Category Archives: Ways to Save Money

How I Got Divorced with Kids for $800

Man and woman sitting at a table at an outdoor restaurant, unhappily having an intense discussion. White text reads "How I got divorced for $800 with kids! femmefrugality.com"

Okay, guys.

This is it.

This is the one where I confirm what you suspected last summer.

The marriage to the man I’ve been in a committed relationship with since before I started writing is over.

I’m divorced.

Don’t send me condolences! This is really a positive thing in my life. It’s a change that needed to happen for way too long. It’s a process I dragged out over the course of many years in the name of trying to save things.

And, yes, it’s something that messed with my head, kept me up crying many nights and was a horrible thing to go through.

But I did get through it. I just didn’t feel like sharing that part of my life in real-time. Now I’m in a place where being divorced feels like a relief and permission to start a new chapter of my life.

I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next chapter. I have very few concrete personal goals, though I have been making forward progress as I figure out what I want out of life.

It’s scary sometimes.

But it’s also exhilarating.

How I Got Divorced for $800 with Children

Before I get into the numbers, I want to disclose a couple of things. The first is that my ex agreed to every last thing I wanted. And I only wanted things for the children.

We’re not squabbling over financials. We didn’t own any joint property and neither of us owns any real estate.

Those things in and of themselves made this process dramatically cheaper than it could have been.

The Lawyer

If we had simply been filing a no-contest divorce, I may have taken a stab at filing the paperwork myself.

But we weren’t. There were kids involved. And it was really important to me that the paperwork surrounding that issue was rock solid legally.

So I hired a lawyer.

I began shopping by calling around to different lawyers in the county. None would give me an initial consultation for free, and many of them wanted retainers around $3,000 at the conclusion of that initial meeting.

That was not going to fly with me. I’m not a fan of paying professionals before they’ve worked to establish a professional relationship with me. Sit down with me. See if you can help me. And if you can, THEN I’ll pay you money.

I kept looking and found this lawyer who runs their business completely via USPS. You mail in the divorce paperwork and any additional information for an agreement along with payment, and they file the divorce for you.

In Pennsylvania, you can file for divorce in any county. Which can save you big bucks. So even though this lawyer was local, the filing fees were not. They were lower than what you’d pay in Allegheny County.

You have to mail back and forth a few times, but because we had not been living under the same roof for more than a year (there is no such thing as legal separation in Pennsylvania), the entire process took one month and four days.

I was holding my breath the entire time with Mx. Lawyer-I-found-on-the-internet. I really hoped I wasn’t getting scammed. I had done my research on them, but still. I was consciously taking on risk to save thousands of dollars.

Luckily for me, the lawyer was legit. I’m officially divorced. If anyone in PA is interested in using the same lawyer, get in touch and I’ll be happy to send over the information. Just keep in mind that you and your spouse must agree 100% on everything as they only file no-contest divorces.

Altogether, the costs came out to about $800, including a legal agreement about all things children.

The Costs of Staying Together

But of course, that wasn’t the only cost we incurred. Ironically enough, most of my expenses came not from the divorce, but from trying to save things.

I really don’t want to get into all the details. But I do want to say that if you, too, are trying to save a marriage or any type of relationship, set rational money boundaries at the very beginning of your attempt at heroism.

For example:

  • If this living arrangement is costing us more than $X,XXX/month, I’m not going to delay finding another living situation.
  • If we cannot communicate about anything nonetheless money, how am I going to conduct my own finances independently and perhaps sometimes in spite of the desire to “help” the other person?
  • At what point can we not afford to protect our kids from the bad news anymore?
  • This whole process is going to suck. How am I going to cope economically if I hit or trigger a period of less-than-awesome mental health?

Those are examples. I definitely lived through some of those, but others I’ve watched friends and family go through before. Some of them assume a large amount of privilege and autonomy on the part of each spouse–especially when the spouse is female.

I found these costs to be the most expensive part of the divorce, though it is important to remember I lucked out with the no-contest divorce and crazy affordable lawyer.

Emotional Labor

Both of us did emotional labor through this entire process. I think each one of us would argue that the other hasn’t done a successful job in their pursuit.

That’s been the hardest part of this whole process. I have faith in myself that I can fix my money. But getting through this entire thing emotionally has been a nightmare.

It would have been hard if nothing else bad was happening in our lives. But, of course, there were other bad things.

It would have been hard if I had a mindless desk job where all I had to do was show up for 8 hours everyday and close the Facebook tab when the boss made their rounds. But, of course, I don’t.

It would have been hard if we didn’t have children together. But we do and for that I am eternally grateful, despite the deepened wounds that come with the fact at this particular juncture in time.

Yes, trying to stay together cost me money.

No, I didn’t have to pay very much in legal fees.

But at the end of the day, I am reminded once again that in life, money is hardly the thing that matters most.

5 Ways to Save on Travel This Spring

Happy Monday, everyone! Today I’ve got a special treat for you–a post from my long-time fellow personal finance blogger Greg of Club Thrifty! Greg and his wife Holly are always impressing me with the amazing trips they take with the whole family, and I’m excited he’ll be sharing some of their travel tips with us today!

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Spring is officially here! The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and people are itching to get away after the drudgery of winter.

Most people would travel more if they could afford it, but alas, globe-trotting (or even interstate travel) isn’t always easy on the wallet. Even so, I believe that seeing the world is something worth building into your budget, if at all possible.

If you’re like a lot of people, that might be easier said than done. Even if you’re in a great place financially, it can be hard to find extra money to indulge your travel whims. Just thinking about the cost of airfare and accommodations can make that trip you’ve been daydreaming about feel out of reach.

The good news is, travel doesn’t always have to be as expensive as you think. I’ve been traveling the world since before anyone would think I could afford to, and let me tell you, there’s always a trick to save a few bucks. And if you know what you’re doing, “a few bucks” can translate into hundreds of dollars.

These five tips will help you cut your spring and summer travel expenses down to size.

Use Credit Card Rewards

I find people tend to be quite divided on the topic of credit card rewards. Either they’re obsessed with them or they couldn’t be bothered. Can you guess which one I am?

If you have the discipline to use credit responsibly, you should be using a rewards credit card for 95% of your purchases. Preauthorized bills like phone, power, and gym membership? Credit card! Expenses like gas, groceries, eating out, and clothing? Credit card! A $1 soft drink at the corner store? Yup, that goes on the credit card, too.

Essentially, you should be using a rewards card for absolutely everything you can. Why? Because you earn points or cash back (I prefer points) on every single dollar you spend, and that really adds up. After a year of using a credit card for all your purchases, you’ll probably have enough points to cover the cost of a domestic flight.

If you don’t currently have a credit card that offers travel rewards, you need to do something about that! The best cards come with generous signup bonuses you can unlock when you meet a minimum spending requirement. True, some have annual fees, but if you use your card for all your purchases, the value of the rewards will outweigh the cost.

Don’t believe me? My family and I have literally saved thousands on travel using credit card rewards like Chase Ultimate Rewards points. There’s no reason you can’t, too.

Look for a Sightseeing Pass

Just like some people don’t bother with credit card rewards, even savvy travelers overlook the value of sightseeing passes.

When you’re planning on hitting a lot of the major tourist attractions in a big city, two things are usually true: It’s probably going to be expensive, and there’s a way to do it for less. If used appropriately, some sightseeing passes can cut your expenses in half.

All-inclusive sightseeing passes charge a fixed fee for unlimited single entry to a bunch of attractions for a certain number of (usually consecutive) days. So basically, the more you do, the more you save. You can also get passes that grant you access to a set number of attractions for a discounted price.

No matter the type, many passes also offer fast track entry to certain attractions, saving you time on top of money. Who wouldn’t be into that?

If you want to save money on your sightseeing costs this spring and summer, I highly recommend checking out the sightseeing passes available for your destination. Again, I’ve got real-world experience to back up my claims: We’ve used several different passes over the years, including this attractions pass in London that helped us save well over $100 USD during our first visit.

Book Last Minute

It isn’t generally the case with flights, but you can score some sweet deals on hotels by booking at the last minute.

Obviously, if you’ve booked a flight and are heading to your destination regardless, you probably don’t want to risk not having a place to stay. So, here’s what you do: Book a hotel with free cancellation but keep your eyes open for cheaper last-minute deals. If luck is on your side, you can cancel your booking with no penalty and head to the cheaper digs.

Expedia, Booking.com, and hotel websites usually allow you to reserve a hotel with free cancellation, and Priceline and Hotel Tonight are good sites for scoping out last-minute bargains.

Be Flexible

You can save a significant amount on travel if you’re a bit flexible with your dates and destination.

Maybe you know you want to visit Germany but would be equally excited to see Poland or Hungary. Perhaps you’re craving a beach getaway but aren’t picky where it’s located as long as there’s sunshine and sand. If you’re not married to a particular week, even better.

When you have flexibility, you can let price be the deciding factor. Use tools like Google Flights to search for the cheapest dates and destinations within a given time frame; then, choose the one that checks the most boxes for you. If you know you want to get away for a week in June, just plug that in and see where and when the deals are.

You’ll also want to make sure you subscribe to airline newsletters so you know when one of your many bucket list destinations goes on sale.

Consider Driving or Taking the Train

If you’re traveling relatively nearby, you might want to look into driving or taking the train instead of flying.

It might not work if time is limited, but if you can spare some extra travel time, a road trip can bring a whole new element of adventure to your plans. If you’re traveling with friends or family, it’s almost certainly cheaper to pile into one vehicle and make the drive than it is to buy multiple airline tickets.

Alternatively, taking a train can be more comfortable and less expensive than flying (but faster than driving). Plus, you get to take in the scenery along the way.

Final Thoughts

Travel is worth the money, but why spend more than you have to? I hope these tips gave you some ideas on how to do more for less this spring and summer.

Do you have any trips on the horizon? Let’s hear about your thrifty travel plans!

Greg Johnson is a personal finance and frugal travel expert who leveraged his online business to quit his 9-5 job, spend more time with his family, and travel the world. He is the co-owner of the popular blog Club Thrifty, where he teaches others how to spend less and travel more.

Tips for Maintaining Your Home So You Don’t End Up with Huge, Costly Issues

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

Outside deck with pink hues and blue pillows under a Califonian sky lined with other houses, palm trees and expansive white clouds in a blue sky.

When you’re a homeowner, there are regular costs to fit into your budget, such as monthly mortgage payments, various types of insurances, and repairs. However, while you want to save money and avoid putting your hard-earned savings into thing after thing when it comes to your home, keep in mind that you must complete maintenance throughout the year, every year, to keep things in order.

By sorting out maintenance tasks on a regular basis, and not leaving things unchecked for years, you will save yourself money, time and energy in the long run. Many people avoid doing maintenance jobs as they want to be frugal, but then find this backfires when they have to replace whole roofs, walls, floors, pipes or other areas because of a lack of maintenance.

To help you avoid this situation, read on for some top tips for maintaining your home this year and in future ones so you don’t end up with huge, costly issues on your hands.

Maintain HVAC Systems

One of the key things to stay on top of is your heating and cooling system maintenance. HVAC devices can be incredibly expensive to repair if major issues are found (and sometimes it can even be cheaper to replace units altogether), so it’s wise to do an annual or twice-per-year inspection to pick up potential problems ASAP.

Start by cleaning and replacing the filters in your heating and cooling units. The best time of year for this job is usually spring or fall, so that the machines will work more efficiently in summer and winter when you’re likely to be using them many more hours per day.

While a lot of people are comfortable doing the filter job themselves, for anything more intensive it’s a good idea to bring in an expert, such as these Atlanta HVAC contractors. In particular, if you notice cold spots in areas of your house, or if you hear any strange noises coming from the heating/cooling vents, you may have a ventilation issue, which will need to be examined by a professional. In addition, have a contractor check the condensation hose on your air-con annually to be sure water flows adequately from the line.

Pick Up on Pest Infestations ASAP

Pest infestations can be a big issue if they’re not picked up on quickly. Termites, especially, pose a risk as they can cause significant damage to the structure of your property and internal walls and doors, amongst other things. It’s easy for nests to both form and grow in a short timeframe, so have a pest inspector come to check the inside and outside of your home (including under the house and in the roof) annually.

There are some signs you can spot which indicate termites or other pests could be encroaching on your property, such as cracks and bubbles in paint and thin mud tubes on walls, but by the time you see these signs you’re actually likely to have quite a bit of damage to contend with. If you keep up with inspections, though, you should be able to avoid this situation.

Clean Out Gutters

It’s not a job that’s fun or quick to do, but regardless every homeowner needs to ensure their house’s gutters are cleaned out throughout the year. This should be done annually at a minimum, but it’s usually better to get the job sorted quarterly or at a minimum twice per year. If you don’t want to do the task yourself, ask a plumber or gardener or other qualified contractor to take care of it for you.

Cleaning gutters out is imperative because it gets rid of ice dams and icicles which can form and then melt and pool up, leading to rust and holes. The job can be completed with simply a leaf blower and a rake and bucket. Professionals often have more intensive equipment on hand to help them get through the work sooner.

Check the Roof

One job for your maintenance to-do list is checking the roof of your home. It’s not something you probably think about often, but because the roof has to cope with all sorts of weather, it can wear down over time and be damaged from extreme climate or even plants (such as creepers and vines) and animals.

Tiles and shingles may break, and any exposed areas can open up. This creates leaks and holes which can get into the inside of your home and cause further damage. Unless you’re trained in roofing, it’s best to hire a professional who can come and check the roof for issues and make repairs as needed. An annual inspection is fine for most properties.

 

Saving Money at Disney World

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The capstone on our Florida trip was Disney World. We had gone not all that long ago, and I had politely put in a complaint about accessibility issues at the park. They offered me free tickets to compensate us for our troubles, so we tried again a few months ago.

Things were mostly better this time. Far from perfect; policies at the park still do not give adequate access to the disabled. But I appreciated that they tried and that we only ran into one gnarly park employee this time around.

Aside from having an overall better experience, I did learn a couple things I wanted to tack on to last year’s Disney savings tips.

Balloons are exchangeable.

 

I spent an embarrassing amount of money on a balloon for one of the littles. I mean, it was pretty awesome. A balloon inside of another balloon–both of which have yet to pop.

The quality might be the reason why the balloon lady let me in on a little secret: you can totally exchange your balloon. If it pops or flies away, just bring your receipt and any balloon remains to the nearest person selling balloons to get a replacement.

Now, let’s say you bought your balloon at Magic Kingdom. The balloon floated away on your way to the car, but you’re not going to Magic Kingdom the next day. You’re going to Disney Hollywood Studios.

Doesn’t matter. Take your receipt to the balloon seller at Hollywood Studios and they’ll get a replacement with no hassle.

Yes, I was tempted to take my receipt to the balloon seller at Hollywood Studios to score a second awesome balloon dishonestly.

No, I did not follow through.

Eat before you go to the park.


Last time we went to Disney World, we tried to wake up early and get there as soon as the parks opened. It was May. It was muggy. Everyone got moody.

So this time, we left a little later in the morning, grabbing a leisurely brunch on the way there. One day we did pancakes in the timeshare (which was once again kindly given to us as a gift by a family member), another we hit up a diner, etc.

In turn, we grabbed one meal, generally at a quick-serve place, while we were at the park and stayed out past bedtime.

If we judge by happiness levels, this was a much better plan. Although another contributing factor may have been the time of year.

I mean, was I happy to pay $60-$70 for quick-serve food? No. But if I’m honest, the quality of food there was higher than what we would have gotten at the fast food joint I would have stopped on the way home out of sheer exhaustion. The price wasn’t ideal, but…

Budget-wise, it was a major win over last year. We ate far fewer meals at the park total, and I cut the character meals altogether. We had already done that once, and the hack I found to meet characters for free for sure at a scheduled time was employed heavily this time around. Calling it a hack might seem like a bit much, but after you’ve spent money on the character meals, it feels like one heck of a hack.

So we didn’t have to stress about meal plans, It also meant we weren’t rushing around to make our reservations because we didn’t have any. So. much. less. stress.

And so much less money.

Ordering professional photos.

Around the different parks, you’ll see opportunities to get your picture taken. Sometimes it’s with mascots, sometimes it’s just at a scenic park. We noticed a bunch of these especially in Animal Kingdom.

I don’t have the best camera on my phone and I’m not the best photographer, so this time I made sure to purposefully take advantage. I tried to bunch together all our professional picture taking at two parks so I could pay to buy the photos from the Disney app for each day. By only doing two days, I was able to save money over paying the “whole trip” price.

Unfortunately I did that last time. There were just too many great memories and pictures. But I did learn the bunching method from that experience.

Do you have Disney World savings tips?

What are your favorite Disney savings hacks? Leave them in the comments!

 

Valentine’s DNA

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With Valentine’s Day coming up, I’ve been wanting to do a new, holiday-centric piece. I wasn’t exactly sure where to take it this year, though. I wasn’t feeling incredibly sappy, so I instead went incredibly nerdy.

I started thinking of all the DNA we all carry in each one of our cells. How that DNA contains a history of countless couples mating in some way. And how the end result of all of that history and all of those lives is you.

And that in and of itself is pretty amazing, whether you have another set of DNA cuddling next to you on the couch or not.

If you don’t feel like waiting until the end to see how this pertains to money, Ancestry is having a super sale on AncestryDNA for Valentine’s Day. I usually only write  about the sales on this product for Black Friday as that’s the biggest one they have all year, but this one is dramatic enough that it’s worth shouting from the rooftops.

You have a lot of ancestors. And they might not have been human.

If you trace back just 30 generations, or about 1,000 years back, you have over 1 trillion direct ancestors. Homo sapiens are 200k-300k years old. I don’t know how to pronounce the number of ancestors you could potentially have, friend.

Except you don’t have as many ancestors as basic math would imply. Humans have inbred over their history, and not everyone has had kids. There are significant bottlenecks in the DNA story of each one of us.

Our ancestors were mostly human. Some but not all people will have some Neanderthals and Denisovans in their direct line, too, though.

Eve is real. Kind of.

Mitochodrial DNA is passed on from your mother’s side. Always. What that means is if we all trace back far enough in our mitochondrial DNA, we should be able to find our initial mothers.

Except that we all have one mitochondrial mother, aptly named Eve. Eve wasn’t the only female around at her time, but her mitochondrial DNA was the only one to survive. That doesn’t mean you’re not related to another contemporary of Eve’s on your father’s side, say, or even your mother’s side through her father.

But it does mean that the mother-to-child mitochondrial DNA chain was broken for all of her contemporary females, but not Eve. We all call the same common anscestor, “Mom,” though she was not necessarily the very first human mother.

Valentine’s Day isn’t the biggest DNA fest.

When we look at birth months in the US, there is a significant drop in October and November, right when you’d expect Valentine’s Day babies to be born. Instead, the most popular times to exchange DNA appear to be November and December, according to the CDC’s birth numbers. This assumes all babies will be born on their due date, which is a noteworthy asterisk.

I love this nurse midwife’s insight into the whole thing. Like she talks about Polar Vortex babies: Because when no one can or wants to leave the house, they apparently get together more. Then nine months later, she’s crazy busy at work.

Cold weather = Less crime and more babies.

There’s a sale. Learn more about your DNA for less.

This year for Valentine’s Day, Ancestry is lowering the price of their AncestryDNA kit from $99 to $59–that’s 40% off! It’s not too often that they have sales this big, but when they do, AncestryDNA is a reader favorite.