How the $88,000 debt payoff journey helped me to transform

How the $88,000 debt payoff journey helped me to transform

Today’s post is contributed by Amy Nickson, a passionate writer on finance. Amy is a professional blogger who has started her own blog and also works as a contributor for the Oak View Law Group. Please share your opinions by commenting below.

The debt payoff journey was the turning point of my life. Once I was a reckless spender; the debt payoff journey helped me to become a financially responsible person.

Read my story to know my debt journey

The year 2011 wash ruthless; my mom was diagnosed with liver cancer, which took her life after 6 months of struggling. In addition to this, I started getting creditors’ calls that made me realize about my high credit card debt, which was a double shock for me.

Being a single mom, my mother earned our bread, showered love and compassion on me and treated me as a most delicate possession.

She never wanted me to see hurt or sad. She had given me a credit card and told me to use for convenience. I started living a lavish life (planning trips, visiting Starbucks, partying, shopping, and hanging around with friends) with my boyfriend.

My boyfriend wanted me to buy a good car. I soon took out an auto loan to buy a costly car without giving it a second thought.

After college, I started working and earning. But, most of the money went out on leading extravagant lifestyle. As a result, I fell into costly credit card debts.

How I paid $51000 credit card debts that I mostly incurred during my college days

I had no clue where to start; what to do with $88,000 debts including $51,000 credit card debt and $37000 student loan debt, and a car loan.

I was not in a normal state of mind; my mom wasn’t there to support me, not even my boyfriend who influenced me to live a lavish life.

The settlement story

A few weeks later, I called John, my friend and a financial advisor.

After knowing all the issues, he advised me to settle the debts, especially the highest interest rate debt. A few months later, I got rid of the higher interest credit card debt ($16000).

The cost of the debt settlement was too high for me. I decided to pay the rest of the credit card debts on my own.

How debt snowball method worked as a savior

I contacted John for the second time to know how to pay off the debts on my own. He explained me the debt snowball method and suggested me to consider a side hustle to save quite a bit so that I can make some extra debt payments.

As per the guidance, I started paying some extra to the smallest amount of debt while paying the minimum to the rest of the debts. Since I had to manage the living cost on my own, I thought this could be the easiest way for me to get out of debt. Following the same method (debt snowball), I paid off the $35000 credit card debts within 3.5 years.

How I started freelance blogging

I had interest in writing projects. So, I tried to search online to find out blogging related freelance jobs. Soon, I started getting small to big projects. Freelance jobs are well paying. For instance, Wallet Squirrel makes $35 per article on Seeking Alpha.

Honestly, the side income helped me quite a bit to make extra payments on my credit card debts.

After paying off the debts on my own and earning extra, I felt a sense of accomplishment and started working on the other debts enthusiastically.

How I paid $37000 student loan debt

The student loan debt payoff journey was relatively smooth, because the credit card debt journey had taught me to live a frugal lifestyle. I started following the extreme money-saving strategies to pay off my student loan. I paid a little extra than the minimum payments. I followed the same until I paid off the entire loan. After 3 years, I was also free from my student loan.

Financial lessons I learned from my debt-ridden past

To be very honest, the intense financial situation helped me to become financially disciplined. I have learned to live life staying within my means. Since I grew up in a lavish way, I never realized the importance of living a disciplined financial life.

However, thankfully, the bad time helped me to learn how to set aside money and advantages of living a debt free life.

Here are some useful tips that will help you to avoid debts and get rid of them fast:

1. Budgeting is the key to avoid

I realized that without following a budget, it is impossible to keep finance in order. I had no idea how to manage monthly bills along with those credit card payments.

John told me to follow a budget where I include debt payments as the main expenses including other necessary expenses like grocery, utility, transport, etc.

By doing so, I noticed an improvement in my money managing skills. Dealing with bills became easier. And trust me, you never experience financial difficulties if you honestly follow a budget.

2. Cut down junk expenses to set aside money

I truly felt restless and unprotected when the situation needed to save every dollar. But, you have to set aside money if you want to get rid of debts.

To do so, you need to cut down unnecessary expenses like eating out, partying, clubbing, subscribing to unwanted things, etc.

I did the same and was able to save some extra dollar so that I could make extra debt payments.

3. Live within your means

Living a lavish life leads to debts. If you spend more than you earn, you will soon fall into debts.

After college, I started earning but I went overindulged and used to spend more than I earned. Most of the time, I used credit cards randomly, which was enough to accumulate huge credit card debts. Extravagant lifestyle only welcomes debt; so, you need to live within your means.

How can you do so?

  • Eat homemade food as much as possible. Try a PBJ.
  • Carry a water bottle and lunch from home.
  • Skip expensive morning latte from Starbucks. You can make your own coffee that tastes same as Starbucks at home.
  • Plan short trips instead of long and expensive gateways.
  • Practice home exercise and yoga instead of paying a big amount for a gym.
  • Shop grocery when you need and also reduce wasting food.

4. Make your credit card bill payments on time

You should deal with your credit cards responsibly. You shouldn’t buy an item, using a credit card, that you can’t afford; because making credit card bill payment within the stipulated time is very important.

If you avoid paying credit card bills on time, you will shorty fall into costly credit card debts.

5. Save money as much as possible

I took out an auto loan and bought an expensive car, which was a fatal mistake. To pay off the auto loan, I sold the car. Later, I bought a small car with cash. It took quite a bit of time to save money for the car, but buying a car with cash is actually a win-win deal.

6. Consider a side hustle

You should boost your income to get rid of debts fast. Earning some extra, like these extra ways to make money, will allow you to make extra debt payments. You can also be able to save a certain amount, which is a good way to avoid falling into further debts. I started part-time blogging to earn some extra. I had a full-time job, but the income was not upto the mark; the extra income helped me to pay off the credit card debt fast.

7. Get rid of junks to get out of debts

You should remove all the junks. Try to remove junk expenses and junk goods. By doing so, you can easily save money that you can use for debt payments.

8. Choose the right debt payoff strategy

I have mentioned earlier that I couldn’t continue with the debt settlement program due to its high cost. I didn’t have a well-paid job; so, I gave up. But enrolling in a debt settlement program helped me to pay off the highest interest debt fast.

Though a settlement program is a good debt repayment option, it is a costly one. It will also impact your credit score since you are not paying the total debt.

On the other hand, DIY debt repayment options are also effective. You can choose either debt snowball or debt avalanche to get rid of the debt on your own. You don’t need to pay money to a third party debt relief company.

Lastly, I should agree that living a debt free life is amazing. At least you can sleep peacefully without worrying about creditors’ calls. The debt payoff journey made me more mature and complete. Thank you for reading my debt payoff journey patiently.

What Is Estate Tax – How does it work & does it affect you?

What Is Estate Tax – How does it work & does it affect you?

The estate tax is a big issue lately because of the current US administration’s plan to remove it in their current their tax overhaul. While I won’t go into the politics, I do want to touch on “What is estate tax” because most of us don’t know what it is or don’t have enough money for it to be a concern.

In fact, only 0.2 percent of Americans will owe any federal estate taxes in 2017, but it’s consumed 70% of the media lately. So let’s dive into what is estate tax.

What is Estate Tax

Estate Tax is a federal tax you pay when you die. So when someone dies and leaves their children their estate, it’s taxed before your children get your wealth. When I say “estate” we’re not talking about your mansion (although it could be), I’m talking about all your assets combined including cash, real estate, houses, stocks, etc. Everything you owned makes up your “estate”. I explain “estate” in the article what happens to debt when you die.

The Estate Tax is a tax on your “Estate”, but it only taxes your estate after a certain amount.

The federal estate tax exempts the first $5.49 million of your estate but taxes anything over that $5.49 million at a 40% rate, that’s what you pay in estate taxes. However if you’re married, you’re allowed to exempt the first $10.98 million and taxed anything over that.

What is the Estate Tax Formula

It helped me a lot understand the Estate Tax once I visually saw how it worked.

(Your Estate – $5.49 million) * 0.4 tax rate = How much you pay in Estate Taxes

So if you died with $10 million in assets to leave to your children ($10 million is my goal). You would subtract 10 million from the $5.49 million federal exemption which is 4.51 million. That 4.51 million would be taxed at a 40% rate, so in the end , ou would pay $1.804 million in taxes to the federal government.

So the rich are taxed 40% when they die? Well no

When we talk about the federal estate tax, we’re talking about taxing those assets over $5.49 million at the 40% rate. Not your entire estate.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a table on the average amount of wealth people paid in estate taxes in 2017.

So the average person who paid estate taxes in 2017 paid the federal government 17% of their entire wealth because of the estate tax. This is lower than 40% because of two reasons.

  1. You have such a large exception, the first 5.49 million is tax free. So in my example of a $10 million dollar estate, the entire estate is only taxed 18% in total. Because the 1.804 million I pay is 18% of the overall 10 million portfolio.
  2. There are several ways shield your money from estate taxes including donating to charity, gifting money (you can gift an individual up to $14,000 per year), set up a trust and other loop holes that help lower your estate tax bill.

How much money does the estate tax make?

In 2014, according to the Tax Foundation, the estate tax raised $19.3 billion or 0.6 percent of the total federal revenue ($3 trillion). In the past, it used make up 1% of the federal revenue. Because in 1990 the federal estate tax exception was a lot lower and more people had to pay the estate tax.

Does the estate tax affect you?

Likely not unless you’re bundled up with a large amount of wealth, or more than $5.49 million.

Keep in mind this is your total wealth as your “estate”, so farmers who don’t necessarily make a lot, but own large amounts of land. That land could be valued at a high rate, bringing your “estate” higher than that $5.49 and causing you to pay the estate tax before passing it down to your heirs.

However most people, 99.8% of Americans, don’t have to worry about paying the estate tax.

Oh My Goodness I Hate Tipping, It Ruins My Budget and Anxiety

Let me preface that I used to be a waiter so I understand the value of tipping, but as a customer, tipping is the worst! It’s psychological warfare at the end of every meal that results in either anxiety that you haven’t paid enough or havoc on your wallet for paying too much.

Then exactly how much too much and too little for a tip? Common restaurant adequate says a tip should be 15%-20% pretax, but then why does every restaurant leave the anxiety for the customer to decide how much to tip?

Let’s face it, an extra 20% of a $60 check is still a lot on your budget. That’s $12 the menu doesn’t mention.

This history of tipping is murky

From what I found in the Business Insider and Washington Post (and it’s a murky origin story) tipping originated around 17t century England where the word T.I.P. meant “To Insure Promptitude”. The upper class provided extra “allowance” to servers (lower class) to be given faster service.

This practice made its way to America after the Civil War when wealthy Americans started traveling back and forth to Europe. So we can blame them, and I do.

Tipping Today just allows Restaurants to pay it’s servers poorly

Because waiters (I’m referring to both men and women) receive tips, the federal tipped minimum wage for tipped workers is as little as $2.13 an hour because they receive tips to supplement the difference (source).

That’s kind of ridiculous, right! Restaurants are allowed to only pay their servers $2.13 an hour and expect servers to get the rest of their income from tips. So when you pay your bill, your essentially paying for the food/environment with your bill and your tip pays the waiter’s salary.

If you’re a waiter, the customer is actually your boss since they’re the ones that pay you. So every day, every hour, you have a different boss. Yikes.

How much do you pay your server then?

According to Google, yes I googled “How Much Should I Tip”, you should be paying your server 15%-20% of your pre-tax bill.

This is where the Anxiety starts

What the frack is it? Do I tip 15% or 20%?

What if the server was bad?

If my bill is $100, does the server get an extra $20 just because they played telephone with my order from the table to kitchen and walked the food back? What if they were awful? We’ve all had bad servers who ignored us. They chatted in the back or brought us the wrong items with a rude attitude. Is that when you tip them 15% instead of 20% or even less?

What about if the food was awesome but the service was terrible? ugh

Should I feel both angry at my server for bad service but feel guilty since they’re paid so poorly? How should I feel?

I recall a study conducted found that bad servers still received 15%-20% regardless of how good the service was because people felt it was the socially acceptable thing to do. No one wants to be a bad tipper, but should I tip poorly to save a bit of money and prove a point to the server?

What if the server was awesome?

You plan to spend a certain amount of money eating out and even account for a 20% tip. Do you exceed your budget further if your server was fantastic? Should your server’s awesomeness impact your planned budget? Should they be worthy of more than a 20% tip of that you’re still paying off student loans?

Damn it Janet, you were so great that now my tip for you exceeds my alotted food budget.

Are you a bad person if you don’t acknowledge their above and beyond service or will they quit trying harder if people don’t tip more for the great service?

What about tipping during group meals?

Now imagine eating out with a group of friends, each pays their own bills and it always ends with laying your bills on the table in sight of everyone. If you only tipped 10% or 15%, does that make you a jerk if everyone else tipped 20% – 25%?

On the other hand, are you a jerk for tipping more than everyone? Are you just flaunting money because you can spend more than everyone else or does it make you more generous or charitable?

This is why I hate Tipping!

Why does a nice meal out with friends have to end with awkward silences while everyone calculates percentages in their heads while they secretly judge the performance of the server? Ending in silent comparison of who tipped more, being more generous and charitable than the rest of the group.

I now tip 20% regardless of service

Tipping makes me so anxious that I’m just starting to tip 20% regardless of service (paying with my credit card). The server can refill my drink at the perfect time, every time or completely forget I exist. Tipping a regular 20% fits the socially acceptable tip amount to overcome the unnecessary anxiety at the cost of a few extra dollars on my budget. Sorry budget.

Except Subway “Sandwich Artists”, screw them. They literally walk 10 feet putting the ingredients I say onto bread. Why do they have a tip jar at the cash register? You’re a fast food restaurant.

If you also tip 20% regularly, here is a chart to help you decide what 20% would be when you’re looking over a menu because they don’t list the extra tipping cost on the menu.

20% Tip per Cost of your meal 

Check 20% Tip
$20 $4
$40 $8
$50 $10
$60 $12
$70 $14
$80 $16
$90 $18
$100 $20

If this seems like a lot, you can always stay in and eat a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich.

What do you tip your servers? There is obviously no right answer otherwise they wouldn’t leave the tip field on every check blank. I REALLY want to know. Do you judge your waiter everytime or give them a flat fee regardless like me?

9 Bad Spending Habits That are Killing Your Budget

9 Bad Spending Habits That are Killing Your Budget


Alright, it is time to get our budgets back on track and get rid of bad spending habits.

Getting rid of these horrible spending habits could possibly save you thousands of dollars a year. It has for my wife and I.

We all have been guilty of bad spending habits at one point or another in our life. In fact, a lot of us might still be guilty of these bad spending habits, I know I am.

Let’s take a look at these 9 bad spending habits that are killing your budget and save you some money!

1. Not Paying Attention

We all need to pay attention to our bad spending habits. This is something that really turned around my wife’s and my finances. We now track our spending on an almost daily basis by using the Mint application.

Tracking your spending allows you to see how quickly frivolous spending can really add up. Until then you really do not realize how those horrible spending habits are really killing your budget. My eyes were blown wide open after the first week of tracking.

Here is what we did. We downloaded the Mint application and set up our budget within the application. Checking the application almost daily I am able to monitor our transactions and see how we are doing in each budget category. I am also always trying to see new ways as to where we can save money.

I love Mint. It is clean. Simple to use. But very powerful. If you do not know Mint you should check out our Mint App Review. Here Andrew walks you through as to what the application is and what it can do for you.


2. Making Excuses

It is so easy to make excuses to enable bad spending habits. It is so easy to skew the purchase from a ‘Want’ to a ‘Need’.

But do you really ‘Need’ it? My guess is probably no!

Instead of focusing on materialistic items, focus on your final goal. Remember that you want to pay off your car by next year. Or that you want your student loan payments to disappear three years from now.

It might be tough in the beginning to let that item go but guess what. Something better will be out once you pay off your debt. Treat yourself then!

3. Eating Out

I talked about this a few weeks ago but eating out is the toughest on this list for me. I love food and I live in a foodie city, Denver. Surrounded by so much good food and having a 1-year old that wears you out on a nightly basis makes it very tempting to eat out a lot!

One solution would be the PBJ Theory that Andrew came up with a few weeks back. If you have not read it, I suggest you do. It is very cleverly written.

While I think think the PBJ Theory is a good emergency fall back, I do not think you should always rely on it (Andrew agrees with this). Instead, plan that you will be too tired to cook an intense meal (an hour or more cooking time) a few times a week.

There are plenty of healthy recipes out there that can be put together within 20 minutes. Just the other night I made us these very yummy black bean quesadillas for dinner. The meal took about 15 minutes to cook and we were very satisfied for under $8.00.

The best part of this meal is that all of the ingredients could be frozen if you do not get to the meal right away.

Comic Courtesy of:

4. Not Eating What You Have

We have all been here. We find some awesome food that we plan on eating in the coming days. Then those days pass, then weeks pass, and then a couple months. One night you are hungry for a snack and remember that awesome food you found a while back. So you run to the fridge to only find it growing a tree out of it (mold).

Do not be this guy. This is literally just throwing money into the garbage.

My wife and I keep a pretty tight weekly menu throughout the week. I make our meals to feed four people so we will have leftovers for lunch the next day. Then that is it. Those leftovers are done. If there are more, like from a crock-pot meal, I will freeze for a meal later on down the road.

We also do not buy that many perishable snacks for home. Most of the snacks we have are healthy non-perishables. We do not buy any more until those initial snacks are gone.

For more information on how we save money on groceries check out my 7 Ways on How to Save Money Groceries article.


5. Worrying About What Others Have

As humans, we tend to compare ourselves to others. This comparison could include lifestyle, looks, or what the other has that you do not. Do not fall into this trap as it can lead into a dark spiral that creates bad spending habits.

You might feel the urge to go buy that sweet new phone because your buddy has it. Or you might want to upgrade your car because it looks like a junker and not like the sweet new SUV your neighbor just got.

Sure, it would be awesome to have that new shiny toy but is it really worth it? Not long after the joy it brings will wear off resulting in your wanting a new shiny toy to bring that joy back. See how this turns into a nasty spiraling circle of bad spending habits?

Instead, I propose you do not buy that new shiny toy. It is a temporary band-aid. A distraction to what you really want. Financial freedom.

You should work on paying off that debt you have. My wife and I were very aggressive over the summer to get our car paid off (see how we paid off $7,000 in 3 months). Even though it has been a couple months, I am still finding joy because I now know I never will have that payment again. That liberation never goes away.

6. Monthly Subscriptions

Man, it can be so easy to spend money on these monthly subscriptions that we have available to us now. They are set up by the companies so brilliantly as well. We purchase them, set up the monthly charge, and forget about them.

We spend $198.19 a month on subscriptions.

  • Spotify – $9.99
  • Netflix – $9.99
  • Amazon Prime – $8.25
  • Dollar Shave Club – $3
  • Cell Phone – $116.20
  • Internet – $50.76

Surprisingly, we were able to cut these back by a significant amount. Our cell phone bill was just under $170 a month. The internet bill was just over $100 a month before we cut out the cable and switched to an antenna for the local channels.

Also, since I can barely grow any facial hair, the Dollar Shave Club subscription was cut back to only come every other month.

Keep an eye on these subscriptions as they can easily be forgotten about and turn into bad spending habits. Overall, we have saved about $1,300 a year with our most recent changes.

7. That Fancy Coffee

I do not drink coffee so this one really is not applicable to me. But I do know enough people who spend WAY too much money by stopping by their favorite coffee shop to grab a $10 latte on the way into work every morning.

Even if a person grabs their latte three times a week, that is costing them over $1,500 a year. Just in coffee!

Now my wife loves her coffee and loves that $10 latte but she has made a rule that she cannot get one unless she has a gift certificate. She will ask for a gift certificate to Starbucks for Christmas and her birthday to crave her want. In between those times, she will just brew her own at home every morning.


8. Shopping Convenience

My wife and I have a rule that if we did not buy it on our weekly grocery trip, then we do not get it until next week. There is one exception to this rule, if the item is an essential ingredient to a recipe then we can go grab that ingredient.

When we do need to run to the store during the week we make sure that we do not shop at a convenience store. We will take the extra few minutes that it takes to drive to a grocery store to grab the item.

Convenience stores up-charge their merchandise because of the convenience it is to shop at them. Shopping here instead of going the extra two minutes out of your way is pure laziness and just throwing money away.

Just stay away from these stores. There is no real reason to shop at them.

9. Buying Unnecessary Items

Don’t get me wrong. I am guilty of this all the time and just recently started to learn how to control the urge to spend because I want that new shiny toy like everyone else has.

We recently just paid off our RAV4 14 months early. Our other car, an Accord, is really beaten up, I mean really beat up. I’m now the guy that no one wants to park next too. Because of this, I had the urge to trade in the Accord for a new 4Runner, which I love.

When those thoughts started running through my head I needed to stop everything and refocus that my wife’s and my next goal is student loans. We could not do that by adding on a $600 monthly car payment.

Plus, even though it looks horrible, the Accord is mechanically sound. There is no reason to get a new car right now.

The next time you want to get that new shiny toy, I suggest you stop everything you are doing and refocus on what your real goals are. Those are what will bring you true happiness in the long run.


Now Go Break Those Bad Spending Habits

Just like me, I am sure you are a work in progress. It takes a lot of time and effort to break bad habits. I do not expect you to go out and change all of your bad spending habits within 24 hours.

That would just be crazy.

Pick one bad habit and start changing that one first. Then add on another one to change. Keep this positive cycle going until you feel like you have everything under control.

Changing your bad spending habits will get you on the right path to financial freedom.

The PBJ Theory, Please Quit Complaining About Food Budgets

Peanut Butter and Jelly Theory

I’m about to save you thousands of dollars.

All the money you spend in your life, or even an average month. Chances are one of your largest expenses is food. It happens, literally to everyone.

Eating Out Is The Worst For Your Wallet

So when people start to track their budgets, they always come to the same conclusion. “I need to quit eating out more”. Get this, the average person eats out 4.5 times per week costing them $12.14 per meal on a national average according to a 2016 survey conducted by Zagat.

“the average person eats out 4.5 times per week costing them $12.14 per meal on a national average”

That means the average person spends $54.63 eating out a week or $218.52 a month on just eating out. Unless you earn lots of money, is the obvious answer to eat in?

What About Eating In?

Most people think they can quit going out to start having nice and relaxing meals in. Here’s the thing with eating in, the movies get it wrong.

It’s not always a romantic and soothing experience.

Often times it’s a “Crap, I need to eat. What should I cook?” experience that you pray to the food gods you have the right ingredients in your fridge and dishes are clean.

Let’s face it, we are busy in our lives and don’t have the time to visit the store every day buying new ingredients for a new recipe we found on the internet.

In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review, researcher Eddie Yoon over two decades collected data as consultants for consumer packaged goods companies. He found that:

  • 15% of people say they LOVE to cook
  • 50% of people say they HATE to cook
  • 35% of people say they are ambivalent about cooking (mixed feelings)

If you’re one of the people that hate cooking, you should create a meal plan to make it as easy as possible. Plan a week in advance what you’re going to eat for each meal and know how to cook it. This way you’ll have the ingredients and can plan accordingly for time.

However, not all plans work out.

Introduce The Peanut Butter and Jelly Theory

When meal plans fail, let me introduce Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches, otherwise known as a PBJ.

Let me first admit that I have an addiction to commenting on Finance forums, Facebook Groups, and Blogs. The mechanics of building wealth are simple and I’m always happy to remind people that things are often more simple than they appear. Like how I responded this comment and created “The Peanut Butter and Jelly Theory”.

I get it, you want to start saving money on food and you’re looking for suggestions from the personal finance community to help.

Answers ranged from getting a crockpot to make meals simple, cooking large meals on Sunday and eating leftovers throughout the week, to buying frozen meals that may not be great for you, but easy to prepare.

All of the responses skirted around the idea that a solid weekly meal plan is the best option to help you save money on food. However, sometimes these meals don’t work out for a number of reasons and one fall off the wagon can end up at the local McDonalds.

So I introduced the Peanut Butter and Jelly Theory. The cost-effective, quickest meal ever to keep your budget on track.

This is easily the most actionable thing you can do to start immediately saving on your food budget. In many cases when people eat out, it’s due to convenience because they don’t have anything at home that sounds appealing. That’s when the Peanut Butter and Jelly Theory comes in handy.

Stash emergency PB&J supplies in your kitchen. When hungry but have nothing else, eat a PB&J. If you’re not hungry for a PB&J, wait 2 hours until you’re hungry enough to eat a PB&J.

Sometimes a PBJ isn’t exactly what you’re craving and your favorite restaurant sounds better, or your “husband would not be happy about that” (see comment). Well suck it up, you’ll soon be out of debt and you can buy your husband a jet ski. Everyone loves a jet ski.

Try the Peanut Butter and Jelly Theory

If you want to save THOUSANDS on food budgets, you should try the Peanut Butter and Jelly Theory! Meals cost less than $1 to make, you’ll save time and money. Most importantly, you’ll have a secret stash of PBJs to make when you get those cravings to go out and spend money.

You’re welcome.

Disclaimer: Wallet Squirrel did not invent the Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich, just an advocate of saving money. Wallet Squirrel was not sponsored by big PBJ corporations to promote their superior and delicious product.

How to Pay Off Your Car Loan Faster – How I paid off $7K in 3 Months

How to Pay Off Your Car Loan Faster – How I paid off $7K in 3 Months


Today it is your turn to learn how to pay off your car loan faster.  Over the last three months (May to August), my wife and I have worked really hard to pay off our car loan.

I can now say, as of the end of August we finally did it! What an amazing feeling it is to free up $405 a month to tackle other debt we have. Ugh….student loans…

We took a multi-faceted approach to tackling this debt so we could start focusing on our combined $90,000 student loan debt.

Where to Start

To start off with how to pay off your car loan faster, you need to create a roadmap. Do not just jump into the process without a plan on how you will tackle debt so aggressively.

This roadmap should look to answer three questions. When? How? What? You should look at when do you want to pay it off by. Then look at how and what you can do that will help pay that car loan off faster.

You will want to make sure that you choose items that are feasible for you to achieve. I want you to be successful in paying off your car loan faster!

It is a good thing I have a list of easy ideas for you to use. Let’s get started!

Refine that Budget

One of the first things we did was take a serious look at our budget to find where we could cut down costs. We decided to cut our weekly grocery bill by 25%. We also cut our entertainment budget along with our utilities.

Take a look at your budget to determine what categories can be trimmed down in costs. Some easy categories to start looking at first are entertainment, eating out, groceries, or utilities. I use Mint to help organize our budget and see where we are actually spending.

One sneaky way we adjusted our budget was during the summer. We were able to temporarily remove our son’s daycare expense. As a teacher, my wife has the summer off so we were able to pull him out of daycare for 10 weeks. This ended up saving us $3,000!

mint can be a great tool to help refine your budget so you can pay off your car loan faster

Cutting Excess Spending

Cutting excess spending goes along the same lines with refining our budget. I look at refining your budget as a high overview and cutting excess spending as working on the nitty-gritty details.

So how did we cut out our excess spending? Easy. Start by looking at each expense you have and ask yourself, “Is this a need or a want?” If it is a need, then keep it. If it is a want, then it needs to be cut out. Do you really need to pick up a pop every day on your way to work (Personal example)? Probably not.

We made the cut with our cable bill. We didn’t need it anymore so I canceled it, just leaving us with our internet. This saved us 50% a month on our cable/internet bill.

Couponing on Necessary Spending

Of course, there are plenty of items that are necessary. These include groceries, cell phone, gas, and so on.

In today’s digital world it is so easy to find coupons to help us save money. I recommend grabbing the Honey extension for your internet browser to help you with necessary online shopping (see review here). Then for in-store shopping, I would download the Ibotta app on your cell phone (see review here).

These apps help my wife and I save money each and every week which in turn can be used to pay off our car loan faster.

use the Ibotta app to pay of your car loan faster

Selling Unnecessary Items

If you read my How to Get Rid of Distractions article, you know I was trying to sell items around the house that I did not need in my life anymore. Well, I did sell most of the items on my list. This money helped us shave off nearly $1,000 from the car loan. Pretty awesome right!?!?

Your assignment is to look at the items you barely use around your house. Ask yourself, “Do I really need this? Does it help me towards my goals or does it distract me from them?” If you do not need the item or it is a distraction, it is time to sell it. You can either sell the item on Craig’s list or eBay to help you earn some extra cash to pay off your car loan faster.

Side Hustling

I could write a whole book about side hustling, in fact, some people have. So this will be a 30,000-foot level overview about earning extra money so you can pay off your car loan faster.

Side hustling consists of extra gigs you do to earn extra money on top of your full-time job. These gigs could be selling photography, driving for Uber, delivering for Amazon, freelance writing, and so on.

I have used any income that has come from Wallet Squirrel or my photography sales to help my wife and I widdle down our car loan.

For more ideas, check out our list of side hustles that Andrew and I have actually tried out.

Remove Temptation

Advertisements are everywhere to tempt us with the latest coolest gadgets for purchase. Giving in to these temptations is a weakness of mine because I am such a materialistic person. So I had to find a way to minimize these temptations so I did not want to go out and buy things I did not need.

For me, the biggest culprit was all of those emails from retailers that I love such as REI. To help reduce these, I started using Unroll.Me to unsubscribe me from all of those pesky emails.

Whatever might be tempting you, try to find a way to remove that trigger to spend excessively.

Staying Focused

The last item on this list is the centerpiece that brings all of this together. You need to stay focused on your final goal.

I like to have my overarching goal written down with every subgoal that is going to get me to the final goal underneath it. Then I look at these goals on a weekly basis deciding on which subgoal I am going to accomplish. It feels so good to check those subgoals off knowing that I am one notch closer to completing that overarching goal.

Now Go Save!

Now it is your turn to go out and save to pay off your car loan faster.

How do you plan on tackling this debt?

DIY Backyard Games – Know How You Can Save Money on Fun!

DIY Backyard Games – Know How You Can Save Money on Fun!

Recently, I had the experience to try to purchase some backyard games for an upcoming party in celebration of our new backyard.

You are probably asking yourself, “Why a party for your backyard?”

Well, a few months ago my wife and I (with the help of friends) redid our back yard. The remodel consisted of us completely clearing out the backyard to a blank slate then putting in a sprinkler system, garden, planter beds, and seeding. Yay!

Read about our home remodel savings here.

Now that the seed has sprouted to create a fairly lush lawn, we wanted to host a party in celebration. Kinda, like a house warming party. I know, I am weird.

Anyways, we decided that we needed some backyard games for the party. My wife wanted bags (or cornhole, I hate that name). I wanted Spikeball.

Why is everything so expensive!?!?

When looking to purchase, I couldn’t believe how expensive these game sets are. For bags, the finished product was $200 or more! Spikeball was $60 itself.

I even looked at other backyard games to see if something was cheaper. Nope. All were super expensive!

I thought to myself, there has to be a better way!

Buying off Brand

So, my journey started off by looking for a cheaper version of Spikeball. I knew I could not make this game on more own based on the custom net and the balls that you needed to play the game.

My thought was to maybe look for a knockoff brand. Usually, I am very skeptical and picky buying an off brand because I have been burned way too many times. Most of the time you save $10 bucks but the item only lasts a fraction of the time.

I decided to see what I could find. As always, I started off on Amazon. I like to start there because most items have so many helpful reviews. You can easily check if the item is going to last or not by the user reviews.


Luckily for me, it did not take long to find Slammo.

Its reviews were awesome. But just to be sure. I went to Google and looked up Slammo reviews. Sure enough, all came back with positive ratings! So I ordered Slammo instead.

What was the damage? Well, remember that Spikeball was $60 for the net, frame, 3 balls, and carrying case. Slammo is $40 for the net, frame, carrying case, 2 regulation balls, and a training ball. Plus, I saved an extra $3 using the Honey app on Amazon.

So far we have been very happy with the purchase. It just shows you that a little research and trust in a different brand can really save you some money.

DIY – Making your own

The next item to tackle was finding a bags set on the cheap. Like before, I checked out Amazon first. I was able to find cheaper sets but they looked like they were made for Oompa Loompas. The materials and the sizing were all off!

So, I thought to myself that I could make my own DIY backyard game bags set. I started by looking at the ACA website (yes, there is a professional cornhole association) for the regulation specs on how the boards should be made. From here, I put together a shopping list which was actually fairly short.

  1. 4 – 8 foot long 2×4’s
  2. 2 – pre-cut 2′ x 4′ plywood or any other piece of sheet wood (I used birch)
  3. 4 – 3 1/2 inch carriage bolts
  4. 4 – carriage bolt wing nuts
  5. Wood Screws
  6. Other items include paint or vinyl stickers

Next, I went to the nearest hardware store to buy all of the supplies for our new backyard game. Once home, I started measuring, sawing, cutting, and putting together the two boards (for the full instructions check here).

Oh! I forgot to mention that I did not make the bean bags myself. That would be a horrible idea! Instead, I went on Etsy and found these amazingly made Broncos bags for $30.

When everything was complete we took them out into the backyard and started playing. It was actually really easy to make the boards, only taking two hours.

All that is left to-do is to paint the set. My wife and I are trying to decide what general design we are going to use. We do know it will be Broncos colors with a vinyl logo.

Check out this Pinterest Board. Let me know what you think is your favorite is in the comments below!

Other DIY backyard games you could build

There are so many different DIY backyard games you could build for yourself. Below you will find a list of what comes to my mind.

Do you have any other backyard game ideas?


All in all, I feel very proud of the money we saved. It is also scary though. Why? Well, because I want to keep building more games! I think next on the to-build list will either be ladders or giant Jenga.

Between buying an off brand and building my own DIY backyard game, I will save about $120 after I get the bag boards painted. I still cannot believe how expensive they are to purchase.

What would you build first?


My Honest Ibotta App Review – Is it worth the time?

My Honest Ibotta App Review – Is it worth the time?


Today I want to give you my honest ibotta app review. We will look at the application together to see if it is worth the time spent for the cash they give you back.

Today’s ibotta app review is fairly short. This is because ibotta’s process is just that simple. As I write this review, I keep scrolling through the ibotta app to try to find more to talk about. This is why I was thoroughly impressed with the overall process of getting the rebate deposited into my account.

The question is, “Was it worth my time?”

Spoiler Alert! Yes, it is very much worth the time. Here is why…

Who is ibotta (I bought a…)?

First, let us start off with a quick review who ibotta is.

Ibotta is a startup based in Denver, Colorado that specializes in giving you cash back for purchases you make at particular stores. In fact, they have over 300 stores to select from including Amazon, Uber, Target, Kroger, and so on.

Ibotta makes their money off of affiliate income from the stores they partner with. A consumer goes to a store to purchase an item and redeems the rebate within the ibotta app. That store then credits ibotta for pointing the consumer to them. Ibotta also makes some money off of the little tasks you have to complete before adding a rebate (more up next).

Here is how that works. A consumer goes to a store to purchase an item and redeems the rebate within the ibotta app. That store then credits ibotta for pointing the consumer to them. Ibotta also makes some money off of the little tasks you have to complete before adding a rebate (more up next).

Ibotta also makes some money off of the little tasks you have to complete before adding a rebate (more up next).

How does the app work?

Within the ibotta app, you will want to add rebates from your favorite stores. This is done in the ‘Find Rebates’ section and clicking on the plus symbol on items that interest you.

Every time you do add a rebate, you must complete a very short task. So far all I have seen are one question surveys. I am not sure if there are other tasks or not though I have heard there are videos they have you watch. So far these tasks have been really simple.

There are three different ways to get money back through the ibotta app. The first is by sending a receipt back to ibotta. Secondly, you can link a loyalty card from your favorite stores. Lastly, you can make mobile in-app purchases.

My favorites are the last two methods because they require essentially no work. We will walk through all three methods for this ibotta app review though.


By Receipt

The process was fairly simple as it only consists of four major steps:

1. Find Rebates
Here you will want to hop into ibotta app to search for rebates. I like to go into the ‘Find Rebates’ section which allows me to see my favorite stores that I bookmarked. Once I selected a
store, I start searching for any rebate that applied to what I needed.
2. Go Shopping
After you get the rebates locked and loaded, it is time to go shopping! Don’t forget to head to the store before the rebate expires.
3. Redeem
Once you get back from the store it is time to hop back into the ibotta application. Here you will want to select the ‘Redeem’ button to take a picture of the receipt as well as the bar code of the
product you bought.
4. Get Cash
They promise you will get your rebate within 48 hours. Mine was dropped to me within an hour. I was really impressed at the speed!

Link a Loyalty Card

This is my favorite method to gain rebates through the ibotta app. Here you only have to link up a loyalty card to your favorite stores, for me, King Soopers.

Here is what you need to do to get it set up:

1. Link Loyalty Card
Link up your loyalty card from your favorite stores (that are in the ibotta network) to your ibotta account. You can either use your loyalty card number or phone number. How cool is that?!?!
2. Find Rebates
Just like in the ‘By Receipt’ method head over to the ibotta app to search for rebates. Add the rebates you want.
3. Go Shopping
Head to the store you linked up to, using your loyalty card or phone number during check out. Because ibotta can see that transaction through your loyalty card they will take care of the rest.
4. Get Cash
Within 48 hours you should see the rebate deposited into your account.

Mobile In-App Purchases

1. Find Rebates
Before heading to any of the shopping mobile apps that ibotta has partnered with, find the right rebate for what you need.
2. Launch App
Within the ibotta app, open up the shopping mobile app such as Amazon.
3. Go Shopping
Find the product you are looking for. Make sure it qualifies for the rebate!
4. Get Cash
Ibotta will confirm that the rebate is pending. Within 48 hours you should see the rebate deposited into your account.

Getting Your Cashback

When I first set out to start researching for this ibotta app review I thought to myself, “There is no way it is going to be this easy to get the rebate back.” I found from past experiences that most companies make you go through so many loop holes just to get paid.

To my surprise, receiving the rebate back was super-efficient. It was not 60 minutes later when I received my cash into my ibotta account.

There are many options to withdraw this cash to be able to use. They give you the option to deposit to your PayPal or Venmo account. There are also options to buy gift cards as well!

Sadly, there is one loop hole you have to jump through. There is a $20 minimum before you can withdraw your rebate cash.

But, Hey! This ibotta app review could not be all positive news!

I guess that is better compared to the $100 minimum the Stock Photography sites that I participate with have.


Other Helpful Tips

When I first launched the ibotta app for this review, it prompts me to find favorite stores. Do not skip this step as I enjoy having my favorite stores easy to find at the top of the ‘Find Rebates’ section. On the ‘Featured’ page, this will also automatically pull to the top any featured item from your favorite stores making it easier to find more awesome stuff.

Secondly, there is a teamwork feature that allows you to link with friends through Facebook. This program allows you to earn cash quicker. I have not tried this feature yet but ibotta claims, “The bigger your team, the faster and easier it is to earn Teamwork Bonuses.”

Finally, check out the ‘Bonuses’ page under your ‘Account’ page. Here there are some more direct rebates from companies. You might find something special for you.


My Final Thoughts

So, now that we have looked over all of the major elements, let’s take a final glance for this ibotta app review.

I really like the app and the concept it has brought to the shopping front. They really have nailed the process down to a science which provides a smooth experience. Because everything runs like a well-oiled machine, I do not see this company slowing down at all.

I am not totally sure that my shopping methods work well for ibotta or any couponing. My personal belief is that I do not need to go shopping just because I have a coupon. My wife and I make a menu for the up and coming week based on recipes we enjoy a lot. Then we see if there are any coupons for those recipes. Typically, there are not many.

Maybe we need to change our menu’s to revolve around the coupons instead.

How do you handle coupons? Have you tried Honey yet?

Ready to Sign Up?

Does this review have you excited to get signed up for ibotta? That’s awesome news!

Head over there now and sign up using our Affiliate Link. This helps us fund Wallet Squirrel so we can continue to bring more awesome reviews like this one.

More Ways to Make Money

Looking for more ways to make money for you and your family? Well, the search is over!

Head over to our Ways to Make Money page.

Here Andrew and I research, test out and review over the different way to make money. Check it out yourself!

How to Travel Cheap – 5 Tips From This Pro

How to Travel Cheap – 5 Tips From This Pro

How to travel cheap can be a challenge for a lot of people (including me). We all want to stay in the fancy hotels, eat the best foods that the city has to provide, and conquer all of those expensive activities around. I do not blame you if you are one of those people, there is a lot of temptation out there! Unfortunately, going out on a spending frenzy during vacation can really affect our budgets and financial goals. Once home we might hate our past selves because those goals have been pushed farther and farther away. Plus, we will all want to go on another trip someday. So how do we stay in line to travel cheap so we can have awesome vacations now and for the future?

Here is a little background on my travels. Growing up I was so fortunate to be able to travel a lot because of my parents. These travels took us all over the United States, hitting up 40 out of the 50 states, as well around the world. Now that I am all grown up, married, and with a kid, it is tougher to travel with our limited funds. So we have become a lot more creative to afford our travels.

Plan Ahead

Before we get into all of my tips on how to travel cheap, I wanted to start with off with this piece of advice. This is something that I have personally been bad at but my wife and I are getting better at. Since most of us do not have big pools of money laying around to spontaniously buy plane tickets with (and if you do and want to share, contact me here :P), we all need to plan out ahead with our travels.

Personally, my wife and I have started to plan out our trips a year or two (depending on costs) ahead of time. This allows us to set up a savings plan to make the vacation happen.

How do you plan ahead for your vacations?

1. Don’t travel during the holiday’s

We just recently made this massive mistake so hopefully, you can learn from us. Traveling to Maine should have been fairly cheap on a normal week but we decided to travel over the Fourth of July week. This raised our plane tickets by $350 compared to when our friend traveled from Maine to Colorado to see us this past May. This is not how to travel cheap!

If you are looking to travel cheap, be sure to check for holidays around you. It is also better to travel during odd times in the week. These days include Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday.

We traveled over the holiday because we had a day off from our work, but if you factor all the increased traveling fees, it could have actually been better just using a bit extra of our vacation time.

Pro Tip: When searching for cheap tickets remember to take into account all of the taxes and fees. Upfront it might look like one airline has the lowest ticket prices but they might have the highest fees for baggage, seating, and so on.

How to travel cheap: Avoid traveling over the holidays!

How to travel cheap: Avoid traveling over the holidays!


2. Don’t eat out for every meal

My second tip on how to travel cheap involves my favorite part of any vacation, food! When my wife and I did our honeymoon we found a hotel that had a little kitchenette. After we dropped our stuff off we headed to the grocery store to gather some breakfast and lunch supplies. We would eat breakfast and some lunches in the room saving us tons of money! We were able to save enough to splurge a couple times on dinner while still saving money overall. I personally like to use Kayak or Southwest Airlines for finding plane tickets.

Pro Tip: Splurging on a couple meals during the trip is okay but remember do not let the foodie inside of you get in the way of your budget. Stay focused to keep within your budget, your future self will thank you for your discipline! For me at least, food can easily unravel my travel cheap plans!

3. Stay at accommodations that are off the beaten path

There are three major expenses while traveling: transportation, food, and a place to stay. Being able to cut costs on all three of these expenses is really how anyone can learn how to travel cheap. It is always tempting to stay in the hotel right on the beach or in the middle of downtown or has its front doors on the Vegas strip. In most cases, we can save tons of money while traveling if we get a hotel or Airbnb just a few blocks away from these main attractions.

This is a challenge for me because I want to be in the heart of the action our destination has to offer. So what I do is find accommodations that are off the beaten path but are close to a cheap mode of transportation that can get us there easily. Sometimes we are able to find something so close that we can walk there with ease.

How to travel cheap: Find a nice spot to stay off the main trail, like this guy did!

How to travel cheap: Find a nice spot to stay off the main trail, like this guy did!

4. Travel with friends or extended family (if you dare)

Now you cannot do this for every trip because it would just get tiring. Plus, it is just nice to enjoy time just with your own immediate family. But when you are looking to have a good time with some friends or family while saving money you can do just that!

Here’s how to travel cheap with your friends or family. First off, everyone can rent a home or condo splitting the overall costs. This usually turns out being cheaper than every party getting their own hotel room. Plus, a home or condo will come with a kitchen which I mentioned before is a huge cost saver.

Everyone can also share costs on that breakfast and lunch food I mentioned above. I remember growing up and going to family reunions where each family would take turns cooking a meal on a particular day. This was always an awesome experience because you got to enjoy different family recipes!

Pro Tip: Choose who you travel with very carefully. You want to enjoy your vacation! Plus, you do not all want to come back hating each other.

5. Don’t always go to the touristy spots

This how to travel cheap tip is one of my favorites. I cannot tell you how many awesome and amazing adventures I have had when I did not follow the crowd. One of my best friends, Tristan, is the person I should be thanking for pushing me out of my comfort zone while we traveled through Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, and Germany together.

I am not saying don’t to touristy spots. All I am saying is do not hang out at those spots all of the time during your trip. This is because most items, food, and services have had their prices increased significantly. When you go away from those places you will find that things will drop in price because there is less supply of tourists. Plus, you never know what awesome unknown place you might find.

Pro Tip: Use common sense when you venture off from the touristy areas. Cities and other countries can have very dangerous areas outside of those walled off tourist attractions. Be sure you know where you are going and be safe!

How to travel cheap: Find attractions off the beaten path.

How to travel cheap: Find attractions off the beaten path.

Now go have some fun!

Planning a vacation can be a daunting task in itself let alone adding on how to travel cheap on top of that. This is why I wanted to put together a list of tips just on how to travel cheap for you and your family.

Have any more tips you use to travel cheap that I might have missed? Let us know below in the comment section!

Want to earn some extra income so you can travel more? You can! Check out our Ways to Make Money for ideas on how to make some extra income. We personally try out as many as possible so you know which method to make more money is right for you or not.

Couponing at Its Best Using the Honey App

Couponing at Its Best Using the Honey App

Just a few months ago I stumbled upon an amazing extension for Google Chrome. This extension is called the Honey App. The Honey App sits in the background while you shop online to help you find coupons automatically. Essentially it is your own personal couponing assistant.

I must disclose right away, you will not be doing any extreme couponing with the Honey App. So you will not end up getting 728 tubes of toothpaste delivered to your front door that you only paid $1.94 for. Rather this application allows you to save some dollars that you would not know about otherwise.

Couponing with the Honey app is so simple. Video courtesy of Honey.

Setting Up the Honey App

As mentioned earlier, the Honey app helps online shoppers find coupons automatically. Honey only takes five minutes to sign up for and install.

To get started, head over to the Honey website.

In the top right hand corner of the page click on “Join Now”. Enter your email and a password. They also allow you to sign up using your Facebook account if you prefer that method.

Next, click on the giant orange “Get Honey For Free” button. This will install the Honey App extension for the browser you are using.

After that, you are done and ready to do the best couponing ever! Now you can head over to Amazon to get the best deal ever on that JL421 Badonkadonk Land Cruiser/Tank that you have always wanted.

Using the Honey App

Really there is not much to say here. Once installed Honey does all of the work from there.

If I am on Amazon, you can see potential savings within each product page. Honey will tell you either you are getting the best deal or if you need to go to another Amazon seller for the best deal.


Showing how you could easily save $21.34 on some Bose Headphones on Amazon.


Bonus Points: The Honey app will also give you information about the price history of the product. This will allow you to see if you really are getting a good deal or not. Maybe the price of the product jumped up in the last month so you know to wait for it to drop again.

When shopping outside of Amazon, the Honey App will pop up during checkout in the right hand corner of the browser telling you that it has found some coupons. Click the “Apply Coupons” button to watch the magic start. Honey starts scanning through all of the coupons it found and tries to apply them. Once complete, Honey notifies you if any of them were a success or not.


The results have varied for me. I really have not had much success outside of Amazon. Since the Honey app is fully integrated with Amazon, it works really well there. The application tells you what other sellers are offering better deals. This allows you to easily hop over to their product page to check out the deal. Just be careful, if you are a Prime member, make sure this other offer is eligible for that service or else you might end up spending more in shipping.

Honey found 9 coupons to save some money on these sweet Nike shoes.

Honey found 9 coupons to save some money on these sweet Nike shoes.

Outside of Amazon my success has been minimal. After scanning through the coupons that pop up, I find more often most of the coupons fail. This is because Honey scans through all of the couponing websites such as Retail Me Not. Most of the coupons are out of date from these site. I have mostly received free shipping but hey that is five or ten bucks in savings right there.

My Thoughts

I absolutely love Honey! It is truly passive. Typically I forget it is even running in the background until it pops up saying that I could save some money during check out. I personally only have experience with the Honey App within Chrome. According to their website it does work on most major browsers.


The Honey App works on most major internet browsers.


For anyone that likes couponing, the Honey app is a must for your online shopping. For anyone who loves saving money this application is still a must for your online shopping.

Looking to make more money? Check out our list of Ways to Earn More Money. We continue to explore new ways to earn money. This list has ideas and links to other articles to the ideas we have tried.