Showing posts with label frugal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label frugal. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

How to Buy a Beater Car for $5,000 or Under

You feel smug don’t you?  Those tinted windows, that sound system, the leather seats, that victory at beating the car next to you at the green light.  Don’t lie: you have an unnatural connection to your car, like it somehow defines or compliments a part of your lifestyle – never mind that’s exactly what the marketing people want you to think.  Wear LL Bean and drive a Subaru? Pine for Edward Cullen (Twilight) and have a Volvo in your garage? Trust fund tushy only comfortable atop German-sourced leather? 

America has a problem: people spend more time thinking about their ride then planning their retirement.  How do you stop being a car diva?  That’s your problem, but get a grip: a car is a depreciating asset (i.e. it won’t make you richer) and  will one day: A) end up in a junkyard; B) sold to some weirdo on Craigslist;  or C) worse case, traded-in far below market value for a newer model.   The purpose of this post isn’t to shame you into trading your metal idol for something insanely practical – you’re way too much of a car diva for that.  Instead, this article is meant to provide a quick how-to guide for someone that needs/wants transportation, but would like to minimize depreciation expenses. Welcome to the world of beater shopping.  

Car divas have lots of excuses for eschewing beaters:
D for – definitely need to spend more money to get something reliable.
I for – I wouldn’t be caught dead driving that!
V for – Very unfair, I work hard and want to treat myself to something decent
A for – Am I going to fit in with the rest of the neighborhood/company/family?

My response to these excuses:   Yes, you can (an AAA membership can give you peace of mind).  Get over yourself. Put your money into something that will work for – not against – you. And lastly, who cares?! 

Again, this article is a life-hack shortcut to choosing a beater (read: used) car. The information presented is based on years of personal research, ownership experience, and review websites such as,, and Consumer Reports.  Note about Consumer Reports:  they mostly cater to snobby New England car divas who prefer new or slightly used vehicles with “soft touch” interior materials.  Additionally, their reliability statistics have subtle inconsistencies and I believe the organization and its readers (who provide the reliability data via survey) have an unfair bias against domestic automakers. 

(Dave purchased a 2001 Toyota Sienna van for $1 (pictured).  Yes you read correctly:  a functioning vehicle, with wheels an engine, transmission, doors, seat belts and 2 air bags.  It was acquired from family who would have otherwise donated it. With nearly 240,000 miles, the van has been on the road for almost 2 years after its $1 valuation.  The Silver Bullet, as it’s called, can handle 7 passengers, swallow tons of cargo, and take a collision with minimal damage – it was in a low speed accident last winter.  Dave’s other vehicle is a 1999 Buick Park Avenue (PA) purchased for $2,700.  The PA currently has slightly over 170,000 miles.  Dave has performed most repairs and all basic maintenance on the vehicles by reading online forums, visiting junk yards, and watching YouTube videos.)

How do you go about finding a used car for $5,000 or under?  
·         Always pay cash
·         Buy directly from the owner (no middle man). Find owners who: are trading up for a larger vehicle for growing family, are moving, have service records, and/or have snow tires (it’s shows they’re responsible)
·         Yes, you’re going to be the Craigslist weirdo
·         Create a checklist before you test drive and push every button – horn, radio, trunk release, etc.  Come up with a driving route and routine before testing the vehicle.  My favorite maneuvers simulate desperate scenarios: panic stops – do multiple, slalom, and peddle to the metal.  Does the car make any strange sounds, pull to the side, emit blue, black or white fumes, or clunk like it has arthritis? 
·         Bring a flashlight, find the hood release and *gasp* open the engine bay.  Funny thing, you don’t need a mechanics license to do this – get used to it: you’re going to be doing the majority of your own car maintenance after you buy the beater; YouTube and free online forums are great for this.  For added peace of mind, a pre-purchase inspection is highly recommended; check out this past Practically Frugal Family post.
·         Search the internet for common problems and maintenance intervals for the model(s) you’re considering: focus on these areas.  Do the records indicate completion of significant maintenance (e.g. timing belt) and common repairs?

Generally sellers of $5,000 and under cars just want to make a quick sale.  In their eyes, the car is on its last legs and they’ll likely feel sorry for the buyer – “they must be desperate if they’re considering driving this.”  Use this mentality to your advantage and barter.  Does the car need new tires – subtract the cost from the purchase price.  Dented fender or body panels; light surface rust?  Perfect – you’re likely not going to fix them, but each one decreases the value further.

Some key characteristics about your $5,000 or under beater before we begin.  Ideally it must meet all (if not most of the following criteria):

·         Mass produced – meaning many were sold – there should be enough in junkyards to provide cheap, plentiful parts
·         Use engines/driveline systems in production for several years – longer time to work out bugs
·         Reasonably reliable (engines, transmissions, electrical systems not prone to catastrophic failure)
·         Does not require premium fuel and gets decent mileage based on your driving characteristics.  Fuel economy is better compared in the form of the inverse of mpg (as gallons per mile). Unless you drive significantly more miles than average, the difference between 20 mpg and 25 mpg is negligible at current fuel prices, especially at the $5,000 and less purchase price.  
·         Has an acceptable amount of life left (end of life is likely 250,000 – 300,000 or 18 – 20 years)
·         High depreciation and reasonable alternatives should not cost significantly less
·       Priced at a point where you can self insure for collision and comprehensive insurance (i.e. you’re only going to carry liability and if the car is totaled, you’ll get a new one)
·        Minimal mechanical complexity - avoid AWD, 4x4 or any other marketing derivative of all four wheel propulsion –it’s complex, costly to maintain/repair and overrated. Get snow tires if you need good winter traction.
·         Has a good safety rating, equipment (air bags, ABS, etc.), and won’t crumble like a tin can. It needs to “take a licking and keep on ticking.”  Translation: if you get in an accident, you want something that can still operate with minimal rehabilitation cost because the insurance you buy will not cover collision.

Vehicle that best exemplify the above requirements:

·         Buick Park Avenue (avoid air suspension)
·         Buick LeSabre
·         Buick LaCrosse (with 3.8 liter V-6)
·         Ford Crown Victoria – avoid police interceptor version
·         Mercury Grand Marquis
·         Toyota Avalon
·         Toyota Sienna (pre 2004)
Runners-up: consider if you can get a good price on a low mileage model in better than average condition and your circumstances warrant it:
·         Buick Century/Regal - price is the only selling point over above list
·         Chevy Lumina – ditto above
·         Honda Accord (1999 and before)
·         Lincoln Towncar  - only if you can’t find a better deal on a Ford Crown Victoria or Mercury Grand Marquis – avoid air suspension.
·         Toyota Camry ( avoid models with 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine)

Below is a highly opinionated overview of various car companies highlighting models of particular interest/disinterest.  Maserati, Mini, Porche, and Tesla are not even discussed; if you have to ask why at this point in the article, then you shouldn’t be driving in the first place.   

Acura/Audi/BMW/Cadillac:   Most (if not all) require premium fuel.  If regular fuel requirement didn’t exist, I would recommend Acura TSX – it’s a Japanese and European spec Honda with a high price markup for people who buy on brand.  Audi & BMW are notoriously unreliable and expensive to maintain as they age.  Avoid.  Cadillac’s have spotty reliability and Buicks are reasonable alternatives that cost less.

Buick:    Yes, people are going to assume you’re an old person. Find one with the ubiquitous 3.8 liter V-6 which has been in production for decades.  Best models are: Park Avenue and LeSabre – likely to be good in a crash, mass produced (lots of spare junkyard parts). Considering their size, they get reasonable gas mileage. Avoid Park Avenue models with air suspension – it will fail and is costly to fix.    LaCrosse is worthy mention too.   Consider Century or Regal with 3.8 engine if you can get a really good deal, but be warned that Century and Regal models are dreadful to drive and generally have cheap interior parts that fall apart easily. 

Chevy:  In the majority of cases, the Buicks mentioned above are better alternatives. Trucks are generally reliable (except S-10) and parts plentiful, but they are gas guzzlers. Although Impala shares 3.8 liter V-6 engine with Buicks mentioned above, it’s not well built.  Lumina with 3.8 engine might be a good bet if it can be found for $2,000 or less.  The venture vans have bad crash test ratings for a family vehicle and are not reliable.

Chrysler:  Only vehicle worth considering would be the Chrysler 300 with V-6 engine, but you’re unlikely to find one $5,000 or under.  Buick Park Avenue and LeSabre are reasonable alternatives and much less costly. Trucks suck fuel and front wheel drive cars are cheaply constructed and are typically rated among the worst vehicles: 200, PT Cruiser, etc. 

Dodge:  Cars are same as Chrysler: low rent.  Trucks guzzle gas and Jeeps are just dumb. 

Ford:  the Crown Victoria is built like a tank, mass produced, engine and drive train have been around forever, and can probably take an accident better than anything.  Highly recommended given low maintenance, repair and operating costs. Two caveats: 1) avoid any Crown Victoria used for police duties (interceptor) – it likely had the crap beat out of it; and 2) snow tires are a must if you live in a cold climate.  Other car, SUV and van models, though mass produced, don’t make sense due to reliability issues.  Ford trucks are generally reliable, but like GMC and Chevy trucks, they do not get good gas mileage. 

GMC:  With the exception of the Sonoma, GMC trucks and their carbon copy Chevy twins last a long time.  However, they have uncomfortable and cheap interiors and generally do not get good gas mileage. Additionally, there’s little sense in dealing with an uncomfortable truck with a cheap interior unless you own a contracting business.    

Honda:  I think Hondas are generally overrated and command unjustifiably high used prices.  1999 – 2005 Accords are among some of the most problematic vehicles (see  Transmission issues abound in Accord and Odyssey models. A pre-1999 Accord is probably best way to go, but may be near end of life.  CR-V feels cheap to drive and commands too high of a price; reasonable alternatives exist for much less.  Civic and Fit have questionable crash resilience when compared to the average SUV driven on America roads. Element is an appealing concept, but the 600 lb load capacity is a serious shortcoming.  Ridgeline and Pilot have mechanical complexity of 4WD and are too overpriced.  The Passport is a rebadged Isuzu product and although Isuzu did not receive any mention in this article, I’m here to tell you it’s not pretty: questionable reliability and manufacturer has left US.

Hyundai:  Hyundai used to produce trash, but has improved its models considerably in the recent past. This presents a catch-22: older models are unreliable and newer models suffer from high depreciation (good for us) given past reputation. At the time of this writing, there aren’t enough in junkyards to warrant making our beater list.  Additionally, they are difficult to work on – replacing headlight bulb requires removal of the entire headlight assembly.    

Infiniti/Jaguar:  Low production volumes, premium fuel, avoid.

Jeep: Almost all are 4x4 – transmission issues, avoid.

Kia: Somewhat related to Hyundai models, most are unremarkable.

Land Rover:  Laughable.  Expensive, not economical, and not reliable.

Lexus: Reliable, but too many characteristics violate our rules: premium fuel requirement, Toyotas offer reasonable alternative for much less, not mass produced.

Lincoln:  TownCar is the same as Ford Crown Victoria and only Lincoln worth considering. Look for one without the air suspension – it’s prone to leaks.

Mazda:  I think most Mazda cars have a cheap factory finish/construction and develop significant rust and suspension issues over time.  Millennia and 626 models in our $5,000 or less price range are plagued by problems. Protégé models may be the only exception to the bad Mazda lot.  Depreciation on these vehicles is likely to be high (better prices).  However, I consider the Protégé to be too small to provide adequate crashworthiness. Overall, our mass produced requirement casts a cloud over the whole Mazda line as there are not large numbers of these vehicles on the road. 

Mercedes-Benz: Don’t make me laugh.  Any Benz model you can find for $5,000 or under is going to either be a complete piece of trash or over 20 years old.  These vehicles violate most of our requirements.

Mercury:  All models are Ford posers.  Only one worth consideration is Grand Marquis. 

Mitsubishi:  Automaker is likely to be the next manufacturer that leaves the US market.  Very low production volume on models translates into sky high replacement parts cost.  Reliability for Outlander models is enticing and pre-2007 models can be found for less than $5,000, but beware replacement parts cost.

Nissan:  Trucks guzzle gas, the Quest in our price range is unreliable and has low production volume.  Buying other Nissan models is like spinning the clunker roulette wheel. Although the company may be associated with reliability due to its Japanese heritage, it is aligned with French company Renault, which has questionable reliability; vehicles share many components.  Maxima models 1999 and earlier are reliable, but are likely too close to end of life.  Altima is a mixed bag not worth the risk when better alternatives exist. 

Pontiac:  Although many models can be found in our price range and are mass produced, crash test ratings on most models are not good and interiors are embarrassingly cheap.  Buicks offer better alternative in most, if not all cases including: Grand Am and Bonneville.  A notable exception to the Pontiac line is the Vibe.  Underneath the body cladding is a Toyota engine and drive train which is subject to higher depreciation on the basis of its Pontiac nameplate.  If considering Vibe or Toyota Matrix, go for a Vibe model and avoid the following: 1) the 2.4 liter 4 cylinder engine in model years 2009 – 2010 easy to do because it’s likely out of our price range; 2) AWD – these models are less reliable and have a frequent maintenance cycle.  The Vibe did not ultimately make our list due to relatively small size and scarcity of junkyard parts availability.

Saab:  Weird, not mass produced, high cost of replacement parts, manufacturer has left US market- enough said! 

Saturn:   S and Ion models are relatively reliable, but I’d rather take my chance of a collision in a Buick.    L, Relay, and Vue models are notoriously unreliable. The Aura and Astra models are enticing for a moment, but are transplants from General Motors’ European division and as a result are low volume, high replacement cost used cars. 

Scion:  I love the concept of reliable, inexpensive, and utilitarian (hatchback and wagon-style) vehicles this youth-oriented branch of Toyota promotes.   Scions can be obtained in our price range and have fuel efficient drive systems that have been around for years, but there are a couple of flies in the ointment: the questionable durability of the 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine found in the Tc and 2008 + model years of the Xb, and the crashworthiness of the remaining models: xA, xD, and 2004 – 2006 xB.  I owned two xBs for a couple years; they were driven exclusively on city streets in a small town.  Both were sold when commutes changed to heavier driving in a larger city (with crazier drivers). I consider the gutless performance from the dinky 100-horsepower, 1.5 liter 4-cylinder engine, small size (the xB actually bounced off the crash test barrier in an IIHS safety test) and lack of side airbags to be a major safety issue.  The 2004 – 2006 Scion xB is worth considering if and only if you don’t do much high speed driving in a low population area.  The xA isn’t worth considering when the more cavernous xB can be had for the same price. 

Smart:  No, they’re dumb.

Subaru:  Society seems to love Subarus, but I don’t.   Here’s why: Subaru has used the same 2.5 liter 4-cylinder engine in most of its models for nearly 20 years, but it has always been prone to head gasket failure – search the internet. Additionally, I don’t think they age gracefully – rust, expensive and frequent replacement of parts (brakes, wheel bearings, etc.) were my experience owning a Subaru Legacy until end of life at 18 years old and with 220,000 miles.  It was a rust bucket when I sold it, the steering linkage was leaking, exhaust system was gone due to rust, and the wheel bearings were bad and could not be replaced due to corrosion.  Granted the transmission and engine still worked well, but the engine required numerous oil leak fixes.  The cost of maintenance was not worth the AWD hype.  You have better options.   

Suzuki:  Actually fulfilled my prediction about Mitsubishi by existing the US market in the past couple years.   Models are low volume, and replacement parts are very expensive.  Avoid the whole lot. 

Toyota:  Most used car buyers worship at the Toyota alter.  However, liking all models across a brand is similar to liking all of the tracks on a band’s CD – and I like my songs and vehicles on a case-by-case basis.  The Toyota line offers some pros and cons with respect to our requirements.  Positives first: most models are mass produced and have engines and drive train systems in production for several years.  Negatives: they are popular used cars and therefore demand higher prices.  Toyotas $5,000 or less are either going to be older or have more miles than our alternatives.  That being said, I would avoid any model with the ubiquitous 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine.  In my opinion, this power plant, appearing in many models after 2002, was cheaply engineered to increase profitability.  Stories of blown head gaskets, stripped head bolts, and excessive oil consumption for this engine abound on the internet. I briefly owned a Highlander with this engine and it was a POS. Although the 3.0 liter V-6 engine also has a bad reputation (for oil sludge), I’d say the root cause are dumb owners who don’t change their oil frequently rather than bad design.  The 3.0 V-6 has a deserved reputation for being a long lasting and reliable design if properly maintained (avoid bone-head owners or ones without documented proof of oil changes).   Large, crashworthy models with this engine and under $5,000 include: Avalon, and Sienna (pre-2004).   Ubiquitous Camry models with the 3.0 V-6 or 2.2L 4-cyclinder are worth a look as well.

Volkswagen: I like the driving dynamics of most VW models, but they are hopelessly unreliable, and difficult to work on.  Avoid the whole line.

Volvo:  Avoid: not mass produced, complicated designs (electrical issues), and replacement parts are sky high.

There you have it. Used car knowledge distilled down to a $5,000 or under price point.  Beater cars, they’re not for everybody. If you’re a car diva, challenge yourself:  is your ride really worth the total cost?

This post is written by guest blogger and friend, David Cook. Here is a little more about him:

I am a 30-something financial pragmatist: down to earth and enjoy telling it like it is.  While many of my MBA cohorts gravitated toward corporate pursuits, my path has lead to a position in local government working as an IT Business Analyst and Project Manager.   A moderate, non-corporate work schedule has afforded time in my personal life to focus on applying relatively basic financial concepts, including: paying down all non-mortgage debt, shopping for expired food, and gaining competence as an independent dividend growth stock investor.  I currently manage a 20-stock portfolio and hope to write about the experience.  

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

5 Resources That Can Replace a Gym Membership

My wife and I generally like being active and really enjoying hiking, biking, walking, and swimming together. As part of my health journey I decided to get in better shape for a better quality of life and hopefully longevity. My whole life, or at least life that I can remember, I have struggled with obesity. After eating a primarily plant based and whole food diet for a couple of years and using some of the resources listed in this post I am in the best shape/health of my life and I hope to continue this journey. When I decided to get in shape I did not want to pay a monthly gym membership (what kind of frugal blogger would I be if I did?!) and started looking for alternatives. The list in this post is a combination of resources that my wife and I use and have found useful for us.

1. C25K - This app helps those who are not accustomed to running prepare for a 5K. The C25K stands for Couch to 5K and it truly scaffolds runs in order to accomplish this. You can find C25K in the Google Play store or in the Apple Store for your smart phones or iPods. It tells you when to run and walk and gradually, week by week, it challenges you to run a little farther. It starts as simple as having you run a minute and then walk a minute and so on. The intervals are achievable and it doesn't let you push yourself too hard. I personally do not enjoy running, and still do not love it, but this app kept me on track and gave me achievable goals. Through the use of this app and a lot of determination and encouragement I have ran a 5K twice and run 1 to 2 miles 3 or 4 times a week. Before using this app I had not run long distance for almost 10 years. (Hint: when getting serious about running footwear becomes very important. I personally love my Brooks and would recommend them to anyone looking for a sturdy trainer. Keep them affordable by buying online or watching for deals at your local running store. A couple of years ago my wife bought 4 pairs of the Brooks because they were $30 don't go bad you know!)

2. Hasfit - Hasfit is a fitness organization (for lack of a better term) that specializes in workout videos and meal plans (For some healthy and frugal recipes check out our recipes page on the blog). It stands for Heart and Soul Fitness. Both my wife and I enjoy using these videos to work out. All you need is a device that can play Youtube from the internet (which I assume you do if you are reading this) a space to do the exercises, and a couple of soup cans or weights if you have them. Coach Kozak does a great job motivating you in the videos and the videos range from beginner exercises to advance. I really enjoy the kickboxing videos and there are options in terms of times and difficulty as well. We generally use the Youtube channel and videos, but there are many more resources on the website. There really is an engaging workout for everyone, and enough diversity in terms of length and types of workouts that you should never get bored! Sometimes we have to base our fitness selection merely on the length of the workout which is easily displayed on youtube. (Hint: we generally do these in our living room and if you are like me at all you are a huge sweater! A workout mat can definitely be helpful when working out at home).

3. Fitness Blender - This is another Youtube channel / website that offers a variety of levels of fitness training. From beginner to advanced the techniques are easy to replicate and well explained. A lot of the training comes in the form of intervals which is proven to be a great way to burn fat in particular. The intervals mean that there are more active and less active parts of each workout. They also have a nice countdown feature so you know how much longer you have to do an exercise as well as a little preview of what is coming next so you can mentally prepare/try to figure out the movement ahead of time. (Hint: A lot of exercises can be made more intense by using some 2 lb weights).

4. The Library - This is a general tip, and your public library has so many resources that many do not use, but in the DVD/Blu-Ray section there are many workout videos that you can do. What is available of course is going to be dependent on the quality of your public library. The KDL branch in East Grand Rapids has a pretty good selection. If you are a person that loves reading there are also a lot of books about exercising as well. The best part is that every community should have a library or two and everything is free! (It is also a great place to take the kids! It is one of the hints in our blog post about being social once you have children!)

5. Running Clubs (includes list of some in GR) - Running clubs are a great way to get and keep in shape. They help hold you accountable and you can foster some great friendships through running with the same people every week. We personally do not belong to any but have friends that are active members and love them. There are also a variety of clubs in GR that range from one that meets at Founder's, runs steps/hills, and then gets a pint after to trail running to training for the 5th 3rd Riverbank Run. (Hint: if ever running in the dark it is a great idea to get some reflective clothing and/or a wearable light that shines forward and backward for safety)

Grand Rapids Running Club
Here is a link to all teams listed on the MapMyRun site:

Thank you so much for taking time to read our humble blog. The feedback we have received has been amazing. Please make sure to comment with ways in which you are being frugal as well because we are still a work in progress and can learn from you! Also, if you have enjoyed blog posts we would appreciate if you shared them on social media or with friends who may be interested in the specific topics (or just the whole thing in general). Thanks again!

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

20 Mother's Day Gift Ideas to Honor Your Mother Without Breaking Your Budget

With Mother's Day around the corner (May 10, 2015) it is time to start figuring out what you are going to do for (or with) your Mom. In John's family we have a tradition of buying his Mom a large beautiful hanging flower basket every year. To save money we start looking for deals a month ahead of time. This year we received a $4 off coupon in the mail for a 14 inch  flower basket from Countyside Greenhouse in Allendale, MI. (Those not from the West Michigan area this greenhouse is massive, reasonably priced and AMAZING!) We easily found a gorgeous hanging basket on sale for $24 and with our $4 coupon we walked away only paying $20. (this will test whether our family actually reads our blog!...but I guess our family already knows we are cheap! hence John's brother mentioning it in his Best Man speech at our wedding! lol).

And last year we bought and used a Groupon for Huizenga Brothers Greenhouse to buy her hanging basket. So anway, the point I am making is you can save money by thinking ahead and looking for deals.

For those that need a little help figuring out what to do for their Mom, here is a list of 20 cheap Mother's Day Gift Ideas.

Cheap Mother's Day Gift Ideas:

1. Make her dinner instead of taking her out to a restaurant
2. Pack a picnic and take her to a beautiful setting such as a park, beach, or a place that is special to her.
3. Take your kids to Goodwill and give each child $5 to find something to buy for her or something to use to make into a gift for her (this could get expensive depending on how many kids you have :p.
4. Surprise her with a stay in movie night with her favorite movie or a movie of her choice (like the movie she has been dying to see but no one will watch it with her) and snacks. You can keep the price down by making your own popcorn and using large bags of candy instead of personal sizes. Make it extra special by drizzling your popcorn with chocolate or peanut butter (I have been meaning to try this).
5. Have your kids write and perform a play.
6. Put together a  youtube video and profess your love on-line or make a digital collage of pictures.
7. Use a Groupon deal to go wine tasting, Paint Nite for two, bowling, boat cruise, etc.
8. Use an on-line deal (such as groupon) to order a canvas print of one of her favorite pictures or a family.
9. Do an act of service, especially one she hates to do or has been nagging you to do, such as cleaning out the garage, washing the dishes, de-clutter and organize your closet, clean the bathrooms, dust, etc.
10. Bake her her favorite dessert and customize it with a message.
11. Buy cheap cement mix and garden stepping stones with kid's hand or feet prints.
12. Have your kids paint rocks to decorate the garden.
13. Wash her car by hand (cheaper than automatic..unless you have a deal) and clean and vacuum the inside.
14. Let her sleep in.
15. Surprise her by showering her with gifts the day before Mother's Day so she caught off guard.
16. Ask her to make a list of 10 or more things that would make her feel loved (back massage, washing the dishes without being asked, love note left in her car, date night, you name it...well she names it! Save the list and do one or more of these things on special days such as Mother's Day, birthday, Christmas, etc. A great book to help you with this is The Five Love Languages. I love this book because it explains the different ways (words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch) people express and feel loved. It helps you identify the way she wants to be shown love so you can show your love more effectively. There is even an edition for children so you can learn the best way to show love to your kids.
17.  Have a make up party and let your kids do her make up and take silly pictures afterwards (please note some moms would not find this funny or enjoyable)
18. Set up a hot bath with candles and essential oils and take the kids to the park so she can have a relaxing afternoon or evening.
19. Take her to a movie matinee at a second showing theater for cheap! For those in the Grand Rapids area the Woodland Mall has showings for $5.
and the obvious
20. Make her breakfast in bed (don't do this if she is not a morning person or doesn't usually like to eat breakfast).

The main point is to personalize whatever you do for her so you don't simply spend money on her because that is what is expected. I guess if she really wants a diamond necklace than you  better buy her a diamond necklace. But personally, I would be pissed if John bought me a diamond necklace because it is expensive and I don't really wear jewelry.

For me, the perfect Mother's Day (or any special occasion) would be sleeping in and waking up to a healthy homemade breakfast (like my chocolate waffles with strawberry sauce), not having to do the dishes afterwards, spending time with my family (maybe go for a walk, bike ride, movie, etc) and finally being surprised with my favorite ice cream cake (Peanut Butter Playground) from Cold Stone using the $4 off coupon we got in the mail that I filed away in our coupon folder. So I would cost a whopping $20! But you know what I am doing on  Mother's Day instead...working. But then again my amazing husband usually lets me sleep in and makes me breakfast when I work Sundays so I am one lucky Momma.

Happy Mother's Day!

Coming soon...The best cheap dates without seeming cheap!

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Quick Tip Thursday: Your Next Reward Card...Citi Double Cash

One of our blog's original posts was entitled: "The Plastic Debate". This article is a little controversial because I advocate for the use of a reward credit card. We historically have used, and have been happy with the Chase Freedom Card. This card is great because it offers 1% cash back on all purchases, and 5% cash back (on up to $1,500) on purchases in promotional categories quarterly such as gas, groceries, Amazon, etc. It's pretty good! (A trend you may see in the financial posts is that I am big on playing the "Percentage Game". That is also why we decided to ditch our savings account for high interest checking accounts.)

However, it is just that...pretty good. You are potentially limited by the rewards you can incur with the $1,500 limit and the 1% is pretty standard. We still have the card and use it for the quarterly promotions but have stopped using it to pay our bills and everyday purchases that we usually use a credit card for, and here's why.

The Citi Double Cash is our new GO TO credit card. This card gives 1% cash back when you make a purchase, and 1% cash back when you pay your bill, resulting in 2% cash back. In effect, doubling your cash back that you would get for non-promotional purchases with Chase. DOUBLE! (I guess that is why it is called Double Cash

The application process was easy to do online and the card came quickly. (Disclaimer: please be advised that canceling and opening credit cards does affect your credit score.We have great credit scores and don't plan on buying anything that needs a credit score in the near future so we were fine with potentially lower our scores)

It took some time but we changed all of our automatic online bills to pay with the Citi Double Cash card. Although it initially takes some time and energy it pays off because we effortlessly make double the money by paying the same bills we would have paid with the Chase card, aka FREE MONEY!

So now we use the Citi Double Cash credit card for everyday purchases and for paying bills and only use our Chase card when the promotional quarter works for us. For example, last quarter it was groceries so we still used our Chase card for all of our grocery shopping. 

Of course, all of this goes with your ability to spend with a credit card as if it is cash. A lot of  time research shows that a lot of people over spend when using credit cards, which would defeat the whole purpose of getting cash back.

On an slightly different note, I encourage you not to use credit cards when supporting small local businesses because they get charged service fees, thus reducing their profit.

HUGE SIDE NOTE: I finally found an alternative to my bulky wallet for carrying my money and credit  cards. It is the EZGO wallet. It floats, holds up to 15 bills, 8 cards, 2 micro sd cards, and an sd card. It is light, thin and durable. My Chiropractor also approves!

My final recommendation for those who use credit cards appropriately would be to ONLY use Chase Freedom for promotional category purchases and use your Citi Double Cash for everything else.

Feel free to comment with what reward cards you are using and what you like/dislike. 

Have a great day and thanks for reading. Please make sure if you've been enjoying the blog to put your email in the right column and check us out on Facebook and Twitter!

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Save at Least $80 a Year...Grow a Beard

So I got this suggestion from a friend of mine and I wanted to look further into the prospect of saving money by growing a beard.

First of all, I myself have a beard. I am a fan of the relatively short and trimmed look, but it does venture toward Duck Dynasty messiness from time to time. Last November I decided to do No Shave November, and I have rocked the beard ever since. Here are the benefits I find to the beard other than saving money which we will get to in a moment.

1) It is low maintenance - I seriously just trim it when I get a haircut so it is the same length as the sides of my fade.

2) Weather Buffer - In the Winter it definitely helps keep the wind off of the face and really helps to keep the cheeks warm. In the Summer I was worried it was going to make me too hot because I am already warm most of the time. I found that it would not make me feel any warmer, but it did help keep my pasty cheeks not to burn. An unintentional money saver was that I did not have to use sunscreen for much of my face. Another side note is that it feels cool to swim with a just does.

3) It is in style - Whether you are a hipster, lumberjack or businessman there is a beard trend happening right now so it is time to get on board.

4) It makes me look older - I am blessed with quite the baby face and already kept some chin hair to help look more my age. Since I have grown the beard I have noticed that I do not get carded nearly as much. This is definitely a time saver.

5) It gives the wife something extra to run her hands through - Maybe I'm off point here, but I believe one of the best feelings in the world is having your wife run her fingers through your hair. Now put that hair on your face! Yes, it is that great!!!

6) Your kids will play with it - My beard has become an extra toy for my son. He can grab it with both hands and easily tell my face where to go. In addition, when he is tired he will regularly pet my beard for comfort. I can't take that away from him!

7) It make you feel more manly - It just explanation needed.

Alright, enough with the fringe on to the money savings.

I'll break down the cost by what I myself was using. These numbers would vary of course depending on a man's shaving habits.

Razor - Bic Comfort 3. I liked these because they worked well and they were cheaper than other brands. They cost  $5.08 for a four pack on Amazon and I would use 2 a month. That means that razors along were costing me $2.54 a month or around $60 a year.

Shaving Cream - I was already saving some money in shaving cream by using Mug Soap instead of traditional shaving cream. This soap costs $3.46 on Amazon right now and with regular shaving I would use about 2 a year totaling almost $7 a year.

Mug - This is like $1 at a dollar store and it is good forever. You definitely need one for your mug soap thought. I'm not going to even count this in the budget.

Brush - These again are a little pricey but they are good for life. This one is made with badger hair with is pretty stinking cool  They cost about $10, since they are good for life we will just count $1 toward our annual shaving budget.

Aftershave - I'm not into the aftershave my grandfather wore that had that horrible awesome and envious smell. I used a product to moisturize after I ran sharp metal across my fragile face skin. I really liked the Nivea one that ran about $5 a bottle and I'd use about 2 a year totaling $10 a year.

Time - This is priceless. I probably spent 5 min a morning every morning or every other day depending on how motivated I was. That's 5 more minutes of sleep or spending time with your family.

In total this adds up  to be roughly  $80 a year!!!!


And this is using products that are already cheaper than some that are commonly used. I never realized that it was so expensive to keep a shaved face until I went through that budget.

In order to keep that beard in order you are definitely going to want a beard trimmer like the on in the ad above (the one I own is the same brand and very similar). I have had it for almost five years and it does the trick. You can adjust the length of your beard and I get the neck area a couple of times a week with just the guard removed so it almost gets as close as an electric razor. 

How do you save money with shaving? Any beard experiences good or bad? Please leave a comment in the comment section. 

Have a great day and thanks for reading. Please make sure if you've been enjoying the blog to put your email in the right column and check us out on Facebook and Twitter!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Zucchini Pancakes

Read the entire post about quick and easy breakfast tips by clicking here.

Yield: 10-12 pancakes
Click here for a printer friendly PDF

2 Tablespoons of flax meal
6 Tablespoons warm water
3 tablespoons applesauce or coconut oil
2 Tablespoons dark brown/light brown or sucanat
¼ cup almond milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups shredded zucchini (make sure they are non-GMO)
1 cup whole wheat flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ ground or freshly grated nutmeg
¼ cup chopped walnuts
Oil for the skillet
Optional (healthy upgrade):
1-2 Tablespoons whole flax seeds

  1. In a small bowl, combine flax meal and water and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine eggs, applesauce (or oil), sugar, milk, and vanilla.
  3. Stir in zucchini into large bowl.
  4. In a small bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir dry ingredients into zucchini batter.
  5. Fold in flax seeds and walnuts.
  6. Heat skillet over medium heat and grease with coconut oil. Scoop ¼ cup dollops of batter into pan.
  7. Cook until bubbles appear on surface (2-3 minutes), flip and cook for another minute or two. These take longer to cook than normal pancakes because of the moist zucchini and trust me raw zucchini does not taste good!
  8. If making a lot pancakes place cooked pancakes in a pan in the oven at 200F to keep warm.

Other pancake and waffle recipes:

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