Category Archives: Ways to Save Money

Free Services & Experiences for Military Families

These are some huge freebies for military families. Busch Gardens, anyone?

I grew up in a military family. Then I grew up and was in another military family. There are some fun things about the culture: you get to travel (AKA moving every few years,) you learn to establish deep friendships quickly and you get discounts just about everywhere you go.

Then there are more serious things. You have to move every few years—you get no say in the matter. You put up with weird spousal schedules as duties rotate.

You say goodbye to family and friends when they deploy, always trying to squelch the seed of fear that sits in your belly, because you’ve known and loved people who haven’t returned, but you cannot allow that seed to grow. Its far-reaching vines would consume you, and right now you need to be strong.

Today I want to remember all those serious things. I want to remember all the sacrifices that military families are currently making. I don’t know if I could do it again, but I’m so grateful that they are.

In that spirit of gratitude, I’m going to do what I do best: find free stuff. The below experiences and services are 100% free to active-duty military and their families. Go out there and have fun. And stash all the money you’ll be saving in your TSP!

Free Tax Filing

I know, I know. I’m a little late on this one. But you can get your taxes filed for free on base every year. Just keep in mind that being a tax preparer is often a seasonally-assigned duty—make sure the supervisor checks your preparer’s numbers!

PenFed Credit Union Membership

PenFed is a national credit union that has a field of membership open to active-duty miliary (and retired) families to join. They offer great rates, and stand behind their commitment to the military, not only through their programs and financial services, but also through their charitable arm The PenFed Foundation – which offers programs for the military like The Military Heroes Fund, The Asset Recovery Kit (ARK) and the Dream Makers Program.

Join today.

Free YMCA Membership

Active duty military members and their families get free membership at the local Y. To join, request an eligibility form from Military OneSource.

Free Wedding Dress

If you or your spouse-to-be has been deployed in the past five years, or has a deployment around the corner, you’ll want to head to a Brides Across America exhibition. At these events, active duty women or soon-to-be military spouses are given free wedding dresses for the big day.

This year there are still events scheduled in Colorado and Florida. There were also events in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Virginia in 2017.

Want to show your appreciation to military families? Donate a dress here.

Free Family Portrait

Sometimes you aren’t home very long before you’re gone again. Those moments are precious, and so are the memories that go along with them. Operation: Love Reunited is a network of photographers spread across the country who provide their services to military families for free.

If you’re a photographer and want to join their ranks, you can do so here.

Free Entrance to National Parks

The National Park Service and Federal Recreational Lands do not charge active-duty military for annual passes.  Just show your military ID at any of these sites and they will issue you one for free.

If you’re not in the military, you can get into National Parks for free on designated days. Find out when they are.

Free Access to Select NJ Beaches

Apparently you have to have a badge to go to the beach in New Jersey. Fortunately for military families, these badges are issued to you for free in many, though not all, municipalities.

Free Admission to George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum

Located in Dallas, Texas, active-duty military and up to five of their family members get free admission to this unique museum.

Free Admission to MoMA

Active-duty military members and their families get into this iconic museum for free. All the time.

Free Admission to the San Diego Zoo

My biggest regret about my trip to San Diego last fall is that I missed the zoo. Military families don’t have to, though. Active-duty members get in for free, and if you talk to your MWR on base before you leave, they may be able to get you heavily discounted tickets for the rest of your family, too.

Free Admission to Amazing Theme Parks

Under the Waves for Honor program, active-duty military families can go to the following theme parks for free, as long as they register online before they go:

  • Sea World—San Antonio, San Diego and Orlando locations only.
  • Busch Gardens—Tampa & Williamsburg locations only.
  • Sesame Place—This is a Sesame Street theme park outside of Philly.

Vet Tix

Vet Tix is a platform where people donate tickets to various concerts and events to have them claimed (for free) by active-duty military and veterans. You can check out the current selection here.


*This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union. The views expressed in the article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Pentagon Federal Credit Union. PenFed Credit Union is an Equal Housing Lender and is federally insured by the NCUA.*

New York City for Under $100 Per Day

I guess a trip to New York City really is possible on a frugal budget! Love the tips she used to do it for under $100/day--including her hotel!

This past month I took a super frugal trip to New York. I was in town for a conference, and was initially a little worried about the budget. But it turns out, even in one of the most expensive cities on Earth, there are always affordable ways to travel.

Accommodations- $181

The first thing I looked at when I was deciding if this sojourn was even going to be possible was accommodations. The conference was happening at a hotel in Times Square, and even the discounted conference rate was oppressive.

I decided to turn to Airbnb. It’s an option I’ve been reluctant to use in the past. Sleeping in a stranger’s house seemed, well, scary. But when we went to Canada we tried it out for the first time and had a stellar experience. Stellar as in these were the views from the private apartment we rented:

This is why we used Airbnb in Calgary.

I’ve learned from personal experience and from watching others use the platform that reading reviews is critical. You want a place with lots of reviews to scroll through, and you want the vast majority of those reviews to be glowing. I applied this same method to NYC and found a place in the heart of Times Square for a grand total of $181– for three nights.

The place I stayed was set up similar to a hostel. Initially, I had planned to keep to myself and get a lot of work done. But as soon as I got there, I was bombarded with invitations to go grab some food, check out nightlife or just chat.

I took the offers I could within the conference schedule, and I’m so glad I did. I made new friends, learned amazing stories from new acquaintances, and saw far more of the area than I would have if left to my own devices. It felt like going away to summer camp, except your bunk mates were these amazing women from around the world.

I highly endorse Airbnb for budget travel. It’s saved me a ton of money over a hotel multiple times, and, after carefully reading the reviews, has felt incredibly safe and led to amazing experiences I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t rented space from a local. If you want to try it out, too, you can get a $40 travel credit by signing up here.

Transit- $81.00

I found a Megabus ticket from Pittsburgh to NYC for $72 roundtrip. That included reserving seats, which was an optional add-on. (My favorite was on the top in the front of the bus.)

It was my first time using them. Wifi was spotty, which I expected. It was nonexistent on my way in, but on my way home I was able to knock a lot of work out. I had heard the buses were “dirty,” but I didn’t have that experience. Maybe I’m just too used to PAT buses, which can be pretty gross sometimes. Everything’s relative.

While in New York, I bought three subway tickets. I had a really easy time using it on the way in, and spent $3 on a one-time pass. But I got confused while heading to catch the Megabus out, so I ended up having to buy two one-time tickets for a total of $6.

Food- $84.00

I had some amazing eats while in the city. One day while I was in town, the conference provided free lunch and breakfast. Another day, my mom’s cousin was generous enough to treat me to lunch at Thalia. It was the first time each of us were trying the restaurant, and it was amazing.

With friends from the Airbnb, I tried some Indian, and old-school diner and an Irish pub. One night we grabbed a drink at Hard Rock, too.

Grand total: $84.00

The Conference: THINK17

My friends at CO-OP invited me to check out their annual conference: THINK17. I wasn’t able to stay for the entire thing because of prior obligations that week, but I’m so glad I made it for the two days I did. It was the most interesting and dynamic conference I’ve ever been to.

We listened to speakers who challenged the norm, spoke with credit union reps who were completely dedicated to making their members’ experiences beyond spectacular, and got to hear from some of the winners of their THINK17 prize, which invited innovation in the digital financial experience for those 50+.

Inspirational youth who won the THINK Prize 2017.

Aside from the awesome financial nerd discussions and inspirational speakers, we also were privy to some top notch entertainment, including a sampler of Hamilton during opening:

Fun times seeing a Hamilton Sampler in NYC.

And a Cirque-esque performance at our first night’s party:

Entertainment: $0

I didn’t spend a lot going to shows or anything of the like while I was in NYC. I found that walking around in the evening brought enough free entertainment that I didn’t have to pay for it. Just walking around Times Square my Airbnb friends and I were able to see some great performances, including a talented break dancing troupe.

The above video is in 360. Best viewed through your VR headset, but you can also look around by clicking and dragging to change your perspective with your mouse.

I did learn, however, that if you want to go see a show, you can purchase any leftover tickets at the TKTS booth in the middle of Times Square. You have to be flexible in what you’re willing to see, but you’ll score a great deal.

New York City on a Budget

If doing NYC for four days under $350 is possible, you can do anywhere on a budget of less than $100/day. I wouldn’t trade my frugal experiences for the world—whether we’re talking about the new friends I made or the new ideas and experiences I have in my tool belt for work.

What destinations have you done for cheap? Share your story in the comments! 


Save Money by Refinancing Your Student Loans

Student loan debt in our country is insane. I managed to dodge it through grants and scholarships, but many of my peers are drowning in it.

It’s gotten so bad that it has eclipsed both credit card debt ($74 billion nationally) and auto loan debt ($1.14 trillion nationally.) The grand total nationally for student loans sits at $1.28 trillion.

That’s insanity. There are ways to bring that number down. Presumably, later this year, the first of the Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) loans will be forgiven. Some states and cities will pay off your student loans simply for moving in. And certain professions in certain states will garner you some forgiveness, as well.

If you don’t fall into an advantaged program, though, one of the quickest and best ways to lower the amount you owe and end up paying over the course of your loan is to get a lower interest rate.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at this infographic from PenFed featuring real people:

I'd like to be like Marissa--smart move on refinancing her student loans!

How Marissa Saved On Her Student Loans

My favorite example here is Marissa. By refinancing, she lowered her average interest rate from 7.50% down to 4.29%. That’s a reduction of 3.21%

On top of that, she shortened her loan term. When you pay a loan over longer terms, you almost always end up paying more in interest, simply because you’re paying it for a longer period of time. By shortening your term, you can cut down how much you pay in interest.

That’s what Marissa did.  Over the course of her loan, she saved an incredible $144,281 in interest. That’s almost as much as the original refinance amount of $148,000.

Head turning.

Finding the Best Interest Rates

As with any purchase, the best way to find a good interest rate is to shop around. There’s been quite a stir lately as states have started opening or reinstating state refinancing options. Some are good. Some are meh. Some are open to the entire country while some are open only to residents who attended school in their home state.

The lowest fixed interest rate I’ve seen offered through these programs is 3.99% in Kentucky. While they’re open to several states, they’re not open to all—including my home state of PA.

That’s why I was super excited when I saw PenFed’s announcement last month that it is now offering interest rates on student loan refinancing as low as 3.50% fixed. They’re also open nationwide. All you have to do is join PenFed, and applying is super easy to do.

Granted, with either program you have to meet certain eligibility and credit criteria to get the lowest rate. But there is more possibility for saving with PenFed’s interest rate floor.

To find out your rate estimate, you can answer three simple student loan refinancing questions here. It takes less than 30 seconds. Seriously.

A Word of Caution on Refinancing Federal Student Loans

Before refinancing any Federal student loans, research your options. There are several advantaged programs, like income-based repayment, PSLF and REPAYE just to name a few. These and other programs offered by the federal government can save you a ton of money over the course of your loan, and you lose access to them permanently if you refinance with either a state program or a private financial institution.

Learn more about programs for Federal student loans here.


Have you ever refinanced your student loans? Tell us about your experience in the comments!


*This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union. The views expressed in the article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Pentagon Federal Credit Union.*

How to Save Money as a Motorcyclist

Interesting trend--motorcyclists shouldn't try to save money on safety gear, but should try to save it on "the look" and financial products.

Did you know that May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month?

Neither did I until a couple of weeks ago. Essentially, auto drivers need to be aware there are motorcyclists on the road. They’re more difficult to see, and far more vulnerable to injury in case of an accident.

Motorcyclists, for their part, are reminded to follow the rules of the road, including keeping a safe distance from other vehicles.

I have a few motorcycle enthusiasts in my life, and they were kind enough to let me pick their brains on the subject. How do you save money? Which products are worth the spend?

A funny pattern emerged. The one place everyone agreed you should splurge is safety gear. Everything else is negotiable.

How Motorcycle Enthusiasts Can Save Money

Areas of saving included non-tangibles. With such a “cool” hobby, it’s easy to get caught up in the ego of it all—but that’s not necessarily the best financial move. I was also told it’s also very uncool to spend more money than you have to on financial products. I concurred.

You don’t need brand name.

I repeatedly heard that that brand name doesn’t always equate to high quality. Sometimes the sticker price reflects popularity—which is fine if the product lives up to your expectations. But sometimes you’re just paying for a name.

If you’re buying brand name, make sure the current product lives up to its established reputation. Research product quality rather than name recognition.

Scooters are cool. Just ask Macklemore.

I was advised that for budget shoppers, scooters are great. They can easily be had for under $1,000, get phenomenal mileage (think 100 MPG phenomenal,) and maintenance is cheap because you’re driving a comparatively small vehicle.

Shop around for the best rate on financing.

You should be as enthusiastic about your interest rate as you are about your hog. Lower interest rates can save you a ton of money over the course of your loan.

I typically like to look at credit unions when I’m looking at financing. Overall they offer lower rates, and because they’re so community oriented, you get treated like a person rather than a number.

Many credit unions are regional, but my favorite national recommendation is PenFed Credit Union. Applying online for membership is easy, and their rates on motorcycle financing just happen to be fantastic.

Shop around for the best rate on insurance.

Just like car insurance, be sure to shop around for multiple quotes so you know you’re getting the best rate. You should also make sure to ask about any discounts the company may offer—some of them are so far out there that they’ll surprise you!

Where to Splurge: Motorcycle Safety

Because you are so vulnerable on a bike, you never, ever want to skimp on safety products. Be sure to buy quality and look for industry-approved products.

Here’s what to look for in a helmet.

Your brain is so important that the Federal government has set regulations to protect it. When you buy a Department of Transportation (D.O.T.)-approved helmet, you know you’re getting something that meets at least the minimum safety standard. Don’t hit the road with an inferior product. Your life depends on it.

Protect your phalanges.

When you’re on a motorcycle, you want to remember to protect your feet with good boots, but you also want to remember to protect your hands with quality gloves. Some of them even have metal plating over the knuckles and wrist in case of a crash. Because life would be a heck of a lot harder without full use of your fingers.

No pleather.

When you’re shopping for a jacket, get the real thing: a thick, leather jacket. This is the clothing item that’s going to be protecting your torso, and along with it, your internal organs.

You need to see the sign(s).

One area that may be easy to forget is eye protection, but a good pair of safety glasses or goggles is critical. Not only do they protect your eyes, but if you have an inferior pair that slip or in any other way limit visibility while you’re out on the road, you’re more likely to get into an accident.

Spend on Safety, Save on Financial Products and Ego

It will always be worth it to spend money on quality safety gear when you’re a motorcycle enthusiast. It can be a lifesaving purchase—literally.

You don’t have to spend more on financing or insurance, though. And if you shop smart and are willing to step away from brand names, you can save a ton of money while still enjoying the sport.

*This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union.*

Father’s Day Gift Guide Under $20

On a budget, but still want to get dad something he'll love? Check out this Father's Day Gift Guide where everything is under $20.

Father’s Day is just around the corner, and while it’s good to celebrate Dad, buying gifts should always be done within your budget. I’m not encouraging you to be chinsy. If you can afford something very expensive that would add value to his life, go for it. But if your budget is a little tighter, know that you’re not alone and that you can still get the father in your life something he’ll appreciate without draining  your bank account.

Here’s a Father’s Day Gift Guide for some inspiration. Keeping in mind that budgets may be tight, everything is under $20.

 MLB Watches

MLB San Diego Padres Men's Spirit Watch

Because this is ‘Murica and we love baseball.

Price: The majority of teams cost $19.99. For some weird reason, a few teams cost $24.99, like our beloved Pirates.

Where to get it: Bed Bath & Beyond

Pour and Shoot Mug

Pour and Shoot MugPerfect for all the Dads out there who are photographers–amateur all the way to professional. Help bring their day “into focus” with this clever coffee mug.

Price: $17.99

Where to get it: ModCloth


3-in-1 Soap for Men

Soap for Men - Cedar and CitrusSimplify his grooming routine with this 3-in-1 soap. It serves as shampoo, body wash and shaving “cream,” if you will. It’s all natural and smells manly.

Price: $6.95

Where to get it:  Thrive Market. This is a membership site, which is how their prices are so crazy low, but you get a free, 30-day trial to start so you can get this at the lower price without risk.

The Heroic Adventures of Super Dad Planner/Notebook

Super Dad Day Planner, Notebook, or Address BookTotally customizable with your own pic and <3(child’s name). Sure to make any dad feel good, and either document his journey or keep track of his Super Dad schedule.

Price: Starts at $16.00

Where to get it: Minted

Portable Lap Desk

Portable Lap Desk with Wrist Pad in Silver/BlackDid you know that using a laptop actively receiving a WiFi signal causes a decrease in sperm mobility and can even cause the sperm to no longer be viable? Well, now you do. If dad wants to be a dad again, or even just doesn’t want his computer messing with his reproductive parts, one way to cut back on the damage is using a lap desk. This one’s built for ergonomics FTW.

Price: $19.99

Where to get it: Bed Bath & Beyond

What Mon Mari Frugality Will Be Getting

Every year, we go with experiences for Father’s Day. The kids make some type of craft that costs us $0, and then we spend the day together. One year when I was not capable of leaving the house, he went on a Ducky Tour of the city with his offspring. Another year we all went to the zoo where dads get in for free on Father’s Day.

As our kids get older, this is getting admittedly more expensive. While we used to just have to pay for me or sometimes me and the husband to get in, now my kids are above the age where they get in everywhere for free. So we’re not in the $20 range anymore.

But if you would rather spend time together than give a gift, remember that spending time together can be the greatest gift. And there’s tons of ways to do that on the cheap.

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