4 Best Coupon Matchup Sites for Groceries – Our Real-World Test

Every time I read a blog about extreme couponing, I’m in awe at the author’s grocery shopping skills. By stacking (combining) coupons with sales, these super-shoppers save over 50% on every product they buy. But when I try to copy their strategies, I just can’t find that many deals — even after hours of cross-checking coupon inserts against my local supermarkets’ sale flyers.

But there are couponing sites that promise to make it easier to save money with stacking deals. Their staff members do the work of matching sales with coupons so you don’t have to. But can these sites really find the kinds of deals you can’t unearth on your own?

To find out, I did a head-to-head test to see which coupon sites could find the best savings on a basket of groceries at local supermarkets. Comparison points included features, accuracy, and ease of use to discover which coupon matchup site is the best of the bunch.

Pro Tip: Before you head to the grocery store, download the Fetch Rewards app. With Fetch Rewards, you can scan your grocery receipts and earn points you can redeem for gift cards to your favorite stores. For more information, see our Fetch Rewards review.

Best Coupon Matchup Sites Test

To be included in the test, sites had to be able to do all of the following:

  • Find Stacking Deals. Each of these sites does one particular thing: match grocery coupons with sales. There are no other sites related to couponing, including coupon-clipping services, price-comparison sites, and printable coupon sites like Coupons.com.
  • Search Multiple Stores. Coupon matchup sites are the most valuable when they can find the best deals across all the supermarkets in a given area. So sites that focus on one particular store, such as I Heart Publix, didn’t make the cut.
  • Include Stores in My Area. I wanted to be able to check out the deals I found personally, comparing them to the store flyers and, if possible, to the prices in the store itself. Since I live in the northeast, I had to rule out the popular Southern Savers, which specifically looks for deals in the southern United States.
  • Are Still in Business. Surprisingly, one of the best-known coupon matchup sites, The Grocery Game, shut down in 2016. However, posts on social media complaining about this site’s disappearance led to the discovery of a couple of other sites that do the same job.

After some fairly extensive searching, four sites met all the criteria. To conduct the test, I visited each site and searched for stacking deals on five items I regularly buy: breakfast cereal, orange juice, canned soup, my favorite conditioner, and oxygen bleach. Note that coupons for fresh foods, such as produce or eggs, are rare.

I checked each site’s deals against my piles of supermarket sale flyers and coupon inserts to ensure they were legitimate. Then I rated each site on a 5-point scale for three factors:

  • How easy it was to search
  • How accurate its deals were
  • How much savings they offered

Finally, I averaged these scores to come up with a total score. So, which coupon matchup site came out on top?

1. CouponMom.com

There’s a lot going on at CouponMom.com. This free site has an extensive database of printable coupons from various sources and multiple tools to search for stacking deals. You can look for grocery, drugstore, state-specific, store-specific, and product-specific deals.

Ease of Use

The landing page for CouponMom.com is pretty cluttered, with moving ads, pointers to specific deals, and search boxes. Amid all this chaos, it’s hard to figure out where to go first. Since I was looking for five particular products, I started with the box labeled “Search Deals,” where you can search for a product by name.

I typed in the first item on my list, cereal, and got a list of dozens of cereal deals at different stores nationwide. But when I started clicking to see details, I found that most of these were cash-back deals from Ibotta. There was no clear way to weed these out and see only deals that required nothing but the store loyalty card and a coupon.

So instead, I went to “grocery deals by state,” selected “New Jersey,” and clicked the deal pages for specific stores in my area. I had to sign in to an account to view those, but setting one up was free and took only a few seconds.

The links for Aldi and Stop & Shop did nothing but display my local stores’ sale flyers. But the page for ShopRite was much better. It presented a list of products with columns for the sale price, how many I’d have to buy, available coupons and rebates, final price, and percentage saved.

The column showing the available manufacturer coupons used a somewhat confusing shorthand. The site provided a key for some of the abbreviations, such as “S” for SmartSource and “RP” for Red Plum, but it didn’t explain others, such as “SV.” On the plus side, CouponMom.com provided direct links to all the printable online coupons it found, which was handy.

I was then able to sort the list using a keyword box at the top. I entered each of the products from my shopping list in turn to see available deals. That part was easy, but it didn’t make up for the inconvenience of only being able to view actual deals for one store.

Ease-of-Use Score: 2 out of 5

Accuracy

When I checked the sale prices CouponMom.com listed against the store circulars, they were mostly correct. But one of the four wasn’t in the flyer. The only way to check its accuracy would be to make a trip to the store, an extra step coupon matchup sites are supposed to help you avoid.

As for the accuracy of the coupons themselves, there was only one to check. It was right in the SmartSource flyer where CouponMom.com said it would be, but getting a single coupon right isn’t much of a test. So this site loses one point on accuracy for giving me so little to work with.

Accuracy Score: 4 out of 5

Value

CouponMom.com could only find deals on one of my five test products (cereal) and only at one store. Moreover, one of the four deals it found wasn’t a stacking deal, just a sale price I could have found on my own by leafing through the store flyer. Two of the others were Ibotta deals, leaving only one that was useful.

That deal was $3.89 each for two family-size (16.9- to 19.1-ounce) boxes of Kellogg’s Special K cereal. Combined with a printable coupon for $1 off two, that yields a purchase price of $3.36. That works out to a unit price between $0.18 and $0.20 per ounce, much more than I typically pay by shopping sales and buying store brands.

To me, that doesn’t look much like extreme couponing. At best, it’s mild to moderate couponing.

Value Score: 1 out of 5

Overall Score: 2.3 out of 5


2. GrocerySmarts.com

Like CouponMom.com, GrocerySmarts.com has two primary features: printable coupons and searchable deals. For some reason, it sorts its coupons into four groups, with different brands in each group. Fortunately, the site helps by providing a list of the latest coupons from the past 10 days or so and telling you where to click to find each one.

Ease of Use

Searching for deals at GrocerySmarts.com was pretty simple. First, I clicked on the drop-down menu at the top of the page and asked to see deals in New Jersey. The site then displayed a second drop-down menu with a list of stores to choose from.

Unfortunately, this list didn’t include any of the supermarkets where I usually shop. The only stores on the list were CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. Also, I had to view deals from each of these stores separately rather than looking at them all on one page. That cost the site 1 point on its ease-of-use rating.

On each store’s page, I used the search feature on my browser to look for the merchandise on my list. But I ran into a snag. It lists some cereals, such as Cheerios, by brand name only and doesn’t include the word “cereal.” I had to scan the whole list to ensure I was seeing all the cereal deals.

GrocerySmarts.com presents its deals for each store in one long list. There’s one column for the product, one for the sale price, one for the applicable coupon (if any), and one for the final price. Instead of showing the savings percentage, GrocerySmarts.com simply rates each deal as 3 stars, 4 stars, extreme, or free.

The list also tells you where to find the coupons you need for a given deal. If there’s a printable coupon, the site includes a link to it. It also shows which goods qualify for Ibotta deals and provides links to those.

If the coupon is in a newspaper insert, the site identifies the insert with an abbreviation similar to the ones used on CouponMom.com and the date. If there’s more than one available coupon for the same product, the site lists it multiple times.

To use the site to create a shopping list for a given store, click the Start button at the top of the page. Click to highlight the specific deals you want, then click on Shrink to hide all the lines you didn’t select. You can click the star at the top to quickly highlight all extreme and free deals. There’s also a field at the bottom to jot notes on your shopping list before printing it.

Ease-of-Use Score: 4 out of 5

Accuracy

Like CouponMom.com, GrocerySmarts.com couldn’t find deals on anything but cereal, and most of them were Ibotta rebates. The only deal that I could use was at CVS. It relied on a SmartSource coupon for $1.25 off three boxes of Life, Cap’n Crunch, or Quaker Oatmeal Squares. This coupon was correctly labeled and identified.

But the site’s description of the sale wasn’t quite accurate. It said the only brand on sale at CVS was Cap’n Crunch at $1.99 a box. But when I checked the CVS sale flyer, I found it applied to Life and Quaker Oatmeal Squares as well.

If I’d simply relied on GrocerySmarts.com for my info, I might have rejected this deal altogether since Cap’n Crunch isn’t a cereal we like.

So even though the sale price, coupon, and math were all accurate, this site loses a point for its inaccurate description. And it loses a second point for giving me so little to go on in the first place.

Accuracy Score: 3 out of 5

Value

I docked GrocerySmarts.com 3 points for value because it could only find deals on one of the five products on my list. Also, because it searches so few stores, the deals it did find weren’t at the stores where I usually shop.

The final cereal price it found was $1.57 per box for three 12.5- to 14-ounce boxes. That works out to between $0.11 and $0.13 per ounce. It’s a better price than CouponMom.com’s but no better than the usual price for the store brand. That cost the site one more point on value, resulting in a weak final score.

Value Score: 1 out of 5

Overall Score: 2.7 out of 5


3. The Krazy Coupon Lady

When you visit The Krazy Coupon Lady (KCL), you see updates on the latest hot deals at all kinds of stores. In addition to supermarkets and drugstores, this site covers department stores, restaurants, specialty stores, and even online deals at Amazon.

KCL provides lots of details about these featured deals, including photos and a couple of paragraphs of text. From the main page, you can also link to coupons and deals sorted by brand or store. Under “Couponing Resources” at the bottom, there are general guides to couponing and guides for specific stores.

Ease of Use

The primary way to search for deals on KCL is by store. You select a specific store from the main page, then click on the weekly coupon deals box (the first available box on the page under the app banner) to see a list of the latest deals from that store. You can then use your browser’s page search feature (control or command plus F) to look for individual products you want.

But weekly deals aren’t available for all stores. For instance, when I clicked on Stop & Shop, the last update was over two months old. The page for Trader Joe’s simply said, “There are currently no active deals.” (Since then, both these stores have disappeared from the site entirely.) And the page for Rite Aid showed one recent deal but no weekly list. I docked the site one point for this.

The weekly deals list includes details about each offer. It shows the sale price and provides links to printable coupons, downloadable store coupons, and Ibotta deals. A few of its deals also include manufacturer coupons from SmartSource, which are marked with the abbreviation “SS.” I couldn’t find any deals using coupons from Red Plum.

The site includes check boxes next to each listed item. You can click these boxes to add a product to your shopping list, but it’s not immediately obvious where that list is stored. I eventually found out you have to click your profile picture in the top right corner to access it.

But there’s a notification on the site saying this feature will soon be available only in the KCL app. That takes a lot of the functionality out of the website, costing it one more point.

Ease-of-Use Score: 3 out of 5

Accuracy

After checking KCL’s pages for all my local stores, I couldn’t find a single deal on any of the products on my grocery list. So to test the site’s accuracy, I simply searched for the “SS” abbreviation and checked the coupons it listed against my SmartSource insert.

Some of the coupons KCL identified were real. It correctly located manufacturer coupons for Eggland’s Best eggs in the May 2 insert and Nivea lotion in the May 16 insert. But it also cited two other coupons in the May 16 insert that I couldn’t find.

In short, KCL got only two out of four manufacturer coupons right, for an accuracy rate of just 50%. But when I checked some of its links to digital store coupons on the ShopRite site, they were all accurate. That bumped its score up from 2.5 points to 3.

Accuracy Score: 3 out of 5

Value

This one was an easy call. KCL didn’t find me a single deal I could use — not even those other sites identified. That makes it a dead loss as far as value is concerned, so it earned no points.

Value Score: 0 out of 5

Overall Score: 2 out of 5


4. Living Rich With Coupons

Like KCL, Living Rich With Coupons (LRWC) displays a long list of recent deals on its main page. It includes offers from a wide variety of stores, including supermarkets, department stores, and online retailers. There are links at the top of the page for categories including coupons, online deals, and stores.

Ease of Use

This site allows you to search for deals in several ways. If you click the Filter by State drop-down on the landing page and select the name of your state, LRWC filters its long list of deals to include only those available in your area. But this option is only available for nine states: California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.

Alternatively, you can also click on Stores in the main navigation and select a store to see a list of that store’s weekly sale prices, including coupons you can stack with them. The site has deals for national big-box stores Target and Walmart, warehouse stores Costco and BJ’s, dollar stores, drugstores, and regional grocery chains like ShopRite and Kroger.

To find deals on a specific product, such as cereal, you can click on the site’s Grocery Price Comparison Tool and enter the product name in the search box. The site pulls up a list of all the stores that have deals on that item, and you click on the names of the stores you want to search.

LRWC then presents you with a list of all the stacking deals on that product sorted by the stores you selected. For every sale, it includes a lengthy list of all possible coupons that could stack with it. The site provides direct links to printable online coupons. For coupons inserts, it lists the flyer, the date, and the coupon’s expiration date, a handy feature most coupon sites don’t have.

But I noticed one odd quirk in LRWC’s list. It didn’t provide the actual sale prices for every store in its list. For instance, it said CVS had a BOGO (buy-one, get-one-free) deal on raisin bran, but it didn’t say what the regular price was.

Even when it did list the sale price, LRWC didn’t always crunch the numbers to tell you what the purchase price was after stacking the sale with a coupon. These problems cost the site 1 point for ease of use.

When you click an item in the Grocery Price Comparison Tool, the site adds it to your saved shopping list, shown on the right side of the screen. Clicking the print or email icon pulls the list up in a separate window. For each deal on the list, LRWC shows the store, the product, the sale price, how many you must buy to get that price, and all possible coupons to pair with the sale.

You can edit the list before printing or emailing it to yourself. You can remove items you don’t want to see, such as coupons you don’t intend to use, or change the quantity of a product you want to buy. You can also manually add goods you didn’t find deals on, with or without custom notes.

Ease-of-Use Score: 4 out of 5

Accuracy

LRWC found deals for all five of the products on my shopping list. Its best cereal deal was from Stop & Shop: Kellogg’s cereals for $1.50 per box, which could stack with any of nine different coupons.

However, there was a problem with the deal. According to the Stop & Shop sale flyer, the price was only good for three days, Friday through Sunday. By the time I ran my test, it had already expired. LRWC neglected to mention that detail, costing it one point for accuracy.

LWRC also listed sales on Kellogg’s cereal at several other stores. But for some reason, it didn’t match them with the same list of coupons it had found for Stop & Shop, even though they would clearly work. This oversight cost it one more point.

In a few cases, LWRC found deals I couldn’t verify. Some were allegedly “unadvertised” sales, so I had no way of checking them without going to the store. I didn’t add or take off points for these.

However, other deals were clearly wrong. For instance, LWRC claimed ShopRite was selling Campbell’s Slow Kettle Soups for $1.99, but that price was not in the sale flyer. That could have been the regular price, but LWRC also paired it with a digital store coupon I couldn’t find on the store site. That cost it another point.

All the other sale prices LRWC found seemed to be accurate. But while checking them, I noticed there were other deals it missed. For instance, it said I could buy Florida’s Natural orange juice for $2.99 at ShopRite, then add a coupon for $0.98 off two to bring the price down to $2.50. But it didn’t notice the same store had larger cartons of Minute Maid OJ for just $1.88.

Also, in some cases, LRWC’s math was wrong. For instance, it said a sale of $1.88 per box on Quaker cereals paired with a coupon for $1.25 off three boxes would yield a purchase price “as low as $1.55 each.” In fact, the purchase price with this coupon is $1.46 per box. I knocked off one more point for this.

As for the coupons, all the printable ones I checked seemed to work. The one coupon that came from SmartSource was also accurate. A few were from a flyer labeled only as “Save,” an abbreviation I couldn’t identify, so I don’t know whether these coupons were accurate or not.

Accuracy Score: 1 out of 5

Value

Of all the sites I tested, LRWC was the only one to find deals for all the items on my list. Unfortunately, not all the deals it found were legit, and it missed some that were.

For instance, if LRWC had paired the $1.88-per-box sale on cereal at Walgreens with the $1-off-two coupon it found at Stop & Shop, it could have given me a purchase price of $1.38 per box. Since the sale covered boxes up to 13.7 ounces, that would have come to a great price of around $0.10 per ounce. But LRWC missed that deal, so it gets no credit for it.

The prices it actually found were:

  • Cereal: $1.46 per 11.5- to 14.5-ounce box ($0.10 to $0.13 per ounce)
  • Orange Juice: $2.50 per 52-ounce carton ($0.05 per ounce); missed a better deal of $1.88 for 59 ounces ($0.03 per ounce)
  • Oxygen Bleach: $4.99 for a 48-ounce container ($0.10 per ounce)

Out of the five sites I tested, LWRC found me the best price on cereal. Its price for oxygen bleach is also pretty good. However, its OJ deal is lackluster, and it missed a better one I could have found just by checking the sale flyer.

Value Score: 3 out of 5

Overall Score: 2.7 out of 5


Final Word

Of the four sites tested, GrocerySmarts.com and Living Rich With Coupons tied for the best overall score. Both were easy to use, but GrocerySmarts.com was more accurate, while LWRC found better deals overall.

But neither of these sites was the perfect coupon-stacking resource I was hoping to find. In most cases, the stacking deals they uncovered were no better than the prices I usually get on my own without coupons.

Of course, what works for me isn’t necessarily what will work for you. If your local stores have better sales than mine or if you regularly buy more products you can find coupons for, these coupon sites could save you some significant money. Just double-check all the deals you find to make sure they’re legit.

Speaking for myself, I think I’ll stick to other methods for saving money on groceries. Between my grocery price book, store loyalty cards, and buying store brands (especially at discount stores like Aldi), I think I can find prices good enough to give the extreme couponers a run for their money.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Does homeowners insurance cover water damage? It Depends

This is one of the first questions homeowners ask — or should ask — when they are shopping for insurance for their home:

“Does homeowners insurance cover water damage?”

The answer they are given is “it depends,” and such is the way with understanding what homeowners insurance covers and what it does not. Read this story to learn what insurance protects in general.

You pay for homeowners insurance because you must in order to get a mortgage, and you hope you never need to use it. But a variety of ills — natural or human made — can put you in a position to make a claim of loss or damage to property. You hope the coverage you have paid for all of these years will extend to the situation you are dealing with, but you just never know.

Again, It depends.

Below, you can find what to do when you need to contact your insurance company because you have suffered property loss or your home is damaged. Then you will find out what to do when your claim is denied.

But, first, let’s look at all the ways your home can be damaged by water, and the chances that your homeowners insurance will cover your loss in that event.

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Water Damage?

The answer to the question “does homeowners insurance cover water damage?” is multileveled, just as the water damage might be.

In general, water damage caused by accident or mechanical failure of an appliance (washing machine, dishwasher, water heater, etc.) is going to be covered by standard policies. The same is true of a toilet that suffers a sudden leak.

But, if the water damage is a result of poor maintenance, such as broken pipes, mold or rotting pipes or water lines, the claim is likely to be denied.

Coverage for water damage is separated into dwelling damage and personal property damage, What is not covered is replacement of the appliance or machinery that caused the water damage. If your dishwasher develops a sudden leak which causes damage to your home, the structural damage and personal property damage likely will be covered but the cost of replacing the dishwasher will not.

If your home suffers water damage from a backed-up sewer or drain, traditional homeowners insurance doesn’t cover such occurrences. Many companies offer water backup coverage, however.

Flood damage is rarely covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy. Flood insurance policies are available thanks to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) , but it is pricey.

According to the National Flood Insurance Program, the average cost of flood insurance for 2021 is $958 annually. That comes out to about $80 a month. 

If you wonder “does homeowners insurance cover water damage?” check with your agent to determine just what is covered and what is not, and whether you need to consider extended water damage coverage due to current climate conditions or the age of your home.

Making a Claim with Insurance Company

If you have not yet been in a position to make a claim against your homeowner’s policy but know someone who has been denied and you worry about your own policy’s virtues, take time to consider your choices in company and coverage.

What follows is a simplified representation of what is involved in making a homeowners insurance claim for water damage, including the possibility of having your claim denied and what to do in that event.

Step One: Your Home or Property Suffers Water Damage

When your home suffers water damage, you need to determine the actual extent of damage, and if you can, how the damage was caused.

Then contact your insurance company to determine if the damage is covered by your policy. This response to this question is not cut and dried, but it is the starting point for recovering some of your losses.

Step Two: Take an Inventory of What Was Damaged

Take photos or video of water-damaged possessions, structure or property (actually, it would be wise to take a video of your pre-disastered home right now, so you can refer to post-disaster).

Attempt to determine the value of individual items that need to be replaced, and find receipts if you have them (which is actually easier these days since most purchases occur with some form of electronic transaction). If the damage is structural, that will create a need for damage assessment and estimates, but that will occur after the insurance company has agreed to pay up.

Step Three:  Meet with the Adjuster

The insurance company will assign you an adjuster, who will eventually come to your home and assess the damage.

Do not assume this person is out to prevent you from covering your damages, but remember that the adjuster is protecting the interests of the insurance company to prevent fraudulent claims.

The adjuster will require a list of lost or damaged items with an estimated value of those items, and will assess structural or property damage that will require estimates to determine repair costs. Putting together a list of the valuable contents of your home is another thing to do before disaster strikes.

How much homeowners insurance do you need? Our insurance checklist will guide you to make the right decision. 

Step Four: Get the Verdict

The adjuster will eventually call you with a detailed list of what the company is going to cover, the amount it will give you for your lost or damaged items, and what structural damage the company will pay to be repaired. You may or may not like the dollar figures the adjuster offers.

You may also be surprised to hear that the insurance company can deny your claim, in part or in whole. This is where the insurance company is covering its assets: it will present in written form why it is denying your coverage claim. This letter should provide a complete and specific explanation why your policy does not cover the losses you claim.

If your policy explicitly states certain items or losses are exempt from your coverage, that is the end of the conversation. However, if you believe your policy should cover the damage you suffered, speak to the agent who sold you the policy, if possible, or ask to have an in-person conversation with the adjuster to discuss the situation.

Proving that your policy should cover your losses will not be easy. However, if you have a different interpretation of the language in your policy than what the adjuster suggests, or you have notes from your original conversation with your agent at the time you bought the policy, you can go on to the next step.

What’s God Got to Do With It?

Most standard homeowners insurance policies include an Act of God provision. From an insurance standpoint, an Act of God is damage that occurs as a result of natural causes with no human component, something that could not have been prevented by proper care or maintenance.

Earthquakes or floods are often considered an Act of God. Wildfires may also be considered an Act of God if started by lightning rather than humans (campfire gone bad, tossed cigarette and more).

Homeowner’s insurance policies spell out which Acts of God are covered. For instance, floods are Acts of God, although homeowners in flood plains or near coasts or lakefronts can purchase flood insurance at an additional cost.

Often, standard homeowners insurance policies do cover damage from high winds from natural events like hurricanes and tornadoes. If this is a possible factor in your claim, determine what your policy covers before going onto the next extensive and expensive step.

The increased occurrence of wildfires in the Pacific Northwest has made fire protection a must for homeowners in that area. But different companies provide different levels of coverage and full coverage can be expensive.

How to Fight a Denied Claim

You feel your insurance company is not fulfilling its legal promise to cover the cost of water damage to your home. You have documentation of your losses, a detailed description of the event that caused your damage (malfunctioning appliances or plumbing mishap), and you are in a position where it will behoove you financially to argue your case.

Pro Tip

In most cases, there is a limited time frame in which a denied insurance claim can be appealed, and the time frame begins from the moment you are notified of the denied claim.

Your homeowner’s insurance policy includes language stating how to appeal a denied claim. Getting involved in a battle with your insurance company may seem like a lost cause, but often, insurance companies can be convinced to adjust their decision to your benefit.

You might want to consider improving your chances by consulting a property insurance claims professional. These are licensed public insurance adjusters who can assess your claim from an objective viewpoint and will negotiate with our insurance company for you. Deciding on whether to hire a professional outside adjuster will be based on the cost of his or her service versus the amount of money you hope to recover.

The last step to recover funds would be to sue your insurance carrier, which would require hiring an attorney who specializes in property insurance claims. Get references and verifiable information on previous claims regarding water damage that were settled to the homeowner’s benefit.

Here’s hoping this helps and that you never need it.

Kent McDill is a veteran journalist who has specialized in personal finance topics since 2013. He is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

10 Ways to Save Money on School Uniforms for Kids

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 1 in 5 public schools required students to wear uniforms as of the 2017-18 school year. These can be anything from identical outfits marked with the school’s name or logo to a basic color scheme, such as plain white shirts and tan pants.

According to 2011 research from the University of Nevada, Reno College of Education, a school uniform policy can have many benefits for students. It can make it easier to get ready for school, boost self-esteem, reduce bullying, and improve classroom discipline. But it has one big downside for parents: the cost. According to CostHelper, a school wardrobe of four or five uniforms can cost anywhere from $100 to $2,000.

One reason uniforms often cost more than regular clothes is that parents have less choice about where to buy them. If you can only get your kids’ school wardrobes from the official school store, you must pay whatever that store charges. However, you can get around this problem with the right shopping strategies. The first tip to try: shopping secondhand.

Ways to Save With Secondhand School Uniforms

Clothes are one thing it nearly always pays to buy secondhand if you can. With school uniforms, that’s doubly true.

Since young children grow so fast, their outgrown uniforms can still have lots of life left in them. Naturally, these previously worn uniforms don’t look brand-new, but neither do most school clothes after a few weeks of wear. Secondhand school uniforms cost much less than new ones, and in some cases, they’re free.

1. Try Uniform Swaps

If you have two children attending the same school, the younger kid can wear the older one’s hand-me-downs. But if you have only one child or your kids go to different schools, you can end up with clothes in good condition and no one to hand them down to.

A uniform swap is a way to expand your hand-me-down family. By pooling resources with other parents, you can pass on your child’s outgrown uniforms to younger students at your school and receive uniforms from older students in turn.

Some schools hold official uniform exchanges. For example, at St. Catharine School in Ohio, you can trade in gently used school uniforms for larger sizes or pick up other people’s trade-ins at significantly reduced prices. Other schools, like St. Stephen’s Academy in Oregon, give parents points for their trade-ins, which they can use for purchases or donate.

If your child’s school doesn’t have an official uniform exchange, hold a clothing swap party of your own. Invite other parents over, lay out all your outgrown uniform items, and see who can use them.

If you don’t have the space to meet and exchange clothes in person, start a social media group where parents can post photos and descriptions of their kids’ outgrown clothes. When you find someone who has the size your child needs or needs the size you have to give, you can contact each other to arrange a pickup.

2. Shop at Thrift Stores

If you live in or near a large city with a large student population, there’s a good chance you can find outgrown school uniforms at local thrift stores. Check the stores closest to your child’s school to maximize your chances of finding them.

Even in smaller cities and towns, thrift stores are an excellent place to look for basic pieces that are often part of a school uniform. Dress shirts, solid-color polo shirts, and chino pants are likely to show up on their racks. You can’t count on finding the pieces you need in your child’s size, but if you do, they’ll be significantly cheaper than new clothes.

To find thrift stores in your area, do an Internet search on “thrift stores” or “thrift shops” with your town’s name or zip code. Also, check the websites of the largest store chains — such as Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Value Village — to find their nearest locations.

3. Find Sellers Online

If you can’t find suitable secondhand clothes for your child’s uniform at local stores, try looking online. Start consulting your local Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace groups in early July, and look for new listings every other day or so. That gives you roughly two months to find all the pieces you need to build a complete school wardrobe for your child. Just be sure to contact sellers quickly when you find something you need so someone doesn’t beat you to it.

Another reliable source for secondhand uniforms online is eBay. You can create saved searches for each specific garment your child needs, such as “navy shorts size 8,” and receive daily emails of all new listings for your saved search. You can pick up pieces one at a time or — if you’re lucky — find a lot of uniform clothing all in the same size.


Ways to Save on New School Uniforms

The biggest downside of secondhand shopping is that you can’t be sure of finding what you need. If the start of the school year is approaching and you still don’t have a complete school wardrobe for your child, don’t panic. There are ways to buy new uniform-appropriate clothes and still keep costs down.

4. Buy the Minimum

For starters, don’t buy more of any component than you really need. Your child may need a clean shirt for school every day, but kids can usually get away with wearing the same skirt, pants, or sweater several days in a row. Jackets and ties can go even longer between cleanings.

How many pieces your child needs depends on how often you intend to do laundry. Mothers discussing their kids’ school wardrobes on Mumsnet generally say they include:

  • Five to 10 shirts
  • Two to five sweaters
  • Two to five skirts or pairs of pants or shorts

On top of that, you can add one or two school blazers and one or two dresses or jumpers if your uniform includes these pieces. And your child also needs at least one pair of school shoes and enough socks and underwear to last the week.

If you shop smart, you can put together this minimalist kids’ wardrobe for less than the $240 average parents reported spending on back-to-school clothes in a 2019 National Retail Federation survey. CostHelper says it’s possible to find pants and skirts for as little as $5 each, tops for as little as $3, and shoes starting at $15. That’s less than $100 for the whole wardrobe.

5. Visit Cheaper Stores

If your school’s uniform consists of basics like solid-color tops and pants, there’s no need to buy them at the official school store. Many major retail chains sell uniform-appropriate clothes for kids at quite reasonable prices. In fact, several retailers offer lines of kids’ clothes designed explicitly for this purpose, such as:

6. Shop Online

If stores in your area don’t carry the school uniform pieces you need at prices you like, try shopping online. Some online retailers specialize in school uniforms, and others have sections devoted to them. Good places to shop online include:

  • Amazon. The e-tail giant has an entire section called The School Uniform Shop. It provides links to uniform-appropriate garments from many popular brands, including Nautica, Izod, and Dockers. Alternatively, you can search for “school uniforms” to find apparel for girls and boys. Check out these Amazon savings tips for more ways to save.
  • French Toast. Online retailer French Toast deals in school uniforms for all ages, which you can search by school or gender. The site also offers two- and three-packs of identical shirts or pants for a discounted price per piece.
  • Lands’ End. The school uniform shop at Lands’ End offers sturdy clothing in all sizes, from toddler to adult. Clothes are covered by the brand’s unconditional lifetime guarantee. There’s even a selection of adaptive garments for kids with disabilities. This apparel combines easy-to-use magnetic closures with decorative buttons for a uniform look.
  • Lee Uniforms. For teens and young adults, the Lee Uniforms store on Amazon offers school- and work-friendly pieces. The selection is limited, but the prices are excellent.
  • SchoolUniforms.com. As its name implies, SchoolUniforms.com specializes in uniform basics, from blazers to plaid pleated skirts. Garments come in a range of sizes to fit children ages 3 and up, including plus sizes.

When shopping for uniforms online, you can save still more by using a mobile coupon app like Rakuten or Ibotta. If you prefer to shop from a computer, install a money-saving browser extension like Capital One Shopping to help you find great prices and available coupon codes.

Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the browser extension using the links provided.

7. Wait for Sales

If your school has an official uniform store, call that store and see when it plans to offer discounts or promotions. In many cases, uniforms go on sale in October, after most parents have already bought their kids’ clothes for the year. You can save money on school uniforms by buying just enough pieces to get through September and waiting until October to stock up.

If the school uniform is a generic outfit available from many stores, keep an eye out for sales at all the stores in your area. Consider signing up for emails from your favorite local stores to let you know when uniform clothing goes on sale. Sometimes, these emails also provide coupons, which can boost your savings still more.

Timing your purchases can help at department stores too. Clothes often go on sale at the end of the season — for example, summer clothes in September or winter coats in March. If you plan ahead, you can save by buying school uniforms for next year during these end-of-season sales.

If you’re unsure when and where school uniforms are most likely to go on sale in your area, create a Google Alert for the term “school uniform sale” with your location or zip code. Whenever a new sale pops up, you’ll receive an email about it. You can also use the term “school uniform clearance” to learn about end-of-season clearance sales.

8. Check Out Clearance

Even when a department store isn’t having a sale, there’s usually a clearance rack you can check for marked-down clothing. Since school uniforms tend to be plain clothes without a lot of eye appeal, there are often at least a few pieces that don’t sell and end up on the clearance rack.

For example, the frugal-living bloggers at Life Your Way and Joyfully Thriving both report finding uniform pieces for less than $5 on the clearance racks at stores like Gap and Macy’s.

9. Buy Bigger Sizes

If your child is still growing, there’s a good chance the uniforms you buy now won’t fit by the end of the year. However, you can make them last as long as possible by sizing up.

Choosing clothes with an extra inch to spare in the legs and sleeves gives your kid room to grow into them. Some uniform pants and skirts come with adjustable waistbands, so they’ll accommodate your child’s growth in width as well as height.

And if you find a great price on a particular piece your child needs, you can buy next year’s sizes now. Assuming they plan to attend the same school for the foreseeable future, you know they’ll need the same uniform next year, so buying multiple sizes at once lets you get them all at the best possible price.

10. Buy to Last

If your child has stopped growing but still has a few more years of school to go, you can save money by choosing quality clothing that will last. These well-made pieces may cost more upfront than cheaper brands, but they pay off in the long run. A $50 blazer that wears out after one year costs $50 per year, but a $100 blazer that lasts for four years costs only $25 per year.

For example, clothes from Lands’ End come with a lifetime guarantee. If they don’t last your child until graduation (or they outgrow them), you can return them for a full refund. Clothing from Dickies, available at Walmart, is also guaranteed for its “expected life,” though they don’t define the term. Clothes from Target’s Cat & Jack line come with a one-year guarantee.

Another way to make school uniforms last as long as possible is to choose the darkest colors allowed. On light-colored clothes, minor spots or stains show up more vividly, making them unfit for school wear. Darker-colored clothing, such as maroon, navy, or forest green, hides these minor flaws.


Final Word

Saving on school uniforms doesn’t end when you’ve made your purchases for the year. If your kid’s uniforms become unwearable due to rips, stains, or lost buttons, you’ll have to replace them in a hurry — possibly at full price. To avoid this problem, handle school uniforms with care to make them last as long as possible.

Always follow the washing instructions and line dry or dry flat when possible to avoid wear and tear from the dryer. Treat stains promptly, repair rips, and replace buttons.

If your sewing skills are up to it, you can even get another year or two of life out of garments by letting down the cuffs or adjusting the waistband to fit your child’s larger size. Following all these steps reduces waste, so you can also pat yourself on the back for being green.

One final tip: Label all your kids’ school clothing with their names. When all the students in a school wear the same outfit, it’s easy for them to grab someone else’s sweater or jacket by mistake. Sewing in a name tag or writing on the care tag with a permanent marker increases the chances misplaced clothes will find their way home again.

Source: moneycrashers.com

How to Have a Baby Shower on a Budget

It’s an honor to be asked to throw a friend or family member a baby shower. But along with that honor, often comes a hefty price tag. Between the food, flowers, decor, and favors, the cost of these soirees can add up quickly.

Fortunately, you don’t need to spend a fortune to throw a fun and memorable celebration for soon-to-be parents and their loved ones. From scoring a cheap (or free) venue to DIYing the centerpieces, there are a number of ways to cut baby shower costs without looking like you cut any corners.

Tips for Throwing a Great Baby Shower on a Budget

These inexpensive baby shower ideas can help you throw a memorable celebration for a mom-to-be and help her become better financially prepared for a baby.

Coming up with a Baby Shower Budget

Before you begin the planning process, it can help to determine the total you can spend on the event and then create a budget. You may also want to find out if family members from either side are willing to chip in financially or by offering to help make something for the party. When setting up your baby shower budget, you’ll likely want to include: the venue, invitations, decorations, food and drinks, entertainment and/or games, prizes and party favors.

Finding a Free (or Low-Cost) Venue

A baby shower doesn’t have to be at a fancy restaurant, hotel, or banquet hall to be festive. It could take place at your, or someone else’s, home. If you’re hosting a baby shower in warm weather. You might consider having it outdoors, such as in your backyard. You could even host a more casual shower with an outdoor barbeque or even a poolside party.

Other low-cost locales options include: a nearby park, the clubhouse of your (or someone else’s) apartment complex, or the meeting room at someone’s place of business.

Limiting the Baby Shower Guest List

Generally, the more people you invite to the shower, the more money you will spend. To keep costs in check, you may want to consider limiting the invite list to the parent-to-be’s closest family and friends. A smaller group not only cuts down on costs, but can also help to create a more intimate gathering that allows the guest of honor to spend time with each guest. It can be a good idea, however, to run the invite list by the expectant mom to be sure that you don’t exclude any important people.

Going Digital With Invitations

You can save money on baby shower invitations by using a digital service, such as Evite, MyPunchbowl, or Paperless Post. These sites and apps typically allow you to choose from a range of free baby shower invitation templates or, for a small fee, upgrade to a more elaborate design. These sites also make it easy to keep track of responses. And, guests will likely appreciate the ability to RSVP with the click of a button. You may, however, want to send paper invites to older guests, particularly if they don’t use an email address often.

Ditching the Caterer

Feeding guests typically takes up the biggest portion of a baby shower budget. One way to help keep the cost of food down is to forgo the caterer and head to your local warehouse club (like Costco or Sam’s Club). You’ll likely be able to create a delicious spread of appetizers, finger foods, and desserts for a lot less than ordering trays from a catering company or restaurant.

Timing it Right

You can also cut down on food costs by not holding the shower right at lunch or dinner time. That way, guests won’t arrive expecting a full meal, and you’ll be able to serve a lighter menu that includes simple appetizers and snacks. A late-morning party can be particularly wallet-friendly–you might simply offer coffee, juice, fruit, and pastries. Or, you might opt for an afternoon tea and serve sweets and finger sandwiches.

Keeping the Cake Simple

A gourmet bakery cake can look beautiful, but it could easily bust your budget. According to CostHelper , an average bakery cake runs around $3 to $4 a slice. To cut costs without sacrificing on taste, you might consider ordering a cake at your local grocery store’s bakery or the bakery at a wholesale club, then having it personalized (which the store will often do free of charge).

DIYing Centerpieces

Fresh flowers look lovely, but they can get expensive if you order arrangements from a professional florist. Instead, you may want to head to your local farmers market, grocery store, or warehouse club to find flowers at reasonable prices that fit your color scheme, then make your own centerpieces. A simple way to get great results is to use flowers in the same color family (like shades of pink or all white). You can pick up vases at the dollar store, or go with Mason jars, which look trendy and can be used for other purposes after the shower is over.

Printing Decor and Games for Free

Instead of racking up a big bill at the party store, you may want to comb the web for free baby shower printables. You can likely find food signs, games (like baby shower bingo), decorations, and favor tags that you can simply print right from your computer.

Making Edible Favors

Sweets can make great baby shower favors, and you can easily bake them yourself without spending a lot. You may also find that there is a family member who would be delighted to take on this task. Edible favors can be as simple as iced sugar cookies (in your color scheme) or as elaborate as cake pops that look like baby rattles.

Considering a Virtual Baby Shower

If the guest of honor’s family and friends are spread out all over the country, having a virtual baby shower is one way to include everyone that’s important, and also keep costs down. You can set a celebratory mood by choosing a Zoom background that fits the theme of your shower, and also include a link so guests can download the background as well. Friends and family can watch the mom-to-be open gifts that were sent to her ahead of time. You can also organize games throughout the virtual baby shower and create a digital guest book that attendees can sign and share their words of wisdom for the expecting parents.

The Takeaway

You can plan a memorable baby shower even on a limited budget. And, spending less doesn’t mean the event will be any less special.

Some easy ways to trim the cost of having a baby shower include: hosting the shower in your home or backyard, heading to your local warehouse club (for food, flowers, and even the cake), using free printables for decor and games, and giving homemade sweets as favors.

You can also make a baby shower more affordable by setting a budget and saving up enough money to cover it in advance (so you don’t end up relying on credit cards).

Looking for a good place to build your party fund? A SoFi Money® cash management account can be a good option. With SoFi Money’s “vaults” feature, you can separate your savings from your spending while earning competitive interest on all of your money. You can even set up separate vaults for separate savings goals.

Start saving for your next milestone celebration with SoFi Money.

Photo credit: iStock/vejaa


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Source: sofi.com

8 Ways to Save Money on a Bathroom Remodel or Renovation

Remodeling a bathroom is one of the costliest home improvement projects. According to HomeAdvisor, the average bathroom remodel costs around $10,911 as of April 2020. A high-end remodel for a large or master bathroom could run you $25,000 or more.

But if those numbers are too much for your budget, that doesn’t mean you have to live with your dingy, dated bathroom forever. There are ways to refresh a bathroom for considerably less. According to This Old House, homeowners have redone their bathrooms for $6,000, $4,000, $2,000, and even less than $1,000.

I also know from personal experience it’s possible to renovate a bathroom on a budget. In 2011, my husband and I redid our guest bath for less than $900, including a new sink, toilet, vanity, faucets, light fixtures, floor tiles, paint, and accessories. With a bit of ingenuity and effort, other homeowners can do the same.

Ways to Save on a Bathroom Remodel

Our budget bath remodel and those featured on sites like This Old House and Apartment Therapy all have one thing in common: The homeowners looked for ways to save money anywhere they could. We didn’t necessarily use the same techniques, but we all relied on numerous money-saving strategies to get the job done for less.

The tips that helped us and other homeowners save money on our bathroom renovations fall into several major categories.

1. Plan Ahead

During any remodeling project, one of the costliest things you can do is change your plans halfway through. At best, it delays the project while you return materials and buy new ones. At worst, it requires you to pay contractors to redo work they’ve already done.

Sometimes, in-progress changes are unavoidable, such as when you cut into a wall and discover a leak. But in most cases, you can avoid them by thinking things through carefully before anyone picks up a tool. It’s much cheaper to know in advance you don’t want the toilet to be the first thing guests see when they open the door than figure it out once you’ve already installed it.

That’s why the first step in any bathroom remodel is planning. Before you buy anything or hire anyone, think about what you want from your new bathroom. What is it about the room that doesn’t work for you now, and how can you fix it? List everything you want your remodeled bath to have, and then sort that list into must-haves and nice-to-haves.

Take your time figuring out your wants and needs. If you can’t figure out the best way to accomplish all your goals, you can hire a bathroom designer for a consultation. According to Hunker, this service typically costs $200 to $400, and it can help you avoid mistakes that cost money to fix later.

In addition to thinking about the layout, spend time comparing options for visual elements like tile, plumbing fixtures, and light fixtures. That way, when you’re finally ready to get started, you know exactly where to shop to find what you want at the best price. Buying in a hurry often means paying extra or settling for something that isn’t ideal.

2. Keep the Footprint Unchanged

One of the best ways to save on a bathroom remodel is not to remodel at all. People often use the terms bathroom remodeling and bathroom renovation interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing.

A remodeling job involves making significant changes to the room’s footprint, or its size, shape, and structure. It can include making changes to any or all of these:

  • The room’s foundation
  • Walls, especially load-bearing walls
  • Plumbing lines
  • Locations of plumbing fixtures, such as the sink and toilet
  • Electrical wiring

Renovation means freshening up the bathroom’s look — tile, wall color, flooring, lighting — while leaving its basic layout unchanged.

Changing the footprint adds time and labor costs to the project. It also usually involves getting building permits, which are a significant expense. The cheapest bathroom redos are usually renovations rather than full remodels.

There are lots of ways to change the look of a bathroom without changing the footprint. You can change the fixtures, walls, flooring, lighting, and accessories without moving anything. You can even make a small bathroom feel larger by adding a lighter paint color, a clear glass shower door, or a skylight to let in more natural light.

If you absolutely have to add square footage to your bathroom or change the arrangement of fixtures, keep the changes to a minimum. That way, you limit the number of labor hours you need from expensive contractors like plumbers.

3. Do the Work Yourself

According to HomeAdvisor, roughly half the cost of bathroom remodeling is labor costs. Homeowners spend an average of $65 per hour paying contractors, including carpenters, plumbers, electricians, drywallers, and floor tilers. Thus, the more of your bathroom remodel you can DIY instead of hiring a contractor, the more you can save.

But DIY is only a money-saver if you have the necessary skills. Some jobs, like moving plumbing lines, are best left to the pros. If you try to do them yourself with no training beyond a five-minute YouTube video, you could cause a flood. The damage that does will cost a lot more than hiring a plumber in the first place.

However, most homeowners can handle at least some of the jobs in a bathroom renovation. Depending on your skill level, you could tackle jobs like:

  • Demolition (pulling out old wallboard, flooring, and cabinetry)
  • Painting
  • Tiling
  • Replacing faucets and showerheads
  • Adding accessories like towel racks
  • Installing bathroom lights
  • Installing new plumbing fixtures

Homeowners with a little DIY experience can take on more ambitious DIY projects. For instance, when we couldn’t find a stock vanity cabinet we liked, my husband built one from plywood and beadboard.

A Texas homeowner profiled by This Old House made almost all the materials for his powder room renovation. He poured his own concrete countertops, built new doors and drawer fronts for the vanity, and even welded a new frame for the mirror. Another couple in Missouri built their own cabinetry, made custom light fixtures, and enameled an old bathtub.

4. Reuse Existing Pieces

Doing the work yourself is the primary way to save on labor costs. But when it comes to materials, there are lots of different ways to save. One of the most effective is to refurbish the pieces you already have rather than buying new ones.

With a little work, you can change the look of nearly any piece in a bathroom, such as:

  • Bathtubs. One homeowner was able to salvage an old, rust-stained tub by having it cleaned professionally. You can also fix surface damage to porcelain, cast iron, and fiberglass tubs by refinishing them. A DIY tub refinishing kit costs around $80.
  • Shower Enclosures. A tiled shower enclosure can look like new if you clean both tile and grout thoroughly. The grout may also need some patching in worn areas. To give it a fresher look, you can stain white grout a darker color. If you have acrylic or fiberglass shower walls, you can patch dented or cracked spots. A repair kit costs under $20.
  • Sinks. You can dramatically change the look of a sink by replacing the faucet. If the porcelain is cracked, you can repair it with either a porcelain repair kit or a two-part surface repair epoxy. Both cost less than $15.
  • Toilets. Rather than paying $100 or more for a new toilet, give yours a new look by replacing the toilet seat and lid for $30 or less. To add a touch of elegance, opt for a wooden toilet seat or soft-close model that doesn’t slam shut.
  • Cabinetry. You can save hundreds of dollars on cabinets by painting or refinishing the pieces you already have. If the doors are too damaged, replace them while keeping the cabinet boxes. According to HomeAdvisor, that typically costs $30 to $100 per door, not counting labor.
  • Floors. Like shower enclosures, you can refurbish tile floors by cleaning them thoroughly and replacing or staining the grout. If you have wood floors, you can have them professionally refinished for $3 to $8 per square foot, according to HomeAdvisor.
  • Walls. The cheapest way to change the look of your walls is to repaint them in a different color. If you have tile walls you don’t like, you can install new wood panels or beadboard wainscotting over the tile. At around $20 per beadboard panel, that’s cheaper than tearing it out and replacing it, and it lets you switch back to tile later if you want.

5. Use Paint Creatively

Just changing the paint color in your bathroom can make a surprisingly significant difference to its overall look. But you can do a lot more with paint than just roll it over a wall. Creative homeowners have used it for:

  • Textured Effects. You can give a wall a textured look by using two different colors. Start by giving the whole wall a base coat in one color. Then use a textured tool, such as a sponge, rag, or comb, to apply the second coat. We used a sponging-off technique in our bathroom to create a look similar to stucco.
  • Faux Wallpaper. Paint can give you the look of wallpaper with less money and effort. For instance, you can make your bathroom look larger by painting it with broad, horizontal stripes. Or use a stencil to create a pattern on the wall.
  • Faux Tile. You can also use paint and stencils on a wood or concrete floor to create the look of tile for less. Just use sturdy porch paint and three coats of polyurethane to stand up to the humid environment.
  • Real Tile. According to Sherman Williams, it’s even possible to paint over real tile. Clean the bathroom wall tile thoroughly, scuff it with sandpaper, and apply a water-based acrylic primer. Top it with a durable latex or urethane paint, and you have “new” tile without the hassle and expense of replacing the old tile.
  • Refinishing Fixtures. You can use enamel paint to salvage an old bathtub or spray paint and lacquer to change the finish of a sink faucet.

6. Use Cheaper Materials

There are limits to what you can do with paint. But there are many other ways to substitute cheaper materials for pricier ones and get the look you want for less. To stretch your dollars when renovating a bathroom, splurge on just one or two high-impact items, such as countertops or a clawfoot tub, and choose cheaper alternatives for everything else.

There are cost-effective alternatives for nearly every part of a bathroom remodel.

Walls

Tile costs a lot more than paint or paneling. To keep your costs down, limit your use of tile on the walls as much as possible. Use it only in areas that get wet regularly, such as the tub or shower enclosure.

For the rest of your walls, painted drywall is the cheapest alternative. However, wood panels can create a more interesting look at a lower price than tile.

Flooring

Bathroom flooring options fall into three price ranges. The cheapest options are laminate and vinyl, which can cost $1 or less per square foot. Wood and ceramic tile are midrange alternatives, and stone tile is the priciest flooring of all.

If you crave the look of stone, it’s often possible to get it with a cheaper ceramic. One inexpensive bathroom remodel covered by This Old House includes slate-look ceramic tiles that cost only $85 for the whole room.

Tub and Shower Enclosures

If you can’t refurbish your existing shower walls, the cheapest way to replace them is with large panels of fiberglass or acrylic. These cost as little as $100 each and are quick to install.

However, if you prefer the look of a tiled wall, go for porcelain or ceramic tile rather than pricier glass or stone. You can also save time and money by choosing larger tiles. These require less grouting, so you save on labor costs.

If you’ve fallen in love with a fancy designer tile, search for a cheaper look-alike. Alternatively, use the fancy tile as an accent, filling in most of the wall with a more affordable tile. Not only will you save money, but the expensive tile will stand out more.

As for the front of the tub or shower enclosure, a shower curtain is cheaper than a glass door and easier to install. It’s also easy to clean — just take it down and toss it in the washer. And you can easily swap it out any time you want to change the look of the bathroom.

Tub and Shower Hardware

If you need to replace your bath or shower handles, spout, and showerhead, it’s probably cheapest to buy them as a set. These sets, called trim kits, can cost as little as $100 to $200 each.

However, if the handles are still in good shape, it could be cheaper to keep them and replace the showerhead only. A good showerhead contributes a lot more to a satisfying shower than nice-looking handles. Many top-rated showerheads cost less than $50.

Countertops

A stone countertop for your vanity is cheaper than stone counters for your kitchen since it’s a lot smaller. But other options are much less expensive.

According to HGTV, the most affordable countertop choices are laminate and ceramic or glass tiles. Engineered stone and solid-surface countertops cost more, but they’re still cheaper than granite or marble.

If you really love the look of stone, there are several ways to get it for less:

  • Use Tiles. Tile your countertop using marble floor tiles instead of a slab. The DIY’ing Missouri couple used this method, paying just $9 per square foot for their marble tiles. With white grout, the joins are hardly visible.
  • Use Remnants. Ask local suppliers if they have any stone left over from a bigger job. These remnants are often cheaper than a whole slab, and you don’t need much to make a vanity top. If you’re using a contractor, you can ask them about remnants as well.
  • Try Prefab. If your vanity is a standard size and shape, you can save money by choosing a prefabricated slab. It’s cheaper than having a piece cut to size. But it limits your options for color and edge details.
  • Choose a More Affordable Grade. Natural stone slabs come in different grades. A slab with more imperfections costs less, and if the flaws are in the center — where the hole for the sink will go — they won’t even show.
  • Keep the Edges Simple. Stone and prefabricated countertop materials are cheapest with a plain beveled or bull-nose edge. You can save by choosing these edge finishes over a fancy ogee or waterfall edge.

Cabinetry

The cheapest type of storage for the bathroom is open shelving. You can create wall-mounted shelves with nothing but a plank of wood and some wall brackets. These can go on any empty wall, including behind the toilet, to use all the space in the room.

If you want to keep your bath supplies behind closed doors, stock cabinets are cheaper than custom cabinetry. You can also compromise between the two by choosing semi-custom, ready-to-assemble cabinets. This product lets you configure size and features to fit your space. But the more options you add, the more it costs.

As for cabinet materials, laminate or thermofoil cabinets are cheap and easy to clean. However, they can warp over time, so they may not save you money in the long run. You can save on wood cabinets by choosing pine, maple, oak, or alder over pricier mahogany, cherry, or walnut. If you prefer darker wood, you can buy cheaper pieces and stain them.

The style of the cabinets also matters. You save the most by choosing flat doors rather than doors with raised panels and drawers rather than pullout cabinets. Shop around to find brands of both cabinets and hardware that give you the look you want at the lowest price.

One inexpensive and trendy option for a vanity cabinet is to repurpose an old dresser. You can find dressers through secondhand sources like garage sales and Craigslist for much less than you’d pay for a store-bought vanity cabinet.

Toilets

Considering they all do the same job, there’s a surprising range in the price of toilets. As a rule, round toilets are cheaper than those with an elongated bowl, and two-piece toilets cost less than one-piece ones. Two-piece toilets take up more room and are a little harder to install, but they’re easier and cheaper to repair if they break.

One type of toilet to avoid is a wall-hung model with the tank recessed into the wall. This design saves space, but it’s harder to install and repair, costing you money.

It’s also worth considering water-saving toilets. These don’t cost significantly more upfront, and they save you money on your water bill over their lifetime.

7. Shop Secondhand

Another way to save on materials for your bathroom renovation is to buy them secondhand. The Missouri couple who created a luxury master bathroom on a $6,000 budget got nearly everything used, including a salvaged clawfoot tub, discarded cabinet doors from a kitchen and bath showroom, a scavenged marble scrap for a countertop, and a yard sale mirror.

Shopping secondhand isn’t as easy as going into a store and putting things in a cart. It pays to start early to ensure you have plenty of time to find what you want. While you’re still in the planning phase of your remodel, start checking secondhand sites for items that match your wish list.

Places to find secondhand materials include

  • Reuse Centers. If you have a reuse center in your area, you can find everything you need for your bathroom remodeling project there, from tile to light fixtures. When we redid our bathroom, we hit the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and found Italian ceramic tile for under $3 per square foot and a cultured marble sink and vanity top for $30.
  • eBay. You can find nearly anything on eBay, including bath supplies. The Texas homeowner who redid a powder room for $705 bought a sink, faucet, and light fixtures from online auctions for $390 total. Just remember to factor in shipping costs when buying online, especially since bath items can be heavy.
  • Craigslist. Check the for-sale section of your local Craigslist site for bath bargains. A quick search of the listings on my local group turned up plumbing fixtures, countertops, cabinetry, light fixtures, and even a ventilation fan.
  • Nextdoor. Nextdoor is a social media group designed to help neighbors connect. Members can buy and sell unwanted goods through the Finds section. Listings for bath pieces aren’t that common, but it’s worth a look.
  • Freecycle. Through the Freecycle Network, members give away unwanted items to people in their area at no cost. Check your local group for free stuff you could use as part of your bathroom remodel.
  • Flea Markets. Check out flea markets for antique pieces for your bath remodel, such as a clawfoot tub or an old-fashioned light fixture. Just don’t buy anything you can’t haul home since there’s no delivery service.
  • Antique Stores. Antique stores are another excellent source of vintage furniture and materials. But they’re likely to charge higher prices than other resellers.
  • Yard Sales. Shopping at garage sales is a hit-or-miss proposition. You can’t always find what you want, but when you do, the prices are terrific. The Missouri couple with the $6,000 master bath renovation made several affordable finds at yard sales, including a $35 etched glass mirror and a marble slab for just $1.
  • Your Own Home. Don’t hesitate to reuse materials left over from other projects in your bathroom renovation. Several homeowners profiled by This Old House reused leftover materials, including paint and beadboard.

8. Look for Bargains

If you can’t get all the materials for your bathroom secondhand, you can save by finding them on sale. For instance, one couple from New York found a cast-iron bathtub on sale for $350. Most new cast-iron tubs cost $1,000 or more.

The holiday season is an excellent time to find remodeling materials on sale. According to CabinetNow, the best seasonal sales on cabinetry occur on Black Friday and in the weeks before Christmas.

However, shopping sales isn’t the only way to find deals on new materials. One of the best ways to find bargains is to shop around. Comparison-shopping websites and tools can help you find the best prices when shopping online. Other money-saving browser extensions can help you find coupon codes to cut costs still more.

Also, don’t overlook discount sites like Overstock.com. This site offers everything you need for a bathroom renovation, from tubs to tile, at prices well below retail.

If you find reasonable prices for several products in one store, but its prices on other things you need are higher, find out if the store offers a price-match guarantee. If it does, you could get the best prices on everything you need at once without having to visit multiple stores.

Finally, if you buy a lot of materials from one place, ask about volume discounts. Home centers like Home Depot offer discounts on bulk sales. It’s primarily for professional contractors, but it can’t hurt to ask.


Final Word

A bathroom remodel doesn’t have to cost a small fortune. There’s no doubt that some upgrades, like a fully tiled walk-in shower or expanding the square footage of your master bath, can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. But with good planning and a little creativity, you can make your bathroom into a luxurious retreat on a much smaller budget.

Moreover, updating or adding a bathroom to your home is a home improvement project that adds value. According to the 2021 Cost vs. Value Report from industry publication Remodeling magazine, homeowners who remodel their bathrooms recover an average of 55% to 60% of the money when selling the home. And if you can manage to add the same resale value on a smaller budget, you can boost that percentage even more.

Do you have other rooms to redo? Check out our articles on budget kitchen remodels and basement remodels.

Source: moneycrashers.com

The 6 Best Ways to Save Money for Kids

If you think higher education is in your child’s future, consider a 529 college savings plan.
Ready to stop worrying about money?
If you plan on covering some, but not all college expenses, you can tweak this formula to suit your situation. For instance, Fidelity recommends targeting a savings goal of ,000 multiplied by your kid’s current age if you plan on covering 50% of college costs and assume your child will attend a four-year public school. The financial institution provides a couple of examples of parents covering different percentages of fees and what that would look like at different ages of their children.
First, assess your total financial picture. Take inventory of your outstanding debt, and create a budget if you haven’t already.
If you want to save money, there are many ways you can go about it. Whether you’re thinking ahead to your child’s college education or just want to set aside a little something for when your child reaches a certain age, you have more than a few options to reach your savings goals.
(Have you picked your jaw up off the floor yet? Good. Keep reading.)
As with all investments, there are fees and risks associated with 529 plans.
There are also plenty of child-friendly bank accounts you can choose from to encourage your children to start saving early and often. A savings account is a good start.

Planning for Your Kids’ College Savings and Future Expenses

Source: thepennyhoarder.com
Now on to the good news: You have many options to start saving for your child’s future today, no matter your budget.
Again, that’s just the estimated cost. And there are grants and college scholarships available to help families chip away at the fees.
With this plan, a saver opens an investment account for the beneficiary’s qualified college education expenses, including room and board. This money can be applied toward universities (and some outside the U.S.), and withdrawals can also be used to pay up to K at elementary and high schools.

5 Ways to Save Money For Your Kids’ College Education

What’s the best type of savings account for a child? We’re glad you asked!

1. 529 College Savings Plans

How much money you “should” save depends on a few factors. For one, there are a lot of variables to consider: How much will a university degree cost in X number of years? How long do you think your child will go to school for? (Two years, four years or more years for advanced degrees.) What amount can you afford to regularly sock away for expenses?
These plans are sponsored by state governments as well, but there are fewer residency requirements. Investments in mutual funds and ETFs are not guaranteed by the federal government, but some bank products are protected.
A Roth IRA is an individual retirement account. You fund it with money you’ve already paid taxes on. So, when the time comes (typically at age 59 ½), you can withdraw your Roth IRA contributions and earnings tax free. However, you can withdraw this money earlier, penalty-free, to pay for higher education costs for your child.

Prepaid Tuition Plan

A 529 plan, or qualified tuition plan, is a tax-advantaged investment account. This means the money grows tax free and you can also take it out tax free. Each state (plus the District of Columbia) offers at least one plan. You can view minimum and maximum contribution limits and other considerations by state here.
With this plan, a saver or account holder can purchase units or credits at a participating university and lock in current prices for future tuition costs for the beneficiary. Typically, this money can’t be used for elementary and high school costs, nor be put toward room and board at college.

Education Savings Plan

While interest rates are low and whatever interest you earn is taxed as income, an FDIC-insured bank savings account is a tried and true (and safe) place to store money — whether yours or your kid’s.
With a Roth IRA, they’ll get tax-free money when they retire. They can also use these funds to help pay for their own qualified college expenses. While your child will have to pay taxes on the earnings, they won’t face an early withdrawal penalty.
You generally have more flexibility with brokerage accounts: You can choose from a variety of investments and make withdrawals at any time. Note: If your child does plan on going to college, the value of this account will be included in financial aid calculations.
There are other online calculators that can help you determine what you should save, depending on what your child’s future education plans might entail (like grad school). Again, a financial advisor or certified financial planner (CFP) can help you plan for college costs in way that accommodates your needs.

2. Roth IRA

Anyone can use a 529 college savings plan (no annual income restrictions!) and you can change the 529 beneficiary to another family member without incurring a tax penalty.
Here are three questions we see pop up time and again when it comes to investing in your child’s future. Oh. And this figure doesn’t even factor into university costs.
Of course, you can invest your money in a few different ways — some combination of a 529 plan; Roth IRA; or, UGMA, UTMA, brokerage or savings accounts — so you have options.

3. UGMA and UTMA Accounts

Sticking with college, here are additional ways to save that you and your child can work toward. Whether you’re a new parent or a year out from sending your kid off to college, consider these opportunities to save money.

Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA)

A brokerage account allows you to invest money in stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Once you deposit your money, you can work with a financial advisor or robo-advisor, or both, to invest and grow your money.

Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)

File this under “Things You Already Know” — kids are expensive. What you might not know is the best ways to save money for kids, and we’ve got your back on that.
This account establishes a way for someone under 18 years old to own securities without requiring a trustee or prepared trust documents.

4. Brokerage Account

Here are several ways you can invest and save money for your children, whether you want to open a college savings plan or start a rainy-day fund.
A parent or guardian will need to serve as the custodian, since minors generally can’t open brokerage accounts. Children need to have an earned income (part-time jobs, like babysitting, count) to contribute to it. Like adults up to and under age 50, they can only contribute up to K to the Roth IRA annually. Once the child turns 18 or 21 years old (depending on the state in which they live), control of the account must be transferred to them.
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5. Savings Account

College is an investment, and it can be a pricey one. By saving early (and with the magic of compound interest on your side), you can earn a bigger return on your money down the line.
And, mom and dad, when the time comes, make sure you fill out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA).
There are two types of 529 plans: prepaid tuition plans and education savings plans.
Consider meeting with a financial expert to help you craft a plan that’s best for you.
The cost of raising a child from birth through age 18 is roughly 3,610, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). To break that down further, that’s around K per year, per kid.

graduation cap filled with money on sidewalk
Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Additional Ways to Save Money for College

Save early and save regularly, and you’ll be off to a good start.Contributor Kathleen Garvin (@itskgarvin) is a personal finance writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida, and former editor and marketer at The Penny Hoarder. She owns a content-writing business and her work has appeared in U.S. News, Clark.com and Well Kept Wallet.

  • Ask for gifts toward their education expenses. If friends and family would like to give a gift to your child, ask them to consider putting any money toward their college fund. You can do this for any birthday or holiday, though the earlier you start investing in their education, the better. (Bonus: Your 1 year old doesn’t have the capacity to ask for the latest toy and won’t object to this gift.)
  • Encourage your kid to work and save. Once your child is of legal working age, they can get a job and start saving money for their school expenses. Even saving a small amount per paycheck can help them make a dent in later costs; you might also consider “matching” their savings to incentivize them (for example, give them $1 for every $20 they put away for college).
  • Look to companies and professional organizations. Your workplace may offer opportunities to children of employees looking to earn money for college. Some large companies, like UPS, offer such scholarships. Review your company handbook or ask your HR department about any available opportunities. Professional organizations, like the Rotary Club, are also known to offer scholarships and grants for continuing education. If you belong to any organizations or other clubs, look out for these benefits.
  • Apply for scholarships and grants. Additionally, encourage your high school student to look for scholarships and grants to help mitigate their college costs. Universities typically offer money for students who fit certain criteria — such as transfer students or people in certain majors — and meet other requirements. There are all sorts of weird scholarships, contests and even apps that can help them earn money for school, too. Just make sure they weigh the pros and cons of any entry fees and stay on top of contest deadlines.

If we use the earlier figures from CollegeCalc that forecast what a four-year education will cost in 2039 (5,167.67 / 4 = ,792 a year), it’s recommended you put 1 a month into a college savings plan. This calculation assumes an after-tax return of 7%, an annual tuition increase of 7% and four years of school.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

It’s great if you’re able and want to contribute to your children’s future expenses and education fund — student loan debt has surpassed a whopping .7 trillion in the U.S. — but you need to be smart about it. If you put yourself in a precarious financial situation, it can be more difficult for you to course-correct later.

When Is the Best Time to Invest Money for College?

With that said, don’t let getting started “later” deter you from saving at all. It’s kind of like the Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” You want to save what you can as early and regularly as possible. But if life circumstances prevented you from doing so before, right now is the next best time to start saving.
On average, tuition and fees ran ,411 at private colleges and ,171 for in-state residents at public colleges for the 2020-2021 school year. The estimated cost of a four-year degree, 18 years out?

What’s the Best Way to Invest Money for a Child?

Most prepaid tuition plans have residency requirements for the saver and/or beneficiary, and are sponsored by the state government (and not guaranteed by the federal government). However, not all state governments guarantee the money paid into them, so it is possible to lose money. Additionally, your mileage may vary with this plan if the beneficiary doesn’t attend a participating college, resulting in a smaller return on investment.
First things first: If you have nothing saved for retirement, focus on your own needs before you start saving for someone else. You’re on a more fixed timeline. Plus, you can’t borrow for retirement savings like your child can for their education.
5,167.67.

How Much Money Should I Save for My Child?

Looking for more options that aren’t exclusive to education? You can invest in a taxable brokerage account.
The good thing about putting away money for your children is that there is no one “right” way to do it. You can open a 529 plan for your child early on or later as they get closer to college aid. Or, you can fund a brokerage account so you’re not held to stricter rules about how the money’s spent.
If you want to invest in your kid’s future without choosing an account that’s for education expenses only, look into a Uniform Gift to Minors Act or UTMA Uniform Transfers to Minors Act.
Don’t forget the old standby: a traditional savings account.

The Best Way to Save Money for Kids

This account is similar to a UGMA. However, minors can also own property such as real estate and fine art.
A custodian will also need to be set up for this type of account. Parents can set up a custodial account and then make withdrawals to cover child-related expenses. Once the child is of legal age, the assets are transferred to their name. Since the funds for both UGMA and UTMA accounts are in the child’s name, they cannot be transferred to another beneficiary. <!–

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Where to Find Cheap or Free Tutoring for Your Kids

Whether your kid is struggling to read or to understand advanced calculus, some additional one-on-one instruction can make a world of difference. That’s why parents hire tutors — to boost their kids’ academic progress beyond the constraints of the school day.

But finding the funds to pay a tutor can be tough for a family on a budget. Costs vary, but it’s not unheard of to spend between $40 and $80 … per hour. And if your child is really struggling, chances are you’re going to need way more than one hour.

Here are some alternative ways to get educational assistance, even free tutoring, without breaking the bank.

6 Low-Cost or Free Tutoring Options

1. Get Extra Help With an Online Tutor

Online tutors don’t need a brick-and-mortar building, and they eliminate the need for anyone to commute. Everything is accessible with the click of a mouse. Your screen is your virtual whiteboard.

Some free or low-cost online tutoring websites include:

  • Khan Academy — a nonprofit organization that provides a wide range of free lessons to students all over the world.
  • Learn to Be — a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that provides free one-on-one tutoring to K-12 students in underserved communities.
  • Chegg Study — a 24/7 tutoring service for high school and college students where you pay $14.95 a month for expert homework help from a variety of subjects including math, science, engineering and business.
  • Free Tutoring Center — a student-run service that provides free one-on-one tutoring to elementary and middle schoolers from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • UPchieve — a free online tutoring app where volunteer tutors provide academic help in various math and science subjects. This service also offers free college counseling.
  • Varsity Tutors — an education platform that offers free large group classes and free learning tools for self-study. For more individualized help, Varsity Tutors charges for one-on-one tutoring and small group classes.
  • Outschool — an online learning platform that has a variety of classes for kids ages 3 to 18. Filter your class search by price to find offerings for $9 or less.

2. Browse Your Library’s Offerings

If you’re only using your library card to check out books, you’re likely missing out on all the neat opportunities your library has to offer. Some tutoring companies like Tutor.com and Brainfuse partner directly with public libraries to provide free online tutoring to students.

Ask your librarian about what your local branch offers. Outside of partnering with an online service, your library might host free or low-cost test prep or homework help. Your librarian might also know of students or teachers who offer affordable tutoring. At the very least, you can get pointed in the direction of helpful reference books and research materials related to your child’s topic of study.

3. Go Back to School

Sometimes the best place to get help is directly from your child’s teacher. He or she already knows your child’s unique challenges and learning style and is invested in seeing your kid improve.

Schedule a parent/teacher meeting to ask about opportunities for extra instruction. The teacher may be free to help your child during a study hall period, and you can bypass paying for a Saturday afternoon tutoring session.

Also, ask if there’s a peer tutoring program at school where older students or students excelling in a particular subject volunteer to aid those who need extra help.

Consider that the help may come from outside your kid’s individual school. National Honor Society members at the local high school might have an outreach program that would benefit your struggling middle schooler. Community colleges sometimes have academic resources available for high school students at low or no cost.

4. Be Selective About After-School Programs

Until kids are old enough to go home to an empty house, working parents often turn to after-school programs and extracurriculars. While karate practice and dance lessons sound fun, your kid won’t be working on math equations or language arts.

You can save money by choosing an after-school program that includes tutoring services. The Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA are two national youth nonprofits that often provide help with homework or studying for tests.

5. Call on Your Community for One-on-One Tutoring

Don’t underestimate the power of your social circle. Your friends or coworkers may know of organizations in your city that provide free or low-cost tutoring.

Ask the parents of your kids’ friends for recommendations on affordable tutors. An older sibling of your child’s best friend might be a math whiz. You may be able to barter with a classmate’s mom, exchanging tutoring sessions for free babysitting.

6. Give Into Screen Time on YouTube

Now this last one isn’t quite tutoring in the traditional sense, but you can turn to YouTube for almost anything these days — including K-12 subject matter. In most cases, you’ll be able to access instructional videos at no cost.

Has physics or chemistry got your kid down? Check out these YouTube science channels. This list of YouTube history channels may help students master the details of major world events.

The video-sharing platform just might get your kids to see their worst subject in a new light and find learning — dare I say it? — fun.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

7 Signs You are Living Beyond Your Means

When you’ve lived paycheck to paycheck, scrounging up enough money for an emergency fund can feel like a revelation. All of a sudden you’re not living with a dark cloud over your head and setbacks start to seem more manageable. You feel more in control of your life and your finances.

But you can take that even further. Saving for emergencies is just the first step in developing a strong, stable plan for the future. Once you have the foundation laid, it’s time to start deciding just what kind of future you’re trying to build.

That future starts with savings goals. Here are a few examples of how to start saving beyond your emergency fund.

Car Repair Fund

About 18 months ago, my husband and I were driving up for a ski weekend in the Colorado mountains. We were meeting his cousin and wife for a long weekend of winter sports, beer and food. At least, that was the plan.

On the way there our car started making a funny noise. Eventually, that funny noise turned into a persistent whine, and before we knew it the engine was smoking and we were stranded on the side of the road. We had the car towed back to a mechanic, who informed us that it would cost several thousand dollars to repair the damage.

I hadn’t really planned for this. The car had less than 200,000 miles and seemed in good shape. We’d followed the maintenance schedule religiously and had no reason to worry. Luckily, the incident happened just a few days before we received a huge tax refund, so we took the money and bought another car. I learned a valuable lesson that day: always save for a car repair fund.

Since then, I set up an auto draft to a separate savings account solely for car repairs. I picked $75 a month as a starting point but might increase it to $100 in the near future.

I’ve also started a car replacement fund, so I’m prepared for the next time my husband and I need to buy a new car. That account gets $100 every month, and any leftover money I find at the end of the year.

Vacation Fund

Erin Lowry of “Broke Millennial” wrote in a recent post about how she has a separate vacation fund set aside so she can travel more spontaneously. She has at least $3,000 in her vacation fund, so she’s prepared when her girlfriends want to take an impromptu trip or she finds an amazing flight deal to Germany.

If travel is an important part of your life – or you’d like it to be – consider starting a vacation fund. Even if it’s just a long weekend at the family cabin or a short road trip to a neighboring state, giving yourself the option to escape at any time can make the daily grind a little more bearable.

Don’t feel pressured to save aggressively if you don’t want to. Even $300 a month will add up to $3,600 a year, enough for a two-week European stay or a handful of smaller domestic trips. If you keep saving for multiple years, you could end up with enough for a months-long sabbatical.

Personal Goals

When people talk about their greatest financial regrets, they usually reminisce about the investment deal they didn’t take or the house they never bought. For me, it’s the Spice Girls concert I didn’t go to.

The group came to Chicago while I was in college, and a few people from my dorm were carpooling to the concert. They had an extra ticket, which cost $100. I had the money in my bank account, but chose to be “responsible” and stay home. I’ve regretted it ever since.

About a year ago, there were rumors that the Spice Girls were planning to reunite and go on a limited international tour. I live about three hours from Chicago, and I figured the Windy City would definitely be a stop on the tour.

A couple weeks later I got a birthday check from my grandma, which I promptly deposited into a separate Spice Girls savings account. Rumors of a tour have since dissipated, but I still have hope that one day the girls will be reunited. Until then, I’ll be keeping $200 in that account.

It might seem insane to have a whole savings account for one concert that may never happen, but it’s worth it for the peace of mind. If I ever get the opportunity to fulfill this dream, I won’t have to sacrifice a thing. I’ll just pluck the money from my account, close it down and go have the time of my life.

If there’s something you desperately want to do someday, like attend the Super Bowl or run the Boston Marathon, it’s not a bad idea to have the money stashed away for that purpose. If the goal never comes to fruition or you’re not able to get tickets, you can always use it for something else.

Medical Expenses

One of the best ways to save money outside of an emergency fund is in a health savings account (HSA). HSA contributions are tax-deductible, can be withdrawn tax-free and earnings are also not taxed.

You can contribute up to $3,3450 for an individual or $6,900 for families. Once you have more than $2,000 in your HSA, you can start to invest the money like you would for a retirement account. HSAs are only available if you have a high-deductible insurance plan, but don’t have any income limitations.

If you aren’t eligible for a high-deductible plan or it’s just not a good fit, you can still save for medical expenses outside of an HSA. A good rule of thumb is to save as much as your out-of-pocket maximum since that should cover a year of catastrophic medical bills. You can keep this in the same savings account where you have your emergency fund or in a separate one.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or view of Intuit Inc, Mint or any affiliated organization. This blog post does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.
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Source: mint.intuit.com

15 Ways to Save Money Landscaping Your Yard

If you have a yard, you’ve probably daydreamed about what you want it to look like someday. But landscaping costs keep many homeowners from breaking ground.

Whether you want to improve your curb appeal, make your yard more functional, or plant your own botanical oasis, landscaping doesn’t have to be expensive. With a little creativity and forethought, you can have the outdoor space you’ve always wanted without emptying your wallet.

Landscaping Tips to Save Money on Outdoor Living

You don’t need to hire a professional landscaper to have a beautiful backyard. You just have to get your hands dirty. From planting perennials to making your own compost, homeowners have many options when it comes to saving on landscaping costs.

1. Choose a Purpose for Your Space

How you plan to use your outdoor space determines how you landscape it. Decide whether you want to tailor your landscape design to:

  • A play area for kids or pets
  • An outdoor dining and lounging area for yourself and guests
  • A productive herb or vegetable garden
  • A butterfly or bee garden

You can choose more than one, budget and space permitting.

But knowing how you plan to use your yard allows you to make a budget and avoid overspending on unnecessary purchases. It also helps you determine where you can cut costs and what your most significant expenses will be, such as putting in sod or building a ground-level deck.

2. Work With Your Yard

Work with the yard you have instead of trying to create something completely different. For example, if you have large, naturally occurring rocks and boulders in your yard, having them moved costs a lot of money. Rather than paying for removal, work around them by turning them into a rock garden or using flowers and mulch to create an attractive feature piece.

The more you need to change your yard, the more costly landscaping becomes. Uprooting trees, leveling terrain, and relocating rocks are all expensive endeavors. Instead of making your yard into something it isn’t, work with what you have.

3. Salvage Existing Wooden Fencing or Decking

Fences, decks, and patios are crucial components of many yards. And without proper maintenance, they can fall into a state of disrepair. But just because your outdoor wooden structures are looking a little worse for wear doesn’t mean you can’t salvage them for your new landscaping project.

Rather than spending a fortune on replacing an old fence or deck, fix it yourself by:

  • Repairing or replacing damaged and broken boards
  • Pressure-washing aged wood and chipping paint
  • Giving everything a good scrub
  • Applying paint or stain and waterproof sealant
  • Maintaining it each year

A quick trip to a home improvement store like Home Depot to rent a pressure-washer or buy some sealant is bound to cost a lot less than paying a contractor to rebuild your outdoor structure.

4. Choose Fence and Deck Materials Based on Climate and Need

Sometimes, salvaging your wooden fence or deck isn’t practical in the long run. If you need to replace or rebuild a fence, deck, or patio, save some money down the road by choosing materials suited to your climate.

For example, in areas where it’s either particularly hot or humid, wooden structures often need to be maintained and replaced more frequently since they’re constantly exposed to harsh elements like the sun or rain, which can damage and destroy them.

Instead, explore options with a longer lifespan, like brick, concrete, composite, vinyl, or metal. Do a cost-benefit analysis to determine how much you could save in the future for maintenance and replacement costs by choosing an alternative to wood.

5. Use Natural Elements

Found natural elements like rocks and stones are inexpensive alternatives to store-bought pavers and edging. You can also use tree stumps as stools or tables and natural mulch like grass clippings, shredded leaves, or pine needles in your flower beds.

These elements add a rustic and natural appeal to your yard and come at little to no cost. Pick up free rocks in new housing developments or by browsing online marketplaces like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Repurpose dead trees by turning them into furniture. And simply empty your lawn mower bag for free mulch.

6. Create a Lush Lawn

If you have sparse grass coverage or weeds have overtaken your yard, you need to put in some work to grow a healthy lawn. But you don’t need to hire an expensive landscaper to bring your grass back to life. You can take care of weeds by pulling them by hand or using a lawn-friendly weed killer.

For dead or thin grass, try reseeding your lawn to bring it back to life. You can also promote its growth using a high-quality fertilizer, which can also help kill weeds.

Just ensure it’s a match for your soil type and United States Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone, a measure of a region’s climatic conditions (such as heat and humidity) that helps gardeners determine the likelihood of a plant’s growth and survival.

Local home improvement stores and garden centers only carry plants and materials suited to your zone, so if you buy locally instead of online, you can find products suited to your zone without much effort. And you can always ask a store employee for assistance with choosing materials for your soil type.

If your lawn is too far gone, you may have to plant new grass, which takes a lot of time and effort. It involves stripping your old grass, laying down landscaping fabric and topsoil, and seeding or putting in squares or strips of pre-grown grass, which is called sod.

You can hire a landscaper to install it for you, but doing it yourself can potentially save a lot of money. According to Angi (formerly Angie’s List), it costs between $0.35 to $0.85 per square foot on average to buy sod, depending on what type of grass you get and prices in your area. You also may need to purchase fertilizer, landscaping fabric, and topsoil and rent equipment to grade the lawn.

Hiring a landscaper costs between $1 and $2 per square foot. So doing it yourself could potentially save you several hundred dollars. But it may not be worth it.

Angi also notes that it takes around 40 hours of work, though Home Depot says it only takes two to four hours. Either way, cutting corners could prevent your grass from taking root, costing you more money in the long run. So if you aren’t confident in your abilities, it may save you money to have a pro do it. Get some estimates from professionals and compare the costs of DIY.

Regardless of the state of your lawn, getting it back into tip-top shape is key to having a front yard with curb appeal or a backyard oasis.

But keep maintaining it after you complete your landscaping project. Just like most front yard and backyard landscaping, slacking on lawn care only costs more money in the long run. If you don’t stay on top of grass and weed issues each year, your lawn only gets worse with each season. Remember to weed, seed, fertilize, and water your grass to keep yourself from having to pay for extensive and expensive renovations in the future.

7. Landscape With Native Plants

Native plants are the plants that grow naturally in your hardiness zone. Native plants tend to thrive in your climate and soil, which means they’re low-maintenance and easy to grow, unlike potentially finicky nonnative plants.

Because native gardening often requires less maintenance, it helps save on costs for things like fertilizers, pesticides, and water while still growing healthy and strong. It’s particularly useful for novice gardeners since it can prevent you from wasting money on plants that aren’t suited to your soil or zone or take a lot of extra effort to grow.

As a bonus, they also attract birds, bees, butterflies, and wildlife since they provide familiar shelter and natural diets to various creatures in your region.

You can find native plants by perusing the Native Plant Database or talking to someone at your local plant nursery.

8. Plant Perennials

Unlike annuals, which only bloom for one season, perennial plants come up each year. For example, bulbs like crocuses, daffodils, and irises are typically perennials and sprout each spring. Perennials can also be herbs, ground cover plants, fruit bushes, and vegetables.

Because you only have to plant perennials once, you don’t have to purchase new flowers or plants each year. And they tend to multiply, so over time, you can separate the plants and bulbs and use them in other parts of your garden or trade them with others.

9. Plant From Seed

If you’re growing a garden or flowers, planting from seed rather than buying established plants and sprouts is a lot cheaper, although it requires more work on your part. For example, a packet of basil seeds typically costs between $1 and $3 compared to a single basil plant, which can cost anywhere from $5 to $15, depending on the variety. However, seeds can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to sprout.

You can either sow seeds directly into the ground or start them indoors based on their growing season and germination period.

If you choose to grow indoors, you must purchase some supplies upfront, like starter trays, a grow light, and a growing medium. But you can reuse many of these tools each year, saving you from buying it again each season.

If you plant them outdoors, you just need a garden bed or planter and some soil.

10. Build Your Own Garden Beds

Flower beds and veggie gardens are simple DIY landscaping projects. Putting in a new garden doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. You can use flower beds or planters around trees or features as natural edging or start a simple herb or vegetable bed in an unused corner of your yard. Some popular options include raised planting beds and container gardens.

Depending on lumber costs and whether you can make one from found wood or old containers you already own, DIY planting beds can be much more cost-effective than buying prefabricated beds. And they’re definitely cheaper than hiring someone to build them for you. That’s especially true if all you want is something simple to house your veggies or keep flowers from spreading.

For more information on using found containers or repurposed materials as plant beds, read our article on saving money on gardening.

11. Join (or Start) a Plant Swap

Plants are probably part of your landscaping plan, whether you’re planting ornamental grasses, succulents, flowers, herbs, or veggies. Unfortunately, plants come with price tags — unless you join or start a local plant swap or seed exchange.

In a plant swap, local gardeners and plant enthusiasts trade their extra seeds or propagated plants. They give you a chance to diversify your garden for free as long as you have sprouts, seeds, or established plants of your own to barter with. Seed exchanges are also sometimes offered as part of the non-book-related free services at public libraries.

You’ll also meet fellow green thumbs who can offer tips and landscaping ideas that may help you to save money and have a more successful garden.

12. Buy Trees Late in the Season

Depending on what type you want and how common they are in your area, trees can come with hefty price tags, especially during peak gardening and landscaping season.

But unlike many flowers, herbs, and vegetables, you don’t have to plant trees early in the growing season. And if you wait, you can save big.

Many garden centers and nurseries offer discounts as the season progresses, with the most significant being in the late summer and early fall. And as long as you get your tree in the ground with enough time to establish roots before winter, waiting a month or two to buy and plant it doesn’t do any harm.

13. Make Your Own Compost

Compost does wonders for your garden. It helps improve your soil structure and fertility and provides beneficial nutrients.

Instead of spending money buying compost to boost your garden beds’ productivity and health, save money, reduce your waste, and help the environment all at once by making your own in a compost heap in your yard or composting container by using discarded organics like kitchen waste and grass clippings.

14. Build a Fire Pit

Fire pits are a popular garden idea that adds to the atmosphere and usability of your yard. They’re perfect for enjoying cool summer evenings and roasting marshmallows. But when purchased from a retailer, they can cost a lot of money.

Instead of buying a fire pit, build your own using rocks, bricks, concrete, or metal. Depending on the materials you use and the size of your fire pit, it could cost you less than $100 to build.

Just ensure you’re legally allowed to have one and that it meets your city’s rules and regulations. For example, most fire pits have to be a certain distance from buildings and permanent structures like fences and sheds.

15. Buy in Bulk

One of the best landscaping tips is buying in bulk to reduce your costs for supplies like soil, mulch, sand, river stones, and crushed rock. If you’re planning a large-scale yard renovation or soil amendment, calculate how much material like soil, rock, and mulch you need and put in a large order instead of making multiple one-off trips to the garden center.

Save even more by asking your neighbors if they need anything and split delivery costs on the order.


Final Word

Landscaping your yard can improve your home’s outdoor living experience and motivate you to spend more time outside. And it doesn’t have to break the bank. You can have a beautiful and inviting yard while keeping costs low.

To keep enjoying your yard year after year, continue maintaining it regularly by seeding, fertilizing, and weeding the lawn; tending to plants and trees; and repairing and sealing fixtures like fences and decks. That will keep you from having to take out a personal loan just to cover landscaping costs in the future.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Can You Use Food Stamps Online?

The food stamp program in the U.S. has made it possible for millions of Americans dealing with economic hardship to feed their families each day.

While food stamps, now officially called SNAP benefits, can help families save money on food, it hasn’t always been the most convenient way to shop for groceries. In the past, food stamp recipients needed to physically go into a store to shop for and pay for their groceries using a special (EBT) payment card.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, however, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has expanded an online purchasing pilot program that allows SNAP recipients to purchase groceries online then arrange for pickup or delivery. The program is now available at certain retailers in most states.

Read on to learn where and how you can use food stamps to buy groceries online.

What Are Food Stamps?

“Food stamps” is an older, but still commonly used term to describe SNAP or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

SNAP is designed to provide nutritional assistance to low-income families, as well as the elderly, disabled, and people who have filed for unemployment. SNAP is a federal program administered by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which has a network of local offices.

While SNAP doesn’t cover all the items you might pick up at the supermarket, it can significantly cut your grocery bill.

USDA national map .

Each state has its own application form. If your state’s form is not on the web yet, you can contact your local SNAP office to request a paper form.

What Stores Accept Food Stamps Online?

Thanks to the expedited expansion of an online purchasing pilot program run by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, households receiving SNAP benefits in any of the 47 participating states (along with the District of Columbia) can now use EBT to pay for groceries online from select retailers.

Alaska, Louisiana, and Montana are not currently enrolled in the pilot. And, not every retailer in participating states supports EBT payments.

If a retailer is enrolled in SNAP’s online program, people on food stamps can select foods eligible for EBT benefits online and then arrange for in-store or curbside pickup. In some cases, it may be possible to have your groceries delivered. If the retailer charges a delivery fee, however, you cannot use your benefits to cover that fee.

While Amazon and Walmart are among the best known retailers for online EBT shopping, the number of stores accepting EBT card payment online is continuing to expand, and now even includes some “specialty” stores like Trader Joe’s.

FreshDirect, an online grocery delivery service, now delivers for free to SNAP participants in some zip codes in the New York metropolitan area.

And, Instacart, a grocery delivery service, is currently partnering with many local stores in the U.S. to offer SNAP EBT benefits. The latest version of the Instacart app should display whether your local store offers EBT SNAP.

Which retailers (and which specific locations) participate in the online SNAP program will vary from one state to another, so it’s a wise idea to check which options are available in your area.

Here are some of the retailers that are now accepting food stamps for online shopping (for either delivery or pickup):

• Walmart

• Amazon

• Aldi

• Food Lion

• Publix

• FreshDirect

• BJ’S Wholesale Club

• Kroger

• ShopRite

• Fred Meyer

• Safeway

• Albertsons

• Vons

• Hy-Vee

How to Use Food Stamps to Buy Groceries Online

The rules for using food stamps online will vary by retailer. For example, when shopping on Amazon, you can add your SNAP EBT card, shop for groceries, and when you check out, you enter your EBT PIN to pay for eligible purchases.

For Walmart, you can order groceries online or through the store’s grocery mobile app. You first need to sign into your Pickup & Delivery account and then select Payment Methods.

cash management account, you can track your weekly food spending right in the dashboard of the app. You can also earn competitive interest on your money, and won’t pay any account or monthly fees.

Learn how SoFi Money can help you manage your spending and saving today.

Photo credit: iStock/Yana Tatevosian


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Source: sofi.com