10 Budget Road Trip Tips

These are crazy helpful budget road trip tips! #9 especially!

I’ve spent a good portion of my life traveling, but I’ve only been on a plane for twelve of those trips. That doesn’t mean I’ve only been on twelve trips…heck, I’ve moved more often than that!

But it does mean that most of my sojourns have been rubber to the road. Over the years, I’ve learned how to take road trips even on the tightest of budgets. From all my years of trial and error and applied learning, I bring you these road-wise tips to help you save during your summer travel adventures:

10 Budget Road Trip Tips

There are three main areas that are ripe for saving, plus an additional one if you have kids.

Super smart...and simple...ways to save on gas for my summer road trip!

Save on Gas

  1. Consolidate grocery shopping for at least one month before your trip. If your local grocery store chain has a fuel rewards program, shop their deals and steals exclusively for all of your grocery trips for at least one month prior to your trip. (If your chain allows you to build up rewards over a longer period without them expiring, then consolidate that grocery shopping to one store for a longer period.) The discounts will add up, and you may even get a free tank of gas on your way out of town.

    The biggest caveat with this one is that grocery chains are regional. Aside from Costco, Sam’s Club, and Safeway Grocers, you’re probably not going to have an easy time finding a fuel rewards program that translates to nationwide discounts. But filling up that first tank at home for a steep discount is a huge help.

  2. Maximize your credit card rewards. After I finally got over my fear of credit cards, I took a few out for the rewards because I knew I could use them responsibly. I use these cards selectively based on their specific reward programs. For example, the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card gives you 5x points every time you use it at the pump to put gas in your car. In this situation, PenFed’s card is way more advantageous than my other card that doubles points on every purchase. And it beats the heck out of my debit card–which gives nothing.
  3. Take a smaller car. If you have more than one car in your household, take the smallest one. While you may think bigger is better in terms of how much you can store for your trip, you’ll end up spending a whole lot more on gasoline as a result. Instead, pare down how much you’re packing. You probably don’t need the half of it, anyway.
  4. Avoid full-service gas stations. These are more common in rural areas, so if you’re from a metropolitan area, they’ll probably throw you off guard. At a full-service station , they’ll pump your gas for you, which is nice, except that it makes you a little bit of a jerk if you don’t tip. I’m all about tipping generously, but only for services I opt to purchase. If you stop at one on accident, you can avoid this problem by telling them you’ll pump your own gas.
  5. Print out your directions. This one won’t necessarily save you cash on gas, but it will save you money while you’re driving. It’s all too easy to become reliant on GPS in our day and age, but using the navigation tool on your phone over the course of a long trip will seriously mess with your data usage. You don’t want to come home to a $400 cell phone bill.

    Plus, printing out directions protects you from getting lost in the middle of nowhere. That happened to us last year on our way home from Myrtle Beach (because I remembered to print out directions for the way there, but forgot to print them for the way back.) We were in the middle of the Virginia mountains and decided to take a scenic detour around a massive highway construction project. Why not? We had our phones! Then our service cut out. In the middle of the Virginia mountains. It was not a quick or fun process figuring out how to get back on track so we could get home.

    If you don’t want to print, you can always use the download feature of Google Maps.

Skip the fast food and save money on your next road trip.

Save on Food

  1. Prepare so you don’t have to eat out. This may seem obvious, but the longer your road trip, the harder it is to keep up. A cooler can only keep food for so long. Pack a couple meals in it, but also don’t be afraid to stop and restock at grocery stores, instead of fast food restaurants. Not only will it be cheaper, but it will also be healthier. You can either re-up on cold cuts or get something out of their hot food section. Plus, if you’re using your PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card , you’ll get 3x points on grocery purchases.

    This is where I would use my phone. When you get off at an exit to get gas, see how close the closest grocery store is. If it’s ten minutes or less away, it’s worth the slight detour in my opinion.

Smart ideas to save on lodging during a road trip!

Save on Accommodations

  1. Stay with friends and family. If you’re making a long trip, you likely have someone in your network that lives between point A and B. Contact those friends and family before your trip to see if they’d be okay with you staying for a night and catching up before you hit the road again. It may even be worth slightly adjusting your planned course if they live a little bit out of the way.
  2. Offset hotel costs with rewards points. Before I had kids, I’d stay in pretty rough hotels. Okay, motels. Now that I’m responsible for other people’s lives, I have higher standards. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still ways to save, though.

    If you don’t have anyone to stay with between point A and point B, but want to save without sleeping somewhere shady, use those rewards points you’ve been racking up with your credit card in step two. They can either get you a free stay or seriously reduce how much you pay depending on how many you’ve built up.

  3. Get more than one driver. And a designated talker. One time my friend and I took a road trip down to Nashville to visit our buddy. She was shocked that I was okay driving the whole way.

    “No, I’m seriously fine,” I told her. “I just need someone to talk to so I can stay awake.”

    Again, now that I have kids I’m a little more cautious. Tired driving can be equivalent to drunk driving; it’s nothing to mess around with. We try to have more than one driver as much as possible, and a designated talker to make sure the driver is capable of doing their job while their alternate sleeps.

    The more drivers you have, the longer you can go without having to stop at a hotel, as long as everyone gets quality sleep between shifts.

  4. Consider camping out. No, you don’t have to rough it. Believe it or not, most campgrounds are going to have conveniences like real bathrooms and running water. You may even find shower facilities. If you’re not a tent kind of person, you can specifically plan on staying at campgrounds with cabins or yurts for added comfort. This option comes out much cheaper than a hotel, depending on how much you glamp it up. If you’re driving through Bureau of Land Management areas, you can even camp for free!

Great ideas for keeping kids distracted on the road!

Bonus! For the parents.

  1. Make cheapie distraction bags. If you have young kids, a long car ride can feel even longer. Come prepared with lots of distractions. We have bags that we fill up anew once a day. It staves off boredom, and we always have something in stock in case we hit a tantrum when we refuse to buy them overpriced plastic souvenirs that will be broken in two hours. To see where we get our distraction bag stock for cheap, check out this post.

What are your budget road trip tips? Would love to hear them in the comment section!

This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union.


How to Shop for College Textbooks and Save Money

I never realized how much the phrase "it depends" matters when you're shopping for college textbooks! Definitely will be using these techniques to save money next semester.

I hate that it’s July and we’re already thinking about textbooks for the Fall semester. Alas, college.

In the past I’ve covered different ways we’ve saved money, including getting the books directly from kind professors for free or using the reserve section of our library. But today, I want to cover different ways to get the book in your own backpack via some type of purchase, and which kind of purchase is best.

Should you rent or buy your textbook? Get a hard copy or an electronic version? A lot of it comes down to your own personal needs and the pricing for your specific book.

Cheap Paper Rental

The first commandment of buying textbooks is to never, ever buy a new paper copy. Never. It’s way expensive, and it depreciates so quickly that you’re not likely to be able to recoup a meaningful portion of your costs.

So we know we’re either buying used or electronic. We’re either purchasing or renting. For Scenario A, let’s look at a textbook that was required for both the husband and I in our respective English writing courses:

Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum

On Amazon, you can buy it used starting at $61.99. When  you buy used, you can always resell when the semester’s over to recoup some of your costs.

However, Amazon gives you the option to rent a hard copy for $12.98. This is crazy low. It’s low enough that even if you bought used and resold, at the end of the day you’d probably be out more than $12.98.

Amazon also has a rental option for Kindle that would run you $47.85. Or, you can buy the Kindle version for $81.47. eTextbooks typically don’t include digital extras—in this case MyWritingLab (which neither the husband or I were required to use.)

Amazon’s eTextbook prices aren’t always the best on the market, though. When we hop over to VitalSource, we find a rental price of $44.99, or a purchase price of $64.99. With eTextbooks, the only reason I can think of to buy would be if it’s a text that’s going to be critical in your chosen career path.

Is it cheaper to buy or rent textbooks? Should you go electronic or stick to old school paper versions?

In this specific scenario, renting the paper version off Amazon is the clear win. However, if paying an extra $32.01 is worth it to you to save the planet, then you’d want to rent off VitalSource.

Buy and Resell

Sometimes buying used may not appear to be the cheapest option at first glance, but when you account for the fact that you can resell you realize it may be your best bet. Let’s take a look at this book:
African Traditions in the Study of Religion in Africa

The current cheapest used paper version on Amazon is going to run you $57.00 plus $3.99 for shipping, for a total of $60.99.

The next cheapest option would be to rent on VitalSource for $67.48 for four months. If you like the idea of not having to lug around a textbook in your backpack, the extra few dollars may not seem like a big deal.

african religion

That ignores, though, the fact that when you buy a paper version, you have the ability to resell it at the end of the semester. Let’s say you only sold it for 75% of what you bought it for originally. In the end, you still would have only lost about $15.25 on the book. Fifteen twenty-five is a lot less than $67.48.

Niche Down and Own eTextbooks

In my experience, eTextbooks provide the most value when you’re really niching down to your specific course of study and want to hold onto the text to help you in your career. For example, this textbook is clearly specifically for geologists who will need to convey their research and findings to other scientists:Communicating Rocks; Writing, Speaking, and Thinking About Geology

If I were a geology major, I’d want to hold onto this one tight. Because it’s so career-specific, there aren’t as many paper copies flooding the used book market as texts for general ed courses or electives. In fact, the cheapest used version on Amazon is going for $44.62.

You could do that, or you could own the e-version from VitalSource for only $30.99. Because you’re not reselling, you’re not going to recoup any costs, so the e-version is truly $13.63 cheaper. The Kindle version costs $38.27 to own.

Many times, when you're buying career-specific textbooks that you want to keep, eTextbooks are the cheapest way to go.

When you’re getting into higher level courses that provide information that will be useful in your career, definitely look at the eTextbook option.

Note for Pell Grant Recipients

This tidbit of advice is specifically for Pell Grant recipients, particularly at community colleges, or anyone who has excess funds that their school has not yet released to them. Your school will tell you that you can purchase at the bookstore on credit. Then the money will come out of the excess funds they would have released to your further into the semester.

Avoid doing this at all costs. While it’s a convenient solution if you don’t have the money to purchase the books today, buying at the bookstore will cost you a heck of a lot more than buying almost anywhere else. Besides, most professors aren’t going to require you to have your books on Day One. Wait to see if you’ll actually need the text, and then, if you do, find a way to scrounge up enough money to purchase them anywhere but your bookstore. Doing so will save you hundreds.


*This post contains affiliate links. Enjoy the savings, and thank you for supporting Femme Frugality!*




Paving Your Way in the Dental Industry

Honest to God...never knew the difference between a dental hygenist and dental assistant before I read this.

The dental industry provides many exciting options in terms of careers. A dental practitioner can work in private practice, in research and teaching institutions and in the public sector or other industries. This means that by training as a dental practitioner, you can get an opportunity to grab any of the opportunities that are available.

One way to start out in this field is by enrolling in any of the dental assisting training programs that are offered by different colleges and universities. If you enroll in one of these programs, you will be trained as a dental assistant. The benefit of training as a dental assistant is that the position acts as a stepping stone to becoming a dental hygienist.

What is the difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist?

To any person outside the dental field, the duties that are performed by a dental hygienist and a dental assistant seem interchangeable, but there are some similarities and differences between the two careers. Below is an outline of what dental assistants and dental hygienists do.

What dental assistants do

  • Collaborate with patients prior to, during and after a medical procedure. This involves providing care and instructions to patients.
  • Help the dentist during various medical procedures.
  • Take and process x-ray images of teeth.
  • Prepare and sterilize equipment and instruments.
  • Perform office duties such as scheduling patients and maintaining the dental records of patients.
  • Take tooth impressions.
  • Teach patients about proper oral hygiene care.

What dental hygienists do

Dental hygienists perform some of the duties that are performed by dental assistants. In addition to this, dental hygienists also perform the following duties:

  • Gather information about the medical and oral health of a patient.
  • Clean teeth by removing stains, calculus and plaque from their surfaces.
  • Create molds of the teeth of patients to aid in the evaluation of treatment.
  • Monitor the condition of teeth and providing the information to the dentist.
  • Treat teeth using fluorides as well as other agents that prevent tooth decay.
  • Administer local anesthesia before a procedure is performed.
  • Remove dressings and sutures after different medical procedures.

Why you’d want to move from a dental assistant to a dental hygienist

Working as dental hygienist gives you more opportunities since you have more skills than a dental assistant. Therefore, while you are equipped with skills in clinical, laboratory and radiographic procedures as a dental assistant, you will have an even broader scope of skills and knowledge working as a dental hygienist, which equates to higher pay.

Opportunities that exist for dental hygienists

As a dental hygienist, you can work in a wide variety of fields. According to the American Dental Hygienists Association, a dental hygienist can work in various areas:

  • Clinician: As a clinician, you can perform clinical roles in community clinics, schools, prison facilities, hospitals, private dental clinics and nursing homes.
  • Corporate: You can be employed as a sales representative, corporate educator, or product researcher.
  • Public health: There are many community health programs that will need your services.
  • Research and education: As a dental hygienist, you can be employed by research or education institutions.
  • Entrepreneur: You can also become a successful entrepreneur by using your imagination and creativity based on your knowledge as a dental hygienist.

Do we have any readers who work in the world of dentistry? Would love to hear your insights in the comments!


*This post is brought to you and contributed by Audrey Hobbs*

Get Rewarded to Book Your Summer Vacation

So excited about this way to save on attractions when I book my hotel for summer vacation!

I apologize to regular readers, as you have seen this post in the recent past. However, this deal was a reader favorite, so I wanted to let you know IT’S BACK! Check it out, and see the new dates where you can take advantage.

We’ve already booked our big summer vacation for the year, and I’m super excited about it. It’s going to be a big, extended family trip for the ages. On top of it, we’re also tossing around a couple of ideas for mid-week road trips. Summer 2016 is going to be good times.

Part of me wishes we had waited to book, though. Here’s why:

TripAdvisor Rewards You for Booking Your Summer Vacation

If you book your summer vacation now through May 23rd, 2016  August 1, 2016 on TripAdvisor using their Instant Book feature and code BOOKTOSAVE, you’ll get a coupon code for 20% off attractions purchased through TripAdvisor or Viator. The catch is that you have to spend $250+ on attractions for the code to work. With a family vacation including our extended family, though, we could have saved some serious money.

Let me illustrate.

Las Vegas

Check out this hack that rewards you with a discount on your Las Vegas vacation---just for booking your hotel.

Let’s say we booked a trip to Las Vegas. We would book our hotel before May 23rd, and then the next day we would get our Viator code. In Vegas, we’d likely purchase the Las Vegas Explorer Pass, which would get us into three attractions of our choice for only $74.99 per adult. For ten people, costs would come to $719.90 when we account for child pricing. The coupon code would save us $143.98.

Myrtle Beach

Check out this hack that rewards you with a discount on your Myrtle Beach vacation---just for booking your hotel.


Say we instead booked a trip for Myrtle Beach. Last time we went, we skipped over WonderWorks, a cool exploratory space full of fun science for kids (and the adults who still have a child-like wonder alive inside of them.) We still had a great time, but if we went again it’s something we’d like to check out, especially with our children. We’d be looking at spending $268.65 if everyone wanted to go, so our coupon code would save us $53.73.


Check out this hack that rewards you with a discount on your Maui vacation---just for booking your hotel.

Maybe we got super fancy and decided to go to Maui. Not only would booking on TripAdvisor save us up to 25% on our hotel, but the coupon code would save us $442.98 on helicopter tours of the island.

I think you’ve got the idea. TripAdvisor allows you to book hotels in virtually any region, and also allows you to check out some of the most reliable reviews on the interwebs while you’re at it. Because they own Viator, you’ll be able to find discounted tours and attractions in virtually any region, too.

If you’re unlike me and haven’t booked your summer vacation yet, be sure to check this promotion out. It could just save you some big bucks.




*This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting the blog, and I hope they help you save a ton on your vacation!*

Why The Chinese Zodiac is Important to Your Wallet

When the husband and I were newly dating, we found ourselves at a Chinese buffet. We were still making googly eyes at each other over the table; that’s how young our love was.

We broke our gaze for a brief moment to look over our place mats, which had a pictorial list of all the signs of the Chinese zodiac. It told us that our respective animals were meant to be together. Then, when my future husband opened his fortune cookie, it taught him how to say my animal in Mandarin.

Soul mates.

Of course, that’s not why we got married, but it was a happy sign to two new lovers.

$20 Date Night: Chinese Zodiac Art Installation

Check out how the Chinese Zodiac affects your finances---whether you believe in it or not.

Many years and a couple children later, we went on a much needed date night. We don’t do enough of those anymore. We decided to make it an under $20 affair, and spent $9 total to go see the newest art installation at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. (If you’re a yinzer wondering how that’s possible, read on.)

On display was Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads. Ai created them in honor of a similar installation that appeared as a clock-like display in front of a royal building in Beijing. The original installation was destroyed by the British in the 1800s.

Ai’s pretty political, so when he spoke out against the communist regime, he was imprisoned. Even through his imprisonment, this installation toured the world. Ai was eventually released. Currently, he’s in Greece helping with the refugee crisis.

But now his art is here in Pittsburgh, and it was impressive to behold. In the Carnegie Museum, it is displayed in the self-same hall that we visited whenever we were pursuing our staycation-esque Paris in Pittsburgh project. This room is full of European reliefs, including a massive structure that replicates the front of the Cathedral of Saint-Andre (Bordeaux,) which was built in the 13th century. As you walk around and take pictures, it creates a powerful mesh of two very old traditions, contrasting the East and the West.

As we walked around, I couldn’t help but question: was there a geometric relation to the signs that did well together or the signs that were enemies? Were these animals based on constellations in their relationship to the moon? (It is a lunar calendar, after all.)

Why the Chinese Zodiac is Important to Your Wallet

The answers I found weren’t necessarily what I was expecting, but they were amazing. Believe it or not, the Chinese Zodiac is important to your wallet, even if you think it’s all bull.

Here’s why:

Normally I’d expand, but this is only a six-minute video and I really want you to watch it as ShaoLan explains it natively—something I can’t do. Here’s some of the things you’ll learn:

  • Even if you think the Chinese Zodiac is in no way predictive or real, a quarter of the world’s population would argue with you. With that many people making decisions (sometimes financial) based on this belief, it doesn’t really matter if you believe or not—you will experience the influence of others’ beliefs.
  • Why the world’s richest people are born in unlucky years.
  • How the Chinese Zodiac is now affecting the stock market. As world economies become increasingly interdependent, this is something investors are going to want to understand.

The Art and How the Chinese Zodiac Applies to You

The Chinese calendar is not linear like our own, but cyclical. It runs for sixty years and then starts over again. During those sixty years, five elements and twelve animals interact with each other. Below you’ll find which animal (and which element) you are.

Want to be super cool? Pin your animal using the Pinterest button at the very bottom of this post!

Also outlined below are the animals that are complimentary to you. These may be your ideal love interests, or they may help you decide when to have a baby as complimentary animals tend to work well together in family units. This is only one aspect of family planning that ShaoLan discusses in the above video.

Additionally, you’ll find quotes about each animal’s qualities from the Ai exhibit.

Keep in mind that if you have a January or February birthday, you’ll want to check when the lunar calendar turned over in the year you were born; it’s not always January 1.


Chinese Zodiac signs affect your wallet--whether you believe in them or not. I'm the year of the rat!

Wood Rat: 1924, 1984, 2044
Fire Rat: 1936, 1996, 2056
Earth Rat: 1948, 2008, 2068
Metal Rat: 1960, 2020
Water Rat: 1972, 2032

Best Compatible Signs: Monkey, Dragon
Sign in Opposition: Horse

I was born in the year of the rat, and it affects my wallet.


Chinese Zodiac signs affect your wallet--whether you believe in them or not. I'm the year of the ox!

Wood Ox: 1925, 1985, 2045
Fire Ox: 1937, 1997, 2057
Earth Ox: 1949, 2009, 2069
Metal Ox: 1961, 2021
Water Ox: 1973, 2033

Best Compatible Signs: Rooster, Snake
Sign in Opposition: Goat/Sheep

I was born in the year of the ox, and it affects my wallet.


Chinese Zodiac signs affect your wallet--whether you believe in them or not. I'm the year of the tiger!

Fire Tiger: 1926, 1986, 2046
Earth Tiger: 1938, 1998, 2058
Metal Tiger: 1950, 2010, 2070
Water Tiger: 1962, 2022
Wood Tiger: 1974, 2034

Best Compatible Signs: Horse, Dog
Sign in Opposition: Monkey

I was born in the year of the tiger, and it affects my wallet.


Chinese Zodiac signs affect your wallet--whether you believe in them or not. I'm the year of the rabbit!

Fire Rabbit: 1927, 1987, 2047
Earth Rabbit: 1939, 1999, 2059
Metal Rabbit: 1951, 2011, 2071
Water Rabbit: 1963, 2023
Wood Rabbit: 1975, 2035

Best Compatible Signs: Pig, Sheep/Goat
Sign in Opposition: Rooster

I was born in the year of the rabbit, and it affects my wallet.


Chinese Zodiac signs affect your wallet--whether you believe in them or not. I'm the year of the dragon!!

Earth Dragon: 1928, 1988, 2048
Metal Dragon: 1940, 2000, 2060
Water Dragon: 1952, 2012, 2072
Wood Dragon: 1964, 2024
Fire Dragon: 1976, 2036

Best Compatible Signs: Monkey, Rat
Sign in Opposition: Dog

I was born in the year of the dragon, and it affects my wallet.


Chinese Zodiac signs affect your wallet--whether you believe in them or not. I'm the year of the snake!

Earth Snake: 1929, 1989, 2049
Metal Snake: 1941, 2001, 2061
Water Snake: 1953, 2013, 2073
Wood Snake: 1965, 2025
Fire Snake: 1977, 2037

Best Compatible Signs: Rooster, Ox
Sign in Opposition: Pig

I was born in the year of the snake, and it affects my wallet.


Chinese Zodiac signs affect your wallet--whether you believe in them or not. I'm the year of the horse!

Metal Horse: 1930, 1990, 2050
Water Horse: 1942, 2002, 2062
Wood Horse: 1954, 2014, 2074
Fire Horse: 1966, 2026
Earth Horse: 1978, 2038

Best Compatible Signs: Tiger, Dog
Sign in Opposition: Rat

I was born in the year of the horse, and it affects my wallet.


Chinese Zodiac signs affect your wallet--whether you believe in them or not. I'm the year of the goat!

Metal Goat/Sheep: 1931, 1991, 2051
Water Goat/Sheep: 1943, 2003, 2063
Wood Goat/Sheep: 1955, 2015, 2075
Fire Goat/Sheep: 1967, 2027
Earth Goat/Sheep: 1979, 2039

Best Compatible Signs: Rabbit, Pig
Sign in Opposition: Ox

I was born in the year of the goat, and it affects my wallet.


Chinese Zodiac signs affect your wallet--whether you believe in them or not. I'm the year of the monkey!!

Water Monkey: 1932, 1992, 2052
Wood Monkey: 1944, 2004, 2064
Fire Monkey: 1956, 2016, 2076
Earth Monkey: 1968, 2028
Metal Monkey: 1980, 2040

Best Compatible Signs: Rat, Dragon
Sign in Opposition: Tiger

I was born in the year of the monkey, and it affects my wallet.


Chinese Zodiac signs affect your wallet--whether you believe in them or not. I'm the year of the rooster!

Water Rooster: 1933, 1993, 2053
Wood Rooster: 1945, 2005, 2065
Fire Rooster: 1957, 2017, 2077
Earth Rooster: 1969, 2029
Metal Rooster: 1981, 2041

Best Compatible Signs: Ox, Snake
Sign in Opposition: Rabbit

I was born in the year of the rooster, and it affects my wallet.


Chinese Zodiac signs affect your wallet--whether you believe in them or not. I'm the year of the dog!

Wood Dog: 1934, 1994, 2054
Fire Dog: 1946, 2006, 2066
Earth Dog: 1958, 2018
Metal Dog: 1970, 2030
Water Dog: 1982, 2042

Best Compatible Signs: Horse, Tiger
Sign in Opposition: Dragon

I was born in the year of the dog, and it affects my wallet.


Chinese Zodiac signs affect your wallet--whether you believe in them or not. I'm the year of the pig!

Wood Pig: 1935, 1995, 2055
Fire Pig: 1947, 2007, 2067
Earth Pig: 1959, 2019
Metal Pig: 1971, 2031
Water Pig: 1983, 2043

Best Compatible Signs: Rabbit, Sheep/Goat
Sign in Opposition: Snake

I was born in the year of the pig, and it affects my wallet.

Get into Carnegie Museums for Cheap

Those of you from Pittsburgh are probably choking at the price of admission (including parking!) that we got. Per diem at the museums are expensive, but there are ways to get in for cheap. You can:

  • Buy a membership. From $50-$250 depending on how many people you want included. If you go to the museums a lot, this can save you a bundle.
  • Bring your student ID. Get $8 off the price of admission. ($10 off at the Andy Warhol Museum.)
  • Check your student life office. Student life offices typically have discounted, or sometimes even free, tickets to local attractions.
  • Bring your ACCESS card. If someone in your household has a disability and is on Medicaid, or if you receive state benefits, the state should issue you an ACCESS card. This gets you into many attractions in Pittsburgh for a pittance. At the Carnegie Museums of Art & Natural History, admission will only be $1 for everyone in your household when you present your card.
  • Go later in the day. If you make your visit at 3PM or after, you’ll get half-price admission through 8PM.
  • Go on Thursday evenings. In February and March, you can get into the Carnegie Museums of Art & Natural History for free on Thursday evenings.

The Ai exhibit will be at the Museum of Natural History until August 28th. It is running concurrently with another Ai exhibit at the Andy Warhol Museum.



Which sign are you? Do you believe in the Chinese Zodiac? Do you agree with ShaoLan that belief is irrelevant?

How to Save Money as a Cat Parent: $40 Petco #Giveaway

Such smart ideas! Owning a pet is expensive...so glad I found this!

If 2015 was the year of increased income, 2016 has been the year of increased expenses.

It all started when I was purchasing a health care plan in December. Prices in our region went up dramatically. But we’re young (ish) and generally healthy, so I opted for a plan with higher deductibles. I was still spending more on premiums than in 2015, but affording a plan similar to our old one would have put more strain on our budget than necessary.

Or so I thought. We’ve had to pay a co-pay at least once a week this year, and have had more health care emergencies than I’d care to think about. Next year, I’m going with the lower deductible and higher premium. We would have saved so much money this year if I had just done that in the first place.

Then, our car started giving us troubles. The one that’s paid off. Of course.

So many troubles that we found ourselves paying thousands over the course of just a few months, only to get the bad news that it will probably only last us a year. So while we fix that one, it’s time to start saving for another.

Then, there was the kitten. In this respect we’re lucky, my friends. One of our children could benefit from a therapy cat, and a family member was incredibly generous to essentially sponsor us. So while the following expenses were heartbreaking, they did not destroy us financially. Though without this generosity, they easily could have.

Chaton and Dog-Cat Frugality

Initially, we tried to adopt a shelter pet. The breed of therapy cat that could benefit our child, though, is not overly common. Every time we found one, it was gone by the time we got to the shelter.

Time was ticking by. Precious time that the animal could have been helping us with. Eventually, the sponsor-esque family member decided to go with a breeder.

We brought Chaton Frugality home, and all was right with the world. Our child was reaping the emotional benefits, Chaton would sleep with them every night. They were inseparable best friends. Though sometimes she would take a break to help me out with work.

Had never heard of FIP before...so sad!

A few weeks into her stay with us, she started acting weird. She was eating a little less. She was playing a little less. It was enough of a cause for concern that I took her to the vet. They gave her some antibiotics and told us to come back in 48 hours if she wasn’t feeling better.

I got to 24 hours before I rushed her into the vet ER. She wasn’t drinking or playing at all at this point. They calmed my nerves, saying it was probably nothing…something viral that would work its way out. But they were going to give her an x-ray just in case.

When the vet came back, she wasn’t as cheery.

Little Chaton had FIP. It’s a corona virus that attaches to the white blood cells, so every time your body tries to fight the virus, it’s actually making things worse. It is always fatal. She had a couple weeks left at most, but I was told it would be kinder to put her down when her quality of life got unbearable.

Grief. Vet bills. The decision on whether or not to educate our young children on the concept of death. It was a harrowing time.

As I said, our family covered the bills. I don’t know how to thank them. They came out to well over $1,100, and after three days, all we had to show for the expense was a kitten that we had to euthanize. Her stomach had expanded with fluid. She wasn’t eating or drinking. She literally laid there all day because she could no longer walk.

We took some time to grieve. Our family member contacted the breeder, who was devastated. None of her other cats had FIP, though it is possible that they were carriers. Since they didn’t exude any symptoms, there’s no way she could have known. And truly, we don’t know with a certainty where the illness came from.

She arranged for another kitten to come our way, this time from a different city and breeder all together to avoid any possibility of the same thing happening again. We cleaned everything we could clean, but some things had to be replaced to avoid any possibility of contamination.

We call this one Dog-Cat, because that’s exactly what she acts like.

Glad this story has a happy ending!

The kids are adjusting well. At first, the child that needed the cat to begin with was calling her Chaton. They look similar, and death is a hard thing to comprehend.

But her individual personality shines through, and I think through these unique quirks, my children have learned that while we will love and miss Chaton always, there is more than enough room in our hearts to love Dog-Cat, too.

And loveable she is. When we have to close the door to our child’s room at night, Dog-Cat camps out outside the door until morning. She plays incessantly, and is encouraging my children to find excitement in the world where others would find nothing but boredom.

The Expenses

Love. Grief. And love again. Nothing would stop us from saving those souls that we love, but unfortunately bills are real life. Our family member’s generosity, and the ensuing positive results that it’s had on my child, once again remind me that we should not be too stubborn to accept help when it can impact our lives in such a deep and meaningful way.

Here are my best guesses to how much the kitten ordeal has cost:

Kitten from Breeder: I don’t want to know. I’m sure it’s expensive.
Vet bills: $1,100+
Food, supplies, toys and then replacing them after Chaton: Hundreds.

I know my math isn’t anywhere near concrete here, but the point is this: the cost of pet ownership can get ridonkulous right quick.

Save on Pet Supplies

There are certain ways to save on pet supplies. Of course, you can shop sales, but there are more regular things you can do, too.

Food Delivery

Royal Canin Feline Health Nutrition Kitten Food, 15 lbs.

This is what Dog-Cat eats. Currently 34% off at Petco.

Going out to buy food can be inconvenient at best. One way to cut costs and avoid that scheduling issue is to set up regular delivery. Setting up regular delivery makes it harder to shop sales, though, so Petco assures that whenever it’s time for your delivery, you’ll automatically get the lowest price online without lifting a finger or doing any research.

Effortless savings is always a good thing.

Sign Up for Repeat Delivery - Save up to 20% off

Keep it fresh.

Harmony 2 In 1 Food Lid

A cardinal rule of frugality is taking care of what you’ve already got. I wouldn’t have even thought of it, but having a lid for wet food is an essential part of keeping it fresh. Kittens typically only eat 1/4 of a regular-sized can at a time. Under $1 each, these lids have helped us avoid much food waste—and wasted dollars.

Pet Supplies Worth Investing In

This is the first time I’ve owned a cat as an adult, and I’m super glad our family member made these recommendations. Yes, you have to spend money, but these are products that are worth it.

Litter Trapper

So Phresh Litter Trapper Paw Shaped Cat Litter Mat

This is essentially a door mat for your cat’s litter box. That way when they get done doing their business, they’re not tracking litter all over the house. This one comes from SoPhresh, the same brand we have, and we’ve been extremely pleased with the quality for the price. In fact, right now it’s only $12.74—15% off.


Leaps & Bounds Caterpillar Cat Teaser

Maybe we have super strong cats, but every time they had a teaser with a toy attached to a string, the string would break in one day. We’ve found fuzzy teasers like this one to be far more durable. They don’t cost a lot of money at all–under $4—but if you’re constantly replacing them that can add up.

 Domed Litter BoxBooda Clean Step Litter Box in Pearl Dove, Silver

We have curious kids. Curious kids that don’t always get how nasty some of the things they do actually are. We knew the litter box was going to be a massive problem….it’s like sensory play only with disgusting germs!

So we made sure to get a domed litter box. This one also has a grooved ramp for the cat to climb into, which both prevents our kids from reaching directly in the hole to “play,” and helps get a little more litter off her feet as she comes out. But the litter trapper is still necessary.

It’s a little bit more expensive than your traditional litter box, but has also prevented us from having to call that number on the Mr. Yuk stickers.

Ball Chaser

Bergan Star Chaser Turbo Scratcher Cat Toy, 15.5

As far as I’m concerned, this is an essential. Every cat I’ve ever had has loved these. It’s a toy, but the middle, cardboard part also serves as a scratcher so they won’t feel inclined to put a hurting on your furniture. Plus, if they tear the scratching part up beyond repair, you can easily buy a replacement insert. That’s something you can’t do with most scratching posts.

Dustless Cat Litter

Arm & Hammer Super Scoop Unscented Baking Soda Clumping Litter, 40 lbs.

If you’re like me and your sinuses hate you, dustless litter is the way to go. Arm & Hammer came highly recommended by our vet, and has served us well thus far. No allergic reactions. No need to run out and buy some Claritin. No missing work because of a sinus infection. Technically only 99% dust-free, but total win.

Helping You Afford It All With a Giveaway

There’s no getting around it—even with hacks and buying quality products that will last, the costs of pet ownership add up. To help you ease the cost a little, I’ve teamed up with PetCo to bring you a $40 e-gift card giveaway. It will be open until 12:00 AM Eastern time on August 2nd. Use the Rafflecopter below to enter—best of luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I want to hear from you! How do you save money on pet expenses? Leave a comment below!

*This post is in partnership with Petco. I have received compensation for my time writing it. Regardless, all opinions are 100% honest and my own. This post also contains affiliate links.*

Condo Cheat Sheet for the City Woman

I totally didn't even think of some of these. Great tips for me and all the single ladies.

A condo is often the perfect solution for an independent woman looking to live within a lively, urban environment. Less pricey than a house, there are also the added benefits that come with the managed maintenance of a multiple occupancy building. You may even get the added security of a doorman.

Whatever the reason for your move, it is wise to set yourself a list of basic ‘needs’ and ‘wants,’ and revisit them at frequent intervals. For example, is it close enough to your work? Or the gym? Is it quiet enough, or do you prefer a place with a ‘buzz’? Here are a few tips that might prove useful:

  1. Before making your master list, meet with a reputable financial consultant who specializes in the purchase or rental of condos. He or she will be able to advise you of what you can realistically afford, plus make you aware of all the extra costs involved, such as legal fees, registration fees and maintenance costs. There is no point in setting your heart on a condo which (for now!) is way beyond your means.
  2. Enlist the services of a good real estate lawyer. This really is one of the best investments you can make and can mean you avoid a lot of heartache and expense further down the line.
  3. Visit the areas you have been considering at various times of the day: the bohemian feel of a place on a Sunday afternoon may disappear entirely during a weekday rush hour, or perhaps that ‘friendly neighborhood’ may feel like a foreboding place for a woman to be alone after dark.
  4. Visit a variety of properties instead of just browsing online. Even if you can pick and rent a condo in the metro using Zipmatch or view the property through a virtual reality device, eventually you need to see the potential home in person. Something you may have disregarded previously may become appealing to you once you see it in real life; if it’s not for you, you know your instincts were right in the first place.
  5. Does the outside of the building look clean and well-cared for? The better it is, the more likely the other residents are to be caring and conscientious.
  6. Take a trusted friend when you view a property. A more objective perspective is priceless when it comes to looking at something you are already emotionally embroiled with. They are more likely to point out the neighbor’s noisy TV, the view of the local take-away or that ‘funny’ odor in the stairwell.
  7. Talk to your potential neighbors about everything from water pressure to Wi-Fi. They will also be able to let you know how often the elevator is out of action and when the garbage is collected. This valuable information won’t be found on the MLS listing!

Always ask questions! The market is full of jargon, so never feel foolish about asking those involved to clarify something you don’t understand – remember, you are paying their salary.



*This post has been brought to you and contributed by an outside writer.*

College Hustle: How to Become a Teaching Assistant

Wow! She made good money as a teaching assistant in college! Definitely going to show this to my kids.

Attending college is not cheap. Tuition fees are rising year after year, making it more important than ever to save, spend wisely and earn as much as you can before, during and after you finish your post-secondary studies.

For those of you embarking in post-secondary school, you should seriously consider applying to become an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant while in school. As a business student during my 3rd and 4th year of my undergrad, I was a TA for 1st and 2nd year classes.

Here are the in’s and out’s that you need to know to determine if becoming a teaching assistant while in school is right for you. Keep in mind that I only speak from my own experience, though I hope you gain insight from it.

How You Can Become a Teaching Assistant

  1. Have good grades. Most TA gigs will require a minimum of a 3.0 GPA out of 4.0 before they will consider you for the position. You usually aren’t able to apply for this position until your senior years, which for a 4-year degree would be your 3rd and 4th year of school.
  2. Talk to your Professors. Most profs in larger colleges and universities are provided with an allotted amount of money they can use to hire a T.A. The way I got my first T.A gig was through conversations with my management professor. Getting the first gig is the hardest, but after that it gets easier. Once I got the first gig, the other 3 rolled in.
  3. Don’t discount seasonal/ part time professors for TA work. Since seasonal profs are only teaching for a time, I found that they are more likely to consider new students for their TA position because it might be another semester or two before they teach there again. Contrast this to tenured profs who may keep the same student for the entire duration that the student is there. My first T.A gig was from a part time professor. I TA’d for her for two semesters, then she left, but she referred me to another professor which was tenured and I completed my TA position with him until I graduated.
  4. Apply within your faculty. Even if a professor has agreed to have you as a TA, you still need to fill out the paperwork through your faculty. For example: the faculty of business, engineering, mathematics, science etc. Teaching Assistant positions are normally sought out informally through conversation first, but there is no harm in trying to apply for a teaching position where you may not know the professor well. Talk to the receptionist in your faculty office and they will direct you accordingly.
  5. Make sure you’ve taken the course yourself. I know this might seem obvious, but make sure that you have actually taken the course you are requesting to be a T.A for, and make sure it’s within your faculty of studies (i.e. faculty of business).

I feel that I should mention that before you apply for a teaching assistant position with a professor that it’s important that you at least like the professor’s teaching methods and generally enjoy him/her as a teacher.  TA gigs are very specific. You get contracted out for X number of hours which you earn during X number of months for being a TA in a specific course, with a specific professor.

What You Need to Succeed as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant

Okay, so if you are still interested in a TA gig, here is what you will need in order to succeed once you get the gig:

Good time management. Most TA’s are also full-time students (including myself when I TA’d,) which means you need to be able to manage your time well between your own courses and the materials for the course you are a T.A for. Your time may be allocated between T.A office hours, marking, updating class websites and answering students’ questions via email, in class, etc.

Commitment. Once you commit to a TA gig, you pretty much have to follow through and complete the gig, even if you end up hating it. Teachers talk and even though you can technically drop the contract mid-way through that will: A) make you look super unserious and probably all the other profs will know within the department so there goes any future TA gigs at that school and B) make it kind of awkward to bump into the prof all the time because she/he works in your faculty of studies or worse yet, you have him/her again for a future course. This is why it’s so important to have a mutual respect and also enjoy the prof’s teaching style and personality.

Patience. When you get a TA gig, you normally also get assigned office hours and a room to see students. These hours are mandatory, and you are normally required to attend all of them. During these hours students can come and see you for questions they may have on the course material.  Everyone learns differently and at different rates, so if you are the type who gets frustrated explaining yourself ten different times in different ways, you may find this position challenging. Even still, I think it’s a great opportunity to pursue as it will help teach patience if you need more of it.

Good relationship with your assigned professor. Even though technically the faculty hires you, your assigned professor is your boss, so if you don’t like your boss, you may not like your gig. It’s their class, their rules. You’re just there to help.

Benefits of Being an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant

  • Pays way more than minimum wage. I can’t speak for all schools, but when I was a TA I received about $5-$7/hour more than minimum wage.
  • Most TA gigs you are contract based where you are allotted a certain amount of hours. For example 100 hours @ $20/hour = $2,000. Because a lot of the work is done outside of the classroom, there is a lot of flexibility in terms of deciding when you want to do things like mark papers. Other things are not flexible like TA office hours. This flexibility allows you to earn around your already busy school schedule.
  • You solidify the course material you have already learned by teaching and helping others. There is no better way to learn something than to teach someone else how to do it.
  • Looks good on a resume. Depending on the flexibility that is provided with your gig, you can obtain great skills like presentation skills, training and leadership skills.
  • Great way to gain a reference. I actually used one of the undergraduate professors that I TA’d for as a reference to get into my Master’s program.

What do you do as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant?

The responsibilities you are given as a TA really depends on the type of course you are assigned and the professor that you are assigned to, but here is what you might expect:

  • Marking. Most schools now use scantrons so if you will be doing any marking, it would be essays, or problem based questions. Don’t worry; the prof will give you the answer key and/or the keywords, and format they are looking for if it’s essay-based.
  • Public speaking. Many 1st and 2nd year business courses require a lot of public speaking and group activity. You may be required to help students in developing their public speaking skills.
  • Evaluating PowerPoint presentations. Because business courses have so many presentations, your prof may request you assist in evaluating some of the students in a separate classroom. With well over 100 students in many 1 year business classes in larger schools, it’s not an uncommon scenario.
  • Proctor. You will most likely need to proctor every single exam/quiz/test your assigned course will have. It’s a great way to earn some cash walking around bored out of your mind making sure people aren’t cheating.
  • Updating class website & answering questions in forums. Depending on the course, some classes will have a dedicated online platform for which students can ask questions, provide exchange of ideas and download/upload tests and assignments. You may be responsible in managing this platform, but to what extend will be determined by your assigned prof.

Wow! She made good money as a teaching assistant in college! Definitely going to show this to my kids.

Hi, I’m Pamela. I’m 30 years old and live in Canada. I started my blog 6 months ago after my husband and I paid off $120k of debt in 2.5 years. We’ve never looked back since.

The journey I went through in accomplishing this made me want to share my experience with others and learn from them as well. I have been featured in Financial Independence Hub and enjoy all things finance. Check me out at My Money Counts or follow me on Twitter.



Women & Finances: Looking Through a Different Lens

Recently, this blog turned five years old. Holy moly! Internet dinosaur!

In honor of this fifth birthday, I’ve written this post that sums up why I write. I’ve also decided to put my name in the running for the Best Finance Blog for Women for the Plutus Awards. I’d greatly appreciate it if you could take a few seconds to cast a vote.

Ever feel like personal finance looks different because you're a woman? Well, you wouldn't be wrong...

There’s a reason I write about women and money. Well, there’s a bunch of reasons, to be honest with you. Ultimately, it boils down to the fact that financial literacy and the exercise thereof allows me to establish my own security, regardless of which sexual organs I have.

That being said, we’re far from living in a culture completely removed from sexism. Women, on top of having to master the same financial literacy as men, face unique challenges on their journey.

Women and Finances: A Unique Set of Challenges

Let’s start with the basics. In the realm of general, unadulterated personal finance, women are less likely to take the reins or become an equal partner when it comes to household financial management. This surprises me, as I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by financially-savvy women for a good portion of my life, but it is nonetheless true.

Why Getting Your Financial House in Order is Even More Important for Women

When we look at areas beyond basic household budgeting, such as investing, it’s important to know where we stand, too. If we continue to take a backseat, we’ll be in bad shape in the event of a divorce or the death of our spouse. The latter is much more common for women than men, as we tend to live longer, so we have to plan accordingly.

I’m also an unabashed advocate of having at least one individual financial account. Not everything has to be joint in a relationship. Divorce rates hover around 50% in this country, and failing to protect yourself with at least a marginal amount of savings that no one can legally take from you is like playing Russian Roulette with your future security….even if you’re madly, deeply in love and trust the living daylights out of your partner. Very few people walk down the aisle expecting they’ll end up in that fifty percent, yet about half of us do.


From the second we enter the workforce, we face a gender pay gap. Many people blame that on the fact that we enter lower paying fields more often than men, or that we’re the ones that have to push a baby out of our bodies and will therefore be less valuable to a company. Neither is true.

Work in the nonprofit or education sector? Here's what to do with your 403(b)s after you've moved on from a job.

Just three years ago, there was a 5% difference in pay when you normed out for career choices across genders. When you looked at women in the same positions as men ten years out of college, that normed out difference rose to 12%. However, we do tend to enter fields such as education more often than men, so when we look at converting retirement accounts when we switch employers, there are more women looking at 403(b)s than their counterparts.

If we do decide to have children, there are precious few employers in this country that provide adequate maternity leave, even though a cost-benefit analysis would dictate that talent retention goes up and saves employers money when they provide a rational amount of flexibility.

Family culture isn't just about families; it's about holding onto valuable women who have choices.

Shoot, even the way we talk in the workplace can get us labeled as “bossy” or a b**** when the same language from males is considered assertive. Go too far the other way and you’ll get labeled as a pushover or not confident enough to handle your position when in all reality, one of the most persuasive male speakers in our history used language that we currently consider “feminine,” which we absurdly associate with “weakness.”

Family and Health

Up until a few years ago with the passage of the ACA, women collectively paid more than $1B more than men for health insurance. Today, we have different options from the Marketplace to Health Insurance Ministries, and are thankfully no longer subjected to this specific version of the pink tax.

tax credits for parents


That being said, it is still important to evaluate the level of benefits when it comes to maternity coverage when picking our health plans.

Once we have children, we’re subject to discrimination not just from the world, but from each other based on our decision to either continue work or stay at home with the children. Men who choose to stay at home with their children are subjected to the same scrutiny, but they can avoid it by remaining the primary breadwinner. Women are also judged more harshly for taking time off of work than men to attend to their children’s health and educational needs. Men achieve some type of sainthood for doing so, while women are judged for their decisions to procreate and work simultaneously.

food stamp fraud

I’m extremely fortunate that the father of my children is a loving, supportive partner, but that’s not the case for everyone. Often, when couples split women take care of the children, and all too often are left in dire financial straights because of the circumstances. When that happens, you’re more likely to need some type of welfare assistance, including food stamps. Unintended consequence? Despite doing the best you can for your kids, you’ll come under severe judgement for asking for the help you need to make sure they are healthy and cared for.

Going on food stamps is nothing to be ashamed of, and it definitely doesn’t only happen to single mothers or even to every single mother. But when  you’re in that situation, you’re more likely to have to put up with the erroneous stigma.

Women and Finances: Where We’re the Same

That being said, the overlap between women and finances doesn’t always come with a pink lining. All parents want to know how to raise their kids for less, how to utilize all the tax credits and how to teach them about money. In fact, the only two podcasts I’ve ever done have been on that subject. (Here and here if you want to listen.) While one was specifically for mothers, the other was discussed with a panel of both women and men.

Figuring out your predicted income for your estimated quarterly taxes can be a guessing game. Click to see how I did for 2015, and what I plan to change for 2016.

We all want to know how to travel for nothing, how to invest in a way that won’t give us a migraine, Those of us who are self-employed don’t have a different tax code simply because at one point in our lives we were labeled “girl.” We all like to pontificate and try to parse out how much money plays a role in our ultimate raison d’etre.

Even though my site is purposefully called “Femme Frugality,” at one point in its life it had more male visitors than female. I attribute that not to the idea that content was off-point, but to the fact that good money sense is good money sense, regardless of gender.

(Not to say my opinion is infallible by any means, but the fact that others, female and male, have thought on it or been helped by it says that something must, in some small way, be working.)

This was and will always be a blog with a woman at its heart. A woman who faces challenges. A woman who sometimes fails. A woman who never stops trying to overcome, despite her own misgivings.

I am that woman, and I want to help you whether through a discussion that makes us all think or a money tip you’ve never heard before. I’m looking forward to the next five years.

What is your experience with womanhood and finances? Men, don’t be afraid to chime in. The fact that women are getting a hold on their money does not mean we’re angry at you or robbing you of your own financial independence!

Have you enjoyed any content on this site? Vote for Femme Frugality as the Best Finance Blog for Women!



Why The Founding Fathers Were Broke

Why the founding fathers were broke, and why in the grand scheme of time and humanity, it doesn't matter.

It’s so interesting to me how many versions there are of the founding fathers.  From politics to religion, many different people associate many different ideals with each one, sometimes correctly, sometime erroneously, and sometimes both.  These were men founding a democratic republic in a world where Western society was still largely ruled by monarchies.   They had a lot of ideas.  They said a lot of things.  Over the courses of their lives, they sometimes contradicted themselves.

Their situations changed from birth until death, too.  They were born British citizens, and died founders of a new country that not too many people wanted to do business with.  Many of them were, in fact, broke after the birth of America.

George Washington

Washington had some rich parents.  His dad made his living farming, and he inherited his estate (Mount Vernon.)   Washington himself made some money as a soldier, rising to the rank of Major during the French and Indian War, but gave up the whole military thing for a while to go back to his farm and marry into some more money.

He then led American rebels against British forces to win the American Revolution.  He lost more battles than he won, but he also won the war.  Post-war, America’s trade was limited as most of its ships had been destroyed and Britain cut off any economic ties not only with England itself, but also the British part of the Caribbean.  We had taken on massive amounts of debt to fund the war.  Inflation was out of control.  To top it off, we had defeated Britain, but didn’t really have a replacement government ready to go.  At least not one everyone agreed on.  So fixing the economy took some time.

What that meant was that while Washington owned a lot of land, the people he leased it out to weren’t necessarily paying him what they owed.  It was a huge class issue, and the government at the time slightly took the side of the tenants, lightening burdens for debtors (who, at that time, could face prison.)

It’s pretty common knowledge that Washington was reluctant to take positions of power.  He wouldn’t have take command of American rebel forces if it hadn’t been for idealism and honor.  But he mostly took the presidency because he was broke.  When he was president, he was very generous with funding programs and guests, putting everything on his tab while waving away a salary.  When he checked out, Congress paid him back everything he had billed, but the money had lost most of its value to inflation.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was also born to a wealthy, land-owning family.  (It should be noted that both families utilized slave labor.)  He also married a wealthy widow.  I don’t mean to assert that either marriage was loveless, but it’s worth noting that neither of these men married someone of a different economic status than themselves. (At least not the first time around.  Jefferson did end up having a family with Sally Hemings after his first wife passed away.)

Essentially the same thing happened to Jefferson as it did to Washington.  During the war, he had racked up some personal and business debts.  After the war, when he tried to pay with American money; the Brits that he owed to flat out turned it down, saying it wasn’t real currency.  He was in trouble.  And then his father-in-law died, passing his debts on to Jefferson.

Jefferson still lived a life of high society, though.  He outspent what he earned.  He served as an Ambassador to France, and the President, keeping up appearances all the while. He kept on racking up debt.  He lived long enough to see another period of economic turmoil in 1819, which didn’t help.  And he cosigned on a pretty big loan with a friend.  The friend died a year later.

He made some bad decisions, and could not catch a break.

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine was not a president, or a great military leader, but was a shining example of the pen fortifying the sword.  His pamphlet, Common Sense, rallied the American people to the cause of independence.

He was born solidly middle class, and married a house servant purely for love (which was abnormal at the time.)  She passed away in childbirth, and then he married a teacher.  He tried his hand at many trades, but was pretty much broke all the time.  At the worst of it, he and the teacher split.

He came to America, and found his calling as a writer for a magazine.  As things heated up between the American colonists and the British, he firmly chose a side and wrote his epic pamphlet.  It tipped the colonists’ feeling of trepidation in confronting the crown towards outrage and a willingness to fight back.  It was the unifying force behind colonial political opinion.

During the war, he served as a military secretary.  While he was serving under Washington, he wrote a series of pamphlets called American Crisis that kept the troops’ morale up.

After the war, he was broke again.  He went to Congress to try to get payment for all he had done to help win the war.  They gave him land (we can all guess how that turned out, based on the previous two landowners,) and $3k reimbursement for money he had spent on war-related efforts.

Paine was fiery, which was what the colonists needed at the time.  But as a result, he wasn’t very tactful, and made a lot enemies.  He lived in France during their own Revolution, and was imprisoned by the Jacobins.  They meant to execute him, but by some lucky miracle the guy who was supposed to get him out of his cell forgot.  Before anyone could notice the error, Robespierre had been beheaded.

He wrote more pamphlets,  hung out with Napoleon, came back to America, and convinced Jefferson to make the Louisiana Purchase.  But he never really had any serious money.  He died penniless.  I’m not sure if he didn’t manage his money well, or he got into a career that didn’t pay well.  It was probably a combination of both.

They weren’t all broke.  And why does it matter?

Then there were men like Benjamin Franklin.  A rags to riches story.  A man who was not only constantly curious, but also invested in and expanded businesses he knew inside and out.  Maybe not the best family man.  Sound familiar?

The point is this: as we make our journeys through life, money can make us comfortable.  It can make some things easier.  It can be a powerful tool.  But it does not dictate the legacy we leave behind.  Today, does it matter that Washington struggled financially?  Not a bit.  In fact, if he hadn’t, he probably wouldn’t have been our first president.  Jefferson’s struggles with debt don’t weaken the power of The Declaration of Independence.  And the fact that Paine was essentially penniless for most of his life didn’t stop him from uniting a people to revolution.

We are important.  No matter who we are.  No matter how much money we have or don’t have.  We can make positive changes in the world around us, because the most important currency doesn’t lie with dollars and cents; it lies with inspiration and ideas.

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