white sedan car crashed in a ditch in the winter.

7 Tips for Budgeting to Afford the Unexpected Things in Life

It happens to all of us sooner or later: an emergency catches us off guard, we lose a job, our identity is stolen, etc. For whatever reason, you’re facing some hefty expenses and your very carefully plotted budget (which you’ve plotted to the penny) doesn’t have any space in it for the new expense. You’re going to have to do some rearranging, but how?

Type of Expense

The first criteria to take into account is the type of expense with which you are dealing. Have you amassed a large amount of debt from a single source? Did your unexpected event result in several large bills to different sources? Or has an existing expense shot through the roof? The type of expense matters just as much as its amount.

Recalculating: The Easy Way

Probably the easiest type of budget recalculation to do is for an existing bill that has gone up in price. For example, let’s say you got one too many traffic tickets and now you have to get SR22 insurance. There are two important things you can do to make incorporating this increased insurance expense into your budget:

1)    Shop around for the best rate on the insurance policy.

2)    Take a small amount out of your budget’s variables: entertainment costs, clothing, etc. Taking a small amount from each will be easier to adjust to than trying to cut one out completely.

Recalculating: The Hard Way

The harder budget adjustments to make are those you have to make to accommodate a much larger debt, like buying a new car, paying for a hospital stay, home or auto repairs, etc. The more payments you have to make every month, the more tweaking you’ll have to do to your budget. Here are a few tips to make accommodating those bills easier on your family’s expenses.


Even with an emergency expense situation you may have some negotiating power. Be honest and upfront about your financial situation, then ask about options such as:

1)     The possibility of lowering the total amount of the bill – this is a common occurrence with medical expenses, but could work with others.

2)     Lower interest rate. If the billing company is charging interest there is a possibility of negotiating a reduction – especially after a few months of faithful payments.

3)     Lump Sum Payoff. If you are able to scrape together a good amount of cash, some companies will negotiate a discounted payoff after you’ve made some regular payments.

In all of these cases, the adage of, “It never hurts to ask,” is good advice. Ask and you may be pleasantly surprised with their response.

Scrimping and Saving

Your next step is to scour your budget for areas where you can Read More...

Cardboard yard sale sign in a black landscaping pot

5 Tips to Make Your Garage Sale Successful

A friend shared with us recently that they had some old stuff in their house that they would love to get rid of. They said that buying new things wasn’t difficult, especially with all the special deals they found thanks to They found coupons for a huge number of stores they loved, like: Amazon, Best Buy, Target, Gymboree, Kohl’s and many other popular places.

So what do you do after you’ve thrown away those items that are no longer usable, and you realize that there’s still a ton of things in your house that you can do without? Make some cash via a garage sale!

And in case you have never done it before – we made this compilation of top tips to help you learn how to make the most out of your sale! Read on:

1) Advertise Well, and Cost-Effectively

There are multiple channels you can use to make sure that news about your yard sale reaches as many people in the neighborhood - and beyond - as possible. Advertise online for free by targeting your local community-based sites offering free classifieds or advertising on your local Craigslist. Facebook groups on yard sales can also help. If you decide to advertise in the newspaper classifieds, you can share the cost with neighbors by having a multi-family yard sale. For non-profits like churches or scout groups, some newspapers do have a community calendar section with no charges for such ads.

2) Remember to Check with Local Authorities First

Before you can make any elaborate plans for a yard sale, be sure to find out if there are any laws that need to be adhered to regarding such events. For instance, you may be required to have a permit. Some areas may also have laws limiting the number of yard sales you can have each year, while others have rules regarding the placement of signage. For instance, local laws may not allow you to put your garage sale signs on utility poles – that’s why we use signs on wooden or metal stakes.

3) Make Your Signage as Visible as Possible

Make sure that all your signs use consistent font and color so as to make it easier for people to follow them. Once you have put up your signs, drive past them to see if they are easily readable, because if you can’t read them no one else will either! Don’t cram too many words on your signs – all you really need are the words yard/garage sale, the sale date, your street name, and a bold arrow that points your way.

4) Enlist a Few Helpers

Since our friend’s sale was a multi-family sale, they had everyone who was selling, chip in to help. For instance, one person could collect the money and make change, another could box or bag up items, and yet another could watch for shop-lifters. Your children may also have their friends come to help and sell, especially if they want to sell off their old toys. Having more people involved also increases the amount of items you have to sell which makes the sale more attractive to buyers, and provides you with more “staff” to help run the sale.

5) Other tips that you should keep in mind include:

- Label items with price stickers

- Be sure to have with you enough loose change.

$100 bills on a college mortar board

How to Maximize your FAFSA and Pell Grant Money

College Series # 3 – FAFSA and Financial Aid

With 5 kids who have attended college, we have filled out our share of FAFSA applications. We’ve learned a few tips from financial aid experts on how to maximize the FAFSA process and Pell Grant awards.

FAFSA or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid can earn your student as much as $5700 in Pell Grant money from the Federal government. Plus the information from the FAFSA is used by most institutions of higher education for determining other types of financial aid.

As nice as it is to get grant money, it’s not all “free:” there is some work to be done and deadlines to be met. But if you do invest your time (between 4 and 8 hours), the payback can be substantial.

2015 Deadline

You have until June 30 to file your FAFSA, but most schools distribute their allocated Pell Grant and other financial aid on a first come basis, so the earlier you file, the better your chances are to receive the maximum amount of aid. We focused on filing FAFSA around February 1st. In subsequent years, the filing is easier because the FAFSA system pulls forward your previous information and allows you to adjust it for the current year.

FAFSA Documentation

You’ll need some time to gather recent bank statements, tax returns and other sizable, non-retirement assets you may have.

What you do need to declare:

  • Bank balances (savings / checking) Parents & Student
  • Cash on hand: Parents & Student
  • Filed Income Tax Returns (Parents & Student)
  • Non-retirement assets (including college savings 529 plans)   Caution: Set up ownership of 529 plans carefully as it can greatly affect the amount of financial aid received:

What you don’t need to declare:

  • Retirement Assets including: 401(k), 403(b),  SEP-IRA, IRA, Pension plans
  • Home Equity
  • Life Insurance policies cash value
  • but settlements from a life insurance policy would be counted as an asset.
  • Family controlled small Business provided you have 50% ownership and fewer than 100 employees. Assets usually don’t have to be declared
  • Family Farms are excluded also.
  • Net worth of investments – not including your home
  •
Pot of gold under a rainbow

Is there Gold at the end of the Scholarship Rainbow? Hack!

What if there really was a pot of gold waiting for you at the end of the college scholarship rainbow. And what if you KNEW that with some effort, discipline and organizational skills you could find the path that leads to that pot of gold and take some of it to the bank? What if instead of each semester of college costing you between $5000 and $50,000, because you discovered the hidden trail to the treasure, your tuition costs were between $500 and $1000 each semester? Are there really scholarship hacks that can get you to the gold?

Are you willing to explore these possibilities?

Keep reading, because we’ve got a map, we’ve been down the path with our kids and we’re sharing the secrets we uncovered along the way.

Where to Start

This may sound crazy, but the first place to start is to create a place to keep your search organized. Get a three-ring binder and 12 tabs—one for each month of the year.

As you or your parent can research and find scholarships that you qualify for, copy or print out the requirements along with the deadline, and put it into the appropriate month in the binder. With your targeted scholarships organized you’ll have a much easier time seeing and submitting your information before each deadline.

Find an Editor

There are many kinds of scholarships to apply for, but a couple of the more common types require writing an essay to answer a specific question or writing a biographical essay that includes some of your goals.

Realizing that the finest authors and writers all have editors to proof and help improve their work, there is nothing wrong with having a parent, friend or English teacher look over what you’ve written in an effort to make it a money winner. If your high school English teacher is willing to proof and edit, there is also a possibility that what you write could be turned in as an assignment or extra credit and you could double-dip – class credit and possibly a cash award!

Our son Joe did earn several biographical essay scholarships, and he honed his writing skills by regularly turning in essays a few days early to his English teachers who willingly proofed and suggested revisions for him.

Where to Search

Knowing where to look for scholarships you could win may seem overwhelming, but with a little help you’ll be discovering them like a seasoned tracker.

1)    Specific College Websites

Just about every college and university has received endowment money (gifts from wealthy donors) to be used for students meeting specific qualifications. Unigo – A top scholarship search site estimates that each year there is in excess of $1 billion in scholarships available to college students. The older a school is, the more likely there will be dozens of these scholarships or grants available in many different fields of study. The trick is to know where to look on each school’s website. Sometimes all available scholarships are listed within the Financial Aid department’s section of the website, other times they are listed within the specific area of study’s portion of the website.

If you want to use a Google Hack for a search short cut simply type in:
scholarship (

Mail box full of junk mail, why we love it!

Why we love Junk Mail

We love junk mail. Especially insurance agents who send us unsolicited quotes on white paper, printed on one side.


It's simple.

They've just provided us with free paper for our printer.

We have a Brother Multi Function printer, scanner, copier fax, but this idea would work with any printer. We have two stacks of paper in bins under the printer: one bin is new paper, the second bin is paper that has been printed on one side (we call it scrap paper). 

Our printer has 2 trays, but you could do this with a single feed printer too (we did for several years).

In the bottom tray of our printer we put the new, un-used paper. 
In the manual feed tray we put the "scrap paper," with the unprinted side up. 

When we print something that will be only referenced to and then recycled, we print on the scrap paper.

If we're printing something of more significance we print on new paper. But when printing on new paper, we also use the duplex feature - printing on both sides of the paper. 

Before we had our first multi function Brother printer, all we had was an inkjet printer with one paper source. We still had two piles of paper and would load either scrap or new paper depending on what we were printing.

Here's a funny story about our newest Brother printer. We bought it used a couple of years ago from a seller on CraigsList for $200. The next day we were at Goodwill on their half-price day and found the exact same model Brother printer selling for $28 (full price).

Can you tell which copier cost $200 and which was $14?


We knew that it probably didn't work, but it appeared to be in good condition, so we bought it to scavenge parts from. For $14 you can't go wrong. Rollers, gears, trays and other parts break over time and buying replacements can get pricy.

About 4 months ago the fuser mechanism died on the new printer—no big deal, just went to the $14 and pulled the fuser from it and we were up and running in no time (YouTube videos helped us do the repair).

Bottom Line: 
1) Save the Planet: Printing on free, recycled paper saves lots of money and trees. Watch your junk mail for reusable paper and clean out your old file folder and your kids school papers. Then print your drafts, disposable ads, articles and anything else that doesn’t need to be presentable, on it. 

Caution: We recommend shredding anything with personal identifiable information on it rather than re-using it. You never know when a re-used, re-printed piece of paper might be handed off to someone.

2) Half Price Paper:  Printers with a


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