Category Archives: Budget Basics

Tax Time: Refund or No Refund?

Tax Refunds - Should you go BIG or Small

It’s hard to believe that taxes are due in just over a couple months! Last year we discussed our personal–and completely opposite–views and philosophies about tax returns and how much money we count on getting back from the government each year. Here we are one year later, and we both stand strong in our tax-filing approach:

Sam prefers to have more taken out of her paycheck thus receiving a bigger refund each year (find more about Sam’s tax preferences here) while Brittany prefers to walk the line of underpaying her taxes on a monthly basis so that her money is gaining interest in her bank account throughout the year. Read more about her style here.

We want to know what your views are on paying taxes and getting a tax refund each spring. In the great tax refund debate, do you go BIG or do you keep it small?!?!

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Follow on BloglovinSam & Brittany

This post can be found along with other great posts at Alex and Cassie’s Thrifty Thursday Link Up, Frugal Friday, and *Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich and Invest with Vi*

Fun on a Budget’s Most Popular Posts of 2014

Most Loved Posts 2014 - Fun on a Budget Blog

As the year comes to a close, we thought it would be fun to share Fun on a Budget’s most popular posts of 2014.  The results are varied, which might mean we haven’t found our niche OR it might mean that our audience is just as varied as the top 10 most-viewed posts :) One thing is for sure—we won’t stop writing about beating the student loan system, rewarding and forgiving ourselves over financial triumphs and failures, planning and attending weddings, our own personal debt stories (for all you nosy people who like seeing those numbers–who doesn’t, right?), saving money on food expenses, and finding ways (and the money) to take enjoyable vacations.

We hope all the newbie readers enjoy what has been going on here at Fun on a Budget over the past year just as much as everyone else. As chosen by the readers themselves, here are the most popular posts of 2014.

10. What are You Packing in that Lunchbox?

5 lunches that taste good, keep you full, are easy to pack, and save you money. These examples can be altered in a variety of ways to create many different lunch options. Packing lunch and taking it to work does not mean you have to eat the same thing every day.

Over multiple years, your lunch-packing habit could help you save enough money to contribute a significant amount of cash into a savings account for a home, car, or college without making any other income or lifestyle changes.  So if packing your lunch and carrying it to work every day is so awesome, why isn’t everyone doing it?

9. Mythbusters: How to Make Your Debt Payments Count

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Paying extra on your student loans can make a big difference, especially if you allocate those payments the right way and make them count.

8. Healthy Staples for Less than $25 a Week

$25 of healthy staples

Through trial and error I have learned that there are THREE cardinal rules when it comes to consistently keeping healthy meals on the table without upping your grocery spending.  I am SO happy to share these rules because they also debunk one of the biggest myths out there regarding healthy eating (which also happens to be one of my biggest pet peeves). The next time you hear someone say, “I want to eat healthy, but it’s just too expensive,” you can flick them on the forehead, and then refer them to this website because they are wrong.

7. Six Fun Ways to Reward Yourself for Reaching Financial Goals

Mental breaks come in all shapes and sizes. My favorites come on yoga mats, with lots of pages, and in wine bottles.

Victories are a little bit better when they are followed by a party. Here are 6 fun ways to reward yourself for reaching financial goals without falling off the savvy-spending bandwagon.

6. How to Turn a Long Weekend into a 3 Day Cross Country Vacay on a Reasonable Budget

Destination-Arches

Traveling can seem impossible when you’re on a budget and working to meet long term financial goals, but it can be done and done well :) Here is how I left the freezing temperatures and snow covered ground of the Midwest to spend my holiday weekend basking in the desert sun for just $330.00.

5. My Life on a Budget: A Year in Review

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So, here we are one year later, and it just wouldn’t be right not to reflect on how being on a budget has impacted our lives, right? I must say that I originally assumed I would post about how my budget has impacted my debt only, but once I started taking a deeper look at all that has happened (or not happened) and changed over this past year, I realized that the debt numbers are only half of it :)

The link above and the picture link will take you to Brittany’s Year in Review, but if you want to see how being on a budget impacted Sam’s life too you can find that post HERE.

4. 15 Creative and Cheap Halloween Costumes

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Everybody wants a costume that makes the other ghouls and goblins cheer when they enter the room, but nobody wants to spend a fortune to get that recognition. Lucky for you, I’ve dug through the archives of the most creative and low income years of my life and am ready to share 15 creative and cheap Halloween costumes that will help you avoid being a party pooper at your next boo bash.

3. How to Deal when Debt Tests your Patience

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Paying off debt takes a lot of determination and in some cases a LOT of patience as well, but we are all human here and let’s be real–sometimes that patience wears thin. The question is, can it wear so thin that you decide to take your entire paycheck immediately after it’s deposited into your account and combine that with a “little” from your emergency savings in order to reach your goal? That doesn’t sound like the best idea, buuuut I did it anyway. ;)

2. Wedding Budget 101: A step-by-step guide to Wedding Budgets for the Financially Unprepared Bride to Be

wedding perspective

Here is how a completely financially unprepared Bride-to-Be can create a personalized budget and payment plan suitable for a paid in full, aisle-walking day of I Do’s.

1. 25 Reasons being in Debt Sucks

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Hi, my name is Brittany, and I am in debt...and it sucks. There are days in my life when I take a look at myself or my home and think, “Are you f@#!ing kidding me?” Because it’s hard to stay positive and pumped up about doing what’s best (and usually the most difficult) all the time, I present to you the current movie that has been on repeat in my brain for the past couple of weeks: 25 Reasons Being in Debt Sucks...hard.

As we wave goodbye to 2014 and embark on a new year we both wish you all the best and as always thank you for stopping by our little blog. If you are ever feeling nostalgic for your favorite financial mumbo jumbo, you can find all of these posts waiting for you on our Pinterest page and filed in our archives 😉

Happy Holidays!!

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 Brittany & Sam

photo Credit: quickmeme.com, www. theknot.com

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Mythbusters: How to Make Your Debt Payments Count

Lies and MoneyCongratulations! You’re doing great on your debt snowball…paying off loans like it’s your job and suddenly the last loan on your list is your student loan managed by Navient (the old SallieMae) or some other federal student loan company. Unlike most of your other debts, you don’t have the choice to click a button that says, “I want to allocate this payment toward my principal balance” which forces you to pay your OLD interest rate without making a dent in your principal balance.

The Problem: When you pay online or call to make a payment, you’re unable to allocate extra payments the way YOU want to allocate them. When you make an extra payment online or over the phone, your payment is applied to outstanding interest.

What That Means: You are paying down your already accrued interest without making a dent in your principal balance. Your goal should be to decrease your principal balance as much as possible because the interest accruing will end up being LESS because the interest charged is based off of a smaller number. Confused yet?!

The Solution: If you search and search and search on your federal student loan service providers website, you will see a little tiny line that says, “you can allocate your payments differently if you mail in your extra payment with a WRITTEN notice describing how you want the payment allocated”. Tricky, tricky, tricky.

AVOID: What you don’t want to happen is make extra payments that results in payment due dates that get pushed further and further in the future. You want your extra payments to go toward your principal balance ONLY! That means, even when you make an extra payment, your normal balance is due the next month.

The LIE: If you call Navient or your federal student loan provider, they will tell you over and over again that, “your extra payments are applied toward your accrued interest”. They will not even mention any other option, even if you tell them that you read online that you can allocate payments differently. They are out to make money and the more money you pay in interest, the more money they make. DO NOT settle…this is YOUR hard earned money and you want to do what’s smartest and will eventually save you THOUSANDS!

If you’re confused, extra payments should ALWAYS go toward principal balance.

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How have you been allocating your extra payments? Have you seen a drastic decrease in your principal balance? What’s your “trick” to making your payment count?

For more information on how to gain control of your finances check out our info on Getting Started by clicking the link in the menu bar at the top of the page.

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Sam

Disclaimer: This blog post is based on my personal experience with my student loan service company. Not all student loan companies have this policy.

Sam’s post is also found linked up with other brilliant folks on Financially Savvy Saturdays. Click the button below to head on over!

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10 Reasons I’m Thankful for my Budget

This holiday season I’ve reflected on many things that I am grateful for, and at first glance a significant amount seemed to be completely unrelated to money. However, when I look a little closer and peel back a layer of the onion that is my life, I see that being on a budget has impacted all areas by really putting a spotlight on what I value most and pushing all the other distractions into the shadows (where they belong).

When you are forced to prioritize your life because you’ve decided to purposefully live on a budget, you start to see things you didn’t see before, increase the magnitude with which you appreciate all that is around you, and learn a whole lot about personal growth. It’s inevitable. My budget has freed me from preoccupations with material items and the opinions of others, and now I have the energy and openness to be Super Duper Supremely GRATEFUL for the best things in life.

Muchas gracias, Budget.  You deserve it.

MIles

A night spent grilling out and chatting about life with Sam is supreme quality for me and it’s FREE! For Miles, her dog, it may have felt like torture.

1) Increased Quality Interactions  Because I’m spending less money on things to use and events to go to, much more of my time is spent doing simple things to interact with others. When you only have each other (and sometimes one person’s cute little baby or lovable dog) to entertain you, your own personalities and best qualities have a chance to step up to the plate and make life fun.

2) Decreased Fear of Rejection By nature, I am not the world’s biggest fan of being told no or feeling like I’m inconveniencing others. It’s been a lifelong battle to put myself out there to face the possibility of rejection. A not so wise college friend (who was referring to asking a car rental company to let a group of 23 year old spring breakers rent vans to reach their destination) once uttered a phrase that I replay in my mind to this day when I consider not asking for something I want

“What’s the worst they can do? Say no and laugh in your face?”

That actually is the worst they can do, and really—that’s not so bad. When you are on a budget people are constantly teasing you or reminding you that you can’t do something with them because you “have no money” (which is false, but whatever, people are good at hearing what they want to hear) and this helps thicken your skin and decrease your concern with what other people think of you. If asking for a better deal, decreased price, more product for the price that is being charged is received with a laugh in my face and the big N-O, I can handle it. And if it’s not–score!

3) I’m less wasteful I’m convinced that the footprint I’m leaving behind has become much shallower since I’ve been on a budget. I’ve developed a strong aversion to wasting anything—printing paper, food, gas, paper towels, electricity, water—you name it, I’m trying hard not to waste it. It’s helping my wallet, but it’s good for our planet too.

Little things like my better half taking the time to make me a Saturday breakfast and me taking the time to follow with clean up are actually "big things" to me

Little things like my better half taking the time to make me a Saturday breakfast and me taking the time to follow with clean up are actually “big things” to me

4) “Little Things” become “Big Things” You know the saying, “It’s important to enjoy the little things in life,” but I think that being on a budget has shifted my perspective because those little things carry more weight now. Why shouldn’t they? It’s mega important to say something kind to a person you care about (or a person you don’t), go out of your way to help someone (even if it is just taking out the trash), or simply appreciate a day filled with nice weather. The previously conceived “little things” now make a BIG, fat positive impact on my day :)

5) Control over “Big Life” Stuff  Knowledge is power. Because I know where I stand monetarily each day, I no longer make monetary decisions that will put me in a position that takes away my own personal sense of control. I remember the feelings of complete helplessness I felt a few years ago when my car broke down and I was left with $600 for a down payment to replace it. I had no idea how to make a well-informed and responsible decision in that realm, and it scared me something real good. Never again my friends, never again.

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This picture was taken basically in the backyard of our $30 bungalow. Sure, we got the key from a sketchy convenience store below, but I’m still here to tell about it. Nothing beats falling asleep to the waves and drinking coconut water from coconuts you knocked down and chopped open yourselves on your practically private backyard beach.

6) Unique Travel Experiences Because money is an object, I travel differently now. Yes, I have missed out on many 5 star hotels, day trips to the spa, room service orders, fancy rental cars, and all inclusive resorts. Luckily I have gotten to stay in a $30 per night bungalow right on a white Costa Rican beach, spent my days hiking alongside waterfalls, eaten $5 local favorite meals, ridden the metro/bus solo, and spent my nights in the homes of residents in my travel destination and broadened my knowledge of their culture and lifestyle.

7) A Tangible Future Planning for the future is much simpler when I have an awareness of my capabilities. Knowing how much I can afford, the timeline for saving, when a big payment is looming, or when I can make a big life move/expense creates a vision for goals with a clear path. There are fewer questions of “if “and “when” because I know where I am right now, and what I need to do to get to get where I want to go.

8) Less Stress Before I get paid, I look at where I will be spending my money. For recurring payments, I plan for exact amounts and for special occasions I budget a reasonable estimate. I never have to worry about whether or not I will run out of money in order to pay for life’s expenses. Simply put: Because I plan how to spend my money, I don’t have to stress about spending too much money.

Taking advantage of perfect running weather instead of taking advantage of the flavor of the day helps me stay healthier and save money or spending opportunities with others.

Taking advantage of perfect running weather instead of taking advantage of the flavor of the day helps me stay healthier and save money for spending opportunities with others.

9) I’m Healthier Every dollar counts, but so does every hour of sleep and every piece of food you put into that beautiful machine otherwise known as your body. Because my “entertainment” money is a set number, unhealthy options like staying out late for drinks, ice cream shop stops, and convenient drive-thru foods take the backseat to healthier options that are more important to me. Now I save my money for opportunities to enjoy experiences or gifts with my friends and family whereas before I was more likely to indulge in several unhealthy solo spending adventures.

10) A Credible Excuse for Avoidance Sometimes people ask you to do things that you really do not want to do, and then you accept the invitations only to kick yourself in the tush later because you just wasted your time and money on something you don’t prioritize.  Why do that? If I tell people, “Thanks for invitation but that activity is not within my budget”, it’s easier for them to accept my decline because they know that it’s not because of my feelings towards them, it’s because of my own beliefs and preferences when it comes to spending money.

To all my friends out there: It’s not you, it’s me my budget.

😉

If the thought of living life on a budget and devising a plan for gaining control of your finances makes you choke on that turkey leg,  check out our Getting Started page by clicking the link in the menu bar at the top of the page and be sure to check  Sam’s latest post 7 Days to a  Simple Debt Payoff Plan if being in debt has your overwhelmed.

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Check out our post and other awesome financial insights on the Saturday Link Up!

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving celebrating all the things you are grateful for with the people you love most! Does anybody have exciting plans?

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 Brittany

7 Days to a Debt Payoff Plan

Starting your debt snowball or a plan to pay off debt, can be overwhelming, scary, and frustrating. Procrastination is a major roadblock for many people who are faced with the task of paying off debt because it can make a person feel like he is staring up to the summit of Mt. Everest and being asked to climb it!  If sitting down and trying to tackle the job of getting organized to pay off your debt makes you want to put on your tennis shoes and run in the opposite direction, you are not alone. I’ve been there too. That’s why I’ve come up with 7 days of “jobs” that will have your debt payoff plan feeling less like climbing Mt. Everest and more like stepping over an anthill :)

debt snowball defined7 Easy Steps to a Successful Debt Payoff Plan

Day 1: Gather it up. Find all of your student loan/debt paperwork (including the car, mortgage, etc.) and put it in one spot/folder/pile.

Day 2:  Protect it. Find all passwords, and create a word document labeled (something like “debt payoff”, “debt snowball”, “hello financial freedom”) for all of your usernames and passwords. Create accounts if you don’t have one.

Day 3: Get technical. Log on to all of your debt accounts. Make sure that you save them on your web browser as a “favorite” so you can easily click and go.

Day 4: Create your DEBT SNOWBALL. Either write down or start a word/excel document listing your debt totals in order from smallest to biggest. Include interest rates.

Day 5: Schedule it. Write on a paper calendar and in your phone all of your payment due dates. Set an alarm to alert you of a payment 2 days or 1 week before each payment is due to ensure on time payments and avoid fees.

Day 6: Plan ahead. Use your budget to decide when (month and year) you will make your first EXTRA payment.

Day 7: Easy access. Make a filing bin, cabinet, or folder for your debt paperwork ONLY! Put it in a spot that is easy to access. Most people are more willing to do something more often if it’s convenient (i.e. fast food, pre-packaged foods, etc.). Make it easy on yourself and make your debt snowball information easy to access and organized!

debt snowball picThere it is. In just 7 days you will go from, “I just pay the minimum and forget about it because it’s too overwhelming to look at” to “My first extra payment happens on 12/1”! Congratulations on taking years off of your total debt payoff time!

debt snowball congratulationsHow did you begin your debt snowball journey?

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Sam

Stretch your Grocery Budget by Buying in Bulk

Fighting overspending at the grocery store is always tough, but with Thanksgiving around the corner, the little piggy turkey on my shoulder is working overtime to convince me to ditch my regular grocery budget and fill my grocery cart to the brim with rolls, canned pumpkin, and cheese, cheese, cheese!

“Gobble, gobble!” Says the turkey, “Throw your grocery budget out the window! Gobble gobble!”

“Gobble, gobble!” Says the turkey, “Throw your grocery budget out the window! Gobble gobble!”

Part of me wants to join in the gobbling and forget my grocery budget exists because I know that prepping for the holidays is a special circumstance; however, within the deepest depths of my stuffing-loving soul, I know that I can use the same strategies I use at the grocery store all year long to make my dollar go far this Thanksgiving.

Seeing as Thanksgiving is a feast, and a feast entails more food than your average dinner, I thought it was fitting to share my strategies for buying groceries in bulk in order to stay within (or just slightly above as opposed to majorly above) your typical grocery budget this holiday season. Despite the timing of this post, these bulk-buying strategies help me stay within my grocery budget year round while keeping my pantry full, so don’t toss them out with the turkey!

Groceries in Bulk

1. Respect Shelf Life

Before throwing that grocery item in your cart, ask yourself these three questions:

 Can it stay fresh in your fridge or on your kitchen counter for more than one week?

Can you freeze it?

Will it survive on a pantry shelf for an extended period of time?

If you can answer “yes” to any of the three questions above, then give yourself the go-ahead on the bulk grocery purchase you are contemplating. One of the key components of a good bulk purchase is that your items don’t expire before you have a chance to use them (and no this does not mean buying milk in bulk and then drinking 8 glasses of milk a day to “get your money’s worth”). If you buy something that expires before you have a chance to happily consume it, you aren’t getting a good deal—you are wasting money.

My favorite bulk grocery items that can hang tight in the pantry/refrigerator/freezer until I need them: peanut butter, bananas, spinach, frozen stir fry veggies, chicken/vegetable stock, canned veggies, almond milk, bacon, chocolate chips, sugar, marinara sauce, flour, nuts, pastas, and oatmeal.

2. Pace Yourself

You can buy it all but when purchasing in bulk, you cannot buy it all at once. Respect your own grocery budget, and don’t splurge on multiple bulk items if the cost will surpass your set grocery spending.  Would it be nice to buy bacon and canned green beans today—Yes. Is it necessary—No.

3. Avoid Addictive Items

If I love something so much that it will disappear at an abnormal rate (I’m looking at you candy corn), then buying it in bulk is not going to save me any money because once it’s gone and my addiction has been raging forward full speed ahead, you know I’m taking that train right back to the store to buy more.  Most of the things people end up binging on are junk food anyway, so it will help your grocery budget and your overall health to keep them off the bulk list—even if that item meets the previously listed criterion of a good grocery bulk purchase. Just say no, kids…just say no.

4. Consider Versatility

If you open something large, can you use it many different ways before it expires? When buying groceries in bulk, versatility is important—especially if you are not a fan of leftovers.

My favorite versatile bulk grocery items: fresh spinach, beans, plain Greek yogurt, cheese, chicken/veggie stock, canned stewed tomatoes, bacon.

I am really excited to host a small (teeny tiny) group of family for Thanksgiving this year–God bless them 😉 What grocery shopping strategies do you use to stay as close as possible to your grocery budget? Do you buy in bulk to save money?

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 Brittany

Your Wishlist and Your Budget

We’ve all been there. Looking at a long list of “wants” that seem far away and totally out of reach. Sigh. I’m a big “Wishlist” person. I keep a list of items/activities that I want in my phone so that if I have some leftover spending money or when Holidays are coming up, I can refer to the wishlist of things that I’ve been wanting  but just haven’t scraped together enough spending money outside of my budget to pull the trigger on a purchase.

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Here are a few things that I do to keep my urge to shop for all the items on my wishlist and feelings of constant sacrifice at bay:

  • Narrow it Down. Edit your wishlist if it’s getting too long. It’s likely that there are several items on your list that you no longer want or you can push down toward the bottom. I go through my wishlist about once a month and I delete at LEAST one item from the list every time I check it.
  • Upcoming Holidays. Look ahead to see what holidays are coming soon. Christmas, Birthday’s, etc? Typically things on our wishlists are just “wants”, so it’s likely that we can wait a couple (or seven) months to get it as a gift and save ourselves from totally smashing our budget.
  • It Just HAS to Happen. What if you need it sooner? What if it’s something you can’t pass up? Ask yourself these questions:

1. Do I have money for it? 

2. Will I go into debt to get this?

3. Is this purchase worth decreasing the amount I can put toward debt this month?

If you answered “yes” for #1 & 3 and “no” for #2, maybe last minute tickets to a concert that a friend offered you won’t bust your financial plans or maybe your running shoes are so worn out that you slip on the gym floor and can see your socks through your shoes. Try not to make a habit of spending outside of your budget on wishlist items, but random events are materials may be worth if every once in a while.

If you answered “yes” for #2, STAY AWAY! SAY NO! Do not go into debt for wishlist purchases. Just plain old “NO”! Debt is not worth whatever it is that’s on  your wishlist. Start putting together a Christmas list and counting down the days!

You can find this article and more financial posts from some of our favorite bloggers over at the Savvy Saturday Link Up by clicking the button below!!

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What’s on your wishlist? How do you keep your wishlist expenses in check? Let us know and leave a comment!

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Sam