Building An Affordable Maternity Wardrobe

maternity shirtWhat to know what’s criminal? The cost of maternity clothes. Stick the word ‘’baby’’, ‘’maternity’’, ‘’breastfeeding/nursing’’ or ‘’pregnancy’’ in front of any regular item of clothing and suddenly the price is increased significantly. Most pregnant women will need some form of maternity wear throughout their almost 10 month gestational period so, unfortunately a lot of these maternity specialty stores have a monopoly on the niche population (though there are many tricks out there to getting the most out of your pre-pregnancy wardrobe). Add in the fact that some people, like me, live in an area with very slim pickings in terms of where to shop for such items and suddenly I’m looking at a pair of pants with a price tag of $80.00 and I’ll wear for less than five months.

My first pregnancy was over four years ago and was in opposite season. I was biggest/really only needed maternity clothes in the late spring/early summer with my first, where this time I’m not only showing much earlier, I will be my biggest in the late summer all the way into winter. I also didn’t buy much of anything during my first pregnancy that I could keep for this one. In total I carried over two shirts (one quite dressy), two scrub tops and a pair of smaller jeans. I was determined to squeeze myself into ‘’regular’’ clothes as long as I could because, as mentioned maternity clothes as so, so expensive.

Target doesn’t exist in Canada, my local Walmart doesn’t carry maternity wear and neither does my local Old Navy (nor does online have an option)…the top three affordable choices for moms around North American don’t exist for me so I had to look into alternative options since I was quickly popping out of all regular clothes.

Here are a few ways to build a maternity wardrobe without breaking the bank:

Second Hand Stores

I have checked out my local thrift stores but I haven’t had any luck. I am convinced our local women share their maternity wear among friends or sell privately but I had to include it because it’s always worth looking into. Like most young children’s clothes, maternity wear is often only used for less than six months so if you do have luck you can buy almost new clothing for much cheaper.

Classifieds

I don’t live in a huge city and, as mentioned there are really only two options for clothes locally- two popular chain stores and a few upscale maternity boutiques. This means you can expect clothes from these expensive stores to pop-up online. Though I haven’t bought anything via online classifieds I have looked and there are good deals. Just last week a lady was selling a dress from a local boutique which she paid over $140, wore for three months and was selling for $40. Not bad.

Online Shopping

I have little option in terms of online shopping but there is one website that I have had success with called Zuliliy (not an affiliate link). The risk is that there aren’t any returns but I haven’t had any trouble with their products. I found a two pack of maternity tank tops for $12, a dressy t-shirt for $10 and a dress to wear to a wedding at seven months pregnant for $30 (from $90) all of which I have been very happy with and all of which I can re-sell via online classifieds when I’m done.

Cut Coupons

I hate signing up for most email signups but when it comes to baby, my experience is that it is often worth it. Over my two pregnancies I have had opportunities to save some big bucks on items including maternity wears. One of the emails I get every few weeks includes a coupon for 40% off at one of these fancy maternity wear stores so when I found myself approaching the cooler months and a few events to attend with literally one pair of pants I can squeeze into, I decided to buy a second pair. The pants retailed for $79.98 (simple pair of skinny jeans), were on sale for $64.99 and I was able to use one of these coupons putting the $80 pants at $39. Outside of my work scrubs I will wear these two pairs of pants plus a pair of leggings throughout the next three months and into the first few post-natal months.

In total I have spent about $100 on maternity clothes for my pregnancy and I’m happy with that. After baby is born I will need a few nursing bras which will probably run about $30 each but I plan on working those into my November birthday gift (adulting is fun). I won’t lie, when I’m at home or lounging I’ve been mostly wearing my husband’s old t-shirts since I draw the line at buying fancy maternity PJ’s and lounge wear. I have been taking care of the items I have purchased and hope to recover some of the cost by re-selling as well.

How did you manage your maternity wardrobe? Any other tips?

Our Experiment in Using Credit Cards

-1For most of my adult life I haven’t used credit cards. If you’ll remember, I had access to a decent chunk of credit back in university (in the days when they’d increase your limit without you asking), and so during my second degree I maxed out my cards for tuition. With maxed out credit cards and no desire to take on more debt, we were forced to live on cash/debit.

This wasn’t a bad thing necessarily. It’s not exactly easy to accumulate more debt when you can only live on what what’s in your bank account. We didn’t even have overdraft which we may be tempted to dip into. Though we were living on cash, as I have talked about many times before, we weren’t managing our finances well. Bills were getting paid but we weren’t making any headway on our debt repayment which wasn’t doing favors for anyone.

In the last few years we’ve come a long way, we’ve learned how to manage our money, pay off debt and live our life. One thing we’ve never really done though is learn how to properly use a credit card. I really don’t think a credit card is a necessity to live, there are plenty of people who get along fine without them, but for us it was something I wanted to master.

The biggest reason I wanted to master proper credit card usage was because one of our biggest annoyances with our budget is that we’re paid bi-weekly but almost every bill we have is set up to be a monthly paid bill but when it comes to our discretionary spending on things like groceries, gas, or even cat needs things can get kind of confusing about exactly how much to allocate and when to use the cash. I wanted the flexibility to spend, say $200 in one grocery run but only spend $75 the next time and not spend the difference in cash but by the end of the month stay within what we budgeted. I don’t like allocating the exact same amount every two weeks. I wanted to experiment with using a credit card for a few months to see if we could stay within what I had established as a ‘’monthly’’ allotment for these discretionary categories allowing us to manage the cash side of things a bit easier and here’s what I learned:

It’s incredibly easy to get lazy with tracking when it goes on a credit card. When you pay cash/debit for everything, you’re forced to keep an eagle eye on your bank account daily, if not multiple times per day. Though this is a habit that should have transcended with the credit card, it did not for us.

It’s too easy to overspend. We knew the money was there so we just kept spending. I’d go to the grocery store, grab some things and Mike would follow getting more, leading to unnecessary spending, multiple times per month.

It can be uncomfortable. Seeing the balance grow throughout the month is not a feeling I like, so much so that we’ve learned very quickly, two months into this experiment, we need to change how we use and pay off frequency.

We definitely made some mistakes in these first two months of usage but thankfully we have our financial knowhow to be able to recognize what we need to do to fix our errors. One thing we did do is make sure the credit we had available to us was manageable, especially with me preparing to go on maternity leave. The last thing we want is to end up in unnecessary credit card debt. Our limit is set that we should be able to have it paid off (if ever maxed out) within two months.

Even though we’ve made some mistakes, we’ve also taken the time to realize what we need to do to make it work and are going to give it another try…with the obvious being much more careful monitoring.

Do you like using credit cards for daily spending? Any secret tips?

How to Save Money When Purchasing a Condo in Montreal

Buying a new condo can be a scary decision but it really doesn’t have to be. With the right know-how, purchasing a condo can actually be a simple, exciting and very rewarding experience. Here are a few money-saving tips to remember when you’re buying a condo in Montreal:

Know your budget

The best way for you to start saving money right away is for you to know what you can afford. Borrowing less from the bank today means that you will pay less interest over the course of your mortgage. Use an online mortgage calculator to calculate what mortgage payments you will be able to manage. Get a pre-approved mortgage from your bank so that you have a price range to keep in mind.

Discover Financial Assistance Programs

Another easy way for you to save money on your condo purchase is through financial assistance programs that offer tax credits, deductions and refunds. Do your research and find out if you are eligible for any financial assistance programs such as First-Time Home Buyers’ Tax Credit (HBTC) and Home Buyer’s Plan (HBP).

Create a Must-Haves List

My must-have list saved me a lot of money on my condo purchase. I eliminated the things that I didn’t need and I avoided paying more for unnecessary features. You should do the same. Do you really need a parking space (or two), a storage space, a swimming pool or a gym? Do you need to be close to public transit? Your must-haves list will affect the overall cost of your condo.

Learn about the developer

You can save yourself a lot of money and headaches later on if you firmly understand from whom you are buying your condo before you commit to anything. You should look at the builders past projects and their delivery record. Look for any past customer complaints, any additional costs and find out if the condo developer offers any warranties or if they have a detailed guarantee plan.

Understand the final purchasing steps

Exhaust all the tools at your disposal in the purchasing final steps and you can avoid serious problems and financial burdens in the future. Buying early does give you more return on your investment, but it is important that you don’t rush into anything. In Quebec you are allowed a 10-day cancellation period for a signed preliminary contract. Use this time to discuss concerns with your lawyer and confirm your financing. If you are buying a resale condo, have the condo inspected so that you avoid any additional surprise costs.

Account for closing costs

Don’t get blind-sided by any additional closing costs such as title insurance, notary services and moving expenses. Make sure that you figure all additional fees into your initial condo-purchasing costs and save yourself from blowing your budget.

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3 Honest Reasons Why You Should Wait to Have Kids

Source: Free Digital Photos

Source: Free Digital Photos

Having kids is a life alerting thing, likely one of the biggest life changes any couple will make. Some couples choose not to have children and I personally have zero issue with this. While I can’t imagine my life without my daughter and impending baby 2.0, I 100% understand this is not the life for everyone (I apologize on behalf of the childbearing society which attempts to pressure you and make you feel bad). If, however you are considering having a child, there are some very real things to consider in terms of timing. While medical professionals will remind you that waiting may not be the best fertility practice, there are many other benefits to holding off on having your first child.

You Have More Time to Get Your Finances in Order

While this theoretically should have been true for us, given that we had three full years of career-level income before having our daughter, we did not put this into practice. Knowing what I know now, I want to kick myself, hard. For us, it took getting pregnant and having another human to care for to get us in gear BUT if you’re lucky enough to have the financial ability to deal with any and all financial issues (paying down debt, beefing up savings, getting housing in order) before baby comes- do it. You will NEVER have the same financial opportunities once baby comes. Holding off on pregnancy means more time to get financial affairs in order and you must capitalize on this.

You’ll Likely Score Free Stuff From Friends

If I’m being honest, one of the biggest perks with not being the first of my friends to have kids is scoring on the baby stuff they want to give away. I have one friend who has a daughter three months older than Maria, three months is about the max time you’ll get out of an outfit in a growing infant which meant as she was growing out of cute baby clothes, we were handed them. This saved us a ton during the first year. Between her hand-me-downs and what I received as shower gifts, I didn’t buy a single item of clothing in year one. I visited the same friend today who gave me bags full of baby clothes. They didn’t know with either pregnancy if it was a boy or girl so they handed over all the baby boy stuff to us to have for our impending son, a lot of it brand new.

Within my circle of friends we’ve shared many things between us which has saved all of us a decent chunk of money. Toys, bouncy chairs, breast pumps (easy to come apart and sterilize), clothes (who wants to spend $30+ on an infant dress to wear to a wedding when you can borrow?). Being able to accept hand-me-downs and borrow items is a huge plus.

Your Bucket List Will Be Smaller

Though you may be in your peak fertility years, I simply cannot imagine planning a child in my late teens/early 20’s. By the time you’ve finished your post-secondary, and had a few years to live your life, I just don’t see how you can be prepared to have a child without regret any earlier. Not that a child isn’t a blessing, by waiting a few years you’ll have more opportunity to accomplish things that might not be so easy once a baby comes into your life.

I have people in my life who had kids very young (some planned, some not) and people who deliberately waited. The ones who waited are often much, much better off starting out. They have the financial knowhow to manage a maternity leave, to understand the importance of a stable living situation and truly appreciate the life they’ve set up for the child. So though society may judge you for not considering children until beyond your 30’s, or even 40’s you really do get the last laugh.

25 Alarming Facts About Debt in America

Facts About Debt in America

It is no secret that debt is a huge problem in America, however, when most people think about debt in America they think about the national debt (which is in the trillions). The debt that many people are overlooking is the debt that lies within our own homes. In fact, 43 percent of American families spend more money than they make every year.

Why is this still happening? People hear about debt, read articles about budgeting and possibly even seek professional financial advice but we, as Americans, are still allowing ourselves to fall deeper and deeper into debt. Some scholars say this is because people are not educated on the reality of debt in America. Learning about debt and financial wellness is the only way to break the vicious cycle of poverty. In effort to better people’s knowledge of debt in America, here are 25 rather alarming facts:

Facts About Debt in America

  1. Forty-six percent of all Americans carry some kind of credit card debt from month-to-month.
  2. Americans carry $798 billion in credit card debt in all (you could not amass that amount of debt in your lifetime even if you spent $7 billion every day since the day you were born and lived to be 100 years old).
  3. The average amount of credit card debt per household is practically $16,000 and the average interest rate on credit cards in America is just over 13 percent.
  4. People ages 45 to 54 hold the most credit card debt (averaging about $9,000 per person in this age group).
  5. Surprisingly, the more money you make, the more credit card debt you carry. People in the $160,000 a year and more income level carry over $11,000 in credit card debt, on average, compared to those who only make $25,000 a year or less ($3,000 in credit card debt).
  6. The average consumer in America has 3.5 credit cards.
  7. Most Americans have at least one credit card before the age of 21.
  8. On average, men carry $2,000 more in credit card debt than women.
  9. Caucasian Americans carry more credit card debt than any other race in America (averaging over $7,900).
  10. Credit card debt is only a fraction of the problem though. The average American family holds over $132,000 in total debt.
  11. Forty-five percent of all auto loans in America are made to be paid over six years or longer (plenty of cars don’t even last that long).
  12. In America, 70 percent of all car purchases involve a loan.
  13. Mortgage debt is about 70 percent higher than it was just 20 years ago.
  14. The percentage of residential mortgages that are currently in foreclosure sits at 4.5 percent.
  15. Eight million Americans are at least one month behind on their mortgage right now.
  16. About 40 percent of Americans are currently in medical debt or paying off medical bills.
  17. In more than 60 percent of personal bankruptcies medical bills play a major factor in the reasoning behind the individual filing for bankruptcy.
  18. Student loan debt in the United States is over $1 trillion.
  19. About 65 percent of all American college students will graduate with student loan debt.
  20. The default rate on student loans has doubled in the past 10 years.
  21. Twenty-five percent of college students use credit cards to pay their tuition and other fees.
  22. The average American household is paying $6,658 in interest each year.
  23. There is a strong correlation between debt and mental illness. The likelihood of having a mental health problem is three times higher among people with debt than those who have not.
  24. Nearly 1 in 5 of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 consider themselves to be in some sort of debt hardship.
  25. The rise in cost of living has outpaced growth in income for the past 12 years (this is the root of the debt problem).

How to Get Rid of the Debt Problem in America

How do we fix this problem? Well, there is no one answer to fixing the debt problem in America. However, there is one simple step that could help: get rid of things you don’t need. For the most part people are racking up debt for items and services that just aren’t necessary. For instance, do you really need Netflix AND a premium cable package? Do you need your home phone and cell phone? There are probably a few cuts that you could make in your budget to make it easier to pay off your debt and avoid racking up more debt in the future.

What do you think the answer to America’s debt problem is?

Photo: Flickr: Images Money

Spend Less Time Managing Your Finances

clock-650753_640This is a guest post from Pauline of InvestmentZen.com

I used to spend a ton of time managing my finances. I would sit down every week, and because I was too messy to keep receipts or write down my expenses, I would log in to every account I had with online banking, have a look at the transactions, and write down my balance. Then I would put the whole thing into Excel, and vaguely track my net worth every month. I was afraid making automated transfers into savings would make me overdrawn, so I would do these manually every time I had a little money left over.

I then read it was the worst thing you could do. Because you would wait until the end of the month to put whatever was left in savings, chances were there would be less than expected, since you left the money there, available to spend as you please. On the other hand, if you set up a wire transfer on pay day to send $100 to your savings account, you would be guaranteed to save at least $100 that month.

Our brains are lazy, and will always follow the path of least resistance. If you see money on your account, you know you can spend it. Like you can’t really be on a diet with your cupboards stocked with junk food. You know you’ll succumb sooner or later. And then regret it. Don’t trust yourself to save or invest your money.

The best way to spend less time managing your finances is automation. It will save you hours every month. You just need to define where you want to be three months from now, then adjust your automated debits. Review three months later, and see if you need to fine tune anything. You can set longer term goals as well.

For example, I want to set away $200 every month for retirement. I will fund my 401k and take advantage of my company match to get the tax savings on top. I also want to have $500 ten months from now to go on holiday. So I will set up a debit to send $50 extra into savings with every paycheck.  Because I will need access to the holiday money pretty soon, I will send the $50 to a high yield savings account. And because I am no professional investor, and even if I were one, beating the markets would be a tough full time job, I will simply invest in low cost index funds via a low fee robo-advisor. That should take care of savings for the vast majority of us.

Set a monthly amount, invest regularly so you can dollar cost average, forget about it for a couple of decades. The markets will go up and down, but you can still expect a 7-8% annual return over the long term. Taking your hands off your finances also prevents you from selling in a panic and regretting it down the road. We all get emotional when it comes to money. That is perfectly human. But if you want to be comfortable in retirement, you can’t afford to get emotional. In a crisis, you will want to sell low, and then when the markets go up again, you might buy back higher than what you sold for. That is disastrous to your nest egg. Add to that the management fees and all your hard earned cash will have an abysmal return. The less time you spend on your finances, the more your money will work for you. If you need proof, look up the average S&P500 returns over the past 50 years, and try to find an actively managed fund that consistently beat that.

Spending less time managing your finances will also free up some valuable time in your schedule. Time you can use to earn more money, or simply do something that is important to you, such as spending time with your family or working on a hobby. Right now, I have gone from obsessing over every line of expense to reviewing my finances every quarter, and my net worth had been growing much faster.

If You Want Change, Don’t Expect All to Remain the Same.

Source: Free Digital Photos

Source: Free Digital Photos

In the last few months I’ve had a few frustrating moments with our budget. I’ve added a few changes, like a second car, a pregnancy, or even an air conditioner yet, I haven’t taken the time to address these changes within our budget per se. For example, we did pay cash for the car, and have adjusted our monthly insurance premium but I haven’t yet taken time to change things like how much extra gas money we’d need every month so you can imagine, our spending has changed (some categories more, some less) yet I’m surprised that our numbers aren’t working out at the end of the month.

I do this to us every few years. We get a budget/money monitoring system/whatever going well, I throw in a change and just expect the numbers to work themselves out and act surprised when they don’t. All of these changes are things we wanted, for us, all good change, and if it’s change we’re after I can’t expect it all to remain the same.

I feel like a lot of budgets fail because people aren’t honest with themselves and this is exactly what I’ve done to us. I kind of assumed that we’d get the second car and the decrease in gas consumption with overusing vehicle #1 would offset #2 when that hasn’t been true. We’re still getting one full tank per month with vehicle #2, and we are using less in vehicle #1, but I still need to add something more in terms of gas. I also think I’ve been a bit over eager in terms of what we won’t need to buy with baby #2. While yes, we do have a lot more starting out than we did with our first, there are still some things that we’ll need and I can’t deny it anymore.  We need to set up a list and budget soon or we’ll be caught with me off work, on my cut back maternity income, and a list of unmet needs.

I remember watching an episode of Till Debt do Us Part with Gail Vaz Oxlade once and the couple was whining about not making progress fast enough and Gail simply pointed out that their unwillingness to do anything beyond what they were currently doing (in terms of earned income from 9-5 jobs), was holding them back. They weren’t willing to earn more, give up anything more or sell anything so how could they possibly move any faster than they were? Once this was pointed out, they were able to see the light, pick up extra shifts and start selling off some insane designer purse collection or something to help pay down their debt.

I feel like sometimes people are eager for change, they want to get out of debt, retire early, or reach some personal savings goal yet do nothing different with their finances to reach those goals. Unfortunately as I have learned, unless you are willing to get uncomfortable and take time to implement these changes, all will remain the same.

Sometimes You Just Need to Spend a Little Money

13895564_10100858377507339_8185050889799056385_nIn the personal finance community, I find one of the less discussed topics is about actually spending money. We’re all too proud to talk about our savings goals or to a larger extreme, things like shopping bans, and by all accounts these things should be congratulated. Saving money, and though I have never done one, something like a shopping ban, isn’t easy. Arguably one of the hardest things one could do with their money but at the same time, we’re all human and we all enjoy different experiences. Sometimes those experiences cost money.

Given that we experience very few hot summer days here (though this year has been stellar in terms of weather!), when they’re around we want to soak up everything they offer. This past weekend I woke up early (not optional with an early rising four year old), and decided we’d head into the city for the day with my sister and sister-in-law. I had heard some rumors of a new playground and thought it might be fun to let Maria run around for a bit while we all got a nice walk in.

We took the ferry over early in the morning (for free since it’s a holiday weekend perk) before it got too busy and walked most of the length of our beautiful waterfront before making a quick stop at our farmers market and eventually, the playground. Maria had a ton of fun and we got a little exercise in. On our walk back, the waterfront was getting very buys as it’s a long summer weekend and the international Busker festival is in town. With the festival brings all kinds of vendors.

Maria had her face painted (professionally) for Halloween last year and has been talking about it since. When she spotted a face painter on our walk yesterday she asked if we could do it. At $10 for a 5 min procedure it wasn’t cheap but you better believe we did it anyway. She was the happiest kid all day until we washed up at bedtime that night. We also spent money on a completely unnecessary lunch and a huge bag of cotton candy. None of which was necessary but per my main point, it’s OK to spend money sometimes and enjoy yourself. To some, the paint was literally setting a $10 bill on fire. It was on her face, and washed off a few hours later but know what? I don’t care. She was so happy and couldn’t wait to show everyone her beautiful sparkly unicorn. We enjoyed sitting on the waterfront eating our lunch together and cotton candy was a treat that we all enjoyed and rarely get.

I have had a lot of frugal fun and to be honest most of my favorite activities cost little to no money but sometimes even the most frugal people want to spend a little money on an experience, and that’s ok. I could get into the whole ‘’balance’’ argument but honestly I think it’s a crock. If I tried to balance my spending and saving all the time, I’d never make headway with anything so really, be smart about your financial goals but know that it’s ok to enjoy our money from time-to-time as well. I find, especially in the personal finance community, can make you feel bad about spending money on whatever it is you may enjoy but since I’m just an ‘’expert’’ as the other person in this community I give you full permission to spend money guilt free!

When was the last time you enjoyed your money?

How I Plan to Travel the World for Free

How I Plan to Travel the World for Free
When I was a child (around three or four years old), my family took me on my very first road trip. We drove from Charlotte, N.C. to Orlando, Fla. for a vacation at Universal Studios with my grandparents. Ever since then I have had a yearning for travel and as I get older I realize how difficult it is to curb that urge. That is why I have decided to research ways to travel the world for extremely cheap.

You’ve probably heard of people receiving free cruises or free trips through some sort of contest. That isn’t the only way to travel for cheap or free though. In fact, upon doing my research, I have found that traveling is extremely affordable (if you’re flexible). Here are a few tips and ideas that can help you travel for really cheap or free:

Change Your Job

If you are in the position to do so, you should find a more flexible job if your heart is set on traveling the world. I always knew that I wanted to do an extensive amount of traveling so when I graduated college, I sought out positions that I could work from anywhere. You can find a plethora of work-from-home jobs online on sites like Indeed. My current position is done 100% remotely so it is easy to travel with it. I work my regular hours but I simply work them from the hotel or friend’s house that I am staying at.

If working remotely isn’t something that interests you, you can also find a position that pays you to travel. Travel journalists, for instance, make a living at traveling and writing about their experiences. Travel journalism jobs can be hard to come by though. If you’re not a writer or having a hard time coming across a travel journalism job, there are numerous other options available. One of my personal favorite options for getting paid to travel is MindMyHouse. People post their homes on MindMyHouse and provide a time frame for how long they will be gone and they need someone to watch their home. This eliminates the need to pay for a hotel and, in some cases, people offer to pay for you to mind their home. The best part of it all is that you get to visit a new area and explore while you’re there.

Airbnb is a Good Option

Some people want to travel but don’t want to live their lives on the road like a travel journalist or a professional house sitter. Don’t worry, there are options for you as well! If you have the money to plan a trip, whether it be in the United States or abroad, Airbnb is a great way to save money on your lodging costs.

Airbnb is a service that allows people to open up their homes and rent a room, or the entire house, as a bed-and-breakfast. My best friend and I used an Airbnb in New Orleans and the experience was delightful! We rented the top floor of the woman’s home. When we got there, she offered a warm welcome and was able to provide extremely useful information about activities to do in the area. The primary benefit of staying with Airbnb is the savings. Instead of spending over $100 per night at a hotel in New Orleans, we stayed just outside the city in her home for $50 a night.

Couchsurfing is a Great Option

Couchsurfing International Inc. operates Couchsurfing.com. It is a hospitality service as well as a social media platform that allows members to “surf” on couches by staying as a guest at a host’s home, host travelers, meet other members or join an event. It was founded in 2003, launched in 2004 and has progressively gained popularity throughout the years.

Registration for the site is free. You can pay to become a verified member, however, payment is not necessary to access all of the benefits of the site. Members create profile pages that include information about themselves along with photos of themselves and the accommodations that they provide. Homestays, as the site calls them, are a based on a consensual agreement between the owner of the home and the traveler. The duration of the visit and terms of stay are usually worked out in advance. Couchsurfing is an absolutely free option for lodging and a great way to get to know people in the area as well as explore the true culture of the region in which you are visiting.

Win Free Trips

We all dream of winning an all-expense paid vacation but unless you’re slated to be a guest of “Wheel of Fortune,” it seems unlikely that you’ll win a trip anywhere. This may be because you aren’t looking into the right kind of contests. You may have seen Facebook “contests” that claim with a like, share and comment you will be entered into a contest for a free trip. There are far too many people entering these types of contests to have a fair chance at winning. Not all hope is lost though.

A friend of mine has been on FIVE cruises this year alone. Cruises aren’t necessarily the most expensive vacation in the world but they are certainly not the cheapest. He has only paid for one of the five cruises he’s taken this year though. How? Well, the first cruise he went on this year, he went into the casino and gambled a bit and won a free cruise. This continued to happen each time he’s been on a cruise since then and departs on his sixth cruise of the year this week (it’s sickening how lucky he is).

Work-to-Live Programs

Many countries have what are called “work-to-live” programs. Essentially, you apply for a work visa in said country and go through the work-to-live website to get placed in a job based on your given skill set. For instance, if you are good with kids, you could get placed as a nanny in the country that you visit. While you will have to front the initial cost of the trip, you can hold a job there and live in the country for up to six months. Most work-to-live programs also provide you with a first month’s rent as well as a phone card for the first month that you live there. I’ve been checking out Australia’s work-to-live program most recently and it provides these two things during your first month in the country and helps get you placed in a job.

In short, if you are looking to do more traveling this year, next year, in the next 10 years, you don’t have to let money stop you from doing so. You can travel for cheap, stay for free and work your way through your next adventure.

Do you have any tips on how to travel cheap or free? 

Photo: Flickr: fdecomite

Preparing for Baby 2.0

Source: Free Digital Photos

Source: Free Digital Photos

It’s hard to believe that we’re halfway through growing this little baby and that in a few short months our lives will change significantly. It was about this time with my first pregnancy that I was freaking out about, well, just about everything. Having a baby, the money, having a baby, the money…you get my point. We had no idea what to expect. Part of my anxiety stemmed from that fact that with pregnancy #1 we were not in a great spot financially. I mean, our bills were getting paid but we paid very little attention to the ins and outs of our finances. We didn’t have a budget, let alone any emergency fund and I really had no idea what to expect when I started claiming my maternity benefits (and losing over 60% of my income…).

Thankfully a few months into my maternity leave I discovered an online niche I came to know as ‘’personal finance’’ and my life changed for the better. Not only were my eyes opened to so many things (like the beloved ER fund), it changed my relationship with money and allowed me to take control. In the last four years I’ve learned a lot, and it’s through these lessons I can blissfully take a second maternity leave, stress free. Here’s how we’re prepping financially for baby #2.

Use What We’ve Got and Fill in the Blanks

We were in a weird spot for a long time about if we would have more kids, but because of our uncertainly we held onto quite a few things. Given the lack of storage at our house, a lot of smaller/cheaper items like infant and children’s clothes we donated (keeping maybe the equivalent of two totes only) but we did hold onto all larger items like the crib, pack and play, tub, swing. Pretty much everything outside of clothes if very gender neutral which helps too since we don’t yet know what we’re having. The only things we really need this time are a car seat since our infant seat had expired (we scored one already for almost 60% off!), a diaper bag (I used my first one religiously until Maria was out of diapers/not changing her outfit four times per day due to mess, and it fell apart behind repair. Again already purchased online for $36.00 down from $215.00), and a new monitor since ours was always terrible and we just never got around to replacing (still need to buy).

The fact that we have so much starting out is a huge help. I did need to buy a few maternity clothing pieces since we’re in opposite pregnancy seasons and despite my effort looking second-hand, I eventually gave up when it was forecasting 30 degrees (Celsius) and I had no shorts that fit my ever-growing belly. I didn’t pay full price though and may have made three trips with the same discount coupon to save me the 50% on the outrageously expensive maternity clothing items.

Budget Better

As I said we’re in a much better spot financially, not only have we paid off tens of thousands of dollars in debt in the last four years and have a decent ER fund set aside, in general we manage our money better. We’re in the process now of looking into how things will change when I go off and what we need to prepare. We’re fortunate that our daycare situation is so flexible and willing to do whatever works for us too, a huge help since as it looks now, due to my professional licensing requirements for work I’ll be off five weeks earlier than I’d like and will probably pull her out of daycare for two full months then resume in the new year part time (I can’t justify paying a whole years’ worth of fees to work for 5 weeks, financially it makes zero sense).

Shifting Debt for Savings

Until I go off work and we have an idea of our finances, we’re going to temporarily suspend our extra debt payments and stash everything in savings instead. Once my maternity leave money starts coming in and we have an idea of how much we can budget, we’ll then throw it all on debt but in case something happens I want to know we have a cushion to fall back on (though having gone through the process once I don’t foresee anything major happening).

I’m genuinely looking forward to the next half of this pregnancy and meeting our new baby, just as a pregnancy should be. I’ll be honest, getting pregnant when we did certainly derailed a few of our financial goals temporarily but honestly, such is life. I know some people would be torn apart about it, but something I’ve definitely learned in the last four years is that defining your relationship with money is important, and for me, I never want to allow my relationship with money to take away from actually living my life, babies included.

How did you/will you prepare for kids?