Healthy Costco Foods on a Budget

healthy costco food

Many people questioned renewing their Costco membership when they announced that they were raising their membership fees.  Although it was only a 9% hike, Executive members now pay $120 a year, while Gold Star members pay $60 a year.  Despite the minimal increase in the annual fee,  Costco shoppers reap huge savings when they buy items in bulk.  It is great for large families and those looking to stretch their grocery budget.  While the savings are attractive, quality produce and products provide another significant benefit. Healthy Costco foods are good for both your well-being and your wallet.

Buying Costco Foods in Bulk

Getting  healthy Costco foods in bulk can help stretch your grocery budget when things get tight.  For example, I usually set aside $350 per month to spend on food.  This includes eating out in addition to weekly groceries from Costco and other supermarkets.  A family of four will likely have a monthly food budget closer to $1000.  The great part about buying food in bulk is that you get a better price than when you buy the same item individually.

Products with Long Shelf Lives

Many who purchase items in bulk from Costco stock up on paper products and food items with a long shelf life.  For example, paper products, dry goods, and condiments are a few items where you can receive huge savings by buying in bulk.  Even if you don’t use these items right away, they can always be used down the road when you need them.

Healthy Foods that Can Be Stored

Shopping for lean healthy meats at Costco can provide huge savings to a family of four as well.  Purchasing healthy Costco foods such as lean chicken breasts, ground beef, beans, and brown rice in bulk can provide healthy nutrition and savings.

Purchasing many pounds of meat at once can net you huge savings. Although they come in large packages, you can divide the meat into smaller Ziploc bags, and simply freeze them until a later date.  Even when shopping at grocery stores, one of the tricks I do is purchase items when they are on sale.  One week, chicken might be on sale for $1.99/lb while the next week it is $2.99/lb.  Organizing purchases so you take advantage of them during sales is the best way to optimize your monthly grocery budget.

Costco’s Reputation with Its Customers

Costco has a good reputation among shoppers. This is partly because of the quality of their products, but it is also due to their excellent customer service and robust returns policy.  So, if you’re shopping for organic food at Costco, there aren’t many downsides. Even if you come across a bad apple, chances are good they’ll accept returns.

While I’m raving about Costco, they also have good prices on tires and are open on most major holidays, so you can get your car serviced while you’re picking up your groceries.

Buying healthy food doesn’t have to be expensive, and buying healthy Costco foods doesn’t have to cost a lot either.  When shopping for groceries, the keys are to buy in bulk when available and stock up during sales.  Finally, by planning your purchases ahead of time with a list, you can avoid unneeded items.  Eating healthy and sticking to your budget doesn’t have to be hard.

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How to Reduce Pet Expenses and Care Costs

 

How to Reduce Pet Expenses

Owning a pet can be a very rewarding experience. Not only do they provide companionship, but studies also demonstrate how pets can benefit our mental health. However, caring for an animal is a serious responsibility. If you are worried about the additional costs, here are seven ways you can ease the burden and reduce pet expenses.

7 Ways to Reduce Pet Expenses

1. Choose a Pet to Suit Your Budget.

I know…it can be hard to resist those big, puppy-dog eyes. However, before you bring home a new pet, you must ask yourself if you are financially able to take care of one. Caring for an animal is a huge responsibility. Therefore, you should be aware just how much the annual costs can be.

If you are getting a pet, choose an animal that suits your budget. Since larger animals eat more, it may be better to consider a smaller animal with lower pet care costs. According to the ASPCA, the expenses for a large dog are about $875 every year. Opting for a smaller pet could be a smart way to reduce pet expenses. Annual costs are approximately $670 for cats, $200 for birds, and $35 for freshwater fish. Even looking at smaller breeds of dogs could save you a considerable amount of money on pet food and supplies.

2. Adopt Your Pets from a Shelter.

Adoption is another way to greatly reduce the initial costs of getting a pet. You save a ton in adoption and veterinary fees if you adopt through a local shelter. When you take your pet home, it has already received a check-up, vaccinations, and been micro-chipped. The small adoption fee is a bargain when compared to these savings alone. Not only are you supporting their rescue efforts, but adoption also eliminates breeder’s exorbitant prices.

You can also ask around or check local classified ads for animals in need of a good home. Often times, those placing the ads are giving the animals away, free of charge. Why pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for pure-bred pets when there are so many that you can choose from for free?

3. Compare Food and Pet Supply Brands.

There is no doubt that food will be your biggest expense as a pet owner. But, as with any purchase, it makes sense to look for the most economical brands and best deals. Avoid brand names with words like “premium,” which usually only mean a higher retail price. Store brands that say things like “total nutrition” or “balanced diet” will still provide your pet with proper nutrition.

Buying pet supplies in bulk from discount clubs like Costco or Sam’s Club is very cost effective. There are also many online stores like Chewy.com that regularly offer discounts and promotional codes to their customers. Any smart budgeter will tell you that every little bit counts, especially when trying to reduce pet expenses.

4. Get Vaccines from Low-Cost Clinics.

In order to protect the pet population, state and local governments require vaccinations for domesticated animals. Although these are required by law, you don’t need to spend crazy amounts of money for private consultations. Many shelters and local universities work with low-cost clinics to provide affordable treatments. Since vet students and interns administer the injections, they usually cost next to nothing.

If you have any questions about city ordinances concerning pet vaccinations, check with the local humane society. Not only can they give you the most current information, but they can also tell you more about these types of programs in your area.

5. Maintain Your Pet’s Health.

The best way to reduce your pet’s long term medical expenses is by maintaining good health and hygiene. Just as it is with humans, it requires time and effort to keep your pets healthy. You can ensure your pet maintains a healthy body weight with regular exercise and feeding schedules. Over-feeding your pet hurts both your pet’s well-being and your wallet.

Annual check-ups and regular visits to the vet are another costly responsibility of caring for animals. However, it is extremely important for preventative care.  This includes regular dental cleaning, booster shots, and treatments for common ailments like heartworm, fleas, tick, and other diseases. When you do need medication, you can save a bundle through websites like PetCareRX and 1-800-PetMeds as well.

Finally, do not forget your pet’s reproductive health as well. Although puppies and kittens are adorable, their upkeep costs are astronomical. As a responsible pet owner and financial planner, have your pets spayed and neutered. The initial investment in the procedure is well worth the long term savings.

6. Reduce Grooming Costs.

When choosing what kind of pet is right for you, grooming is another important consideration. Larger animals or breeds with long hair require a lot of maintenance. Some pet owners have professional groomers tend to their animals, but these services come at a high price. While these visits are necessary at times, regular combing, brushing, bathing and clipping at home prolong visits to the groomer.

If you do not feel confident to trim your pet’s fur or nails, there are many tutorial videos online to help you. You can purchase the tools online, and follow along with their instruction to reduce your pet care expenses. Furthermore, shaving pets during summer months will also save you time and energy cleaning. That alone is a huge value in and of itself.

7. Try Making Your Own Pet Toys.

One of the most frivolous ways we spoil our pets is with toys and treats. Although my pets enjoy them immensely, toys from the pet store are not cheap. While it is okay to splurge occasionally, don’t stuff your online shopping cart with things they don’t really need.

Instead, look for things around your house that many pets are perfectly content to play with. Every dog I have owned happily chased after tennis balls or dragged around their favorite stuffed toy to chew on. Cats often prefer the boxes their pet supplies and toys come in. Additionally, ribbons and strings can be just as entertaining as there are plenty of items around your home that your pets will find perfectly acceptable.

If you are the creative type, you can find endless ideas for homemade pet toys on Pinterest boards and other DIY websites. You can also consider growing your own herbs like catnap to further reduce pet expenses. When it comes to finding ways to keep your pet entertained, you are truly only limited by what keeps your and your pet’s interest.

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How to Cut Your Electric Bill in Half

How to Cut Your Electric Bill in Half

With more people working from home than ever before, it is even more important to find ways to reduce energy costs. If your children are also attending classes online, that means even more household energy consumption. Spending more time at home also means higher utility bills, especially during the extreme summer and winter months. However, there are several things you can do to cut your electric bill in half.

How to Cut Your Electric Bill in Half

Energy Audit to Save Time and Money

The first thing you should do is contact your energy supplier and request an energy audit. They provide this service to their customers for a small fee, averaging around $100. In addition, you may receive coupons and discounts for large ticket items or recommended upgrades.

During the energy audit, a technician will do a walk-through to spot issues. It takes about an hour depending on the condition of the house. In the end, the technician will hand you a checklist of items you can address to cut your electric bill in half.

Although there is a small fee, an energy audit can save you time and money in the long run. Rather than guessing at the problems of wasting time to find them, the technician pinpoints the issues. They can also offer professional advice about things that need to be immediately attended to and guide you towards the best solution.

Free Things You Can Do to Cut Your Electric Bill in Half

Even if you do not have the finances to replace and upgrade your home, there are still things you can do to reduce your energy bills.

Shop Around for Deals

As with any purchase, you should always shop around for the best deals. The same is true if your state allows deregulated electricity. You can use dedicated sites to shop around and compare prices between electric suppliers. You receive the same service but at more competitive rates. A little research can save you a bundle on your utility costs.

Reduce Your Energy Consumption

Another easy way to reduce energy consumption is to identify which appliances pull the most electricity and use them less. These usually include your heating and cooling units, dryer, water heater, refrigerator, and electric stove. However, you can also use a Kill a Watt device to see what other electronics and appliances are the worst culprits.

Once you know what is causing the energy spikes, you can find ways to use these appliances less. Here are a few ideas that can reduce your monthly bills.

Heating and Cooling Costs

    • Use your windows to regulate the temperature in your home. Open them during the day to warm your home in the cold months. On the other hand, close them to block out the summer sun to stay cool.
    • Set the thermostat to a cooler temperature during the winter months. You can wear more clothing or use blankets while your body acclimates. After a few days, your body will adjust and your savings will increase.
    • There is no need to heat rooms you don’t use, so close doors and vents to conserve heat.
    • Be sure to seal up your home to make sure air does not escape. Use caulk or weather stripping around doors and windows to stop drafts.
    • Insulate your windows with plastic wrap or a plastic insulator kit to keep air from seeping out.

Cutting Costs with Laundry

    • Use cold water to wash clothes, especially if your home has an electric water heater.
    • Add dryer balls instead of sheets to help your laundry dry faster. They help separate the clothes resulting in less dryer time.
    • On sunny days, line dry clothing outside. During inclement weather, you can hang items inside or get a clothing rack to avoid the dryer completely.

Turning Off and Unplugging Appliances

  •  Turn off the lights when you leave a room. This also includes outdoor lights that are often left on overnight.
  • Use a power strip to help you remember to unplug electronics when not in use. Many devices still pull energy even when turned off.

Cutting Costs in the Kitchen

  • Try to use your electric oven less, especially during the summer months. Instead, grill or cook with other lower energy appliances.
  • Hand wash your dishes and save electricity by not running the dishwasher. Even a few loads less per week can save you money.

Energy-Efficient Products to Reduce Your Electric Bill

If you are ready to invest in upgrading your home, there are many energy-efficient products that will help you reduce your energy consumption.  Cleaning and regularly maintaining your home greatly impact the long-term energy costs. However, there are also smaller improvements you can make that will also help reduce your electric bill.

  • Change incandescent lighting to LED bulbs. Not only are they more energy-efficient, but they also last longer so you will not have to replace them as often.
  • Using a smart power strip will ensure you completely turn off all electronics. A smart device will automatically cut power so they are not left in standby or power-saving mode. Even if they appear to turn off, they may still be using electricity.
  • Install an energy-smart thermostat. You can program it around your schedule so you are not running the heating or cooling system when the house is empty. It automatically adjusts to set temperatures and makes it easier to control. Some even have apps you can use from your phone.
  • Install ceiling fans to circulate air. They are especially useful to cut air conditioning costs on hot summer days.

For those considering more expensive home upgrades, you may qualify for government tax credits and rebates. Although there are significant upfront costs to purchase energy-efficient appliances, these can make it more affordable. Furthermore, it increases the resale value of your home. Whatever your reasons for wanting to reduce energy costs, there are many options to get you there.

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5 Ways to Kickstart Your Next Budget Plan

There’s no time like the present when it comes to evaluating your finances. During difficult economic times, it’s more important than ever to review your budget to ensure that you’re using your money wisely. That said, it can sometimes feel difficult to implement a new budget, especially if it requires cuts that you’re hesitant to make. So, we’re going to look at 5 ways to kickstart your next budget plan and put your money to good use! Continue reading

How to Live Below Your Means

With rising prices and ever increasing consumer demands, it becomes more challenging for many individuals to live below their means. Credit card bills, keeping up with the Joneses, and other unnecessary expenses are among some of the reasons it is exceedingly hard to stick to a budget. Some find themselves unable to spend less than the amount of money they are able to make each month. Here are a few suggestions to help you live below your means and improve your financial health.

Living Below Your Means
Living Below Your Means

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Why You Need a Budget

You’ve likely heard that having a budget is an important financial step, no matter what your income is. If you want to have financial safety, it’s important to keep a budget.

Saving Money

One of the main reasons people have budgets is to prevent themselves from spending more money than they have. There are a few ways you can trim areas of your budget, so you have more to put into your savings or investment account. For example, it’s easy to trim your grocery expenses by shopping around for food. Use coupons, and when there’s a sale, stock up on items. But make sure you’re only stocking up on items you will eventually use, and ensure you have a way of preserving them. For example, you can divide the meat into plastic bags and place them in the freezer.

Debt repayment is another area that a budget helps you save money in. You can see how much you’re paying in total on loans. Look for ways to save. For example, if you have Parent PLUS Loans, consider refinancing them with a private lender to save money off your monthly expenses. You could get a lower interest rate, especially if you have a better credit score now than when you took out the loans. One of the main reasons your budget saves money is because it keeps you from spending what you don’t have. It’s easy to abuse your credit card, but you won’t find yourself in this situation when you know just how much you can safely spend without going into debt.

Keeping Your Eyes on the Goal

With a budget, you can determine what your long-term goals are so you can start working toward them. If you just spend money without knowing how much you’re spending in each area, you won’t be prepared to take a fun trip, purchase a car, or purchase a home. When you allocate certain amounts of money toward certain areas, you’re better able to track your progress toward certain goals and eventually meet them. It might be painful if you find that something you really want isn’t affordable. But it’s better than going into credit card debt. Plus, you’ll get something you really want, like a new home, instead of a shiny new toy that will lose its sparkle after a few weeks.

Doing Better During Retirement

Saving money won’t just help you buy things you want right now. If you save money during your working years and stick to the budget, you’ll be better situated to enjoy your retirement years. With a budget, you can allocate a portion of your income toward your investments, such as a 401(k) or IRA. The trick is to start investing now so your funds can grow. Even if you have to sacrifice a bit, you will find it pays off in the long run. That way, you can spend your golden years doing things you enjoy, and you won’t have to worry about whether or not you can afford necessities, such as long-term care.

How to Become Independently Wealthy

Become Independently Wealthy

Becoming wealthy is a goal many of us hope to achieve in our lifetime.  Some want to be wealthy to have unbelievable lifelong experiences or to validate success or afford anything they want like expensive cars and gucci sunglasses. However, the goal is often dreamed of but rarely achieved.  Ken Fisher, the author of The Ten Roads to Riches, discusses the many ways people can achieve wealth throughout their lifetime, ten to be exact.  All of these roads have proven to make someone independently wealthy in their lifetime.  Some are more common than others.  So, if the question of how to become independently wealthy has crossed your mind, I will discuss two of the ten roads Ken illustrates in his book.

What Does It Mean to Be Independently Wealthy?

To determine whether you are independently wealthy, you must ask yourself a few basic questions. First, do you rely on financial support from anyone? If not, then consider yourself financially independent. Second, do you depend on your employment income? If you answer no to the second question, you would be considered independently wealthy. When you have become independently wealthy, you have either saved enough or earn sufficient passive income to give up your day job.

How to Become Independently Wealthy: Save and Invest Wisely

I usually sign off my posts with a simple phrase: Budget Smart, Invest Wise.  Budgeting allows you to allocate your funds to various categories. Hopefully one of those categories is savings.  Whether your savings vehicle is an IRA, Roth IRA or other type of investment, saving money is critical to building wealth.  However, saving is only half of the battle to building wealth this way.

The other key ingredient is investing wisely.  Investing wisely means creating a smart investment plan. This may be with a financial advisor or through acquired knowledge that creates a return on your investment.  For example, I have found that investing on a monthly basis in a mutual fund is of most benefit to me because it covers the broad range of the U.S. Stock Market.  This investment, although it has risk involved, prevents me from being susceptible to the failure of one company or one sector of the market.  Saving and investing wisely is the road most traveled. But, it also provides the greatest chance of reward.

How to Become Independently Wealthy: Invent Income

Inventing income can cover a wide spectrum of earning additional money.  For example, if you are a songwriter or musician, you can create an ongoing stream of royalties from your lyrics or music.  If you purchase a rental property, you could turn it into a cash flow positive stream of income.  The possibilities are endless.  Maybe you have a specific skill that people are willing to pay you to teach them.  Perhaps your area of expertise at work can lead to consulting other companies on the side.  Do you have something you’re passionate about that you can create into a blog or website and charge for ad revenue?  Many of us have the tools, knowledge, and talent to create additional income. However, do you have the drive to reach your goal?

Becoming independently wealthy or successful all boils down to the level of commitment.  If you are committed to becoming independently wealthy, then  you can find a way.  Some individuals, like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, created an enormous amount of wealth.  Maybe you want billions like these company creators. On the other hand, maybe you will be satisfied with millions or even a million.  Only you can determine what being wealthy is to you.

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Blue Apron Free Trial Review

Blue Apron Free Trial Review

Let’s be honest, many of us lack the time or the money to cook unique, cost-efficient meals today.  Whether you are a couple or a family, it is sometimes easiest to just eat out.  Eating out on a regular basis can get very expensive.  So, it’s easy to see how meal delivery services have become so popular, especially with their attractive introductory offers. I recently received a Blue Apron free trial.  I was eager to try and cook my way through a new and adventurous meal, something I wouldn’t normally eat.

As this was a Blue Apron free trial, I had nothing to lose.  I had three meals delivered right to my door.  All of the packaging was recyclable, and it came with a couple of nice reusable freezer packs.  Here is my experience:

Blue Apron Meal: Chipotle-Glazed Meatloaf

Blue Apron Free Trial: Chipotle-Glazed Meatloaf

What I expected:

Blue Apron said the prep time for this meal was just 10 minutes with the cooking time of the meal being between 35-45 minutes.  The card (included in the picture) came with a quick description of the meal along with all of the ingredients for the meal.  Each ingredient listed even came with a picture in case you weren’t sure.  The flip side of the card also came with step by step instructions on how to prepare the meal. Additionally, there were some pictures to assist you along the way.  I laid out all of the ingredients on top of my counter along with the card and began.

The Good: 

You have all of the ingredients you need to create a unique dish.  If you tried to go to the grocery store and buy all of the necessary items to create something similar, you would spend way more than $10/meal.  Also, all of the items looked fresh and appeared top notch.  Everything from the beef, to the potatoes, to the garlic looked like it had been prepared just mere days before.  Finally, Blue Apron also pairs each of the dishes with a wine.

The Bad: 

While the meal card said the prep time was just 10 minutes, this was not the case.  It took me about double that time to prepare the meal.  The only way someone could have done the prep in 10 minutes is if they were highly experienced in the kitchen or if they had prepared this meal before.  The meal also lacked a side of vegetables.  While this might seem quite minor in the details, some healthy vegetables to go along with this meal would have made it complete.  I ended up cooking some green beans to go along with the meat and potatoes.  You also needed some cooking experience to help guide you through.  I don’t believe these meals are for the complete rookie.  For instance, you had to mince garlic, slice potatoes, and needed a few kitchen accessories to complete the meal.

Chipotle-Glazed Meatloaf Dish

Final Opinion of Blue Apron’s Free Trial

Ultimately my Blue Apron free trial was a success.  I was able to create a delicious, unique meal all by myself.  At just around $10/meal, it is also a great value because the same ingredients would cost much more if you purchased them at the store.  Downsides would be that it requires some basic kitchen knowledge and elementary kitchen items.  This meal service is great for a couple who enjoys cooking together and wants to spend some time create different dishes and bonding over the experience.

Continuing Beyond the Free Trial

If you decide to continue purchasing Blue Apron meals after the trial, you have a variety of meal options. The website is very user friendly and lets you browse through their selections easily. Furthermore, they cater to specific dietary needs as well. Pricing varies based on the serving size and the plan you choose. However, you receive a discount for your first week and free shipping. If you aren’t quite ready to commit to the program, the Blue Apron free trial is perfect for you. There’s no risk and you’ll have the chance to sample new dishes for free!

Are you interested in Blue Apron? Get $30 off your first week using this link.

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Finance Tips for Parents

It is often said that parenting is an expensive thing to do, and that is true in many ways; once you have a child or children, you will need to pay out for things you never had to before, including childcare, clothing, extra food, and ways to keep them entertained. However, that doesn’t mean you have to struggle, even if there is no extra money coming in. There are many ways that you can be financially comfortable, no matter how many children you have, and here are some tips to help you.

Plan Ahead 

Planning ahead when you need to make any kind of financial decision is truly important and will help you to keep within your budget. If you think about going to the grocery store with a list compared to times you go without one, for example, you can quickly see that with a list, knowing what you need, and being able to stay focused is going to be much better than trying to remember what you need, or buying things you don’t want, but that look like they might be required in the future.

In the first scenario, you will know roughly how much money you are going to spend. In the second, you will have no idea of how much money you will spend, plus you are likely to overspend on your budget because of all the extras you buy.

By planning ahead, you can ensure that you always have enough money to do everything you want to do, whether that is buying groceries, paying bills, or doing something more fun, such as taking the kids out for the day or trying out sportsbetting.com. Remember, fun is just as important as everything else, so you should always put money away to enjoy yourself too.

Save Where You Can 

Saving money where you can is a life lesson that people should try to follow, whether they have children or not. Having some savings can be extremely useful, especially when it comes to emergencies or saving up to buy something important. This way, if you can put money aside each month, you will always know you can afford to pay for new shoes, for a school excursion, for Christmas and birthdays, and for fixing the car or things around the house when they need to be fixed.

It’s not always easy to save, but if you put money into a separate account at the start of each month, just a little at a time, you will soon see the difference, and over time it will add up to a good amount.

Compare Prices

Whatever you are buying, and no matter where you happen to be buying it from, you should always stop before making your purchase to compare prices. It is wise to check whether you can buy the same item or service for less elsewhere, as you might be able to save yourself a lot of money in this way.

However, don’t assume that a lower price means you should make a purchase. There are other things to consider, which is why you should take your time with your research. There might be shipping costs added on, for example, which make the item more expensive in the end. Other issues could be customer service or slow shipping times. Make sure you are spending your money wisely when you do buy something.