5 tips for a Less Stressful & Budget Friendly Holiday Party

The Christmas holidays can be wonderful time of year, the winter season has kicked in, fires, eggnog and holiday cheer abound. We get to spend time with my three favorite F’s: Friends, Family, and Food. For some of us thought he holiday season is more stress worry and work than enjoyment. With an eye to relieving at least some of the financial stress of the season here is a quick Save More Get More guide to throwing a budget friendly holiday party:

1.) Say YES! – People always offer to help out those brave enough to host a holiday party. Take people up on those offers rather than trying to do it all yourself, this will save you time and money.
2.) Booze – or more specifically: take it easy on the booze, Go with one signature drink (maybe eggnog? Or mulled wine?) that you can make on the cheap and have your guests bring over wine and/or beer.
3.) White elephant gift exchange (rules here) – these are more about surprising people with odd gifts and the fun of stealer, er… “trading” the gifts as the game goes on.
4.) Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance – Make sure you confirm your attendees a couple of times to ensure that you have the right amounts of food and drink, making too much is the Achilles heel of many budgets, and not enough just looks bad.
5.) Go Digital – there are a ton of good calendaring and invite websites and applications like eVite, don’t be afraid to use these they’ll cut down on the stress of having to figure out who is attending, who actually got the invitation and of reminding people.

So there you have it our 5 tips for having a less stressful and budget friendly holiday party this year – if you have any holiday party tricks that you think we should include in the update drop us a line here or on Facebook

Our Guide to Hosting Thanksgiving on a Budget

The holidays are a wonderful time of year, the fall season kicks in and we get to spend time with my three favorite F’s: Friends, Family, and Food. For many of us though especially those hosting thanksgiving, it can also be expensive and stressful. Here are some quick tips to help you host thanksgiving on a budget.

1.) Say YES! – People always offer to help out their hosts, take them up on this offer, it will save you time and money to have people pick things up and bring over food.
2.) Potluck – Maybe not full pot luck but we all have those folks in our social circle that make a killer app or dip, ask them to bring some over this is a great way to share new foods with people and save on the budget.
3.) Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance – Take the time to confirm your group, make the right amount of food for the attendees and plan those items out beforehand. The make them from scratch. Scratch made items are more often than not cheaper and better than prepared ones.
4.) Take it easy on the booze, or better yet have your attendees bring some with them to share.

Relying on friends and planning ahead are the two biggest takeaways for us when it comes to hosting this years’ thanksgiving on a budget. We also really like this piece from Epicurios that contains a whole menu and some specific tips for on cooking a high class meal on a budget.

One last mental health tip, given the long election we have had this year, dodge the politics discussion with crazy uncle Larry.

Save and Invest Money With the Acorns App

I used to love to collect change as a kid. My grandfather had what seemed to me at the time, an enormous jar of change that he kept on top of his dresser. He was very diligent about adding his spare change to that jar every day as part of his routine when he would come home from work. Then when the jar would become full, I would help him roll the coins into paper coin organizers that we would eventually take to the bank and exchange for bills. Participating in this process first hand really helped me realize how much can be accumulated over time just through saving spare change. It was an important life lesson for me, and that is why I am excited about the Acorns app. It is a new investment app that works off this principal, by taking the spare change from your everyday purchases and putting it into an investment account. The account can help you save long term or it can be for shorter term savings goals like planning a wedding or a trip.

When you make a purchase, the Acorns app rounds up to the nearest dollar and saves that amount as your “spare change.” For example let’s say you buy a cup of coffee for $3.50. They will round that up to an even $4.00 thus giving you $.50 for your investment account. Using the app, you sync Acorns with your bank account so that they can route the money to your account properly. Since the app requires sensitive financial information they take security very seriously, but you always need to be cautious when deciding to use a financial app on your phone. They do also offer a computer/desktop based version now, for those that are leary of having banking apps on their phone.

Acorns asks you a series of questions to help match you to the right portfolio of diversified investments that could include stocks, bonds, and real estate. Their algorithms then manage the account for you. As such there are some fees involved with using their platform. Those that have a zero balance are not charged though. Accounts under $5000 are charged $1 per month. Accounts with over $5000 are charged .25% per year. However if you are under 24 or a student with a .edu email address, you actually get to use Acorns for free. Which is great, because it encourages people to start investing as early as possible. There are no fees if you decide to pull money out of your Acorns account unlike some other investment strategies.

If nothing else the Acorns app will likely make you more investment and saving focused. It is fun to see the money grow and see just how much your change accumulates and earns dividends. Let us know if you decide to give Acorns a shot.

The Acorns apps is available for free for iOS and Android devices.

*Photo Credit: iTunes App Store

Plan and Balance Budgets With the Mint App

The Mint app is a new free financial planning app from the maker of Quickbooks and TurboTax that helps you create and stick to budgets. The app pulls in all your financial information from your accounts to help you keep track of your spending and build budgets accordingly. This could include credit card accounts and even your retirement accounts and 401k. If you have trouble keeping track of bill due dates, Mint is helpful with that as well. It sends you automatic reminders when your bills are coming due.

One of our favorite features of the app is that it allows you to group your spending into categories, so that you can see reporting by spending category. It really helps put things into perspective when you can see exactly how much you are spending monthly on things like dining out, coffee, entertainment, etc. Another great feature is that you can plan for certain savings goals like going on a trip or house repairs, etc. To assist the app even looks for places in your account where you are accruing fees and it makes recommendations on how those can be reduced or eliminated to save you more money. These categories and savings goals get incorporated into your budget plan, so you can always see where you stand throughout the month.

Since the app requires personal banking information Mint takes security very seriously by offering bank level encryption. However it is always a good idea to be cautious with sensitive information on mobile devices. Should somebody steal your phone they allow you to login from a desktop computer or another device to delete your information. You will also be required to create a pin to gain access to your account information.

The Mint app is available for free for iOS and Android devices.

*Photo Credit: iTunes App Store

How to Have a Glamorous Wedding on a Budget

Weddings can be one of the trickiest things to plan and budget for. Vendors, venues, and decor all add up and before you know it you have blown through your budget. However, there are lots of creative ways to save money on your big day. I recently had a beautiful wedding for 100 people, and I had planned on a budget of $12,000. By the time all was said and done and we implemented our money saving strategies we actually came in under budget. However tight you want your budget to be, here are some tips to consider to throw a glamorous wedding on a budget.

1. Incorporate the Talents of Friends and Family
Do you have a friend that bakes cakes or a family member that is a photographer? Is there anyone in your network of contacts that can help out at a discounted rate? This helped save me literally thousands of dollars at my wedding, and it also made the wedding more special having loved ones so involved. One of my friends has a beautiful voice so she sang at the wedding. One of my relatives is a radio announcer so he did a reading for us at the wedding. A friend of the family was aspiring to become a professional wedding photographer so she did our pictures at a large discount. These are just a few examples that resulted in tons of savings.

2. Consider Hiring Some Vendors that are Up and Coming
When new vendors are looking to get established in the industry they are more open to accepting lower rates and negotiating with you, so that they can enhance their resume. For example, if you are wanting your wedding to be catered but you aren’t able to afford a fancy caterer consider reaching out to a local cooking school and see if their students might be interested in the opportunity for a discounted rate.

3. Make Your Own Floral Arrangements
Fresh flowers are one of the priciest parts of a wedding, but they have such an elegant look and really help elevate the glam factor of your wedding. That is why I decided to make my own arrangements. The day before my wedding I went to Costco and purchased several bouquets of flowers from their fresh flower stand. They average around $13 to $16 per bouquet. We had also purchased beautiful $4 mercury vases that were on clearance at Z Gallerie. We simply cut the flower bouquets and put them in those vases with water. They made absolutely beautiful centerpieces for a fraction of the price that local flower shops wanted to charge. For the arch at the ceremony we wanted to have flowers around it, but buying them from a florist was astronomically expensive. We went to Hobby Lobby and purchased fake floral garlands with their 40% off coupons and put those around the arch. They looked so beautiful and from the guests’ vantage point you couldn’t even tell that they were fake.

4. Go to Wedding Expos
Bridal expos are a great way to meet lots of vendors that are all trying to compete for your business. The competition equals discounts, deals, and promotions for you. I was offered some pretty fantastic deals at the expo I attended and met amazing vendors. When picking vendors always try to check out their reviews on sites like Yelp, Wedding Wire, or The Knot.

5. Incorporate D.I.Y. Projects Wherever Possible
When planning a wedding on a budget making your own decor is key. All the decor at my wedding was made with extremely cheap items from dollar stores, Walmart, and craft stores. I had a craft party where I invited all my friends and family over and we worked on projects together.

6. Buy Plain Sheet Cakes
Another place where I racked up big savings was on the cake. Ordering a glamorous cake was very pricey and out of my budget, but we wanted to have a cake cutting ceremony at the wedding. We asked our bakery to make a pretty and glamorous small top tier cake and that was our “show cake” that was out on display. We used that one for the cake cutting ceremony. All the rest of the cake that was severed to guests was from plain sheet cakes. That small sacrifice saved hundreds of dollars.

7. Work With Your Venue to Come Up With Out of the Box Ideas
My venue was amazing at working with me to come up with creative ideas to stay within my budget. For example, we wanted to serve alcohol at the wedding but having an open bar was very expensive. The venue suggested that we instead purchase a package that gave each guest 2 free drink tickets. Those that wanted more than 2 drinks could get extra drinks from those that didn’t want to use their tickets. Making small adjustments to our plan like this really added up and helped saved thousands of dollars.

Let us know what strategies you used to have an amazing wedding on a budget. My biggest tip is try to avoid using credit cards whenever possible. Come up with an amount that is doable for you without needing to go into debt. No matter how small the budget, there are always ways to make it work. Having a year to prepare for the wedding really helped me pay for things as I went along, and it gave me time to put money aside so that by the time the big day came we had paid for the entire wedding without using any credit.

Saving at Target With the Cartwheel App

I am a big fan of Target, and typically find myself there a few times a week picking up everyday essentials and groceries. That is why I decided to give their Cartwheel app a try. It is an entirely free app that is available for both iOS and Android devices. When you first download it you have to create a Target account to login if you don’t have one already. You are also given the option to connect via Facebook or Google, but I felt those options were too intrusive for me personally. However, once logged in I was pleasantly surprised by all the discounts they offer, and I was even more excited to see discounts on things that I regularly buy. The Cartwheel app even includes deals for their in-store Starbucks locations which is an added bonus.

Many of the deals are 10%, 15%, or even as little as 5% off. However, there are also plenty that are 20% off or even higher. I can definitely see how the savings start to rack up. When you find a coupon you like, simply press the add button. Then when you go to checkout you present your barcode to the cashier and it will ring up all your applicable coupons that you selected. When searching for deals you can hunt by category or you can browse a feed of the trending, most popular coupons. You can also search for a specific item using the search bar. If you are in the store, you can use the scan product feature to scan a particular item and the app will tell you if there is a Cartwheel discount for that item. Very cool! As you continue to use the app you earn badges that unlock additional promotions.

All in all I am pretty impressed by the Cartwheel app. The interface is very visually appealing and easy to navigate. The wide variety of coupons across all areas of the store is also really exciting. Cartwheel deals are generally for in store use only. When making a purchase, you can combine the Cartwheel savings with one manufacturer coupon, one Target coupon, and you can use your Target REDcard discount if you have one, which allows you to stack up more savings. You can use the Cartwheel coupon for a maximum of 4 of the same item per transaction. You can use up to 6 Cartwheel deals in a single day. If you are somebody that visits Target frequently, give it a shot and see what you think.

Available free for iOS and Android.

* Photo Credit: iTunes App Store

Cheap and Tasty Pumpkin Spice Products 2017

I have to admit I am one of those people that absolutely love the pumpkin spice products trend that inevitably arrives each fall. I love the holidays and the change of the seasons, and I look forward to all the traditions associated with it. Like it or not pumpkin flavored everything during the fall has become an American tradition. So I decided to help you choose what pumpkin spice products are actually worth the money this year. Full disclosure, this list isn’t the healthiest, so if you are on a diet you may want to steer clear.

Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Baking Mix
If you are gluten free you don’t want to miss out on this delightful treat. This is definitely one of the best gluten free products I have tried. I made this for my family and they had no idea it was gluten free. It is also extremely easy to make. I usually opt to make it as a loaf rather than as muffins.

Pumpkin Spice Eggo Waffles
These waffles have just the right amount of pumpkin spice without it becoming too overwhelming. These are a tasty and easy way to get your pumpkin fix.

Dunkin Donuts’ Pumpkin Donut
For a total indulgence opt for the Pumpkin Donut from Dunkin Donut’s. It is a pumpkin spice flavored cake donut with a glaze over it. Very decadent for sure.

Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Caramel Squares
These combine the great pumpkin spice flavor with Ghiradelli’s quality milk chocolate. This one is a no brainer for any chocolate loving pumpkin spice fan.

Thomas’ Pumpkin Spice Bagels
I am not usually a fan of grocery store bagels, but this one is an exception to that. They have a tasty balance of pumpkin and cinnamon flavors. Perfect to have with your morning coffee.

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice latte
This list just wouldn’t be complete without the classic Starbucks PSL. So popular it even has its own trendy acronym. So many pumpkin loving fans go crazy over this drink every fall that it just had to be on the list.

Those are my favorite pumpkin spice products for 2017. May you get your pumpkin spice fix this season before these products disappear and are replaced with gingerbread and peppermint everything!

9 Tips to Tame Your Cell Phone Bill

Here is how we are going to save money on our cell phone bill:

Track Your Minutes –
– Don’t go over it’s expensive and the number one way to blow up your bill.

Friends & Family –
– For the right clients friends and family plans offer huge savings, look at your usage and see if it works, this can save you as much as 50% on your bill.

Are you a light user? Go Prepaid –
– No contracts, no overages, no expensive devices -just a phone to use when you need it. Provided you don’t need it a lot.

Adjust your Voice and Data plan to match your usage –
– Pretty self-explanatory, don’t pay for things you don’t need.

Use an app to text w/friends –
– Tools like Telegram and WhatsApp are free, work internationally, are secure so no one listens in and are when compared to a general group text effectively free.

Watch out for Apps –
– GPS, ringtone downloads, games, premium voicemail, data plans – there are lots of cell phone extras to choose from, but in the end, and they all chew up data and increase your bill.
– Kill back ground app updates, not only does this use up your battery it hits your data as well.
– Always chose free apps over paid/freemium versions

Wifi – Wifi –Wifi
– Tap into as many wifi networks as you can and default to bringing in data and information that way – it will save you tons on data

Get a Senior Discount –
– Over 65? There are government and company sponsored plans and discounts for you!

Quit!
– Or at least threaten to, you’ll be amazed at the discounts you magically qualify for.

There it is the Save More get More guide to reducing your cell phone bill in the coming year – here’s to having a little more money in our pockets in 2017!

Why You Should Ditch Cable For a Streaming Device

If you have cable you probably feel a pang of frustration each month when the bill arrives. We have a love hate relationship with cable. We love the access and variety it provides but hate the high costs and contracts that come along with it. For a long time there has been no viable alternative to cable or satellite TV subscriptions, but that is all beginning to change with the rise of the streaming device. Products like Roku and Apple TV are the top devices, but there are many others to choose from as well. Pair these streaming devices with powerful and easily accessible apps that allow you access to more content than you know what to do with, and you have a very viable alternative to cable.

One big barrier that keeps people from making the leap to streaming is that the process seems confusing and a mystery to a lot of people. It seems very technical and complex, but it is actually very simple to get started. It requires two main steps: 1. choose a streaming device, and 2. download the appropriate apps to fit your lifestyle and TV watching habits.

Choosing a Steaming Device

Streaming devices are similar in function to your cable box. They give you access to content. They plug into your TV and give you a dashboard to access tons and tons of content via a variety of apps such as Netflix and Hulu. The best thing about these devices is that they are very affordable and as such, you purchase them and own them outright. No more paying for monthly fees to rent a cable box or a satellite and its accompanying equipment.

Roku


One of the top streaming devices in the market is Roku. They offer the widest selection of apps. The device is quick and very efficient, especially for the price. The Roku interface is customizable allowing you to choose which apps you want on your dashboard. Another stellar feature is that you can search for content across all the apps right from the dashboard so that you don’t have to launch each app to find out which one has the content you want to view. Roku starts at $50 for their entry level devices. Even if you have an older TV without an HDMI connection, the Roku will work with traditional composite cables. You can also cast content from your mobile device to your television. Un upgraded device, Roku 3, offers voice commands and a headphone jack in the remote. The Roku 3 is $100 but offers all the bells and whistles. It is still an excellent value though and costs less than 1 month of the average cable package.

Apple TV
Like Roku, Apple TV gives you access to a large selection of apps though not as many as Roku. However when it comes to the ones that count most to the majority of viewers, Apple TV still gets the job done. Also if you have invested in a lot of iTunes content over the years such as movie downloads or music downloads, that will all be easily accessible on the Apple TV. In typical Apple fashion, the use of iTunes is heavily intertwined with the device. If you want to rent or own a tv show or movie that transaction needs to be done through iTunes. The latest generation is the Apple TV 4 which is $149, while the 3rd generation version is $69. The new version uses Siri to provide voice activated commands and gives you access to Apple Music and the app store. If you are looking to cast content from your iPhone to your TV, Apple TV is excellent at this thanks to Apple’s AirPlay feature. You can cast your phone screen or just about any video or music app’s content to your TV.

Google Chromecast
This is definitely the cheapest streaming device coming in at an extremely affordable rate of $35. This device allows you to cast compatible apps and video content from your phone to your TV. It is a small USB stick that you plug into your smart TV. The downside is that Chromecast does not come with a remote like the Roku and the Apple TV devices do. That means you will have to use it alongside your phone or tablet to direct it. This is the most simplistic and affordable option, and it is an excellent device. However it definitely isn’t as sophisticated as the other devices, and if you are looking to use streaming as your only source of TV you may find it to be limited if you are a hardcore TV fan. However if you are simply looking for a casting device, Chromecast is a great choice.

Choosing Apps

Your streaming device of choice gives you access to apps, and the apps are what gives you the actual content. This is where you get to customize as you see fit. Some apps offer free content while others allow you access for a fee. You’ll find that even with those monthly fees, your final monthly total will still be far less than what you’d experience with cable.

Netflix
The top dog of streaming providers is Netflix with their addictive blend of popular movies and tv shows plus high quality original content. Netflix is extremely affordable at $9.99 for the standard package.

Hulu
Another huge player in the streaming app space is Hulu. If you are looking for popular up to date tv shows and their most recent episodes, then Hulu is the way to go. Hulu has shows from network television as well as some cable networks as well. The content is usually made a day after it originally appears on live TV. The service does include commercials at the $8 package level, but you can pay $12 for an ad free subscription.

Sony Crackle
Watch free TV and movies including original content from Sony Crackle. It is entirely free, the only downside is that apart from their original content, the tv and movies are older selections rather than current favorites.

Sling TV


This is currently the best way to gain access to many of your favorite cable television channels. Sling allows you to choose from a variety of channel packages giving you access to them live and in real time. If you are a sports fan, Sling also offers tons of sports related content. Packages start with 25 channels starting at $20 per month.

HBO Now
Stream your favorite current and past HBO programming for $14.99 per month. The HBO Now app unlike HBO Go is not part of an existing cable service package. You can use it without having an existing cable or satellite package.

CBS All Access
If you love CBS programming then you won’t want to miss out on the CBS All Access app. Get access to past shows as well as new shows. New episodes will be available on the app the day after they air on live TV. The subscription is $5.99 per month.

Seeso

Comedy lovers will find all the humorous content they want on the Seeso app. Get ad free comedy for $3.99 a month. Seeso has tons of stand up shows, exclusive original content, classic TV shows and movies, as well as next day episodes of certain current comedy TV shows.

These apps are just a small snippet of what is available. Many of the apps do require a monthly subscription of some sort, but the nice part is that you can create your setup in a very customizable way that fits exactly what you want to watch leaving out what you don’t need or want. It is also great having access to so much content on demand. Watch whole seasons at a time whenever you want if you so choose. There is so much flexibility! So give it a shot. What do you have to loose? If you still aren’t convinced try out a streaming device along side your cable tv plan and see what you think before you cut the cord.

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What are the Health Benefits of Coconut Oil?

If you follow this site and sites like it recently you will have noticed a uptick in reviews of coconut oil and in specific the health benefits of coconut oil and of the medium-chain triglycerides (MCT’s) it contains. Today we figured we’d take a quick look at what people are claiming this latest magic elixir can do, these benefits are in many cased not FDA endorsed so apply you usual filter to that.

So what are people saying the health benefits of coconut oil are?

– Taken in moderation it can raise your HDL cholesterol counts.
o The down side is it can also raise your LDL counts if you over do it.
– It can help with weight loss
o While MCT’s are more likely to be burned off than converted to body fat like other dietary fat – it is incredibly high in calories so just dropping it into your diet is not going to help you lose weight.
– It can help with Alzheimer’s symptoms
o This is mostly social media info and word of mouth no studies have been undertaken on the subject.
– It contains high levels of antioxidants
o This is true – but so do other lower calorie foods
– It can be used as a make-up remover
o Also true and any time you can use a natural substance in your beauty regimen it is probably a good idea.

So what is the verdict on all these health benefits of coconut oil? In general like most things you hear about on the internet it is a bit overblown – still don’t look past it as a substitute for complex fats like lard or for coconut oil’s alternate uses like removing make-up. If you’d like to learn more on the subject of the health benefits of coconut oil here are two in-depth articles – both obviously have a bias so read them and decide for yourself:
Real Simple
Organic Facts

5 Tips For a Budget Friendly Spring Break

As we move into March Spring Break is once again upon us and with new travel restriction being discussed by the TSA, as well as a little budget hangover from too much holiday shopping we are looking at ways to enjoy a budget friendly spring break this year.

1.) Drive don’t fly. If you are with a group picking a destination you can drive to will save you money over flying and you will get to avoid the new pat down procedures that the TSA is quietly rolling out.
2.) Vacation Rental instead of hotels – renting a house affords you more space, more flexibility, things like a kitchen, and will save you money over double occupancy hotels rates.
3.) Unsung Vacation Spots – going to places not typically associated with spring break can be a good way to save money, without question Dayton beach will be busy, but Corpus Christie? Not as much.
4.) Shop – or more specifically shop for food and other necessities rather than eat out for every meal. This pairs nicely with #2 above as a vacation rental will give you the ability to have meals in.
5.) Travel on off days – Thursday to Thursday as a n example hotel rates will be lower, if you do fly airfare will be cheaper as well.

Those are some of the things we are thinking of to help us save a few bucks on our coming holiday break. You might also look at this list of budget friendly spring break destinations from US News and World Report