How I Dress My Kid on a Budget

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Same t-shirt, three seasons. We’re big fans of layers :)

Kids aren’t cheap, but they don’t have to be super expensive either. If there’s an area Mike and I can save on, we do. Children’s clothing is an area we can always find big savings. Maria is definitely on the shorter side (thanks to her parents) but every six months (when we measure her height for records) she grows at least two full inches, sometimes we’ve recorded as many as four inches in a six month period. Needless to say we go through a ton of clothes.

To add to the whole ”growing like a weed” thing is the fact that kids are messy. I’m definitely not the kind of mom who rushes to change her kid as soon as a drop of mud gets on them but especially in the summer, she changes outfits at least once per day. Running in the grass and dirt, playgrounds, pools, Popsicles and sunscreen mess means they get dirty! All these reasons are a huge reason why we’re not willing to spend exorbitant amounts of money on her wardrobe.

For her clothes it’s a balance of quality and quantity. She definitely needs more clothes than us given how often she changes but we don’t want cheap clothes that fall apart after a handful of washes or a few trips down the slide. To do this we capitalize on a few areas.

Buy Used for High Quality

Given how fast kids grow, often wearing an item for a few months of their life, I always check second-hand stores. This is where I pick up a lot of high quality, gently worn pieces for cheap. Things like her Polo sweaters, Hilfiger shorts and GAP dresses, no way would I waste my money paying full price for them but at $5.00 per piece I’ll scoop them up. I usually stay away from second-hand cheaper stuff like WalMart brand opting to buy new from store like this instead as my experience is the shelf-life isn’t great on these pieces to begin with, they usually are a one-kid use only.

Only Shop Sales (Online shopping is a God send)

Unless it’s a cheap t-shirt or socks from a store like Target or Walmart I never pay full price for anything for Maria. If you hit the sales right (Old Navy is my favorite), you can score a ton. Just recently with an online two-day sale, I scored five shirts, two pairs of shorts and a bathing suit, with shipping and taxes for $49.00. With these pieces alone I made 10 outfits as all shirts match the two different style shorts. Given how little time I actually have in my day, online shopping for kids clothes is a huge blessing. The sizing for her is almost always bang-on and with easy in-store returns if there is a problem it’s a perfect choice.

Multi-Season Shop

Obviously if you live in a place that experiences four seasons you’ll need multiple wardrobes but that doesn’t mean you need to go out a buy full wardrobes every season. Buy pieces that can be used through multiple seasons. For instance we usually buy t-shirts for Maria and during winter months layer them with a few cheap long sleeve shirts underneath or top with a sweater rather than buying all-new long-sleeve shirts. The sweaters are usually cardigan styles which look cute over just about anything and can be used in almost all seasons.

Kids Don’t Need a Billion Shoes Options!

I get that you want to buy your kid 2573 pairs of shoes, they’re super cute but it’s a complete waste of money. Maria has at any given time: one pair of sneakers, rainboots, snowboots and summer sandals. The sandals we buy are usually multi-use with good grip and easy for her to get on and off. I don’t spend a lot of money on footwear as kids are tough on them! The most I’d honesty spend is probably about $20. Her snowboots were an end of season sale for $15, sneakers were about the same and her new summer sandals were $18. We also bought her a cheap pair of knock-off croc style shoes for $5 which will work for the beach or send to daycare on days I know they’ll be playing in the sprinkler or something.

It is so easy to go nuts dressing kids, both boys and girls have so many sweet clothing options but if you’re practical about it, as well as savvy you can dress you kid in style without breaking the bank!

How to Shop on a Budget

Source: Free Digital Photos

Source: Free Digital Photos

It is sad to admit, but most of the time when living on a budget, luxuries such as shopping are put to a steep halt. When raising a family, as well as supporting a family, it seems nearly impossible to have the time or money to splurge on personal items. However, it IS important to take some time for yourself and do something that you enjoy, such as a shopping trip once in a while!

Saving money when you get ready to go on your shopping trip is sill key though. That’s where Groupon Coupons comes in!

Groupon Coupons , an exciting new part of Groupon, provides numerous daily deals for hundreds of stores that are all accessible through a coupon code. One of the stores that offers the best deals is JC Penney. JC Penney is great for a family on a budget because they provide necessary items for the whole family, including items to help you dress your child on a strict budget. You can get some personal shopping done at the same time as getting some errands done.

The best part about Groupon Coupons is that every deal can be redeemed online. When trying to keep a family on a budget, that probably means saving on gas which you can do because every purchase can be made online. The JC Penney Groupon Coupon page even mentions deals you won’t be able to find in stores and are exclusive to online Groupon shoppers. If you do happen to find yourself at the mall though, there are plenty of in store offers too!

Department stores are great because they truly are your one stop shop to get all the items you may need. Now with the deals JC Penney provides, it makes living with a budget and staying out of debt that much easier. Check for great deals at all of your favorite department stores at  Groupon Coupons today!

This post was created in partnership with Groupon Coupons.

An Open Letter to All 2015 Graduates

Dear Class of 2015,

It is an exciting time of year. I see you racing down the street with gown in hand to get to your convocation on time. You look great, a new outfit for the special day, I imagine. As you sit in the auditorium awaiting to hear your name be called, your flooded with emotions. You’re trying to figure out how these last few years passed so quickly and can’t wait to embark on the next phase of your life (plus the usual pleasedonttrip!pleasedonttrip!pleasedonttrip! mantra on replay). To you, and the rest of your class, I have some real life advice.

You first need to know that you don’t ”deserve” anything. Don’t let social media and advertisers convince you that you’ve worked hard enough and that you’re now entitled to whatever product it is you’re trying to sell. While yes, you likely worked hard to obtain that piece of paper, it doesn’t mean that you’re now entitled to that trip south, that brand new car or the larger apartment. While I’m not suggesting you don’t enjoy your hard-earned money, earn it first, then spend it.

Spend time to develop good money skills, now. Your budget will likely be changing and it’s your responsibility to take control. Understand how your potential change in income will affect your lifestyle and goals. If you have debt, and if you haven’t done it already, take time right now to figure out what you owe and figure out a plan to pay it back as soon as possible. Maybe that job you have lined up won’t be enough to cover the payments for debt repayment and support the life you think you ”deserve”. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself if you continue to live like a frugal student for a few more years and build your wealth by paying down your debt and building your savings.

Student loan debt is, in fact, still debt. Loan issuers will try to convince you that it’s somehow ”better debt” than alternatives but the fact remains that it. is. debt, plain and simple and it needs to be paid off. Take time to calculate how much you’ll pay in interest by making minimum-only payments, if that doesn’t scare you into paying it off ASAP, I don’t know what will.

If you have been fortunate enough to graduate debt free, huge congrats, really, I mean it. If your parents helped you financially, take time to really thank them. I don’t think you quite yet realize what an amazing gift this was. If you put yourself through school or maintained a scholarship to get through, and graduated debt-free, this does not make you entitled to a better, or more lavish life. It also does not make you superior to your debt-ridden cohorts. Be humble, manage your finances just as responsibly and don’t be wasteful just because you have more disposable income.

There is no perfect balance in life. There will be times you’re pulled hard to the left and times you’re far right. Rarely will you find the peace which comes with being in the middle. Learning to deal with the ebbs and flows which is life and enjoy the ride, it goes fast.

Sincerely,

Catherine, a two-time university graduate and someone who’s made many mistakes and hope you can learn from them.

Here’s What You Can Do If You Hate Your Job

During the recession, so few jobs were available that people stayed in positions they hated. Now that the economy’s improving, a lot of workers are inclined to leave their job behind. If you don’t like your job, you’re not alone. So many people are dissatisfied with the place where they spend a majority of their week. Here are six things you can do if you truly can’t stand your job.

1. Determine what it is that you’re really unhappy with. Is it you or is it the job? If it’s you, changing the job may not be the solution. It could be both, but it’s still important to change non-job-related things first. For example, if you hate your job because you have to get up early and you never feel pulled together when you get to work, the issue is your time management, not the job itself. By fixing what you can, you can determine what the real issue is.

2. Try to change your attitude, whether you’re staying at the job for the foreseeable future or you just need to stick it out long enough until you find a replacement. When you act as though you’re happy, you may start to actually feel happy. There’s no harm that a bad attitude will do. Plus, you won’t put other people off by being grumpy, which will put you in a better position when you need a reference.

3. Remain professional, even while planning to quit. You’ll need solid recommendations to land a great new job. No matter how much you hate your job, your boss or your co-workers, never burn bridges. You never know which companies are connected to each other or if you could be ruining your chance at the job of your dreams in the future.

4. Set career goals. Nobody was even able to reach the type of success, like Ian MacKechnie has, without goals. Is your current job helping you work towards them? If it’s not, you might consider leaving even if you absolutely love your job. You shouldn’t spend any time in a career that isn’t helping you achieve your goals in some way.

5. Look for another job within the same organization. It’s always easier to move around within a company than start over at a new one. Plus, many companies have a policy that they promote from within before seeking out candidates from the outside.

6. Don’t take your frustration out on others. No matter what the problem is, it won’t get better if you treat other people poorly. Whether you need a reference or want a different position at your current company, you need to continue to treat people with respect.

Whatever you do, don’t quit on the spot. You could be burning a bridge without even realizing it. Some companies have a policy that if you leave without notice, you can’t work for them or their partners in the future.

The Value on Time is Irreplaceable

wpid-20150511_120943.jpgSometimes things happen at just the right time. Like getting sick this past weekend, during Mother’s day. I could feel the throat soreness coming on last Monday and by Saturday it was a full-on sore throat with loss of voice starting, awesome… but it was actually.

I was not feeling well but it was OK. We didn’t have a lot planned and I could actually relax, something I have a hard time doing most of the time. Saturday we woke up, headed out for a picnic (a gift from Mike and Maria for me) and had plans to spend the night at Mike’s grandfathers, something we do every Mother’s day weekend, just hang out and relax. It was nice.

I can guarantee if I was feeling better I would have done a lot this weekend. The weather was cooperative and it was perfect walking weather. I would have run my errands, weeded the garden and went for a long walk, none of which happened and though it would normally bother me, it didn’t.

Instead, I read my book, ate a delicious brunch which I didn’t prep, cook or cleanup (a gift all the kids and husbands make for the moms), had a nap (which I never do but my body demanded) played outside with Maria and watched some crappy TV. I did, what I define as, nothing and it was glorious.

I’ve been working a lot lately between my job and this online venture I try to keep running, and it’s been tough. I needed this weekend to just be. It was exactly what I needed to do. Sit back and appreciate everything we actually have and what we need and don’t need.

I catch myself in these moments from time-to-time and it always alerts me how unaware I am of the present time. I’m constantly looking forward in my job (”see you in six months!”), with Maria (”it will be so nice when she’s old enough to do ‘X”’) and with our budget (”I can’t wait until our debt is paid off and we can start saving/traveling etc”). I can’t help it most of the time but literally months of my life will pass me by and I couldn’t tell you what I did with my time.

This terrifies me.

This weekend was a great reminder that I really need to slow down a bit. Maria will be three in a few weeks. Three. I forget I’m not pregnant still sometimes and she’s growing into my little threenager quite quickly. Life is short and though everything I do is to provide a great life for me and my family being present more is a gift which costs nothing but time, something which is invaluable.

When was the last time you stepped away and slowed down, even for a bit?

April 2015 Life and Debt Repayment Update

maria chalkI somehow managed to let the whole first week of May slip past me before even thinking about doing this post. Where is time going?!

I am so glad the weather is much better than last time I reported. It’s actually been very beautiful and making up for the terrible three months of icy hell we endured on the east coast. The only thing that could make everything better would be if my clothesline wasn’t broken and I could start hanging the clothes outside again, hoping to get it fixed this weekend!

Speaking of this weekend it’s Mother’s day which is always a nice time around here. Even before I was a momma I still enjoyed it but look forward to it even more now. All the men+ able children make a yummy brunch for the moms at Mike’s grandfathers house, including some of my favorite things- eggs benny and mimosas, I can’t wait!

April was a decent month for debt repayment but nothing spectacular. We managed to put $2,074 towards our debt goal. We’re still on plan for paying off our next loan by October, per our plan. I was really hoping to have it done earlier- August or September- but realistically it’s not going to happen, at the end of the day what’s a month or two difference I guess. The loan was originally sitting at $23,698.70 (December of 2012) and is now at $6,165…and will be $0 in five short months :)

We got some decent news in April which will effect our budget too, Mike is finally going to be able to expense his cell phone bill every month. He uses his phone a lot for work- traveling to job sites all over the province means his bill is usually pretty outrageous no matter how many plan add-on’s and rate deals we get, the bill can’t get under $100 per month, usually closer to $125+ so the added savings is so appreciated especially since his job is the reason it’s so high!

How did everyone else do in April? Any special plans for the Momma’s in your life?

Things Couples Go Into Debt For and Shouldn’t!

Though there is no basis on my theory, my personal experience is that couples are more apt to go into debt for things that their single friends likely would not, or at least to the same degree. Again, no idea if this is true but speaking from experience it is the couples, not singles who incur more debt.

I suspect that this is because there are two people making decisions and talking into said purchase. It takes one person to make a suggestion and another to quickly agree- where a single person only has one person to ”talk” to. If there is any doubt in a single persons mind, they have more time to think about it before someone immediately standing beside them telling them to do it.

From talking to people (something I do every day) there seems to be common trends among what couples do put on credit, with no immediate plans to pay off. Things that couples go into debt for and shouldn’t.

Vacations

This is probably the biggest one. Every few weeks a patient of mine will talk about an upcoming trip and it more often than not goes one of three ways:

”I’m so excited I convinced my spouse to finally book the trip to (wherever)! It took a few years but they finally agreed, even if it’s on the card, they’ll have no problem paying it off once we get home and sees it’s not a waste”

or (conversely)

”My spouse convinced me to put a trip to (wherever) on our credit card/line of credit- it better be good!”

or

”The weather has been crap, we (admittedly) have no money but we’re booking a trip south anyway! We can’t stand it anymore!”

Trust me, I get that you want a vacation. It’s been a long times since Mike and I have gotten away but there’s good reason- we haven’t taken the time to save for one! That’s right, save. If you don’t have the money in the bank to book a trip you simply can’t go. Also it seems that the ”standard” for vacation changes in a couple vs. a single. It doesn’t matter though, no vacation is worth going in debt for. You’ll thank yourself when you get home and the bill is zero.

Furniture

Furniture places do a great job at convincing you to use their financing services. I know because we fell victim to it. When we bought our home we knew we’d need to buy some new* furniture so shopping we went. I had done some homework and priced around what we were looking for. Truthfully we walked into the store knowing exactly what we wanted and were really just there to pick it out and pay for it, except we were sucked in. Though we did only end up buying what we went in for, we somehow manged to walk out with a full balance in our bank account.

We had saved a couple thousand for the furniture but we ended up getting talked into using their financing services. Thankfully it didn’t take long to realize how dumb we were and actually paid it off before the interest free period was up but not everyone does. I’ve known people to buy a couch for like $600 and end up paying almost double by the time they’re done with the interest and paying it off. NOT WORTH IT. Save up for it and pay cash- new or used!

*Used isn’t an option, while I’m all for saving a buck, used beds/couches gross me out- has to be new or from someone I know personally. Tables/shelves and alike are fine though 😉

Vehicles

Vehicle loans are probably one of the most common forms of debt and vary greatly in how people view them. Some people think a 0% or very low-interest car loan is no big deal while others equate them with the devil. Though I don’t think couples take out more loans than their single friends, I do think they finance much larger amounts and have larger car expenses in general. I think this is mostly due to one of two reasons:

1) Both people ”need” a car which leads to more money going towards transportation (either they legitimately do need two or the couple isn’t willing to compromise with one vehicle or public transit).

2) Couples= potential growing family= need for larger vehicle=larger loan/bills.

Whatever the reason do what you can to keep costs down. We got a larger vehicle shortly after we were married but we also sold the second vehicle. For the last six years we’ve managed fine as a one vehicle family I can’t even begin to think about how much money this has saved us, thousands. I realize this can’t work for everyone (it’s getting very difficult for us now…) but there is no need for $40,000+ loans. Save money and at the very least put a large deposit down and or the love of all that is holy- do NOT finance for six plus years. Try and have the loan paid off ASAP.

Maybe my theory is completely wrong but these are just my personal experiences. If you have the comparison of being single vs. being in a relationship, what was worse for your finances?

Financial Success Does Not Start With a Budget

The personal finance niche is a big lovers of budgets. You likely can’t go to a single blog without reading at least one post about them. While most of us are proponents for them, there are a few who make it work without one (though not something I recommend for most). I would argue that while a budget (or close money monitoring) is imperative for financial success, despite what most ”budget posts” will tell you, establishing a budget is not actually the first step in taking control of your finances or ultimately allow you to reach your goals.

Before you can even think about establishing a budget you need to understand you. You need to understand your spending habits and the emotions behind it all.

Sounds silly, obviously you know who you are right? Not so easy though.

People often don’t know or understand the emotions behind money which is how they end up in trouble. Though this is especially true for someone who is in debt and looking to get out, it’s not just people who are in debt. Paying debt off is just one of many financial goals one person can reach. If you’re attempting to reach any financial goal and simply can’t- failure to save for a goal, inability to control spending, get out of living paycheque to paycheque- you need to deal with you before you try to control anything else, especially money.

A budget is a way of consciously controlling how and where your money will be designated. If you don’t understand your personal relationship with money it simply will. not. work. The attempted budget will fail.

I remember the day I decided enough was enough. The debt finally had to be dealt with and we needed to get real, I had so much determination that day. We were going to do it! We were going to be debt free! We were going to budget! I spent weeks establishing our first budget, fool-proof it was. I researched everything about what people who were trying to pay debt off {insert your personal financial goal here} needed to do to be successful, so we couldn’t fail.

Except we did.

I tried, I really did but my budget failed. I looked at the numbers. I recalculated a bazillion times but I couldn’t make it work. I reread every bit of advice, why wasn’t it working for us?

Because I wasn’t paying attention to us. I wasn’t paying attention to our real life spending habits.

It wasn’t feasible to think we could really live off $50 per week for food for our family of three when 2L of milk costs over $4.00 and 12 eggs is $3.00-4.00. We had an infant in diapers, I was still breastfeeding extensively (read: ravenous appetite), food is expensive here and we have nutritional goals to meet.

My point is that I started my budget before I looked at my real life. While some families can thrive on $50 per week for food, we can’t. I didn’t look into our spending habits at all when I budgeted the first time. I didn’t see what needed to change and what didn’t. I dove right into ”expert” advice without talking to the CFO of the company whose finances I was attempting to control- me and my family.

Establishing a budget isn’t scary. It’s liberating. Taking an in-depth look at your finances for the first time however, is terrifying but if you want to move forward in your financial life you need to do it.

If you need a little help may I recommend, what I imagine will be a life changing $17 investment, into the Mindful Budgeting program developed by the lovely Cait from Blonde on a Budget? Though I haven’t personally used it there isn’t a single doubt in my mind it will change many financial paths going forward.

Note: when I wrote this post Cait hadn’t announced this program yet nor did I know anything about it. I am in no way affiliated with it but I whole heartedly endorse anything she stands behind and support the programs purpose. Go Cait!

What is Frugal Living?

ID-10098169Living within your means is often a difficult task if your pay stays flat and costs all around you continue to rise. One of the best ways to be able to live on a low income is by being frugal with spending and taking advantage of any financial benefits which help keep your costs down. It is more than just a simple way to save money, but truly a way of life that many people have started to adopt to avoid a life of debt or financial stress. Living beyond what your budget allows ensures that you will get into debt risking bankruptcy and even worst problems.

The Idea of Frugal Living

Learning to put your pride aside and develop a lifestyle to live within your income is a very tough decision. It means that those around will have to learn that you cannot keep up to their standards. Frugal living can be enjoyable it you want a simple lifestyle. It means that you give up the idea of trying to always have the best things in life, stop trying to keep up to the latest trends or what your family or friends have. It means that you have in your life only those things that are necessities and everything else has to stay within your budget without going into debt or credit.

This may mean actually selling off a portion of your assets. If a car is unaffordable and not within your budget, it may be time to consider selling it to take mass transit and purchase a bicycle. This can be a large money saver and even keep you under budget in itself. Other options include looking for more affordable housing. Look at your monthly bills and decide if any of them are luxury items. Do you have a newspaper or magazine subscription? What about getting rid of the latest gadgets that come with big price tags and large monthly bills like smart phones; it may be time to get back to a basic phone.

How to Cut Back

All of these options look stark in contrast to a lifestyle you may have become used to. Yet if that lifestyle is putting you in debt, you will lose it anyways. It is better to downgrade on your own terms. Those that have prescribed to a frugal life also comment on how it is liberating and much more relaxed and peaceful.

Frugal living is not just about living like a hermit and not enjoying life. It’s about cutting back on those things that cost you more than they are worth. There are tons of things that you can cut back on to ensure a quality life. One item is eating out at fast food restaurants. Instead start cooking all your meals, bringing your own lunch to work and not purchasing that cup of coffee every day. You will be amazed at how quickly you can cut back on monthly expenditures. If you cannot pay for the item in cash, within your monthly budget, than you either forget the purchase or save up the cash in order to buy it.

Only by living within your means, can you truly enjoy life and stop worrying about high interest pay day loans, making it monthly and even the threat of bankruptcy.

Do you live frugally and with-in your means? What are some benefits of frugal living?

How Do You Budget For Spontaneity?

Unexpected events will happen in life and sometimes you can be prepared and sometimes you need to roll with the punches. If there is a large unexpected event we’re covered by an emergency fund (to which I am thankful for and sleep better at night because of it) but sometimes you’ll end up in a non-budgeted for situation and you need to make some decisions. This past weekend was one of these situations for us.

There is a well-known farmer’s market about an hour away from us. After some discussion with my in-laws, it was decided we all wanted to make the trek up this weekend and check things out. We love little road trips with them and it was an excuse to get out of the city for the day.

Given that it was quasi-impromptu, I didn’t have time to budget anything for it but we (as a family) really wanted to go and experience it all together for the day so choices had to be made. Some people have separate categories within their budget to deal with events just as such, we do not. Nor will I create one anytime soon. Events like this happen so infrequently I’m not interested in tying money up every month, we need as much money as possible funneling into debt repayment! We have more of a roll-with-the-punches sort of budgeting system. If we really want something we figure it out at the time.

Sunday morning we piled into our vehicles and caravanned up to the market. We had a lot of fun walking through and picking up a few yummy treats to take home. We all had lunch at the market and it was d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. None of this matters though since we didn’t budget a single penny for any of it. So how can we deal with these unexpected expenditures?

Earn More

This is likely the easiest for us. One thing I do like about an hourly rate vs. salary is that it’s easy to work a bit more for a larger paycheque. This goes for both of us. If we really want something (an unbudgeted daytrip or new patio furniture-both of which we’ve done recently) we can earn more at our 9-5’s to offset the increased cost.

Budget ”better”

I admit that we’re loose budgeters. We’re more money trackers than strict budgeters but it works for us. I could throw an extra category in the spreadsheet to set aside a bit more every week but quite honestly I don’t want to. That doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else though. I think Cat calls the ”Gremlins” :)

Cut, cut, cut

This is my least favorite option but we always have the option of cutting from other categories. Our self-imposed ”minimum” debt payment is much more than the actual minimum so if we had to ”take” from here we could though we haven’t yet and would rather not. I’m also stashing a little extra away for our getaway next year, a target we’re actually ahead of saving schedule on thanks to a tax refund. There are overestimated categories in our budget that we could pull if we decided something was ”worth it”.

Luckily this little trip didn’t take too much of a dent out of our budget- a little added gas, the cost of some farmers market treats and a cheap but oh-so-delicious lunch. All of it 100% worth it!

How do you deal with unexpected or spontaneous un-budgeted things in your life?