, and if you listen to podcasts or read blogs from people who have already reached FI, most of them write down what they’re grateful for at least once per day. They also mention often how lucky they are for buying real estate when they did, investing early, having college paid for by their parents, finding an influential book during a turning point in their lives, for meeting the man or woman who gladly walks this FI journey alongside them, and so on. In the FI community, I hear very little bragging yet a whole lot of thankfulness.

Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

“No Regret”

Mistakes are only failures if you don’t learn from them. A common thread in the FI community is that people are willing to share their mistakes and what they learned with anyone willing to listen. They don’t dwell on or regret their errors in judgment but rather celebrate them for helping to move them along on a better path toward financial freedom.

Welby Accely openly shares how he was scammed multiple times and cheated out of hundreds of thousands of dollars before he became a successful real estate investor. He doesn’t regret these poor decisions. They made him stronger and taught him what NOT to do. He attributes his current success to learning from those mistakes.

What I love so much about the FI movement is not just the freedom that financial independence offers but the positive mindset and meaningful lifestyle it encourages. While developing the strategies of living on less money than you make, investing the difference, and making your money work for you are essential to financial independence, the phrases mentioned in this post (and the attitudes they represent) are what truly make this movement worthwhile.

Spring Cleaning vs. Spring Spending

Good morning! When I previously tried to write this article, my finger slipped and hit the publish button while in the beginning stages of my first draft. It’s definitely not a best-case-scenario for any writer. Lol. This time around, I’m hoping the final draft is what ends up in your Inbox. Thank you for reading… again!

Spring Cleaning is a phrase we’re all familiar with. Some families take it to the extreme … scrubbing every wall, every bit of exposed tile grout, and even the front sidewalk. Others use Spring Cleaning to motivate themselves to get rid of excess by de-cluttering every room. And then, there are the Spring Cleaners who take this time of year to organize, organize, organize by color-sorting bins in the pantry or clothes in the closet, separating mini craft items into jars, and making the laundry room more accessible. Quite possibly, your family does all OR none of the above during this season of sunshine and renewal.

However, there’s one thing that every family likely has in common during the Spring season: an increase in spending. Data shows that this time of year is HUGE for retailers. Unfortunately, I don’t need research to prove this trend to me because I’ve noticed the spending binge in my own household. I’m definitely not alone; this article and associated charts clearly illustrate the significant Spring spending increase across the country. The Wall Street Journal has also predicted a further increase in spending this year, leading into summer.

So, how does a family that’s eager to take advantage of the better weather and longer days minimize this Springtime splurge?

Take Inventory as You Clean

Taking inventory comes up often in my articles… because it works. Just as tracking every dollar helps you save money and tracking calories helps you lose weight, taking inventory reduces your tendency to collect unnecessary items while out running errands. It’s your hedge against impulse purchases. Imagine yourself walking into Target. Do you gravitate toward the dollar spot right away? If so, being hyper-aware of how many coloring books, floral-covered journals, blue tooth headsets, and tiny vases you already own will hopefully make the idea of picking up another one, even if it only costs $3 or $5, cause you to groan rather than grab.

Make a “Needs” and “Wants” List with a Specific Budget

As you clean and organize each room, make a list of your family’s needs and wants. Maybe you’ll recognize that you need to replenish your supply of shampoo and soap while scrubbing the bathroom. Maybe you’ll notice you’re out of cinnamon and baking soda as you re-organize your spice cabinet. Maybe it’ll dawn on you that your kid’s mattress is nearing its 8-year expiration date. Write these items down on a “Needs” list and estimate what they’ll cost you. Then, do the same with “Wants” in each room, such as a new set of bath mats, an upgraded blender, or a neutral set of sheets to cover that new mattress. Based on your monthly budget, assign an amount you’re willing to spend on these Wants. Keep your lists with you, and then when out shopping, stock up on the Needs and vow only to buy the Wants if a current sale puts them within your set budget. You might even jot down in which month you should buy the Want items based on the best time to buy.

Redecorate as You Clean

Make Spring cleaning a lot more fun and interesting by redecorating your home with the items you find tucked away in cabinets, closets, and even your holiday bins. You could also make use of the crafting and paint supplies you uncover to update and/or create your own home decor. Involving yourself in a project, especially if you get to repurpose your own possessions, can give you a true sense of pride and accomplishment, while also salvaging the cash in your wallet.

Sell, Sell, Sell

Sometimes, a Spring shopping spree is just what the doctor ordered. It’s fun! You get out to see what the stores are offering and come home with new things to refresh your space and your spirit. Even the most frugal folks can identify with that! However, if you don’t want to sacrifice your savings rate by splurging on Spring goodies, unload your stuff in a big sale first. As you de-clutter, separate your items into categories, such as adult and kids’ clothing, kitchenware, sports equipment, tools, toys, baby items, linens, etc. Then, identify the best options for selling the items in each category depending on where those items will garner the most traffic and the highest prices. For example, if you have designer clothing items in good condition, try selling through Poshmark. If you have unique collectibles, eBay might be your best option. If you’ve accumulated dozens of products that you’ve never opened, an Amazon shop could give you the highest return. Tools and kitchen items will likely receive a decent amount of interest on your neighborhood Facebook page or Nextdoor site.

But if you have a large variety of items that span multiple categories, a well-advertised, old-school garage sale will earn you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to put toward that shopping spree. I just recommend that you pay yourself a percentage (to go toward investing/savings) at the same rate you save from your monthly income (10-25%) before you hit the stores.

I hope this beautiful time of year gets you out and about enjoying the changes this season brings, not just into the stores taking advantage of the advertised sales. However, if you do find yourself drawn to your favorite retailers, let us know what tricks you use to spare yourself from falling into the Spring spending trap.

Save on Utilities

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 14

This morning, my husband remarked that our kids are all great at turning lights on yet can’t quite figure out how to turn them off. Another friend had a similar problem with finding her backdoor open throughout the day. She said she’d start charging the kids $1 each time the door was found open. On a podcast interview a few months ago, I heard a great story told by The Budgetnista about her dad’s utility pet peeve and what he did about it. On his daughter’s designated day to buy a treat from the ice cream truck, he told his young girl that he didn’t have any money for ice cream because the water man had come by just before the ice cream truck did. He had to give the water man her ice cream money to pay for the water she had let run for several minutes.

No matter your age or background, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ve heard multiple complaints about water, electricity, and/or gas being wasted, potentially risking your family’s entire financial future. 😉

How much does it actually cost to leave a light or your TV on all night? What if you leave your cell phone plugged in after it’s fully charged or your freezer door open for a couple minutes while you ponder which ice cream flavor you’re craving most?

The answer is: Pennies.

How much does it cost when you keep the fridge door open?

These bad habits won’t break the bank, despite how often your dad may have yelled at you to shut the darn fridge before you let ALL the cold air out! Thanks to energy-saving appliances and light bulbs, our modern homes are costing less and less energy (and cash) to operate, but if you’re clinging to that “vintage” equipment, like an old stereo or TV, those will waste significantly more.

The biggest energy expense, though, is likely your air conditioning or heating, so it’s still ok for you to nag your kids about closing the back door. Check out these recommendations for keeping A/C costs down, and then read through the list below on additional ways to cut costs on electricity, cell phone service, TV streaming, and gas.

  • Get an energy audit. You can call your electricity-provider to analyze your specific home to determine where/how you can save energy and money.
  • Give away that old beer fridge in the garage. It likely sucks more energy than you think. Try moving all of your beverages inside and unplugging ye olde beer fridge for a month to see the savings. In our previous house, that one change decreased our bill by $50 per month! 😳
  • Break free of the old-school cell service contract. Try a more affordable month to month cell phone plan that operates on the same network as the big guys. https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/utilities/cell-phone-plans/
  • Eliminate bad gas… habits. 😊
  • Conduct a TV Analysis. Keep a record of all TV watched over a 2 week period. Which channels are the favorites? Which streaming service is accessed the most? Once you’ve tracked your family’s TV habits, get rid of everything not often accessed. If you’re hanging onto Netflix because there’s one show you want to binge watch, but you don’t use it much otherwise, then cancel the service. When you get a free weekend to consume all the seasons of that one show, borrow a friend’s access info or do the free trial (then set a reminder to cancel before the month is up).
  • Reduce water use. Cutting down the length of your shower by just 4 minutes can save 200-300 gallons per month. Converting to Energy Star appliances can save 20-30 gallons per wash cycle. (With an older appliance, avoid the permanent press cycle – it uses 5+ extra gallons.) Add aerators to your faucets to save around 20 gallons per day, and switch to low flow toilets to save a few gallons per flush.

Today’s action step is to look up and jot down what you spent on electricity, water, gas, cell service, and TV streaming in the months of Feb and March of 2020. Then, immediately start implementing the above changes to your utility usage. Finally, set a reminder in a few months to compare your bills from this year to last. Hopefully you’ll see a savings, and if you do, keep it up!

Save on Kids’ Activities: Get Creative with Extracurriculars

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 13

Gymnastics for the preschooler to help with balance. Music class for the baby to encourage language development. Soccer for the big kids to teach sportsmanship and teamwork. Riding lessons for the horse-lover. Dance camp for the tiny aspiring ballerina. Yoga or a Bible study group for Mom’s mental, physical, and spiritual health. Monthly golf games to counter Dad’s work stress. A YMCA or pool membership for the whole family to spend time together.

It’s all too much. These extracurriculars can become easily justifiable, but the expenses quickly add up. I’ve often heard friends of mine say there’s nothing that can be cut in these areas; I’ve been there before too. We’ve tried all of the above, but I needed to cut back. We were over-committed and over-spending. Plus, the kids weren’t getting as much out of every experience as I had hoped.

I quickly realized that we had to limit everything to what was providing the most value and determine which extracurriculars could wait til later. This required asking some hard questions and thinking outside the box (or even counter-culturally) for solutions.

I recommend asking the following questions before signing up for something or continuing with an extracurricular activity:

  • What’s my WHY? What’s the true reason for this membership/activity/group?
  • If I’m doing this to learn a skill, can I learn it for free from a library class, a You Tube video, a good book, or a friend?
  • If I’m doing this so my kids will learn teamwork and participation, can that be accomplished through free school activities such as UIL or PE classes already offered? Can I organize a weekly kickball game in the neighborhood?
  • If I’m doing this to make friends for myself or my kids, can I find other options such as a neighborhood bunco group or small group at a local church or a nearby parent/child playgroup? (Search Facebook or Meet Up and ask around for options.)
  • If I want to start a young child in a sport or activity that I love, can it wait until he/she is a tad bit older? Many times, we sign our kids up for something and get so disappointed when they show no interest or seem to have no idea about what’s happening. But give it a few years and that will likely change. Also, at an older age, kids can articulate what they do and don’t like about an activity, helping you determine which are truly the best options for them. Despite considering lessons as an earlier age, my eldest daughter got into music, theater, and dance once she entered middle school. Because she was old enough to know what she liked about them and was mature enough to put in the effort necessary, she learned new skills rapidly, much faster than the pace that would’ve been required had she started in elementary school with private lessons. And the middle school classes are free as a part of her school day.
  • If the extracurricular is for exercise, what are our family’s favorite options to get in free work outs? What about that class, sport, or gym truly motivates us? Can it be replicated elsewhere, including at home or in a local park?

When you determine which extras are most important to you and your family, consider the following solutions or alternatives to save money:

  • Swap hours with a friend. Maybe you can tutor her kids and she can teach sewing to you and yours. Maybe you can mow a friend’s lawn in exchange for guitar lessons for your kiddo. Maybe you and a neighbor can swap babysitting hours for kids’ swim lessons.
  • Take a You Tube class. My 5 year old occasionally asks to attend dance class. We’re not sure if she’s truly that interested in learning dance, if she likes the idea of dance because friends attend lessons, or if maybe she just wants to wear a leotard and tutu. So, we found a You Tube channel with adorable and easy-to-follow ballet lessons. When my little one is “in the mood to dance”, she goes to that channel and follows along. She’s quite good at it, but she’s not consistently interested, and this type of video lesson is enough to satisfy her for now. We’ll reassess in a year or two but save our money for the time being.
  • Offer to work. If you love your gym or yoga studio or Pilates class, can you offer to work one morning a week at the front desk in exchange for a membership or a significant discount? What if you volunteer for the sports board? Can you get a discount on registration? It doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • Skip the skills camp in the summer (for younger Rec-level kids). A week of soccer camp can cost as much as the fees for a whole season of Rec soccer. A week of dance camp is equivalent to a few months of classes. A week of horse camp can exceed the cost of 5 private lessons, and while at camp, riding time might be very limited. If you still want your kiddo in camps for summer so they can be with other children and get out of the house, I get it! Try swim team, which provides daily swim practice for 2 months and a team full of friends for a fraction of the cost of private lessons. Check out the local VBS camps in your area. Most are free. Libraries (if re-opened this year) often offer free summer camps or day programs as well.
  • Take advantage of all the extras offered when you register. Does enrollment of the gymnastics class allow you to attend open-gym days for extra practice time? Does your sports program offer additional clinics or trainings? Does the gym membership offer 2 hours of child care? (If so, then exercise for an hour and use the extra hour to catch up on work, reading, phone calls, etc.)

Today’s action step is to re-evaluate all the extras. Be sure to know WHY you’re involved in them and whether they’re worth what you’re paying. If not, cancel and try an alternative!

Eliminate the Ads … Eliminate the Temptation

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 11

Who knows you better than you know yourself? Your spouse? Your parents? Your sibling or your kids? Your BFF?


Retailers know you better. 😔 They can *predict* what you want before you even know you want it. They understand your impulses and your brain chemistry better than you do. They have you psycho-analyzed better than the best therapists around. If you’ve seen The Social Dilemma, you know this unfortunate truth.

Therefore, you gotta stop those retailers in their tracks. You gotta set boundaries and block them from your phone and your email.

To continue down the path of resetting spending habits, today’s action step is to eliminate the ads!

1. Unsubscribe to retailer emails. All those emails about upcoming sales, can’t-miss offers, and travel discounts seep into your subconscious and encourage you to spend, spend, spend because ya know, it’s a DEAL. Unsubscribe! Try it for a month and then assess whether you are really missing anything in your life that you HAD TO HAVE and didn’t catch on sale. If you are, I’m pretty sure you know how to find that retailer’s website or store location again.

2. Change your Facebook settings. Under Settings, go to Ad Preferences. There, you can turn off ads from specific retailers and categories. Then, go to the Ad Settings tab and turn off the features in each section that allow targeted ads to appear in your feed. You’ll still see ads, but hopefully they won’t have as much effect on you because FB is no longer reading your mind.

Eliminate targeted Facebook ads

3. Toss all snail mail ads and catalogs in the recycling bin before opening or reading through them. Same reasoning as in #1… if there’s something you really need or have saved up for, you can find ways to get discounts when you are ready to buy, not at the time the retailers are convincing you to do so.

4. Fast-forward through commercials(if possible) or watch commercial-free shows on TV. You can’t be sold if you don’t see the ad.

Please comment below if you have further suggestions on how to avoid seeing the hundreds of ads that flood our daily lives.

Save on Groceries

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 9

Food is the third largest expense for most households, especially if you have growing children or pets in that house. A family of 4 in the US spends around $700 – $1000 per month. When I first started tracking our spending, I discovered that our family of 6 was spending close to $1500 per month on groceries and eating out. Woah! That’s a lot of money!

Thankfully, I quickly found ways to reduce our food expenses, starting with grocery shopping. The following tips show how our family dropped our monthly grocery bill from around $1200/month to $800/month. We’d like to get that down much further, so we continue to try to find ways to cut back although we do not have discount grocery stores in our area.

  1. Ask yourself whether you HAVE TO go. One of the best ways to save money on groceries is simply to go to the store less often because once you’re there, you know you’re going to buy something else … and another something else… and another. I get it if you have a sick child and ran out of his medication or if you need more baby formula. However, many of our *quick* grocery store runs are for want items as opposed to need items. Can you make a slight change to tonight’s recipe so that you can go without a certain ingredient? Can you bring a different dish to the potluck than what you had originally planned? Can you make pancakes or muffins rather than instantly replacing a favorite cereal? Find ways to eliminate those in-between trips, and you’ll spend significantly less.
  2. Take Inventory. As I mentioned in a previous post, making note of what you already have in your fridge or pantry and determining how best to use them in the weeks ahead will prevent you from buying duplicates or even substitutes when at the store. Know what you have and don’t buy more (unless there’s a deal really worth stocking up on).
  3. Don’t bring the kids. Easier said than done, I know. However, kids can make you stressed… stress makes you cave to convenience… and convenience costs cash. If you are able to change habits and go to the grocery store less often, you most likely can find an hour each week or a little longer every other week to go alone. It’s glorious. And necessary.
  4. Know when your store sets out clearance items. I called my local grocery store and asked what time they set out clearance items daily. At the Dripping Springs HEB, they stock those specific shelves between 6 and 7 am. Eek! That’s not even close to my usual shopping time, but I still always check the racks because I have found so many items I would’ve bought anyway marked way, way down. If your store doesn’t have a clearance rack, maybe they mark down soon-to-expire meats or day-old bread at certain times of the day. A quick phone call or short visit with a manager is all it takes to get the inside scoop.
  5. Keep your grocery list generic and shop the sales. This brilliant idea came from a podcast featuring the Saving Sherpa on Bigger Pockets Money Episode #75, during which Justin shared how low his grocery bill can go. It is completely unrealistic for me to feed a family of 6 on $15/week, which is his personal budget, but hearing how he shopped was pretty inspiring. Instead of planning very specific meals with very specific ingredients, his list remained generic so that he could shop based on sale prices, seasonal produce, and in-store coupons. His list might read “Protein, Fruits, Vegetables, Lunchmeat, Fillers (i.e. rice, potatoes, bread, tortillas), Snacks, and Yogurts”. The most important aspect of this idea is to break habits and buy based on value, not based on routine or rigid meal plans.
  6. Before you grab an item from the shelf, ask if it’s something you can make from scratch at home. If frozen waffles aren’t on sale this week, can you make extra waffles on Saturday morning and freeze them for later in the week? You can ask this same question when shopping for granola bars/balls, cookies, rice krispie treats, muffins, frozen pizza, sweetened coffee creamer, bagged popcorn, chex mix, lunchables, veggie trays, fruit salad, jars of soup, pre-made/frozen meals, and so on. Not only is it usually cheaper to make something with scratch ingredients, but it’s a lot healthier too.
  7. Make the most of store coupons and apps. Use your local grocery store app to save money on groceries. I’m a big fan of HEB… everyone in Texas is! And with the featured HEB digital coupons, I’m an even bigger fan. HEB is already known for their in-store yellow coupons and their weekly meal deals, but the app offers additional featured coupons and even sends users freebies every once in a while. If you add a cash-back app, such as Ibotta (enter referral code “wpcrvpk” pretty please), you can even double up on some coupons or on other items you bought. In fact, there have been many, many times that I’ve saved using an in-store coupon and then received additional money back from Ibotta on the same product. Ibotta pays you back on specific grocery items listed in their app, and it changes weekly, but it also has “any item” options that will earn you some money back for simply redeeming a receipt or buying bananas. All you have to do is select the items you purchased, take a picture of your receipt, and cash in. I’ve earned over $200 since I joined in Oct of 2019.
  8. Know what to buy when. Usually, vegetables and fruit are cheaper when in season. This guide might help you to determine whether now is the time to stock up on berries or whether you should wait until a different season of the year. Also included below is a guide of which fruits and vegetables freeze the best so you can stock up when they’re on sale.

To take action today, listen to the podcast mentioned above and download the Ibotta app. Also, go to your pantry and fridge to check out what foods you’re stocked up on. Come up with at least 5 meals you can make from what you already have. Then, calculate what the cost is for each of those meals. Set a goal for meal costs in your home. We aim for $2/person for homemade dinners.

Then, when it’s time to go to the store again, download your grocery store app and check what’s on sale or what coupons are offered. Make your list and your meal plan starting with those sales.

Tackle Transportation Costs

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 8

Transportation is #2 (behind housing) in the top monthly expenses incurred by most Americans. Car loans, car insurance, gas, repairs, and depreciation all lead to the high cost of car ownership. It’s estimated that it can cost over $9000 per year in addition to the base cost of a car. But most of us, especially with a family, can’t fathom managing our daily lives without the convenience of multiple cars.

There are a few ways to significantly reduce transportation costs, but these will require quite a change in lifestyle:

  • Share a car – this option might be more do-able than in the past because of the increase in remote work and school situations.
  • Sell or trade in your cars for smaller, older, or electric vehicles.
  • Bike to work and to run errands. Maybe a cargo bike is in your future.
  • Eliminate all cars and use public transportation or ride-share services. Rent a car for road trips /vacations.
  • Switch to a job with a shorter commute or work out a plan to work from home 2-3 days/week to reduce gas charges and reliance on a vehicle.

However, if a drastic change isn’t in the cards this year, here are a few things you can take action on now to save on the high costs of transportation:

  • Shop around for cheaper car insurance (consider raising your deductible and ask about all possible discounts, including safe driver, company/occupation-related, good grades for teenage drivers).
  • Plan a weekly schedule for errands so that trips can be combined on same day to reduce outings and gas-usage.
  • Change kids from car-rider to bus-rider (this is a battle in our house!).
  • Pay off your car loan.
  • Refinance your car loan.
  • Vow to buy a used vehicle approximately 6 years old or older from now on.

Today’s action step is to shop around for car insurance, make a plan that reduces your car use, determine whether you can pay off or refinance your car loan to get monthly costs down, and plan to make one of the BIG changes suggested above in the near or distant future.

In our household, we continue to make the conscious decision not to inflate our lifestyle with regard to vehicles despite how embarrassed our 13 year-old is of our minivan and how cool our friend’s new Tesla looks. I currently drive a 2015 Toyota Sienna with over 100,00 miles on it. We paid off the loan on my van as one of our financial goals in 2018. My husband still drives his 2005 Ford F-150, which has over 250,000 miles on it. He takes great care of that truck, and we use it minimally so it can last much longer. Neither of our cars looks especially cool, nor are they stain-free. We could easily justify an upgrade, but it’s not worth sacrificing bigger priorities in our family’s life.

Tomorrow, we’ll dive in to how to save money on the third biggest expense for most households. Can you guess what it is?

Save Big on your Home

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 7

Housing is the top expense for most Americans, often costing upwards of 30% of our income, and it can be difficult to find ways to quickly reduce the cost of housing. However, according to Scott Trench’s book, Set for Life, significantly reducing housing costs will take you on a fast track to increasing your savings rate and reducing the amount of time it’ll take to reach financial independence.

But how?

The recommendations made in Set for Life and by many bloggers is to house hack, which refers to the strategy to own a multi-family home, live in one unit, and then rent out the additional unit(s) to reduce your own living costs. This can also be done in a single family home if there is a separate living space that can be rented out or a super cool tiny house parked in your backyard.

Are you able to do this? My family cannot. Once children enter the picture, this strategy can become a bit more complicated and maybe less desirable.

Maybe there other ways your home can provide you additional income. Check out this article on creative ways to Earn extra cash from your home, from renting a parking space to allowing a commercial to be filmed on your property.

Other ideas to save on your biggest expense:

  • Make extra principal payments to pay off your loan early.
  • Refinance (rates are still below 3%!) or negotiate a reduction in rent with your landlord using comps in the area.
  • Shop around for reduced homeowners insurance (start with your current provider) and/or increase the deductible on your plan to get costs down.
  • Learn how to DIY upgrades and repairs (You Tube has a video for everything!).
  • Hire an accountant or research every potential tax credit and discount available to home owners in your state based on your home’s specific features and location.
  • Consider moving to a smaller home, a less expensive area, or a nearby neighborhood with a lower tax rate.

In addition to shopping around every year for lower insurance rates and DIY-ing many home repairs (like building our own back porch staircase), my husband and I chose to do the final suggestion on the list above. Some of our friends and family advised against selling our *perfect* home that they assumed would be worth much more one day, but the future offers no guarantees. Plus, we were ready to make big moves toward our goals, so we listed it early in 2020 and sold well over asking.

Our kids did not have to switch schools or find new friends due to our move. We simply moved to a home with a little less land that actually cost the same amount as what we bought our previous home for. However, because of the equity the first house had built and the low interest rates we received when purchasing our new home, we came out significantly ahead financially. And we love our new home and neighborhood! Win-win.

A big move like this can seem overwhelming and even impossible, especially with kids, but I recently heard the mantra, “Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s bad.” Maybe a big move is your way to get ahead quickly. Maybe house-hacking is possible. Maybe refinancing will give you a significant monthly savings amount. No matter what it is, it’s important to strategize how one of your biggest assets can produce more value to you now and later.

Today’s action step is to take at least one of the above steps toward reducing home expenses and talk with your partner/family about long-term goals regarding home ownership.

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action

Happy New Year! Soon enough, everyone will be asking you what your New Year’s Resolutions are.

They never seem to last, but if you set some firm foundations in the first month, you have a good chance of not backsliding the rest of the year. One of the foundations I set for 2021 was to sign up for a boot camp. I’m the worst at attending workout classes, but thankfully, a friend asked me to join a biggest loser challenge for the month of January. Enter in a little competition, and that might push my butt out the door and to the class, even on a freezing winter day.

It seems that most resolutions are related to diet and exercise, career success, spiritual well-being, and money habits. One of my favorites, though, is from Jimmy Fallon’s 5 Word Resolutions last year:

Less upsetti and more spaghetti!

(Perfect for our current 2020 social climate.)

All kidding aside, one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family, especially after what 2020 dealt us, is to get on track financially. If you’ve received this email, it means that you’ll be getting daily action steps for the next 30 days that worked for my family to significantly increase our savings rate and our net worth in just a couple years. We’re on track for financial independence sooner than we could’ve ever imagined, which is opening up more opportunities than we’d ever dreamed of. I hope that these action steps help you to get back on track or to expedite your financial independence journey.

Please comment on posts along the way to provide your feedback and to let me know what works for you in your personal finance journey. I’m still learning every day and love to get advice from others on how to earn and save more.

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 1 starts tomorrow!