7 Simple Home Improvements to Beat the Winter Blues

Winter can be a tough time of year for many of us, especially after all the holiday excitement dwindles down. It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s gloomy. And this is when many of us start to feel the winter blues settling in. 

But there is good news. By planning out a few simple home improvements you can easily transform your space into a happier and cozier place to be, while also enjoying time spent inside. Sprucing up your home can feel good during any season, but certain projects are perfect for giving you a much-needed mood boost during this time of year. 

So, if winter is getting you down, consider these home improvement projects to help you beat those winter blues, no matter how short the days are or how low the temperatures drop.

painted living room

1. Repaint living spaces

Feeling like your home is in need of a dramatic change? A new coat of paint can be a cheap and effective way to switch things up in no time. During this time when many of us need a mood booster, take a page out of the psychology book, and surround yourself with colors that help you relax and increase happiness. In general, cool colors have a calming effect, while warm colors add comfort and can be invigorating. White can help brighten rooms by reflecting light. It makes a small space feel larger and more open, which can help you feel more energized.

Painting can require some patience, especially if you are considering a brand new color, but it’s easy enough for even a DIY beginner to accomplish. And, with the right attitude and a few friends or even some favorite music, you can make repainting your walls fun, too. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your painting project, consider hiring a local painting company to tackle it for you.

kitchen lighting

2. Update your home’s lighting 

What better way to brighten and warm your spirits this winter than with the perfect lighting. Not to mention it’s an easy and affordable way to make your home a more comfortable place to spend time.

Instead of sticking with whatever fixtures came in your home when you bought it, you can use the doldrums of winter as an excuse to try this simple home improvement. Light fixtures are affordable and can often be installed without an expert. Whether you repurpose your holiday string lights or invest in a daylight lamp, the options are endless. You can also completely change the ambiance in your home simply by replacing any harsh white bulbs with calming yellow ones.

skylights in living room

3. Maximize natural light with windows or skylights

With the shorter days and gloomy weather, one of the main factors leading to winter blues this time of year is the lack of natural light. The best solution for this is to increase the amount of sunlight in your home. If your current windows aren’t letting in enough light or air, it may be time to upgrade. 

Skylights can also be an excellent way to improve natural light. This is true even if you live somewhere like Miami, where the sunlight is abundant. Skylights can be installed in many areas of your home, with kitchens and baths being among the most popular choices. Adding more light and sun can go a long way in making the winter darkness a little easier to manage.

simple home improvements bright entryway

4. Install a sound system

There’s nothing like a great song for instantly lifting the spirits. Playing some of your favorite tunes at home is the perfect remedy to help fight your winter blues. It’s a bit less impactful, though, when you’re listening to music through tiny laptop speakers. If you want to really immerse yourself in the sound of your favorite songs, invest in a home sound system.

Setting up a surround sound system or a sound system that plays across multiple rooms is quite simple. Modern technology allows for easy connectivity with Bluetooth, ensuring your home is ready for fun without a costly or complicated setup process.

simple home improvements bathroom

5. Improve organization

After spending months inside due to the pandemic, followed by the holidays, your home may be overrun by clutter. Think about how good you’ll feel when you’ve cleaned your house, and everything has been put back in its rightful place

Improving the organization of a space can occur in a number of ways, from purchasing storage boxes and bins to custom pieces for the closet. A few simple home improvements can go a long way. Whether that’s just going through old mail, sorting clothing to donate, or filing papers, organizing can help create a nicer living space. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the process, bring in a professional organizer or declutter to help.

6. Add greenery to beat winter blues

Plants are amazing gifts of nature. In both work and home environments, live plants can boost your mood, productivity, concentration, and creativity. Plants come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny succulents to large potted plants, making greenery a functional and flexible option for everyone. You can choose from flowers, greek plants like ferns, or even herbs to add color and life to any room.

If you have a large living area, potted trees can also be an excellent addition and one of the simplest home improvements you can do. Available from local nurseries and mail order services nationwide, plants make it easy to add a dynamic living focal piece to any room.

bedroom sanctuary simple home improvement

7. Create a bedroom sanctuary

There’s nothing quite like having a cozy place to escape to on a cold winter day. From fluffy blankets and bedding to essential oils and warm, ambient lighting, your bedroom can be a place of peace from the moment you walk in. Flannel sheets can keep you nice and warm while a plush rug to sink your toes into will add comfort. 

Making it through yet another winter may seem tough, but a few simple home improvements can be just what you need to turn a cold-weather frown upside down. From a little repainting to installing skylights, there’s plenty you can do to increase your happiness and take your home from bland to beautiful this season.

The post 7 Simple Home Improvements to Beat the Winter Blues appeared first on Redfin | Real Estate Tips for Home Buying, Selling & More.

Source: redfin.com

Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Freeze

Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Fast

The holiday parties may be over but the financial hangover is just setting in. Holiday sales for 2016 were estimated to top $655 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. If you blew your holiday budget, don’t panic. A January spending freeze may be just what you need to get back on track. If you’ve never done a spending freeze before, here’s what to expect.

See the average budget for someone in your neighborhood.

How Does a Spending Freeze Work?

During a spending freeze, you avoid making nonessential purchases. For example, if you buy fast food two to three times per week or movie tickets once a month, you’d cut those expenses out temporarily. A spending freeze gives you the chance to rein in your spending and evaluate your budget. The money you would’ve spent on fun and entertainment can then go toward paying off the debt you racked up during the holidays.

Getting Started

Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Fast

Before starting your spending freeze, you may need to mentally prepare yourself for what’s to come. Getting rid of bad spending habits can be tricky. But with the right mindset, you may be able to cut costs and achieve some of your financial goals.

The key to making your spending freeze work is being able to separate your needs from your wants. You’ll need to be able to pay for essential costs like rent, mortgage payments and debt payments. But you’ll need to recognize that other expenses – like the cost of a daily latte or a pair of new shoes – can be removed from your budget if necessary.

If you’re having trouble curbing your spending, agreeing to splurge on just one item during the month of January may make sticking with your freeze a bit easier.

Related Article: How to Recover From a Holiday Shopping Spree

Put the Money You’re Saving to Work

Once you begin your spending freeze, you’ll need to figure out what to do with the extra money in your bank account. Paying off your credit card bills should be a top priority since credit card debt tends to have a bigger impact on your credit score than installment debt. Specifically, you may want to focus on paying off your store credit cards since they often carry high interest rates.

Which credit card should you pay off first? You may want to begin by paying off the card with the highest APR since that’ll reduce what you’re paying in interest. Or you could pay off the card with the lowest balance. That may give you the momentum you need to knock out the rest of your credit card debt.

Related Article: How to Stop Spending Money Carelessly

Get a Partner Onboard

Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Fast

Implementing a spending freeze can be difficult if you’ve never done one before. Having someone else along for the ride may help you fight your urge to splurge.

If you’re married, for example, you could ask your spouse to jump on the spending freeze bandwagon with you. Singles can find a friend or family member who’s willing to join in. Just remember that when you’re choosing a partner, it’s best to pick someone who’s going to encourage you to stick with your freeze and make good financial decisions.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Pogonici, ©iStock.com/killerb10, ©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

The post Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Freeze appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

Don’t Get Tricked: Identity Protection Tips You Need

A woman sits on a gray couch with a laptop on her lap, drinking a cup of coffee

The weather is turning, fall is in the air, and Halloween is around the corner—which means it’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. How can you ensure October is full of treats while not falling for any scammers’ tricks? By arming yourself with these identity protection tips.

Every American should understand the basics of identity theft protection. According to the most recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 10% of people 16 and older have been the victim of identity theft. That’s why we’re encouraging people to educate themselves on identity protection tips this autumn. After all, there’s nothing quite as scary as identity fraud!

Here are some identity theft tricks to watch out for and identity security treats to take advantage of.

Trick: Using Your Data to Open New Accounts

According to the FTC, credit card fraud—including opening new credit card accounts—was the most commonly reported form of identity theft in 2019. Thieves can rack up hundreds of dollars’ worth of bills before you know it happened.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to your cybersecurity to avoid your data being used to open new accounts in your name:

  • Never use the same password across multiple accounts. Switch your passwords up.
  • Never use a password that’s easy to guess. This includes passwords that include your birthday, first or last name, or address.
  • Use passwords that are random combinations of numbers, letters, and symbols.
  • Enable two-factor authentication whenever it’s offered.
  • Don’t share or write down your passwords.
  • Never click on unknown email links or pop-ups on websites.
  • Make sure websites are secure before entering your payment information.
  • Never connect to public Wi-Fi that isn’t secure.
  • Never walk away from your laptop in public places.
  • Enable firewall protection.
  • Monitor your accounts and credit reports for unusual activity.

Treat: Check Your Credit Reports

Identity theft protection starts by being proactive and regularly monitoring your information for suspicious activity. That includes monitoring your credit report.

Did you know that you’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report each year from all three credit reporting agencies? In honor of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, make October the month that you request your reports and go over them with a fine-toothed comb. Make sure you recognize all the open accounts under your name.

[Note: Through April 2021, you can review your credit reports weekly.]

An added bonus of checking your reports early in the month is that you can give your credit a good once-over before the upcoming holiday shopping season. Unexplained dips in your credit score could be a sign that something is wrong.

When you request your free credit report from the credit bureaus, your report does not come with your credit score—you have to request that separately. Sign up for ExtraCredit to get 28 of your FICO® scores and your credit reports from all three credit bureaus. You’ll also get account monitoring and $1 million identity theft insurance.

Protect Your Identity with ExtraCredit

Trick: Charity Fraud

October also happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and everywhere you look, pink is on display. With so much national attention on breast cancer, it’s easy to fall for scams that claim to be legitimate charities.

Consumers should also be on the lookout for phony COVID-19 related scams this fall and winter. For example, watch out for fake charities that pretend to provide COVID relief to groups or families but are simply stealing money.

Even worse than handing over money to these heartless fraudsters is that you may have handed over your credit card numbers or other personally identifiable information in the process.

Treat: Know Your Worthy Causes

Before donating to a charitable cause, do your homework. You can use websites such as Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance to check a charity’s reputation. Additionally, consider contacting your state’s charity regulator to confirm the organization is registered to raise money in your state.

After you’ve verified the status of the charity, consider making donations directly through the national organization. Avoid giving money or financial information directly to someone that reaches out to you through email, phone calls, or door-to-door interactions.

It might be a bit of extra work, but at the end of the day, you can feel good knowing your money is going to support a real cause. If you want to support October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, consider donating directly on the national website. An added bonus is that you’ll receive a receipt you can use for tax deduction purposes.

Trick: Tax Refund Fraud

Every year, the Internal Revenue Service announces its “dirty dozen” scams. These are the tax fraud scams the IRS determines to be the most common for the year. The 2020 list includes refund theft. A tax thief gains access to your information, files a fraudulent return in your name before you do, and has the funds paid out them. The only way you find out about it is that your legitimate tax return—the one you submit—is rejected for having already been filed.

Another way individuals fall victim to tax refund fraud is by using an unscrupulous return vendor. Dishonest vendors and ghost preparers steal personal information to file a tax refund and pocket the money or use that information for other types of identity fraud.

It’s unclear what exactly the next round of stimulus legislation will include, but if another stimulus check is included, watch out for attempts to steal your COVID stimulus checks. Remember that the IRS never contacts you via email, social media, or text.

Treat: File Early

It may feel like you just finished filing your 2019 taxes, but it’s never too early to start preparing for next year. While filing your taxes might be the last thing you want to think about this month, it’s crucial to stay on top of your tax return documents so you’re ready to file as early as possible. This is especially true for individuals who have reason to believe that their personal data has already been breached.

Always ensure you work with a reputable tax return vendor. You can look at the vendor’s online reviews before considering them as an option for tax return help.

Additionally, individuals that are paid to assist with or prepare federal tax returns must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Paid preparers must sign and include their PTIN on returns. Always ask for this number before you hire an individual and hand over your personal information.

If you file early, you can beat out someone filing before you and receiving your return first. The earliest you can file is January.

Trick: Social Media Scams

Our social media accounts allow us to stay connected with friends and family. Unfortunately, scammers understand this and have started using social media to commit identity fraud.

There are many variations of social media phishing scams, but the basics are generally that a scammer creates an account to gain your trust and gather personal information from you. For example, many people have their name, birthday, and workplace information on their Facebook or other social media account. Those three things alone could be enough for someone to gain everything else they need to create a credit card application under your name or access your existing accounts.

Treat: Be More Exclusive and Private

Consider taking a quiet October morning to comb through your social media accounts. Start with your followers. Consider deleting everyone you don’t know personally.

If a follower base is important to you, consider another approach. Go through each social profile and scrub any personal details. Change the spelling of your last name slightly, delete your birthday, and remove other personal information, such as place of work. Ultimately, this can reduce the risk of being an easy target for identity fraud.

These core identity protection tips should help you stay safer online. With COVID-19 causing people to feel scared, individuals are more vulnerable to being tricked. Remember that identity fraud happens to millions of people every year, and it’s important to remain vigilant.

Stay Vigilant This Fall

Identity theft can have long-lasting consequences. If you’re recovering from identity fraud or simply unhappy with your credit score, consider signing up for ExtraCredit. ExtraCredit is a five-in-one credit product that provides tools to helps you build, guard, track, reward, and restore your credit.

Sign Up Now

The post Don’t Get Tricked: Identity Protection Tips You Need appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

Don’t Let Debt Ruin the Holidays: Proactive Steps

A smiling woman wearing a denim dress and a red headband looks down at her shopping bags

According to numbers for the 2018 holiday shopping season, American shoppers incurred an average debt of just over $1,000. And not everyone could pay that debt off quickly, leading to expensive, long-term credit card debt for some.

But holiday shopping debt isn’t the only financial burden people face. Many enter the season with other debt. If that’s you, don’t let debt ruin the holidays. Instead, consider some of these tips to manage debt before the holidays so you can enjoy the festivities with reduced stress.

1. Find Out Exactly Where You Stand Financially

Before you create a plan to tackle your debt, ensure you’re accounting for all of it. According to a 2019 study, around one in five adult Americans weren’t sure if they had credit card debt when asked.

Even if you think you have a handle on your debt, it’s a good idea to give your reports a once-over. This lets you ensure you didn’t miss something important and that no one has used your identity to run up debt in your name. That could come as a nasty surprise if you try to use or obtain credit for holiday shopping.

You can get a free copy of your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. Normally, you can get one per year from each of the three major credit bureaus. But because of assistance measures put in place for COVID-19, you can get a free copy from each bureau every week through April 2021. You can also get a free Credit Report Card from Credit.com, which includes your Experian VantageScore 3.0 and regular updates on what is affecting your scores.

2. Create a Monthly Budget

Once you know everything you owe, sit down and take a look at your monthly budget. List all of your regular expenses and decide where you can cut to help put more money toward your debt.

Use tools such as credit card debt calculators to determine how much you should pay every month on debt to reduce it in a certain amount of time. This helps you understand how much money you should be putting toward debt to pay it off before the holidays arrive.

3. Choose a Method for Paying Down Debt

Every situation is different, so the way you pay down debt depends on what might work best for your situation. Here are a few tips to consider.

Go with a Basic Snowball Method

The Snowball Method means you line up all your debts by total balance. You make a minimum payment on each while throwing anything extra at the debt with the smallest balance. You do so because you’ll be able to pay off that one the fastest.

Once you pay off the first debt, you take everything you were putting on it each month and add it to what you’re paying on the next-smallest balance. As you pay off each debt, you have more money to put toward the next one. By the time you reach the biggest debt, you can pay it off fairly quickly.

Make Use of Balance Transfer Cards

If it’s not realistic to pay down all of your debt before the holidays, you might want to concentrate on getting your finances in order and ensuring your debt costs as little as possible. One way to do that is to make use of a balance transfer card.

These cards let you transfer existing high-interest credit card debt to a card that has 0% APR for a period of time. If you can pay the debt off within that time—which can range from a year to two years on average—you can save a lot in interest.

Consider Taking Out a Personal Loan to Consolidate Debt

If you’re dealing with high-interest debt or payments that simply add up to more than you can handle every month, you might consider a personal loan to consolidate debt. A debt consolidation loan doesn’t get rid of your debt, but it might make it more manageable. You might end up with a single monthly payment that reduces how much you must worry about during the holidays.

4. Set a Holiday Budget and Stick to It

Once you have a plan for dealing with your existing debt, ensure you don’t re-create it with your holiday spending this year. Spend smart during the holidays. Make a list of what you want to do, the meals and treats you want to make, and the gifts you want to buy.

Assign everything on your list a dollar amount, and then take another look. Can you realistically afford all of this? You might need to make some priority decisions and reduce your list to fit a holiday budget you can afford without racking up too much debt this season.

5. Use Credit to Your Advantage

If you don’t let debt ruin the holidays, you might be able to use credit as a financial tool to your advantage as you shop or participate in festivities. The right rewards credit cards help you earn points or miles as you spend—and you can earn even more points for spending in certain categories.

For example, you might have a cash-back credit card that gives you more cash back in the final quarter of the year on travel or grocery shopping. You could use that card to fund expenses as you go visit relatives or prepare a feast when they come to your home.

If you spend on your card only what you were going to spend with cash anyway, you can pay your balances off immediately. That means you get those rewards without any interest cost for doing so. If you don’t have a rewards credit card, you can find options to consider in the Credit.com credit card marketplace. Here are a couple to start with.

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Apply Now

on American Express’s secure website

Card Details
Intro Apr:
0% for 12 months on purchases


Ongoing Apr:
13.99%-23.99% Variable


Balance Transfer:
N/A


Annual Fee:
$95


Credit Needed:
Excellent-Good

Rates and Fees

Snapshot of Card Features
  • Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
  • 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
  • 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more).
  • 1% Cash Back on other purchases.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 12 months on purchases from the date of account opening, then a variable rate, 13.99% to 23.99%.
  • Plan It® gives the option to select purchases of $100 or more to split up into monthly payments with a fixed fee.
  • Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
  • $95 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.

Card Details +

This card gives you 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000 per year in purchases. You can also get 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and transit, making it a potentially good card to use when you’re traveling. The Blue Cash Preferred® card allows you to earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 3 months.

Amalgamated Bank of Chicago Platinum Rewards Mastercard

Amalgamated Bank of Chicago Platinum Rewards Mastercard® Credit Card

Apply Now

on Amalgamated Bank of Chicago’s secure website

Card Details
Intro Apr:
0% on Purchases for 12 months


Ongoing Apr:
12.90% – 22.90% Variable APR on purchases


Balance Transfer:
12.90% – 22.90% Variable APR on balance transfers


Annual Fee:
$0


Credit Needed:
Excellent

Rates and Fees

Snapshot of Card Features
  • 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 12 months; after that the variable APR will be 12.90% – 22.90% (V), based on your creditworthiness
  • Earn $150 Statement Credit after you spend $1,200 on purchases within the first 90 days from account opening
  • Earn 5x rewards on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter in popular categories such as dining, groceries, travel, and automotive
  • No upper limit on the points you can accumulate, and since points never expire, you can save up for a big award!
  • Earn Points on Every Purchase! It’s simple: $1 = 1 Point
  • No Annual Fee or Foreign Transaction Fee
  • Select Your Rewards Your Way
  • No Foreign Transaction Fee

Card Details +

The Amalgamated Bank of Chicago Platinum Rewards Mastercard® allows you to earn 5X rewards up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter in popular categories. Categories include dining, groceries, fuel, travel, and other popular spending areas. If you’ll be spending in a certain category during the holidays, you could earn extra rewards points to redeem on travel or other purchases.

Reward Yourself

It’s never too early or too late to start planning financially for big seasons such as the holidays. If you’re ready to take a step toward that plan today, consider signing up for ExtraCredit. Reward It from ExtraCredit connects you with personalized offers and offers cashback rewards when you sign up and are approved for them.

Reward Yourself This Holiday Season

The post Don’t Let Debt Ruin the Holidays: Proactive Steps appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

I taught English in China to pay off my student loans

Hello! Here’s a guest post from a reader, Nick. Nick was feeling stuck a few years ago and wasn’t making progress on his student loans. He ended up researching a lot about salaries and the cost of living for English teachers in China and realized that he would be able to save far more money in China than back home. Even without teaching experience, and still living very comfortably, including taking vacations, it has been easy for him to save $20,000 in a year. For him, it had a huge impact on his life and financial freedom. Enjoy his story on how to teach English in China below!

I taught English in China to pay off my student loans #teachenglish #movetochina #makeextramoneyIt must have been about 4.5 years ago. I remember walking out of an interview in Chicago feeling completely dejected.

The interviewer mentioned the salary, and along with it, how most new hires take on a second job during the weekend. 

I wasn’t expecting to find an amazing job, but this was just too much. None of my past decisions looked particularly good on a resume. I had just returned from a 3.5-year stint traveling around Latin America while earning a very modest living playing online poker.

But, I was burnt out, making no progress on my student loans, and realizing it was time to get a normal job. I was actually really excited to do so but job hunting was incredibly frustrating and when I realized how little money I’d be earning, I began looking for alternative options. 

Somewhere along the way, I had heard about teachers in Asia making good money and motivated by the frustration of the job search, I began looking into it more seriously.

After spending countless hours reading online, I ended up settling on China as that seemed to be where it’d be easiest to save the most money. 

I’ve since been in China for four years, paid off my student loans, and finally feel comfortable with my finances. 

Without a doubt, moving to China isn’t for everyone or even most people. However, for those that are a little bit adventurous, not opposed to working as a teacher, and want to save money fast, it’s an option worth considering. 

It’s not at all difficult to save $20,000 per year, without needing to be particularly frugal, and still have plenty of vacation time. 

Related articles on how to make extra money:

  • 12 Work From Home Jobs That Can Earn You $1,000+ Each Month
  • 30+ Ways To Save Money Each Month
  • The Best Online Tutoring Jobs

How to start teaching English in China.

 

The demand for teachers in China

Chinese parents spend an average of $17,400 per year on extracurricular tutoring for their children. 

More than 60% of students receive tutoring outside of school at an average of six hours per week and English is among the most popular subjects for after school tutoring. 

While these numbers look insanely high from my Midwestern American point of view, it barely scratches the surface for the demand for English tutoring in China. 

In fact, English is a required subject in Chinese schools. Private schools often take this a step further, with many classes and programs taught exclusively in English. Meanwhile, the online tutoring industry has created lots of opportunities to teach English online

Chinese parents are obviously willing to pay for English education. This demand for English teachers becomes even more apparent when you consider just how huge of a country it is. With a population of over 1.3 billion people, there are 32 cities with more people than Chicago

 

The requirements to be an English teacher

It’s not difficult to become an English teacher in China. The huge demand has made for relatively lax requirements. These are…

  • A bachelor’s degree
  • Two years of work experience
  • 120 hour TEFL certificate
  • Clear criminal background check
  • Pass a health check
  • Native English speaker

The bachelor’s degree doesn’t need to be in any specific subject, nor do the two years of work experience. The 120-hour TEFL is easy and pretty cheap to do online. 

Of course, having these doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to get a great job right off the bat. Some of the best schools will have a very rigorous hiring process. However, even a standard first job in China can allow you to save a lot of money. 

 

The types of English teaching jobs in China

Most foreign teachers in China come to teach English. However, there are other opportunities as well, such as with teaching sports, a specific subject, or as a homeroom teacher who teaches a variety of subjects. 

There’s a wide range of salaries and teaching environments, with the main positions being in kindergartens, public schools, international schools, training centers, and universities. Salaries, working hours, and work environment can vary quite a bit depending on the type of school.

Additionally, the chosen city will have a large impact on your life with bigger cities paying more but also having a higher cost of living. ESL Authority has a good breakdown of the different salary ranges for different school types and locations. 

My teaching experience in China has exclusively been in Beijing at two public schools and one international school. I’ll share a bit about my experiences and salary at these schools. 

 

Teaching at a public school in China

Public school teaching jobs typically focus on oral English, meaning you’ll help students with their speaking and listening comprehension. The class sizes tend to be quite large. I often had 30-40 students in a class and would see each class only a couple of times per week, while often teaching multiple classes and different grade levels. In a given week I’d see 200-300 students. 

At the public schools I taught, I earned around $1,600 per month, which included a round-trip plane ticket to America, and housing. A typical schedule for public schools would be Monday-Friday, from 8 am – 4 pm, with 16-20 classes per week, with each one lasting around 45 minutes. There would be a lot of down-time during the day which I used to study Chinese

Many public schools, but not all, will let foreign teachers leave if they don’t have classes. Both public schools I taught at while in Beijing allowed me to leave when my classes were finished, which meant I’d often be done for the day around 2 pm. 

Vacation time is very generous, exceeding 3 months for summer and winter vacation, plus all of the national holidays during the year. Both public schools I’ve taught at allowed foreigners to finish the semester earlier and start later than their Chinese counterparts which makes sense as foreign teachers aren’t usually responsible for grading homework or preparing exams. 

The salary at public schools is more than enough to live comfortably and save quite a bit of money. Still, many teachers use their substantial free time to teach extra on the side with private students or at training centers. Doing so can be quite lucrative with an average rate of around $30 per hour. 

Having said that, it’s not exactly legal to teach with a different school than the one that sponsored your visa. If you got caught, it could get you in trouble and you could have your visa canceled and your time in China cut short. But, it’s one of those things that nearly everyone does and almost nobody gets in trouble for. So, if you choose to teach on the side, you should be aware of the risks. 

It isn’t difficult to teach an extra six hours per week during the ~8 months of the school year. This would earn an extra $5,760. Teaching 20 hours per week during 2 months of the summer/winter vacation would earn an extra $4,800. Combining these with the public school salary would make your yearly after-tax income $29,760 – with housing already paid for.

Plus, you’d still have close to two months’ vacation throughout the year. 

While I didn’t keep good track of my earnings and expenses while teaching at the public schools, these numbers are very close to my own experience. 

 

My experience teaching at an international school in China

If you’re more interested in teaching a subject like history or math, as opposed to English, an international school would be your best bet. 

These are the schools where wealthy Chinese and expats typically send their children to study. Teaching positions at some of the better schools can be very competitive, often requiring a teaching license, graduate degree, and a number of years of experience. Of course, those who qualify for these positions will earn higher salaries. 

However, a large number of international schools don’t have any additional requirements for teachers above the bare minimum required to teach in China. 

The work at these schools can be very demanding, much like teaching in America would be, requiring things like communicating with parents, creating exams, giving and grading homework, and plenty of meetings. Vacation periods are typically shorter than those for public school teachers. Likewise, working hours may be from 8 am – 5 pm, but most international school teachers will find themselves with very little downtime throughout the day. 

On the plus side, class sizes are generally much smaller and salaries higher. While teaching at an international school, I earned around $2,800 per month or $33,600 per year after taxes, with housing and a round-trip plane ticket included. 

However, due to the shorter vacations and more tiring day-to-day work, I didn’t have any interest in tutoring on the side. 

 

What does a typical budget look like for an English teacher?

This can be hard to say as everyone has a different lifestyle and things they’re willing or not willing to spend money on. I’ll share my budget below. 

Housing and Healthcare – $0/mo – In China, especially in the bigger cities, rent would make up the largest portion of a budget. Fortunately for foreign teachers, most schools include housing or a housing allowance. Housing would typically be a one-bedroom apartment, which may be on or off-campus, depending on the school. Some teachers may choose to add some of their own money to the housing allowance so that they can stay in a nicer place. But, I’ve been happy with the provided accommodation and didn’t pay any extra.  Health insurance is also provided and many schools have gyms on campus that you can use for free. 

Food – $350/mo – You can spend a lot of money on food or not much at all, depending on your preferences. Cheaper meals can be had for under $3 but you could easily spend $30 on a meal if you choose to go to fancier places. It also depends on how much you cook vs eat out and whether you like buying imported groceries. Most schools will offer free lunch to their teachers. Even so, I tend to spend quite a bit on food but am cheaper in other areas, so my food budget would be something like:

Groceries: $150

Restaurants: $200

Entertainment – $100/mo – Being the old man I am, I rarely go out for drinks at bars and my preferred entertainment is also the cheaper kind – hanging out, eating, and playing games with friends. Still, my wife and I will go to the occasional show. 

Transportation – $60/mo – Public transportation in China is fantastic and a single trip on the subway or in a bus can cost less than 50 cents. Shared bikes are everywhere and extremely cheap. Even using Didi, the Chinese version of Uber, is very affordable.  This is another area where I spend more than necessary, often taking a Didi out of laziness when there are cheaper options. 

Utilities – $15/mo – I think most schools typically pay for household utilities, like electricity and water. At least, the schools I worked at did. So, the only expense here is my phone which is on a pay as you go plan.

Travel – $250/mo – Living in China and working as a teacher opens up lots of travel opportunities, both within China and around Asia. Unfortunately, although plentiful, teacher’s vacation time is usually during national holidays when the cost of tickets is a bit higher.  Still, I tend to go on at least one international trip a year and also like to travel within China. Plus, almost every school also provides a round-trip ticket to your home country. If I were to guess, I probably spend around $3,000 per year on travel. I know people who spend much more and others who spend much less, so this cost will depend a lot on each individual’s preferences. 

Miscellaneous – $50/mo – These are other expenses such as buying household appliances, clothes, and other random things. I’m not a big shopper, but random things do come up. 

Total Expenses – $825/mo or $9,900/year

Although I’m conscious of my spending, I wouldn’t say that I’m especially frugal while in China. Far much less than I’d be if I were still living in Michigan. 

Some people might consider my spending extravagant while others might think I’m cheap. For me, it’s a good balance of comfort and enjoying my lifestyle with saving for the future. 

 

How much money can you save teaching English in China?

In my experience, I earned between $29,760 and $33,600 per year with expenses around $9,900 per year. This led to savings between $19,860 and $23,700 per year. Unfortunately, I didn’t track my exact earnings and spending each year, but these ballpark numbers are pretty accurate. 

It’s not particularly difficult to save $20,000 in a year of teaching in China while still living comfortably, traveling, and leaving yourself with enough free time to pursue other interests.

Plenty of people save more than this each year. There are also opportunities to increase your earnings as you gain more experience. 

However, like most places, life can be as expensive as you make it. If you’re bad with money back home, it’s unlikely you’ll suddenly become good with money by moving abroad. In fact, the money may disappear even faster than it would back home as there are lots of exciting ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities. 

But, if you’re somewhat frugal and work fairly hard, you’ll have no problem saving a lot of money. 

 

How to find a job teaching English in China

There are tons of websites with job listings for English teachers in China. I can’t comment on most sites as all the jobs I found started with a search on the eChinacities job board

The start of your job search can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re still not sure where you’d like to live in China. This isn’t helped by the fact that a lot of recruiters will earn more money if they can get a teacher to accept a lower salary. 

I’ve known teachers that came to China and received terrible salary packages, earning less than half of what a typical salary would be and with an apartment far from the school. These people tended to not do enough research beforehand and accepted the first offer they received.

I would strongly recommend talking with lots of recruiters before accepting any position. Be sure to ask tons of questions, and be willing to say no to a jobs that don’t fit your criteria. There is no shortage of opportunities, so be patient when looking for your ideal position. 

Before accepting any position, be sure to do your due diligence on the school.

Most schools are fine and professional, but there are some sketchy ones. You won’t always find much information online about the school, but if they’ve done shady things in the past, you’ll probably see people talking about it.

Asking to speak with any current or former teachers can give you a bit more insight into the school as well.

 

Final thoughts on teaching English in China

Not everyone will be excited to live in China and I can understand that. It’s far from home, the language is difficult, and many people have a negative perception of the country. 

However, I’ve really enjoyed my life here and the experience has been exceptionally positive. Sure, there are small annoyances, but these will happen anywhere. Plenty of people worry about air quality, and while still not great, it has been improving every year

Beijing is extremely modern with no shortage of interesting and unique things to do. Moving here has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. 

I came here with only a few thousand dollars in the bank and what felt like an endless pit of student loan debt. In only a few years, I’ve been able to completely turn around my finances, pay off my loans, and save up a nice nest egg. 

I know that it’s not for everyone, but if you’re open to new experiences, can see yourself enjoying teaching, and want to save a lot of money, moving to China to teach English is an option worth considering. 

Nick Dahlhoff is an English teacher living in Beijing. Since moving there in 2016, he’s paid off his student loans, studied Chinese, gotten married and started a blog. At All Language Resources, he tests out lots of language learning resources to help language learners figure out which resources are worth using and which ones are better off avoiding. 

Would you take a job in another country to pay off your debt? Would you start teaching English in China?

The post I taught English in China to pay off my student loans appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

Source: makingsenseofcents.com

The Frugal Mom’s Guide to Meal Planning on a Budget

Meal Planning Can Help Save You $1,600 a Year on Your Grocery Budget!

Hmmm… donuts, pizza & mojitos OH MY! Isn’t it amazing how one stray sentence can totally take over your mind! Food is tasty, a treat, and can be downright mesmerizing! It can also be one of our biggest budget busters! We want what we want and when we want it (sometimes we hate wanting it (I’m talking to you brownies!) This gets us into trouble with our waistline as well as our wallet!

I have my fingers crossed that one day there will be a resurgence in renaissance body love, all curvy & pale 🙂 Yet, I know that eating healthy needs to be a top priority. I know this because I tell myself this almost daily. You too? We want to do what’s best for our bodies and our wallet, yet sometimes those two things don’t always align. I mean, 1 lb organic strawberries in February can be $8.99! (don’t choke!)

So how do we align saving money on food while eating healthy? The answer is simple, yet kind of intimidating at first glance. It’s meal planning on a budget! DON’T WORRY and don’t get overwhelmed; it can be a lot easier than you imagine. I’m going to walk you through the main points to nail this piece of the grocery budget puzzle. So you never have to worry about hearing, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” ever again!

frugal mom guide to meal planning

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my full disclosure for more info

Feeding our body healthy foods has been a long time passion of mine. Previous to Money for the Mamas, I taught kids how food grows at combo learning farm & CSA. For 90 minutes, we talked about soil, farm animals, water quality, and most importantly, how our food grows and why fruits & vegetables are so important. I also did a stint with the State of Oregon and the national level, Farm to School movement, which helps schools create programing around healthy foods. Fantastic work, which is both heartbreaking and hugely rewarding!

With that experience, I know that meal planning can be a great solution, as moms, I know how we want to do our best to provide healthy foods for our family. Yet, rising food costs do not make this easy for us.  

The Street reports that in 2018, the average American household spends $7,729 per year on food, which is about 12.8% of our after-tax income. Yet, with our current situation (August 2020), costs are rising. “April of this year food prices had the largest monthly increase in 46 years!” says ABC News.

There are many different ways that you can save money on groceries, but today we’re just going to talk about one specific element, meal planning on a budget! Which can still be healthy family meals, you just need to plan things out (and plan for the days when you “just can’t even” think of cooking)!

Now, I’m not going to say that an occasional frozen pizza doesn’t sneak into my freezer (and my belly), but I try really hard to balance those not so healthy items with better for you options.  

Meal planning to save money on groceries

Let’s get down to specifics on exactly how meal planning can save you money in your grocery budget.

Saving money by not buying foods that you won’t eat

I cannot even tell you how many times I’ve bought veggies with the best intentions of eating them! And then that sad and guilt-ridden sound of the “thunk” as the jicama falls into the trash. Arg!

When you meal plan, you decide what you are cooking and eating and when, there is a “plan”, not some vague intention. When you know that on Tuesday it’s spaghetti squash & meatball night, you can be dang sure that the veggies are getting eaten and will not go to waste!

Speaking of food waste, you all know the squishy, greeny brown scenario at the bottom of the produce drawer. But what does this look like to our wallet? According to Marketwatch, “As much as 40% of food goes uneaten in the U.S! Americans throw away $165 billion in wasted food every year.” According to Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council, some 160 billion pounds of discarded food also clogs up landfills.

What that means is roughly, “219 lbs of food per person is wasted a year” quotes RTS (waste experts), and that’s $1,600 a year for a typical sized family!

Think of taking your grocery budget, pulling out 40% of the money, and just throwing it in the trash! Oh. Hell. No.

That’s crazy! Yet, we don’t intend to do; it just happens. And meal planning is one of the best ways to combat this by buying only what you know you will use for that week (or however often you go to the store).

meal planning is so you never hear "Mom what's for dinner?" again!

Know your food costs  

You can still buy most of the same foods but know which of your local stores have the best prices. For example, there are two stores of the same chain, maybe 4 miles apart, and one of them has consistently lower prices than the other. So I always go to the cheaper one.

Also, when you sit down to do your weekly menu, you can look at store flyers to see who might have chicken breasts on sale, or who has digital coupons for your favorite brand of cheese.

You may go to a Kroger store for chicken and then go to Target for sale on frozen burritos (a favorite late-night snack of my husband). Yet, for this to be a genuine savings, you need to consider the cost of your time & gas driving to multiple stores. If you’re spending 45 minutes driving to a store to save $.40 per pound on beef, that’s not saving! Your time is valuable, so absolutely count that into the equation.

Many times stores will have loss leaders (items they sell at a loss just to get people into their store”. Did I mention that I worked in a grocery store for six years? No? Well, I did. It is a fantastic, socially conscious store (B-Corp certified) that helped bring healthy and local food to the communities they serve.  

Yet, they weren’t cheap. Even with a staff member discount, I was paying a lot for my groceries. Yet I knew that certain times of the year, they would offer boneless skinless chicken breasts at $2 off the regular price (that was basically at cost for the store), $4.99 vs. $6.99. I bought enough chicken to last a long time. We’re talking like 20 breasts. Then I would take them home, portion two breasts into a freezer bag and boom, chicken for months!

I knew about these times, so I planned it into my budget. Other times of year stores have a sale is their anniversary day (or founder days), or holidays. Each chain is a little bit different, so don’t be shy. Ask them when their big sales are!

Go the extra mile and ask them which days they mark their items down. For example, canned goods may go on Tuesday, boxed goods on Wednesday. Or they may go by the department, dry grocery on Monday, and perishable grocery (dairy and such) on Friday. Ask them what time of day they start and when they finish. Then see if you can go in near to the time that they are wrapping up.

Meal planning saves you time

As a super duper busy mom (aren’t we all?), one of the things I hate most is standing in front of the fridge trying to decide what to fix. When this happens, my mind immediately goes blank; nothing in the refrigerator looks good to eat. In the past, I would waste maybe 10-30 minutes a day just trying to decide what to make. What a waste!

By meal planning, you always know because you posted the weekly menu on the fridge! And what’s better is that your family never needs to ask you, “what’s for dinner?”

free saving money printables

Resources to meal planning on a budget

Luckily, many women have masted the art of meal planning (hey, no reason that we need to reinvent the wheel!). So let’s dive in to see how others have meal planned on a budget.

The Healthy Meal Planning Bundle

If you’re a one-stop-shop kind of mom (me!), then you’re going to love this fantastic resource! It’s a bundle of 58 products all around meal planning, tied up in one neat package! You just buy it once (for a crazy low price), and you have access to all 58 items!  You need to act fast, as it’s only on sale for the week of August 17th – 21st!

There are 11 Cookbooks, 15 Meal Plans, 11 eBooks, 9 eCourses, 10 Printables, 1 Membership, and a Summit. (Plus some great free bonuses and an early bird buyer special thank you gift!)

health meal planning bundle

The Healthy Meal Planning Bundle is a great option because it’s all around this very specific topic of healthy meal planning (not all are low cost specific). Still, the bundle as a whole is very cost-effective, so you can meal plan on a budget (and there are a few resources around being budget-conscious).

Here are the main categories that the bundle covers…

  • Budgeting
  • How to get started meal planning
  • Kid-friendly
  • Meal organization
  • Quick & easy
  • Real food & nutrition
  • Specialty diets
  • Weight loss

Now, you may be wondering why you would ever need 58 items all around the same topic? Totally fair question by the way. Let’s just say it like it is; we won’t vibe with everyone we meet or learn effectively from one particular teaching style. So in the bundle, some information may overlap, but that’s a good thing!  

So many times, I read about a topic that I already know a lot about. Yet, one person says something in a specific way, or in a particular tone where it just “clicks” for me! The lightbulb goes off, and I suddenly “get it”! I am thrilled when this happens as it could have something that I didn’t quite understand, or never really knew why it was a big deal.

The great thing about this bundle is that they are giving everyone a free jumpstart by hosting a free Meal Planning Bootcamp starting August 11th. Yes, that’s coming up soon! Here, you can get a taste of some of the information, and get geared up to start your own meal planning journey.  

The best part is that it’s a challenge, so you are participating right alongside other women just like you! Going through things together, so you can bounce ideas off of each other, learn from those who tried XYZ, and help others with your own experiences. Don’t forget that it’s free! Yup, zero cost to join in and participate!

Now don’t worry, if you’re reading this after August 11th. The bundle still exists, but it’s only available for a limited time. However, they bring it back annually, and sometimes they even do a flash sale after a few months (no guarantees though). So still sign up with your name and email, and then you will be on the list to get notified once it becomes available again!

Ultimate Bundles also offers a phenomenal resource on learning about all things personal finance! Check out their Master Your Money Super Bundle right here!

Struggle Meals

If you haven’t watched Frankie work his magic in the kitchen, then you are missing out! He doesn’t do meal prep, per se, but his expertise is in cooking cheaply, using leftovers, AND he’s damn entertaining too! Check out one of my favorite video’s down below (hint – save this video for after Thanksgiving!)

Grab some meal planning printables to help meal plan on a budget

Oh, organizing… did you ever know that you’re my hero? Everything that I would like to be? For you are the wind beneath my wings.  Or something like that. Yup, organizing makes my heart happy!

That’s why I am such a huge fan of my Organized Home printables, and I created one specifically for meal planning! This packet has…

  • weekly menu planner 
  • food inventory tracker (so you never lose steaks under the frozen spinach again!)
  • family favorite meals list (that are easy go to’s when short on time & energy)
  • grocery shopping list, broken up by department (no circling back to aisle 7 five different times!)
meal planning printables
Let me at ’em!

This meal planner & grocery list is an instant download so you can print it in just 2 minutes from now! (save it to your hard drive so you can print as many copies as you want!)

Freezer meals are essential to meal planning on a budget

One of the very best things that you can do is plan on failing! 

What?

Yup, I freely admit that somedays I am a Hot Mess Mom! I am frazzled, I am running 54 errands, going to the eye doctor and end up getting my eyes dilated for what seems like forever, and on and on the tragedy of life turns into a comedy! And I am DONE!

That means I need to plan on things not going great, so on those days, I need something up my sleeve because I know that going to the drive-thru isn’t all that cheap, nor is it healthy!  

There are two options for us Hot Mess Moms…

One – Frozen Meals – pizza, burritos, corndogs & tater tots (yum), etc. Now, these aren’t the healthiest, but they are cheap. Besides, who doesn’t like tater tots! So I am fine with doing this a few nights here and there.  

Two – Freezer Meals! These are my secret weapon for when times are tough. For example, before I gave birth, I did a whole day of nothing but freezer meal prep, as I knew once the baby came, I would need all the help I could get!  

A great resource that I have found is My Freeze Easy! It’s a freezer meal planning & prep plan, where you get access to new monthly freezer recipes! There are some great customizations too; gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, instant pot, etc.!

My Freeze Easy

Now not only are these designed to save time, but they stem from the $5 Meal Plan program, so all the recipes are budget-friendly!  

If you’re not quite sure about diving into freezer meals, Erin (the founder) has a great free workshop to introduce you to freezer cooking, so you can feel it out and see if it’s something you might like. Again don’t worry, it’s not a 90-minute life or death training. She’s a mom; she knows you’re busy! It’s three videos for a total of approx 20 minutes. easy peasy, right! (Pssst… you get three free recipes & shopping list, nice!)

Some of you may be a bit wary of freezing meals, especially produce. I mean, does freezing take away all the good vitamins & nutrients? Answer: Not at all! According to Healthline, “Frozen fruit and vegetables are generally picked at peak ripeness (while fresh is picked before it’s ripe). They are often washed, blanched, frozen, and packaged within a few hours of being harvested. Frozen produce is nutritionally, similar to fresh produce. When nutrient decreases are reported in frozen produce, they’re generally small.”  

They mentioned that most of the nutrient loss happens with extended periods of storage in the freezer, like two years or more. So generally speaking, frozen fruits & vegetables are a great way to get your vitamins!

The Healthy Meal Planning Bundle does have a freezer meal cookbook, but it’s not as customizable as My Freeze Easy plan! BUT, I know that the thought of buying 58 items, like the bundle, can cause your brain to shut down from overwhelm. So here’s one great resource. Easy Peasy!

Look to Pinterest for inspiration

So this is a love/hate relationship. Everything looks great, yet it can be overwhelming. Simply put in the search bar “Meal planning on a budget”, or “easy dinners”, “crockpot dinners,” or “frugal foods”. So many options will come up.  

I have a secret board just for “dinners to try”, and then maybe once a month I’ll go in and pick a few to try during the next month, and I work those into my meal plan. I may find a new favorite, or it may be a dud.

Oh, and don’t forget while you’re on Pinterest checking out meals, head on over here, and follow me for lots of budget-friendly inspiration!

Know your grocery budget (and stick to it)

If you want to do meal planning to save money, you need to know your grocery budget! Better yet, if you’re stocking up on things at a low price, then you need to know how much of your grocery budget is for regular food, and how much is for stocking up. You can’t blow everything on your stockpile, and you can’t spend every last dime on your weekly veg.

A good place to start is 75/25 split. So 75% of your grocery budget is for everyday shopping, while 25% of your grocery budget is for stocking up. Initially, you may find you’re spending a bit more on your stockpile, but it will taper down as you go on and build up your pantry.

Some things that I stockpile when the prices are good…

  • Cereal (I only buy if it’s $1 a box)
  • Granola bars
  • Frozen foods
  • Meat (buy in bulk and divide into 1 lb portions then freeze)
  • Canned goods
  • Paper goods (paper towels, TP)
  • Health & beauty – soap, shampoo, deodorant, etc

In talking about budgeting did your stomach do a little flip? I know you’ve been meaning to get back to budgeting, so here’s a great resource! It’s my Ultimate Guide on How to Budget Series, and it goes through everything you ever wanted to know about it!

Tip for Meal Planning on a Budget – Leftovers are your friend!

Don’t forget to plan on having a leftover day for dinners! Make it one day at the end of the week to clean out your fridge before the next week’s shopping trip.  

Make it easy!

Have Leftover Day be as easy as possible for your family by getting some great clear glass meal storage containers! That way, you can easily see what’s in there to eat, and by buying glass containers, you can reheat these directly in the microwave without worry. It’s known that microwaving food in plastic containers isn’t the best choice.  

Harvard Health states that “When food is wrapped in plastic or placed in a plastic container and microwaved, BPA and phthalates may leak into the food. BPA and phthalates are believed to be “endocrine disrupters.” These are substances that mimic human hormones, and not for the good.”

Now, I’m not a scientist, nor am I a fearmonger. But if I don’t need to take a risk, and can easily avoid it, I will. So I bought glass containers for my family. 

I love these Pyrex containers. They are a perfect size (3 cup) and stack great in the fridge! So after dinner is over, if there are leftovers, I immediately portion the items out into meals in the containers. So all my husband has to do is grab one, take off the lid and heat it up and BAM, full dinner/lunch!

Pyrex 3-Cup Rectangle Food Storage

  • pack of 4 or 6
  • Glass is pre-heated oven, microwave, fridge and freezer safe, & dishwasher safe
  • Non-porous glass won’t absorb stains or odors

Make leftovers new & different!  

If your family doesn’t love the idea of leftovers, then you can easily shake things up! All you need to do is change how it’s served. For example, get some tortillas to make items into a wrap, or add on soup & salad to make small amounts of leftovers stretch into a full meal.

Here are some other ideas to give your leftovers a makeover with a different presentation

  • make it a wrap
  • turn it into soup
  • add a grain and have a buddha bowl
  • make a frittata or an omelet
  • use leftovers as fillings for a quesadilla
  • or as a topping on pizza

Just Google “what to do with leftover ________”, and you should get some fun ideas! Or just go to Big Oven’s Use Up Leftovers feature! You add in your three main ingredients, and it gives you a bunch of tasty options!

At the end of the day

Our Mom List never seems to get shorter, does it? You cross four things off, and then two hours later, you add seven more things! ARG! Yet, there are some things (like meal planning) that can reduce your mental and physical load over time. Meal planning may take a few rounds for you to work out the kinks, but overall you will save so much time and money!

Imagine what you would do with 40% more of that grocery budget? (as you won’t be throwing away rotted out lettuce, or wait, was the broccoli? Yesh, it’s hard to tell now that it’s a squishy stinky blob.  

Meal planning on a budget can give you that 40% back! Remember, RTS estimated that it was $1,600 on average, a year per family! What would you do with an extra $1,600 a year? Use it to fund a family vacation? Revamp your back patio living space? Use it to help offset the cost of braces for your youngest? There are so many things!

  • How to Motivated While Saving Money
  • Your Ultimate Guide on How to Budget Series
saving money free templates

Tell me in the comments, If you started meal planning on a budget, what would you do with the $1,600 that’s back in your pocket?

The post The Frugal Mom’s Guide to Meal Planning on a Budget appeared first on Money for the Mamas.

Source: moneyforthemamas.com

Best Places to Celebrate Halloween in 2020

Image shows a carved and lit jack-o-lantern wearing a medical mask and sitting on some steps outside, surrounded by fallen leaves. SmartAsset analyzed various data sources (taking into account COVID-19) to find the best places to celebrate Halloween in 2020.

Halloween typically scares up a major boost in U.S. consumer spending, to the tune of $8.78 billion in 2019, according to the National Retail Federation. Though this year’s celebration will be scaled down in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trade group still projects that Americans will shell out $8.05 billion on things like candy, costumes, decorations and greeting cards. Despite the fact that many city governments are discouraging trick-or-treating and the CDC is recommending extensive safety guidelines, it’s still possible for families to get in the spirit of the holiday with the proper protocols in place. Whether you’re planning to don costumes and go house to house with your pod or attend a Zoom masquerade, not all locations are equally conducive to enjoying the festivities. That’s why SmartAsset crunched the numbers to find the best cities in the U.S. to celebrate Halloween in 2020.

To do this, we analyzed data for a total of 210 cities. We considered a range of metrics that we grouped into four categories: family friendliness, safety, weather and candy & costumes. For this year’s study, we included metrics like internet connection and recent COVID-19 infection rates to account for the different ways Americans will celebrate the holiday as a result of the pandemic. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

This is SmartAsset’s 2020 study on the best places to celebrate Halloween. Read our 2019 study on the best places to trick-or-treat here.

Key Findings

  • California cities take a number of hallowed spots at the top. Cities in the Golden State dominate the top 10 of this study. Five California cities – Vacaville, Fremont, Livermore, Oceanside and Menifee – are in the top 10, and there are four more in the top 15. The major factor driving a lot of these California cities to the top is their safety rating. Two of the above cities, Livermore and Fremont, rank in the top five for safety. The three other California cities finish within roughly the top 15% of the study for this category.
  • Halloween towns without frightening housing costs. A person who is burdened by housing costs is spending at least 30% of income on housing, with the threshold for “severely housing cost-burdened” at 50%. All the cities in our top 10 have housing costs below that 30% threshold, with residents of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina spending just 17.99% of income on housing costs (ranking first in the top 10 and fifth overall for this metric). The city in the top 10 with the highest housing costs as a percentage of income is Menifee, California, at 28.32% – still coming in below the 30% threshold. The average figure for this metric across all 210 cities in the study is 23.58%, so many families may still have some money left over – no doubt a “boo-n” for their costumes and candy budget.

1. Vacaville, CA

The best place to celebrate Halloween in 2020 is Vacaville, California. There are a study-topping 13.94 candy stores per 10,000 total establishments in Vacaville, which ensures trick-or-treaters will have plenty of sweet options to stick in their pumpkin pails and pillowcases. This, combined with a ranking of 38th out of 210 for the 34.84 costume shops per 10,000 total establishments (a top-quintile ranking), puts Vacaville at ninth in the candy & costumes index for this study. The city also finishes 32nd overall for the safety index, which includes a daily COVID-19 infection rate of 8.27 per 100,000 residents, 58th out of 210.

2. Sparks, NV

Trick-or-treaters who don’t have warm or waterproof costumes can rejoice: Sparks, Nevada has the fifth-best ranking for the weather category in this study. That includes a precipitation probability of just 1.0% on Halloween (ranking ninth out of 210) and an average temperature that is just 3.4 degrees off the ideal Halloween temperature of 60 (ranking 44th out of 210). Nearly 22% of the population in Sparks is younger than 14, the 33rd-highest percentage for this metric in the study and an indication that youngsters will have many in their demographic available to participate in some spooky fun.

3. Fremont, CA

Fremont, California ranks fourth in our study for the safety category. It is tied for the third-lowest rate of new COVID-19 infections in the study, at 3.31 each day per 100,000 residents. Fremont also finishes 24th out of 210 in terms of its relatively low violent crime rate, with just 211 cases per 100,000 residents each year. What’s more, the city finishes 16th in the family friendliness index, buoyed by a population where 95.07% of homes have internet access, seventh-best in this study and helpful for those who want to take their Monster Mash online.

4. Virginia Beach, VA

Virginia Beach, Virginia also scores well in the safety category – ninth-best in the study out of all 210 cities. The violent crime rate in Virginia Beach is particularly low, ranking eighth overall, with just 117 incidents per 100,000 residents each year. In terms of COVID-19 cases, Virginia Beach falls just outside the top quartile, finishing 55th, with 8.16 new cases per 100,000 residents each day. The city also ranks 37th of 210 for its relatively large concentration of costume shops, at almost 35 per 10,000 total establishments.

5. Livermore, CA

The third California city in our top 10 is Livermore, located on the Bay Area’s eastern edge. Livermore ranks third in the safety category, on the strength of being tied for third-fewest new COVID-19 infections, at just 3.31 per 100,000 residents each day. Livermore also has the 21st-lowest rate of violent crime overall (ranking in the best 10% of the study), at 203 incidents per 100,000 residents each year. Furthermore, the city has the 14th-best family friendliness index in the study, powered by an eighth-place ranking for the percentage of homes with internet access, at 95.00%, making it that much easier to use the World Wide Web to show off that homespun spider web decor.

6. Elgin, IL

Elgin, Illinois ranks 11th out of 210 in the family friendliness category of our study. Housing costs represent just 19.87% of income on average, the 24th-best percentage for this metric overall. The population is 22.61% children under the age of 14, ranking 26th out of 210. Elgin is also a fairly festive place for Halloween. There are 12.29 candy stores per 10,000 establishments, the fourth-highest rate for this metric in the study.

7. Mount Pleasant, SC

Mount Pleasant, South Carolina ranks 12th overall for the candy & costumes category out of all 210 cities we analyzed. That includes having 52.93 costume shops per 10,000 establishments, the sixth-highest rate in the study for this metric. Mount Pleasant is also a relatively affordable place to live, having the fifth-lowest housing costs as a percentage of income overall, at just 17.99%.

8. Oceanside, CA

Although housing costs in Oceanside, California make up 28.02% of income (ranking 193rd out of 210), this coastal city near San Diego has the 14th-best weather index score in the study, which is great news for trick-or-treaters who don’t want to be soaked and shivering while they’re participating in contactless candy pickup. There is just a 1.4% chance of precipitation on Halloween in Oceanside (ranking 19th of 210). Plus, the average temperature there, at 8.2 degrees away from 60 degrees, ranks in the top half of the study.

9. Dearborn, MI

Dearborn, Michigan finishes in the top 45 for all four data categories we considered, including ranking 33rd of 210 (a top-quintile ranking) for the candy & costumes category. There are 34.57 costume shops for every 10,000 establishments, the 40th-best rate for this metric in the study. Dearborn is also a very young city: It has the fifth-highest percentage of residents younger than age 14, at 24.87%, which might help costumed kiddos feel a little less like the pandemic’s gotten everyone stuck in a real ghost town.

10. Menifee, CA

Menifee, California ranks 22nd out of 210 for the candy & costumes category. It has 6.78 candy stores per 10,000 establishments, ranking 32nd overall for this metric. It’s also unlikely your Halloween will be rained on in Menifee – there is a 0.6% chance of precipitation on Oct. 31, the best rate for this metric across all the cities we examined.

Data and Methodology

To find the best cities to celebrate Halloween in 2020, we analyzed 210 cities in 10 metrics across four categories:

Family Friendliness Metrics

  • Percentage of residents 14 years or younger. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Housing costs as a percentage of income. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Percentage of households with internet access. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.

Safety Metrics

  • Violent crime rate. This is the number of violent crimes per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI’s 2018 Uniform Crime Reporting database as well as NeighborhoodScout.com.
  • Property crime rate. This is the number of property crimes per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI’s 2018 Uniform Crime Reporting database as well as NeighborhoodScout.com.
  • Daily new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents. This is the seven-day moving average of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Oct. 17. Data comes from Halloween2020.org.

Halloween Weather Metrics

  • Precipitation probability. This is the chance it rains 0.5 inches or snows 0.1 inches on Halloween. Data comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
  • Average temperature. This is the average maximum temperature on Oct. 31, from 1981 to 2010. We compared the average maximum temperature to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which we think is the perfect temperature for trick-or-treating. Data comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Candy & Costumes Metrics

  • Concentration of candy stores. The number of candy stores (including confectionary and nut stores) per 10,000 establishments. Data comes from the 2018 County Business Patterns survey
  • Concentration of costume shops. The number of costume shops (including clothing accessory stores, other clothing stores and formal wear and costume rental stores) per 10,000 establishments. Data comes from the 2018 County Business Patterns survey.

First, we ranked each city in each metric, assigning equal weight to every metric except for the two crime metrics, which each received a half-weight. Then we averaged the rankings across the four categories listed above. For each category, the city with the highest average ranking received a score of 100. The city with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0. We created our final ranking by calculating each city’s average score for all three categories.

Tips for Managing Your Money to Avoid Spooky Surprises

  • Save yourself the toil and trouble. Organizing your finances doesn’t need to be a nightmare. A financial advisor can help make your life much easier. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Make sure your mortgage doesn’t haunt you. If you want to buy a home in one of these great Halloween cities, which are also fantastic locations to lay down roots as a family, consider using SmartAsset’s free mortgage calculator to see what your monthly payment might be.
  • Budgets don’t have to be blood-sucking. A budget can help you get on track to be able to spend a bit extra in October to enjoy Halloween properly. Use SmartAsset’s budget calculator to avoid vampiric bites to your savings account.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com.

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