Money

30 Under $30: Holiday Gift Guide for Him

I know I'm not alone. Every year I browse through holiday gift guides and find myself saying, "These items are great but some of them are a little pricey." I want affordable gift ideas! Let's keep your holiday shopping on a budget this year with my 30 Under $30 series.

Today I'm rounding up 30 of the best gifts for men, each of them with a relatively cheap price tag.

P.S. One of the best ways to overcome the "I don't know what to buy" syndrome is to keep track of gift ideas throughout the year. I record every little gift idea my husband mentions in my Notes app on the iPhone. If you didn't do this, don't panic. There's always next year! Here are a few ideas tohelp you out in the meantime.

*This post contains affiliate links. Please read my Disclaimer for more information. Every effort was made to ensure these prices were accurate and up to date, but please be aware that they may be subject to change. 


 

  1. Kansas City Royals Baseball Cap, $13.97 
  2. Stanley 19-Inch Toolbox, $15.99
  3. Victorinox Swiss Army Classic SD Pocket Knife, $12.97
  4. Van Der Hagen Luxury Shave Set, $22.94
  5. Tommy Hilfiger Men's Xavier Plaid Slim Tie, $29.99
  6. Great Northern Original Stainless Steel Stove Top Popcorn Popper, $29.67
  7. Tommy Hilfiger Mens Ranger Wallet, $21.99
  8. Spalding NBA Street Basketball, Official Size, $12.99
  9. Big Bang Theory: Season 8
  10. Mr. Bar-B-Q 18-Piece Stainless-Steel Barbecue Set with Storage Case, $20.99
  11. The Martian - Paperback, $9.00
  12. Thermos Stainless Steel Travel Tumbler, $23.70
  13. Tommy Hilfiger Men's Buffalo Check Scarf, $29.99
  14. Kenneth Cole Black by Kenneth Cole, $30.92 (forgive me for the 92 cents. This one's just so good!)
  15. LOHA Premium Camera Lens for iPhone and Android, $26.99
  16. MEAT: Everything You Need to Know, $26.48
  17. Timex Men's Easy Reader Watch, $30.00
  18. Libbey Craft Brews Beer Flight 6-Ounce Clear Pilsner Glass Set, 5-Piece, $24.50
  19. MEE audio Sport-Fi M6 Noise Isolating In-Ear Headphones, $17.99
  20. Barware Gear: Wall Mounted Beer Bottle Opener, $9.89
  21. Logitech M570 Wireless Trackball, $26.95
  22. DKnight Magicbox Ultra-Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker, $25.99
  23. Pilot Metropolitan Collection Fountain Pen, $16.30
  24. Honest Amish Beard Balm Leave-in Conditioner, $12.87
  25. Tile (Gen 2) - Phone Finder. Key Finder. Item Finder, $25.00
  26. KRUPS Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder with Stainless Steel Blades, $19.90
  27. Dockers Men's 38mm Leather Bridle Belt, $21.99
  28. Death Wish Whole Bean Coffee, The World's Strongest Coffee, $19.99
  29. adidas Team Speed Medium Duffel Bag, Black, $27.00
  30. Timberland Men's Knit Magic Glove with Touchscreen Technology, Charcoal, $8.99

Just Released! Shop Amazon's Black Friday Deals Today

This post contains affiliate links. Please read my Disclaimer for more information.

You and I want to get the BEST deals this holiday season and it looks like Amazon has got us covered! Hooray!

Amazon has begun it's Countdown to Black Friday Deals Week sales. Just follow that link to get your fingers on the hottest deals and limited-time sales. New deals are added every single day until November 19!

Some of these deals are available to Amazon's Prime members even earlier so be sure to sign up if you haven't already. The savings could more than pay for the Prime membership. And if you've never been a member before, you may be eligible for a free 30-day trial.

I'm a fairly recent fan of online shopping. There's no carrying around a diaper bag or fighting the crowds. I can shop in my pajamas while my little one quietly plays or takes a nap. Last year, I did nearly all of my Christmas shopping online. It looks like this year will be the same!

What is the best Black Friday deal you've ever found?

10 Ways Having a Child Will Affect Your Budget (and How You Can Save) - Part 2

You can find information on thrifty tips and spending traps in Part 1 of this post.

Are you thinking about having a baby or adopting? Congratulations! Having children is the most monumental step you can take in your life. Their love is irreplaceable and your life is going to become beautiful in a way you never imagined.

But before you get caught up in the bubbly excitement and start saving nursery ideas on Pinterest, let's talk about the financial impact a child can have on your budget. I know that doesn't sound like much fun but it's always a good idea to be prepared where money is concerned.

We've already gone through the first 5 ways your budget will be affected so let's finish off the rest in this post.

6. Gear & Necessities

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. This may sound confusing but to save money in the long run, you should splurge on baby gear that really counts. Never skimp on safety items like car seats just to save a few dollars. We tried an affordable option and it was a waste of time and money.
  2. Ask your mom friends if they'd be interested in having a baby stuff swap.
  3. Browse your local classifieds, consignment sales, and thrift stores for items that have a short useful life, such as swings, bouncers, etc. There's no rule that says everything should be purchased brand new.

Spending Traps:

  1. Expensive swings and fancy bath tubs are nice luxuries to have but if you need to cut corners, start there. My friend purchased the $270 mamaRoo swing brand new and only used it 3 TIMES before her son grew out of it. What a waste!
  2. Resist the temptation to purchase any upgraded version of a base model. In most cases, you won't miss the special features when you can have extra money left in the bank.

7. Schooling/College

Education is one of the best investments you can make in your child's upbringing. But don't worry if you're on a budget. There are still many ways you can save without sacrificing the quality of their schooling.

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. Keep an eye out for special Back to School sales. A lot of retailers will mark down some school supplies to $0.50 or even $0.25.
  2. Take advantage of Sales Tax Holidays (tax-free days) when purchasing school supplies. Just remember to arrive early so you can beat the crowds!
  3. Begin planning early if you're worried about saving enough money to cover pricey tuition. Plans like a 529 College Savings Plan, Prepaid Tuition Plans, or a Roth IRA are all great options to explore for college expenses. You should also look into a tax-deferred Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA) as it can be used for higher education and primary and secondary education costs.
  4. Save money on college textbooks by renting them or purchasing used copies. I'm a personal fan of CampusBookRentals. (*This is not sponsored in any way. I just really loved using this company!)

Spending Traps:

  1. Resist the temptation to buy brand new items every single year. If your child has an old binder that's still in good condition, re-use it and spend the money elsewhere. Why replace something if it's not broken?

8. Travel

Costs add up quickly when you add a new travel buddy to the group. As children get older they eat more and take up more space, adding to your food, hotel, and transportation costs.

Related Post: 7 Ways to Save Money on a Road Trip

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. The easiest way to save money on food is to bring it yourself. Pack a cooler full of sandwiches, nuts, fruit, and other snacks to get yourself started.
  2. If you're flying, check with the airline to see if your child is young enough to sit in your lap to save the cost of buying an extra ticket.

Spending Traps:

  1. Gas stations are the easiest spending trap to fall into. Avoid paying $1.00 per water bottle and simply buy a 24 pack from the grocery store for a fraction of the price.
  2. Lack of preparation can cause you to miss out on some great perks when it comes to lodging. I'm a huge fan of signing up for a hotel rewards program and consistently using the same hotel (within reason) to rack up points. This has given me free breakfast and wifi perks, as well as a couple of nights for free.
  3. Overpacking can turn into a spending trap if you find yourself paying for luggage that's over an airline's limits. Save yourself the hassle and the money by weighing your bag at home before you travel.

9. Electricity

I'm always a little impressed by the fact that our son isn't even tall enough to reach the light switch but is still making our energy bill just a bit more expensive.

Related Posts: 7 Ways to Cut Your Electricity Bill

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. Extra dishes and a dirty clothes will increase the number of times you run your appliances. Try to limit their use to the evening so the air conditioning won't have to fight so hard to keep your home cool.

Spending Traps:

  1. Constantly plugged in gadgets (even if they're turned off) are still using energy. Purchase an affordable power strip and turn the switch off when their items aren't being used.

10. Extracurricular Activities/Sports

My son is only 15 months but I'm still faced with the pressure to have him involved in multiple, expensive activities. Swimming lessons in my area cost almost $100 for only ONE visit per week. That's insane!

Related Post: 15 Activities to Help Survive a Spending Freeze

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. Learn how to use the powerful "No." If your child is younger, utilize this magical word when your friends pressure you to sign up for something your kid really doesn't need.
  2. If your child is older, be honest about how much your budget can afford to spend on extracurricular activities and go over their different options. You'd be surprised at how mature kids can be when given the facts and the power to choose between a list of options.

Spending Traps:

  1. Did I ever tell you about how we used to be involved with every free activity in our area, Monday through Friday? Yes, the activities were free but the cost of gas and impromptu fast food lunches were costing us a fortune. Look at how the entire day (not just the activity) may affect your budget.

Raising a child definitely costs a lot of money and it takes a bit of strategizing to make everything balance out nicely.

I certainly wouldn't recommend trying to get pregnant on the idea that diapers and formula will just magically appear. But the cost of raising a child doesn't have to be as overwhelming or as expensive as you think. Awareness is one of the best ways you can begin to be financially prepared to have a baby.

What do you think is the most surprising cost of having a child? 

10 Ways Having a Child Will Affect Your Budget (and How You Can Save) - Part 1

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my Disclaimer for more information. 

"Babies are expensive."

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me this while I was pregnant, I'd still be living off of the proceeds.

The United States Department of Agriculture states that it will cost $245,340 to raise a child, not including college costs. Keep in mind that this figure will depend on multiple factors that will be specific to your family. For example: Public or private school? Daycare or stay at home? New clothes or thrift store finds?

My husband and I budgeted having to spend a certain amount of money during the first year of our son's life, but it actually cost usless than we originally planned. The same situation can be true for you with a little bit of awareness and planning!

Here are 10 areas of your budget having a child will affect, as well as some options for saving money.

Note: This post has been split into two parts because, let's be honest, there is a lot of adjusting when it comes to budgeting for a baby! 

1. Food

For newborns, the obvious budget-friendly option is to breastfeed. But there are cases where you may not be able or may simply choose not to. Either way, your kid needs to eat so count on spending a good portion of money in this area, especially as they grow older.

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. Sign up for manufacturers' formula programs like Similac StrongMoms. They will periodically send out brand "checks" or coupons.
  2. Buy formula in bulk.
  3. Breastfeeding Mamas: Some insurance plans will cover a free breastfeeding pump. I made a 5 minute phone call to my provider and a $200 pump as soon as my doctor was able to fax over proof of my pregnancy. It doesn't hurt to ask.
  4. Meal planning and freezer meals can help you avoid expensive take-out on busy nights. Always be prepared when it comes to hungry kiddos!

Spending Traps:

  1. Stay far away from novelty nursing items until they become absolutely necessary. You typically won't need things like pumping bras or nipple shields in the early weeks following a baby's birth.
  2. For older children, junk food is one of the easiest ways to rack up an expensive grocery bill. Stick to healthy fruits, vegetables, and meats and simply stock up and freeze them when something goes on sale.

2. Diapering

You can save a lot of money by going the cloth diaper route but if that's not your thing (no judgement here, it wasn't for me either) there are still a lot of options to save money.

Be cautious about buying large packages of newborn sizes in only one brand. Your child may be sensitive to some brands and not all retailers are willing to let you return a diaper package that's been opened and used.

Thrifty Tricks:

  1. Once you find a brand that works for your child, you can purchase to your heart's content and save money by buying in bulk, using coupons, or stocking up when there's a good sale.
  2. Subscription services like Amazon Mom can help you save up to 20% off the retail price.
  3. Don't feel like you have to buy the same brand in wipes as you do your diapers, even for the rewards points. We buy Pampers diapers but find that the affordable Aldi brand wipes work great too.
  4. Some parents take the 50/50 approach to saving money. Use cloth diapers at home during the day and disposable diapers during the night and outside of the home. It's like the happy medium of diapering.

Spending Traps: 

  1. Items like wipe warmers and changing tables aren't considered necessities when you're on a tight budget. Warming the wipes in your hands and placing a changing pad on a dresser can work just as well.

3. Insurance (Auto/Health)

If you're not already participating in a family insurance plan, your costs will likely increase once you add a dependent. Additionally, your car insurance rates will also increase once your child is old enough to drive.

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. Most car insurance companies will offer a discount if your child has participated in a driver training course or is a good student.
  2. Ask your employer if they offer a Flexible Spending Account, which lets you set aside pre-tax dollars for out-of-pocket healthcare costs.
  3. Ask your healthcare provider for a list of all the free services they offer. My hospital offered a free, 24/7 call center with labor/delivery nurses. When I was having complications during my pregnancy, I would just call them and describe my symptoms so we could determine whether or not a paid visit was necessary.

Spending Traps: 

  1. Settling for the first program you come across or not shopping around could leave better deals out on the table. Be patient and compare companies for the best deal.
  2. Pride can cost you in the long run if you're not willing to ask for discounts. There's never any shame in trying to save money so don't feel bad asking your providers if there's a discount you qualify for.

4. Delivery Costs

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. Don't be shy about asking the hospital staff if you can take the baby items in your room home with you. My nurses were practically shoving diapers in my bags as I was leaving and I used every last one in the first 7 days we were home.
  2. Ask your insurance provider for very clear details about what you are financially responsible for during your stay at the hospital. Induction of labor and special room requests are just a few examples of what may not be covered under your plan.

Spending Traps: 

  1. There is a dangerous spending trap my husband and I like to call the hospital cafeteria. Avoid the late night munchies trap by making sure you have snacks and water bottles packed before you go into labor. Preparation is key to saving money when you're having a baby.

5. Clothing

Continuous clothing costs are inevitable because kids grow so darn fast! Don't you wish there was a membership program that would let you exchange clothing your kids have grown out of for larger sizes?

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. Hit the thrift stores, ask for hand me downs, or shop at affordable options like Walmart and Target. I have absolutely no shame shopping the budget-friendly Garanimals brand when my son is constantly growing out of his clothes. Who cares where the shirt came from when he's going to run around and get it dirty anyway?

Spending Traps: 

  1. Personally, I've found that my biggest spending trap is the pressure I get from my fellow moms to have brand loyalty. Just because everyone else is spending $20/shirt doesn't mean you have to as well. Shop alone if the peer pressure is too much.
  2. Buying ahead of season and shopping the clearance racks can be a waste of money if you're not careful. I don't recommend buying ahead of season if your child is still going through major growth spurts since it's hard to guess what size they'll actually be next year.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post!

What do you think is the most surprising cost of having a child? 

11 Reasons Your Budget is Failing

Tired of feeling like your budget isn't working? Here are 11 reasons your budget is failing or might be weak. It could be an easier fix than you think!

Your budget should never be a failure. Detailed? Yes. Exhausting? Sometimes. But an outright failure? Never. And here's why.

Budgets should be created to suit your needs, not someone else's. They are there to help you, not hurt you. They are created as a guide to the happy place of your personal finances. Budgets will help highlight where your finances are going wrong so that you can change them to become stronger.

You're reading this because you're budget may not be working. Are you ready to fix it? Let's take a look at 11 reasons why your budget is failing.

1. There's no organization

Organization is key to getting a clear picture of your financial health. How much are you saving every month? Do you have an emergency fund? What percentage of your income is expenses?

Without organization you are essentially "winging it" which is not something you want to do when it comes to cold hard cash.

2. There is no game plan

Do you know what your long-term goals are with your money? Successful personal finance management is not just about having enough money to pay all of your bills every month. You should also be making strategic financial decisions about how much you spend on food, retirement, housing, fun, and everything else in between.

3. Your expectations are unreasonable

I hate to discourage you from reaching for the stars but sometimes our plans need a wake up call. If $2,000 is the most you can make every month and your goal is to save $10,000 then you'll probably run into a few problems or, at the very least, a TON of overtime work. Be hard on yourself but don't be stupid.

4. There are too many opinions and ideas

How many voices are you listening to when it comes to building your budget and financial plan? Multiple opinions may start to feel overwhelming. If you're trying to please everyone, that needs to stop right now. Heed only the sound advice you're given, then make sure your goals are in line with your future plans and that you're taking steps to see that goal fulfilled.

5. You have no patience

Patience is a virtue but it's also a necessity when it comes to money. The get-rich-quick success story is usually one in a million. I wish paying off debt happened overnight for all of us but it just doesn't. Be patient with your money and yourself or you'll burn out before you give yourself the chance to be successful.

(Pssssst! If you like this blog post, then you will love my book The Beginner's Guide to Budgeting, now available on Amazon.com!)

6. There's a lack of clarity and focus

This ties in with the game plan idea in Reason #2. How clear are you on what your goals are? "I want to save a lot of money" is very different from saying, "I want to save $10,000 by December 31." Make your game plan and then specify exactly what you intend to accomplish within that plan.

7. There's no reevaluation

People change and so do budgets. The budget for an unmarried woman is different from the budget for a married couple with four children. Make a habit of reevaluating your budget at the end of every month. This will help you identify what's working and what needs to be kicked to the curb.

8. You hate the budget you're using

There's a reason you hate the budget you're using and it might be because it was never intended for you. Are you using the 50/20/30 Budget Rule but aren't happy only saving 20%? Change it!

If you're paying off debt and have eliminated those weekly shopping sprees, then yes you are going to hate your budget for a while. But once you see your debt balance slowly decrease you will find happiness in your hard work and dedication. If you consistently hate the budget you're using, it could be time to reevaluate (#7!) and apply some modifications.

9. You have no confidence in your ability to follow through

If you don't think you're going to stick to your budget then you are exactly right. This type of mentality eventually turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you convince yourself it was never going to be successful and you blow your rent money on shoes just to prove it.

Trust in yourself and your financial abilities. You made the budget because you were smart enough to realize you needed one. Following through is just the next step.

10. You aren't prepared for the unexpected

Pregnancies, flat tires, and leaky roofs all have the potential for being very unexpected. The first situation is the only one that is a joyful occasion, while the rest are rather unwelcome. This is where your Emergency Fund should swoop in to save the day. I can't tell you how many rainy day emergency bills we've had to pay on our Jeep. Thankfully, we're never caught in a bind because of our determination to save as much as possible.

11. Expenses are slipping through the cracks

What are you spending your money on?  If you can't answer this question to the dollar then you need to start paying closer attention to your expenses. I'm a huge fan of using the Zero-Sum Method of budgeting because it requires you to have a purpose for every single cent you earn every month. Costs like daily Starbucks or weekly movie trips should be monitored and accounted for at all times. Don't let pennies slip through the cracks!

Look over your budget to see if any of these weaknesses can be found. Sometimes the difference between a successful budget and a failing one is simply identifying weak spots and making a slight modification.

The idea that you can't be successful with your budget is a lie that we tell ourselves to cut some slack on our spending and expenses. Your budget may not be pretty, but as long as it works for you on paper and you have the dedication to follow through, it should work for you in real life.

What are some of the other ways your budget might be failing? 

 Linked Up

Budget Your Money with the Zero-Sum Method

Are you tired of living paycheck to paycheck and never having any savings? Budget your money with the Zero Sum Method to take control of your spending!

Interested in starting a blog and making money from home? I earned my first $200 within 3 months of starting Frugal on the Prairie then went on to earn a full-time income from home about 6 months later! If you're ready to get started, I have a step-by-step tutorial for setting up your domain and hosting here, which can be a headache to figure out by yourself if you've never done it before! I also highly recommend and use Bluehost for my hosting! (<---That's an affiliate link but girl, I never recommend something I don't love or use ;) 


Does your budget need a makeover? I previously talked about the 50/20/30 Method but if it's not for you, then maybe the Zero Sum Method is what you're looking for. The frustrating thing about budgeting is sometimes, despite our best efforts, we find the bank account empty and unable to pay a bill until the next paycheck comes in. Or we may feel like money just slips through the cracks with miscellaneous expenses and purchases.

If you're tired of living paycheck to paycheck or of losing track of where your money is going, then the Zero-Sum Method may be your perfect guide.

How Does the Zero Sum Method Work?

The Zero-Sum Method has two main elements to it.

  1. Every dollar of income should be allocated to a specific purpose so that monthly income minus monthly expenses equals zero
  2. For added financial security, you should use the previous month's income to pay the current month's expenses

This budgeting method works as a powerful tool because it requires you to be purposeful with every single cent of your income by "spending" it. Now before you jump up and head to Target (which I recommend banning, by the way), you should know that the spending you do in this method isn't what we would normally consider spending at all. Categories like savings, charity, etc. are viewed as what you should "spend" your money on.

Also, I know you might be looking at that second part thinking, "Um, that sounds easy to do once you get there but how do I get a month ahead on my paycheck?" I'll give you a few pointers in the step-by-step section down below.

Are you feeling a little confused? Don't run away just yet because it's simpler than you think!

(Pssssst! If you like this blog post, then you will love my book The Beginner's Guide to Budgeting, now available on Amazon.com!)

Zero Sum Method Examples

Good Example:

Total Monthly Income: $3,000

Total Monthly Expenses: $3,000

Monthly Expenses:

  1. Mortgage $1,200
  2. Savings/Emergency Fund $400
  3. Car Payment $200
  4. Auto Insurance $150
  5. Groceries $500
  6. Utilities $150
  7. Cell Phones & Internet $200
  8. Clothing $50
  9. Charity/Tithing $150

*I made this budget extremely basic for the sake of this post. I'm assuming health costs and retirement contributions are already taken out.

This first example falls in line with the Zero-Sum Budget as every dollar has been allocated to a specific purpose, including savings and charity "expenses." Since total monthly income minus total monthly expenses equals zero, we are following the rules perfectly.

Bad Example:

Total Monthly Income: $3,000

Total Monthly Expenses: $2,800

Monthly Expenses:

  1. Mortgage $1,200
  2. Savings/Emergency Fund $200
  3. Car Payment $200
  4. Auto Insurance $150
  5. Groceries $500
  6. Utilities $150
  7. Cell Phones & Internet $200
  8. Clothing $100
  9. Charity/Tithing $100

This next example does not fall in line with the rules as total monthly income minus total monthly expenses equals $200. If you have paid all of your bills, spent all of your fun money, contributed to your savings, and still have a balance, then it's time to adjust your budget.

Zero Sum Method Step by Step Tutorial

Step 1: List all of your income

List all of your income, making sure you underestimate figures for flexible income. Like I mentioned in this post about creating a budget, you need to stop depending on any above average paychecks. It only causes problems if you find yourself coming up short on cash when the flexible income is low.

Step 2: List all of your expenses

It's time to get through the rough stuff! List every expense you normally have and even the extra ones too. Don't be worried about how it looks or how long the list may be. The important thing is that you're taking control of your finances so, whatever you do, don't hold anything back.

It's importatnt to list even your daily Starbucks' coffee or weekly trip to the movies. Excluding even the smallest expenses won't give you the clear picture you deserve to have of your finances.

Step 3: Do the math and make adjustments as needed

Let's look at the Bad Example listed above. Income minus expenses resulted in a leftover of $200. So we adjusted the charity/tithing and savings/emergency fund categories in order to bring the balance to zero. You may find that you need to adjust your expenses up or down. You may need to turn off your cable or lower your grocery bill. Just keep working on the numbers until you reach zero.

Step 4: Use the current month's paycheck to pay next month's bills

For example, you should pay for September's bills with August's paycheck(s).

It is suggested that you live one paycheck ahead of time on the Zero-Sum Budget, though no one's going to penalize you if you don't. This is especially helpful for people who depend on a variable salary as it gives them the added security that their bills will be paid every month.

But actually getting a month ahead of your paycheck can be very difficult. I recommend starting by lowering your expenses as much as possible and finding additional ways to make money.

Tips:

  1. Cut out unnecessary expenses (Check out my Rockstar Budget post on how to tell the difference between needs and wants.)
  2. Sell stuff around the house you no longer want or need
  3. Pick up extra hours at work or find a temporary weekend or night job
  4. Set aside or use your current savings to get a month ahead on your bills
  5. If you receive a paycheck every two weeks (as opposed to the 1st or 15th of the month) you should end up with a few additional checks throughout the year. Be prepared to set these checks aside until you have saved enough to get a month ahead on your bills (Example: Someone who is paid every other Monday might receive 3 checks in the month of August 2015.)

The frustrating thing about budgets is that sometimes we don't know where to start. It can be disheartening to know our personal finances need to change but are stumped with where to begin. This budgeting method provides very clear, easy-to-follow guidelines that can help get you started.

Do you use the Zero-Sum Method to budget your finances? Do you love it or hate it? 

Linked Up

How My Target Shopping Ban is Saving Us $150/Month

My name is Allison and I am addicted to shopping at Target. Tell me I'm not alone here! Please leave a comment saying that yes, you too, cannot leave the store without buying at least one item and it will make me feel so much better. I was recently inspired by my friend Kayla (shoutout to a fellow Kansan!) who is going on her second Shopping Ban. Kayla is a rockstar because she's banning actual categories like books and magazines, not just shopping at Target. But I need to start with baby steps so...

I am banning myself from shopping at any Target location for the entire month of August.

Let me be very clear in saying that there's nothing wrong with Target. In fact, the store is really wonderful and that's my problem. It's too enticing and I am too weak.

How Much We Spend at Target

In the last 365 days we've spent an average of $150/month at Target. This includes a fair mix of home decor, groceries, office supplies, clothing for my husband/son/myself, sporting goods, kitchenware, electronics, and books. I don't buy any of these categories exclusively at Target, but I certainly shop there more than my bank account would like me to.

Why I'm Banning Target from My Wallet

Each time I visit, I am so confident I won't buy anything that isn't on my list. I give myself a little pep talk about how strong I am and how I have explicit control over my money.

And then something shiny catches my eye, like a gold stapler or coffee mug that says "I love you a latte!" And the Dollar Spot section is the worst (best?)! Panic takes over and I find myself saying, "It's all so cheap. Get one of everything!"

I need to take a break from Target because I rarely purchase items I actually need.

Ban Rules

  1. I cannot purchase anything in-store OR online 
  2. Ban is August 1-31
  3. Absolutely no "I couldn't find it anywhere else so I had to go to Target" purchases. If I can't find an item at another store, I have to live without it

What I'm NOT Allowed to Buy

  • Clothing (jeans, pajamas, t-shirts, etc.)
  • Accessories (scarves, jewelry, etc.)
  • Clothing or Baby Gear for my son
  • Candles
  • Home Decor of ANY kind (*sob*)
  • Shoes
  • Purses
  • Kitchen or Dining Supplies
  • Office Supplies
  • Groceries (I've only purchased specialty foods or junk so this won't be a problem.)
  • Books, Magazines, etc.
  • Beauty Supplies
  • Candles
  • Electronics or Device Accessories
  • Sporting Goods

What I'm Allowed to Buy

  • Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

I can see my husband smiling and throwing up his hands in thanks to God as I say this. But I still have access to Wal-Mart and it's extensive selection of paper goods, groceries, and miscellaneous. I'm sure I'll find exactly what I need, even if it doesn't have that Target flair I love so much.

We've really been making wiser financial decisions ever since we moved to Houston and Target has been the one "addiction" I just couldn't move past. Some women love to go to the mall. I love to go to Target.

By eliminating this particular store from my budget, I am essentially eliminating my spending of "Allison's fun money." This is the only place I go to pick up a little something for myself. I'm literally drawing a blank as to where else I'd want to shop and that's a good thing!

Going on a Target Ban is simultaneously difficult and easy for me. It's difficult because I love Target and easy because my wallet hates Target.

Note: Hubby is not forced to go on this ban with me. If he enters Target I will watch him with jealousy and depression in my eyes, but I will NOT follow him in the store. I will avoid the temptation entirely!

Have you ever gone on a shopping ban before? What helped you get through it without going crazy?

6 Steps to Overcome Debt Guilt and Move on with Your Life

How do you overcome debt guilt and move on with your life? Having debt can be like having an irritating dark cloud that constantly takes away the sunshine from your day. You feel loneliness every time your friends go to a restaurant without you. And if you end up tagging along and spending money, you feel the shame for adding on to your debt balance.

"I can't believe I let this happen," is a disheartening thought that can be difficult to silence. But it's time to get over that feeling and move on!

Here's a little backstory to my own debt guilt.

I worked multiple jobs throughout college and was also fortunate enough to receive scholarships and grants. But I still needed student loans. A lot of them.

I should be very clear in saying that I chose to take out student loans instead of slowly paying for one class at a time. With my multiple jobs and time constraints, I estimated it would take almost 12 years to pay cash for the courses as I could afford them (This was assuming my income increased with the cost of tuition. Ha!). I weighed the cost of education versus the cost of time and in the end, education won.

Three months after I graduated, we found out we were pregnant. Hooray! But my extreme sickness combined with our desire to have one parent stay at home convinced us to move from two incomes to one. My husband was supportive and thrilled about the decision. I was ashamed of it.

I constantly told myself, "What kind of independent woman quits working and passes on all of her debt to her husband's shoulders?" Eventually, I overcame these ridiculous self-imposed feelings with the support of my very loving spouse. But I shouldn't have beaten myself up and here's why.

Sometimes we choose to take on debt (mortgage, student loans, etc.) and later question whether or not it was a mistake. For the record, I would still make the same decisions and take the same path but that's a story for another day. If you have a lot of shame or depression about your finances, that's not okay. Yes, you have debt and should try to avoid it at any cost. Save and pay off as much as you can. But you still deserve to live in happiness and you can do it in 6 easy steps.

1. Accept the Problem

First and foremost, you need to accept that your debt is a problem and that it is yours to handle. Don't blame anyone else for your debt, even if it really isn't your fault. Could you have cancelled the credit card if someone else was abusing it? Could you have avoided Target at all costs if you found their home decor section too tempting? Yes and yes.

So repeat after me.

I made a mistake because I am human. But I won't let it define me. I have a goal to pay off my debt and Iwill succeed!

Many times we find ourselves caught in the web of debt because of our resistance to believe we can actually climb out of it. You can climb out of debt but you have to first accept that it's a reality.

Pointing the finger at someone else (even if it's an old girlfriend who took advantage of you and your credit cards) does not help. Also, being in denial or not knowing your exact amounts of debt doesn't help either. Take responsibility.

2. End the Pity Party ASAP

No one appreciates a one-sided conversation. And even more so, no one can stand a pity-me friend.

Yeah, you screwed up. You're in debt. We all understand and trust me you're not alone. But the pity party has to stop now. The only party you should be attending is the one where you celebrate each payment that brings you closer to the balance of $0.

3. Control Your Emotions so You Can Control Your Finances

Ahh guilt. It's the weapon of choice with controlling parents and manipulative friends. It's a brutal and suffocating measure and it loves making you feel bad about your debt. Don't let it! Acceptance is one thing. But never-ending guilt could stunt your enthusiasm to pay off the balances.

Let's think about the term "retail therapy" for a second. Some people (myself included) enjoy a good shopping session to relieve stress or to simply improve their mood. The concept is not foreign. Men and women have been doing it for years in the form of clothing, electronics, partying, and so on.

But notice how being depressed about something could cause you to momentarily lose sight of the bigger picture. When I'm in a bad mood I may think, "Today has been a horrible day and I deserve to buy new clothes to make it better." No, I don't actually deserve them. But in that moment I become weak and usually overspend.

Eat healthy. Sleep more. Exercise and enjoy the fresh air. Keep your body and your mind in good spirits so your finances can stay happier too.

4. Make a Game Plan

Do you think the New England Patriots won last year's Superbowl without a game plan? No way! Any football team will use strategy, have self-awareness, will learn from their mistakes, and maintain an encouraging mindset to win a game.

Treat your finances the same way. Write down every penny you have in debt and put it up where you can see it every day. Place it on your front door so you can look at it whenever you leave the house. Type the amount in the Notes app on your phone and make that your Lock Screen.

Create a realistic timeline and be firm with yourself. If you could pay off your debt in a year but think it will be hard, write that due date anyway. Now is not the time to give yourself slack!

5. Embrace Education & Constantly Evaluate

Knowledge is power when it comes to debt payoff methods. Get to the library, search on Google, or use whatever methods suit you and learn everything you can. Keep in mind that there is no one size fits all financial plan. We are unique individuals with very unique bills. Continue to search for a payoff method that suits your goals and amount of  debt until you find the one that was meant for you.

6. Pamper Yourself with a Pep Talk and a Glass of Wine

When I first started tackling my student debt I became a payment ninja. I closely monitored interest amounts and constantly hustled to earn extra cash to put towards them. Then we had our precious, wonderful, darling baby boy James who also happened to cost a lot in diapers.

For a while, any additional income went towards baby gear and my loan payments went back to their normal schedule. I was disheartened to see the elimination process slow down. But I had a glass of wine, kissed James' baby soft head, and was thankful for everything I still had.

Life gets busy and sometimes the fight against debt slows down. This is okay! The important thing is that you continue to make progress.

Please don't walk away from this post thinking that debt isn't a serious situation. You should never look at your balances and say, "No big deal," because that won't help you move on to a happier life. If you follow these steps you can start to come to terms with your debt and will eventually gain a more upbeat outlook on paying them off.

Do you suffer from debt guilt? How do you overcome it? 

9 Steps to Creating a Rockstar Budget

Not sure how to create a budget? Follow these 9 steps to organize your finances and manage your money.

Every budget should be a rockstar and it doesn't take a tour bus or a guitar to create one. Sometimes we just don't know where to start when it comes to sitting down and taking pen to paper (or keyboard to computer as the kids do nowadays!) to sort out our finances. If you're not sure how your money should be divided by percentage, start bycreating a budget using The 50/20/30 Rule.

If you still feel like the pennies are slipping through the cracks and you don't know why, then you've come to the right place. A rockstar budget is all about gaining a clear visual of where your money is going and how it can improve.

Are you ready to be a rockstar have a rockstar budget in 9 easy steps? Let's get started!

9 Steps to Create a Budget

Step 1: Separate your dependable and bonus incomes.

Potential Problem: The money you're counting on isn't dependable at all. 

In most cases you will have a very clear picture of your monthly income. People generally have a set salary or average number of hours they are scheduled to work every month.

But what if things were more complicated? Say you work as a freelancer (like me) and consider your income the "bonus" income (which is what my family does). How do you handle these flexible income streams?

Please remember that everyone's financial situation is different. But for the sake of this post, my general response is that you need to stop depending on any above average paychecks. I know, I know. Ouch. But I highly discourage you to include projected bonus income in your budget. Only write down the minimum amount you have consistently received for at least a year.

Step 2: Write down all of your expenses.

Potential Problem: Too many expenses slip through the cracks. 

Yes, I'm talking about that weekday Starbucks Cafe Latte we don't think costs very much. If you buy one every morning, Monday thru Friday, it could add up to over $800 a year! That's a clear example of money just slipping through the cracks.

Sit down for as long as you need and write down every expense you can think of. Don't leave anything out, even if you feel a little embarrassed or surprised. Facing the problem head on is the best cure for an unorganized budget.

Step 3: List all of your essentials.

Potential Problem: Your necessities aren't really necessities. 

When you list your necessities I want you to think of the items that give you the basic needs of life. If your car is the only way you can get to work and make a living, then a car payment is a necessity.

Look for any red flag "false necessities." And I give you permission to be a little hard on yourself! Netflix is not a necessity. Trust me, I agree that it feels like it is! But you could still feed, clothe, and house yourself without it so it doesn't belong in this category.

Step 4: List all of your non-essentials.

Potential Problem: All of your non-essentials are under a blanket "Fun Money" category. 

Now let's talk about the things you like to have, but don't need. In this category I list things like clothing allowances, Netflix subscriptions, restaurant outings, etc. I love Netflix but I don't need Netflix to survive.

Now take things a step further and dig through all of your credit card and bank statements. How often do you go to the movies or Happy Hour? Does the number of times have a pattern or a routine to it? Write everything down!

"Fun Money" should not be used to describe everything. If you know you pay for Netflix every month, then it should be marked as "Netflix Subscription." If you go to Happy Hour every Friday then it should be listed under "Happy Hour Fund." The key to a rockstar budget is to be very specific.

Step 5: Crunch some numbers.

Potential Problem: The calculator may become exhausted.  

Now is the time to feel uncomfortable. Once you have all of your income and expenses lined up, start crunching some numbers. Use a fancy calculator if it makes you feel better.

Add every cent of income and be certain to keep the dependable figures separate from the bonus/flexible figures. Now do the same for all of your expenses, keeping the essentials separate from the non-essentials.

Subtract the expenses from the income. What is the result? Is the number negative or positive?

Step 6: Evaluate the results.

Potential Problem: Your balance is negative or too low. 

Is your budget exactly where you want it to be? Hooray!

But if the number you came up with was negative or lower than you're comfortable with, then it's time to make some adjustments.

It's important not to beat yourself up too much at this moment. As disappointed you are with the result, you're not done. You're sitting here with me and trying to find a solution. You're already halfway there to making your budget look and work like a rockstar.

Step 7: Adjust the non-essentials.

Potential Problem: You can't adjust them any further. 

Let's start kicking some of the non-essentials to the curb. List 5 items you are willing to part with or change. Weekday Starbucks coffee, cable, magazine subscriptions, frequent restaurant outings, and Happy Hour are generally some of the first things that go. Invest in some reusable travel mugs and slap a grin on your face because it's going to make your bank account happy.

Crunch the numbers again. Still uncomfortable with the balance? Let's move to essentials.

Step 8: Adjust the essentials.

Potential Problem: You can't adjust them any further. 

Generally the first place to start is with groceries because this section has the most flexibility. Can you meal plan more? Is now the time to start Meatless Mondays? Are you utilizing all of your leftovers?

Keep crunching numbers and making adjustments until everything is stretched as far as it can go.

Still not happy? It's time to take a look at your income.

Step 9: Increase your income.

Potential Problem: You don't have the time to get another job. 

Ugh. Just seeing the heading for this part can be disheartening. I know you're thinking, "If my budget's not working then I have to add a part time job to my already full time one?" Not necessarily! (Although that's fantastic if you're willing and able to do so!)

There are only so many hours in the day and adding another job may not be the option for you. So how can you make some extra cash?

The sky's the limit when it comes to freelancing, turning your hobby into a business, Etsy shops, selling old items, throwing a yard sale, doing online surveys, selling all of your old books/movies, etc. I have a Pinterest board full of resources to help you get started! They won't make you rich but they might help. Just remember not to depend entirely on this form of income since it can be unreliable.

So what's included in a rockstar budget? It will contain enough information so that your finances are understandable, well-defined, and realistic. It's a budget you can refer to and count on so be sure to include all of the following elements:

  1. List of dependable income in a section of its own.
  2. List of minimum bonus/flexible income in a section of its own.
  3. Detailed list of expenses, separated into two categories:
    1. Essentials
    2. Non-Essentials
    3. Adjustments made as needed in the following order:
      1. Essentials
      2. Non-Essentials
      3. List of potential/used opportunities to earn additional income.

How do you create a budget that works for you? What do you do if your budget isn't working?