Category Archives: Ways to Save Money

Valentine’s Day Gifts for Singles Under $50

I received product for review purposes for portions of this gift guide. I don’t promote things I’ve had negative experiences with, and all opinions are 100% honest and my own.

Valentine’s Day when you’re single. So. Much. Fun.

Well, it can be fun, all sarcasm aside. My first Valentine’s Day as a single adult was about ten years ago. My friend and I went to Eat’n’Park and got the cookiest cookie sundae ever and complained about the men that had just exited our lives.

Stereotypical?

Yes.

Therapeutic, tho?

Also yes.

Today, I wanted to give you a fun way to celebrate Valentine’s Day: Spend it with your single friends. Whether you’re doing that long-distance or piling into the car to head to Eat’n’Park.

Pick up a gift while you’re at it, since you know they won’t be getting anything from a sweetheart, either. Here are some ideas to get you started–all under $50.

Astrology of Love & Sex Book

Where to get it: UncommonGoods
Price: $20

I know, I know. Sun sign astrology alone is shallow and bullshit. And honestly, I had never heard of Annabel Gat before.

But when I saw reviews from names I had heard of before, like Chris Brennan and Anne Ortelee, I knew I had to at least crack the spine.

Guy, this book is amazing. It goes through all of the sun signs, the way they act in relationships, the way they act in bed–and it does it all while maintaining the dignity of the entire spectrum of human identity and sexuality. It doesn’t tell you anyone is off limits. It doesn’t tell you anyone is your guaranteed soul mate.

It’s fun. It’s gorgeous. And it’s way more in depth than the stuff you’ll find in the horoscope columns.

Zodiac Gift Box

Where to get it: MyDailyMantra on Etsy
Price: $37.99

While we’re on the astrology vibe, be sure to check out these sun-sign based gift boxes! MyDailyMantra puts them together full of amazing bath products like candles, lip balm, bath bombs, soap, body butter and more.

Best part? You get to pick the scent:

  • Warm Vanilla
  • Lavender Sage
  • Birthday Cake
  • Lemon Sugar
  • White Tea
  • Blood Orange
  • Flowers in Bloom
  • Holiday Spice
  • Winter Cabin Nights

Create Your Own Reel Viewer

Where to get it: UncommonGoods
Price: $29.95

Nineties kids rejoice! The nostalgia!

While this old-school reel viewer is a totally adorable gift for your sweetheart, I also happen to think it’s a super V-day gift for you and your single bestie to get all sentimental over.

You get to pick the images, with each click of that black lever taking your recipient on a new trip down memory lane.

Bedside Smartphone Vase

Where to get it: UncommonGoods
Price: $32

These innovative, 21st century vases are simple, beautiful and made by creators in my hometown of Pittsburgh.

I’ve got this one on my nightstand, because single or not, flowers make me happy, dammit. I love that I can set up my phone for easily-accessible display, and the super smart design allows me to run the charging cord beneath the vase up into the bottom of my phone without looking tacky.

Bonus Sister Necklace

Where to get it: BellaAndBlush on Etsy
Price: $33-$37

This necklace is so sugary sweet you won’t even need to pick up a box of chocolates. I have so many women in my life who aren’t blood related, but feel and have acted like my family over the years. I wish I could get every one of them this necklace.

The price is variable because you get to pick the color and whether you want those interlocking rings hammered or smoothed. Here are your options:

  • Silver Smooth
  • Silver Hammered
  • Gold Smooth
  • Gold Hammered
  • Rose Gold Smooth
  • Rose Gold Hammered

Turkish Inspired Hand Woven Travel Jewelry Roll

Where to get it: UncommonGoods
Price: $20

This jewelry roll legit looks like a Turkish rug down to the very last intricate thread. Made even more legit because it’s actually made in Turkey.

Inside, the zippers, snaps and loops make organizing jewelry super easy. No more tangled chains! This is perfect if you know your friend is a traveller or at least headed out on an upcoming trip. Especially after you just gave her that necklace.

Portable Campfire

Where to get it: UncommonGoods
Price: $28

Not all Valentine’s Day gifts have to be about love or flowers.

But you should find a way to tie chocolate in.

This portable campfire is an awesome choice for those who love a good campfire but, like, zoning laws. It’s made from recycled products which are actually better for the environment than burning wood, namely soy wax and paper.

Be sure to package this gift with all the things you’ll need to make s’mores.

Kabob Grilling Baskets

Where to get it: UncommonGoods
Price: $17

Pair with the portable campfire! An easy way to make kabobs without needing to cut down trees for new sticks every time. The basket on these is even deeper and wider than they look in the picture–you can really pack a lot of great veggies and chicken in there!

I Don’t Like You, Valentine Tee

Where to get it: SymbolicImports on Etsy
Price: $18.99

TAKE MY MONEY!

Shopping for Life Insurance the Right Way

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

Life insurance can be confusing. It’s something you only do a couple of times. Because of this, it’s important to know how to do it correctly. Here’s everything you need to know about shopping for life insurance the right way. This not only makes the process easier, but it also helps to cut back on costs.

Work with an independent insurance agent.

There are two types of insurance agents: Those that work for a specific company and those who work independently. As you might be able to imagine, one that works for a specific company will be selling you a product with their company because they want you to choose their company. This is true whether or not the policy is the best choice for your needs.

An independent agent works individually and will give you a lot more options. As long as they’re operating ethically and not based on who offers the highest commission, they aren’t going to persuade you into choosing a specific company. They will help you find what’s best. This will save you money and you will get the best policy too.

Buy life insurance as soon as possible.

Now, life insurance is a big decision, so it shouldn’t be taken lightly. At the same time, you don’t want to wait too long. Life insurance costs increase as you age. Plus, your overall health status has an impact on the cost of your life insurance. As you age, you are more likely to develop a health issue. To save money, it’s a good idea to get life insurance as you can. Ideally, this would be when you’re young and before you develop any health issues.

Get term life insurance.

For the majority of people, term life insurance is the best option. It lasts for a specific term, such as 15 or 20 years. Many people choose to get a term for the amount of time they have kids relying on their income. Once your kids move out, you no longer need life insurance. You could also get a policy for the duration of your mortgage.

Whole life insurance ends up costing more and provides coverage beyond when you actually need it. The term makes a lot more sense for most people.

Take the medical exam.

When you are shopping for life insurance, you will find that most of the options require a medical exam. This shows the insurance company whether it’s risky to insure you. Depending on your health status, your quote may go up or down. You will also see a no exam option. This might sound convenient, but it actually costs you more money.

The insurance company has to guess how big of a risk it is to insure you. Because of this, rates are higher with no exam life insurance. If you have a health issue that would prevent you from getting insurance anyway, then it makes sense to go with no exam life insurance. But many people will benefit from going through with the exam and get a quote.

Life insurance is important for everyone with dependents.

Getting life insurance is an important part of protecting yourself and your family. There are many different life insurance options out there, so it’s a good idea to follow these guidelines. You will get the insurance you need and you will save money too.

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:

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 Hotels.com. 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!