Category Archives: Ways to Save Money

How to Reach Your Savings Goals in 2020

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

Woman with short brown hair holding tiny white Christmas lights up to her face and shoulders, covered in a blue knit sweater.
Photo by Clay Banks

Ready to finally reach those saving goals that you’ve been aiming for over the last few years?

With the new year just around the corner, everyone is thinking about resolutions and strategies that they can use to change their life for the better. However, while it’s always a good idea to eat healthier and get more exercise, one of the best changes you can make to your usual routine is learning how to spend your money better.

After all, what would you do if your car suddenly broke down tomorrow? Would you take out a personal loan, struggle to find credit, or have emergency savings that you can use? Here are a few ways that you can start to turn things around in 2020.

Have a Target

The most important thing you can do when you want to make a change to your finances in 2020, is have a target. Don’t just tell yourself that you want to save more money. Although that technically is a kind of goal, it’s way too vague. You need something more precise if you want to make a real difference this year.

What do you want to be able to celebrate by the time the next new year rolls around? Maybe you want to have enough cash aside so that you can put a down payment on a new home. Maybe you want to go on a family vacation to some far-off, distant land.

There’s no wrong answer.

Track Your Spending

If you want to put more of your cash towards your future, then you also need to know where your money is going now. Think about where your dollars are going each day. Maybe you’re spending a fortune on fuel for a run-down old car, or perhaps you’re constantly paying for subscriptions to television resources that you don’t use.

Tracking your spending will help you to pinpoint the areas that you can cut costs in, so that you can start making a real difference to your finances. You might even find some opportunities to reduce costs that you never thought about before.

Banish High-Interest Debts

When you start looking at where your money is going each month, there’s a good chance that you’ll see some payments to debt companies in the mix. You might have some loans from places like MoneyWorld that you need to manage, or credit card debts. If that’s the case, take a look at the kind of interest rates that you’re paying, and see whether you can reduce the costs by consolidating your loans.

Consolidating your existing debts into something less expensive can be a good way to keep costs low. The less you have to spend on interest, the more you have to put away towards your savings at the end of each month.

Make Saving Automatic

Why not make saving cash in 2020 an easier process? One of the main problems that people have with saving these days, is that they forget to put money into their savings account after they’re finished paying for all their debts and other bills.

However, if you turn saving into an automatic process, then you’re less likely to forget about it. At the end of each month, arrange for an amount of cash to transfer into your savings account. This will mean that you don’t have to remember to make a deposit.

Additionally, if your money is automatically coming out of your current account and into your savings account each month, you’ll be less likely to spend it. As soon as you check your bank statement, the money you would have spent will already be gone.

Use the 24-Hour Rule

Are you a victim of impulse buying? It’s easy to get that way these days. Purchasing things online and offline is easier than ever thanks to things like one-click purchasing. To reduce your risk of buyer’s remorse, go to all your favorite websites online and remove your personal details from them. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have to go and find your credit and debit cards whenever you want to make a purchase.

This will help you to stick to the rules that you set for yourself about how long you need to leave before making a purchase. For instance, most experts recommend giving yourself 24 hours to think about any significant purchase of more than about $20. You can reduce that cap if you need to, as well.

Making Accommodations Affordable in Japan

At the beginning of this year, I had no concrete plans to travel except to DC for FinCon.

As I look back, I pause for a moment of gratitude. I was a little ping pong ball this year, bouncing all over the place. Getting work done and catching up with some of those people who have meant so much to me over the years.

In 2019, I visited:

  • New York City
  • Toronto
  • The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon
  • Bar Harbor, Maine
  • Boise, Idaho
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Dayton, Ohio
  • Japan

I promise I’ll cover all of these trips, as they were all made pretty frugally. But today I want to spend some time on the accommodation situation in Japan.

Affordable Accommodations in Japan

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, you’re probably worried about the cost of accommodations–especially if you’re staying in one of the big cities.

While it’s true that Japan can be expensive, it doesn’t have to be. While I did stay with my friend for three nights (I was there for her wedding!) most of the time I was away I was able to score low-cost accommodations without even feeling like they were low-cost to begin with.

Tokyo Hotel

Sliding door with woman's lips on it, between her teeth insider her mouth it says "Play on Moxy Tokyo moxy"

I booked my flight through miles, and apparently getting from Pittsburgh to the Western side of Japan is darn near impossible via rewards. So both times I have gone, I ended up flying into Tokyo.

This time, I decided to take a little time in Tokyo before the wedding to catch up on sleep and adjust to all the shifts that come with traveling to the other side of the planet.

I managed to get out a little, too, between naps. Those adventures are currently being logged on Instagram, but I’ll write about them here, too, in the near future.

I had points built up through the Marriott Bonvoy program. The Moxy Tokyo Kinshicho was affordable, available and in a great location, so I booked. I had enough points that I was able to get half of my nights in Tokyo for free.

If you don’t do the rewards points thing through specific hotel chains, another method I use to get free nights is booking through Your tenth night is free, regardless of the hotel chain you use. You can book the Moxy here. I’d also recommend this method because they have killer discount prices.

Moxy Tokyo Kinshicho

My stay here was great. The room I booked was small; while I had two twins, there was only about a foot between the end of the bed and the wall.

This is Tokyo, though, and the layout of the room was so smart that the size wasn’t even noticeable. There are collapsible tables, chairs, luggage racks and more hung along the wall in the entrance way. The shower room in the bathroom is a good size, allows for American- or Japanese-style showers, and even has a stool if you need to sit down.

The decor was adorable and trendy. This place markets itself as a party hotel, though I largely stayed during the week so everything was pretty quiet. I met a lot of other gaijin guests in town for different world events; there was no shortage of socialization opportunities. It just might be louder on the weekends.

The location is perfect, too. Walkable from the Kinshicho station–even with luggage in tow–you can easily get to everything in the Sumida City neighborhood. Probably the biggest attraction is the Skytree, which is the second tallest structure in the world. But that really is just the tip of the iceberg.

If you’re travelling using the JR Rail Pass, the proximity of the station makes it easy to get everywhere else, too. I used it as a jumping off point for Odaiba, Roppongi Hills, Nakano and Shibuya, but also spent time exploring the neighborhood itself.

Airbnb in Hiroshima & Kyoto

Airbnb is one of my favorite ways to travel on a budget. Not only is it often more affordable than a hotel, but you also usually get a better travel experience, too.

Affordable Private Apartment in Hiroshima

After the wedding, I headed to Hiroshima for one night. It is something I highly recommend everyone do if they have the opportunity to visit Japan. I’ll write about the transformational experience soon, but right now I’ll just cover accommodations.

While I was in Hiroshima, I booked a private apartment. It was the best experience. I had access to laundry so I could prep my clothes for the next leg of the trip. The bed was like sleeping on a cloud — a true rarity in the land of the rising sun. I had privacy and space and slipped into sleep easier than I have in years.

My host was amazing, too. He knew I was staying for just one night, and sent over this guide prior to my stay to help me maximize my time and money while I was in town. It was incredible.

The room itself cost about $70, which was cheaper than a cheap hotel. On top of that, I had enough Airbnb credits to get more than 50% off.

If you want to use the same method, you can sign up for Airbnb as a new member and get $55 in credit towards your first stay. Then, when you refer your friends you’ll get more credit when they complete their first stay.

Hostel Kyoto Gion

As a solo traveler, I have booked hostels in the past. I’ve found that the fears I had in the past are overblown, and that being a safe traveler in a hostel is easier than you’d think. In fact, it can be good to have other people there to notice your presence or absence when you’re in a big city by yourself.

When I went to Kyoto, I also booked on Airbnb. The last time I was in Kyoto I missed one of the key attractions: Gion. The older-feeling part of the city (so much relativity here) known for its geisha.

Much to my delight, I found the Hostel Kyoto Gion. It would have been under $100 to book for 3 nights had I not had had enough Airbnb credit to cover the stay 100% free.

I was a little nervous about it being a co-ed hostel, but I figured if there was anywhere to give it a shot, it was the ultra-safe Japan. I felt 100% safe the entire time. Most of the co-ed people staying there were couples in two separate beds, mixed in with one pair of male friends and a few other female solo travelers.

There were cameras. I never felt unsafe, but it’s always nice to have that little extra layer of assurance there — to know that there is accountability even in an ultra-safe environment. Each bed was spacious and had curtains and outlets and a light and earplugs so you could have complete privacy.

Perhaps the best part of this stay, though, was the hosts. My Japanese is not great, though I have studied it through my local library sporadically in preparation for my trips. While my hosts’ English was limited, it was way better than my Japanese and they were so adept at using interpretive technology that communication was not only never a problem, but so warm and sincere that at times you forgot you were in a hostel rather than doing a home stay.

I mean, on top of free coffee, printed travel guides and local tips from the hosts themselves, I was offered a meal in the spur of the moment one day. We talked about my kids and the host ended up buying them their favorite souvenir from Japan: Japanese candy. I know one of them ended up taking another guest to some type of festival when she asked about things to do.

Oh, and for the first time ever? I got the bottom bunk.

It was my best hostel experience yet, and it was 100% free thanks to those Airbnb credits. Here’s where you can get started with yours.

Affordable Narita Hotel

I did end up staying at a hotel in Narita my last night. It was near the airport and there was a free bus and because of a combination of the booking platform and points, it was crazy cheap.

But they tried to nickle and dime you for everything once you’re there. No free breakfast. No water bottles waiting for you in your room. Literally the only dirty carpets and hotel bathrooms I’ve ever seen in Japan. The shower room was in with the toilet without any separation between the two.

So I wouldn’t highly recommend this particular place.

But I would recommend finding a place near the airport for your last night if you’re flying out of Narita. It’s not close to Tokyo — depending on where you’re staying it can be an hour or two ride by train. By staying near the airport that last night, you have a way easier commute when your flight does take off. Plus, if you do a hotel, most of them have free shuttles.

Have you ever been to Japan? How did you manage the costs of accommodations?

Coffee Mugs for Christmas

This post is in collaboration with Etsy.

I was raised in a religion where you couldn’t drink coffee. It was a matter of faith.

By the time I parted ways from the religion of my youth, I had grown to be quite a full-grown adult. I had never developed a taste for coffee. Only tried it once. Black. I wasn’t excited for round two.

But I’m a single mom in my 30s. The lack of a caffeine rush in the morning was becoming a problem. So I gave it another shot. My friends taught me how to load up a cup of drip with sugar and creamer. I’ve eased myself down to a point where I can almost drink a cup of black coffee now, but still prefer a little sweetener.

My life is so much better for it. It’s my favorite drink. Something that can boost my mood for a minute without being bad for me.

Don’t get me wrong; coffee has not helped me get it all together. I still look a hot mess when I get my kids onto the bus. But at least I’m smiling when I do it now.

For the love of coffee mugs.

Another thing that has progressively added joy to my life since I integrated a coffee addiction into my daily routine is coffee mugs. From witty to empowering to serendipitous, coffee mugs in and of themselves have brought me so much happiness over the past year or two.

Like this gift from one of my best friends when I moved into my own place and was way short on things like dishes:

Or when I was going through a moment of absolute self-loathing over the summer, and was comforted by another one of my best friend’s coffee mugs which was just laying around when I happened to visit:

^The mug is in the second picture. And while we couldn’t figure out where she got it, you can get a pretty darn close replica here.

Coffee mugs, like the coffee itself, have brought little shots of joy to my day. It’s something I never thought I would need in my life. I know it seems melodramatic, but for someone who always looks forward to big goals and achievements, discovering one of those “little things” in life feels like you’re the first one to lay hands on the holy grail.

Coffee Mugs for Christmas

Since coffee mugs have been bringing me so much joy lately, I figured I’d round up some for you guys, too. Stuff you might like as a reader of the blog.

I also figure that if you’re shopping on a budget, a coffee mug may not be at the top of your giftee’s list. But bought properly, it can be an affordable way to deliver them a little shot of joy every morning.

Empowered Women Empower Women Coffee Mug

Empowered women empower women.

It’s a saying that’s been everywhere this year. At Statement. At the Mamas Talk Money Summit. It’s one I’ve reflected upon a lot in 2019, and has guided some of my actions.

If you weren’t at Statement or the summit, I’m loving this version from FemmeNouvelle on Etsy.

Beyonce Mug

mug on table against neutral blue and brown background. mug full of coffee and says 'always be gracious, best revenge is your paper'

Queen Bey.

You can find her in Japan.

You can find her in my income goal charts.

She is ubiquitous, and with good cause. Always encouraging women to take control over their own money, Beyonce is money goals all day.

Featured mug is from TwoFingersCreations on Etsy.

I Make Money Moves Coffee Mug

Coffee mug sitting on a wooden floor with the words "i make money moves" printed on it.

Oh, Cardi B. She has also inspired my income goal charts. I’ve been sitting on a post idea about her. It goes pretty deep. Maybe it will be my New Year’s Resolution to go there.

This mug can be found from MochaDesignStudio on Etsy.

Patriarchy Coffee Mug

Thrown and  hand painted mug with the words "Patriarchy rhymes with BULLSHIT" hand-etcched on the side.

DancingPigPot’s Etsy shop is full of fun mugs that look like you’d drink mead out of them. But we’ll keep it at coffee for now.

Saw this one and thought of you all.

Seahorses Against Gender Roles Coffee Mug

Black coffee mugs seahorses against gender roles

Seahorses are monogamous, mate for life, and have daddy carry the babies until they’re ready to be born. Yes, they’re awesome, and you can adopt one here.

Celebrate with a mug from StrictlyBusinessMugs on Etsy.

Carry Yourself With the Confidence of a Mediocre White Man Coffee Mug

white coffee mug with black words printed on it looking like cross stitch: "Carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man

The most popular item on last year’s Very Feminist Gift Guide was a poster with this same saying on it: “Carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man.”

I come bearing good news! You can find it on this coffee mug from saltyforprintables on Etsy.

May Your Coffee Be Stronger Than Your Toddler Mug

I mean, this is why I got into coffee. Children, and the caffeine addiction requirement that seems to come along with them. You can pick up this mug via CabokieCreations on Etsy.

Favorite mugs? Leave your vote in the comments!

Ancestry Deals for Black Friday/Cyber Monday Weekend 2019

Hey, everyone! There were quite a few of you interested in the Ancestry DNA kit when I wrote about it, so I just wanted to let you know that there’s a sale going on this weekend. It really is the best one they have all year, and this year the discount is just as steep as last. You can get AncestryDNA for just $49 now through 9p Pacific on December 2, 2019.

This 50% off is the steepest discount I have ever seen for AncestryDNA. If you’ve been thinking about trying it for a while, now is the time to do it at just $49.

Introducing AncestryHealth®

This year, Ancestry released a new product: AncestryHealth. If you want to know how your DNA could potentially affect your future health, this is a product worth looking at. Normally it’s $149, but until that December 2 cut-off, it’s only $79.

The best ways to interpret these tests is to sit down with a professional genetic counselor. The meeting may even be covered by your health insurance.

You also need to know you can’t get AncestryHealth in New York, Rhode Island or New Jersey. For more deets, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Using Ancestry for Genealogy Research

I’ll be writing about my experiences with their other services for genealogy soon. (Spoiler alert! They were super positive!) But these deals only last until Monday, so if you want to get a jump start, you can get an subscription for 50% off through Cyber Monday.

For the purpose of the sale, these prices will be available through 9p Pacific on 2 December, or Cyber Monday.

Hope this helps! Happy Thanksgiving and Black Friday!

AncestryHealth® includes laboratory tests developed and performed by an independent CLIA-certified laboratory partner, and with oversight from an independent clinician network of board-certified physicians and genetic counselors. The test results are not diagnostic and do not determine your overall chance of developing a disease or health condition. The tests are not cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. You should consult a healthcare provider before taking any action based on AncestryHealth® reports, including before making any treatment, dietary, or lifestyle changes. AncestryHealth® is not currently available in New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

Update on Ancestry Deals

Cyber Monday has come and gone, and so have the biggest deals.

However, if you’re still shopping for the holidays, you can get 20% off Ancestry gift subscriptions here and/or 40% AncestryDNA here.

I’ve been tracking this sale for years, and these are the steepest discounts I’ve ever seen Ancestry offer. By shopping now, you are getting a great deal: AncestryDNA for just $59. As a point of reference, $59 has been the Black Friday price in years past.

And the new AncestryHealth? Normally $149, it’s now only $99 through December 31, 2019. Assuming you don’t live in New York, New Jersey or Rhode Island, where it’s not available.

If you buy a kit and feel comfortable, please come back and share your story in the comments! We’ve had a lot of interesting reader AncestryDNA stories, and would love to hear yours, too.

Car Maintenance for Beginners

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

girl hunched over next to a motorcycle, looking concerned with tools in her hand.

If you’re new to car maintenance, you’re not alone! While it may seem easier to just bring your car into the shop whenever you hear a funny noise or notice a maintenance light is on, it’s actually quite simple to diagnose some basic issues on your own.

Even simpler? Taking preventative steps to keep your vehicle in working shape over the years — they will save you money AND time. You don’t have to become a mechanic yourself, but here are some easy ways to start caring for your car.

Become Acquainted with the Manual

Nobody is expected to read an entire vehicle manual from front to back, but it shouldn’t be thrown in a glove compartment to never be seen again. When you get a car, take a look through. One section to look at is your warning lights. When these come on, they should never be ignored and it’s helpful to know what exactly they mean.

You can also take a peek at what all the knobs do on your center console (it’s not always obvious!), your ideal tire pressure, and how to check your fluids.

Keep Your Vehicle Clean

Having a clean car doesn’t just improve the aesthetics of your vehicle — it can also improve the longevity. The outside of your car comes in contact with bugs, smoke, dirt, etc., and this all wears on the paint. Experts recommend that you get a basic outside wash every two weeks and a wax every six months. You may want to wash it more in the winter if you live in a colder area, as salt on the roads can be one of the most damaging environmental factors.

The inside of your car likely does not have to be cleaned as often, but you should look for special care instructions if you have leather seats or other higher-maintenance materials.

Practice Basic Tire Care

If you’re ignoring your tires, your ignoring one of the most important parts of your vehicle. They control how your car handles every turn, bump, and dip in the road, and deserve a lot of attention. First, be sure that you get your tires rotated every 5000-7000 miles. Since so many cars now have front-wheel drive, front tires wear more quickly than those in the back.

You should also keep an eye on your tire pressure. It’s good practice to check them when you go to get gas. They will naturally lose pressure over time, and since you know their ideal pressure from looking in the manual, you can easily fill them to their ideal PSI at a simple air station. It will only take a couple minutes, and there are plenty of quick videos that will teach you how to do it.

Purchase an Extended Warranty Plan

Do you know how long your current warranty lasts? Do you know exactly what it covers? A great warranty can be your best friend when it comes to vehicle maintenance, but often what comes with your vehicle is not enough. And if you have a used vehicle, it’s likely that you don’t have a warranty at all. When your car does need service, you don’t want to find yourself in trouble. Consider purchasing an extended warranty plan or car service contract for your used car. While it may seem like an upfront expense that isn’t necessary, you’ll be thanking yourself when you do need service.

Find a Trustworthy Mechanic

While you can do a lot of preventative and basic maintenance for your vehicle, accidents and wear and tear happen. In these cases, nothing replaces a trustworthy mechanic. Do your research using Yelp and Google to find a mechanic nearby that has positive reviews. Go to them for simple maintenance so you can judge their prices and honesty on a small scale. When the time comes for more expensive maintenance, you’ll have a location, and hopefully a specific mechanic, that you can rely on to be reasonable and reliable.

Car maintenance doesn’t have to feel like a struggle — in reality, there are many simple aspects to caring for your vehicle that you can easily add to your routine. Maybe you’ll even learn a few new skills in the process! Overall, focus on preventative care that keeps your vehicle in tip-top shape. While you can’t prevent everything, it will make the trips to the mechanic few and far between, and you’ll feel more confident during those visits.