10 Steps to Living With a Broke-Ass Budget


piggy bank

1. Keep your spending money in CASH. Use a small divided folder or some envelopes fastened together, label them with categories you regularly use, and put the cash for those items in the pockets. If the envelope is empty before the end of the month/pay period, you’ll either have to rethink how much you’ve been spending for that item, or cut back somewhere else.

2. BILLS should be paid by check or money order, or online if you’re comfortable doing that. Checks or money order carbons are receipts that you paid, while cash sometimes won’t have a trail. Online payments should NEVER be of the “auto pay” option, if you’re on a tight budget! If your plan/service has a price increase, you’ll have more taken than you had budgeted for, and you might not be notified first! [I’m looking at you, phone/internet services…cable, too, for that matter.]

3. NEVER bring your plastic to the store…except your EBT/SNAP card, and even then, know exactly how much you can spend before you even grab a cart! Also, BRING A LIST. Impulse buys will eat your wallet and your sanity.

4. SHOP at 99¢ STORES or GROCERY SURPLUS WAREHOUSES! When something is in season, you can often find it in the 99¢ store’s produce section – even bagged salads, and other items that are usually costly in the supermarkets. They also sell brand name items that had their labels or sizes changed, or were discontinued by the manufacturers.

5. SAVE for something you really want. Often, by the time you’ve got enough money for it, you’ll no longer “have to have” it. Or, the price will have come down, especially if your item was a “New!!” thing.

6. Speaking of NEW things, if something has just come out (like the latest “iThingy”…), look into getting one of the last generation of iThingys. Particularly if the development curve is rapid, you get some nice kit still in new or good condition, for a lower price. [Do check that the iThingy is for a carrier with plans you can afford.]

7. Use LAYAWAY, for gifts — Christmas or birthdays and anniversaries. Some stores, like furniture or appliance places, also have layaway plans. Look into those, and spread out the pain!

8. Why not see if your item can be AFFORDABLY REPAIRED? If you had saved to buy higher quality, it might be worth it. The internet can help you pinpoint the problem, and determine if you can do it yourself or need a repair service. If you do use a repair service, make sure they offer a warrantee or a guarantee on their labor.

9. BARTER or TRADE for what you need, with family, friends or neighbors. Say you’re a gardener, and your friend/neighbor/brother in law fixes cars. These are services that both cost a bit, so make an informal agreement to help each other out. Even if you don’t work a particular job, you can trade something you can do, like baby-sitting for help with spring cleaning, etc.

10. GET IT FREE! Go online and check out Freecycle or Craigslist for your area, and see if someone if offering the item you need, or ask online for it, and go pick it up. Let’s keep using things, not dumping them in landfills for future generations to deal with. Planetary budgeting, that’s the ticket!


Cheap Dinner, from scratch


Everyone has days when you just van’t face cooking…leaving you the options of take out (because delivery costs as much as the order!) or snacking for dinner — not a good idea, as you’ll be grumbling yourself to sleep.

As Yoda would say, “There is another…”

Make do with the pantry you have. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? It doesn’t have to be. With six or less ingredients, you’ve got dinner, for one or for a family.

First, consider the base: This can be rice, pasta, or maybe a vegetable, like beans.

Next, add a theme — like, but not limited to, Mexican, Asian, French, good old American comfort food. You’re only limited with what you have on hand.

Lastly, finishing touches, like spices and sauces.

Here is a time and wallet friendly recipe, with ingredients you more than likely have on hand, or could pick up on the way home from work. Cheap, quick and easy.

Italiano Pasta Bake
Serves 4    Prep time, 15 minutes     Bake time, 20-25 minutes.

  • 1 1/2 oz dry spaghetti per person  (for 4, 6 oz. or 3/4 of an 8oz box of your preferred style)
  • 1 15 oz can of zucchini in tomato sauce* (or 1 1/2 cup sliced zucchini, with 6-8 oz can of tomato sauce)
  • 1 10oz can of peas (or beans of your choice, like white kidney beans)
  • 1 4-6 oz can of mushrooms, drained (or fresh, about 1/2 cup sliced)
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder and italian herb blend, amounts to taste
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (fresh or canned), divided in half
  1. Boil a large pot of water on top of the stove, and preheat the oven to 375 F.
  2. Boil the pasta until almost tender, then drain, and place in an oven safe casserole dish, (with 2 tsp of olive oil, if desired).
  3. In a medium bowl, add the zucchini (and tomato sauce if using fresh zucchini), the peas or beans, the canned mushrooms, and half the grated cheese. Briefly stir to combine.
  4. Season with salt and pepper, and garlic powder to taste, and about 1 1/2 tsps of the italian herb blend. Stir lightly and place in the casserole dish. Top with cheese, and add a little bit of bread crumbs, too, if you’d like.
  5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until top if brown and contents are heated through.

italian pasta bean casserole Serve with a green salad and  some bread or rolls. Garlic  butter for the bread is optional.  Not the best gourmet dish, but  very tasty, economical and  quick.

You could do what my friend  Paula does, and keep a white  erase board on her pantry  door, with a list of what’s inside. Simple and convenient, with no time wasted with wondering what to do.


99 Cent Store Magic


Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know, you’ve been there before, and it’s just junk…blah, blah, blah.

Two words for you:  You’re wrong! Below is a picture of veggies and other brand name foods, which two blocks from my 99Cents Only Store, sell for FOUR TIMES what I can get these for, at the 99. Your store(s) may not be *as* nice as the ones by me, but check out the chain 99-cent stores. Frequently, they carry the same brands of produce, dairy, frozen, and other food products as your local supermarket! The items below, when I see them, are never past their sell-by dates, and they are fresh, and unwilted. Often, they’re there  because the item was just too abundant (very often the case when a particular food is ‘in season’). Some of my ;atest scores: Fresh asparagus, mini tri-colored bell peppers, stir fry vegetables, and Portobello mushrooms — which I grilled as veggie ‘burgers’. YUM!

I get most of my produce at my 99 Cents Only Store (a chain found in California, Nevada and Texas). Dollar Tree also has grocery items, and some produce and deli/dairy items, and frozen items as well, from brands you probably already use.

And then there’s everything else — laundry soap, detergent, health items, first aid supplies…the list is too long for this post. I furnished my entire earthquake/disaster kit out of my 99 cent store, including tools. Check it out.


A “Thank You!” You’ll Welcome


If you’re like me, when you get a receipt, it usually ends up in the bottom of your pocket or your purse. Rarely do I read them, except to scan the back for any coupons for local businesses I use, Since there’s usually only 1 or 2 in a month, I don’t even clip them anymore. Thanks to what happened to my friend yesterday, I may just have to start paying attention, and start getting paid!

My friend shops at Target and other big box stores fairly often. He noticed a survey listed, with a number and an online address, asking that he check in and give his opinion of his purchase and his store experience “with a chance to win a $20 gift card from us”. I’ve seen these all the time myself, just figured the odds are bad, so I never did it.

He did, and then promptly forgot about it. Then, he got an email telling him that a gift card for $20 was on it’s way to him. He’s thinking, “It’s just a scam for my information!” and deleted it. Yesterday, he got the gift card from the store. As he says, it’s a new pair of slacks, or a shirt, so he’s happy.

I’m thinking that most people do what I did, and just toss the receipts after they’ve aged significantly in the bottom of my purse. But, if most people do that, maybe the odds aren’t as bad as I’d thought…I figure it’s worth a try. What;s the worst that can happen? They find out their restrooms could be cleaner or their pet supplies section rocks? One point to mention — most of the restaurant or big box store surveys on the receipts have a time limit after the receipt date, so you’ll need to reply within that time limit. For restaurants, like Panda Express, Yoshinoya or Chipotle, it can be as little as 24 hours, while the department stores usually give you 72 houra to respond.

The Road Not Preferred


When a person with a disability or beyond retirement age can’t find work, one of the few other options they have is to apply for aid they qualify to receive. Sadly, I’m in this predicament, after having looked for work tolerant of my “as-is” condition and my age, for some years.

Before you go getting all in my face over “entitlements!”, remember that if a person has been working, and having taxes taken from them, they’ve *been* paying in to the system! For others in a similar predicament to mine, here are a few suggestions.

Food Aid:  This can include the Food Stamp program, or food banks for families and seniors or help through your church. Food stamps must be applied for, and contrary to public opinion, is a rigorous process involving a lot of documentation on the applicant’s part. Applicants can be seniors, the disabled, and the “working poor” — people who are underemployed or unemployed long term, and need help to get enough food supplies for themselves and their families.

Catholic Charities, Protestant churches, and Jewish organizations have food banks, utilizing donated food from farmers or groceries or restaurants, to distribute to needy families, even among people not members of their faith. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses  and Islamic organizations are very supportive of members of their congregations for those who have difficulties. Calling your county’s or district’s social public services department can supply you with various groups who can help you obtain food aid.

Housing Aid:  For the first time since the period during and just after World War II, families are moving back in with their parents, and/or having their parents move in with them…and sometimes more than three generations are under one roof. If that roof is in a larger house, not so bad. When it’s an apartment, multi-generational housing situations can be very stressful. This may be the best and first solution to try, though, as families can pool resources in ways that unrelated roommates might not be able to or be comfortable with.

Getting a roommate or roommates works, but has it’s drawbacks. If you sign a lease, the signers are responsible for the rent for the period of the lease. One of you could be stuck with the whole obligation if your roommate(s) don’t have good enough credit scores to sign the agreement. Also, this is a consideration for any utilities required, and not included in the rent. If your roommate loses their job, gets injured (or even dies) or just gets discouraged and moves back home, you’ll have to find a replacement at short notice or pay this entire burden yourself. Always good to ask around for potential replacement roommate(s) before you actually need them, as soon as your situation seems to be getting “iffy”. Sometimes a person is looking to change their living arrangements or wants to move out of their parental home and might be looking for an opportunity. That’s what I did, 40+ years ago, and I moved 3000 miles to California — it’s one of the best decisions I ever made.

Public Services housing is a lot harder to obtain. Housing is available for low-income families, seniors and the disabled, but in the current economy there is a *very* long waiting list for access to a limited number of accommodations. In Los Angeles County, this type of housing has a waiting list of up to *5 YEARS* long. Often the housing is crowded, noisy and sometimes in dangerous neighborhoods — not a comfortable situation, even if you can make it through the waiting period. This should be a last resort.

A long post and a lot to consider. With so many people being unable to find steady or adequate employment, these are issues a lot of us face, and while an uncomfortable topic, I hope I’ve suggested some things you might have been overlooking or been reluctant to consider. Needs must trump pride in bad times, and when you’re doing better you can move upward again, offering help instead of asking for it.

Breaking the Bank…Fees are for unFrugals


In the past 4 years, Americans, and others around the world, have seen their long-term savings and pensions shrink, due to mismanagement on the part of banks, mortgage companies and investment firms. So much mismanagement that the US Congress stepped in and passed some regulations regarding banking, financing and money management. No more could banks and credit card providers go crazy with interest rates on their depositors, cardholders or mortgage holders without fully informing them they were about to “violate” some new fee-generating restriction.

Bank of America faced a severe storm of criticism when it attempted to roll out a new monthly fee last Fall, on debit card holders, and was forced to back down. Now, they’re at it again — new monthly fees will be imposed on “free checking” accounts which drop below a stated amount, or don’t have direct deposit.  http://tinyurl.com/7dt8mb8

What can you do, as the banks try to rebuild their former income streams for their shareholders? It’s not hopeless, you do still have a few things you can control when it comes to these tactics:

First and foremost, make sure to read the fine print on your bank statements, whether they’re snail mail or online. Banks HAVE to inform you about changes to your account, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do it on the back of the last statement page in nano-sized type, legally! This includes reading any and all of those bank “Message center” items you see online.

Go online (or call your bank) every couple of months and read the “Fee Schedule” to know what the current fees are — this is how I tracked down an obscure charge on my Money Market account, and how the BofA customers found out about that pending debit card fee.

Next, make sure you actually read your account history. Look out for fees, or any item which seems off, even if it’s for just a few dollars. That could mean you’ve just had a fee levied or that there is a charge in error. Yes, banks can have typos, too, especially if your write checks. If your balance at the end of the pay period is close to zero, you could end up with bounced check fees, which will generate even more fees if you don’t catch it in time.

Make a habit to review your account options periodically. In my case, I saw that I had dipped below a set balance which incurred a monthly fee, so I decided to see what would happen if I changed account types — and found that I would get the same interest rate paid to me with a regular savings account, with no monthly fee. Voila, $10 a month, saved!

If you do all these steps regularly, fees won’t sneak up on you. If you find you can’t get out of paying your Bank a particularly high or obnoxious fee, look into using a Credit Union — on the average, their fees in general are lower, the interest rates you’ll pay for mortgages, credit cards and auto loans are lower, and the interest rates they pay you on your savings/checking balances are higher, because *you* are a shareholder. http://www.creditunionsonline.com

What other tips can  you think of? If I missed something, please share!

Date Night Plans for the Financially Challenged


Economic times right now are hard enough as it is, but there’s no need to spend them alone to save money.  Here are some ideas to have a good time with your sweetie or your spouse and/or with other couples/friends, all without strangling your wallet. All of these dates are possible, if kids are involved.


Star Gazing

Look in an Almanac or at an astronomy site, and see when there’s an eclipse, a meteor shower or some other celestial event (or just celebrate a clear night). Set up chairs in the backyard, a deck or other clear space without close by obstructions and spend the evening enjoying the wonder of the Heavens.

Put together a puzzle

Get a picture puzzle or two from garage sales or the 99 cent store, and solve it together — the sillier or more complex the image, the better. No hiding the last piece, though…that’s cheating!

Go Rustic

Unplug and turn off everything you can, break out the candles or a lantern, and then entertain yourselves the way it was done before Edison and Apple got so inventive.  Make a cup of coffee or tea and sit around sharing stories with each other (good way to hear about your companion’s family), play music the old fashioned way with any instruments you may play or just read aloud to each other. Pictionary (charades with images) can be done without anything more expensive than a pad of paper and a couple of pens.

Try a New Recipe Together

Make an exotic cuisine recipe together, or something you’d never try making just for yourself, like Coq Au Vin (Chicken in wine) or Paella (Seafood and rice stew). It’s fun and will smell terrific — and you can always open a can of beans, if your dinner burns…

Make your own Drive-in

Make some popcorn and get some drinks, then head out to the car or the deck or the backyard, where you can set up a laptop computer, iPad, or other DVD device.  Choose your date/spouse’s/friend’s favorite movie or something you’ve always wanted to see. Alternatively, have a group movie night with other couples/families: Have everyone bring a DVD they liked or want to see, toss them in a box and pick the program that way. The best part? No one has to get stuffed in a car trunk to get in free!

Have a dance night

Get some of your favorite tracks and a few friends together and dance! It can be from your favorite old records, CDs or a DVD of a favorite band’s concerts. Have everyone bring one snack or drink choice, to avoid expense. Helpful hint: If you live on the second floor, no mosh pits, please!

With thanks for SOME of the ideas from http://www.moneyhelpforchristians.com/10-easy-to-plan-and-fun-at-home-date-ideas/#ixzz1fmlIcXep  Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike