This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more information.
This is where it all started guys. On a quiet summer afternoon I hit publish on my first post titled 10 Free Activities for Couples Paying off Debt and the rest is history. I thought it fitting to do one for the winter as well, seeing how we spend more money this time of year than any other.
1. Christmas Lights Home Tour
Every city has a neighborhood that really goes all out with the lights. Take a drive to look at them or walk if the weather isn’t frightful. In Florida, the weather is always great this time of year so we have a biking group that does a huge ride through the neighborhoods and ends back at a bar for beers.
You can make a trip out of it too. A city near us was featured on TV for their light displays so I’m looking forward to seeing it this year. Sometimes houses do the same thing every year so it’s fun to switch it up from time to time.
2. Holiday Movie Night
Put on your pajamas and pour the cocoa, there’s nothing better than a Christmas movie! While I’m partial to all holiday Claymation movies I loved the resurgence of quality seasonal cinema of the early 2000’s. For those with Netflix (or borrowing from a friend) here’s a list of movies for your viewing pleasure.
If you don’t have Netflix, channels like NBC, ABC, Freeform, etc always have a good variety (I’m judging you if you even try to add Hallmark Channel movies to that list.)
3. School Holiday Production
Elementary schools always have some type of performance with oodles of cute awkward kids singing carols and dressed like elves. The best part, these events are usually free. If you don’t have friends with kids that can keep you in the loop find some teacher friends with connections. They’ll know when all the good shows are. But word to the wise, don’t do this one if you look like these guys:
4. Live Nativity
These things can range from “plastic baby in a manger” to “drive-through re-creation of the gospels.” Even if you get a bad one there’s usually hot cocoa and cookies at the end so you win either way. The good ones really do bring the Christmas story to life and it’s a pretty cool experience. I highly recommend it.
5. Star Gaze
Winter is a great time for star gazing. Taurus, Perseus, and Gemini are some of the constellations you can find in the winter sky. Yes, I did Google that, so even if you’re not a budding astronomer who doesn’t enjoy looking at shiny things in the sky?
Download an app like SkyView Free and find all the starry patterns. If you’re lucky enough to live by a planetarium see if they do free shows. Ours does two every Friday that the college is in session.
6. Holiday Parade
Was anybody else in marching band? I was and it was absolutely for the parades. There are a lot in December! We have our pick of morning or evening throughout the month. And since we live near the water we even have a few lighted boat parades! Check your cities events calendar and cities around you to fill your weekends with candy canes and Santas!
7. Photo with Santa
Speaking of Santa, how ridiculous are the prices for photos with Santa these days!? I don’t even have kids and I feel like I need to start putting away for their Santa pictures fund. That was until I found out about Bass Pro Shop’s annual Santa’s Wonderland. On select days you can get a free personalized photo with Santa, free wooden picture frame, free crafts for the kids, and more!
And even if you don’t have kids you should definitely put on your tackiest Christmas sweaters and make this years’ card something the family will be talking about til next year. Why not? It’s free!
I included this in my last list but the opportunities for giving this time of year are too numerous not to share again. Aside from soup kitchens and caroling you can hand out Christmas cards at Hospice, collect cans of food from your pantry to give to a shelter, or connect with your local foster care licensing agency to help out a foster family in need. Your money is valuable but your time is just as needed.
9. Go Outside
This is the obligatory “make a snow angel or sled down a hill” spot. But I live in Florida so I don’t know how to do that stuff. Whether you’re in blizzard country or it’s a balmy 70 degrees outside (sorry not sorry) get your butt outside and experience the free entertainment mother nature has to offer. I for one love walks downtown during the day and bonfires with s’more at night.
10. Stay Inside
Okay, outside not your thing? Stay inside… if you know what I mean. When’s the last time you pretended you were on your honeymoon or your favorite vacation with your significant other? There’s never a good time to put on those nighties from your lingerie shower so make the time! Get romantic and see what happens. Hey, it’s free. ?
Any other ideas for free activities this time of year? I’m always looking for new things to try and include in new posts!
Jen Smith is a personal finance expert, founder of Modern Frugality and co-host of the Frugal Friends Podcast. Her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Lifehacker, Money Magazine, U.S. News and World Report, Business Insider, and more. She’s passionate about helping people gain control of their spending.
Looking for free diapers and low-cost baby products?
Diapers are expensive and a pain in the budget. Babies need roughly 8000 diapers before they’re potty trained, costing parents $2000 or more.
So we’ve put together some simple and legitimate options to help you save money. When you combine these methods together, you can literally save hundreds of dollars.
Try these easy tactics to get free diapers. It only takes a few minutes to fill out a form or sign up for a program, and the savings you’ll enjoy is truly worth it.
Table of Contents
Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit – free stuff from Target.
Target Baby Registry – Set up a baby registry at Target and you’ll get free diapers and wipes from The Honest Company and plenty more.
You’ll also receive a cool gift bag stuffed with free samples and a $50 coupon book with savings at major outlets like Starbucks and Liz Lange.
Here’s just some of what you get:
Munchkin Latch 4 oz. baby bottle
Baby Aquaphor diaper rash cream
MAM newborn pacifier
Johnson & Johnson Head-to-Toe lotion
A 10-piece sample pack of baby wipes from The Honest Company.
Pampers samples of diapers and wipes.
Lanisinoh disposable nursing pads and breastmilk storage bags
Johnsons’s “Baby’s Firsts” guide to first-year milestones
Babyganics Moisturizing Daily Lotion sample tube
Mustela Hydra Bebe body lotion sample
Zarbee’s Naturals baby immune support vitamins
10% off any nursing bra and/or camisole.
Two: Sign Up for Amazon Family
Amazon Family (formerly Amazon Mom) comes with a free 30-day trial, or you can access it for free if you’re already a Prime member. Just create a child profile to begin and save up to 20% on diaper and baby food subscriptions. You’ll also get additional discounts on other family products.
Amazon Family is part of Prime so all shipping is free.
Refer your friends and get an additional $10 in Amazon credit to use for free diapers.
Three: Get Free Amazon Cards for Diapers
Wouldn’t it be great to get free Amazon cards and then use them for diapers and other baby products?
Good news – Swagbucks and InboxDollars give you that opportunity. Here’s how it works.
Swagbucks gives you rewards points for various online actions, such as using their search engine, taking surveys, watching videos and playing games. Then just redeem your rewards for Amazon gift cards (or cards from other stores) or as cash through PayPal.
Signing up is free and you’ll even get a $5 sign up bonus.
TIP: Download the app and perform many of the tasks on the go. You can easily earn $25 each month in Amazon cards with minimal effort.
InboxDollars is another loyalty company offering rewards for shopping online, taking surveys and watching videos. Redeem your points for an Amazon card to use on anything you want.
Four: Get Free Diapers by Signing Up with Diaper Companies
Diaper companies know that most parents find one diaper brand they like and use them exclusively as long as their child needs diapers.
Naturally, these companies want you to be loyal to their brand, and not to their competitors. So they’ll happily give you free diaper samples to earn your loyalty.
Huggies Rewards program offers free diapers and wipes when you redeem Huggies points. You can get 500 free points just for signing up here.
When you make a purchase of Huggies diapers or baby products, upload your receipt to their site to get more points added to your account.
Huggies recently lowered the number of points needed to acquire coupons for free diapers and baby products so saving money is easier than ever.
In addition to Huggies, check out the rewards programs at the other major brands:
More Free Samples
Honest Company – Jessica Alba’s environmentally safe company will send you 7 premium diapers and 10 baby wipes. The diapers contain no chemical bleaches.
Dollar Diaper Club – Get a free trial and they’ll send you 6 organic diapers and 10 wipes.
Everyday Happy – Receive a free trial box of premium diapers and a package of bamboo wipes.
Simply Right – Sign up on their website and this Sam’s Club brand will send you free diapers and wipes.
Five: Smart Couponing for Free Diapers
Check your local paper and online for diaper coupons and look for diaper sales at your local stores. By timing your coupons with diaper sales, you can really save on diapers, or even get them for free.
Here are a few places online where you can clip baby diaper coupons.
Six: Use Referral Programs for Diaper Money
A couple of companies offer lucrative referral programs that could add up to a lot of free diapers and wipes.
Diapers.com gives you $5 in diaper credit for each person you refer to their site. Sign up for their referral program here.
If you have an active Facebook or Instagram account, ePantry has a referral program. Post to your accounts and earn $8 for every mom you sign up.
Occasionally ePantry runs promotions offering up to $20 per referral.
Seven: Charities and Government Programs Helping with Diapers and More.
The National Diaper Bank Network helps low-income families with free diapers. The non-profit network has chapters nationwide so those in need can pick up diapers locally.
This is a great complement to food stamps and WIC, which do not provide diapers.
NeedHelpPayingBills.com aims to assist the needy with a variety of needs. Here is their free baby diapers resource list of organizations everywhere that are ready to help.
Eight: – Save by using cloth diapers
Washable cloth diapers are an environmentally friendly option for your child.
They can also help you save money, especially if you have, or plan on having, more than one child in diapers.
Nine: Call Pediatrician or Hospital for Freebies
Hospitals often give you stuff you need for your newborn, such as a free diaper bag or car seat. Check with your hospital before your due date to see what is available to you.
Your OB/Gyn doctor and pediatrician are also great resources to consider for free baby diapers, bottles, and formula samples. They can steer you in the right direction and they usually have baby samples right there in their office.
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You know that plumber who lives on your street and drives the beat up pickup truck? He’s much more likely to be a millionaire than the executive next door driving the BMW.
Don’t believe me? Well that was a common theme found in The Millionaire Next Door:The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by William Danko and Thomas Stanley.
The authors surveyed thousands of real millionaires and their answers revealed many surprising lessons, such as:
1. The wealthy don’t always look wealthy and vice-versa.
People who look rich may not actually be rich.
They spend more than they can afford on symbols of wealth but have modest portfolios. Some are living paycheck to paycheck, heavily in debt with little or no savings.
Conversely, real millionaires usually live in middle class neighborhoods, drive cars they own outright, and don’t spend extravagantly on material things.
2. They don’t spend a lot of money on cars.
The authors point out that cars are the second biggest material expense in our lifetime.
If you add up all the money you’ve spent on cars over the years it can be really eye-opening.
Even if you’re young, the amount you’ve spent on cars compared to how much money you’ve earned is usually pretty high.
According to their survey results, most real millionaires buy a nice car, like an Acura or Lexus. They buy it with cash, or make payments until they own it, and ultimately hold on to the car for at least a decade.
Forbes backs this up, stating 61% of those earning at least $250,000 a year are driving Honda, Toyota, Acura and Volkswagens.
3. They save and consistently invest.
In America, our average household savings rate dipped into the negative in 2005, for the first time since the Great Depression. The savings rate has improved but is still only 5% currently.
Which brings us back to your original question; What are the secrets only the wealthy now and the middle class is unaware of?
Now, we all know saving money to acquire wealth is not a secret. But clearly this is an area the middle class can improve in
Compare that negative savings rate to that of the average millionaire, who invests nearly 20% of their income.
In its simplest form, that’s really all wealth is; earning more than you spend and investing the difference — consistently.
Consistently investing means you are fully capitalizing on compounding interest.
It means you are turning small contributions into large sums over time.
4. They adhere to a budget.
The majority of millionaires stick to a budget.
Even among those who don’t budget, they pay themselves first with money directly to their savings and investment accounts. They then work from the remaining funds.
But the majority do take the time to budget, even if they don’t want to, because the know the long-term benefits first-hand.
5. They spend a lot of time managing their money.
The wealthy spend a lot of time budgeting, goal setting and managing their portfolios.
According to Danko and Stanley, the wealthy spend nearly twice as many hours per month managing their finances as those without wealth.
The good news?
You don’t have to earn a big six-figure salary to accumulate wealth, as long as you plan for it.
In their survey of 854 middle-income workers, the authors found a strong correlation between investment planning and wealth accumulation citing; “Most prodigious accumulators of wealth have a regimented planning schedule. Each week, each month, each year, they plan their investments.”
6. They own their own business or work for themselves.
Not everyone that gets rich owns their own businesses.
But in The Millionaire Next Door, they discovered a lot of folks who ran their own service businesses such as landscapers, plumbers, electricians, commercial cleaners and so on.
One of the key takeaways of this book for me is many millionaires attributed their dedication to financial planning as a requirement of doing business.
Because their business finances and personal finances are so closely intertwined, they really have no choice but to consistently examine their finances in order to survive — and thrive.
There’s many more lessons in the book but I wanted to mention some of the biggest takeaways for me.
I initially read The Millionaire Next Door around the year 2000. I don’t remember the exact year. But it was very impactful in my life, so much so that I’ve read it several times since then.
It’s a mindset book as much as it’s a nuts-and-bolts how-to book. Much of the advice is tried and true stuff your parents or grandparents would tell you. You’d be wise to listen to it, as tried-and-true tactics provide the best template to follow for proven success.
At the same time, the data from their surveys also uncovers many surprising similarities among millionaires. Tendencies and habits that challenge conventional wisdom and make you rethink your employment, lifestyle and personal finance decisions.
It’s definitely one of my favorite personal finance books, which is why I wanted to share the lessons I’ve learned from it here.
The Millionaire Next Door is a must-read, no matter where you are in your personal finance journey. It really provides the proper mindset needed to successfully manage your money.
It sets the right foundation for your money goals. When you see the common habits of hundreds of millionaires, along with the logic behind those habits, it’s becomes painfully obvious the personal choices you need to make to become a millionaire yourself, or at least improve your personal finances significantly.
Have you read The Millionaire Next Door? What is the biggest lesson you learned from reading it?
Here are the 5 steps you need to take to stop yourself from overspending on Christmas gifts
The excitement, the gingerbread latte is now kicking in … the click-clack of your shoes racing down Target’s floor tiles… as you frantically snatch the must-have toy of the season off the shelf, clutching it possessively to your chest!
As you round the corner trying to get back to the main aisle, you can’t believe your eyes; you haven’t seen this Magnolia item in stock in FOREVER! In your shopping cart it goes! Off to checkout, and you slooooow way down going by the girl’s section, and think, “That’s super cute! My little one would love that!” It too goes in the cart!
An hour later, and your phone bings at you. Yup, it’s a large purchase amount alert from your credit card. It reads, “Did you spend $358.42 at Target? This amount is over your alert limit notification settings”.
And just like in The Christmas Story, you say (in slow motion for dramatic effect) “Oh FUDGE!”
You totally overspent! Again! You told yourself you weren’t going to overspend on Christmas presents again! (like ever!) Last year’s holiday credit card bill left you with hives, and you promised yourself that this next year would be different!
Well, guess what, that Target scenario up above… it was just a dream. Just like Ebenezer, there is time for you to change your ways. You’re not doomed to follow the same path you did last year! So if you’re ready, let’s dive into how to stop overspending at Christmas!
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my full disclosure for more info
What is the Christmas Debt Hangover?
Ugh! No one likes a hangover! But unlike a hangover from too much bubbly, a Christmas debt hangover can last months and months (sometimes years)! No thanks!
According to a MagnifyMoney survey, “Americans took on an average of $1,325 of holiday debt in 2019”. Here’s how their numbers played out…
44% of consumers took on debt this holiday season, and the majority (57%) didn’t plan on doing so.
78% of those with holiday debt won’t be able to pay it off come January, including 15% who are only making minimum payments.
58% of indebted consumers are stressed about their holiday debt.
40% plan to consolidate debt and/or shop around for a good balance transfer interest rate, but more than half won’t even try. Of those that won’t try, 20% think it’s not necessary, and 18% don’t want to deal with another bank.
Now specifically regarding how long it would take them to pay off the debt, survey responders said…
22% said one month
21% said two months
19% said three months
8% said four months
16% said 5+ months
15% are paying only minimum payments
Right now, The Fed Reserve lists the average credit card interest rate to be 14.52%. You can generally assume that your minimum payment will be about 2% of your total bill. Here’s a screenshot of how long it would take to pay off the card (if you didn’t put any more purchases on it).
64 months? Paying $582 in interest? W.T.F.!
Are you ready to tame your shopping spree beast? Because, after looking at those numbers, overspending at Christmas is not cool!
How to stop overspending on Christmas presents: Step One – decide what you will focus on besides the gifts!
It’s just smart sense that when you take something away, you need to replace it with something else. Instead of a donut, have a whole grain muffin!
So instead of focusing on gifts, what do you want to spend the season focused on? I’ve got a great list of frugal family fun ideas for the holidays! These are bucket list items perfect for the holiday season!
You’re especially going to need something fun to do Christmas morning, as you don’t want the day to be anticlimactic without all the presents, as it might be hard on our littlest ones. Think about…
Doing a Meals on Wheels delivery route in your neighborhood.
Do a Christmas movie marathon (pj’s required!).
Make a full holiday meal together as a family.
Go sledding/skiing/ice skating or go to the mountains for snow time fun! Don’t forget the hot cocoa and accessories for the snowman you’ll build!
Step Two – Consider a gifting strategy
Every good General knows that you need a plan of attack or a strategy, shall we say. And if you don’t think Christmas shopping is kind of like preparing for battle, then hats off to your peaceful and serene holidays of the past. The rest of us battle-weary moms can barely nod in agreement (as we’re still a little shell shocked from last year’s holiday season).
Strategy One – Adopt the 4 Gift Rule
This one is amazing in its simplicity to help you stop overspending on Christmas gifts! It caters to those toying with the idea of having a minimalist(ish) holiday, and it’s gaining popularity every year! You gift each recipient (that you would typically buy lots for) just four gifts.
Something to wear
Something to read
Something they need
Something they want
I’d like to think of it as a way to buy a more meaningful selection of gifts. As you’re looking not just to buy lots of things, but purchase specific items. Hopefully, the receivers will appreciate their gifts a little more and not get lost in the craze of ripping off wrapping paper at the speed of light.
Don’t forget to snag your printable gift list tracker; there’s a four gift rule one and then a classic gift list printable. Everything you need to stay organized and on budget!
Strategy Two – Give the gift of an experience
Maybe your kids have everything that they need! Maybe you are dreading anything more coming into your home as you need to get your Home Edit on right now!
If that’s the case, then consider giving an experience instead. This could be a short trip to the beach or a big trip to Walt Disney World. Or tickets to a sporting game or an event like Comic-Con. Go as big or as small as you like. Set aside the Christmas money and put it in a sinking fund to make this experience come true (even if it’s at a later date).
Hint: if it’s a trip to a theme park, some have vacation planning DVDs or online videos (DisneyWorld does). This would be a great thing to wrap and put under the tree!
Strategy Three – Go the D.I.Y. route
Now, this isn’t for those of us that are all thumbs (meeee!) I am not a crafter/knitter/artist/DIYer by nature. But for those of you that are, consider harnessing your talent for homemade gifts!
Even if you don’t have a talent, maybe consider gifting a custom photo book from Shutterfly. Or collect great grandmothers family recipes together and turn them into a little book (or place her most famous recipe on a tea towel! Cute huh!)
That’s right, as your mother always said, it pays to plan ahead! That means getting your Christmas present shopping done early! As the holiday gets closer, we tend to panic slightly; we grab just about anything that will do as a good gift. Most of the time that means we’re spending a little more (because we don’t want to get a cheapo lame gift)!
So start jotting down your gift choices now! Aka ASAP! I.e., immediately!
Okay, you get the drift. Besides, online ordering gets bigger every year, and sometimes there are shipping delays or snowstorms that stop service in half the country (yikes!) You don’t want to get a substitute gift because your original gift won’t be back in stock until January 17th!
Step Four – Use Cash
They say cash is king, and they’re right! Especially when it comes to spending money. Because when the cash is out, the spending is done! It’s genius at its most basic, and it works every time (as long as you leave your credit cards at home). You simply cannot overspend on Christmas gifts!
Using cash envelopes is a strategy used by many successful budgeters! Besides, stuffing these cute festive holiday cash envelopes is fun! You can use one for each person you’re gifting to or use one for each holiday shopping category—I.e., food, decorations, gifting, fun times, supplies, etc. Or if you’re crafty here are some cash envelope templates that you can make on your own!
Nerdwallet references a cult classic report where, “An often-cited study is one conducted by Dun & Bradstreet, in which the company found that people spend 12%-18% more when using credit cards instead of cash.”
Don’t forget that when you pay with cash, you won’t have to pay interest on the charge either! Look at it this way; when you pay cash, you’re buying something. When you pay with a credit card, you’re borrowing the money for it; you didn’t buy it (but you’ll pay extra for it in interest!)
Step Five – Don’t go into the stores!
This one sounds silly, I know, but it’s so painfully obvious. If you don’t have to go into a store, then don’t! Because really, we’ve all gone into a store, we don’t grab a cart because we just need one thing, and we come up to the cashier juggling items like a clown!
Inevitably when you go into a store, it’s straight temptation. Why do that to yourself? Stay home, and send someone else to the store, or better yet, do some online ordering for that item you need!
Or if you’re poison is the 1-click buy, then take some super easy preventative measures. Delete your credit card info on your devices! GASP! I know, I know, it sounds drastic, but making it just the teensiest bit harder on yourself to shop online could mean saving hundreds! Because honestly, sometimes I don’t get up to walk across the house to grab my credit card number!
Better yet, do a marketing edit! Unsubscribe from those pesky emails from your favorite retailers and unfollow them on social media! You won’t want what you never see! Now, I know you’ve been thinking about this idea for a while, give it a try! You can always go back later and subscribe again!
Simple hacks to stop overspending on Christmas presents
Know your prices
Do you know the regular price of the “sale” item in your hand? Even though it says it’s on sale or discounted 20% off, it might still not be a great price! If you are 100% in on saving money this holiday season, then you should scout your gifts early, record their prices, and wait to see what the “holiday deals” actually are.
Many retailers change their prices regularly. What was $59 in September could easily now be $75 in December. Yet now they can mark it being 20% off! They get to keep their sales margin high enough to get a good profit, and you (the customer) feel like you got a good deal. Winner Winner… oh wait, that’s a bull$hit dinner!
Be smarter than the retailer!
Don’t go shopping when…
You are hungry
You’re short on time
With somebody else (friends can be bad influences, sorry friends)
It’s going to be super crowded (instead go early in the morning, or late at night)
Next years plan for Christmas gifting
If you get through this Christmas and going low key on gifts wasn’t for your family, then no problem. You can have the Christmas that your family wants; you may need to start socking away money for it a bit earlier than usual! Check out How to Start a Christmas Savings Plan and How to Plan the Perfect Christmas Budget!
At the end of the day
I know that reading about how to not overspend at Christmas sounds like a bummer of a topic. But honestly, think about how you’ll feel come January when you don’t have that big fat credit card bill that’s knocking out your wallet like it’s Balboa in Rocky 1!
I know that for many of us, we remember Christmases of youth, with mountains of presents, and we want to recreate those warm fuzzy memories for our own kids. But those warm fuzzy feelings can be created out of so many instances, not just present opening. So save yourself the agony and angst of overspending at Christmas, and don’t even go there!
Posts Related to How to Stop Overspending on Christmas Gifts:
What are your top tips for how to stop overspending on holiday gifts ?
Kari is a total Money Nerd Mama, helping other Mamas to learn about all things money & personal finance, so they can execute money management strategies to make a secure future for their family!
The 50/30/20 rule (also referred to as the 50/20/30 rule) is one method of budgeting that can help you keep your spending in alignment with your savings goals. Budgets should be about more than just paying your bills on time—the right budget can help you determine how much you should be spending, and on what.
The 50/30/20 rule can serve as a great tool to help you diversify your financial profile, reach dynamic savings goals, and foster overall financial health.
In this post, we’re taking you through the steps of budgeting using the 50/30/20 approach so that you can learn how to set up a budget that’s sustainable, effective, and simple. Use the links below to navigate or read all the way through to absorb all of our tips on how to budget using the 50/30/20 method:
What is the 50/30/20 Budgeting Rule?
Popularized by Senator Elizabeth Warren and her daughter, the 50/30/20 budgeting rule–also referred to as the 50/20/30 budgeting rule–divides after-tax income into three different buckets:
Essentials: 50% of your income
To begin abiding by this rule, set aside no more than half of your income for the absolute necessities in your life. This might seem like a high percentage (and, at 50%, it is), but once you consider everything that falls into this category it begins to make a bit more sense.
Your essential expenses are those you would almost certainly have to pay, regardless of where you lived, where you worked, or what your future plans happen to include. In general, these expenses are nearly the same for everyone and include:
The percentage lets you adjust, while still maintaining a sound, balanced budget. And remember, it’s more about the total sum than individual costs. For instance, some people live in high-rent areas, yet can walk to work, while others enjoy much lower housing costs, but transportation is far more expensive.
Wants: 30% of your income
The second category, and the one that can make the most difference in your budget, is unnecessary expenses that enhance your lifestyle. Some financial experts consider this category completely discretionary, but in modern society, many of these so-called luxuries have taken on more of a mandatory status. It all depends on what you want out of life and what you’re willing to sacrifice.
These personal lifestyle expenses include items such as: your cell phone plan, cable bill and trips to the coffee shop. If you travel extensively or work on-the-go, your cell phone plan is probably more of a necessity than a luxury. However, you have some wiggle room since you can decide upon the tier of the service you’re paying for. Other components of this category include gym memberships, weekend trips, and dining out with your friends. Only you can decide which of your expenses can be designated as “personal,” and which ones are truly obligatory. Similar to how no more than 50 percent of your income should go toward essential expenses, 30 percent is the maximum amount you should spend on personal choices. The fewer costs you have in this category, the more progress you’ll make paying down debt and securing your future.
Savings: 20% of your income
The next step is to dedicate 20% of your take-home pay toward savings. This includes savings plans, retirement accounts, debt payments and rainy-day funds—things you should add to, but which wouldn’t endanger your life or leave you homeless if you didn’t. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but hopefully you get the gist. This category of expenses should only be paid after your essentials are already taken care of and before you even think about anything in the last category of personal spending.
Think of this as your “get ahead” category. Whereas 50%(or less) of your income is the goal for essentials, 20 percent—or more—should be your goal as far as obligations are concerned. You’ll pay off debt quicker and make more significant strides toward a frustration-free future by devoting as much of your income as you can to this category.
The term “retirement” might not carry a sense of urgency when you’re only 24 years old, but it certainly will become more pressing in decades to come. Just keep in mind the advantage of starting early is you will earn compounding interest the longer you let this fund grow.
Establishing good habits will last a lifetime. You don’t need a high income to follow the tenets of the 50/30/20 rule; anyone can do it. Since this is a percentage-based system, the same proportions apply whether you’re earning an entry-level salary and living in a studio apartment, or if you’re years into your career and about to buy your first home.
A note of caution, though: Try not to take this rule too literally. The proportions are sound, but your life is unlike anyone else’s. What this plan does is provide a framework for you to work within. Once you review your income and expenses and determine what’s essential and what’s not, only then you can create a budget that helps you make the most of your money. Years from now, you can still fall back on the same guidelines to help your budget evolve as your life does.
Ask Yourself: Why is a 50/30/20 Budget Necessary?
According to Consumer.gov, there are plenty of different reasons why people start a budget:
To save up for a large expense such as a house, car, or vacation
Put a security deposit on an apartment
To reduce spending habits
To improve credit score
To eliminate debt
To break the paycheck to paycheck cycle
Identifying the reason why you’re budgeting with the 50/30/20 method can help you stay motivated and create a better plan to reach your goal. It’s kind of like the “eye on the prize” mentality. If you’re tempted to splurge, you can use your overarching goal to bring you back to your saving senses. So ask yourself: why am I starting to budget? What do I want to achieve?
Additionally, if you’re saving up for something specific, try to determine an exact number so that you can regularly evaluate whether or not your budget is on track throughout the week, month, or year.
How to Budget with the 50/30/20 Rule
To make the most of this budgeting method, consider following the steps below:
Deep Dive Into Your Current Spending Habits
Before implementing a 50/30/20 budget, take a long, hard look in the mirror (or maybe your wallet, rather). We’re talking about analyzing your spending habits. Do you overspend on clothes? Shoes? Food? Drinks? Figuring out your spending vices from the very beginning will help you learn how to use a 50/30/20 budget that effectively cuts spending where you need it most.
Take a look at your bank and credit card statements over the last few months and see if you can find any common trends. If you find that you’re overspending on going out for food and drinks, come up with a plan for how you can avoid this scenario. Cook dinner at home before, have a potluck with friends, find happy hour specials around town. There are plenty of ways to budget and save money without compromising your social life.
Pro Tip: Using Mint’s easy budget categorization, you can identify where you can cut back on unnecessary expenses.
Identify Irregular Large Ticket Expenses in the “Wants” Category
Of course, there are expenses in life that we simply can’t avoid. Maybe you need to make a repair on your vehicle, or perhaps you’re putting a down payment on a house in the next six months. Oftentimes these bills are necessary expenses, so you’ll have to factor them into your budget.
When you’re coming up with your 50/30/20 budget, take a moment to look at your calendar so that you can plan for these expenses and adjust your spending in the time before and after you incur the expense.
Add Up All Income
Totaling your income is an important first step when learning how to budget your money using the 50/30/20 rule, but it’s not always as simple as it sounds. Depending on your job, you might have a relatively steady paycheck or one that fluctuates from month to month. If the latter is the case, collect your paychecks from the last six months and find the average income between them.
Is the 50/30/20 Budget Right for You?
The 50/30/20 budget isn’t the only option. Other popular methods include:
Zero-sum: The principle of the zero-sum budget is that you must allocate each and every dollar you earn toward a specific expense, savings account, debt, or disposable income account. This style can help deter unnecessary spending because you’ll know exactly how much you have to spend on what items.
Envelope budgeting: Swiping your card left and right is easy—but the envelope method doesn’t let you succumb to this temptation. Rather than using your card to spend, you use a predetermined amount of cash as your spending pool, nothing more.
Choosing a budgeting style that works for you depends on a variety of factors; there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to budgeting and saving money. That said, the 50/30/20 tends to be a simple yet effective option for getting started on your budgeting journey.
Main Takeaways: How to Budget Using the 50/30/20 Rule
Here are the key tenets of the 50/30/20 rule of budgeting:
This budget rule is a simple method that can help you reach your financial goals
This budgeting method stipulates that you spend no more than 50% of your after-tax income on needs
The remaining after-tax income should be split up between 30% wants or “lifestyle” purchases, and 20% to savings or debt repayment
Mint offers budgeting software and a helpful budgeting calculator that makes it easy to live in accordance with the 50/30/20 rule (or any budget that suits your lifestyle) so that you can live life to its fullest. After spending just a little bit of time determining which of your expenses fall into which category, you can create your very first budget and keep track of it every day. And when your situation undoubtedly changes, Mint lets you adjust, so your budget can change with you.
Sign up for your free account today, build your 50/30/20 budget, and make this the year you build a strong foundation for your future.
How to make smart financial decisions in a low interest rate environment.*
The Federal Reserve, a.k.a. the Fed, was in the news for more than a decade for raising the federal funds rate. But the headlines have changed. In July 2019 the Fed finally cut its benchmark interest rate. The Fed raises or lowers the federal funds rate to influence the direction of the U.S. economy toward strong employment and stable inflation.
Alright, this may all seem pretty high level. It’s just a bunch of news for policymakers, economists and investors playing the market. Right? Not so fast. While it may sound like a fancy finance term, the federal funds rate is the interest rate banks charge each other to lend funds overnight. When that rate goes down (or up), the effects trickle down to you and the financial products you use every day—think credit cards, loans and savings accounts.
Even if you don’t typically follow financial headlines, understanding what happens when the Fed lowers rates can help you make smart financial decisions when it comes to borrowing, saving and spending. Read on to answer the question: What does a Fed rate cut mean for my finances?
What goes up and what comes down when the Fed cuts rates
What happens when the Fed lowers rates? One of the Fed’s goals with a rate cut is to make borrowing less costly. Translation: You could see lower interest rates on credit.
Economist and podcast host John Norris says that a Fed rate cut could actually be helpful to the average consumer. “If history serves as a guide, the prime rate will fall by the same amount as the Fed’s actions,” Norris says. “This means credit cards and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) will be a little cheaper for consumers moving forward.” The prime rate, which is based on the federal funds rate, is the interest rate lenders charge their most creditworthy customers.
Broken down simply, here’s how a lower Fed rate impacts you and the various types of credit you may already have or be considering:
Credit cards: “Credit cards are almost exclusively variable APR,” says Greg Mahnken, analyst at Credit Card Insider. “This means that as the prime rate goes up and down, the interest rate of the card will fluctuate as well. Your card issuer must tell you the margin rate—that’s the margin added to the prime rate to get your credit card’s APR,” Mahnken explains. If you’re wondering how a lower Fed rate impacts you and your cards, you could be charged less to carry a balance and may see smaller minimum payments.
Mortgages: What happens when the Fed lowers rates? For mortgages, it depends on the type of loan. The rate could drop on adjustable-rate mortgages, for example, meaning a reduced monthly payment. How a lower Fed rate impacts you could be different for a fixed-rate mortgage. This type of mortgage may not be as directly impacted by a Fed rate cut and is influenced by other factors.
Home equity lines of credit: If you have a HELOC or are in the market for one for home repairs, you could see a rate decrease following a Fed rate cut, lowering monthly payments.
Other loans: If you’re wondering how a lower Fed rate impacts you, know that it could influence lower rates on auto loans for car owners, but factors including industry sales and financing offers also come into play. If you have a private student loan and a regular payment schedule, you could see a lower monthly payment.
Now, what does a Fed rate cut mean for my finances when it comes to saving? Savers could see interest rates decline on deposit accounts like savings accounts, money market accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs). A lower interest rate here means you’ll earn less in interest on your savings balances.
“Banks make money by making a spread between what they pay for deposits and what they charge on loans,” Norris says. “When what they can charge on a loan goes down, it makes sense what they pay on deposits will eventually do so as well.”
How to manage a rate cut as a borrower, saver and spender
What does a Fed rate cut mean for my finances is only half of the puzzle. The other half is determining how to manage your finances in a lower rate environment so you can achieve your financial goals. Follow these tips when you consider how a lower Fed rate impacts you for borrowing, saving and spending:
If you’re borrowing:
Look for lower rates on new credit cards: “Credit card users should always be on the lookout for lower variable rate formulas, and a rate cut or two is a perfect time to do a little homework when looking for new cards,” Norris says.
Ask for lower rates on existing credit cards: When you’re learning what happens when the Fed lowers rates, consider that negotiating better rates on borrowed money could be easier in a lower interest rate environment. For example, you can check with your credit card issuers to see if you can get a lower interest rate on the credit cards you have already.
Refinance high-interest debt: “If your issuer/lender won’t lower your interest rate despite a cut to the Fed/prime rate, look into refinancing or consolidating your debt with a lower-interest loan,” Mahnken says.
If you’re saving:
Find a competitive savings account rate: Even though lower rates on savings is often what happens when the Fed lowers rates, banks could still offer competitive savings rates. For instance, online banks can often pass savings on in the form of higher interest rates on their deposit accounts because they save money by not maintaining brick-and-mortar locations. Discover, for instance, offers a high-yield savings account with an interest rate over 5x the National Savings Average.1 So while rates may go down on average, you can possibly earn a higher interest rate on your savings than you had in the past with a high-yield account.
You earned it. Now earn more with it.
Online savings with no minimum balance.
Discover Bank, Member FDIC
Lock in a higher fixed rate: If you anticipate more Fed rate cuts in the future, then explore savings vehicles with a rate that you can lock in. With a fixed-rate certificate of deposit, for example, the CD rate is fixed for the entire term. If you open a 5-year CD, your savings will continue to earn the same interest rate despite rate cuts. Note that CDs often come with an early withdrawal penalty if you withdraw your funds before the end of the account’s term, so they’re best used for savings you won’t need to touch for a set period of time.
If you’re spending:
Decide to buy, but do it wisely: Since one answer to “What does a Fed rate cut mean for my finances?” is that borrowing costs less, it could make sense to go ahead with that large purchase you’ve been planning for ages. “When it comes to spending, lower interest rates can encourage bigger purchases, such as home improvements, cars and homes,” Mahnken says. “But before making a big-ticket purchase, make sure you have a budget so you can see how the purchase will affect your monthly cash flow.”
Pursue a passion that requires capital: If you can get access to borrowed money at lower rates, some of your personal goals that require credit could be more achievable. Maybe you’ve been preparing to start a business endeavor or pursue higher education to advance your career. Now could be the time to set things in motion.
Fed rate cut or not, there’s always room for financial improvement
Even if financial news isn’t your thing, paying attention to trends like a Fed rate cut (or hike) can help you manage your money most effectively. Despite the interest rate climate, though, it’s still important to remain disciplined in your financial strategy. This includes setting financial goals, creating a plan to reach them and educating yourself on tools and methods that can help you in the process. Whether interest rates are low or high, you’ll always win with this approach.
* This should not be considered tax or investment advice. Please consult a financial or tax advisor if you have questions.
1 The Annual Percentage Yield (APY) for the Online Savings Account as of 02/01/2021 is more than five times the national average APY for interest-bearing savings accounts with balances of $500 as reported by Informa Research Services, Inc. as of 02/01/2021. Interest rates and APYs are subject to change at any time. Although the information provided by Informa Research Services has been obtained from the various institutions, accuracy cannot be guaranteed.
Do you have high hopes that there will be traveling your family’s future, but not quite sure how you can afford it?
You’re not alone. While Americans will spend an average of 10% of their household income on vacationing this year, a full 74% take on debt for their trips. Each of these tips offers you both an easy and effective way to save a substantial amount of money off your next vacation trip. Use them wisely, and you might even be able to squeeze in some extra travel this year.
1. Make use of grocery store prepared food sections
Some people think it’s crazy to not eat at restaurants for all of your vacation meals. Mostly, they want the entire week off from cooking any food.
I don’t blame them (or you) for thinking this. So, what if I told you that you can still avoid cooking all week, and not actually eat out for every single meal?
While vacationing, find your local grocery store with a prepared food section. You can find hot meals for your family – complete with salads and desserts – for much less than what it would cost to eat out. Plus, there’s’ no need to pay a tip.
2. Plan activities around discount times and coupons
You can easily save a bundle on your vacation expenses by planning your activities around available discounts. This doesn’t have to be as limiting as it sounds, it just means you have to be smart about it. For example, you could:
Buy a local Entertainment book and use the tourist coupons that come with it.
Purchase discounted tickets to local attractions and activities on group buying sites (such as Groupon.com, and LivingSocial.com) by entering the zip code of where you’ll be traveling to.
Plan your trip dates around free museum days (I did this on a trip to France, and got in to see the Louvre on its free Sunday of the month).
3. Change the season you travel in
One of the easiest ways you can save on almost all the costs of your next vacation is by simply changing the season that you take it. The time of year you choose makes a huge difference in how much you’ll pay – it’s a simple illustration of supply and demand.
During summertime when kids are out of school and families want to get their vacations in, you’ll pay more. But if you decide to leave for a trip to Disney World one week before schools traditionally let out? Then you’ll not only save yourself tons of waiting time in lines but a lot of money.
In fact, that’s what personally happened to me over five years ago when my husband and I decided last minute to drive to Disney World. It was May, and there were virtually no people around. No lines, no waiting, and hardly a kid in sight.
We asked anyone we could find what was going on, and they said that it would be all-out pandemonium just one week later when their peak season begins (when the majority of kids are out of school). We had unknowingly hit the jackpot, and our cheap hotel bill reinforced that!
Get creative by using winter breaks, trips during the school year, and long weekends in the off-season to save a bundle without even trying.
4. Rethink traditional hotel stays
Next to transportation costs to get to your destination, hotel costs will make the second biggest dent in your budget. With an average cost of $133.34/night to stay in a hotel, you can see how a 5-night ($666.70) or a 7-night vacation ($933.38) can really add up.
One of the easiest ways to save on vacations is by rethinking traditional hotel stays.
Consider options like these, all of which I’ve done myself:
Staying with family or friends
Share a hotel room with family or friends
Book a rental with local homeowners instead of with hotels (using sites like AirBnB or Vrbo)
Use hotel deal sites to snatch up unfilled rooms (such as Secretflying.com, and TheFlightDeal.com)
5. Consider group travel
Traveling in groups allows you to pool your money for better rates. My husband’s family, for example, likes to go all-in on a beach house for a long weekend in Galveston. We generally get a 5 to 6-bedroom rental right on the beach, and the cost is just $200-$300 per family for 3-4 nights. If we were to travel on our own, we would never be able to afford such a nice place.
Not only that, but if your group travel entails a road trip, you may be able to carpool with someone to save on gas costs. And if you split up meal prep duties between families like we do? You not only have to cook only once or twice per stay, but you don’t have to eat out in restaurants the whole time.
Another way to secure travel savings in groups is by going after group discounts. Whether booking excursions, airfare, or anything else with a travel agent or by yourself, be sure to ask about possible group discounts.
Don’t forget to shop around
Pricing for hotels, airfare, and things to do can vary greatly. Don’t just visit a company’s website and assume that’s the best price. Check a number of sites — including discounters like Priceline — and look for package deals. You should also consider looking for less-traditional sources for booking trip. Warehouse clubs Costco and Sam’s Club, for example, offer deals on travel (sometimes very good ones).
It’s also important to use any discounts you have coming your way. Are you in AAA? Does someone in the family have a trade association membership that offers special deals? Check and you might unlock a special deal. Use these “work smarter, not harder” strategies when it comes to saving money on your next vacation, and you won’t have vacation debt lingering for months after your return.
Today’s simple graphics will enlighten you on the power of baby steps and the potency of small repeated marginal gains.
A Baby’s Growth
It’s easy to overlook the rapid growth that humans undergo.
At first, we’re a helpless whiny lump that’s capable of only three things: eat, sleep, bathroom. This baby, one might assume, must have a pretty low ceiling.
Fast forward two full years and…ok, some progress has happened. Our baby is now zooming around of her feet, and she’s babbling, and she’s feeding herself, albeit poorly. These are some true baby steps. Small progress. But this is largely still a helpless child.
By age five, she’s talking. That’s cool. She can eat food without spilling, she can read (whoa!), and she can run around. Compared to an adult, she’s small and weak and dumb (sorry, it’s true!). But there’s been fantastic progress.
I won’t go much further. We know that brains and bodies continue to grow into adulthood. And we know that adult humans are capable of amazing accomplishments. But the path from helpless whiny lump to amazing adult—that path was walked one baby step at a time.
Let’s bring back Wallace
Remember Wallace from “The Best Time to Invest?”
He’s back, and he’s trying to improve himself via a similar baby step method. What’s he improving?
It could be anything, financial or otherwise. Perhaps Wallace wants a fully funded emergency fund. He wants to eat a healthier diet. Or maybe he wants to be a better writer.
I’m going to refer to these improvements as levels. Wallace is at Level 1 right now. He’s a whiny helpless lump, but he’s looking to grow.
Wallace is going to focus on building towards his goals using a simple 1% improvement every week. Whatever the goal, whatever the skill. Wallace’s wants to take baby steps of 1% improvement each week.
Wallace’s will improve from 1.00 to 1.01 in Week 1.
And then he’ll improve from 1.01 to 1.021 in Week 2.
Slowly but surely, Wallace will progress. His level will improve.
But baby steps are slow
Baby steps are slow. And that’s why baby step improvements can be frustrating (at least for adults—not so much for babies). Take a look at Wallace’s first year of progress. It’s that little blue streak at the bottom of the plot.
Whether he’s saving money or writing a blog or improving at chess, Wallace has barely made any progress (at least, based on my chosen Y-axis).
But Wallace is a grinder. He believes in the power of baby steps. So he continues to focus on weekly 1% improvements for two more years.
Ok! At least Wallace’s growth is no longer looking like a flat line. Let’s fast forward another couple years.
Wallace hits the curve
After five years, it’s apparent that Wallace is starting to “hit the curve.” His 1% improvements no longer look like a straight line. Instead, those improvements are building on one another in a compounding manner.
When he started, Wallace was at “Level 1.” His 1% improvement was tiny—1% of 1 is 0.01. But after hundreds of 1% improvements, he’s now around Level 13. The 1% improvements now increase his level by 0.13 each week. In ~6 weeks of Year 5, Wallace grows more than he did the entire Year 1.
All styles of exponential growth exhibit this behavior. Growth compounds on growth. The early steps feel slow, barely making progress. The last steps feel monumental. But those monumental steps wouldn’t have been possible without the years of slow progress beforehand.
Many 4-year olds can’t read, but many 9-year olds can read chapter books. Five years of consistent practice can bring a sea change of improvement.
It’s just like the parable of rice filling up a chessboard.
The curve continues to steepen through Year 10. Now at level 177, the idea of being at level 1 is a distant memory for Wallace. It’s just like the idea that “a lot can change in ten years.”
But are baby steps always possible?
I’ve shown you an assumed scenario where Wallace is always able to make 1% improvements. And maybe that’s too ambitious of an assumption.
Even if Wallace hits the top of his game—like Lebron, Adele, or Meryl Streep—he will probably hit some sort of plateau. You can’t necessarily get better forever. But the goal doesn’t need to be infinite growth. Instead, the goal is to find an effective mindset to achieve growth. And that’s what the baby step method provides.
A widely shared story of baby steps involves coach Dave Brailsford’s leadership of the British Cycling team.
Brailsford’s vision expanded beyond training and racing and physical attributes. Instead, Brailsford wanted to improve every aspect of a cyclist’s life—diet, sleep, even relationships. Of course, it included their training and recovery and equipment, too. Brailsford was thinking about baby steps. If he could find 70 different places to make a 1% improvement, the cyclists would end up 100% better (1.01 ^ 70 = 2). Sounds easy, right?
They bought more comfortable pillows to help the cyclists sleep through the night. They cut out refined foods, replacing them with something nutritious. The team considered every component on the bicycle where mass could be reduced, even if only by a gram.
These small improvements worked wonders.
Under Brailsford’s leadership from 2007 to 2017, British cyclists won 5 Tour de France titles. And they won 66 Olympic or Paralympic gold medals. Oh, and they won 178 world championships. British cycling dominated the world cycling scene.
Baby steps work.
Baby steps in personal finance
There are plenty of opinions about simple financial goals that you can add to your baby step to-do list.
Unburying yourself—from debt, from bad habits, etc.—isn’t a one step process. It takes time. And it requires small improvements. You know—baby steps.
You can earn money in bits and pieces. A little raise here, a side hustle there. You can find odd jobs or use smartphone apps that pay you money. Little baby steps all over.
College loans and mortgages can take decades to repay. Learning a new budgeting system requires patience. The math behind interest rates might take a few attempts to understand. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And your personal finance success will take time too. But it’ll come if you stick with it.
This plot shows the small baby steps I’ve made over the past two years. In blue are my slow and steady investments. In red is my slow and steady debt payoff. And the white circles combine the two to show a steady increase in net worth.
Winning the lottery would be cool. So would investing in next Amazon, Apple, etc. while they’re still a startup. But if I don’t get that lucky, I’ll be ok. My baby steps are slowly building up.
Keep on Growing
Take it away, Clapton!
And, as always, thanks for reading the Best Interest. If you enjoyed this article and want to read more, I’d suggest checking out my Archive or Subscribing to get future articles emailed to your inbox.
And thank you to Feedspot for including me in their Top 100 personal finance blogs. What an honor! Gotta keep on growing…
If you have a business you’re trying to get off the ground, you’ll want to register for the Influence & Impact Summit! This is a FREE online event that features over 20 speakers to help you learn how to maximize your influence and impact with your business or brand.
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