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I love this homemade soft French bread. It’s ALL soft, outside and in. The method is different than regular loaf bread, but with a photo tutorial and recipe it's easy!

We make most things from scratch around here.  I’ve made sandwich bread for years, but my favorite is French bread.  We all love it so much that I’ve even started making sandwiches with it!  Yep- PBJs on soft French bread is what’s for lunch around here.  Of course it makes a perfect companion for any soup or salad, and also makes great garlic bread.  We even love it plain or with butter.  You really can’t go wrong with homemade soft French bread.

My favorite part about French bread in general is the soft, yummy inside.  I have never been a big fan of the crunchy outer crust.  That’s why I love this soft French bread.  It’s ALL soft, outside and in.

For those of you who are intimidated by any sort of homemade bread, I made a complete photo tutorial to make it super easy for you.  Trust me– you’ll want to give this recipe a try.

Will homemade French bread save me money?

I know what you skeptics are thinking.  A loaf of French bread costs a dollar or two at the grocery store.  Why would you want to spend time making your own?  How could that really save money?

Have you ever gone to the store and walked out with just French bread?  I didn’t think so.  While the loaf itself isn’t going to break your budget, you will inevitably pick up more than just bread when you drop by intending to just grab a loaf to go with your spaghetti.

Oh, and trust me when I say it’s SO much better than what’s been sitting in a paper bag at the store for who knows how long.

Are you ready?  I’ll start with the recipe intertwined with the photo tutorial.  Scroll to the bottom for the printable version.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons Yeast
  • 3 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Hot Water
  • 2 Cups Hot Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Salt
  • 1/3 Cup Oil
  • 6+ Cups Flour, divided
  • Butter

Instructions

In a small bowl, mix together yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup hot water.  Let sit.

In a large bowl (I use my Kitchen Aid mixer bowl), mix 2 cups hot water, salt, oil, and 3 cups of flour.

 

Add yeast mixture.

 

Mix until incorporated.  Add in 3 more cups of flour and mix until dough pulls away from sides and forms a ball.  You may have to add up to 1/2 cup more flour.  You want the dough so that it isn’t too sticky to touch.

 

When dough is a nice consistency, move to a floured surface. Knead 30 times.

 

 

When I knead, I fold the top of the dough down on itself and push with the heels of my hands.  Then I turn the dough 90 degrees, fold the top down and push again.  Each time I push down the dough, I count.

 

Set a timer for 10 minutes and allow the dough to rise.  When it beeps, come back and knead the dough about 20 times.  Set the timer again and repeat 4 more times for a total of 5 kneading sessions.  I use wheat flour to roll out the dough, even though I make the bread with white flour.

 

Divide the dough in half.  Take the first half of the dough and roll it out into a rectangle.  The length of the rectangle should be approximately the length you want your bread.  It takes some persistence to get the dough rolled out, as it likes to stretch then shrink back.  It will have lots of air bubbles in it that you will be rolling out.  It reminds me of bubbles in silly putty.  Try going from the middle out to each corner.  You might have to get out your muscles and show it who’s boss.  In time you’ll end up with a nice-looking rectangle.

 

Starting on a long side, roll the dough up to form the loaf.  Tuck the ends under and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

 

Using a serrated knife (I use a steak knife), cut three or four diagonal slashes on the top.  Cut deep enough that it goes through a couple of layers of dough.

 

Form the second loaf the same way.

If you want you can brush with egg whites.  Call me lazy, but I always skip this step.

Allow loaves to rise for 30 minutes.

Turn the oven to 375 degrees.  Bake loaves for 25-30 minutes or until they’re just past golden brown.

 

After removing from oven, use a stick of butter to coat the top and sides of the loaf.  The butter keeps the crust nice and soft, and gives a nice shine and that yummy buttery taste.

 

Cut with a bread knife and serve warm (but it’s delicious when it’s cool too).

I love this homemade soft French bread. It’s ALL soft, outside and in. The method is different than regular loaf bread, but with a photo tutorial and recipe it's easy!

Soft French Bread

 

Soft and delicious French bread goes great with any meal, but is good enough to eat on its own!

Author:

Serves: 2 loaves

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons Yeast
  • 3 Tablespoons Sugar
  • ½ Cup Hot Water
  • 2 Cups Hot Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Salt
  • 5 Tablespoons Oil
  • 6+ Cups Flour, divided
  • Butter

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, mix together yeast, sugar and ½ cup hot water. Let sit.
  2. In a large bowl, mix 2 cups hot water, salt, oil, and 3 cups of flour.
  3. Add yeast mixture. Mix until incorporated.
  4. Add in 3 more cups of flour and mix until dough pulls away from sides and forms a ball. You may have to add ½ cup more flour. You want the dough so that it isn’t too sticky to touch.
  5. When dough is a nice consistency, move to a floured surface. Knead 30 times.
  6. Set a timer for 10 minutes. When it beeps, come back and knead the dough 20 times. Set the timer again and repeat 4 more times for a total of 5 kneading sessions.
  7. Divide the dough in half. Take the first half of the dough and roll it out into a rectangle. The length of the rectangle should be approximately the length you want your bread. It takes some persistence to get the dough rolled out, as it likes to stretch then shrink back. It will have lots of air bubbles in it that you will be rolling out. Try going from the middle out to each corner. You might have to get out your muscles and show it who’s boss. In time you’ll end up with a nice-looking rectangle.
  8. Starting on a long side, roll the dough up to form the loaf. Tuck the ends under and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  9. Using a serrated knife (I use a steak knife), cut three or four diagonal slashes on the top. Cut deep enough that it goes through a couple layers of dough.
  10. Form second loaf the same way.
  11. If you want you can brush with egg whites.
  12. Allow loaves to rise for 30 minutes.
  13. Turn the oven to 375 degrees. Bake loaves for 25-30 minutes or until they’re just passing golden brown.
  14. After removing from oven, use a stick of butter to coat the top and sides of the loaf

3.2.2885

 

 





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In July we took our first trip to Yellowstone National Park. We met Mike’s siblings and their families there for a family reunion. It was an amazing trip! The park is huge and there is so much to see. We packed our schedule full while we were there and we have a list of what we want to see next time.

After I shared the complete cost breakdown for our Washington DC trip last year, many of you told me how helpful it was and asked that I do the same for other trips. So here goes!

Travel– $560

We drove. We spent roughly $550 on gas. Yellowstone is just under 1,000 miles away, plus there is a lot of driving in the park. Coming from California, gas everywhere on the road (even IN the park) was way cheaper than what we pay at home.

Yellowstone National Park is roughly 15 hours from us. While we could drive that in a day, we couldn’t leave until Saturday afternoon because of a morning swim meet on the day we were leaving, so we had to stop somewhere to sleep. We had planned to just find some national forest or BLM land to camp on since we had our camping things with us.

It was well after midnight when we decided we had better stop. We were near Twin Falls, Idaho, and Google told us that we were a few minutes from Murtaugh Lake Park, a county park with tent camping for $5 a night. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a campsite that cheap in my life! It was closer to our path than places where we could camp for free and it included bathrooms, so it was an easy yes. We didn’t even set up a tent. The kids were asleep in the car so we just laid out a tarp, got out the sleeping bags, and transferred sleeping kids into sleeping bags.

We ended up staying at the same place on the way home, which worked out beautifully since we knew where it was and what to expect. We spent a total of $10 for lodging on the drive.

Entertainment– $80

We paid $80 for a National Parks Annual Pass.

We have six kids, but none of them happen to be a fourth grader this year. In past years we have definitely taken advantage of the Every Kid Outdoors free National Parks Pass for 4th graders and their families. We could have just paid $35 for a 7-day entrance, but we knew we would be driving through Grand Teton National Park on the way home and be visiting other National Parks and Monuments later in the year.

Accommodations– $132

We reserved a campsite about a year in advance. My sister-in-law set the family reunion up. The park was very accommodating and put us in camp sites near one another. We were in Bridge Bay Campground (in Loop F, if I remember right). We stayed 5 nights so the total was $132 for camping in the park.

Side note: One of the coolest things about camping in the park was seeing the wildlife up close. We had huge elk walk right through our campsite the first day we were there, then next day bison walked right through. We didn’t approach them, but they weren’t shy about making themselves at home.

Awkward picture of me, but check out the rack on that elk!

Food– $0

We divided up food responsibilities for breakfast and dinner between families. Each family was responsible for cooking one breakfast and one dinner for the group (about 35 people).

When it was our turn for dinner we had a burrito bar. We brought beans, taco meat, salsa chicken, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, cilantro, salsa, and flour tortillas and let everyone make their own burritos. To make storing the meat super simple, I asked my mother-in-law if she could freeze dry the cooked taco meat and salsa chicken at home in her freeze dryer to that it wouldn’t require any refrigeration. We just rehydrated it and warmed it up on the camp stove.

Our turn for breakfast fell on our last morning there when we were all busy breaking down camp, so we wanted it to be super simple and not require much hands-on work that morning. We baked 12 loaves of quick breads (banana bread, zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, etc) at home before we left. We also brought peaches and apples slices.

Each family handled their own lunches and snacks. We brought the makings for peanut butter and jam sandwiches, lots of apples to slice, granola bars, yogurt, nuts, dried fruit, carrots, crackers, hummus, bagels, and other easy foods. We stopped for pizza on our way home.

I am not including the cost of food, as we used our regular food budget instead of money from our trip fund. If you look at our July budget update you will see that we spent $638 on food for the month of July. It definitely takes some planning to work a trip’s food into the normal monthly budget, but keeping a stocked pantry and food storage makes it much easier than starting from square one.

Equipment– $342

We purchased a few things specifically for this trip. While we bought them for this trip, we look at them as investments in future trips as well.

$76 Bear Spray- While most of us thought it would be pretty cool to see a bear, we hoped we wouldn’t need to use bear spray. Still, we thought it was a smart idea to have a couple of cans anyway. It’s definitely pricey, but we will keep having opportunities to carry (but hopefully not use it) in the future. I think of it like insurance.

$150 Propane Stove– As we discussed the gear we could share for making our meals together, none of us had a propane stove that was big enough to cook for our group, so we decided we would make the investment. Mike has been wanting to upgrade our own camping equipment. Most of our outdoor cooking gear is for backpacking (read: small and light), so with a family our size who loves the outdoors, this Camp Chef two-burner stove was a good investment for us.

$60 Griddle attachment– Having the griddle makes the stove even more versatile. We used it to warm up tortillas (and even make quesadillas for some of the little ones). It will also be great for pancakes, eggs, and french toast in the future.

$52 Propane– We bought a 20lb Amerigas propane canister outside of a Walmart in Idaho. The initial cost was $52. We had plenty of gas left at the end of the week.  When we need to refill, we’ll exchange the empty canister for a full one for just the cost of the gas itself (something like $22, I think).

$4- Ice– We bought a small bag of ice from one of the gas stations in the park. While it’s way more expensive than what you would pay at the grocery store, it’s cheaper at the gas station in the park than in the convenience store/gift shop.

Total cost for 5-day Yellowstone Trip

Vacations can be expensive, especially with a big family. One of the great things about a trip like this, where we drive and then camp, is that an increase in the number of people doesn’t affect the total very much. When we stay indoors, we have to get at least two hotel rooms or a very large Airbnb for the family. When we fly, tickets for eight gets very expensive quickly. For us, driving and camping saves a lot, and is just as much fun!

In all we spent $1,114. Some of that, like the propane stove, is gear we’ll use again and again for years.

If you haven’t visited Yellowstone before, I definitely recommend planning a trip there. It’s a pretty incredible place. We had a great family trip!





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Our garden is not manicured beautifully for a magazine or social media, but it is functional and very productive! Growing our own fresh organic produce year round helps to supplement our grocery budget. Not only do we have fresh fruits and vegetables nearly all year round, we have plenty to can, freeze, dehydrate, and freeze dry.

We built the garden into a hillside on our property. We used our 2020 covid stimulus check to fund our big garden project. It was a great move! In addition to feeding our family, it is teaching our children (and us!) to work hard, work together, and reap what we sow.

Lots of you have asked about our how our garden is doing this year, so I’m giving you a little tour. You can get a walkthrough tour in the YouTube video embedded below or just read on and I’ll do my best to explain.

On the lowest terrace we have blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries, and blueberries. They are quite a jungle right now. We have been planning to put horizontal support wires on t-posts around each of the beds to hold the vines up, but we have not gotten to that project yet. This year our blackberries and boysenberries produced well, but picking them was tricky. Thankfully they are thornless, but they are just hard to access when they’re so overgrown. Our blueberries pretty much got buried by the blackberries.

The next terrace up has 4 beds of strawberries, a bed of cantaloupe, a bed of sweet potatoes, a bed of herbs, a bed of tomatoes, and a bed of peppers. There are some yard-long beans in there somewhere too. The problem (or blessing, depending on how you see it) is that loads of volunteer tomatoes grew up in the woodchips outside of the beds. We pulled out hundreds of them, but still we have volunteer tomato plants overtaking everything. While we could still rip them out, half of the family is in favor of keeping them so can sell cherry tomatoes (only we haven’t started selling them seriously). Every year we say that next year we will not allow any volunteers, but when we see the cute, strong plants growing up we don’t have the heart to pull the all out. Maybe next year!

The next terrace up is also riddled with volunteer cherry tomatoes, watermelon, and cucumbers all growing outside of our raised beds! We have intentionally planted watermelons (lots of them), sweet potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers (lemon, garden sweet, and Armenian), yellow squash, and many tomato varieties. It looks like a jungle, but produces lots of good things to eat!

Above that we have our greenhouse terrace. We took the cover of our greenhouse off for the summer. We don’t have any raised beds up here, but decided to plant straight into the ground. Our ground is very much rock (as you can see in the video and sides of the above photos), so the woodchips that we have covered every terrace with are what makes the ground fertile and plantable. We didn’t have a solid watering system on this terrace for the first part of the summer, so it was kind of neglected. Even so, we have will have a good harvest of spaghetti squash along with some pumpkins and banana squash.

Speaking of pumpkins and banana squash we still have a couple hundred pounds in the garage from last year’s harvest! We need to get it pureed and frozen before we harvest this year’s fruits.

We have two higher terraces of fruit trees with additional fruit trees planted into the slope above that. A late frost as well as deer devastation  when someone left a gate open, dashed our hopes of fruit this year. Hopefully they will start producing next year.

We’re getting ready to start seedlings for our fall/winter garden. Last year we had several varieties of beautiful lettuce that grew all fall and winter. We actually had to pull out everything that was left so that we could plant in the spring. It’s too hot for lettuce in the summer here, so I’m really looking forward to fall. And as long as it doesn’t freeze, the tomatoes will keep ripening late into the year as well.

Do you have a garden? How is it growing this year?

 





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August was a super busy month for our family. Instead of being busy as a family like we were all summer, now everyone is busy going their own direction. We are now in a really good routine.

We’re one step closer to having solar installed. The trenching and hole-digging is done. The pallet full of panels has arrive. It will just be another couple of weeks before a crew does the install and then a bit after that to get hooked up to the grid and have the final inspection. With the cost of power going through the roof, this can’t happen soon enough!

Let’s take a look at our numbers for August. As always, feel free to ask if there’s anything that doesn’t make sense or you would like me to clarify.

Income Earned in AUGUST – $10,973

We live on last month’s income. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, check out the video explaining how living on last month’s income changed our lives or the post explaining how we got to that point.

This income section shows the money we earned in August, which has all been set aside to use in our September budget. The spending section below shows the money we earned in July and spent in August.

Attorney Income – $8,698 Mike works as an attorney for the state of California. This is his take-home pay after taxes, social security, pension contribution, and health insurance premiums. It also includes a small “work-at-home” stipend that he started getting from the state.

Rental Income – $2,274 We rent out a one-bedroom apartment on our property. Our long-term renter moved out in June, so we’re back to Airbnb. If you’re thinking about renting out your space on Airbnb, check out Mike’s post about dealing with insurance for your Airbnb rental or our explanation of how we handle our Airbnb finances.

Spending in August

Each month we budget the previous month’s income down to zero. This is how we spent the money we earned in July.

Giving

Tithing – $1,137 We always pay a 10% tithe on our income. This tithing, like all of our August spending, comes from the money we earned in June. You can read our thoughts on paying a 10% tithe here.

Fast Offering – $100 Each month we take one day to fast (go without food and drink) for two meals and contribute to a program that provides assistance for local folks who need it.

Monthly Bills

Mortgage – $2,380 We have a 15-year mortgage on our house. If you’re interested in the details of our Dec 2020 refi, you can check out all of the numbers and details.

Electricity – $457 This bill covers both our home and our rental which are both completely electric. That will be great once we have our solar installed, but right now the price of electricity keeps going up and up.

Car Insurance – $101 Our insurance is through USAA and we love them! If you, your parent, or your spouse were/are in the military, you’re probably eligible for USAA too!

Internet – $70 Having good internet access is super important with everyone at home for work and school. We’re so glad we invested in bringing internet access to our property when we first bought our house. That $5,000 investment was worth every penny!

Water – $185 Our bill comes every other month so we try to set aside about half of what we anticipate the bill to be.

Garbage- $46 The bill for our curbside trash pickup also comes every other month so we set aside half of the bill each month. Our rates increased $4/month.

Cell Phones – $130 We have three cell phones: one for me, one for Mike, and one we use as a home phone for when the kids are home without us (or that the older kids take when they babysit or work at someone else’s house). They are all through Visible. Visible is a Verizon subsidiary that offers wifi calling and unlimited cell calls and data on the Verizon network. We’ve been using them for over two years now and have no complaints at all. It is $25 per phone, but right now you can get the first month for just $5 through my link.

Music Lessons – $0 We paused music lessons again because of an extremely busy schedule.

Everyday Expenses

Food – $529 Our garden is giving us lots of tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, squash, and watermelons. We plan to eat a lot from the garden in September as well.

If you are ready to get your family’s grocery spending under control, sign up for Grocery Budget Hero and you will learn the exact strategies I use to feed my family on a low budget (even with rising prices). Enrollment is open now! Get $20 off with the coupon code STARTNOW.  That puts your total cost at $59, and I promise you’ll earn many times that back as you stretch your grocery budget hero skills.

Fuel – $593 Gas is down compared to last month. It’s around $4.60 at the cheapest station right now.

Household Misc – $373 We had various household expenses come up this month. We also replaced one of our couches with a nice secondhand one I found. We also pay monthly for a Scribd subscription because we love the unlimited access to so many audiobooks.

Clothing – $298 – We did some back-to-school shopping and got some (expensive) running shoes for our high schooler who is running cross country.

Animals – $122 We bought 2 bags of dog food and some supplies for our fish tank

Allowances – $84 Because our allowance system is age-based, we increase this monthly amount as kids have birthdays. We give our kids “practice money” as a weekly allowance.  You can read all about why we decided to pay our kids allowance that’s not directly tied to chores, as well as all the details of when and how much in this blog post.

School – $224 Our oldest is doing marching band and had some fees related to uniforms.

Sinking Funds

For most of our budget categories, we zero out what is left at the end of the month and send it to whatever our big financial goal is at the time, but in our sinking funds we set aside money each month for periodic expenses and let it build up until we need it.

The amount in bold is the amount we added to the fund this month. Any spending is noted in the comments along with the current balance of each fund.

We do not have separate bank accounts for these funds. All of the money sits in our checking account. We’re not worried about getting the money mixed up because we spend according to our budget category balances, not our checking account balance. We seriously never even look at our checking account balance unless we’re reconciling the account. We track our budget categories and spending in YNAB.

Medical/Dental – $400 added. We spent $0 in August. Current category balance is $1,731.

Car Maintenance – $0  added.  We spent $0 on car maintenance. Current category balance is $2,867.

Christmas – $0 added. We didn’t spend anything for Christmas 2022. Current category balance is $1,238.

Disability Insurance- $190 This will replace about 2/3 of Mike’s current income if injury or illness leaves him unable to work as an attorney. Our income potential is our greatest financial asset right now and disability insurance helps us protect it. Current category balance is $914.

Life Insurance – $75 added. Next year’s life insurance premiums will be due in November. Current category balance is $704.

Birthdays & Gifts – $0 added. We spent $0 in August.  Current category balance is $180. 

Car Registration & Smog – $40 added. We spent $40 renewing my driver’s license. That’s not really what this fund is for, but since it’s at the DMV, I stuck it in this category. Current category balance is $100.

Family Fun Fund – $300 added. We spent paid for a family sports pass for that our family can attend all of the games.  Current category balance is $717.

Home Projects- $0 added. We actually didn’t spend any in this category even though Mike did do some projects around the house.  The category balance is currently $170.

Garden & Orchard- $0 added. We didn’t spend anything in August. The category balance is currently $112.

Homeschool – $0 I turned this into a sinking fund. We spent $16 from money that was leftover in this category, but didn’t put any funds from this month’s budget into the homeschool category. Current category balance is $90.

Investing

Kids’ 529s – $150 We know that $25 per kid per month invested for college isn’t much, but college costs are not our highest concern. Scholarships, grants, loans, and jobs during school worked for us. We may accelerate this savings later, but we’re ok with small, consistent payments right now.  The kids like to see their balances growing, and it adds up and teaches them good savings principles, even if it won’t entirely pay for school. You can read about our decision to start saving a little for college in this post.

IRA (Steph) – $500 With $500 monthly, I’ll max out my $6,000 IRA contribution for the year.  Mike has about $950 each month deducted directly from his paycheck into a pension fund.

Goal Progress

We are pausing our mortgage payoff goal for the next two years to tackle a new goal. Mike and I shared all the details here about why we are getting solar, how much it costs, and how we’re planning to pay for it here in this post.

We started making payments on the $50,000 loan in April. Our payments are $1,502 per month.

We also have another $20,000 that will be due by the time everything is done. The total cost of getting solar is $70,000 (plus about $3,000 of interest on the $50K loan if we pay it off in 2 years).

Our contribution to our solar goal in August was $4,004.

That brings the total we’ve saved toward paying for solar to $20,528.

The way we have our it set up in our budget is kind of like a sinking fund. We put money into our “solar” category each month, some months it is a lot, some months it is a little. There is an automatic payment of $1,502 toward the solar loan each month that comes out of that budget category. At the end of August the “Solar” category balance was $6,268. In addition to paying the solar loan, the balance in our solar category will goes toward the additional $20,000 over the $50,000 loan. They took care of the trenching in August, so hopefully everything will be installed by the end of September!

I made a chart to keep track of our progress. I color in a little square for each $250 we put toward our solar purchase.

How About You?

  • How did your budget and/or debt repayment go in August?

This post contains affiliate links for products or services that we love and recommend.





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 I have a pretty systematic strategy for finding the best deals on everything we buy. Here are 9 steps to get the best prices on everything in your budget.

Originally published September 23, 2014

I very rarely pay full price for anything.  I usually pay much, much less than full price. I realized that I have a pretty systematic strategy for finding the best deals on everything we buy. I have always shopped with this strategy, but it was especially helpful during the years we were working on our enormous student loan payoff goal. It’s an awesome way to keep our family’s expenses super low.

The steps are numbered because the order helps to really pay the absolute least possible.  Of course, depending on your situation and preferences, you can skip steps too.

1. Anticipate Needs: Keep a List

This is KEY!  Getting the best deals often requires patience.  The more time you have to scope out sales and wait for the perfect deal, the more money you will save.  Buying something in a hurry or on a whim is when you end up spending more than you wanted.

I keep a running list of things that I need, from random kitchen gadgets to the clothes each of my kids need for the next year or two.  I plan in advance what I would like to give for Christmas and birthday gifts.  I keep an actual written list in my purse so I always have it.

2. Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open and It Might Be Free

Good things come to those who wait.  Being patient has paid off for us in the way of free items more than once.  When I am seriously looking for a big ticket item, I peruse the free section of Craigslist.org and look at emails from Freecycle.org.  Sometimes I casually mention what I’m looking for to a friend or two at church.  It’s often a win-win situation, as someone is looking to get rid of something that is just what we are looking for.

Last year, we got a nice, working dishwasher through Freecycle from someone who was remodeling their kitchen.  I have been longing for a dishwasher for a long time, but didn’t want to spend the money to purchase one yet.  The dishwasher we got on Freecycle was the first dishwasher we have ever had in 8 years of marriage.  It has been a huge blessing!

3. Know Your Market and Have a Target Price

If you want to get an awesome deal, you have to know what an awesome deal looks like!  Know what the regular price of your item is.  Doing a little research online can help you out, especially for big ticket items.  Browsing Amazon can give me a pretty good idea of what a normal price is on a lot of different items.

Decide what you want to spend on the items on your list and set that as your target price.  Knowing ahead of time what you are willing to spend on something helps you pass up the deals that aren’t that great.  If you plan to shop at garage sales, it’s nice to be able to tell the seller, “I’m looking for a dresser that’s under $10.”

4. Browse Garage Sales and Thrift Stores

It’s no secret that buying secondhand is one of the best ways to save money.  While we aren’t willing to buy everything secondhand, used works fine for the majority of our purchases.

Garage sales are hit or miss.  You won’t find everything on your list (and you’ll probably find some treasures that aren’t on your list), but when you do find something, not only is the price negotiable, it will also likely be the lowest price you’ll find.  Clothing at yard sales and garage sales almost without fail will be priced lower than thrift stores.

The advantage that thrift stores have is they have a consistent schedule and plenty of inventory.  What they have is always changing, but you know that they will have a wide selection.  Most thrift stores have daily or weekly deals categories and markdowns.

5. Shop Used Items Online

Buying used items online is often a little more expensive than what you’d pay at a yard sale or thrift store.  The difference is the convenience factor and the search feature.  To find something on your list at a garage sale takes more luck and legwork that searching online, which is why the price is cheaper.  Some great places to look online are:

  • Local Facebook Buy/Sell/Trade or Garage Sale-type pages
  • Craigslist.org
  • Classified ads through your local newspaper or Penny Saver
  • Ebay (There are lots of NEW items on Ebay too)
  • Online Consignment (like ThreadUp)

6. Regularly Peek at the Clearance Section

When you’re in Target or other favorite stores, take a peek at the clearance section when you are already in the store.  Be sure to have your list in hand, otherwise you will just spend and not save!  I wait until items are marked down to at least 50% before I even look.  Remember that even if it looks like a great deal, if you don’t need it or haven’t budgeted for it, it’s not a good deal.  That being said, I have found lots of items from my list on clearance.  Good things come to those who wait!

7. Watch for Sales

If you can’t (or don’t want to) find the item second hand, keep your eyes peeled for sales.  Depending on what you’re looking for, there may be a certain time of year that is better than others.  I’ve found great Lands’ End swimsuits at dirt cheap prices for myself and my kids during the fall and winter seasons.

Retailers love making every holiday into a shopping holiday.  Take a peek at the ads on holiday weekends if you’re looking for something specific.  Don’t be fooled into buying that’s something that’s a good deal, if you’ve got time to wait for a great deal.

If you’ve looked at Black Friday ads in the past, you probably have a good idea of the kind of items that will be the store’s doorbuster sales.  If you have tools or kitchen appliances on your list (or your gift list), waiting until November for your purchases will save you money.  Remember most Black Friday deals online are just as good as in the store, so avoid the crowd and stay home with your family!

8. Avoid Paying Shipping

Because I live in the boonies, I look for great deals online.  Even if you live close to shopping areas, running from store to store to find a great deal might not be your idea of a good time.  While shopping online can be convenient, it also usually comes with a charge for shipping.  I do whatever I can to avoid paying shipping.

I always compare prices online and factor in shipping.  Buying on Amazon is often a no-brainer with Amazon Prime’s free two-day shipping.  You can get a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime or if you’re a college student, you can  get free two-day shipping with Amazon Student.  For individual retailers, I search for free shipping codes, wait for a free shipping deal, or sometimes it’s worth it to meet minimum purchase requirements.

9. Always Use Rebate Sites

For online shopping, I never complete my order without going through a rebate or cash-back site.  You can even get cash back shopping on some categories on Ebay and Amazon.

Rakuten is my favorite cash back site. When you sign up for Rakuten and make your first $30 purchase, you’ll get a bonus $30 bonus.  It’s amazing how fast that cash back adds up.

For many things on my list, I don’t move past step #4.   As a need becomes more urgent, I will move down to other steps.  Sometimes I go out of order, but with my target price still in mind.  The key to making this strategy work well for you is to anticipate your needs.

Some Real-Life Examples

I could talk your ear off about the deals I’ve found on this and that by following the strategy I outlined, but I’ll try to keep it brief so you can go make your list and start looking out for great deals.  Here are just a few of my real-life examples from when I originally published this in 2014.

New Suit

Since my husband wears a suit six days a week, his two suits are getting well-worn.  For a while, I’ve had “new suit” on my radar.  Whenever I’m in a thrift store, I check the suits.  His size is pretty rare (he’s super tall), so I have never actually found a suit in his size, but that doesn’t stop me from looking.  Taking a minute to look when I’m already in the store is not a burden, and if I ever do actually find one, the money I save will be well worth my time and diligence.

I looked around online and found that regular department stores don’t carry his size.  He is the average height of an NBA player, so we are stuck with shopping at specialty stores.  As the need became more urgent, we looked at the Labor Day sales and decided to head out and look in-store.  We went to the closest Jos A Bank store where they were having a “Buy One, Get Three Free” sale (keep in mind the cheapest suit is $650).  They only had 4 suits that were his size and none of them were colors or fabrics we liked, but at least we learned what suits fit well so we could continue our search online.

I took a peek at Ebay, knowing that finding a suit coat and pants together that would both fit, would be near impossible.  I was delighted to find someone selling brand new Jos A Bank suits for well-below retail.  There were even several suits in my husband’s size!  I got a $900 suit for just $100.  I need to tailor the unfinish edge of the pants, but at that price it’s well worth learning a new sewing skill.

Dress Shoes

After paying over $100 for a pair of new dress shoes for my husband back in law school, I wanted to do whatever I could to avoid doing that again.  I have “men’s dress shoes” on my list whether my husband has a current need for them or not (his size isn’t changing).  If I can avoid the situation where he needs shoes immediately, I can save a lot of money buying secondhand shoes that are still in great condition.

I always walk by the men’s shoes when I’m in the thrift store.  Several times I have found shoes in his size that are in wonderful condition for $3 to $10.  Sometimes they’ve even been half off!  I also found a great deal on Ebay.  I search for a brand, style, and size that he already knew fit well.  They were very lightly used and as the only bidder, I bought them for $10 with free shipping.

Minivan

We do our best to anticipate big needs, as well as small needs.  When I was pregnant with #3, we started looking into buying a minivan, as our car would not fit three car seats in the back.  Since we started looking with plenty of time to spare, we could go about our search without any pressure and wait for the best deal.  We casually mentioned to friends that we were looking to upgrade our car to fit our growing family and the van practically came right to us!  A friend brought us together with the seller and it worked out perfectly for both of us.  We found a van in great condition with the right price tag and we didn’t set foot on a car lot!

How About You

  • What are your best strategies for saving money on everyday purchases?
  • Do you keep a list and shop ahead for future needs?

 

Note: Some links in this post are affiliate links.  For more info check out my disclosure page.





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Chocolate No-Bake Cookies are fast and delicious! There are many variations of chocolate no-bake cookies, but this is our most favorite one!  Includes complete photo and video tutorial, a printable recipe and troubleshooting tips, too!

Originally published Feb 21, 2018

One of the very first recipes I learned to make as a child was Chocolate No-Bake Cookies.  I found it in a children’s cookbook that my grandma had given me.  It quickly became a family favorite.  We simply called them no-bakes.

To this day when my mom comes over (which is only once in a blue moon since she’s two thousand miles away) and we’re inevitably working on a sewing project into the wee hours of the night, she’ll say, ” Why don’t you whip up a batch of no-bakes?!”

At one point I lost the recipe and had to scour the internet to find the right one.  There are many variations of chocolate no-bake cookies, but this is our most favorite one!  I’m sharing it here so it never gets lost again!

Whether you’re looking for a quick treat to share with a friends or just trying to satisfy your own a chocolate craving, look no further!  Chocolate No-Bake Cookies can be your go-to, too!

My two-year-old (who is now 7!) and I made a short video tutorial (the most fun video I’ve made to date) to show you how simple Chocolate No-Bake Cookies are.

If you scroll down, you’ll find the printable recipe as well as some troubleshooting tips.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter (margarine will work too)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 heaping Tablespoons baking cocoa
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups quick oats

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix butter, milk, sugar, and cocoa.

While you’re waiting for the butter to melt (and occasionally stirring), measure your peanut butter and line two cookie sheets with waxed paper.

When butter has melted, bring the mixture to a rolling boil.

Continue stirring and keep at a rolling boil for a full minute. If you go any longer than 90 seconds at a full boil, your cookies will be dry and crumbly, but if you don’t go at least 60 seconds at a full boil they won’t set up right.

Remove from heat and add peanut butter and vanilla.  Stir until peanut butter is melted and incorporated.

Add oats and stir until they’re well-coated with chocolate.

Quickly spoon onto wax paper covered cookie sheets.  Don’t waste any time here!

Allow to cool and firm up.  To speed this process you can put them in the fridge.

Be sure to scrape the pan and lick the spoon.  This is a must!

The Best Chocolate No-Bake Cookies– A fast and frugal treat!

 

Chocolate and peanut butter are a combination that really can’t be beat! Whether you’re looking for a quick treat to share with a friends or just trying to satisfy your own a chocolate craving, look no further! Chocolate No-Bake Cookies is your go-to! For a step-by-step photo tutorial as well as a fun video tutorial, go to https://www.sixfiguresunder.com/no-bakes

Author:

Recipe type: Cookies

Serves: 3.5 dozen

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter (margarine will work too)
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 heaping Tablespoons baking cocoa
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups quick oats

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix butter, milk, sugar, and cocoa.
  2. While you’re waiting for the butter to melt (and occasionally stirring), measure your peanut butter and line two cookie sheets with waxed paper.
  3. When butter has melted, bring the mixture to a rolling boil.
  4. Continue stirring and keep at a rolling boil for a full minute. If you go any longer than 90 seconds at a full boil, your cookies will be dry and crumbly, but if you don’t go at least 60 seconds at a full boil they won’t set up right.
  5. Remove from heat and add peanut butter and vanilla. Stir until peanut butter is melted and incorporated.
  6. Add oats and stir until they’re well-coated with chocolate.
  7. Quickly spoon onto wax paper covered cookie sheets. Don’t waste any time here!
  8. Allow to cool and firm up. To speed this process you can put them in the fridge.
  9. Be sure to scrape the pan and lick the spoon. This is a must!

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Chocolate No-Bake Cookie FAQ and Troubleshooting

When I bring no-bakes to events (which, like I said, is often) people will say, “Why don’t my no-bakes turn out like yours?”

There are a few critical parts of the recipe that might cause problems for casual recipe followers (which is usually what I am).  Here are the main issues people have and how you can solve or prevent them.

My no-bakes are dry

You either boiled them too long (or didn’t remove from the heat source when the time was up) OR you added too much peanut butter, which happens sometimes if you’re an eyeballer who doesn’t want to dirty a measuring cup with peanut butter (am I the only one who does that?).

If your no bakes turn out try or crumbly, have no fear! They go great with ice cream!  In fact no-bake crumbles make a seriously delicious ice cream topping!

My no-bakes are sticky/soft

If your no-bakes didn’t set up properly (and you put the right ingredient amounts in), it’s because you didn’t boil for long enough (at least 60 seconds) or you started timing before you were at a full boil.

If your no-bakes are soft or sticky, try putting them in the freezer to firm them up.  You’ll have to eat them cold and your fingers will be sticky, but they will still taste yummy.

The first half of no-bakes I spooned out look good, but the last half aren’t as pretty

You need to be faster at spooning on the cookies.  The cookies look best if they are spooned out before they cool too much.  If you watch the video, you’ll see that I had this issue at the end because I had to move the camera and lights when I should have been spooning out cookies (where are my priorities!?).

My cookies disappeared

I haven’t figured out the solution to this one yet.  The same thing happens to me.  Every. Single. Time.  The only solution I’ve found is to make more.

Seriously, these cookies are the best.  Stop reading and go make them now! 🙂





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Homemade instant oatmeal packets are great for a fast, frugal, and filling breakfast that kids can make themselves. Making your own homemade instant oatmeal packets in bulk is a simple way to save time and money.

Originally published Set 14, 2016

During the beginning of our debt payoff, we had a strict Sunday-only policy for cold cereal.  On the other six days of the week we would have a hot breakfast of pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, cream of wheat, or eggs.

When I began to feel sick while pregnant with my youngest, we started having cold cereal frequently again.  Not only can I eat cold cereal for every meal when I’m pregnant, I love that the kids can completely serve themselves.

The downside of cereal is that it can get expensive.  I aim for $1.50 or less per box and I stock up when I find great deals, but we go through it pretty fast.  Also, cereal isn’t as filling as other breakfast options, so kids get hungrier faster.

During law school, I started making homemade individual oatmeal packets.  It was super convenient and very cheap.  I could get creative with the mix-ins and make the packets in the size that worked best for us. In addition to being relatively expensive, the store-bought oatmeal packets get boring fast and are way too small for a meal.

It has been a while since I made homemade oatmeal packets, but I decided that I need to get back to it so that the kids have a non-cereal breakfast that they can make themselves.

Letting the kids help make instant oatmeal packets

So last night we had oatmeal for dinner.  At first the kids weren’t excited, but I won them over when I invited them to be my taste-testers.  I was experimenting with several different varieties so that I could find the ones they liked best.  They were happy to give their opinions.

Once we decided on our favorite variety, the kids were eager to help me fill the packets in an assembly line style. Getting them involved really helped them take ownership of the project and get pumped about oatmeal.  By the end, they were bubbling with excitement about getting to make their own oatmeal the next morning.

Homemade instant oatmeal packets are great for a fast, frugal, and filling breakfast that kids can make themselves. Making your own homemade instant oatmeal packets in bulk is a simple way to save time and money.

What’s the big deal about individual oatmeal packets?

I’m glad you asked.  Here are the benefits I see:

  • The kids can make it themselves.  This is huge!
  • They are cheap!  The are definitely cheaper than their store-bought counterpart.  Buying ingredients in bulk makes them super cheap.  I didn’t do the price breakdown this time because I had all the ingredients at home already.
  • I know what is in them.  No weird ingredients or preservatives to fret about.

Hey wait!  This isn’t simpler!

My husband, a big eater and an accomplished oatmeal maker, was quick to question the idea of individual oatmeal packets.  To him the “individualizing” process just complicated things.  When we’re all eating oatmeal together, he makes a big pot of old fashioned oats.  He gets the perfect consistency with the right amount of salt and sugar every time even though he never measures (an accomplishment I can’t claim).

We will still do this when we’re eating together and there is a grown-up awake before the kids are so famished they just have to eat something.  For mornings when they beat us out of bed, though, having a good option for the kids to be self-sufficient for breakfast is glorious.

Assembling individual instant oatmeal packets

Now that you get why individual oatmeal packets are worth the effort for me, you might think that assembling them individually, assembly-line-style is silly.  You might be tempted to make a “big batch” and mix everything in a bowl, then scoop it out into individual bags.

Homemade instant oatmeal packets are great for a fast, frugal, and filling breakfast that kids can make themselves. Making your own homemade instant oatmeal packets in bulk is a simple way to save time and money.

Now that works well for things like homemade pancake mix, where all of the ingredients are equally weighted, but it doesn’t work so well for oatmeal packets where you’re combining grainy or powdery ingredients with solid ingredients like oats or raisins.  Some ingredients will tend to sink while others will float in your mixing bowl of dry ingredients.

My process for making homemade instant oatmeal packets

Okay friends, if you’re convinced that DIY oatmeal packets will be a good fit for your family’s breakfast routine, then you’re probably eager to get the details, so here goes!

I start by making some oat flour.  This is completely optional, so if this sounds like too much of a bother, just pretend I didn’t say anything about it.

Make oat flour by simply blending some oats in the blender. I add 1 tablespoon to each oatmeal packet.

Blend a couple of cups of oats up in my blender.  I have an awesome Blendtec, so it turns my oats into flour in literally two seconds with barely any effort.  However, if you just had a regular blender, you should be fine as long as you don’t put too much in at a time.

Individual Instant Oatmeal Packet Recipe

The individual oatmeal packets that I make are about twice as big as the ones you buy at the store.  The store-bought envelopes aren’t big enough to fill anyone in my family up, so we double it right from the start.  If one of the store-bought oatmeal packets satisfies you, you’ll want to cut this recipe in half.

Homemade instant oatmeal packets are great for a fast, frugal, and filling breakfast that kids can make themselves. Making your own homemade instant oatmeal packets in bulk is a simple way to save time and money.

Add 1/2 cup quick oats to each zip-top bag.  The snack-size bags are just perfect for oatmeal packets, and I continue reusing the same bags.

Add 1/8 teaspoon salt (Pretty much equal to a “pinch”)

Add 1/2 Tablespoon of sugar  (I like brown sugar, so that’s what I use, but you can sub in whatever amount of whatever sweetener suits your fancy.)

–Okay if you want to be boring, you could just stop here.  In fact, that’s what I do when I’m just making it to eat right away, but when I’m making packets I like to put in a little more effort (because it really is a little effort when I’m making them in bulk, as opposed to grabbing more things out of the cupboard every single time). —

 Add 1 Tablespoon of oat flour (What you just made in your blender.  This is completely optional, but makes the oatmeal a little thicker.)

Add 1/2 Tablespoon of powdered milk/creamer (Also completely optional.  You could use powdered coffee creamer, but since we’re not coffee drinkers, I don’t have any creamer on hand.  This just makes the oatmeal a little creamier.)

Add 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon (Depending on the flavor you’re going for, you might choose other spices, but I’ve found that cinnamon goes well with most mix-ins we like to use.)

Add your favorite mix-ins (Raisins, dried cranberries, dried apples, etc)

When all of the ingredients are in your little bag, zip it up!  try to get as much air out as possible.  You can mix it up in the baggie or wait until you dump it in the bowl to use it.

How to use your instant oatmeal packets

Pour contents of packet into a microwave bowl.  Stir dry contents so they are well-mixed.

Stir in 3/4 cup water.

Microwave for 1.5 to 2 minutes on high.  Two minutes is perfect for me, but we have a wimpy microwave.  It’s been with us through 11 years of marriage, and it keeps working, but it’s not fast.

homemade-instant-oatmeal-packets

 How about you?

  • Have you ever made individual oatmeal packets?
  • What are your family’s favorite oatmeal mix-ins?

Homemade Instant Oatmeal Packets

 

Make your own instant oatmeal packets! A fast, frugal, and filling breakfast that kids can may themselves!

Author:

Recipe type: Breakfast

Ingredients

  • ½ cup quick oats
  • â…› teaspoon salt
  • ½ Tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon of oat flour (oats blended in blender)
  • ½ Tablespoon of powdered milk
  • â…› teaspoon of cinnamon
  • mix-ins like raisins, dried fruit, etc

Instructions

  1. Add ½ cup quick oats to each zip-top bag. The snack-size bags are just perfect for oatmeal packets (and I continue reusing the same ones.)
  2. Add â…› teaspoon salt (pretty much equal to a “pinch”)
  3. Add ½ Tablespoon of sugar (I like brown sugar, so that’s what I use, but you can sub in whatever amount of whatever sweetener suits your fancy.
  4. –Okay if you want to be boring, you could just stop here. In fact, that’s what I do when I’m just making it to eat right away, but when I’m making packets I like to put in a little more effort (because it really is a little effort when I’m making them in bulk, as opposed to grabbing more things out of the cupboard every single time). —
  5. Add 1 Tablespoon of oat flour (What you just made in your blender. This is completely optional, but makes the oatmeal a little thicker.)
  6. Add ½ Tablespoon of powdered milk (Also completely optional. You could use powdered coffee creamer, but since we’re not coffee drinkers, I don’t have any creamer on hand. This just makes the oatmeal a little creamier.)
  7. Add â…› teaspoon of cinnamon (Depending on the flavor you’re going for, you might choose other spices, but I’ve found that cinnamon goes well with most mix-ins we like to use.)
  8. Add your favorite mix-ins (Raisins, dried cranberries, dried apples, etc)
  9. When all of the ingredients are in your little bag, zip it up! Try to get as much air out as possible. You can mix it up in the baggie or wait until you dump it in the bowl to use it.
  10. To use your oatmeal packets: Pour contents of packet into a microwave bowl. Stir dry contents so they are well-mixed. Stir in Âľ cup water.
  11. Microwave for 1.5 to 2 minutes on high.
  12. NOTE: The individual oatmeal packets that I make are about twice as big as the ones you buy at the store. The store-bought envelopes aren’t big enough to fill anyone in my family up, so we double it right from the start. If one of the store-bought oatmeal packets satisfies you, you’ll want to cut this recipe in half.

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Having clutter isn't the end of the world, but did you know it's costing you money? You might be surprised at all the ways that decluttering your space will save money!

In the range of frugal folks we have minimalists who are frugal by needing (and having) little, all the way to hoarders who show their frugality in the way the save (and hold onto) anything that might be useful.

Chance are you are somewhere in the middle, like me.

I’m not a minimalist.  Nope, not me.  I love stocking up and being prepared, which means…. stuff.  But not too much stuff.

I like to hold onto things that I think will be useful so that I don’t have to spend money on them later, but I also see the value in cleaning up and letting go and being free of unnecessary stuff.

Sometimes stuff is great.  But too much stuff can be a problem.  A take-over-your-life problem in some cases!

The implications can even be financial.  Have you ever stopped to think about what clutter is costing you?

Yep, that stuff that you’re storing to save money might actually cost you money.

How does clutter cost you?

Let’s go through some of the scenarios where cutter means losing money.  You might just be able to relate.

1. You can’t find what you need so you’re forced to buy multiples.

When you can’t find that really important thing that you need right now what do you end up doing?  Chances are you’ll go out and buy another one.  Re-buying items you already have wastes money and time (and “time is money”).  You might think the cost is nominal, but when you have multiples of everything in your house, the cost really adds up.  Plus, bringing more stuff into your house will perpetuate the clutter problem and clutter costs.

2. You’re paying late fees because your bills (or other time-sensitive things) get lost in the clutter.

Have you had to pay late fees for library books that you just couldn’t locate amidst all of your own junk?  What about the car registration renewal that hid quietly under the pile of clutter on your desk?  I’m not pointing fingers here, friends!  Those last two examples are personal ones!

3. You’ve run out of space for stuff in your house, so you’re renting a storage unit.

The actual cost on this one is pretty easy to calculate.  Whatever you are paying each month for your storage unit isn’t helping you pay off your debt or save for retirement.  Sure, there are times and circumstances when you might need to have a storage unit temporarily, but if a storage unit is part of your long-term plan, you might want to closely evaluate the value of the stuff that you are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to keep each year.

4. You have valuable stuff that you don’t want or need.

Not all clutter is created equal.  Some clutter is valuable, but not as clutter.  If you have things that you’re not loving or using that could actually bring in money, then it’s time to cash them in.  For example, I bought my husband a pair of new shoes for Christmas.  They didn’t fit. We exchanged them for the next size, but they still didn’t fit right. For 7 months that box of new shoes cluttered our bedroom! I was debating between returning them where I’m have to pay for shipping or trying to sell them on Ebay where I could possibly make a little more.  During my indecisive inaction they cluttered our already limited space.

5. You are depressed or discouraged because you’re living in clutter.

That might sound like an emotional effect of clutter, but it is most definitely a financial cost as well.  When you’re feeling down, you’re less likely to make good spending choices, less likely to set and achieve goals, and less likely to be motivated to improve your situation. (No authoritative study, just life experience and observation.)  You clutter may lead to problems in other areas of your life that are directly or indirectly related to finances.  For example, the clutter around you might be keeping you from starting a profitable side business.

6. You avoid being home where you could be saving money.

In more extreme cases of clutter, you might avoid being at home.  Even if you’re comfortable in your own space, you might eat at home less because your kitchen is overwhelming.  Instead of inviting friends over, you go out.  You can save lots of money by being a conscientious homemaker, but if you’re avoiding your home you miss out on those money-saving opportunities.

7. You buy stuff that immediately becomes clutter because it doesn’t have a place or a purpose.

The clutter itself is a cost that you might be overlooking.  You paid money for all of the junk that is in your way and taking up space.  If something is not being used or is still sitting in the shopping bag gathering dust, the cost of that item is a real cost of clutter.  Even if the item was a great deal, if it becomes clutter, the money you spent turns out to be money wasted.  It’s easy to think ahead and say “When I need XYZ I will be so glad I picked up this great deal.  It’s going to save so much money!” when in reality you never end up using it and have to chalk it up as a loss.

There’s hope!

If you saw yourself in some of those scenarios, don’t beat yourself up.  There is hope!  Instead of dwelling on the money that you’re wasting because of your clutter, start thinking of all the money that you’re going to save by getting organized!

How would you like to sit down with someone who knows exactly what manageable steps you should take next to get your life and home running smoothly? 

Well you are in luck! I’m teaming up with over 100 other women who are sharing their expertise when it comes to organizing your life and streamlining your home.

It’s called Get Organized HQ Virtual, and it’s a completely free, totally online conference.

We have women teaching about decluttering, meal planning, home organization, time management, family organization, cleaning, budgeting, and so much more! I’m talking about organizing your finances by getting a month ahead (one of my favorite topics!).

I have had early access to all of the sessions and have been devouring them! They are inspiring and motivating while also being down-to-earth, practical, actionable and so do-able. I am already implementing what I’m learning. I’m excited for you all to have access to all of these classes too!

It is free to attend and you can access it all from the comfort of your own home! It’s all happening online September 12th-16th.

Here’s how it works. 

Step 1: Get your free ticket to Get Organized HQ Virtual. Make sure you claim your free ticket so you don’t miss out on this great event!  Click here to grab your free ticket. 

Step 2: Check your email for confirmation. As soon as you get your free ticket you’ll get an email confirming that you’re all signed up for Get Organized HQ Virtual.

Step 3: Enjoy the sessions starting on September 12th. From September 12th to September 16th new sessions will be released hourly. Every workshop will be available for 24 hours, so pick your favorites, and enjoy all the free organizing goodness coming your way!

It’s that easy! Mark your calendar and get your free ticket because I know you are going to love it!





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Budgeting variable income doesn't have to be difficult. With the right strategies, you can have a successful budget even when your income is different every month. Here are 4 secrets to success in budgeting your irregular income.

I’ve heard all sorts of budgeting excuses. One of my favorites is, “I can’t budget because my income is variable.” This is just not true! You can and should budget, even if your income is always changing. In fact, you can budget well and have financial security even when your income fluctuates.

But, I get it. Not having a consistent, steady income can be incredibly stressful. When your income is variable a traditional budget can be challenging. How can you make plans for spending an unknown amount of money?  Not knowing how much will be coming in makes planning ahead tricky.

If you’ve ever had variable income you’ve probably felt some anxiety and maybe even some discouragement.  Budgeting variable income doesn’t have to be difficult.  With the right strategies, you can have a successful budget even when your income is different every month.

1- Budget only the money that you actually have

Stop budgeting money that you’re expecting to earn. Don’t assign any funds to your budget categories unless you already have that money in your hand or in the bank.  In the beginning, you’ll do a little budgeting each time you get a paycheck (instead of just once a month).

Each time you get paid, decide what that money needs to do before you get paid again.  Assign all of your dollars to categories and spend according to the balances in your categories (not the big lump sum in your checking account).

This is a huge (and intuitive) change from traditional budgeting.  Dealing with real money will bring your budget to life and give you the security of knowing you aren’t spending based on money that might not materialize.

2- Prioritize your spending

We all know that that paying rent or buying groceries is more important than buying a new big screen TV or re-decorating the living room.  When resources are limited (and aren’t they always?), we have to decide what is the most important use of our funds.

Prioritization is not a new concept, but putting that prioritization into practice can be tricky and requires self-discipline.

If one paycheck doesn’t cover all your expenses for a month, you’ll have to pick and choose what is most important and needs to be budgeted for first, since you’re only budgeting money that you actually have. Organize your budget categories in order of importance or due date.  That way, you can easily see where your money needs to go first.  When you get your next paycheck, you can fund the rest of your budget.

When you start prioritizing your spending so you’re covering the most important, time-sensitive expenses first, you will be able to start setting aside funds for a rainy day.

3- Work to get a month ahead

Of course you’ll want to have an emergency fund, but in addition to your emergency fund, you’ll want to save so you can get a month ahead of your expenses.  That way you can live on last month’s income instead of this month’s income (or worse, next month’s income).

Having a buffer of a month’s expenses puts distance between when income is earned and when it is spent.  Having time between earning and spending your money gives you more time to prepare for dips in income without touching having to touch your emergency fund or resort to debt.

Even if you don’t have a complete month of expenses saved up, the buffer of money that you have built up can come in handy for the months where your income can’t quite meet even your prioritized expenses.

I am teaching a workshop called “Getting a Month Ahead” at the Get Organized HQ virtual event. You can sign up now for a free ticket so you can see my class along with 100+ other sessions about organizing all aspects of your life. I will go into all of the details so you can implement this life-changing budgeting strategy. You will love it!

4- Don’t rely on credit cards

The idea of credit cards (and any debt, for that matter) is buy now, pay later. Making a promise to pay something later when you aren’t sure you’ll have money later is setting yourself up for disaster.  Don’t depend on credit cards to float your expenses.  Credit cards are not a solution to irregular income.

What is considered “responsible” credit card use– where you use a credit card for convenience or rewards, but pay in full each month– is dangerous when you have variable or unstable income.  If your paycheck is lower than you had hoped, you won’t be able to cover the purchases you already made.  Since there is no way to know what your paycheck will be, it’s hard to know how much you can safely spend.

If you like using credit cards, you can make them work really well for you, even with a variable income. In fact, using credit cards on a zero-based budget is the safest way to use credit cards that I know of (besides completely avoiding them, of course).  The key is to subtract the amount you spend from your budget at the time you spend it so that you already have the money on hand, set aside for when the bill comes.

Our experience budgeting variable income

Several years ago after having a stable, steady income, we were thrust into a commission-based variable income when the law firm my husband was at decided to pay strictly commission instead of smoothing things out with a draw as they had done previously.  At first, I worried and thought we might need to be more careful about how we’re paying down debt (we had been putting every extra cent toward debt for several years).  I thought maybe we should set some income aside for when we had a low month.

It didn’t take me long to realize that we wouldn’t have to change anything about the way we were budgeting! We use a zero-based budget where we only spend money we actually have (thanks YNAB).  We also only put expenses on our credit cards that we already have money for. Each expense that is put on a credit card is subtracted from the applicable budget category right when the spending happens.  The best part is that living on last month’s income gives us plenty of time to prepare for low-income months and act accordingly.

You can do this!

Don’t give up the idea of budgeting because your income is variable, inconsistent, or irregular. Budgeting is key for people whose income fluctuates! Instead of looking at variable income as an obstacle, start seeing it as an opportunity.

While some months will be lower than you’d like, other months will be higher than average.  That can be exciting!  Instead of dreading the low months, anticipate the high months.  Changing your attitude and approach can make a world of difference.

When you budget only the money you actually have by prioritizing your expenses, you can make the best use of the money you’ve got. Meanwhile, work to get a month ahead financially, so the ups and downs of income don’t affect you as much.  You’ll be able to thrive on your variable income!

How about you?

  • How have you handled budgeting with a variable income?

The post 4 Secrets for Successfully Budgeting a Variable Income appeared first on Six Figures Under.



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Did you know that you can camp for FREE throughout the United States? It's called dispersed camping or primitive camping. It's totally legal and totally free. We do it all the time! Here's how it works!

My husband and I both love camping, so it’s not surprising that our kids do too. We go camping as often as our schedules allow.

Some people’s idea of camping is a 20 foot by 20 foot space with a paved parking spot, fire ring and a picnic table, with some trees in sight. Not us. When we are spending time in the outdoors, we want to spend time IN the outdoors. No pavement, no picnic tables, no neighbors.

It’s hard for me to imagine paying good money to sleep in a tent on a small grassy plot surrounded by strangers! Why would you do that when you can have a peaceful, authentic outdoor experience for free?

After writing about how we sometimes camp when we are on road trips, I’ve had people ask for more details on how we camp for free.

How to Camp For Free

Of course, you could camp for free in your own yard, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What I am talking about is often called dispersed camping, primitive camping or backcountry camping. Dispersed camping means camping outside of designated campgrounds on public land. Undeveloped land under the administration of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is available to the public for camping and recreation. Dispersed camping is also free and legal in national forests, national grasslands, many state forest areas and other similar public wilderness land.

Lots of state and national parks are tucked away in state and national forests. Instead of paying $35+ per night to camp in the park itself, leave the park and find your own spot in the forest for free. This is what we do every time we go to Yosemite. We find a beautiful, piece of forest about ten miles outside of the park boundaries, off a fire access road, where can’t see or hear another soul the entire time. Besides being free, it also feels safer since we don’t have trash cans and a history of careless campers to attract bears.

Each area will have its own rules, but generally the regulations are all pretty similar. You must be a certain distance off of a paved road (100 feet to 1/4 mile). You must camp at least 100-200 feet away from any water source. You can’t stay longer than 14 days within a 30-day period.

So how do you know where to go? If you know there is national forest, state forest, or BLM land near you (or near where you want to go), then look up the specific rules for that area. Otherwise, start with an online search of “dispersed camping” (or one of the synonyms I listed above) and the area or state you’re interested in. The Western United States is covered in public land (nearly the entire state of Nevada, for example). Since the East is more densely populated, there is less public land acreage, but it’s still there waiting for you to discover!

Why We Love Free Camping

Dispersed camping isn’t for everyone. Some people are happy to pay a fee and sleep under the stars in designated campgrounds. That’s perfectly fine. It’s just not our style. I love that dispersed camping allows us freedom to not be tied down to a specific destination. This comes in handy when we’re on road trips and aren’t sure where we’ll be stopping. We also enjoy free camping when we have a trip planned.

Here are some other reasons we love free camping:

  • It’s free!— I bet you saw that one coming. It’s hard to believe the price campgrounds are charging these days. In some areas it’s as much as a motel.
  • There’s privacy— I like people, don’t get me wrong, but I prefer not to feel like I’m having a giant sleepover with a bunch of strangers.
  • You can enjoy natural nature— Instead of just sleeping outside, you are in a real natural environment. You can get a real breath of fresh air and explore the road less traveled.
  • It’s quiet— You don’t have to worry about loud neighbors– or neighbors at all– with dispersed camping. You can just enjoy the sound of nature.

Choosing a Dispersed Camping Spot

Before you leave home, take a peek at a map of the state or national forest you’ll be going to (or passing by, if it’s a road trip). Most likely the highway will go right through it. In fact, there will probably be signs (“Entering _____ National Forest”) when you enter and exit state and national forests. Looking at a map will help you to plan approximately where you want to stop.

You can’t know everything from a map. When you enter the forest or BLM land, you’ll want to start looking for a spot with the following:

Somewhere to PULL OFF and park

When you enter the forest area, start looking for a pull off. There are many access roads, some will have open gates, but the majority will be closed. If the gate is open, you can drive down the road, then pull off of the road when you decide to stop. Many gates will be closed to car traffic (they are access roads for forest fires, logging companies, etc), so you’ll have to enter on foot. I like to pull off where my car isn’t visible to cars passing on the main road.

Finding a spot for dispersed camping

One November we camped in Tahoe National Forest. We parked just off the main road, near a closed gate as you can see in the picture above. There wasn’t any snow when we parked, when we awoke we were covered in snow and our car was stuck! Moral of the story: if there is a chance of snow, park on flat ground.

Somewhere with PRIVACY

It’s not too hard to find privacy, but you’ll at least want to take a look around and make sure you can’t be seen from the main road (or the access road if the gate is open). If you are equipped to hike a bit, you can get away from the noise of the road too.

Somewhere FLAT

For the sake of comfort, you’ll want to find a flat spot to sleep. Sometimes this is tricky. Sometimes we’ll pull off in several spots in order to find a nice flat area. Often, I’ll stay back at the car with the kids and my husband will hike in a little way to see if there is a nice flat spot. Other times we’ll see one right away.

Somewhere SAFE

Anytime you set up camp, you’ll want to make sure it’s in a spot that is safe. If there’s a dead tree that looks like it might fall over in the next wind storm, don’t put your tent under it. Dry riverbeds are sometimes covered in flat, soft, sand, but can quickly fill if rain further up the mountain cause a flash flood. If you are planning (and allowed) to have a fire, make sure you have a clear safe spot for open flames with no tall grass or low hanging branches.

A Few Things To Know about Dispersed Camping

When you pay to camp at a designated campsite, you’re paying to use their facilities. With dispersed camping you need to be self-contained. You can’t rely on facilities or campground improvements. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • No Bathrooms— You’ll need to know how to go in the woods. For number two, that means digging a hole six inches deep and bringing toilet paper with you.
  • No Trash— You’ll need to pack out what you pack in, which includes all of your trash.
  • Leave No Trace— Leave the land how you found it. Hide evidence of your being there so that others who come can enjoy the land’s natural beauty.
  • Know Fire Regulations— Find out the local rules where you’ll be. For example, in California you need a burn permit. That’s something you sign each year that says you’ll have water and a shovel on hand. For much of the summer, no fires are allowed at all, and some areas are designated no-fire zones all year.
  • Gathering Firewood— In most areas it is perfectly legal to gather dead and down wood to burn during your stay (assuming you are obeying fire regulations). You should not cut any live trees.

Primitive Camping is the Way to Go

Here are a few more examples of where we’ve done dispersed camping:

 We met some friends in Fort Bragg, California and instead of paying $40 to stay at a campground right on the coast, we drove fifteen minutes or so back into the state forest and camped in the trees.

When we were traveling across the country to move to California, we found a camping spot on some BLM land in Nevada. We had driven well into the night and the kids were all asleep when we arrived. It was a beautiful area near a roaring river that kept everyone asleep as we used our head lamps to set up the tent in the dark and carry the kids in.

We headed up to Lake Tahoe to camp and cut our own Christmas tree last year. We found a beautiful spot in Tahoe National Forest.

Utah is covered in public land. We have visited many of the breathtaking sites there, and always found great private, free places to camp, often in the national forest areas or BLM land.

We’ve camped at couple of different spots only a few hours from home. One of the spots, was in a more popular dispersed camping area so it had vault toilets within walking distance, though camping was still free and we still had a private, beautiful camping experience.

While primitive camping is not for everyone, it works perfectly for us. We love the outdoors and the adventure of wilderness away from the heavily trafficked paid areas (and the price). If you like roughing it, then dispersed camping is a great way to cut down on the costs of road trips, vacations, and time in the great outdoors.

How About You?

  • Have you taken advantage of dispersed camping on public lands? Do you prefer “improved” fee campgrounds?





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