Author Archives: femmefrugality

Get Free Textbooks with a Special Allowance

 Erm, did someone say free textbooks? Doing this next semester.

When you’re trying to improve your situation, you come up against a lot of obstacles. Maybe you got into school to further your education, but, especially if you have children, you can’t afford to go without working–which conflicts with your class schedule.

You can combat this by applying for scholarships that will cover your costs above and beyond tuition.

After you have those scholarships, you have another major hindrance: textbooks. They’re crazy expensive, especially if you have a narcissistic professor who wrote their own and only publishes through the school. In a lot of situations, you can find ways to get textbooks for cheap, but sometimes the school bookstore is the only option.

If you’re truly struggling with money, there may be a way for you to get free textbooks. You may be able to get a special allowance (SPAL) through your state welfare office to get these costs covered.

How to Use a SPAL to Get Free Textbooks

In Pennsylvania, the Special Allowance Program (or SPAL) is available to those who are on food stamps or cash assistance. In order to qualify, you mus be willing or required to participate in an employment training program, including, but not necessarily limited to, college.

These SPALs can help pay for books, transportation and even qualification or certification tests.

If you do not live in Pennsylvania, that does not mean SPALs are not available. It just means that I’m not as familiar with the system in your state.

To get the SPAL forms you will need to go into your welfare office and talk to a case worker. Ask them for a Special Allowance packet, making sure you let them know why you are asking.

They will give you a packet of paperwork including some forms for your school to fill out and a job/career plan outline. There will be a couple of additional personal forms for you to fill out, too.

From here, you’ll want to take the forms to your school’s financial aid office. When they fill them out, make sure you also get a copy of your current class schedule and verification that the books and other materials you need are required to take each course.

Now you can mail in all the paperwork. If you’re approved, you will get the Special Allowance to use at your school’s bookstore for free textbooks. You must use it within 14 days of issuance, and then submit your receipt to the welfare office so they can verify that you used all the money for its intended purpose.

In that packet, you should have also received a monthly attendance worksheet. You will need your professors to verify that you are attending class by the 5th of each following month.

Say you’ve filled out the form for February. You will need to submit it to the welfare office by the 5th of March. Make sure you keep up on your paperwork or you could end up owing all that textbook money back.

Your experience may vary a little from the above. First of all, this is based off of personal research. I did not qualify for a SPAL when I was going to school, but you can bet I tried. Because free textbooks would have helped a lot.

Additionally, if you’re not in the state of Pennsylvania, the availability of special allowances may differ, or be nonexistent. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth researching, though. Free textbooks can save you hundreds or even more than $1,000 per semester–and that adds up.

Functional Fashion Pieces for Modern Frugal Moms

functional fashion modern frugal mom

Modern moms don’t have time to fuss with fashion, but they still want to look good and feel their best. So, how do you blend fashion and function without breaking the bank? Turn to key fashion pieces that can be worn all year round and provide purpose along with style. You don’t have to spend a lot of money either. Many essential fashion pieces can be found at discount stores and on sales racks, especially toward the end of each season.

If you’re having a tough time figuring out what staple pieces to add to your wardrobe, think basics and accessories. Here’s a list of some of the key pieces you always want to have in your closet.

Jazzy Jeans

Whether you’re working off your baby weight or are perfectly content with your body, you need a pair of hot mamma jeans. When you find that perfect pair of jeans, you feel great because you know you look great. Plus, you’re able to slip on a variety of tops and shoes to transition smoothly from day to night.

It might be tempting to buy a bunch of cheap pairs of jeans, but make sure you get the right cut and fit for your body type. Consider investing in at least one higher quality pair so that you know your purchase will last longer than three wash cycles. If you can’t find a pair that fits perfectly, match your figure as closely as possible and take the jeans to a tailor to get them hemmed or altered.

Traditional T-Shirts

You don’t have to wear the latest trends to look chic every day. Most of the time, all it takes is a good pair of jeans and a form-fitting t-shirt to look good. Shirts that are simple, basic, and neutral are your best friends. Grab a couple of white, black, gray, and navy blue shirts with various neckline styles such as crew, V, and scoop. T-shirts are durable enough to endure juice spills and dirty hands, and they’re cheap enough to get replaced when stubborn stains prevail.

Simple Scarves

Scarves are the perfect accessory. They add color, style, and completeness to basic outfits. Large, cozy scarves are perfect for chilly winter days, while lighter fabrics provide that extra special something to spring and summer garb. If your body is still operating as a food machine, scarves are great cover-ups while breastfeeding.

The key to wearing scarves fashionably is learning how to wrap them. There are all sorts of ways to tie and braid scarves based on their thickness, design, and purpose. If you can’t be bothered with learning a bunch of different knots and wraps, learn one or two basic techniques and stick with those.

Purposeful Purses

Handbags are not only fashionable, but they’re a huge help when carting around babies and toddlers. Why settle for boring old diaper bags with kid-friendly designs all over them? Instead, reach for a large tote with multiple compartments where you can store all your kid’s essentials in addition to your personal items. Totes double as professional bags, too. So, if you need to transition from manager to mommy at various times during the day, find a design that matches both your professional and personal style.

Signature Shoes

A wardrobe is not complete without a proper collection of shoes. However, gone are the days when fashion mattered more than comfort. The last thing you want after a long day of chasing after little ones is swollen tootsies and blisters. Instead, it’s important to find a couple of pairs of footwear that feel great and match a variety of outfits.

Your best bet is a pair of comfy suede ankle boots in a neutral color like black, brown or nude. Ankle boots go with jeans, cropped pants, dresses and skirts. They’re great for casual wear, running errands or meeting up with other moms for lunch. Though they keep feet warm in the cooler months, you can still wear them in the summer with a sundress or skirt.

Quality Clothing is a Good Investment

Long-term, investing in less pieces that are timeless and durable will serve you better than buying copious amounts of clothing that is trendy but cheap. As long as you keep your selections versatile, you’ll spend more money up front, but save more over the long haul.

 

This post is brought to you and contributed by an outside writer.

Personal Finance Insights from Self-Employed Women

Some insights I wouldn't have thought of, and some great questions posed. Personal finance from self-employed women.

Yesterday I had the privilege of organizing an event in honor of Women’s Money Week at Whetstone Workgroup. Since the patrons at Whetstone are self-employed, we set up a discussion with financial counselor Katharine Perry on saving for retirement when you’re self-employed (and female.)

I learned a ton, including the fact that the state of Pennsylvania just rolled out a 529 for special needs individuals. More on that another day, but essentially, the money can be used for needs beyond education at any time.

I also learned a lot about what self-employed women are worried about when it comes to personal finance, and also got some insights from those who have done this freelancing gig for a lot longer than I have. I wanted to share some of that with you here today.

Why Women’s Rate of Savings is So Low

Three out of every five women over the age of 65 cannot pay for her basic needs. We live longer than men, but when we set our retirement goals we aim 50% lower. (See these and other alarming stats here.)

It was interesting to hear some of the reasons why this happens. In our group here in Pittsburgh, there were a couple of points that were brought up:

  1. Women, in general, tend to take care of everyone else before they take care of themselves. This thought process goes beyond day-to-day care taking and extends to finances. When you make your own well-being the last priority, your retirement savings is going to suffer—or be nonexistent.
  2. We undervalue ourselves. When we don’t charge enough for our services, it becomes more difficult to set larger dollar amounts aside for tomorrow.

Retirement Savings When You are Self-Employed

Automation is an awesome way to make sure you’re saving enough for retirement. But that becomes a little bit difficult when you have a variable income.

There are several ways to tackle this issue. One is to treat your retirement savings like a bill—just as important as your rent or cell phone bill. If you automate those bills, you should be able to automate your retirement contributions for the month if you’ve made paying yourself first a priority.

Another way you could approach it is by contributing a certain percentage of each paycheck. This method can’t be used in conjunction with automation when your pay is variable, but if you get disciplined about it the habit could become just as routine.

The Worst Can Happen

When you’re self-employed, you have to worry about what happens when you can’t work because that’s the moment money stops coming in. There are no such things as sick days when you work for yourself.

There are also major concerns around disability and finding a good policy that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. These policies are arguably just as if not more important than life insurance during your working years.

Another big concern was long-term care and its accompanying insurance. This wasn’t just a concern for ourselves. People are living longer. If your parents don’t have this type of coverage, you, their child, will in all likelihood end up footing part if not all of the bill.

These situations can cause temporary financial strife or even eat into the money you’ve been saving for your own golden years. It can really mess with your head, too, because the financial hell doesn’t end until your loved one does, and that’s not something you want to see happen–money be damned.

What if I’m starting late?

This was a major concern. It’s all well and good to tell twenty-five year olds that compound interest is their friend. Time is on their side, and moderate savings today could lead to major returns in the future.

But what if you’re just getting started at 60? Or even 50?

We landed here:

It’s best to sit down with a trusted financial advisor in these situations. Every individual’s situation is so unique, and when you don’t have time on your side, blanket advice is rarely going to apply.

Diversify your income.

Remember when that money mentor told me you don’t want to keep all of your eggs in one basket?

There was a lot of agreement with that sentiment yesterday. Whether you’re diversifying your income streams within your freelancing business or diversifying your skills in multiple fields, having something to fall back on when one stream of revenue falls through can be a lifesaver.

The Unemployment Rule

This is totally unrelated to self-employment, but I did learn a new financial rule of thumb during the event. Apparently, for every $10,000 you make in salary, you will be out of work for one month should you become unemployed.

Maybe that’s why CEO’s get such generous severance packages while entry-level workers often get—unemployment?

</sarcasm>

How do we spread this message to others?

At the end of our event, I was thrilled to hear that everyone was energized to take this message to the women in their lives.

There was just one question.

“How do we get them to engage?”

My answer?

Actively combat Cyber Balkanism.

Cyber Balkanism is the phenomenon of all of us staying in our own little corner of the internet. We don’t actually spread ideas, because we’re talking to the people who are already listening.

Go where other people are. If you enjoy reading mommy blogs, go there and engage. Into fashion? Same deal. NES games? Seriously, there’s a corner of the internet for everything.

When you engage with people, they have a way of engaging back.

That’s true online, but it’s true in real life, too. There is still such a taboo around money discussions, and I personally feel this silence is especially detrimental to women. We, who want to close the gender wage gap, are uncomfortable discussing ways to increase income. We, who want to combat sexism in finance, but may be uncomfortable bringing up the subject of higher-level finances with friends.

Go where other people are. Get outside your bubble. Meaningfully engage, and then don’t be afraid to bring up money.

Also, share this post. Post haste.

Uncomfortable Pregnancy? Find Relief for Under $20

OMG wish I had these during my own uncomfortable pregnancy! The first one is genius.

I may have been one of the most miserable pregnant ladies ever. Every time I’ve been expecting, I have an uncomfortable pregnancy, whether that’s due to heartburn at night or which nerve the baby is sitting on.

I did learn a couple of hacks along the way, though. Then after I had given birth, I found out about even more ways to ease the discomfort–especially in that last trimester. Here are some of my favorite ways to find relief, and all of them are under $20.

Vive Shoe Horn – $12.95

vive-shoe-horn

At a certain point in pregnancy, there were things I just couldn’t do on my own. Shaving my legs. Driving a car. Even putting on my own shoes.

I so wish I had had this Vive Shoe Horn back then to solve the latter. It allows you to put on your shoes without bending (or tipping) over! Plus, it comes with a lifetime guarantee. It’s super durable and isn’t going to break, but in the event you do find a way to do so, you won’t be out your $12.95.

Boppy Pregnancy Wedge – $15.99

Boppy� Pregnancy Wedge in Petite TrellisWhen you’re pregnant, you pretty much have to sleep on your side. Sleeping on your stomach is craziness and bad for the baby, and sleeping on your back is bad for your internal organs.

Side sleeping gets uncomfortable after a while, though, especially as your belly gets bigger. I had one of theses Boppy pregnancy wedges and it made all the difference. While a maternity body pillow would be nice, they cost around $60. This wedge is only $15.99.

Cantaloop Pregnancy Support Belt – $19.99

Cantaloop� Large Pregnancy Support Belt in WhiteMy second pregnancy was the worst on my hips. At one point I actually had to go to physical therapy because my little bundle of joy was making it increasingly difficult for me to walk. At all.

Pregnancy support belts are amazing for relieving that hip pain. They support your belly so the weight isn’t just sitting on ligaments, forcing other muscles to pick up the difference. Cantaloop has them in white, black and nude so you can match them to anything in your wardrobe. Well worth the $19.99.

Dreambaby Bump Belt – $19.99

Dreambaby� Bump Belt?This is another one I didn’t have but in retrospect, I wish I had. It pulls the seat belt down so it sits under your bump without riding up, keeping everyone safe.

You’ll remember that I said I couldn’t drive at the end of my uncomfortable pregnancies. Part of that was because I had short legs and a huge belly. But the seat belt riding up was definitely a contributing factor. Spending $19.99 on a bump belt would have been worth it.

Love Notes Healing Aromatherapy Bath Salts – $19.99

Love Notes Healing Aromatherapy Pregnancy comes with aches and pains and swelling and pain and pain and pain. One of the best ways I found to get relief was hopping into a warm bath full of salts. The salts serve to calm down the swelling and alleviate some of the aches, while I would use the water to just float, taking all the stress off of my muscles.

You will be able to find bags of Epsom salts for $5 and under. But don’t do it. In the long-run, it’s a bad financial move. You’re going to want to splurge on the economy pack as this is something you’ll need again and again, and going with something like this tote from Love Notes is going to cost you less per use.

 

How did you ease your uncomfortable pregnancy? Leave a comment below!

 

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New Year’s Resolutions: Clean Up Your Credit Report

New Year's Resolutions: Clean Up Your Credit Report

It’s a new year, and once again we haven’t hit our goal for a down payment for a house. Medical bills and health insurance premiums have totally messed us up in the past twelve months, but that’s a story for another day.

It is, however, a new year, and with the turning of the calendar many people set resolutions and goals–a good many of those goals are financial.

With all of these New Year’s Resolutions, I wanted to point out another huge thing people should be doing as they save and prepare to buy a home. Of course, you need the capital for a down payment. You need it for closing costs, and to prove to the bank that you have enough of an emergency fund to not go broke if something needs to be repaired in your new abode.

But before you can even think about getting that mortgage, you need to know what’s on your credit report. Lenders will be looking not just at your credit score, but also at the line items on your report in order to determine how worthy you are of receiving their loan.

Anecdotes: Credit Report Errors Happen in Real Life

A few years ago I wrote about getting your annual free credit report. (You should not contact the credit bureaus; you should follow the directions in this post.) One of my readers followed through, and found out that her bank had her mortgage on there twice. It made it look like she had twice as much debt as she actually did. She took steps to remove it.

Michelle found out when she was an adult that someone had bought a house in her name when she was only thirteen years old. She had a heck of a time proving that she did not, in fact, make such a huge purchase before she was even legally an adult.

A few years ago, I myself found out that I had negative information on my credit report. It was a shock, as it was an issue I had already worked out with the billing institution. (It wasn’t even a loan.) I wrote a Goodwill Letter, explaining the circumstances, and requesting that it be removed as we had already resolved the balance. They obliged, but I am the only person I know of that has ever had success with this method.

How to Clean Up Your Credit Report

While we all were in different situations, each of us started by getting our free credit report. This is an important step that everyone should take, especially if you’re thinking about making a major purchase in the near future that will require taking out a line of credit.

After you get that report, finding errors can be a devastating blow. You now have to dispute the error with both the credit reporting bureau (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion,) or, if it appears on all of their reports, you will have to dispute it with all three. You must write them a hard-copy letter, send it to them, along with copies of documents that support your position, and then wait 30 days for a response.

It may not come back in your favor. If it does not, you must request that your original letter remain attached to your account.

Next, you go to the information provider, who is the person or company that filed the inaccurate report. You must again write a formal letter of dispute, send it with copies of documents that support your position, and wait for the response. They may or may not agree with you, but at the very least they have to let the credit reporting company know about your dispute.

It’s a time-consuming process. It’s doable, but can be frustrating. Even if you don’t want to do it, cleaning up your credit report is something that needs to happen if you want to get a halfway decent rate on your next loan or mortgage, or sometimes even have a lender extend credit to you at all.

If the whole process seems overwhelming, there are companies out there that can help. You give them your information, and they take care of the entire process for you. They have professionals who deal with credit bureaus and information providers regularly, so they know how to effectively communicate and use the rules to advocate for you efficiently.

Finding the right company to trust with your information is critical. One company that I trust is CreditReport.com. When I sat down with them to talk about their work, I already knew they had an A+ accreditation with the Better Business Bureau, but that meeting showed me the passion they have for helping people fix their credit, and through that, their lives.

They charge $99.95/month, with many of their clients having their issues resolved within a two-month time frame. More complicated problems or tougher disputes can take longer, however.

Ultimately, it depends on how much of your own time you want to invest. You can go the DIY route if you feel confident you can do a lot of research on your own, and have to patience to deal with both the credit bureaus and the information provider, even if they fight you. If passing that time and frustration to someone else is worth $99.95/month to you, looking into a reputable credit repair company may be a better option.

One thing is for sure: you need to clean up your credit report. Monitor it. When you find errors, take steps to fix them. That way when you go to apply for a mortgage you can focus more on things like down payments, closing costs, and emergency funds.

 

 

 

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