The CHEAPEST Way to Start a Blog and Make Money

A few days ago I announced on my Instagram that I had begun paid freelance writing, and that I kind of fell into this because of blogging. Since then, I’ve had several friends (in person and online) ask me, “How did you make your website?” And to answer everyone, I decided to make this post.

But there is another really, really important reason that anyone considering a blog or website needs to read this. I’m in a few “blogging networks” online. AndVigLink bannerrecently, a few online acquantainces of mine posted within these networks that they had lost THOUSANDS of dollars to freelance website designers. This was before they had even put up a single post. These were both people with the intent to monetize their sites, but instead found themself out a lot of money and completely discouraged. Both have no intent to blog again in the future. My heart sank and my chest got tight as I read their long, pained recollections of what had happened. Unfortunately, the way their stories read, it did not appear that legal action would be possible. These people had begun something new and scary, and others online took advantage of that. I don’t want that to happen to you. If you want to start a website, I encourage you to do it in the CHEAPEST way possible, and to upgrade once you are making real money. Please, don’t put yourself into a situation of large financial risk for a website right out the gate. That adds so much more pressure when there is already a learning curve to blogging. Believe it or not, blogging does take a decent amount of work, even if it’s just a hobby. If you have any intent to monetize, put in the work over the dollars at first.

But you DO NOT need to spend thousands of dollars to set up a simple site, create a logo, or anything like that. If you intend to monetize, a website will not be totally free, but it certaintly doesn’t need to cost much!

What I’m going to do is walk you briefly through the following.

  • How to Set Up a Website
  • How to Make Your Website Pretty
  • How to Make Money with Affiliate Links
  • How to Make the MOST Out of Everything Mentioned Above

How to Set Up a Website

First things first, you need a domain name, and a web host. I’m also going to say that you will need once you have those. So three things. Now, I wish I could tell you that you can create a website for free, but that isn’t true if you want to monetize. If you want to monetize, you will have to pay some money. Think of it as your “rent.” You are renting a place on the internet by paying for your name and web host. But the good news is that you can start really, really small. Which means that you can do this fairly cheap! I’ll show you the cheapest. In fact, for the average person it will cost under $60.

The CHEAPEST way to get a domain name is almost always …they have website names as low as $0.48 a YEAR. Those typically have crazy ending though, like “” instead of “” More realistically, your domain will probably cost $10-$12 a year if you want something that ends in “.com” If you don’t mind a “.net” or “.org” then you can scrape by with a bit less.

Domain names for just 88 cents!

The Next Step is Web Hosting. I use, love, and recommend SiteGround. I did a lot of research before deciding on my web host because speed is everything in the world wide web. SiteGround is also really affordable. In fact, the plans start at $3.95 a month. TAKE THE CHEAPEST OPTION. Seriously. They will try to upsell you, but keep it the cheapest for now. You can always upgrade later. Now in full disclosure, I’m an affiliate. that means I get a comission if you use SiteGround through my link (which I appreciate sincerely).

What I just did was cut down my own potential profit by telling you to take the cheapest option. Why? Because I want you to actually do well and not lose a ton of money. I want YOU to create a website without spending lots of money. And on that note, you may hear more about other web hosts being a great web hosting option. But what I learned in my research was that some other hosting site pay out more to affiliates. That means other websites may be more inclined to talk about those sites because it gives them a higher return. Keep in mind, I could’ve signed up to be an affiliate for those other sites to make more money regardless of if I actaully used them or not. And sadly, some bloggers do this to make more money. I wish this didn’t happen, but this post is an attempt to get you set up for success. Part of that is being aware of poor practices in the industry.

Web Hosting

So If you do this all at the minimum, your website for one year should cost you $10 for the domain name, and about $48 for the hosting. So for under $60, you could have your website. You will need to connect Namecheap and Siteground, but there is an easy tutorial for that (click here!)

How to Make Your Website Pretty


This is where a lot of people seem to run into paying a lot of money. Aspiring bloggers go out and hire website designers or logo designers etc to make them something pretty. You don’t need that if this is a starting blog. Get set up with WordPress.OrgSiteground is already set up to do this, which is another reason I have enjoyed them. Click here for a tutorial on How to Install WordPress. This is the exact tutorial I used too!

If you don’t know where to start….pick a theme you like! If you look at the bottom of my site, there is a phrase that says “Kale by” There are many free themes available, and that’s my recommendation. Currently I use a free version myself. Why? Well, that brings me to the next portion:

Web Hosting


WordPress has plugins available that can help you make changes to your site or theme. Think of a plugin like an app. It’s a small tool that helps focus on one area of your website. A common one is Easy Google Fonts. This plugin allows you to change the font throughout your website. This is important because it takes your generic theme that others might use, and gives you a way to customize it! In addition, this plugin allows you to change the color, size, and spacing of the fonts. And this is just one example of a plugin. There are literally tens of thousands of free plugins that allow you to further customize and enhance your site. Some ones I have used that have helped the most are

  • Easy Google Fonts
  • Insert Headers and Footers (NEEDED if you want to monetize and have little coding experience)
  • Ad Inserter (also NEEDED if you want to monetize)
  • Jetpack
  • Yoast SEO
  • Contact Form
  • SumoMe

All of those plugins are FREE and will make your life much easier if you choose to create a site. None of those are affiliates, they are just awesome.


A quick way to see more official is to create your own email with your domain instead of a gmail account. My email is…but I used to have a gmail account associated with my site. Making the switch (which was included free with my web hosting) made everything feel more official. There are tutorials on setting up email and getting email on your phone here.

How to Make Money With Affiliate Links

There are literally opportunities to make money through affiliate links anywhere. It really depends on what your niche is. And I’d like to quickly suggest that you only look for affiliate links AFTER you are in the process of writing something. Creating a crappy post only to put up an affiliate link isn’t putting your best work out there. That poor practice I mentioned above? The whole, “mention something to make money”…..this is a poor practice found within ANY niche. That doesn’t mean affiliate links are bad. That doesn’t mean the people you follow do what I’ve said. But some do. So please do me and your future readers a favor and make yourself money with integrity. Specific Tips:

  • Write your post organically. Once your writing is done, look for any items or programs that could potentially offer an affilaite link. Go to that main website and look in the footer of the website for the term, “affiliate.”
  • Many companies run through affiliate networks (VigLink is my favorite, but Share-a-Sale, Rakuten, Impact Radius are a few others). Amazon Associates is probably the most widely used. Some of these sites have stricter application processes. Don’t be afraid to apply again after you have become better established.
    VigLink banner
  • Talk about the things you love even if they don’t offer an affiliate comission. Give your readers value. I love Schmidt’s natural deodorant. I have zero affiliation with them directly. Yet I tell anyone who asks me about natural deodorant about them. There are other natural deodorant brands that I have access to affiliate income from….but I don’t walk about them because they don’t work for me. And I’m cool with that.
  • Add in multiple links to the same thing. If you mention a product or service, have a link every time that product or service is mentioned. Maybe your reader missed the first one. Maybe every link gets the reader a little more curious. Maybe it takes three or four links before the reader clicks. That makes a difference!

    This was my very first affiliate link. It’s for a debt snowball/avalanche calculator. Travis and I actually used this and I wanted to tell EVERYONE about it because it’s awesome! It motivated us to pay off debt SO much faster. That’s the type of affiliate link you want. Something you believe in and would talk about anyways.

How to Make the MOST Out of Everything Mentioned Above

The coolest thing about the internet is how much information is out there. The reason this post is so straightforward is because you WILL be able to find the solution if you feel stuck.

  • Option 1: Google “how do I …..” and there is a high chance someone has already had the same issue. No really, 9 times out of 10 this has worked for me. Then, try whatever answer comes up. I have witnessed so many people who expect an individual answer to everything, even when the answer is easily found on the first page of Google. Take some initiative and look through the info that is already out there. You can do it! 🙂
  • Option 2: Ask for help from the provider. Whether it’s with your domain name, web hosting If you have an issue with your web hosting, reach out to the web host! If you aren’t sure how to use a plugin, reach out to the creator of that plugin. If you don’t quite understand the affiliate link program you signed up for, ask for help! Each of the things I’ve mentioned in this post have support teams. And often, you utilizing those services bring them revenue too. They want you to succeed because it also brings them success

Start Now and Learn as You Go

As Christy Wright says in her book, Business Boutique, “Give Yourself Permission to Be a Beginner.” You will get better as you get more comfortable. You can always come back and change things like formatting later. But you have to start somewhere. Start now. Don’t wait for the “perfect” website, because the perfect website doesn’t exist. 

Phew. That was a doozy of a post. And really, this could be WAY longer. If you have ANY questions, please comment them so I can answer. I may make additional posts too. Someone else might have the same question too, so don’t be afraid to ask. I want you to get started as cheap as possible. So get started, it doesn’t need to be expensive!


This post contains affiliate links as outlined in the Website Disclaimer.



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Find Something Free That You Love, and Do It Often.

I’ve been reading a lot lately, and it has brought more joy back into my life than I can explain. You see, reading was a true joy in my childhood. I went to the library on a weekly basis and would read for hours. My mom happily used the time to run errands, and I got to look around and find whatever seemed interesting. In college, during my first year I made it a practice to read a little bit for fun every single night. I did this on my iPad, and sometimes it was only a few pages. But reading allowed me to decompress in a way unlike any other. It also happens to be free if you use the library. Unfortunately, I stopped this practice over the last five years until a few months ago. Thankfully, I found reading again and it feels like a beautiful safe space for me. So this is my challenge for you; you need to do more of something you love. And there MUST be something out there that is free (or almost free) that you can do. Deep down you probably just got a whisper of an idea that you are either opening up to or subconsciously shutting down. Don’t shut it out. Find that thing, and do it. Here are a few suggestions if you feel a little uneasy or stuck.

Suggestions of FREE Things YOU Can Start Right Now


I already started with this, but get a library card. Now I loooove highlighting and writing in books, so sometimes I do actually buy books. But it has to be special and something that I know will be highlighted and written in (for me, that most recently was A Simplified Life by Emily Ley – more on that to come). And here’s the thing, mix it up when it comes to the books. For awhile, I was stuck in the mentality that I needed to read to learn. Now? Sure, I’ll read something informative, like The Power of Habit. But then I’ll throw in something silly like Yes Please by Amy Pohler or soul enriching like Girl, Wash Your Face. Honestly, I’m probably going to re-read the entire Harry Potter series in the near future. Read whatever you like, even if it’s teenage/young adult romance novels. Or cookbooks. Or books about meteorology (guilty as charged). Sometimes, I like to look through cookbooks solely for the pictures. Not even for recipes, just for the pictures. Food photography is gorgeous, and there’s something about a cookbook that makes it better than scrolling through Instagram. If you have ever liked reading, I urge you to get a library card and go read a book that just looks fun to read. No pressure to learn, no worries about what someone might think of the genre you selected. Just read!

Running (or Walking)

Here’s the thing, the gym is awesome. But if you haven’t been there to exercise in a while, it can be intimidating and maybe an unwanted investment at this time.  Not to mention, moving your body doesn’t require an agenda or a goal. So do you know what you can do for free? You can run or walk. That may depend on your fitness level, or what sounds fun. Just because you can run doesn’t mean you always have to. Sometimes, it’s a lot of fun to simply get outside, away from distractions and just walk. Let your mind wander and breathe. Maybe take your partner, or family, or pet along with you. Or maybe go alone and just soak in the time by yourself. It can be at a popular spot, or simply around the block.

Pause: Here is the part where maybe you just thought, “I don’t have time.” Usually that thought comes up with any suggestion of exercise (which remember, I’m only suggesting if it’s something you like!) And that’s where I’m going to really challenge you to carve out a little bit of time to focus on whatever if your fun thing. Try 10 minutes. ANYONE can find 10 minutes if they really want to. Prioritize 10 minutes to do something for fun for yourself.

Mix Up Your Makeup

If you wear makeup, whether it is to simply feel good about yourself or  feels like a chore…try something new. I’m going to make the assumption that SOMEWHERE you have an eyeshadow palette lying around. Try something crazy. Do a huge smokey eye. Try the 50s liner and a red lip. Play around with makeup FOR FUN. The best thing is that you can wipe it off. If you don’t want anyone to see it, then don’t let them. If you do, then awesome. Show it off! While makeup certainly isn’t free, I know that most of my makeup wearing friends already own more than what’s needed in a lifetime. Even though I’ve really pared down my makeup, I still own four eyeshadow palettes. And sometimes, I break out the bright blue and teals because it’s fun. And you can always check YouTube for some crazy inspiration. Seriously, the artistry is amazing. Some creators use their entire faces to do looks, or even transformations. It’s worth a try if you want to.


If you don’t want to spend the money on an activity you think you might like….try volunteering! If you like mountain biking, or are thinking of doing a triathlon, then volunteer at those events. If you love plants but maybe don’t have the time, money, or space to dedicate to a greenhouse of your own, volunteer at a local garden/green space. Maybe you love science, so volunteer at a museum. Whatever you love to do that would cost you too much money, find a way to volunteer. This allows you to make connections and spend time around something you love. Be careful that this is something that also gives a creative benefit to you and doesn’t become a burden. Make sure you love it and are the best volunteer you can be. But if you have an interest, get involved in that space.

Try a Unique Recipe

So this won’t exactly be “free,” but since you need to eat to survive, it shouldn’t take away from your typical spending. Find a recipe that sounds fun and make it! Have you ever tried eggplant? Because my rustic balsamic eggplant is heavenly. Or maybe you’ve never actually MADE pasta sauce before. Did you know it doesn’t have to come out of a jar?! Find something that sounds decadent, and make a big batch. Then you’ve also done some productive meal prepping too. Good for you!

Trust Yourself, but if You Still Don’t Know, Check YouTube.

YOU know what it is you like. So do that. And forget what anyone (even your family!) might think about that thing. If you like it and consciously make the time for it, and it’s free….then do it. Having to work with a tight budget can be a constraint, or it can be the perfect excuse to try something new and fun. Your time and that choice is what you make of it. The experiences you have are yours to choose. Do not let your financial goals make you feel as though you can’t have fun. Deep down, you know something that was fun to you as a child is out there.  And if you aren’t sure…start clicking around YouTube. Actually, watching random videos on YouTube just might BE your fun thing, and that’s cool. Do that. But YouTube is also home to pretty much anything you could ever care about. So you may find an interest that you can do for free based off inspiration on there.

The world is yours, so find something free that you love, and do that thing. If you have a fun, free thing, tell me down below. Even if I’ve said it here, or if you’re worried I’ll think it’s silly. I promise, your fun thing is never something I would make fun of. Being creative is a lovely thing and you should always do that.




Paying Off Student Loans As a Young Married Couple

It’s no secret to anyone in their 20s that student loans in the U.S. are at an all-time high. In fact, many of my fellow 20 somethings are putting their lives on hold becuase of student loans. One of the most common of these is marriage. With so much debt, who can afford to get married? And I don’t just mean the ceremony and reception, but really everything after that. But you can get married, regardless of how much you have in student loans. Here are some tips for how to get through them while paying off student loan debt. And yes, I mean pay them off. And who am I? If you haven’t read my about me, I’m 24 years old and my husband (age 25) and I had a combined six figures in student loans. And neither of us are in medical or law. I have been there upon graduation. It feels overwhelming at first. Looking ahead towards your life and thinking, “how can I get through this?” Let’s walk through some tips because you do not have to put your life on hold because of student loans. And while these tips are specific to student loans, they can be applicable to any individual debts that you and your partner may bring into a marriage.

Know and Share EXACTLY How Much is Owed BEFORE the Big Day

My husband and I got married before either of us had graduated college. We’d had some discussions on student loans, but to put it nicely, my husband actually had no clue what he owed. We found out after the wedding exactly how much was owed, and I nearly had a heart attack. That’s really a different topic for a different time, but I share that quick story because it’s important. This is true of any type of debt. Make sure your future spouse is aware (and that you yourself are aware!) of exactly what you are bringing into a marriage. Some couples put off or even avoid marriage because of student loans. While I’m not suggesting that, it goes to show the impact student loans have on our generation.

Ask Yourselves: Is this Debt, “Our Debt” or, “Yours and Mine” ?

While it is my personal opinion that marriage should include joining all things, including finances, that may not be the case for you. Many couples choose to separately pay off debts, and that can be okay, but it also could cause issues with buying a home and other future financial goals. It is important to have this discussion before “I Do” in order to come up with a complete plan. And this isn’t something that can be mostly clear. So will you work together to pay off both of your loans together, or will each earner be in charge of their own loans?

Why does this matter?

The common ways to pay off debt quickly are with either the Debt Snowball or Debt Avalanche. I won’t get into the full mechanics, but the debt snowball is paying off loans from smallest to largest by dollar amount. The debt avalanche works from highest interest rate down to the lowest interest rate. While there are merits to both methods, my husband and I actually used a hybrid method.

The reason it is vital in knowing if you will both work towards paying off student loans together or not is because it could drastically effect how your payoff is set up. It may also be hard on motivation. For instance, we had paid off over $40,000 in my husbands’ student loans before we put an extra dollar towards mine. I will not lie to you, that was HARD. I would go to work knowing that everything I worked for would go to loans that didn’t even have my name on them. That is a breeding ground for resentment, so not having a shared vision is critical. Also this is why the discussion needs to come up before and all amounts of debt are shared. Another important reason is that you can actually get stuck with your spouse’s student loan debt.

Dream Together

Paying Off Student Loans can feel like a marathon and a sprint at the same time. It should be a sprint to avoid paying more in interest, but if you have six figures that still requires focus for a sustained time frame. So during this time, also dream together and plan other fun (affordable!) things along the way. My husband and I have a dream to travel to Iceland together for our five year anniversary. We’d also love to live on a lake house. Those goals become easier with debt freedom.

Some Questions to Help You Dream:

  • What’s one place you want to visit?
  • What’s one band you’d love to see live?
  • Who is your favorite sports team?
  • Is there a type of house you envision owning?
  • If you were handed $10,000 and told to “blow this on something fun, absolutely nothing practical,” what would you spend it on?
  • Would you change your career path if there weren’t bills to worry about?

Be Content In the Process

Without sounding too cheesy, make sure to remember that YOU are in control about how you react to your situation. Do what you have to do to pay off your student loans. Invite friends over instead of going out. Drink the cheap wine (and less of it because you know it’ll give you a headache otherwise). Drive the same car you had in highschool. Just know that this is a season of life. The sooner you can get through it, the sooner it’s onto fun things! Marriage isn’t easy, but working through student loans can bring you both closer. It’s about perspective, a plan, and following through.


Ways to Save Money AND the Earth at the Same Time

Today’s post contains no affiliate links because all of those would encourage online spending which means additional shipping (i.e. resources for packaging and tansportation). This is just informtion to save money and the earth at the same time. 

Let’s Save You Money, and Together Save the Planet #EarthDay

Today is Earth day! Did you know that earlier on this blog I had an entire portion dedicated to lower waste ideas? I streamlined this site to be about money and food (if you’re new I want to help you save a lot on groceries but not sacrifice your health) per the recommendation of a business coach, but this is still something personally important to me. I’d like to give you tips on how you can save money and do so in a way that is also helpful to the planet. The goal? Save money AND the earth. Keep reading for ideas and I encourage you to share your tips in the comments as well so others can see. Also a quick disclaimer that certain tips are geared towards those in the U.S.

Use the Library

Libraries in the United States are alive and well, and you are majorly missing out if you aren’t using them! A library card is FREE. And did you know that most libraries now have access to free e-books, magazines, and audiobooks? Seriously, forget Audible. That sh*t is expensive and 99% of people who “recommend” it do so because they get affiliate revenue (not a bad thing in and of itself, but something to be aware of). Also most libraries have DVD’s you can borrow also. I was able to easily get ahold of every season of How I Met Your Mother. To us, this was a huge deal since its no longer on Netflix *tear* Not many things in life are free, so definitely make use of this! This is a perfect way to consume content, save money and the earth! Go get a library card tomorrow. I’d say today but it’s Sunday and most are closed. If you are in the U.S. click here to find a local public library near you!

click the link to see original posting of this.

Refuse to throw away food.

This is a gigantic issue in the United States. Food waste is normalized here and that is sad. Hunger is a worldwide problem, and also food waste is resource waste. Those foods require resources to be produced, grown, processed, packaged*, and shipped. Of course another side of this is your money. You go to the store and spend $100 on food. A week later you throw out half of it because Chipotle just sounded better for lunch or that Friday night. Would you take a $50 and burn it? Or just throw it out your window? Nope. But I bet you’ve done similar to the scenario I mentioned.Unfortunately these are the same thing. Actually, the Chipotle scenario is worse because you’ve also wasted the resources it took for the $50 of food to get into your house. Good news. You can do something about it and save your money! If you are getting close to food going bad, do one of the following:

  • Freeze It! Seriously. Future you will thank yourself for having a fully prepared meal just ready to heat up. If it’s only ingredients you have, still freezing them can be great with meat or produce. Fruits bout to turn make excellent desserts or smomothie additions.
  • Make broth – this is specific to vegetables, but I love making veggie broth in my instant pot. In fact, click here to see the recipe (and know that the spices are interchangable with whatever you have). If you don’t have an instant pot, you can do the same thing with a crock pot or a stovetop it just takes longer. You can also do the same with cooked meat by making bone broth.
  • Throw a leftovers party – Invite over some friends and family to come over for dinner. Don’t feel bad about using leftovers to feed people, especially if you can find a way to repurpose them and bring them to life. Encourage those you invite to do the same. If you want adult beverages to be involved, you then have the options to say no to straws easily, and save a boatload. Cocktails and other drinks have a huge profit margin at restaurants that you can save at home. Dinner parties are awesome, even and especially when the food is repurposed leftovers.  You will all avoid wasting food, will save money instead of going to a restaurant, and will get to spend some quality time with people you care about. 
Veggie Broth made from almost-too-old produce. Perfect for using in recipes, and was “free” to make! (click to see recipe)

Shop Secondhand

Most commonly people thing about shopping for clothes secondhand, but it goes SO far beyond this! That is a great place to start though. If you haven’t watched the movie The True Cost, I recommend it. That is a sobering reminder of fast fashion and how the workers are treated. Beyond the people too, the waste created is astronomical. Thankully, the stigma against shopping secondhand is starting to disappear. People are willing to embrace the history of items and understand that there is a positive impact on the planet buy purchasing used goods.

Other secondhand items to save money and the earth

  • furniture
  • art – seriously, I’ve gotten GORGEOUS paintings at ridiculously low costs.
  •  children’s toys/accessories
  • seasonal decor
  • books (if you want to purchase vs. visiting a local library)
  • textbooks – these deserve their own category because they cost as much as rent
  • CARS – this cannot be emphasized enough. The depreciation on a new car is nauseating. If you aren’t a financial person, that means the money that you lose buy purchasing a new car is a lot just because it’s new and loses value quickly. One of our cars is a 2003, but you’d NEVER guess by looking at it!
  • kitchen accessories
  • home decor
  • technology – yes, we want the newest and greatest. Sure. But we all know that Apple and Samsung will outdate our new stuff in a year anyways. Just get over it and be happy with something a little older. It will save money and the earth!
most of what you see here was acquired secondhand (either purchased or given free)

There are a lot more of secondhand items that are great to buy. What is your favorite secondhand purchase? Mine is a gorgeous painting. I bought it off Craigslist from an actual millionaire for $40. He said that he almost felt bad selling it for that price because he knew his wife had spent over $1000 and paid to have it professionally mounted/framed. They didn’t use it, and I think it’s stunning and it’s displayed in my home.

Conserve Utilities

Seriously, this will save you money and the earth pretty easily. These changes require intention, but can make a difference in your budget and the planet.

  • Unplug things! If you dont use an item often, unplug it. Think things like lamps in guest rooms, an electric tea kettle etc. This conserves electricity (which costs money).
  • Lights off – I grew up being scolded for leaving lights on. Now I know why! Lighting a house for no one is a waste of money and energy. Just don’t do it!
  • Cooler showers – better for your hair, skin, wallet, and the planet. I’m not saying to take a COLD shower, I’m saying to re-evaluate if your showers are blistering hot every time.
  • Brushing your teeth? Turn off the water! – This one gets me. Think of how much fresh water is being wasted in the time that you brush your teeth. Just TURN OFF THE WATER while you brush. It doesn’t affect your tooth-brushing capabilities, but it does save gallons on gallons of fresh water.

Sell Unused Items

This puts money directly into your pocket, and gives life to the secondhand market. Shopping secondhand keeps those items from the landfill. I’ve already given you ideas on what to buy, but if you have extra things or want to do some spring cleaning, sell some stuff! Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Garage Sales, Let Go, Mercari, Poshmark, Thredup, Ebay, Amazon. All of those are great ways to sell things. And if you held onto these items and they aren’t selling? If in good condition, donate them to a charitable organization, or list them free on one of the previously mentioned websites. Let these items have a new home and new life. I have a post on Zero Waste Decluttering full of more information.. Click here for that post.

Only Buy What You NEED

If you take nothing else away from this post or from earth day, take away this. Only buy what you NEED. Overconsumption is the biggest danger to our planet AND our wallets. Why? Unused items that are thrown away (please don’t. remember that tip about selling or donating?) are wasted production resources and wasted money. This is especially important if this overconsumption is with plastic items or in plastic packaging. Why? Plastic doesn’t fully break down. Whether your thing to buy excess of is makeup or woodshop tools or crochet hooks or baseball cards. We all have that “thing” they love that is tempting to buy when it isn’t needed. Maybe you have a few. But if you can control that temptation, you will save yourself money and will stop the cycle of overconsumption that is so dangerous to our planet. 

I hope these tips have inspired you to make an impact in your life on both your finances and towards our planet. Did you know that most of the things I’ve changed in my own life that help save the planet were actually done to save us money? Yep! I love to learn more too so if you have tips to share below, please do!


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Auto Ship Your Pet Food: Yes or No?

Until we got our Australian Shepherd puppy, I was pretty against anything labeled “auto-ship.” Whether that be from Amazon or Walmart or wherever. It seemed like a great way to miss out on better in-store deals. But I’m going to go through why you should consider it as a good idea auto ship your pet food, and I’ll steer you away from some items to avoid ever clicking that “auto ship” or “subscribe and save” from. Switching to auto ship pet food has saved us time and money. That’s right. It wasn’t just a convenience purchase, it actually saved us money too! I’m going to look at two options, and Neither of these require a membership fee to use. That’s right, you do NOT need to be an AmazonPrime member to get the discounts or free shipping! But does that mean Amazon is the better option? Not so fast….

What do your pets eat?

Really, this seems to be the biggest factor, and why I never thought to look online before. You see, my husband wanted our puppy to eat Blue Buffalo Wilderness Puppy food. This isn’t just regular Blue Buffalo or Blue Buffalo Puppy. This is Blue Buffalo Wilderness Puppy. It’s completely grain free and is a really great nutrition option. But it is REALLY expensive. Painfully expensive. But Travis was very insistent that this is what our dog was going to eat. So I immediately began trying to figure out how to get it for the cheapest.

Why did I turn to autoship to my pet food?

I (wrongly) assumed that autoshipping would come with a “convenience” cost. After all, instead of driving to a store/pet food store, the food would arrive to my doorstep. That had to come at a cost right? Wrong. Again, this may depend on your type of pet food. But here is another example that surprised me. My cat’s food was actually cheaper on Chewy than it was at Sam’s Club on sale. That was eye opening for me. I had assumed that since I was “buying in bulk” with Sam’s Club that it had to be cheaper. Wrong! So I created a second autoship for our cat food too. The good news though is that I can easily cancel either autoship if a crazy good deal pops up for either of our pet’s food. That leads me into a comparison of the two “big” pet food auto-ship vendors: and Amazon. I found Chewy 100% because of TV ads that ran around Christmas, and I figured Amazon because….well, really, what don’t they do? Autoship


  • No Membership Fee
  • Free Shipping on $49+ orders*
  • FAST Shipping (1-2 days…. Ours have all shipped in under 24 hours)
  • 5% discount on many items
  • Ability to change order until it is processed
  • Ability to change frequency until it is processed

A couple of notes on the above. The *Free shiping on $49+ orders must be on the final price. That means, if your food is one of the many 5% discounted items, the shipment may fall under the $49 because of the discount and thus shipping is charged. The shipping cost will likely be higher than the 5% you saved, so this is something to really watch out for! In our case, this was true for our dog food, so I added in cat litter bags (a $2.50 purchase) to bring the cost up to just above $49. You might be thinking, “aha! You fell for it! They got you to spend more $!” And while it’s true that Chewy got more money out of me, it still saved us money because those cat litter bags cost more locally. I wouldn’t ahve thought to put them on autoship, but they are a consumable that runs out with about the same frequency as the dog food so the matchup was perfect. If I were adding in a new toy every time, then I’d think different. So this got us the free shipping and cheaper cat litter bags than anywhere.

Also, while Chewy’s website policy (and autoship reminder email) states you have up to three days until your autoship to change your order, I’ve actually changed it the day before without issue on two separate occassions. It’s smart of Chewy to have this policy in place in case something does prevent the changes, but just know that there’s a decent chance you can make changes until just before it ships.

The nice thing is that the auto-ship reminder emails also allow you to change the date or cancel. That way, if you found a great deal locally, you could just push out the autoshipment. Or, if you realized that you way overestimated how much food your pet ate, you can adjust. For us this is really nice with a puppy because the amount he’s eating has changed. I’ve had to edit my order date every time because of how his food intake changed. The good news was that it was really, really easy.

The only negative I found with my own ordewr was that our cat food doesn’t come with the 5% discount for autoship. That said, it’s always been “on sale” and was by far the best price regardless. So I’m not that mad. We have two autoship orders set to the frequency needed to make the $49 shipping minimum. Our dog food one it set to every 4 weeks because that’s about what he’s been eating, but our cat food is only every 12 weeks. Really, these could get combined, but so far we haven’t because of how the dog food has varied. Eventually these will become a combined order. I do have some bad news though, Chewy only currently serves the continental US. I’m from Alaska so I understand the frustration here. Autoship (Subscribe and Save)


  • No Membership Fee (Amazon Prime is NOT required to use and get the discount)
  • Free Shipping on $25+ orders*
  • 5% discount on many items
  • Ability to change order
  • Ability to change frequency

Amazon has had subscribe and save in place for years, but when I went to look for our pet food, it cost more on Amazon than it did on Chewy by a few dollars. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to make me go to Chewy. Well, as of today and writing this article, the price is the same on our Blue Buffalo Wilderness Puppy

A HUGE turnoff though in comparison to is the shipping. When I went to place my order with Amazon Subscribe and Save, the “Free Shipping” option estimated my delivery as “between April 4th and 6th”….that is a full 6-8 days (4-6 business days) away! Of course, this is a hook to get consumers to sign up for Amazon Prime, which then means “Free 2 Day Shipping.” But what happens if, like today, you realize “uh oh! I’m going to be out of pet food in only a day or two!” You then feel compelled to rush out and buy some in the meantime. With Chewy, you’d still be able to go and select “ship now” and get the food in time for your pet. A huge thing for those outside of the continental US, you actually have the Amazon Subscribe & Save option! When I went to the Amazon site it said to estimate 5-9 business days for delivery to AK. I did not check beyond that, but the option IS available. Slow, but it may still save you money overall.

Now as far as the ability to change your order, according to the Amazon website, you do have this option available. Since I have not used the service, I had to read the policy, which is quite vague. There is no clear cut-off listed of when an order frequency or quantities can be changed. If you have any experience with this please comment below and I can edit this post to reflect that. For now, see the image of the policy as of the date this was written.

as of 3/29/18…link goes to the current info on Amazon.


Also, Amazon does not offer a discount on the cat food we order either, so the prices are the same.

Overall Thoughts: Auto Ship Your Pet Food? It depends, but it’s worth looking into for everyone.

  • It’s worth considering setting up an autoship for your pet food. Things to consider…
    • Can you easily buy your current food, or is it a trip to a separate store?
    • Does your pet food go on sale or have coupons regularly?
    • Is moving the pet food harming your health (i.e. back problems, weight lift restrictions etc)?
  • Do you already have an Amazon Prime membership?
    • If yes – then really either option would work well
    • If no – it is NOT worth paying for a membership just for this, look at Chewy instead.
  • Do you live in the continental US? If the answer is no, then forget about Chewy and take a peek at Amazon.
  • Settup up auto shipments on pet food allows for easy budgeting. You know the date that the food will be shipped (payment processed), and you can schedule that into your budget accordingly. We keep a separate line item for “Pets” in our budget, so it’s nice to see this visually scheduled.
  • Overall, if you choose to autoship your pet food, I recommend Chewy unless you have AmazonPrime and want to feel that you can get more use out of it. Or if the prices are significantly lower on Amazon. That portion of “research” is up to you. For us, they were identical cost-wise, but the shipping is where Chewy got our business. We gave up AmazonPrime a year and a half ago (I’ll post on that more later), but if you are interested in a Free 30-day trial (just remember to cancel if it isn’t for you!) click the image below. This might end up being a good option for those outside the continental US.

Items you should NOT Autoship to Save Money

Some of these items listed will save you time though. So if time is more valubale to you, then maybe you would want to set these up for a “subcribe and save” type offer. For us, I just order when there are sales. I would miss the sale prices if I chose the subscriptions! And while Amazon does offer a 20% discount on diapers that have a subscription, the costs I’ve found elsewhere are better in person, especially when looking for sales.

  • Basically any household consumable that you can purchase elsewhere for a similar price. Again, you.will.miss.sales.
    • laundry detergent
    • toilet paper (all paper products)
    • dish soaps
  • Diapers & Wipes- there are too many sales elsewhere!
  • Items that change in price, like my favorite Coconut Oil (link!). The price varies drastically and I mean doubles itself!


Originally: While this post may appear to be affiliated or sponsored by, it isn’t. Ironically, I will only receive affiliate income from Amazon purchases related to this post. These opinions are my own and honest, and in this case I think your best option is the one which gives me nothing. That’s okay, because I want you to save yourself time and money!

Edited July 2018: I now have an affiliate link for but hey, I’ve promoted them for MONTHS without one! I love them regardless 🙂

Products Mentioned (these images are clickable and link to Amazon)

Our Cat Food
Our Dog Food

Walmart Grocery Delivery? Are Delivery Services Worth It?

Walmart has announced it will begin a grocery delivery service! According to this article on MSN, the service will have a $9.95 flate rate fee for delivery of a minimum-$30 purchase. What does this mean? It means major competition against both Amazon and Shipt. Amazon has a shipping service available near Whole Foods, and Shipt works with various grocery retailers across the US (though clearly, not Walmart).

Is Walmart Grocery Delivery Worth it?

At this point, you need to look at the value of your time and transportation. Frankly, Walmart Grocery Delivery is a game changer. The reason why Amazon and Shipt are overlooked by myself and others on tight budgets is because not only is there a delivery cost, but the goods purchased come at a higher cost as well. If I were to utilize Amazon’s service through Whole Foods (which actually isn’t possible since I don’t live near a Whole Foods), my grocery budget would at least double. In my region, Shipt serves Meijer. While Meijer is certainly more affordable than Whole Foods, it’s still much more expensive than Wal-Mart for groceries and household goods. Also, Shipt in my area has a delivery fee AND an annual membership fee. For me, Walmart is 25 minutes away, and the nearest Aldi is a smilar distance. What hasn’t been ensured is the proximity of the deliveries. If Walmart in my area were to deliver, I would absolutely pay for this service. The driving time alone is about $10, so for $10/hr for this service, it seems very worth it. However, this brings me to my next point.

What About Walmart Grocery Pickup? And Other Grocery PickUp Services?

Since the Walmart Grocery Delivery service will be “expanded to 100 cities by the end of the year” according to the Wall Street Journal, this means many cities will not have this service. Again, this comes back to the value of time and transportation. The nearest Walmart to me that does Grocery Pickup (which is FREE!) is about 35 minutes away. If you have free time in your day, then that $10/hr is probably worth it to save and just do the free pickup. But if you are as overloaded as I was only a month ago (full time engineer, full time wife, mom of a toddler, and full time MBA student), that $10 for an additional hour sounds amazing. I found the Sam’s Club In-Store pickup (also free!) to be a hugre game changer. I mentioned Meijer before, so I will bring it up again. The nearest Meijer to me does not offer pickup (it does have Shipt), and the closest Meijer that does have curbside pickup has a cost! So that isn’t worth it to me at all.

Will I use Walmart Grocery Delivery?

If it is available to me, I definitely will try Walmart Grocery Delivery and review it. I think there is a huge benefit to the ordering online. It allows you to plan your grocery list efficiently and not get sidetracked with in-store impulses. This is key for us when we Meal Plan/Shop for our Whole30/Paleo meal plans (click here to read how we do this on a tight budget!). Of course, online shopping can come with its own impulses, but overall for us the cost is lower when we order online. The biggest thing that makes me want to try this is that Walmart is already one of our primary places to shop based on cost. In my opinion, the only way this could get better is if Aldi did the same thing. Now my question, would YOU use Walmart Grocery Delivery? Do you use another grocery delivery service that you would potentially cut? Let me know!



Other helpful links…


How We Meal Plan/Shop/”Prep” Whole30/Paleo on a Tight Budget

Is Worth it for Pet Food?

Cleaning Products Worth the (Extra) Money

3 Ingredient DIY Household Cleaner

$10 Gift Card With Sam’s Club Membership

the only affiliate link is the Sam’s Club link, which gives me a credit that I use for groceries. We’ve paid for our membership since the beginning of our marriage. 


How To Meal Plan, Prep, and Shop On a Budget (Whole30/Paleo)

I’ve been “meal prepping” for years. Only recently did my husband and I realize how ineffecient we were actually being with our meal prepping and our meal plan. Sure, we could have several meals cooked up, but by the time we’d get to eating those meals, they’d be soggy. OR, we would pick out a few yummy recipes and be out of food by Wednesday night. And somehow, we’d still manage to spend way too much money. Sound familiar? Well keep reading, because we’ve gotten our meal planning, shopping, and prepping down to a science. Our family of four eats Whole30/Paleo for about $100 a week. Sometimes it’s slightly more, sometimes it’s slightly less. When I started working towards this, we spent $800 a month to eat Paleo/Whole30. I literally cut our bill in HALF. Along the way, I’ll also give you some money saving tips too! Oh, and before you go, “Rachel, I live in a high cost of living area, there is NO WAY my budget will be $100 for a whole week.” I hear you! My dad is from Hawaii and I was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. I get it. Not all areas are created equal, but the good news is that this game plan works in any location and will help lower any budget. In fact, if you do live in a high-cost area, consider tracking the difference my meal plan/shop/”prep” makes and let me know how it works! I’d be willing to bet you will also save a lot. Just ignore my”$100″ and follow the methods below.


Step 1: How to Meal Plan

Once you get into the “groove” of this, planning meals becomes more reliant on compromising 1. What you want vs. 2. What you have available in your freezer/pantry. I don’t care how much storage space you have; it’s important to rotate these items through to keep your budget down and avoid anything expiring.

For now, let’s pretend you have nothing in your fridge, freezer, or pantry. This is unlikely, but work with me. We try to balance a few things.

Plan something that just sounds GOOD

We eat mostly Whole30 compliant meals, but we live our “Food Freedom” by making sure to include a tasty sounding meal. For example, this week I wanted meatball subs (on actual buns) and hubby wanted rice with our fajitas. So we will compromise on things like that. Obviously this would be different on a round of Whole30, but for our normal lives we’ll incorporate these items. We just plan for them to make sure it isn’t something at every meal.

Balance Proteins

Our meal planning lists don’t look the prettiest. Usually we scratch things out, and add arrows where we decide to switch meal days. The biggest thing we were bad at before was “stacking proteins.” To us, this is where we would accidentally prep a week of chicken straight, followed by all red meat. This led us into burnout and “I’m SO SICK of ______.” So now, we make sure to have a good mixture. Even this week (pictured below) we realized we were planning to eat poultry four days in a row this week. SO we reworked it.

Start of this week’s meal plan. My hubby’s handwriting is better than mine!

Planning Around Sales/Leftovers

This leads into how we shop, but I always check my local stores for any really good sales. This is especially important for proteins or unique veggies. Above I said to pretend there’s nothing in the house, but typically this also feeds directly into how we’d meal plan. For example, if there were leftover mashed potatoes, I would repurpose them into mashed potato cakes (click here for the recipe) and work that into our breakfasts. If using leftovers, make sure to incorporate those early on in the week and balance your proteins accordingly. 

Don’t Forget Sides

We were the WORST at this a year ago. We’d have tasty entrees ready to go, but nothing else on the side! So make sure to have some easy veggies planned and other sides on your menu too. Your meal plan should always include the full meals (or at least say “veggie” or “grain” as a placeholder)

Plan as a Family/Couple

Our toddler doesn’t get input, but hubby and I work through the meal plan together. That is how we incorporate the items we want and agree on our meals. In the past I created the “perfect meal plan” for the week, only for my husband to go, “I don’t want that,” once it was cooked up. This led to some major frustration and the occassional unplanned pizza night. So then, I’d say, “Fine. YOU plan and cook.” And he would! But then the opposite would happen. We’d eat exactly what he wanted and I’d want nothing to do with it by lunchtime Wednesday.

Eventually, we realized that it just might be a good idea to include each other in the planning process. Shockingly, it worked. Now, if one of us “doesn’t” want something, we have to justify why we’d want to go against our meal plan AND our budget plan. Because wasting food is wasting money.

Plan any Treats/Extras

This has been a bigger thing lately because of my pregnancy, but I’ve been wanting paleo treats lately. No problem, we just plan for them! We also include an extra “fruit/vegetable” to pick up but leave it open ended. I.e. the list literally says “fruit” and “extra vegetable”

Write Down What You Need as You Go

Once your plan is set, make sure you write down everything that you need to make it happen! This leads into how we shop..

Step 2: Shopping for Meals On a BUDGET.

Keep your Shopping list electronic

As we work through our meal planning, we will create our shopping list together. We use the Google Keep app. It’s free and this isn’t a sponsored recommendation. My hubby told me about it, and it’s awesome. Before we used Google docs, but Keep allows you to check off items as you go. That way, you can click off items as you shop! It’s actually helped a lot with the next item. It also allows anyone invovled in the meal planning process to add to it as well (assuming you’ve shared the list with them in the app, which I highly recommend!)

Prioritize Budget Friendly Stores

Not all stores are created equal. That probably doesn’t surprise anyone, but it’s amazing to see how our budget transformed when we “prioritized” our shopping. You see, once you have your shopping list, you can make sure to shop the cheapest place first. I admit part of this is based on geography. I’m able to shop at Aldi, Walmart, Sam’s Club, a regional store, and a local health food store all within a few minutes of each other. It’s about a 30minute drive from our house so it makes the shopping list extremely important.  What has saved us a TON of money is shopping stores in this exact order:

  1. Aldi
  2. Walmart/Sam’s Club
  3. Meijer (Regional grocery store with tons of produce/meat options)
  4. Local Health Food Store/Trader Joe’s/Ordering Online

Again, you might be thinking, “Rachel, I don’t have an Aldi, there is no hope for me!” or “I live in a remote area, this isn’t even possible” and that’s just not true. Find out which stores are the cheap ones and get there first. Figuring that out may take an adjustment period, but you will get into a groove. Where I went to school there was only Walmart and a few (like 3 total) grocery stores. That meant I had to do almost all shopping at Walmart, and fill in any unique Whole30 items online because they weren’t available in person. Things like coconut aminos I had to buy on Amazon.   That’s okay! Make what is cheapest in YOUR area YOUR main shopping place and work from there. For some, Trader Joe’s might actually be the cheapest, but for us it’s somewhere I try to avoid because we’ll overspend. Maybe Thrive Market would be a good option if you are really remote, but I’ll be honest we have not used that service so I’m not comfortable recommending it. I just know it exists.

Shop ONCE Whenever Possible

This is why you need to write down every ingredient needed during the meal planning process. It also makes life a lot easier when you have to get to multiple stores. Plan for one large “shop” and get everything you need. Now, I get it. Things happen, and you may need to “fill in,” but the more you can avoid that, the better you will stick to your budget.

Get the “Extras” On Sale

I mentioned above that we always plan for an extra “fruit” and “vegetable” or “side.” These will 99.9% of the time come from whatever is on sale at Aldi (or your cheapest equivalent store). We intentionally leave this open ended for the sales.

Buy Protein in Bulk

This isn’t realistic for everyone, but we had a “sinking fund” for meat in the past. Last year, we bought 1/4 cow from a local farmer and had it processed at a local butcher. We are just finishing up the last bits of this cow a little less than a year later. Everything from ground beef to porterhouse steaks cost us under $3/lb. Granted, this was a large upfront cost and required our chest freezer (purchased secondhand for $20) but has saved us immensely in the long run. The meat is also local and fresh, which is a huge draw too. If you have that option available, look into it! If not, or for other protein types, the next tip is mroe helpful.

Stock Up When There are Deep Discounts on Protein

I always, always check for heavily discounted meats when I do our shop. This week, the “extra” item I came home with was a large pack of bone-in chicken drumsticks. I scored these for $0.69 a lb! While they won’t be used this week, they will be in our chest freezer for future meal planning. I always check the “manager’s special” stickers where the meat must be used or frozen in a short time-frame. Again, if you can allow a few extra dollars in that week’s shop, then you will ultimately save money in the long run. I have bought $35 hams for $5, Ground chicken for $1/lb, and other great deals.

Cashback Apps

I avoided using an app for a long, long time. My opinion was that these apps are made to cause you to spend more money. Which is true. Cash back grocery apps want to tap into that part of your brain that go, “oh yay! A sale! I need to buy that!” But I decided to give it a go because people were asking my opinion. So now I use ibotta but in a very specific way. I scan my receipt after I walk out of the store. I do ZERO checking beforehand when it comes to food. Do I miss sales? Inevitably, yes. But it keeps me from overspending and I get a little bit back. TBH I’m saving for a new laptop (the one I’m typing on right now is from 2012) so anything I get from ibotta is going to go to an Amazon gift card towards that. If you want to get the $10 bonus offer, AND help me with that dream, click here to sign up free and get that $10 welcome offer.

Step 3: Meal “Prepping”

You might have noticed there are quotes around the word “prepping.” That’s because we don’t fully meal prep anymore. We used to fully make EVERY meal for the week on Sundays, but that left us burnt out. Both hubby and I work full time. I’m also a full time online grad student, and we have a toddler and a puppy. We NEED our weekends to keep sane (side note, I even try to do our “shop” on Friday after work to further give us the weekend).

Chop, Chop, Chop!

We make sure to chop/slice/dice/mince everything that needs to be done for the upcoming week. Recently, I bought a mini chopper from Aldi for $8 and it has been a game changer. I can get onions done in a fraction of the time as before. Also, remember how I said we like our weekends? Usually, we will do this portion of meal prepping while our toddler is napping or contained (coloring in her high chair, eating a snack etc.). Often Netflix is involved.

Make ALL of Your Breakfasts

Typically, breakfast is our one redundant meal. Whether if it’s a frittata, or sausages and greens etc, we typically eat the same breakfast all five days and fully meal prep these over the weekend. We just make sure to change these up from week to week. This week, I bought two packs of Sam’s Choice Chicken and Apple Sausages, sliced them in half and seared in a cast iron skillet. It’s a Walmart/Sam’s Club version of the Aidell’s Chicken and Apple Sausages. We’ll have these over greens and with a side of olives, so the prep was super easy this week.

Marinate/Pre-Season Meat

If we are going to make a meatball or meal that needs meat or veggies marinated, we’ll get that going today too. This means any defrosting, slicing, and seasoning. It doesn’t take much effort, but goes a long way in the flavoring of the dishes and the ease of cooking the night of.

Have the Sides/”Snacks”/Treats Ready

Often, I’ll roast up veggie sides this day that will reheat fairly well. Things like

  • Roasted veggies (carrots/peppers/brussel sprouts)
  • Hard Boiled Eggs
  • Cooking Rice
  • Potatoes
  • Sauces (Mayo/Ranch etc)

Pre-Roast or Casserole Prep

This is very dependent on the Meal Plan you’ve created for the week, but if yout need a roasted vegetable (I’m thinking things like spaghetti squash based dishes) then we’ll prep that. OR if we make a casserole, we’ll try to get the casserole prepped or at least the components ready to go. The whole point is to limit the work done throughout the week. Dishes used to be a major concern, but now that we have our dishwasher this isn’t as big of a deal, I’ll just run it throughout the week (almost daily with all of our glass meal prep containers)

I hope that gave you some tips on how to meal plan, shop, and meal prep to make life a bit easier, cheaper, and healthier! Let me know what your #1 tip is when it comes to planning/shopping/prepping in the comments. Thanks!


repin this to help others save money too!


There are some links in this post consistent with the website disclaimer. It costs you nothing (woohoo!) but helps me to get new things to improve this site. 

Budgeting Utilities + Tips to Lower Utility Bills

There are a few ways that might be helpful when budgeting for utilities. I can tell you upfront that when we began, we took a complete guess based on the square footage of our rental and hoped that it wouldn’t be over that amount. It was. Not by much, but it was enough to raise our budget a bit. This was in winter, and we live in a cold area. A few months later and our bill was half of what it had been. So how do you budget for utilities when the weather changes monthly?


Budgeting for Utilities


For us, we have a set budget amount that is the high end of costs for the year. This means that we account for the coldest days in winter and the hottest days of summer and set our budget according to those days. We don’t average. In the spring/fall months, when our bills are gloriously low, we apply any extra money towards our “Baby Steps.”  Previously, this meant putting them to debt. Now, this means transferring that money into our 3-6 month emergency fund. It all depends where you are with your personal financial journey.


We have our utilities set up to pay the bill in full each month. The money is taken directly out of the bank, and I get a confirmation email when this is done. Then, I put any extra money where it belongs.  For example: If we had $75 budgeted for our Natural Gas, and I received a bill for $50, I would immediately put that money elsewhere. When in Baby Step two, I would go and make a student loan payment for $25. Today, I would make a $25 transfer into our emergency fund.


This may seem small, but you want every penny working for you. Even the little payments add up, especially when you are paying off debt. Every payment causes less interest to accrue. This is why you want to make those payments immediately when budgeting utilities. The key is to put the money where it belongs immediately. If you don’t do this, it’s easy to end up with an “extra” $20 to spend on unnecessary things. You don’t want that. You want to tell your money where it belongs and make it work towards your goals.


Just to be clear, this isn’t the only way to budget utilities, just the way that we choose to and what has worked well for us. Some utility companies allow you to average out the costs, but I like being the one in control of what is budgeted. Learning to adjust can take some time.

Lowering Your Utility Bill


Also, some tips for lowering your utility bill (these might not be groundbreaking, but every little bit helps!)


These tips are excellent for the environment no matter where you stand financially!

  • Open your windows and turn off the lights
  • Remember to make sure your outdoor lights are off too!
  • Turn off your sink when you brush your teeth
  • Use the “Sleep Timer” on your TV – we always fall asleep to the tv, but this keeps the electricity waste to a much smaller amount!
  • Unplug things when you aren’t using them – I don’t do this with anything that has a clock on it because that’s a huge pain, but things like phone chargers, hair tools, electric tea kettles) are easy fixes.
  • Brush your teeth in the shower  – some people may not like the warm water fyi
  • Shower warm, not hot.
  • Wash laundry on cold water
  • Hang dry clothes.
  • Open windows on opposite sides of the house to create a crossbreeze. Opening one window might not do much, but once you get that breeze in, it’s great!
  • Go natural with your hair – no heat tools=no electricity used.

With Motivation,


Student Loan Rant: Times Have Changed

I’m pretty active in some Dave Ramsey/Budgeting Facebook groups. These can be extremely helpful, but also can show how people are at varying levels of understanding. This is particularly true of the cost of college/university and how times have changed. One woman said that she was trying to prepare her daughter (a freshman in highschool) to get set for college. They have two other young ones so they can’t just give her everything. The woman was worried because she said school cost 25K a semester just for undergrad (her estimation is off but more on that later) and her daughter wants to become a pediatrician. This requires undergraduate and medical school.

The responses? Unbelieveable.

What followed was a shocking display of how much adults DO NOT GET IT. And the worst part to me was that this included older MILLENNIALS. The group older generations love to hate. A woman who graduated college in 2009 was high-and-mighty at first. Saying how she went to an in-state school and there was no way her dorms were “that expensive” when I said that dorms are about 10K a year on average. So I asked her what her alma mater was. She told me. And I then proceeded to look up the current room and board of that state university. The cost of living is now $10,648. She was FLOORED. She took back all of her ranting and was just in total shock. So yes, TIMES HAVE CHANGED. The original poster was overestimating by saying 25K per semester, but 25K per year is still quite accurate. And what kind of high-school graduate is earning 25K income right away?


Yes, it IS different now, even than only 10 years ago…

And that… THAT is what is so frustrating. What I wish I could tell every high-schooler. That older people (even ones who aren’t THAT old), including their own parents,  DO NOT GET IT. They do not understand that college is INSANELY expensive even if you go to a “cheap school.” There is no such thing as working through school without scholarships. Times have changed.  Scholarships & grants are 100% needed for financial success in college. The key is to work really hard in high school, to apply for as many scholarships as you possibly can, and to work during your time at school. It CAN be possible to not take out student loans for undergraduate, but it may become very difficult to do so if you plan to go through a medical school program.


So if you are in a situation where someone talks about how “they did it” in a school and claim how “affordable” in-state school is, CALL THEM OUT ON IT. Ask them what year they graduated, where they went to school, and what the cost was. I’m not saying to be rude. I certainly was not. I was very respectful and simply asked her what her alma mater was and then gave her the information. What I’m trying to do is give others the understanding that times have changed. The cost of a college degree vs the return on investment has shifted dramatically. And people need to get this. Students are being fed this lie that they need to spend 100K+ out of pocket to get a degree that *might* earn them that salary a few years after graduating.

Final Thoughts

If you are reading this and you’ve got student loans, I’m there with you. That’s at least a part of what this blog is currently about. That is why I link on every single page of mine. I want people who were never taught the impact of student loans  to see how to start a debt snowball/avalanche and pay off those darn loans, and to not be discouraged when older adults (who again, DON’T GET IT) talk about how affordable school is. School is only affordable if you have a lot of scholarships. So work your booty off in high-school to get good ones. Don’t just trust what others say, because times have changed, and if you want to be successful, you need to do research on your own.


With Motivation,



Starting Your Budget: A Quick Guide

Starting your budget, adjusting a budget, or tightening a budget can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. When my husband and I got married, it was hectic for more than a few reasons, but we knew we were going to have to figure out how to budget for a new living situation. We lived with my in-laws while searching for a place to move our family. I’m so grateful we were able to do this because it took the pressure of timing off and allowed us to find a steal of a deal.

We use (link) because it’s free and was recommended to us. It is an easy way to track spending. But when you are recording your budget, you have to have categories to determine where your money has been going, and where it needs to go moving forward. Starting your budget is the beginning!


How we came up with our budget numbers:

  1. Knowing Our Debt (Totals & Minimums)

We knew we’d be working really hard to pay off our student loans, but to start, we had to total up our minimum payments. All of our student loan minimums initially added up to over $1000 per month. YIKES to say the least! At this time, we also had a small interest free medical bill from our daughter’s NICU stay, so the total was about $1100 minimum per month. At first, I made an excel spreadsheet to track this, but a couple of months ago I found  UndebtIt which is a free debt snowball tool. More on the “debt snowball” later, but for now, it will help you record the balances on any debt, interest rates, and minimum payments you have to make. I can’t recommend that website enough. So we had those all figured out.


Note: just writing down all of your debt may be a big process in itself. It took me days to set up the online accounts for our student loan providers. Our federal loans required us to choose payment plans which took some time to be accepted.  It also took me additional time to figure out how to set up auto pay. This part can be scary, but beginning this is a step in the right direction! Comment and let me know if you are interested in more specifics on this, because it can be a lot!


  1. Insurance

We accounted for auto insurance, term life insurance (500K of coverage each for my husband and I), and renter’s insurance. Even though we didn’t have a rental, we anticipated $25 a month. It actually ended up being only $10.

Note: Renter’s insurance should NOT be considered optional. This is essential to your security in case of disaster. Your emergency fund wouldn’t be able to cover the costs of losing all possessions, so that’s where insurance comes in.

  1. Rent/Utility Estimations

We came up with a really rough estimate that our utilities would cost $200 per month. We figured this for electric, gas, water, and trash. This is a little below the actual cost, but since we were looking at the least expensive rentals possible, it evened out. In addition, we also planned for internet and phones. FYI cell phones are expensive, and we didn’t have the option to do cheaper providers based on coverage for the area we live in. I plan to write another post on How We Decided on our Rental.  We decided to apply as much of our income as possible towards debt, so our rental + all utilities is about 11% of our take home pay. Most people advise that your housing be “no more than 30% of take-home, but I’d say budget tighter. In fact, I would highly advise that if you are paying off debt of any type to find the least expensive option, because this will free up more $. Especially when you are not sure how far your budget will go at first.


  1. Daycare

Ouch. Daycare is so expensive, that I don’t know how some parents can even afford to work. We actually pay a bit more for daycare than our rent. It hurts. We found a well rated day care in our area that fit into our budget. In our current area though, the wait-lists are crazy long, so we were just happy to find an opening.


  1. “Living Expenses”

This will probably be the hardest part of starting your budget. Household goods, food, pet supplies, etc. I took some guesses, but this is something you will likely need to “troubleshoot” during your first few months. I took some averages that I found online for a family of three and made that our “goal” budget. To this day, we still seem to be working out our groceries vs household goods. It’s a learning curve but they seem to even out. We’re working on refining it every month.


  1. Extras

Make any extra expenses as minimal as possible.I’m going to refer you to Dave Ramsey on this one. Basically, don’t plan to be spending beyond necessities. We allow for eating out a couple of times a month (at INEXPENSIVE places like Chipotle), some “fun” money per person to keep us sane, and things like our gym memberships. This is where the smallest amount of money should be going.

Anything Leftover After Starting Your Budget? Follow the Baby Steps…

I really recommend Dave Ramsey’s “Baby Steps” This starts off with a basic small emergency fund. Dave recommends $1000, I say this can be different depending on circumstances but should be kept as small as possible. Next is to get out of debt (this is where Undebtit really helps!). Then you build a much larger emergency fund, and then move to investments, paying off your mortgage, and saving for other things like kids’ college. Refer to the DAve Ramsey website (link!So if you have nothing in savings, then the leftovers from your budget need to go there. Once you’ve got your mini-emergency fund saved, begin attacking your debt. Dave recommends the snowball method (smallest $ amount first), we have so far used the avalanche method (highest interest rate loan first) and it’s worked really well for us. When in doubt, use the snowball method.


Some Questions Answered:


What if I don’t have enough money to cover everything?

Tough love answer: you must decrease your expenses, or increase your income. It’s a math equation. You’ve got to have more coming in than out.

What if I don’t have debt, but am still new to budgeting?

Good for you! I would recommend lookiing here to determine what your next financial move should be. You will probably be able to be a little looser in some areas. For example: if we had no student loans, we might live somewhere slightly newer while saving our down payment.

Other recommendations for starting your budget:

  • Total Money Makeover or Financial Peace University –  Put it at the top of your birthday/holiday wishlist {link!}. if you don’t have the money to buy, check your local library! Otherwise, the Dave Ramsey Youtube channel and website are great free guidelines. This really helps with the “big picture” of what financial freedom can be.
  • Be INTENSE with your budgeting. Do not make excuses if you are overspending in one category. Slash your costs. Subscribe to my blog for ideas on this. I’m constantly coming up with ways to minimize costs.
  • Be Open – this is going to be a whole new post, but let some family at the very least know that you are making an effort to work on your finances. Hopefully this will help them understand why you can’t go out to eat with them all the time or go do lots of activities. Entertain at home!

I hope this helps you in the adventure of starting your budget and working towards financial happiness!

With Motivation,