Author Archives: femmefrugality

Money Hacks in a Time of Social Distancing

Alright, guys.

The other day I promised I’d share my answers as I found them. That’s what I’m doing today.

If you’re struggling with money right now, as so many are, here are some new, relevant ideas on where you can get more money to get through this as best you can.

Emergency Bills and Social Media

Before we get started, note that there has been stuff moving through Congress that could help you right now. As of this writing, the stuff that has actually passed is a patchwork that leaves a lot of people out. But there is still more in the pipes. Stay up-to-date with this iHeartBudgets resource.

You can also look to social media. Individuals and companies are giving away money in their @s.

This is inspiring to see, and is helping a lot of people. It’s happened to my own family members, and for that I don’t know if I can express the well of gratitude that’s now permanently lodged in my heart. It’s gone a long way to restore my wavering faith in humanity.

It is not a replacement for the safety nets our society so desperately needs, though, and I’m not going to tell you to hang out on social media all day hoping someone will mention free cash.

But while you’re scrolling through your feed anyways, keeping an eye out doesn’t hurt. <3

File Your Taxes from Years Past

If you are low-income and have not filed income taxes for the past few years, one of the best ways to come up with a big chunk of cash is going to be to file your tax returns from the past three years — if you haven’t already.

Here’s the thing: I know so many people who don’t file because they know the amount taken out of their paycheck covers them.

They’re not going to owe money. And while they might want a refund, the anxiety of taking their finances to some stranger at H&R Block who is also their Kmart cashier — aging myself, I know — is just not worth the amount they think they will get back.

But here’s the other thing: When you’re low- to lower-middle-income, there are so many tax credits that can put money back in your pocket. We’re talking about thousands of dollars in some cases on a single credit.

And another thing: You have three years to file your return.

Depending on what you qualify for, you could potentially file a return that would provide you with months’ worth of income to cover basic expenses. And if you haven’t filed for multiple years, you could potentially multiply that over the course of several more months.

There’s also a potential you would get nothing back, depending on your life and employment circumstances over the past three years. I also don’t know how long it would currently take the IRS to deliver your refund.

But it’s one of the biggest potential wins I can think of. If you haven’t filed because you know you didn’t owe, file now because our government likely owes you.

Report Your Lack of Commute to Your Auto Insurer

Sometimes one of the best ways to free up some room in your budget is to cut your expenses. I’ve been keeping an eye out for new ways to do this in 2020 over the past few weeks, and came across a really good idea I hadn’t considered, likely because my own commute hasn’t changed aside from a few cancelled in-person networking events:

When you have to live close to the margin, you know that $21 can be the difference between making a bill or not. And what I loved about this tip was that not only will she save $21 this month, but she’ll be freeing up $21 more in April, May and every month until she returns to her regular commute.

It’s a small amount. But those small amounts add up.

Call Your Lenders

Things are real right now. If you’re worried about priorities like keeping food on the table and a roof over your head, debt payments may have to be put on hold. Reluctantly. Out of pure necessity.

That does not make you an irresponsible person.

I’ve actually seen a lot of banks actively recognizing this. Some are even taking initiative and reaching out to some of their most vulnerable debtors to make sure this doesn’t send them into a tailspin from which they can’t recover.

I’m not here to tell you all the banks are suddenly looking out for your best interests with a pure heart, though. Many of them will make more money off of you over the long-term with these new arrangements.

But also you need to buy groceries today, and might not have income from a job anymore. Paying more over a longer period of time may be the only option.

If you find yourself in this situation, call up your lenders. See if you can restructure your debt or defer payments, and ask about the following before making any commitments to a new arrangement:

  • Will this extend my loan term? This might not necessarily be a deal breaker given everything you’re dealing with right now, but it’s still a good piece of information to know.
  • Will extra interest continue to accumulate, even if you’re telling me I don’t have to make my payment this month? At what rate?
  • Will this create a balloon payment at the end of my loan? How do I avoid that at all costs?
  • If you have a secured loan, like an auto loan, at what point do you have to worry about repossession? You’re obviously going to do everything you can to avoid getting to that point, but even the banks are acknowledging right now that this is not your fault. Ask all the questions so you can learn all your options and make the most informed decisions possible.

Take Advantage of Special Enrollment Periods

If you’ve lost your job and live in a Medicaid expansion state, losing your job qualifies you for a Special Enrollment Period. You can apply for Medicaid, regardless of the time of year.

Medicaid is free in most states, though premiums may be prorated or require copays in others.

This is much more beneficial than a COBRA plan that may or may not cover everything you need. COBRA can also cost you a ton out-of-pocket while you’re dealing with a serious cash flow situation.

If you live in a Medicaid expansion state, you can apply for Medicaid at Healthcare.gov.

During this time when domestic violence is more than likely to be on the rise, it’s also important for victims to know that leaving an abusive situation qualifies you for a Special Enrollment Period, as well. That does not remove the need to be extremely careful as you do so, and to create a 1:1 safety plan with an expert in the field before attempting to make any departure.

Have more tips on making or saving money during the pandemic?

If you have any new savings tips for this brave new world we’re living in, I’d love to hear them! Leave them in the comments, @ me on social media or shoot me an email. I’ll continue sharing what’s working for readers throughout the pandemic!

The Power of Math: Lessons from Social Distancing School

I’ve always been good at math.

I mean, I was a girl who went through school primarily in the 20th century, so any skills I had were rarely praised, and I didn’t recognize them in myself. I got mad credit from my teachers for my language and musical skills. Probably too much for the musical skills, honestly.

But math was always something I enjoyed. It felt like it was related to linguistics; the same skills I used to craft an argumentative essay or master a song on an instrument could be applied to mathematical theory, and there was something so deeply satisfying in that.

Nontrad Life

I didn’t realize just how good I was at math until I attended college as a nontraditional student. I cared about my education in a way I never had before. Didn’t give a damn about looking cool. I gave a damn about maintaining my 4.0 GPA so I could keep all my scholarships.

With this newfound freedom, I pushed my teachers. Particularly my math teacher. To his credit, he loved every moment of the challenge. In a room full of 18-year-olds who do still care about looking cool and don’t particularly care about the quadratic equation, I think I was a much-needed boredom buster.

Every time he would expand a problem and show us how to solve, I’d ask him the same question:

Why?

The numbers on the board were nice, and I knew how to follow the pattern, but I wanted to understand the theory behind every last equation. I knew that if I understood the reasoning behind the process, I could double check my numbers and get the answer right every time.

My obnoxiousness worked. After I took down my walls, I scored over 100% on every test. Not because I’m some genius.

I’m definitely not.

But because I understood the process all the way from initial problem to end solution.

Negative Punishment and Schooling at Home

My kids have been home from school, like most kids in this country. I’m planning on it being for at least the rest of this school year, though Pennsylvania has only officially cancelled until halfway through April so far.

My kids are super lucky in that their district has mechanisms set up to educate them at home. This is a dry run; we were supposed to practice and then implement this for the first time this year during snow days. It was a light winter. That never quite happened.

It’s been bumpy.

Last week, one of my kids brought an app to me. They were really upset.

I listened and messed around with the app to see what had them so undone. It turns out, this app was using a point system that used positive reinforcement when a student completed a problem correctly with no assistance. Great.

But then it also used negative punishment if they did need to expand the problem. To see the theory. To ask:

Why?

Without getting too much into it, negative punishment is rarely an effective way to educate — at least over the long-term.

This isn’t the teacher’s fault, to be clear. My kids are very lucky to have absolutely phenomenal educators supporting them. This is a reward game usually. She hadn’t had a chance to teach the kids the theory of the particular lesson my child had picked out.

What is math?

I was pretty frustrated with the app, too. For punishing my kid when they needed to understand not only what the answer was, but how they got to that answer.

I found myself explaining to my child that math isn’t about having all the numbers memorized. Having the basics pulled up for instant recall makes things go faster, sure, but the important thing we’re trying to learn with math is problem solving.

If we don’t know the answer, is there another way we can find it? What are the numbers actually asking of us? Theoretically? Is there another way we can solve the problem? To find a solution that will help us explain the world around us in a way that allows us to move forward?

It was all more age-appropriate than that, but equally grand.

Solving Our Problems

My kid still gets frustrated with the app. But now they understand they’re not bad at math; this particular app is bad at teaching. They’re working through the theory, and asking for explanations when they need them. Then generalizing that explanation to similar math problems with different numbers.

Our conversation happened at a time where I’m overwhelmed. The change is a lot, and we’re under pretty strict restrictions here in Allegheny County. I’m grateful our governor is taking leadership and saving as many lives as he can. I’m infuriated that the President has slowed down testing efforts and gotten us to this point. We have a known outbreak and the anecdotes from the people I know alone pin us at waiting 7+ days for test results in this region.

Death is knocking every door. And in too many cases, about to slither its way inside.

Perspective.

I’m not going to understand why with this one. There is no reason. The virus only wants to survive, just like we do. The extent it affected our country absolutely could have been helped. But now that our leadership has put us in this dark situation, we can only solve the problems in front of us before we head to the polls.

I, like most everyone else, have lost access to the physical community that makes my life possible over the course of the past week. There’s nothing that can be done about it. It’s not going back to the way it was any time soon.

I don’t know what the solution to our problems is going to end up being. But I do know that it’s there somewhere.

We’ve made an official schedule to help us ward off our anxiety and prevent boredom. I’m accepting that I’m going to have to do things that aren’t fair and are going to mess up what I had planned for my life in unpreventable ways.

Math’s greatest lesson.

But this is where we’re at, like it or not, and I just might be ready to take the greatest lesson math has taught me and apply it.

Math teaches lessons through personal finance, sure.

Balancing a budget does, in fact, include subtraction, addition and a little bit of division and multiplication if you get all fancy with that spreadsheet.

But the greatest lesson mathematics can teach us is not to give up. To walk away when we feel frustrated and come back with fresh eyes. To know that there is a solution; we just have to get creative and believe in our own capabilities enough to make it happen.

The answer isn’t always going to be what we want it to be. And we have to remember — especially in our society — that behind the death tolls and unemployment numbers and educational metrics are real, human lives we have a collective moral obligation to protect without infringing upon individual Constitutional Rights.

These are hard problems in dark times. But we can solve hard problems. We can do hard things. We can turn our individual and collective failures and struggles into our greatest strengths.

I’m not sure of any of the concrete solutions just yet, other than the ones referenced on this resource page that may help you depending on your life circumstances.

But I’ll let you know as I find more of them. Share yours with me, too, okay?

This is one test where it’s totally cool to look at each other’s papers.

What Food Scarcity Looks Like

I’ve pitched this piece to clients before.

Several times.

I always get thanked for the pitch, but it always gets shut down. It’s probably too raw. Too real. Probably reveals too many of my own wounds from the past, making it an uncomfortable pitch to audiences who just want to be happy and fix their money.

But that’s why we have blogs, right?

With the corona virus putting more families into a situation where they’re fighting food insecurity — especially after the repetitive cuts to SNAP benefits the Trump administration has made and continues to attempt to make in the face of a pandemic — I figure it’s about time for this story to get told in its full bluntness.

What Food Scarcity Looks Like

When I started blogging, I was living well below the poverty line. We had just applied for food stamps.

I had found out I was pregnant. And I needed to get nutrients or calories of any sort to the fetus.

While we were in desperate need of money for food before, we didn’t humble ourselves to apply for benefits until there was a child involved.

We felt a lot of shame about applying. We both worked 40 hours a week. I was making just a little bit more than minimum wage, and he was making far less — even after his employer gave him a You’re-Going-to-be-a-Daddy pay bump, for which we were grateful.

Yes, that is a real thing.

But we intrinsically wanted to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. We wanted to be those self-actualized people the libertarians are always telling us we can become.

But we couldn’t do it. Not for lack of trying. Not without assistance. Not without financial aid for a college education. Not without Medicaid, which was not provided for adults in my state in the vast majority of cases before Governor Wolf was elected — unless you were pregnant. Not without LIHEAP. And not without SNAP.

The moment our lives really started to turn around was the moment we claimed the benefits we had poured our tax dollars into. When we had food on the table, we were able to stress less about making the electricity bill and freezing in the winter.

We were able to pursue and dedicate focus to the type of education that would lead to a higher-paying career.

We were able to maintain a healthy BMI. But there’s no way we could have done that if we couldn’t have put food on the table.

SNAP benefits were everything.

A lifeline.

Literally.

Being a woman held to impossible standards.

It wasn’t all bad before the food stamps.

I mean, it was.

Let me get really real with you about beauty standards in our culture: I was much hotter when I was starving.

Well, I was much hotter according the Twiggy culture I was brought up in.

I was too skinny. I wasn’t getting nutrition, but I was getting a lot of attention. I didn’t like the unwanted advances. But I did like how others accepted me because of how I looked.

That included acceptance in the workplace.

Before my personal experiences and thoughts dominated my career output, I was the epitome of traditional professionalism. I wouldn’t bring up politics in the workplace. I worked in fields dominated by women, refusing to engage in the gossip and workplace drama that sometimes accompanies workplaces dominated by patriarchal matriarchs.

I was not liked for it.

But I was respected for it. And at least part of that respect came from my looks. I knew it by comments people thought I couldn’t hear, and compliments those around me couldn’t help — even when I was working in toxic work environments.

Starving myself was good for work. That, in part, contributed to my reticence to take care of my own body.

I mean, when someone else’s body was involved, I jumped for the food. I filled out applications with the same information six times, literally calling unpaid days off of work to go into the Welfare office in order to get accepted so I could take care of the life growing inside of me.

But when it was my own body, the social rewards of starving combined with the extreme guilt of being labelled a “taker” kept me from caring for my own health.

Hangriness & Stress

When you don’t have enough food to go around, usually it’s the kids that eat first. That can leave the adults in the household hungry.

It’s really hard to operate from a place of true scarcity. When you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, it’s really easy to get stressed out. It’s real easy to make the wrong financial decision because you can’t plan where every dollar is going when you don’t know where or when those dollars will be showing up.

It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of fees that disproportionately punishes those who didn’t have enough to get by to begin with.

Now add hunger to starvation on top of it. How long can any human being sustain their individual fight against the system under these circumstances?

These are the realities of living in poverty, and it’s why the bootstrap mentality is great, but shallow. It doesn’t account for the real obstacles that pop up in people’s way.

It puts the responsibility on the individual who is facing impossible odds. Rather than asking ourselves as one of the richest societies in the history of Earth, why do we allow any of our citizens to go hungry?

Is it because we have abandoned a collective moral code which accounts for humanity? In favor of one that blindly worships individual actualization because it makes those who “have” feel better about the abusive, unfair distribution of wealth and power in our country?

What can we do to help people struggling with food scarcity?

It’s simple: Give them cash.

When you don’t have enough money to pay your bills — no matter how basic they may be — what you need more than anything is an injection of money. If you know someone who may be struggling right now and is too proud to say it, hand them a $20 bill, and reject their polite refusals.

It will mean the world to them.

It will mean dinner to them.

And that’s something they weren’t sure they were going to have before.

Our government is not yet effectively helping those who are struggling the most.

In fact, the executive branch attempted to hurt them them further by dramatically cutting benefits in a time when they are needed the most — when many people will be forced out of work in the name of public health.

Even if our Congress has failed in its responsibilities to check executive leadership, our courts are still here to do the right thing. Saturday evening, an injunction was issued and the additional work requirements were not allowed to be put into effect — at least until we’ve got this virus under control.

Ideally, we wouldn’t kick 700,000 people off food stamps period. We’d have compassion not just for the struggles we see when they’re presented to us front and center.

In an ideal world, we’d have compassion for those struggles we don’t see on a regular basis as our society shames them into the shadows and robs the people experiencing those struggles of their voice.

Yeah, but how do I know they’ll actually spend it on food and not just waste it?

You don’t get to say where that $20 goes. It might go to food. It might go to rent. It might go to the dispensary so they can get the medication they need to deal with the PTSD with which poverty often co-occurs.

If you’re struggling with food scarcity, you’re likely struggling with economic scarcity in other areas of your life, too. If you’re going to give someone $20, give them the basic respect they deserve as a fellow human being and allow them to decide where it’s best spent.

We need to watch out for each other right now. Food insecurity was real before the corona virus, but it’s going to be far worse now that society as we are accustomed to it is shutting down.

Kids are home from school. People can’t go to work. The government is issuing assurances while attempting cutting off access to food and income for our citizens.

Help your neighbor.

I challenge you to take $20, or whatever disposable cash you might have, and put it into your community. Maybe your neighborhood has an association that’s collecting funds to help people out. Maybe you know someone up the street who was teetering on the edge before all this, but is too proud to bring up their needs in this moment.

Drop that money in their mailbox. Sign a card if you so wish. But the important thing is that the money we have goes to those who are facing food and housing insecurity during this crisis. Our citizens do not deserve to suffer at the hands of our government’s slow-roll to action.

Help your neighbor. They may not be getting the help they need from the state.

Note: If you find yourself in need, Jacob has put together a phenomenal list of programs — both open and those that will hopefully pass Congress soon — that may be able to help.

Get Free Stuff When You Sign Up for Soccer Summer Camp

This post is in collaboration with MomsConnect.

It’s great to get the kids to camp in the summer. It helps them continue their work on social skills throughout the break, and gives them the opportunity to explore their interests.

But summer camp can be expensive. That’s why I look so hard for the most fairly-priced programs that meet my children’s needs.

Challenger Sports Soccer Camp

This year, we’re sending one of our littles to Challenger Sports summer camp. Here’s a little info:

Challenger Sports, the largest soccer camp company in North America is coming to a community near you, and bringing over 30 years of coaching experience.

Our international staff will work with your players to teach a fun, technical and tactical curriculum that’s filled with training sessions from five of the world’s leading soccer nations. Challenger’s International Soccer Camp offers instructional camp programs for all age and ability levels!

The TinyTykes program, ages 2-5, provides fundamental soccer activities, games, and stories; designed to enhance technical skills along with physical and social development.

The Half-Day Camp, ages 5-16, is the most popular program and will provide 3 hours of skill development, games, challenges and competitions each day.

The Full-Day Camp, ages 8-18, is a 6 hour program filled with developmental practices, games, competitions and challenges.

Pricing & Freebies

The prices aren’t crazy, but as with all summer camps, there is a fee. This fee is based on your child’s age and skill level; if they’re young and just exploring, you can score quite a deal!

On top of that, this year Challenger Sports is giving away primo freebies for those who sign up. The freebie list includes:

  • International soccer ball
  • T-shirt
  • Poster
  • Player evaluation

Summer may be a while away, but booking summer camp starts now. There are so many deadlines coming up around the corner.

To encourage you to sign up before the snow melts, Challenger is also giving free International game jerseys to those who sign up 30 days before camp starts.

If your kid’s into soccer and you’re all about a fairly-priced summer camp options, definitely check Challenger out for a good value!

What the Doctor Said: How to Prepare for Travel

Talk to your doctor about your health and any travel concerns prior to boarding your next flight.

This post is in collaboration with Nakturnal, and is contributed by an outside writer. While its tips are evergreen, note that now is a particularly important moment in history to consult with your doctor before embarking on any grand adventures.

You’ve planned your next big vacation and you can hardly wait! A trip to Thailand to explore Bangkok, visit beautiful beaches, and live like the locals — something you’ve been itching to do for years.

While you might be ready to jump on the plane now and head to your exciting destination, you’ll want to take a step back and consult your doctor first. There are a number of things you need to consider medically when traveling abroad.

From attending a yearly check-up to getting the proper vaccinations, you’ll want to hear what your doctor has to say. So once that once in a lifetime trip has been booked, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your doctor and learn what you need to consider before packing your bags.

Here’s a quick look at what we’ll cover in this article: 

  • Visit your doctor ahead of your trip
  • Get any necessary Immunizations 
  • Pack plenty of medication
  • Know what your health insurance covers
Consulting with your doctor will provide you a clear picture of what your health looks like and prepare you for an upcoming trip. That could mean getting recommended immunizations, refilling prescriptions, or understanding your medical insurance in the event of an emergency. Image courtesy of Pexels

Reasons to Consult with Your Doctor Before Travelings

It’s always a best practice to talk with your doctor prior to traveling. This is especially true for individuals with underlying health conditions or people who are looking to travel abroad. You should listen to all the medical advice of your provider to ensure a safe and healthy trip.

Here are a few of the things you should do before your next big trip to keep you healthy and prepare you for an unexpected emergency. 

Schedule an appointment with your doctor prior to your trip. This will let you know that you are in good condition to be traveling and identify any underlying health issues. Image courtesy of Pexels

Visit Your Doctor Ahead of Your Trip

It’s a good practice to visit your doctor ahead of your planned schedule for a quick check-up. This will allow you to address any potential problems and discuss things you may need to consider when traveling.

For many people, this visit might just be your yearly check-up. But for people who have underlying conditions, it’s a time for them to ensure their health is in travel shape and refill any needed medicines.

A few examples of when you’ll want to talk with your doctor before traveling: 

  • You’re pregnant.
  • You recently had surgery.
  • You’ve experienced blood clots in the past.
  • You recently had a heart attack or stroke.
  • You have a fever or severe sinus, ear, or nose infection.

If you’re unsure about whether you should plan a doctor’s appointment prior to your trip, give them a call and they can provide you with the best advice. 

For many locations abroad, you’ll need to get immunizations to keep you healthy. Talking with your doctor will let you know exactly what you need and why. Image courtesy of Pexels

Get Any Necessary Immunizations 

Another important reason for visiting your doctor prior to traveling is to identify any immunizations you may need. When you leave the country, you may expose yourself to diseases that are not present in the US.

You may not need to worry about this if you’re just traveling across the US — but if you plan to travel to another country you’ll need to consult your doctor.

If you’re traveling to a location that requires vaccinations, here’s what your doctor may require:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid and paratyphoid fever
  • Meningococcal disease
  • Yellow Fever
  • Rabies
  • Japanese Encephalitis 

Leaving yourself exposed to these viruses and diseases could not only ruin your trip but leave you very sick. It’s best to address this issue early on to ensure you have plenty of time to prepare your body before travel.

Make sure to pack plenty of medication. Depending on your destination it might be very hard to find a pharmacy if you run out of the pills you need. Image courtesy of Pexels

Pack Plenty of Medication 

Making sure you pack all the proper medication is another very important thing you need to consider. If you forget to fill your prescription and are short on medications, you could find yourself in a sticky situation. 

While you might be able to live without Tylenol for a headache, you may not be able to live without blood pressure or diabetes medication for more than a few days.

That’s especially true when you are traveling internationally or small cities that don’t have readily available pharmacies. So make sure to check and double-check your bag to ensure you have the medication you need to get you through the entire trip. 

In the unlikely event that you have a medical emergency while traveling, knowing what your insurance covers is important. Don’t be surprised by costly medical bills when you return home and start feeling better. Image courtesy of Pexels

Know What Your Insurance Covers

Last but not least, it’s important to know what your health insurance covers for travel.

What will your plan cover if you have to take an unexpected trip to a hospital in another country? Are there any limitations to what you can and can’t do when traveling if you need a prescription? 

These are all good questions to ask — but you’ll want to ask them before that emergency arises.

Here are a few steps you can take to gain a better understanding of your insurance coverage before you travel. 

  • Call your health insurance and ask about your policy’s coverage outside of the US
  • Know what to expect if you need to be transported back to the US and what costs that may entail
  • Consider purchasing travel insurance to help fill in coverage gaps

Knowing these things before you board your next flight will help you be prepared in the event of an emergency when traveling. 

Enjoy your trip without the fear of something going wrong. Consulting with your doctor will let you travel with confidence. Image courtesy of Pexels

Follow the Doctor’s Orders and Travel With Confidence

While you may not want to think about these things when you’re in the process of planning your dream vacation, it’s best to be prepared. 

Talking with your doctor ahead of traveling will let you travel with ease knowing you’re in good health, have plenty of medication, and understand what expenses you could incur due to illness. These are worst-case scenario situations, but if an emergency arises, you’ll be happy you considered it.