3 credit cards fanned out: master card, visa, and american express.

Is Budgeting Better With Credit Cards?

Question about budgeting using credit cards

I'm using your America's Cheapest Family Budgeting System and love it. I really like how the budget system allows for a family to "save" in advance for purchases and designates money for different specific categories.  

Reader question: Is budgeting possible using a credit card?

Here's my Budgeting Issue

We are not in debt. but we use our credit card for every purchase. And then we pay our credit card every month, completely. I know this is not the "norm" for most people.  We like this because we use fewer checks and we also receive cash back, which adds up quickly. We are able to use our cash back to pay for 2 credit card bills each year! So trying to do your budget the other night, its been very confusing. We have our cc statement for all purchases. The charges are from March, but we pay the bill in April. I can't seem to figure out how to do this system every 2 weeks or once a month from previous month?  We're always behind one month?

Help, please.  I am assuming that maybe this has been brought up before and there is a simple tweak to system for this?  Thank you for your time and I really enjoyed reading your first book, "America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money."

Answer about budgeting better

Congratulations for taking the time to set up your budget. This is one of the reasons we avoid using credit cards—it makes budgeting more difficult, but . . . not impossible.

Budgeting with Credit Cards — Step 1

Simply write down each credit card expense in your checkbook register as you spend it. Since you only use your credit card, your checkbook register will only contain charges from that credit card—this is easier than using a credit card in addition to a debit card / checks or a checking account.

Budgeting with Credit Cards — Step 2

Then record each expense on the individual account pages in the America's Cheapest Family Budget System when you do your budget every pay cycle. When the credit card bill arrives, check off each item in your checkbook as you would when you are balancing a checking account to the bank statement.

Budgeting with Credit Cards — Step 3

Write one check (or do an automatic payment) to cover the full amount of the credit card bill, but don’t record that expense in your budget (if you did, you'd basically be entering double the amount paid, because you already recorded each individual expense).

Record the check in your checkbook register (it's really just a formality and a way to confirm that the payment was made), but DON’T subtract that total amount from your checkbook balance . . . because all of the individual expenses have already been recorded in the checkbook and in the budget.

Budgeting with credit cards is a little more work, but it can be done. You're smart and careful, with a little persistence and creative thinking you'll solve this problem and be on your way to becoming a black-belt budgeter. Read More...

A mime and a scare crow costume for halloween

How to make 10 Frugal Halloween Costumes.

Have you thought about Halloween costumes for you or your kids yet? Does the cost of costumes scare the fun out of Halloween for your family?

Planning for Halloween Costumes Cuts the Cost

Halloween will be here before you know it. And costume-loving families know that putting together a unique and inexpensive costume takes some planning and some time. The earlier you start, the more complete and creative your outfit will be—plus you’ll have more time to find great deals. We know it may sound strange, but our kids would start talking their Halloween costumes during the summer. But starting now will still give you enough time to put together an awesome costume!

Only One Halloween Costume Limit

Our kids loved thinking ahead and putting together homemade outfits. We did have one rule, though—we didn’t allow gory or ghoulish outfits. Other than that, the sky’s was the limit on their creativity. 

Watch our Halloween Costume Today Show Appearance at the bottom of this page

10 Inexpensive and Creative Halloween Costume Ideas.

We’ll give you 10 economizer-tested ideas to get you started. If you come up with a creative winner, we’d love to see it and hear about it. Email us a picture and a description and we’ll add the best ones to this blog post! Send your costume ideas to Ideas at MoneySmartFamily dot com. Or post them on our Facebook Fan Page.

Two women dressed in Pirate costumes.

1) The Pirate Costume  

Since the Pirates of the Caribbean series was created, pirate costumes have become really popular. But you don’t have to dress like Captain Jack Sparrow to have a winning costume.

Our daughter Becky completed an easy version of this costume for “Dress Like a Pirate Day” at the bookstore where she worked. She spent about $25 for the whole ensemble (which for our family was a lot of money!). A co-worker spent more than that just to rent the blouse and hat for her costume. Here’s what Becky did (see main photo above):

Blouse. She found a white frilly blouse at our favorite consignment store for $10. It had a low neckline so she supplemented with a white knit camisole top under it.

Seven people dressed up in pirate costumes.

Vest and Knickers) . At a thrift store she found a brown vest for $3 and brown linen pants for $7. Much to Annette’s dismay, Becky cut the legs off the linen pants to make rough-looking knickers.

Boots. She found a pair of leather paddock boots for $2.

Bling. What would a pirate be without some jewelry? Becky found a large gold-plated necklace ($1.50) and a big gold hoop earring ($1.50) at the same thrift store.

Finishing Touches. She completed the ensemble with two long pieces of cloth we had at home. One she used as a belt, and a matching piece became a headband / scarf. She also sported a wooden sword borrowed from one of her brothers.

The outfit was a hit and she received many compliments. We arrrrgree!

2) Cluster of Grapes Costume

A woman with purple balloons on her body, dressed as a cluster of grapes.We found this idea in a magazine and loved it. Inflate about twenty balloons (fewer if you’re outfitting a small child). Tie off each end with a string, leaving a 3-inch tail. Tie each balloon onto a long piece of string, leaving about 8 inches between each one. Dress in a solid-color top and pants (purple is the best color, but black or white will work, too). Wrap the string with balloons around the torso and tie. You may want to use safety pins to keep the Read More...

baby hand counting fingers, with a question: Are kids too expensive?

Kids Are Too Expensive - We're Gonna Wait!

Are you debating if it is too expensive to have kids these days?

Kerri's story: How one reader grew up and was taught to manage money.

Question About the Cost of Having Kids: When I graduated from high school, I paid for my own auto insurance, graduation gown and class ring. My grandmother paid for my class picture. My graduation gift from my parents was a cell phone with a very limited plan because it was on my dad's two year contact. After that I got my own cell phone contract.

My husband and I just got married a few months ago, we heard on the news that to raise a child from birth to 18 will cost you 240,000! We are thinking twice about having a child. We both work, and are trying to manage our bills and we still have a mortgage to pay-off.

What do you think we should do?

Is it really too expensive to have and raise kids?

Answer About the Cost of Having Kids:  Kerri, thanks for sharing your story. Your parents sound like they were very smart when it came to teaching you financial responsibility. They taught you to be independent financially, and that’s always a good thing.

But we hear and understand your concerns about counting the cost of having children. Here are four things you can do to keep the cost of raising kids from getting out of control.

1. Don’t Believe What the Government Says it Will Cost You to Raise Kids!

We know the government says it will cost more than $250,000 to raise a child, but we found their numbers to be less than accurate.

They base their estimate on a specific number of square feet in a house, cubic feet in a car, health care, clothes (purchased retail), groceries, activities, daycare, school expenses, technology and a few other things . . . per child.

Not only is it impossible to be accurate due to differences in costs based on the city / state where you live, but it’s also impossible to be accurate because of lifestyle and spending differences.

These experts don’t consider the savings achieved through hand-me-downs, economy of scale when cooking larger meals or that every child does not necessarily need to have their own bedroom.

2. Do Believe that Kids CAN be Raised in a Frugal and Fun Home

We raised 5 kids and spent 75% less than the government "experts" predicted. Spending less didn’t mean having less. But spending less money did mean that we needed to spend more time teaching, training and communicating with our kids.

Frugal living is fun and our kids quickly caught our vision because we encouraged them to spend money they earned to buy the things they wanted. And the money they earned was more in line with their age, maturity and ability than most experts say kids need.

3. Allowances Don’t Teach Kids Anything Except to Expect Something for Nothing

We decided early on that we would never give our kids an allowance. Paying a child for just being a part of our family simply sounded too much like an entitlement program.

But that idea was modified when we discovered that for kids to become financially independent, they needed experience working, earning, saving and spending their own money.

What We Decided to do About Allowance for Our Kids

So we decided to take some of the money we would normally be spending on our kids for clothes and activities and created a way for our kids to earn that money. We discovered that this mindset of training our kids to earn money from us turned into a tool to that helped them become MoneySmart and financially independent. And we actually spent much LESS money raising them!

We wrote about the system we developed and how our kids responded in our book, “The MoneySmart Family System – Teaching Financial Independence to Children of Every Age.” The book talks about every area of a child’s life: chores; clothes; recreation; technology and even teen issues such as: part-time jobs; cars; friends, and college. And we give parents super practical tools, tips and advice for how to empower their children without creating an entitlement attitude.

4. How We Gave Our Kids the Gift of Financial Strength

MoneySmart parents choose to give their children the opportunity to work, earn, save and spend their own money, because parents know that this teaches them much more than just receiving a hand out from mom and dad.

We developed a system that our kids called "Payday." Every day they had the opportunity to earn points; at the end of the week those points were converted into money. They kept their money in cash envelopes: Give, Save and Spend and eventually Clothes ( Read More...

Lactose Intolerance: Costco Kirkland Lactase versus Lactaid - how we save 63%

Costco Lactase Beats Overpriced Lactaid for Lactose Intolerance

Lactaid is expensive when compared to Kirkland brand Fast Acting Lactase pills sold at Costco and on Amazon. If you’re lactose intolerant, finding a solution to enjoying dairy is not an easy or inexpensive project.

Trying to eliminate bad gas from Lactose Intolerance 

Steve has tried dozens of enzymes, home remedies and Lactaid knock-offs in a search to allow him to eat yogurt, ice cream and other dairy products without intestinal “repercussions.”

  • He tried apple cider vinegar – 1 tablespoon 20 minutes before eating dairy – it worked fairly well, was inexpensive, but very inconvenient—and it burned.
  • We tried various digestive enzymes (he found that this Nature's Secret formula worked the best for him), which helped well with digesting heavy or fatty foods but were only marginally effective with dairy products.
  • Then we tried Lactaid – 3 little pills right before eating dairy and voila – no pain or issues. Except for the cost — about $12 for 120 capsules (only 10 cents per pill / 30 cents per serving).

Trying to save money on lactase pills:

We also tried Walmart’s private labeled version that costs around $6 for 60 capsules (also 10 cents per pill / 30 cents per serving) and they worked as well as the real Lactaid. This really didn't save anything, but the cost per package was less.

As Steve dug a little deeper he read that the amount of lactase in each pill was 3000 iu per pill. But the recommended serving size was 3 pills or 9000 iu per serving.

Digging Deeper to save on Lactase pills:

Doing a little sleuthing Steve found that Costco sells a Kirkland brand of Lactase pill (but you can't buy it from Costco online - only in the store and often it is "out of stock.") Their box holds 180 capsules for about $20 / 11.1 cents per pill, and appears to be a little more expensive.

But wait, the devil is in the details . . .
and boy were the details interesting!

But read the Fine Print and Find Huge 63% Savings: 

Reading the nutritional information Steve discovered that a serving size of the Costco lactase pills was only ONE pill.


A shank ham on a cutting board, partially sliced up.

How to get Inexpensive Lunchmeat from a Shank Ham!

Steve wanted to see what kind of “deal” we could get on lunchmeat if we sliced up a smoked, shank ham for our sandwiches. We bought our shank ham  on sale for 97 cents a pound. Because the Smithfield ham we bought was smoked, it was ready to eat (no need to cook it.)

The Estimate

How much sliced lunchmeat could we get out of a 11.19 pound shank ham (total cost $10.85). We thought that there would be about 20 to 30 percent waste when we subtracted fat and the bone. So our expectation was that we would have about 7.5 pounds of lunch meat. If we ended up with that much our final cost per pound would be $1.44 per pound; not a bad price for ham. 

The Video

To record our test, we decided to shoot one of our first "How To" videos - it's not the best cinematography, but you'll get the concept of how we sliced the ham.

The Process

Beige Oster Meat SlicerFirst Steve cut off most of the fat from the outside of the shank ham. Then he cut several large chunks of ham off of the shank and started slicing it on our Oster home meat slicer (see a list of the best selling home meat slicers on Amazon here).

Because we cut off uneven chunks of ham, our slices weren’t perfectly shaped, like pressed and formed lunchmeat usually is. But it was uniform in thickness.

We usually slice lunchmeat with two people. One person does the slicing; the second person “catches” and stacks the sliced meat as it comes off the cutter.

How we Store our Lunchmeat

We store the lunchmeat in plastic containers or zippered plastic bags in 1-pound servings. We put a paper towel on the bottom of the stack of meat to absorb any liquid from the meat when it is defrosted. Then we freeze the lunchmeat so that it can be consumed in smaller portions, with less risk of the meat going bad before we finish it.

When we take the lunchmeat out of the freezer and defrost it for use on sandwiches, we are careful to change the paper towel when it is saturated with water to minimize any bacteria growth. This habit keeps the lunchmeat fresher, longer.

The Final Cost

In the end our 11.19 pounds of shank ham resulted in 6.25 pounds of sliced lunch meat – 1.25 pounds less than we expected. We had 2.5 pounds of fat and 1 pound of bone (with a little meat left on it for use in split pea soup). Some of the meat disappeared  . . . we think the slicers may have sampled it, because the numbers just don’t add up. But in the end, our $10.85 worth of ham resulted in lunchmeat that cost $1.66 per pound.


We thought the savings would be greater. Still $1.66 per pound is a good price. But we have scored some better deals when prepackaged, sliced ham was marked down because it was going out of code. Slicing our own lunchmeat from a shank ham, bought on sale, is a fairly good way to score some high quality, discounted lunchmeat.

What do you think?

A shank ham on a cutting board.


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