Purchasing your next vehicle: Principles to consider that will Save You Money

If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember this post from a month ago: A Minivan instead of a SUV? Well, we have an update! Here’s my FB status from yesterday:

There’s no cheaper vehicle than the one that you own. While this is true, eventually it’s time to walk away and say good-bye. The Jeep (15 yrs old) has served us well. We are now proud (and unashamed!) owners of a minivan. Yes, we only have one child but you can’t find a better value for your money (when comparing to SUV’s). Looking forward to picking up our new-to-us vehicle on Monday!

As we say good-bye to trusty rusty, I’ve been reflecting on some principles re: owning and purchasing a vehicle that are wise to consider. Here are some of those:

  1. keep driving your vehicle after you’ve finished your monthly payments. the cheapest vehicle really is the one that you own. even if you put $1,000/yr into your vehicle in repairs, you are still farther ahead than if you had car payments. many people trade in their vehicles before they are paid off or as soon as they are paid off and lose out on the financial freedom that zero car payments provide.
  2. when you no longer have car payments, put the money you are saving now into savings. you will need another vehicle at some point. instead of increasing your living expenses, set aside that money for your next vehicle and you may never have a car payment again! Amazing, right? It is!
  3. unless there’s unusual circumstances (ex: you work for a car company and get a significant discount), don’t buy a brand new vehicle. the greatest depreciation for your vehicle is within that first year. we bought a 2014 dodge caravan. it’s only been on the road for 15 months. we paid anywhere between $14,000-$20,000 less than what the original owner bought it for new. Crazy.

I hate spending money on a vehicle. They are a horrible investment. But given where we live (no bus system), we need a vehicle to work, shop, etc. We hope that our new purchase will last us 15 yrs. Who knows, maybe our daughter will learn to drive on this minivan. Now that’s a crazy thought!

Preparing for baby: make Freezer Meals!

http://www.southernliving.com/food/whats-for-supper/easy-freezer-meals
http://www.southernliving.com/food/whats-for-supper/easy-freezer-meals

There are lots of ways to prepare for welcoming a baby into your home. Attend childbirth or adoption classes. Decorate the nursery. Create a baby registry. But there’s one thing that’s often missed that pays huge dividends: making freezer meals. Far too few do this but those that do will tell you that they are so glad that they did! I’m 3 months into being a new mom and haven’t had to make a dinner meal yet unless I wanted to/had time to. This equals less stress + healthier eating + saving money (if we didn’t have freezer meals to pull from we’d be eating lots of take-out to survive those early weeks). If you are expecting a little one, here’s some tips in getting your freezer stash started:

1. Buy a separate freezer. The freezer part of your fridge will likely not cut it. If you can’t afford to have a chest freezer you can still make meals that will fit in your fridge freezer (just not as many).

2. Start early. I’d recommend start as soon as possible on freezing meals. I was shocked to learn that food that’s properly frozen/sealed can last for years in your freezer and still be safe to eat. For freshness sake, I’d recommend eating your frozen meals within 6 months of making them.

3. The easiest way to start building up your freezer stash is to make double of whatever you are cooking for dinner and freeze half of it. Even if dinner turned out to be only so-so, you’ll be glad you have a meal option later when baby is here!

4. Plan a freezer food party with some friends. It helps if one person is willing to organize it and others show up and help split the cost. For the freezer party that I went to, one girl organized all of the recipes and did the shopping (amazing!). We each did some of the food prep at home and then got together (i.e. I chopped 30 green peppers ahead of time). The husbands came along and chopped raw chicken while watching the football game. We ended up spending 5 hours together and made 5 different meals for the crock pot (we froze everything raw). In that one afternoon, I walked away with 30 crock pot dinners to freeze and use later. 30! Tip: stick with one type of meat for a bunch of different meals. And we couldn’t have made that many meals without the guys help!

5. Don’t make the mistake that I did and only make dinner meals. I really could have used frozen snacks in those early days with a newborn (such as muffins). Make a variety of foods in addition to having your dinners taken care of.

Final tip is to label everything: what the food is AND the date that it was made. I kept a paper list of everything so I could send my husband down to the basement with what needed to be eaten next (we ate items in order that they were made). Oh and freezer bags worked well for both seal/freshness and space saving as you could flatten the meals out and stack them on top of each other.

I’m sorry that I don’t have recipes to share right now. My friend was in charge of the recipes for our freezer party. If I can get my hands on those, I’ll share them!

I can promise you that if you decide to make meals to freeze before your little one arrives that you won’t regret it. Well, maybe you’d regret if it there was a power outage and you lost all your food. ha! But that’s not going to happen 🙂 Put away a freezer meal a week and you’ll be so glad that you did. Bon appetite!

5 tips for Financial Planning after having a baby

We have a baby. An 11 week old baby. Totally dependent on us for her daily needs but also dependent on us for her future. Daunting, isn’t it? It’s time. It’s time to re-evaluate our finances and start saving for her future. They say that you can never start too soon. Trying to get our ducks in order, here’s what we are in the process of working on:

1. Change our Life Insurance Policy. What we currently have on file is not enough now that there’s a child in our family. If you don’t have a life insurance policy – please make this happen asap. Term Life Insurance is inexpensive. Currently, Derek and I are paying about $20 a month for both of us to be covered. Yes, you may never need life insurance but if something were to happen to one or both of you it could make the difference between surviving and extreme financial stress and ruin.

2. Open an Education Fund. In Canada, this could be an RESP (Registered Education Savings Plan) or take the form of another type of savings account or investment. This is one area where every little bit counts and if you start early, your child reaps the benefit of all those years of interest.

3. Write a Will. When you have a child it’s important to have a Will that outlines your wishes re: legal guardianship. If something were to happen to both parents, the Will would help family members know who you’d like to raise your child, what you’d like done with your money and belongings, etc.

4. Start saving now for ways that you’d like to support your child as a young adult. This could be to help pay for their wedding, a down-payment on a house, etc. Yes, these are luxuries but if you put a little away now it can reap huge benefits in 20 years. For example, if you were to save $50 a month over the next 20 years, you’d have $12,000 + interest!

5. Get good at Budgeting. Clothing and other Children’s items can really add up. Find ways to save such as second hand shopping or only getting something if it’s on-sale. Curbing impulse buying now can help ensure there’s more funds available for your child’s future. My mother made us wear hand-me-downs and while I didn’t like it at the time, I’m so glad that she did. She was saving money for our future and as a result, I was able to attend my dream school.

Have you started to plan for your child’s financial future? Do you have any tips to add to this list? I’d love to hear from you!

How to save money on baby’s nursery

Your baby can have this crib for $65,000 http://financesonline.com/10-most-expensive-newborn-items-fit-for-a-royal-baby/
Your baby can have this crib for $65,000
http://financesonline.com/10-most-expensive-newborn-items-fit-for-a-royal-baby/

You’ve likely heard that having a baby is expensive. It sure doesn’t help that there’s this 1st world pressure to have a stellar nursery. If you aren’t careful, you can spend thousands of dollars on the nursery before it’s all said and done. It seems a bit strange of an investment when a) the baby really won’t appreciate all the $$ and time you spent b) that money could be better spent elsewhere (say starting a college fund). So whether your budget is tight due to finances or if its just your preference to not go overboard on the nursery, here’s some money saving tips:

1) look around your house to see if there’s any furniture or decorations that you’d like to use in the nursery. you can’t get much cheaper than using items your currently own! you may be able to use the item as-is or do creative touch up (paint?).

2) what item in the nursery is most important to you? which items are you willing to “go cheap” on? deciding this ahead of time should help you to stick to your priority spending plan.

3) think about the crib. do you plan to use it again for future children? if so, people often recommend a wood finish vs. a white crib (but I’ve seen a boys nursery’s with a white cribs and it totally worked). how much are you willing to spend on a crib? what’s your max? a new crib tends to range in price from $150 to $1,000+!

4) buying your furniture separately (not going the set route) tends to save a lot of money. this may mean that an espresso colour from one store isn’t the exact same espresso colour at another. you’re likely to be the only one who notices this. another option is to have non-matcy furniture for a chic look.

5) putting a change pad on top of a dresser (instead of buying a change table) will save you space and money.

We aren’t finished our nursery yet but are well on our way.  99% of what we’ve purchased already for baby was on-sale. The nursery is no exception. We ended up getting a graco crib that went on clearance for $125! The area rug was 50% off. We plan to use a dresser that we currently own in the nursery for additional storage and as the change table.

What’s next for us: finding a children’s bookshelf (we may be able to use one that we currently own), and hoping that we can snag a great deal on a glider chair. After that we have the task of decorating the walls! I’ve thought through various themes for a nursery and so far, none of them have come together. I’m leaning towards a no-theme nursery. We’ll see!

If you have any experiences or tips to add re: how to save money when decorating a nursery, please leave a comment below. Thanks!

Tips for saving money when preparing for a baby

baby stock photo. doesn't he look so cheeky? ;)
baby stock photo. doesn’t he look so cheeky? 😉

It has been said that having a baby isn’t cheap. I’m finding this to be true already. But there are ways that you can save money as you prepare for your newborn’s arrival. Here are 5 tips:

1. If you expect to have a baby shower, don’t buy any clothes. You just don’t know how much clothing (any what types) you’ll be receiving at your shower. Wait. And when you do purchase clothing, try not to be sucked in by all the cuteness. Look at the price tag. And make sure to check out items on-sale and second hand.

2. Create a baby registry (even if you don’t have a shower) early on. I’d say by 20 weeks at the latest. This way you have a list of the items that you need to buy before baby arrives. When you register early, you’ll be able to notice certain items go on-sale and snag them at a good price.

3. Check out maternity wear at 2nd hand stores first. I picked up a really nice pair of Thyme maternity pants for $5!

4. Everything in the nursery doesn’t need to match perfectly. For example, you can buy your crib at one place (when there’s a good sale) and a dresser somewhere else. When dealing with white, it’s almost always bound to match up well. With brown wood stains, there may be some variances but you should be able to get something close. Or be daring and pick a bold color for the dresser that obviously doesn’t match the crib. Not buying all of your nursery furniture from the same “set” often saves you a lot of money.

5. Don’t reveal the sex of your baby. This is said to help aid in receiving practical gifts at your baby shower instead of receiving more pink OR blue newborn clothing than you know what to do with.

What helped you to save money as you prepared for having a baby? Or if you are currently expecting to add a baby to your family, what do you plan to do to help cut down on costs?

How to afford to travel

I have people say to me that they would love to travel but don’t have the money for it. In many cases, if I can afford to travel, they certainly can! I am convinced that more people living in the 1st world could afford to travel if….. if it became a priority. My husband is a pastor and I am a social worker. Together, we have been to: Mexico, Northern Ireland, Puerto Rico, spent a month in Australia, California, Grand Cayman Island, and various other places in the US and Canada. I don’t say this to brag by any stretch but to demonstrate that it is possible to travel with average incomes and to do so without going into debt! Here’s how we’ve done it:

1. we bought a house with only one of our incomes (instead of getting a mortgage based on two incomes). we could have become house-rich and life (i.e. travel) poor by purchasing a home grander and bigger than we really need. instead, this decision has freed up some cash to put more money towards paying off debt and for travel.

2. we evaluated our priorities. for us, it is more important to be able to travel then to buy newer/better vehicles. we are happy driving our current vehicles as they are paid for in full. having one less bill frees up money to afford to travel.

3. we cut costs in little ways that add up over time. for example, I don’t pay for parking @ work. instead, I park for free and walk 10 minutes to my office. sure, it can be inconvenient in the cold, rain, and snow, but it saves us $50-60 dollars per month. we also don’t have internet or cable at home. small “sacrifices” for us that add up over time and helps there to be room in the budget for travel.

We’ve tried to live our life in balance. We are passionate about being debt-free and living within our means. We also realized that if we wait to have our mortgage paid off to travel, we could be waiting quite a while. We want to do some traveling as we are young and more energetic. So we’ve tried to strike a balance between paying off debt AND travel.

Maybe it’s snobby of me to assume that many people in the 1st world that want to travel but say that they can’t afford to really can. Besides the need to make it more of a priority with regard to budgeting, it also depends on where the person would like to travel. Certainly some places are out of reach for most. I still believe that many could travel debt-free if there was more planning and intentionality given to it. It also comes down to delayed gratification. What I want today (i.e. take out, a new outfit) is at war with what I want ultimately a year from now. For us, as long as we have our memory, we are grateful for making traveling a priority. There are times that we reflect on certain trips and experiences and its pure gold. We wouldn’t trade those experiences for any material possession.

If you are seriously thinking that you’d like to make some budget/lifestyle changes to help afford travel, I encourage you to sit down and plan, plan, plan. You may be surprised with what you are capable of with intention, desire and perseverance!

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Date Night Ideas for $10 or less

While engaged, we had several people strongly recommend that we guard and protect a weekly date night. For the most part, Friday nights have been our date nights. Date nights are a wonderful time to re-connect and have fun together.

Playing board games can be a fun date night!
Playing board games can be a fun date night!

While the positive benefits of date nights for a marriage are numerous, there are really two common themes why couples don’t go on date nights. The two biggest reasons for couples not going on date nights are: 1) children and 2) money. Children certainly make date nights more challenging. There’s both the scheduling and paying for a babysitter. Yet, I do know several married couples with children who go on weekly date nights. I have heard the argument that it’s even more imperative to have weekly date nights while raising young children.

Financially speaking, date nights do not need to break the bank. While on a budget, date nights require creativity. Here are frugal date night ideas that we have done:

– coffee at Starbucks and an evening of reading in Chapters ($10 for the drinks)

– hike through a local conservation park ($3 in fuel to get there and back)

– found local (free) events such as the Buskers and walked around ($7 for fuel)

– rented a movie and bought snacks for our @ home date night ($5-10)

– half price apps at a local restaurant ($8+ tip)

– gone biking (me) and rollerblading (hubby) on waterfront trails ($7 in fuel)

The list could go on and on. Sometimes our date nights include face-to-face time which means we spend a lot of time talking (something females tend to prefer). Other times it’s side-by-side activity (something males tend to prefer) where we are doing something fun together but it’s not really heart-to-heart time. Both are OK and necessary in a relationship. But now you are left wondering, how do parents achieve $10 or less date nights when they require a babysitter? Here are a few ideas:

– see if there are any family members or friends willing to babysit for free

– if you have friends raising children as well, see if they will babysit yours for your date night and then offer to babysit theirs for their date night

– sometimes date nights can be done by staying in. just be intentional that one (or both of you) doesn’t fall asleep on the couch or isn’t doing laundry during date night!

In regards to money and date nights the popular saying, “where there’s a will there’s a way” is true. Are you now or have you ever been intentional about date nights? I’d love to hear about it by you leaving a comment below. If you have other ideas for affordable date nights, I’d love to hear them!