What I’d Tell My Teen-Aged Self About Money

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer,Laurie Blank.  Laurie is a wife, mother to 4 and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

I’m turning fifty this year. All in all, I’m happy about fifty. Life is good and I’ve learned lessons that have helped us overcome a massive financial mess. But along with the many good decisions I’ve made, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes along with way – many of them financial ones. If I could go back in time and talk with my teen-aged self, here’s what I’d tell her about money.


Money is Always Available…Somewhere

I always had this thought growing up that there was a set amount of money in the world and that either you had it or you didn’t. I grew up believing that whether you were rich or poor was largely out of your control, and we were on the poor side. I’ve learned through side hustling that money is always available somewhere if you’re willing to go out and find it and work for it. The want ads are bustling with opportunities for work, as are sites like Upwork and Craigslist.

The work opportunities out there may not always be pleasing to one’s palette, but they are available. If I could go back and talk to my teen self, I’d tell her not to cling to her job as if it was the only one available, because there’s always other opportunities to earn money for those willing to work to find them.


Mindset Affects Wealth

Since I grew up poor and was taught (inadvertently) that we were destined to be poor, my mindset was that there was no use in trying to change things. I believed this up into my mid-forties, and then I found personal finance blogs.  As I read the stories of dozens of people climbing out from under their debt, I realized that we could too.

From there my husband and I began a long process of figuring out why we were always broke, and we learned that we were self-sabotaging our money management because we’d both been under the false belief that we would always struggle for money. We were piddling away our money on small, useless things like drive-thru meals and cable TV, not realizing the impact those “little” spends were having on our bank account.

We were so lack-minded that we’d start to feel panic if we had a little bit of money in savings. It just didn’t feel right. I know that sounds odd, but when you’ve lived with a belief long enough – no matter how wrong that belief is – anything contrary feels wrong.

We had to teach ourselves that, more than deserving “stuff”, we deserved financial security.  This is what I’d tell 16-year-old me: How you view money affects how much money you’ll have.


Popular Opinion Doesn’t Matter

Growing up poor in the public school system is not fun. I remember being teased about my two-dollar canvas tennis shoes and thrift store jeans. These memories convinced me that “stuff” meant acceptance. When I got my first job in fast food at 15, I spent nearly every dime I made on clothes at the local County Seat (give me a shout if you’re old enough to remember that store J ).

Eventually – but not soon enough – I learned that the pursuit of the approval of the Joneses is fruitless. If I could tell my teen self that, she’d be one rich woman right now.


Thinking Bigger Will Get You Bigger Results

When we were struggling for money and deep in debt, we could never think beyond making it to the next payday and hoping we’d have enough money to pay the bills. If we ended the month in the positive (which didn’t happen very often) it was a good month.

Once we started to pay off our debt, save money and manage our lives differently, we learned to think bigger. Our original goal was to simply have enough money to make it through the month. Then our goal changed to paying off some of our debt. Then we wanted all of our debt gone. Our new goal is financial independence – for the purpose of helping others.

The great thing about learning to think bigger is that it allows you to take others into consideration besides yourself. We now give away more money and “stuff” than we ever have before. We’re making an impact for good on others and aren’t so focused on ourselves. If I could go back in time, I’d tell my teen self to expect more out of life than just making it to the next payday. I’d tell her to think BIG and allow herself to imagine a better future – one where she could journey toward success and help others in the process.

How about you all? What would you tell your teen self about money?  

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/goodncrazy/4833445750/in/

Things I Learned While Traveling to Hawaii

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Marie. You can read more of Marie’s articles over at her own blog, Family Money Values. Enjoy! 

My spouse, one adult son and I recently returned from a trip to Hawaii from the mainland.  Here are a few things I learned while traveling.


Start looking for your airfare early and grab it when it seems like a deal.

I did start looking early – in June for an October flight.  I had read that prices typically go down when you get closer to the travel date.  So when, I saw a great flight (i.e. one that left after dawn and arrived in the early afternoon with just two stops) at a price of around $950 a person, I didn’t snap it up.

As time went by, the flights kept getting worse and the prices higher.  I finally snared three tickets at around $1090 each, but the flight there from the mainland had 2 stops instead of one and it arrived in Honolulu 4 hours later than that great flight I found first.


Don’t count on actually getting the flight you booked.

Unfortunately, this flight went through Dallas and the day we left home, Dallas had weather.  We got on the plane, sat there waiting to take off and the pilot announced that we were delayed due to weather in Dallas and we would get an update on the hour (it was quarter after the hour – so not even an update for 45 minutes).  When the update finally came through, it wasn’t good.  We were allowed off the plane.  Thank heavens my son got right in line to try to re-route.  It took at least half and hour for him to get to the head of the line and we were the last folks to get helped.  We ended up leaving at 12:30 pm instead of 8 am, going to Chicago, then San Francisco then Maui and finally into Honolulu – actually arriving at around midnight their time – which meant that we had been en route for 24 hours.  However, if we hadn’t re-routed, we would have spent the night in the Dallas airport instead!


Book your seats when you book your flight.

I did manage to do this right.  I had 2 tall men with me so I booked them into aisle seats and took the middle seat.  We did get these seats, except the on the re-routed flight.


Travel light – using duffel bags.

The airline we traveled on (indeed most airlines today) charge at least $25 to check one bag and more as the number you check increases.  We already had decided to travel light, just using a carry on and a personal bag.  The airline we traveled on had requirements posted for carry on bags that were smaller than my roll on bag, so I borrowed duffel bags from my other son to take.

I also used a soft side laptop bag instead of a purse – and outfitted my spouse the same way.

It was lucky that we used duffel bags instead of a wheeled carrier as there were multiple legs where folks with wheeled carriers had to be checked prior to boarding.

Update:  On some airlines, you now can only carry on a bag that fits under the seat – you have to pay extra to use the overhead bins!


Wear your heaviest clothes, but stay comfortable.

Since we would be in hot weather most of the time, but were going to see the stars at the Mauna Kea visitor center where the temperature can be below freezing, we needed multiple kinds of clothes.  I wore my heaviest shoes, carried my jacket and wore layers of clothes.  The jacket came in handy as a pillow on the plane.

Be sure to check to make sure your clothes don’t have metal on them though.  One of my shirts had a metal zipper so I got patted down three times at security check points!  Quite embarrassing.


If your flight is delayed, make sure you can still get your rental car.

Knowing we would be late arriving in Honolulu, I checked the operating hours for the rental car agency and saw that it would be close.  I also saw that they wanted to know if you would be late and would hold (maybe) your reservation if you called.

I did call while waiting for a flight in a very noisy airport.  The number I called was supposed to be the local rental agency but wasn’t.  The lady on the phone had to put me on hold and get hold of them to see if they would stay to get my car to me.  Luckily they agreed to have someone there at midnight when we arrived!


Take good ear phones.

I did take ear phones, but they weren’t very good ones.  I had rented a movie on my Kindle to watch in flight, but couldn’t hear it with my cheap ear phones!


Take a blind fold.

Mine came in handy on the two over night flights we ended up having.


Take snacks.

Even 5 hour flights don’t serve much food anymore.


Volunteer to check bags.

Although we wanted our bags with us on the way out, on the way home we eagerly volunteered to check our bags at the gate – complimentary instead of a $25 fee.

On almost each leg, the airline offered to check carry on for free at the gate, saying that the flight was crowded and there wouldn’t be enough room to handle all the carry on bags.

We figured, coming home, it wouldn’t matter if we had to wait to retrieve bags and it wouldn’t be tragic even if they were lost or delayed.  Of course, we kept the laptop bag with our valuables in it with us.


Don’t book advance paid reservations for the first day there.

We wanted to see Pearl Harbor and I figured, with Honolulu time being 5 hours behind ours we would be up early the day after arrival.  I had purchased what is called a Passport ticket – to reserve a time slot to go to the USS Arizona Memorial and to tour the USS Missouri, the USS Bowfin and see the Pacific Aviation museum.  I paid in full in advance for all of us.

Since we needed sleep after our 24 hour travel time, we didn’t want to get up at 7 am to face Honolulu rush hour traffic (which is bad) to get to Pearl an hour prior to our 9 am reserved USS Arizona time slot.  It took multiple phone calls to the reservation center to figure out that we could go see the rest of the stuff later in the day.  Luckily, I had already booked a time slot for the second day to go back to the USS Arizona Memorial in case we wanted to – so we just went the next day to see it.

How about you all? What travel tips do you have to share?

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/8274728646/in/

How My Mom Went From Dirt Poor Single Mom to Comfortably Retired

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Laurie Blank.  Laurie is a wife, mother to 4 and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

When I was a kid we were always struggling for money. I remember my parents having “discussions” about money and how to work things out so the bills got paid. When I was 11, my parents divorced and what was “financially struggling” turned into “dirt poor” as my dad’s income now was shared between two families.

Dad faithfully paid his child support obligations, which covered the $250 house payment and gave us an extra $50 to live on. To say that things were tight was an understatement. There were many times when we had bare cupboards and threats from the power company to turn the heat off in the dead of winter if the bill wasn’t paid. I remember my mom calling and begging my grandma to borrow her the money to pay the heat bill. I remember not being able to afford new clothes. We shopped at thrift stores and only bought what we absolutely needed. I remember wearing $2 canvas tennis shoes while all the other kids were wearing Nikes and Converse.

Today my mom is retired and financially comfortable. Not rich, but comfortable. How did she turn things around for herself and her family? Here are five things she did to get free from being dirt poor and to create some financial stability for herself.


She Taught Herself Valuable Skills

When my parents divorced, mom didn’t have her driver’s license and had no valuable skills for obtaining a job. When she went down to the welfare office to apply for financial support, she saw that they had opportunities for job training and took full advantage of them. She went to classes on how to interview. She bought an old used typewriter at a neighborhood garage sale and brushed up on the skills she’d learned in typing class in tenth grade, even though she hadn’t touched a typewriter in over fifteen years.  She did what she needed to do to make herself marketable to the workplace.


She Learned to Live Within Her Means

When mom first was managing our home and family on her own, we were always short at the end of the month. There were a few months when there wasn’t any food until the welfare check came in a day or two later, and credit cards weren’t an option for a single woman in the 1970’s. Free breakfast and lunch at school fed us kids, but mom would just go without.

Our financial situation changed when someone gave my mom a common sense piece of advice: Pay the bills first and learn to budget the rest and live within your means.

This sounds so simple but it was new information to the woman who had always let her husband manage the money. She began meticulously budgeting and made sure we always had enough to eat and live on. It wasn’t fancy, but all of our needs were provided for. Mom budgets meticulously to this day.


She Made Saving a Habit

Even though my mom’s income was always smaller (her max pay before retirement was $17 an hour) she always, always saved something each month. She contributed to the 401(k) plans where she worked and put a little bit in savings each month. At the time, the small amount she was putting away each month didn’t seem like much, but it grew over the thirty years between her divorce and retirement and she’s still living on it today.


She Learned to Persevere

Mom went through LOTS of tough times in her life after the divorce. She suffered for years from clinical depression. It takes her awhile to learn new skills, so there were many jobs that fired her due to her lack of ability. But no matter what obstacles came her way, mom got up, brushed herself off and moved on. She did her best not to allow failure or discouragement keep her from achieving.


She Redefined “Comfortable”

My mom’s life now is not comfortable by many people’s standards, but she has her priorities in order so that her minimal income (about $750 a month via social security and a smaller sized investment fund) is managed in a way that makes sure the bills are paid but allows for some fun too. Mom’s “fun” these days includes her weekly bowling session with her husband, her brother and sister-in-law. They take advantage of the senior bowling rates and then her and her husband (they have totally separate finances and split all of the bills) split a meal at a local restaurant. She gives herself sixty dollars a week to cover gasoline and other incidentals, entertainment and clothing costs, and gift purchases for birthdays and Christmas. She rarely spends all sixty each week, putting the leftovers in an envelope so that when more expensive weeks come she has the cash to cover them. She doesn’t take vacations or live in a fancy house. She has the same bedroom set and coffee tables she’s had for thirty years.

Comfortable to my mom means she’s able to stay retired and spend her free time with family and friends. She doesn’t at all feel like she’s missing out because of her tight budget. Instead, she’s grateful for all that she has and is happy to have a warm home and loved ones to share her time with.

Mom isn’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but she has all that she needs and a little bit more, and that is perfectly enough for her. She’s learned to look at the positive in life and be grateful for all that she has, and that kind of attitude makes life a whole lot more comfortable, regardless of one’s money situation.

How about you all? Have you ever struggled financially? What did you do to overcome?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/ktoine/7976828799/in/

How I Afforded Christmas as a Single Mom

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Chonce. You can read more articles by Chonce over at her personal blog, My Debt Epiphany. Enjoy! 

Single moms have a lot on their plate especially since they usually act as the single source of financial support for their family.

I was a single mom for about 6 years and I recently got married. Before I met my husband and back when I was still working on establishing my career, I remember that tense feeling I would get whenever the holidays came up.

I know that the holiday season is not just about money and gifts, but I still wanted my son to have a nice Christmas and have all his needs met. Luckily, I was able to meet all my holiday expenses and more while being a single mom and here are a few things I did to make it more affordable.


I Started Saving Up Ahead of Time

I’d recommend that everyone start saving up for the holiday season early especially if you are a parent. I never really spent a ton of money throughout the year so holiday gifts were always a mix of things we wanted and needed.

I kept holiday expenses in the back of my mind as early as July of each year and started to sock away a little cash every month. Sometimes it was small amounts like $20 each pay period, then I gradually increased the amount to $50 and son on. By the end of the year, I had quite a bit of money saved up.


I Picked Up Extra Work

I worked a part-time job with very limiting hours when I was a single mom and this was partly because I was juggling college at the time. During the holiday season, hours at my job picked up a bit and I always volunteered to work extra hours for Black Friday and on special weekends when there was in–store promotions.

Another thing I did was pick up extra shifts doing in-store demonstrations to promote certain products. Being a brand ambassador was a great side hustle for me because the pay was always more than minimum wage and the shifts were short and flexible.

Some days, I’d host alcohol tastings in popular stores for $20/hour. After a 4-5 hour shift, I had made quite a bit of extra money to put toward holiday expenses.


I Joined Holiday Sponsor Programs

The holiday season is all about giving. When you don’t have a lot, it’s okay to be open to receiving help as well. When I had a low income and was a single mom, I would sign up for holiday gift programs where sponsors help provide Christmas gifts for kids in the community.

There were quite a few groups and organizations that provided kids with gifts like local churches and the Salvation Army. Some programs had income limits for families to meet since they wanted to make sure they were serving families in need but for a lot of programs, household income didn’t even need to be disclosed.

At my college, there was a program called Christmas for Kids and it allowed kids to create holiday wish lists that would be matched up with a sponsor so they could receive Christmas gifts. The gifts were given at an annual event that included dinner so kids could meet with their actual sponsors and take pictures with them.

These events and programs were super helpful when I was a single mom because they helped provide my son with gifts that I might not have had the means to buy.

Now that I am in a better place financially, my family actually gives back by sponsoring a child for Christmas each year through our church.


I Participated in Gift Exchanges and Gave in Other Ways

Buying gifts for my child was one thing, but exchanging gifts with other people like family and friends also weighed heavy on my wallet. When I couldn’t afford to gift everyone, I decided to form a holiday gift exchange as well similar to a Secret Santa where each person was assigned someone to get a gift for instead of buying something for everyone in the group.

I usually didn’t stress about giving a bunch a gifts when I couldn’t afford to do so and focused on showing my appreciation for people and giving in other ways like baking special treats, doing a favor for someone, sending a holiday greeting card, etc.


I Accepted Gently Used Things

To stretch my budget even more so I could make ends meet and have a pleasant holiday season, I accepted some hand-me-down items especially holiday decor. Decor can be expensive so when my mom offered to give me her old tree and all her ornaments and decorations for it, I couldn’t pass up the offer.

Decorating our home for the holidays and putting up our tree is an important tradition we have that it a lot of fun. I’ve replaced the tree my mom gave me after a few years but we still use the decorations year after year which saves me a lot of money.

I also wasn’t (and I’m still not) opposed to picking up used toys and clothes depending on what they were. I’ve already shared my strategy for saving money on clothing, and I realized that young kids will play with just about any toy thanks to their imagination.

I’ve found some really nice thrift store finds for my son including toys he absolutely loves so mixing in something used with new items is just another way I liked to keep holiday expenses affordable.


The Holidays Don’t Have to Be Super Expensive

Christmas in my house has always been bright and special no matter what my financial situation was. It’s so fun to see how excited my son is each year and be able to create some special memories with him.

As you can see, the holidays don’t have to be so costly as long as you know your budget, can utilize local resources, and start saving up ahead of time. Worst case scenario, there are plenty of ways to earn extra money so your finances aren’t super tight around this costly time of year.

The tips and strategies I used can be used by anyone to make Christmas more affordable.

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/3132286400/in/

Cooking Holiday Meals on the Cheap

mealsThe following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Laurie Blank.  Laurie is a wife, mother to 4 and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

It’s that time of the year again. The food and wine are flowing and people everywhere are gathering for merriment and gift-giving. The holidays can be a real budget-crusher if you let them. There are gift lists, holiday clothes shopping and of course, parties to be given.

If you’re one that likes to host holiday gatherings you might be freaking out about what your entertaining expenses are going to do to your budget, but there are ways to entertain frugally. Check out these tips.


Keep Alcohol Purchases to a Minimum

Alcohol costs are a huge part of holiday entertainment costs and the expenses can add up quickly. You can save on alcohol costs for holiday meals a couple of ways.

The first choice is to throw a BYOB meal and provide only soda and mixers for guests. The second option is to have only a few bottles of inexpensive wines and/or beers served at your holiday party. Beer and wine vendors often promote specials on prices during the holiday season, and there are many small-time beer and wine producers that have great products but charge lower prices due to the fact that they’re still so little-known. By looking for that diamond in the rough you can get a good wine or beer for cheap.


Allow Your Guests to Share in the Meal Choices

Guests love being able to contribute to meals at parties and family gatherings. Simply write “bring your favorite appetizer/side dish/dessert to share” on invitations and let everyone have a hand in creating a bountiful holiday feast.  If you’re not comfortable requiring guests to share in the meal prep, be sure to say “yes” to anyone who asks you if they can bring anything.


Avoid Expensive Menu Items

Don’t serve prime rib roast for $10 a pound when you can serve turkey or ham for a buck a pound. Don’t buy a cake from the high-priced bakery down the road when the warehouse clubs have them for half the price. With a little creativity, you can put together a wonderful meal without spending too much.


Shop the Sales

There are a number of food products that always go on sale during the holiday season. Some include:

  • Meats such as ham, turkey and prime rib roast
  • Baking items such as flour, sugar and butter
  • Side dish items such as potatoes, rolls and breads, vegetables and canned pie filling

If you’re serving a holiday meal, make your menu plan early and start checking your local grocer ads in the first week of October, buying early when possible if you can get something on sale. Remember that canned goods and other processed foods last for many months, and that many other items such as meats and breads can often be frozen for later use.

Also, don’t be afraid to go generic. Many generic items are simply name-brand items repackaged in different packaging, but you might want to do a trial taste-test run if you’re concerned about quality and/or taste.

For instance, Aldi sells a variety cracker pack that tastes nearly identical to the similar name-brand pack, but there are other generic items we won’t touch – such as generic macaroni and cheese – because the quality sacrifice just isn’t worth it.

When you’re shopping for list items, pay attention to the sales and the generic brands and save money when it doesn’t sacrifice quality.


Cook From Scratch

There is SO much money to be saved when cooking from scratch instead of buying menu items already prepared. Look online or ask friends for recipes for desserts and appetizers. Make your own stuffing and homemade mashed potatoes instead of using the boxed stuff. Put together your own cheese/cracker/meat trays and your own veggie trays instead of buying the pre-prepared ones from the store deli. Your meal will taste better, be healthier and you’ll save money in the process.


Decorate Thoughtfully

Decorating for holiday parties can be a huge expense if you’re not careful. Instead of decking the house out with oodles of flower arrangements and other expensive décor, simply use a few well-placed decorations to make the house feel special. Here are some ideas:

  • Find décor at shops such as Michael’s and Joann Etc., but be sure to use their 40-50% off coupons
  • Focus on decorating the tables with colored napkins and homemade place cards
  • Get one or two silk flower arrangements to brighten up the dining or buffet table and the great room, provided you can find a great sale or find them for sale on eBay or Craigslist
  • Add small, inexpensive touches such as themed salt and pepper shakers from Walmart

With a little forethought and planning, hosting a holiday meal can be an awesome experience that doesn’t break the bank.

How about you all? What is your favorite frugal holiday meal hosting tip?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/55935853@N00/5882056608/in/