How to Break Up with Fast Food

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I Kissed Fast-Food Goodbye. You Can, Too.

A few years ago it dawned on me that I wasted way too much money, time, and way too many calories on fast food.  I’ve kicked fast-food to the curb and I now enjoy nutritious, tasty meals that won’t clog my arteries quite so much. Here’s how you can cut your fast-food habit morning, noon, and night.

Make your own damn coffee. I tried to economize on drinking coffee on the run. I took advantage of those convenience-store apps where you (over)pay for seven cups of coffee to get your “free cup”, but ultimately I found that making my own damn coffee keeps me out of the fast-food line and saves me from the temptation of ordering a combo meal while I’m there. For the cost of three or four cups of convenience coffee (fast food or convenience store) I can buy a whole bag of ground coffee to make at home. Make your own coffee and you’ve started your day out by saving money.

Brown bag it, baby. Your lunchtime strategy for ditching fast-food is to bring lunch from home. Use leftovers from last night’s dinner, a sandwich with a salad, whatever trips your fancy. The point is, you control what goes into your brown bag and by extension into your body. Bonus: a lot more time to unwind over lunch and enjoy eating with work friends because you’re not in a fast-food line with half the city, burning up your lunch hour as well as your gas.

Dinner in the freezer. My own fast-food addiction mostly involved lunches, but yours may very well take you to the drive-thru at dinner time. One kid has soccer, the other kid has piano lessons. You’re still frazzled from work, and fast-food on the run seems like the solution. Relax—you can kick your fast-food habit at dinner, too. When you have time to cook dinner (and maybe, for you, it’s only on the weekends) make more than you need and freeze the extra. It’s ready to heat and eat so your family can actually sit down together or, if all else fails, you can heat it up and carry it with you to eat on the go.

Use convenience food–carefully.  On nights when I have meetings after work and time is limited, I often plan a soup-and-sandwich dinner. I usually have homemade soup or chili in the freezer, but I also keep a can of Campbell’s Chunky on hand just in case. Convenience food can be a big help, but don’t lean on it too heavily. It makes no sense at all to cut out highly salted, fatty fast food and replace it with additive-loaded convenience food.

Break up with your fast-food romance. Enjoy better food, more time, and the chance to relax a little over your meals. I promise your fast-food restaurant won’t miss you, and your wallet sure won’t miss your fast-food habit.

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5 Things That are Tastier and Cheaper to Make at Home

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My sister has this lame joke that she makes brownies from scratch—“I just scratch open the box…” Back before I got serious about 25% living, I bought just about everything prepared and ready-to-eat at the store. Silly me! Here are five things that are cheaper to make at home and that taste infinitely better than the store-bought kind.

Bread:  Figure that the cheapest, mushiest white bread you’ll find at the lowest price will generally cost at least $1. The decent mass-produced bread, with whole grains and lots of yummy delicious additives and stabilizers, runs about $2 a loaf. The good bakery stuff at my local Publix is about $3.80 a loaf. If you buy your supplies in bulk or deeply discounted you would spend about $1.25 a loaf for bread that tastes better than bakery. Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar has an illustrated tutorial here.

Tortillas. I make corn tortillas using masa—corn flour that I buy in the ethnic section of the grocery store. Making the tortillas is a snap: equal parts water and masa, divide the dough up and roll each future tortilla into a ball. Press the tortillas flat using a tortilla press if you want to be fancy or a couple of books if, like me, you don’t believe in having kitchen tools that only do one thing. Fry the tortillas until they are brown and enjoy, enjoy! You can even cut them into strips and bake them for homemade tortilla chips, which go great with…

Salsa. Contrary to popular belief, good salsa is not the red stuff that comes in a jar. Good salsa has hearty tomato dices, onions, a bit of bite, fresh cilantro and whatever else you want to put into it. Check out these salsa recipes from Cremedelacrumb.

Pasta sauce. You will never go back. Even though there are only two of us, I make a huge batch of this stuff and we eat like kings. Tastes amazing, costs very little, and you can doctor the recipe according to your tastes and nutritional preferences. I prefer mine meaty, but you could easily adapt this to vegetarian tastes. Try this recipe–I like to add about a quarter-pound of Italian sausage to it for even more meaty  zest.

Mashed, baked, or fried potatoes. I’m still not sure how we got convinced that prepared potatoes are better in any way. Sorry, there is absolutely no comparison between home-made mashed potatoes and the stuff that comes in flakes in a bag. And really, cutting up potatoes isn’t all that hard. You can get all fancy by slicing potatoes and sprinkling with the spices of your choice, then baking them in the oven. Better for you, better tasting, much cheaper.

What’s your favorite “better from scratch” recipe?

Getting Started with Your Side Hustle

 

So I’ve achieved my nefarious purpose and you know, deep in your heart, that you need a side hustle. How do you get started? Ask yourself these three questions, then take three action steps.

What do I love? Your side hustle isn’t going to be about more mindless work. No, you will focus on something you’re passionate about, something that you’d gladly do for free. So what do you love? Model trains? Animals? Cooking? Traveling?

How Are People Making Money Doing What I Love? You adore shoes. You spend hours on websites that sell shoes. Can you make a living selling shoes online? You adore your pets and love everything about ‘em, even the grunt work. Ever considered the wonderful world of pet sitting for profit?

How Can I Make Money Doing What I Love? This is the fun part—where you tweak your ideas and customize them. You adore shoes and you also like to write. How about starting a shoe-review blog, writing round-up articles on This Year’s Hottest Peep-Toe Trends? You get a buzz out of cleaning and seeing the results, and you know people in your area make money cleaning commercial properties. Oh, and you’re fixated on Pinterest decorating ideas. Why not mix it up and market yourself as a one-stop shop for property managers: you’ll clean and stage the property for potential renters?

Once you’ve considered your own passions, the usual ways to make money in your chosen field, and the unique ways you can tweak it, you’re ready for these action steps.

Visualize. What do you want to achieve from your side hustle? Be painstakingly detail-minded in this: it’s not enough to say, “I want to make some cash on the side.” Do you want to use that cash you made on the side to pay off a particular debt? And what does your life look like when you’re making money doing what you love? Write it down. Read it daily. Learn it, love it, live it.

Make Your Business Blueprint. OK, how are you going to do this? Don’t get intimidated by the idea that you’re making a business plan, just write down where you want to be in a month and then make a list of what you need to do to get there. An example: “In one month, I will have written 8 blog posts on shoe trends and my blog will be set up for affiliate marketing through Amazon.” What do I need to get there? Well, I need to start a blog. I need to set up the affiliate marketing on that blog. In a month, check to make sure you achieved your goals and repeat the process.

Fake It Till You Make It. Ah, the Imposter Syndrome. You’ve set up your shoe blog but you feel like a fake because you are just some nobody who loves shoes. The rest of the world doesn’t need to know that. Of course you won’t claim expertise you don’t possess, but make it a habit to think of yourself as a businessperson providing a valuable service, because you are.

And one bonus: Connect Like Crazy. Network, baby! Hit the Twitter button. Comment freely on other shoe blogs. Comment on the cute shoes that stranger is wearing and invite her to read your blog. Give freely of your time and your encouragement and you’ll find that your business grows.

Now comes the fun part: doing the steps. Good luck, and have fun with it!

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Why You Need A Side Hustle

Okay, this site is about living on less, but there’s no law that says I can’t look at the “…While Gaining More” side of the equation. One great way to improve your income while reducing your outgo is to cultivate a side hustle. Why do you need a side hustle, though? Who wants the hassle? Who wants to work more after putting in a full day at the 9-to-5? Here are four good reasons you need a side hustle.

To Achieve Your Goals. Your goals may be lofty (saving for the down payment on a home, putting yourself or a kid through college, retirement) or they may be modest (making and holding onto $100 to start an emergency fund, going out to dinner once a week). Having a side hustle helps you make money to achieve these goals. This one is the most obvious reason of all, but it’s not the only reason.

Turn Passion to Profit. You’re not going to just drift into some mindless, boring side job. No, you’re going to do something you’re passionate about doing, and you’re going to get paid to do it.  Do you love to bake? Do you love animals? Do you like woodworking? Turn your passion into profit by doing what you love.

Flex Your Autonomy Muscles. Let’s face it, when someone else pays your paycheck you do it his or her way. You look to please the boss.When you are the boss, you get to use your creativity, develop your own systems, work within your peak times of energy, and take risks within your own comfort zone.

Less Time to Waste Money. When you’re working on a side hustle, you’re not out on the town spending cash. You’re not sitting at home feeling sorry for yourself because you can’t afford to be out on the town spending cash. You’re not obsessing over your sad financial lot in life. You’re spending time on your passion with the purpose of making profit, so you aren’t on Amazon shopping.

So now that you know why you need a side hustle, where do you start? Check out my next post for some pointers.abstract-1239387_1280

 

 

 

Fire Your Gym: Do This Instead

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So each and every month, like clockwork, the gym membership money goes out of your bank account. Maybe going to the gym is an act of joyous pleasure to you, in which case you can skip this post because clearly spending the money on the gym is worth it to you. But if you’d like to save money and still stay fit, read on.

The truth is, you don’t need a gym to stay fit. For a long time I stayed with my gym because I live in Central Florida and it gets way too hot to work out for months at a time. I reasoned that the a/c in the gym made me more likely to work out. I’m pleased to say I was wrong. I still get my cardio in, and it is also possible to get in weight-lifting and even yoga or Pilates.

Cardio. Cardiovascular exercise involves moving muscle to get your heart and lungs working. It’s pretty easy to find cardio exercise without a gym. I run because I’m addicted to the endorphins and running gives ’em to me. When I decided to fire my gym, I realized that running in the early morning during the summer works just as well as taking a big chunk of time I can barely spare and heading to the gym. Other alternatives: walking, riding a bike, hiking, playing with kids outside, and doing yard work.

Weight Lifting. I’m in the process of building my home gym. I’m not about to blow a bunch of cash on one of those machines that simulate the gym machines, though. I’m going with free weights. At this point, I’m watching Craigslist like a hawk to find someone who wants to unload her weights for a good price. I suppose you could even go totally “free weight” and use stuff you have around the house. You could use half-gallon milk cartons and fill them with sand or water. I’m going for the cheap weights rather than the totally free weights, but if it trips your frugal happy switch, go for it!

Classes. This is the difficult thing to replace from the gym. I love me some yoga and tolerate Pilates well enough. This, my friends, is why God made DVDs. I invested in a $10 yoga mat and a DVD before I found some good yoga stuff in the public library. There’s always YouTube. If the socialization aspect of classes is what draws you, this one is easy. Find a group or form your own. My local running store sponsors a free weekly run for runners of all ages and skill levels. There’s a bike mafia that rides in my town; I’ve always wanted to join them but I haven’t had the chance yet. What’s available near you? What compatible friends would love to join your Fired My Gym group?

So go ahead. Fire your gym. You don’t need it to stay fit, and I know you’ll appreciate the money you save.

 

 

 

 

25 Ways to Save Money Today

 

  1. Make the coffee at home.
  2. Use Gas Buddy or a similar app to save money on gasoline.
  3. Drink the coffee at work.
  4. Brown bag it.
  5. Think about your routine and change it if it involves spending money mindlessly (I’m talking to you, Mr. Gym Rat Who Buys Cold Drinks Every Day).
  6. Avoid the convenience store like a plague. See coffee tips above.
  7. Shop for loss leaders, the ridiculously cheap sale items on the front page of the grocery flyer.
  8. Shop around the perimeter of the grocery store, avoiding the center aisles where the processed snacky crap lies in wait.
  9. Politely decline the office betting pool/lingerie party invite/buy-a-calendar-for-my-kid’s-soccer-team opportunities that come your way.
  10. Order water with your meal at the restaurant. Pass on the Irish Coffee at the end.
  11. Use coupons or take advantage of special daily deals if you’re eating out.
  12. Go to a nice restaurant for lunch, instead of dinner.
  13. Stay away from stores. Especially stores where you tend to spend money mindlessly.
  14. Be That Guy who orders a soda instead of a mixed drink.
  15. Take advantage of free stuff whenever the universe sends it your way.
  16. Invite friends over for potluck and game night instead of springing for dinner and a movie out.
  17. Convince your children that the library is by far the coolest place on earth, because it is. And you can get tons of free stuff there, including movies, books, and entertainment.
  18. Do something for yourself that you usually outsource: mow the lawn yourself, bake a birthday cake instead of buying one, fix the sinker-thingie in the toilet and see if that fixes the problem before you call the plumber.
  19. Avoid the free samples at Costco. No, really. You’re just lying to yourself when you say that you’ll go there and just enjoy the samples without buying a thing. You and I both know you’ll come home with enough toilet paper to cover the White House when the next occupant gets in there. Just, no.
  20. Look for free stuff to do in the community, especially if you have kids.
  21. Fire your gym. What can you do for fitness that’s cheap or free? Can you replace the gym experience? I’m currently watching Craigslist for some cheap free weights in order to fire my gym. My goal is to pay two months worth of gym-rent to eliminate all gym-rent in the future.
  22. Make a list of everything you didn’t spend that day. Try to beat your total tomorrow. You get bonus points if you talk to your Significant Spousal Or Other Unit into doing it too, and you totally score if you end up getting to gloat because you saved more.
  23. Go one full day without spending money.
  24. Spend the time you would’ve spent mindlessly consuming Doritos while watching tv doing something else—like researching side gigs that will make you more money, or making a kick-ass grocery list, or investing in your kid by teaching her about money. You save on Doritos and you reap future financial benefits (hey, you don’t want to be eating cat food in your retirement, and teaching your kid how to manage her money means she can support you in comfort instead of kitty chow.)
  25. Join those loyalty clubs at the grocery store, pharmacy, and at restaurants you frequent. You can get free stuff that way or at least save some bucks on specials. If all else fails, you can laugh at the very idea of spending that money.
  26. And one special bonus: Teach, mentor, help, or give. The universe has a way of bringing acts of kindness back to you. I’m not saying you do good stuff just to see what you get back financially. I’m just saying.

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25% Toolbox: Your First Tool

 

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The most powerful money-saving tool you have at your disposal isn’t a coupon, a code, or a great stock tip (though if you have one of those and want to share it, my contact information is here on the blog). The most powerful money-saving tool isn’t online, in a book, or held by a mysterious cabal of Wall Street wizards. Nope.

The most powerful instrument you have for making more money, saving more cash from that new-and-improved paycheck, and living the life you want to lead is your brain.

Think about it: in your quest for financial information, you use your mind in astonishing and creative ways. You find blogs about living well on less money. You make a grocery list and shave your grocery bill by 25%. You decorate your house using frugal ideas from Pinterest. Your brain is a money-saving powerhouse.

So how can you harness the full firepower of your brain to make your financial future even brighter? Here are a few ways.

*Brainstorm through financial problems. Brainstorming means any and all ideas are on the table, and no idea is too far-fetched or commonplace, and its power lies in the fact that you do have choices. There are solutions. Brainstorming unlocks the possibilities.

*Make lists. Of course your grocery list will save you big bucks, but there are other lists that help you reach your financial goals. Keep a list of money you didn’t spend and watch how many frivolous purchases you give up.

*Prioritize. You can’t do it all, all at once. Setting priorities is a fact of life, and using your brain to set these priorities brings financial goals into focus.

*Strategize. Use your brain to bring to bear your experiences, your conclusions, your hunches, and your hopes. Make a plan. Dream big, and plot the steps to make your dream come true. My freelance writing is only one step on my way to a debt-free Master’s Degree, which is one strategy I have for living the life I want to live as a counselor and writer.

Your brain is the most effective tool you have in your financial tool chest. Tap the power of your mind to identify, pursue, and achieve your goals.