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Archives for : July2015

Cutting the cord….my life without cable

The television isn’t exactly a new idea. I mean it’s been around for almost 100 years. It started out as a social experiment in the 1920s. Here we are almost 100 years later and people are CHAINED to it!! Whatever night’s lineup you like the best you are sitting there, right in front of the ole boob tube, mind dropped into neutral and staring at a screen. You’re like zombies!!

My mother just cannot fathom how we can function without TV. I decided to cut cable TV out of my life about 2 years ago. IT WAS THE BEST DECISION I HAVE EVER MADE!! I felt like there were actually more hours in my day. I no longer cared who Gibbs was trying to find on NCIS, although admittedly that could be because Ziva is no longer part of the cast. Teen Mom, Honey Boo boo, or whatever drivel is on numbing my mind into submission I just DON’T CARE!! It’s such an amazing feeling to know that my IQ isn’t going to drop because I spent 15 minutes of my precious time wrapped up in “reality TV”.

How is it society functioned so well without TV before the 1920s? How did we manage to herald in over 2000 years of existence before that little glowing screen weaseled its way into our lives? We were healthier, we were stronger, we were more self reliant. My grandmother could tell you where her hamburgers came from, and the answer wasn’t the local supermarket. It was from a cow named Delicious that grazed in their pasture.

While my mother cannot fathom how I can possibly function without TV, I couldn’t fathom not having a roof over my child’s head. The idea of not having a warm place to keep her safe in the cold winter months that enjoy torturing the Northeast was frightening. My rent was increasing so I had to make decisions on what to cut from our lives to make sure our BASIC NEEDS were met. TV is a want not a need. Do I NEED to know what happens every episode of Bones that ever aired? NO!!! Do I need shelter from elements? YES!!!!

I am often asked if I miss it. I can honestly say no. I do not go completely without some of my favorite shows, because let’s face it PBS is scoring major points with Downton Abbey. When assessing my luxury items I may have ditched cable but I kept my internet. My package with Comcast was costing me $185 a month. FOR WHAT? I was never home to watch it, there are no animals in my house for me to leave the TV on for, what was the point in keeping it? None. Not when there are so many more options out there for you.

You might ask why didn’t I ditch the cable/internet package entirely. Well my internet was doing the same thing the TV did for me, so why pay twice. My internet also pays for itself. I use it for coupons and surfing the web, keeping in touch with family and friends that have found themselves in different locales. I elected to keep this luxury item because it helped to keep my family with an affordable budget. Could I switch entirely and ditch it completely? Maybe eventually. But for now it is in my budget for things to be covered.

I love Downton Abbey. I love it so much so I don’t care if I am a day to a week behind everyone else. I’ll watch it on Hulu or right on the PBS website. You might ask why I elected to keep my internet when that too is a luxury. Well it seemed redundant to keep something around that something I already HAD could do the same thing. I could still watch TV, or movies with Amazon Prime or Netflix. It was all at a much cheaper rate too. At about $8 a month instead of $100, I could actually watch what I wanted to! While I am still paying something to watch the ole Boob Tube, it’s a fraction of the original cost. I can control what my daughter watches, what I watch. I’d rather spend a night watching Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, then The Bachelor because its a program more suited to my tastes of family TV. The quality of TV seemed so much better when I was a kid and I relish the opportunity to relive these shows with my own daughter.

If we only watched 8 movies a month, the services have paid for themselves. Amazon Prime has the added benefit of free shipping with items from it’s website. So if you have other items you shop for, Amazon Prime is a great tool for your arsenal. I try to get as many things to do double duty in my life as possible.

How have you trimmed the fat from your budget? Have you been able to completely cut the TV cord?

Couponing My Way To A Home

I used to be a really insane, Crazy Coupon Lady. You could find me in the aisles of the grocery store binder in the carriage with a toddler climbing in and out of it, constantly disrupting the carefully calculated tower of that particular week’s haul. It used to take about 2 hours in the store to get all the things I need, wait for my Dad who I always take with me, and for the cashier to ring out all of my items and coupons.
When I started doing all of this it was to help out my parents who had just taken in my brother, sister in law, and 2 kids. They had now 6 mouths to feed and only one person was working. Being 7 months pregnant myself I was also wondering where I would get the money to feed my own growing family. COUPONS were my answer. After about a year it really took on a life of its own. Couponing became a game to me. How can I get the most stuff for the least amount of money? I would watch TLC’s Extreme Couponing for inspiration. I would scour sites and print coupons, collect them from neighbors and family, and yes I even dumpster dived for them. It was all about the chase, the high I would get from walking out of the store and basically legally robbing them (you aren’t actually robbing them, use properly merchants are reimbursed the amount of the coupon plus 8 cents. Oh and that doubled one that the store “covers” can we say tax write off??). Couponing was an obsession. I can admit I bought things I did not use or need because they were cheap or free. I can tell you that its true from the bag of Mac & cheese sitting in my cabinet that expired in 2012. I did all of it for the little number at the bottom of the receipt. The phrase that told me “You Saved $150 today”!!! It was an awesome feeling, until it wasn’t. I had burned myself out in about a year and a half that I just didn’t want to do it anymore. So I stopped bringing in my pile of coupons and buying things I really didn’t need.  I still couponed, just not to the same degree.
The idea was planted in my brain one night that I wanted to buy a house. While I love the town I currently live in, I don’t love my neighbors so much. Coming home and never knowing if your parking spot is going to be open, who kids’ crap was strewn all over your yard was no longer my idea of “home”. I wanted out, and FAST! I wanted a home to do what I wanted and not have to play “Mother May I” if I wanted to paint my bathroom a different color.
I have been working on buying a home since 2012. I did the research on what it would take to buy a house. I started learning more about finances. I mercilessly educated myself in the whole process. The problem was I didn’t have the money to buy a house. I was barely making ends meet, paying on a car that was 6 years old, student loans, day care costs, and the sneaky little habit of traveling I have was loaded on my credit cards. I buckled myself down and payed off all my debt in about 8 months of working diligently at it. After I paid off about $16,000, I began to get laser focused on getting a home for my daughter and I. I couldn’t help but think there were down payment assistance programs available to single moms in my income range I just had to find them.
After a sleepless night or two I came across IDAs. These are Individual Development Accounts that are used for the purpose of helping out low or moderate income families in obtaining home ownership, a higher education, or a vehicle to get to work. There are federal versions and state versions, which you qualify for will depend solely on the state you live in and their guidelines. There were 2 local programs for me to choose from. I live on the line between two counties so the choice was mine on where I wanted to live. Depending on what county I wanted to live in determined which program I went with. Since I had lived in various towns of New Haven County, I elected to stay there. I knew many of the towns where I would be looking wouldn’t be super far from my job. That was important to me.
The way an IDA works is similar to a 401K, you put in money up to a certain amount and the program them matches your contribution. My program matched 2:1, so for every dollar I put in, they gave me $2 more. They would also match my contribution up to $1500 and I had 5 years to reach that goal. Well I wasn’t waiting 5 years, at most I wanted to do 3. I looked over my finances and determined that to meet my goal would cost me $20 a paycheck. But I still didn’t know where I would get that money from. Everything was so tight already.
I thought back to my crazy coupon lady days and how it had been such an “easy” way to “make” money. I could just save all my savings again. I had really slacked off in my couponing but could jump back into it. After all it was just like riding a bike. The IDA sets up a separate savings account for you and anything I saved I would just deposit into the account. That was the plan anyway.
I started the IDA program in September 2013 with just $20. I made that initial deposit and I was on my way to getting my house. Every week I went grocery shopping I would see the savings at the bottom of the receipt and then put it in an envelope to make a monthly deposit. Some months there were only a few dollars, but other months there was about $150. I had set up a direct deposit of $20 from my paycheck to make sure I would stay on track to hit my goal in time.
The bank that I had to use wasn’t very convenient for me, so I opted to make monthly deposits with all the extra money I would save from groceries. It was awesome. Every dollar I saved was the equivalent of saving $3. I started getting that couponing high again. I could see my goal being reached faster and faster. I was able to max out the full $1500 match by April 2014. In 7 months I was able to tuck away $1500 without drastically altering my lifestyle. I bought things I would normally buy, I learned my lesson from the last round of it. But imagine what I could have saved if I had been doing this all along! I saved $1500 and then grew it into $4500 just by spending a few hours clipping pieces of paper!! Where else can you see a 300% gain on your money like that?? All with practically no risk of loosing it.
In February I found a real estate agent, called some mortgage brokers and banks, and started the process of finding a house. I now had a small down payment that I could use with some of the First Time Home Buyer Programs that were available. Now I just needed to find the perfect house for us. We looked at dozens of houses, put bids on a few and were rejected. I was just starting to loose hope that I would be able to find a house in my price range. All the ones were had available really weren’t the greatest, but it was what I could afford. Finally in June after being on the market for about 3 days I looked at my house. I put a bid on it that night and by the end of the week I had a home!!
By taking the money I saved with coupons and putting it into another account that had a great return I was able to buy my 1st home. We are set to close on Aug 25th and I can’t wait to move in!!
Oct Update:  The mortgage product I used paid for my down payment and closing costs on the house.  I was also able to walk away from the closing with a check for $2678.  I financed 96.5% of my house and still was paid to walk out of the door…..oh that mortgage payment, $600 a month….I reduced my rent costs by $150!!

Do The Hustle!

Websites or Apps that will make you rich SLOWLY!!!!

I am a full time working mom, sometimes barely making ends meet. I would love to get another job to help to get ahead but with my daughter in daycare 5 days a week at 9 hours a day already…I just can’t see spending more time away from her. Not to mention I’d have to pay someone else to care for her while working part time….negating all proceeds!!
So I am working on mastering the art of the hustle!! I used to hate that song, but now I feel like it plays no matter where I go!!
I have found that there are apps and websites that you can use to help either boost your savings or earn a little pocket change to fill out your budget a little better. So here are a few that I have found that have worked great for me. I have included my referral links and it would be great if you would use them. Most of them I get points, you get points, so it’s a win/win.

Swagbucks – www.swagbucks.com/refer/kitskat01 If you really want to kill yourself with surveys, knock yourself out. I personally don’t have much time for them. I maximize this site with their mobile apps. For android users there are 4 SwagbucksTV, Entertainow, Sportly, Moviecli.ps. For Iphone just the 1st two will work. DL them, run them on your phone, tablet, even some ipods. Find the shortest video and make it your favorite. I let them run on a loop while my phone is just sitting at work being a paperweight. It takes a few hours and best to do on Wifi…you max those out at 210SB daily…which is $2.10. Add the games for an extra 10SB and the daily crave, daily poll, and NOSO you’re raking in $2.25 daily. Shop through their portal to earn even more. Sometimes they work out better than Ebates! Add an extra $67.50 to your monthly budget this way. I recommend Paypal payouts, but $5 Amazon GC at 450SB are the best deal. You can only get 5 like GC in a given month.

Bing Rewards – by far my favorite quick earner. Look for the promotion in swagbucks. You search random, and I mean RANDOM stuff on your PC & phone. Score 25 points per day and you’re adding another $5-10 a month to your stash. Literally takes me 10 mins daily. I seem to average about 28 points per day. When you reach gold status, which takes about a month of searches every day, you need 475 points to earn $5 gift card. I personally get the swagbucks gift card to try to consolidate where I get my rewards. It also helps me snag that $25 Paypal gift card sooner.

PerkTV – ef2a818e this a great little app to help you earn gift cards as well. You literally let your phone scroll through app trailers or movie trailers. You can have up to 5 devices running this little gem. Snag a few cheapo phones that you purchase through extrabucks.com or topcashback.com which will render you a free device. They only need Wifi to work off of. So Far I have made about $30 off of this one running up to 4 phones. You have the potential to make lots with this if you have them dedicated full time, I don’t so mine is lower. There are also surveys and other offers available to earn more points but I don’t really do those.

Viggle – stuck at work with a TV on all day?? Listen to the radio all the time?? Viggle is a App that requires a little more work then some of the others. You get more points by tapping the prompts for 5points. Use this one for Redbox gift codes. A 1 night rental is 4000 points. They do add up pretty fast if you put Pandora on in the cubicle. Redbox codes are the best deal for this app.

Receipt Hog – http://app.receipthog.com/share/wl1ag4on This app is an awesome way to capture money a little extra on all aspects of shopping. After you are done with your grocery shopping, snap a picture of your receipt. You are awarded coins based on the amount of your bill. Enter a receipt every week for 5 weeks and then each receipt entered earns you spins in the Hog Slots. This method certainly takes a long time so don’t think you’ll stack up lots with this app. I’ve been using it for a few months and still haven’t reached the $10 payout. Depending on what you purchase there might be additional surveys and polls to earn more coins and spins. This is another app that you want to be patient with. The more coins you save the better the payout. 1000 = $5 but 4500 = $30.

Ibotta – iqyrjq – This app is great to use in addition to your coupons for groceries. You have to take a poll, tweet, or learn a fact to unlock the amount of $$ available. I am up to $75 since June. There are multiple stores to choose from and some of the items can be used multiple times. Choose Paypal or Venmo for your payouts. Check to see if you have a bonus offer with Venmo for an additional $5 when you cash out with them. $5 minimum to cash out with either service…might as well catch a 100% gain for the same cash payout. Simple as scanning the item’s barcode and then the receipt. I have been lucky that most receipts were approved within hours, but sometimes can take a few days.

Checkout51 – this app updates with new offers on Thursdays. There are usually fresh fruits & veggies on this app. Often times the offers are similar to Ibotta or Shopmium and they can all be used in conjunction with each other. Scan the products purchased and then the receipt. They’ve been great about posting the rewards in a timely fashion.

Shomium – Similar to Checkout51 there are a list of items available that you “discover” to unlock them. Scan the product and a receipt and in a few days the amount is deposited into your Paypal account. A friend recommended this over Ibotta, but I have found that Ibotta has more things I shop for available . So this app may be one to season to taste.

Shopkick – This app has the potential to be great, but it fails me consistently. The premise is you open the app, walk into a store and bam! Get points. Scan products for extra points and it should add up quickly to earn gift cards. I have yet to have this app work like it should for me. I seems to never be able to find the signal and sometimes I am credited the points later in the day. I scanned the products it says to scan and then the app says the product is wrong even though I scanned the one it is talking about. I know others who have used this with great success. If you are at the mall or work at a mall, this is a good one to try as there are usually several stores that participate in the mall.

Mycokerewards – See those bottle caps everywhere? Don’t drink soda? No problem!! I don’t either, but my coworkers can’t get enough of the sugary madness that is soda. We happen to have a huge tub in our break room. Periodically throughout the day I head in there, sift through the bin and take the caps. Each cap is 3 pts each. This program is great during the year if you are a magazine reader as there are MANY subscriptions available. But if like me you don’t read very many, the 12 Days of Christmas Promo is where you really rack up with this program. I suggest you enter codes all year to save for this one. $25 gift cards are only 600 pts as opposed to 1000+. There are movie passes and later in the promo $50 gift cards. It’s a great way to add Christmas gifts for some people on your list.

Smarterbucks – Got a student loans?? Who doesn’t these days!! With the price of tuition rising constantly, helping loved ones pay for school can seem like an insurmountable task. With Smarterbucks, you search, shop, play games, take surveys much like you would on other similar sites. The reward here is to link either your own or a family member’s loan information to help pay down their student loans. They automatically pay out ever $10 you hit.

Savings tips for First Time Mommas!

Welcome to the learning curve…

Welcome to the scariest ride you’re ever going to take: Motherhood!!

You’re gonna be up, down, left and right all in the course of an hour! Here are some sites that I have found to help you navigate the 1st year.

http://www.babycenter.com/baby-cost-calculator

This site allows you to plug in different variables to help you realize just how expensive that little bundle really is.

How great is it you just learned that Junior is going to cost you $18,000 just this year!! That’s what I paid for my college education!!

Here are some great ways to cut some of those budget items:

Please be smart using these sites, meet in public places that are bright and full of people.

www.craigslist.com – check out the kids section, bartering is unique experience too! Available in many areas.

www.freecycle.com – this site alone was the greatest life saver!! Your little princess is going to look awesome in designer duds, just make sure someone else paid the sticker price. Again available in most areas.

Formula Mommy?

Sign up for these babies!!

www.gerber.com

www.enfamil.com

www.similacstrongmoms.com

Maybe your baby only bounces on Gerber… doesn’t mean you can’t trade other Mom’s for the formula checks they send out!!

GOT CLUMPS? Hey it happens, email those companies and tell them what’s wrong with your baby’s food…they send you a coupon for the can price, usually $15 off…bring that puppy to Bj’s and get a giant can of formula for half price!

Get the best reward for your formula! Figure out what store has the best program for you to take advantage of! You’ll spend easily $80 – $100 a month on formula

In the New England area we have Stop & Shop, spend $100 get $ .10 off each gallon of gas….that is great if you don’t drive an Aveo with an 11 gal tank…..that .10 = $1.10 only a 1% savings.

Shoprite had a Babybucks program spend $100 on baby products and you get $10 off your next order of $50 or more. My same $100 now just gave me a 20% max savings. You can earn up to 13 certificates per quarter.

If you shop in bulk, BJ’s takes 1 manufacturer coupon with 1 BJ’s coupon. Although rumor on the street is that they will let you use however many coupons as there is the equivalent in the packaging.STACK STACK STACK those for savings!

Know your local store programs and MILK IT!!

Any mom’s out there who qualify for WIC, those items still qualify for most of the programs so make sure your loyalty cards are getting scanned.

Defying Debt

Piggy_on_Money1

Sometimes you just have to jump feet first into the pool without testing the water….So I am taking a plunge and allowing myself to bear my story and journey that I am on to defy debt. This isn’t about earning or making 6 figures a year, although that would certainly be nice, it’s about changes I am making in my life to go from being on the road of 6 figures in debt to defying debt and gaining 6 figures in positive net worth.

Many people encouraged me to write a blog about it as a way to make extra income. That again would be amazing, but it’s not the reason I allowed myself to jump. I read an article from The Minimalists that it found rang true for me. They had a link to another site about why you should blog. I was struck by the reason of leaving your mark on the world and leaving something behind. Having recently lost my grandmother, I am craving to know more about her. What was her life like growing up as a Depression Era child? How did she survive WWII and Vietnam restrictions placed in the US? How the heck did she raise 7 kids when I think about my 1 crazy one?!

So I decided that I would write this as a way to leave a piece of myself behind for my daughter, and her children, and her children’s children. I also decided that I was going to do this as a way to break the trend generations of my family have perpetuated over the years. I am going to talk about money and how much I have and will I plan to do with it to cross my path from 6 figures in Debt to 6 figures in wealth. I am ending letting discussing money be a taboo subject with my family, and I encourage all the readers to participate in the discussion about it.

I have long thought it was strange that I was just supposed to magically learn about money and finances. My grandparents never discussed it with my parents, and they in turn never discussed it with us kids….well shy of “get a job and earn a paycheck” What the heck was I supposed to DO with that paycheck?? Save it, put it in the bank, CDs, what the heck is a money market account, and isn’t IRA in Ireland? I had no clue about any of this stuff as a kid, and neither did my parents. To make matters worse, I was born before there was Google!!! Like I was 14 when that little game changer made every encyclopedia we owned obsolete!!

So here we are 16 years later and I still have no clue. But I am willing to learn…and I am willing to teach what I have learned along the way. So please join me as we learn to Defy Debt together.

~Ms. Money Maker