6 Halloween Costume Hacks for Budget-Conscious Parents

With Halloween just around the corner, parents and kids are already eyeing the racks at stores for that perfect costume. From Disney characters to Marvel comics to irresistibly cute animal outfits, the choices are endless and it’s understandable how families get wrapped up in the spooky celebration. While Christmas is still the most spendy holiday, the cost of Halloween has been climbing. The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates Americans will spend about $950 million on kids costumes alone this year.

1. DIY.
Undoubtedly your child may be set on dressing as one of the hottest characters this season. While there will be plenty of Minions and Star Wars characters patrolling the sidewalks Halloween night, you don’t have to pay a lot to achieve these looks. Ashley Ann Photography has some great DIY tips for Star Wars costumes, while many costume ideas use simple apparel that you can find at craft stores for less.

2. Raid The Closet.
Chances are your child already has something in his or her closet that can be repurposed for Halloween. A ballet leotard is an easy base for a number of costumes, and an old pair of overalls is perfect for a Minion costume. Old costumes from years before can also be re-worn and redecorated to make something new. For more cheap and easy costume ideas, check out this blog post of over 50 ideas for kids and adults.

3. Be Thrifty.
When it comes to Halloween, thrift stores are your best resource. Many stores like ARC and Goodwill sell Halloween costumes for popular characters like Disney princesses and superheros. You’ll pay a lot less buying these gently used than you would from pricey costume stores. Also check out ThredUp.com; during October, the online consignment store hosts a costume exchange so parents can swap outgrown costumes for new ones. Grab ThredUp coupon codes for even more savings from deal sites like Coupon Sherpa.

4. Create a Challenge.
A fun way to let your kids have a blast creating their own costumes is to make a contest out of it! Money Crashers suggests setting a budget for each child and letting them explore the stores. Dollar stores are a great place to let them create, since most things will be cheaper and they can get more for their money. For a little competitive fun, you could host a costume contest afterwards and award the winner a prize.

5. Wait.
If you’re serious about Halloween saving, consider waiting until the last minute to purchase a costume for your child. Most stores mark their Halloween inventory way down a few days before the holiday to make way for Christmas merchandise. Though this method may not work if you need the costume in advance, it can mean big savings for those with flexibility. Also check the stores right after the holiday for savings of 50% or more for next year’s event.

6. Swap with Friends.
Every year, children request to dress up as their favorite cartoon character or animal for this one-day celebration. Since most kids don’t want to re-wear the same look the following year, parents are stuck with unusable costumes. Instead of letting those popular looks collect dust, set up a swap with family and friends to trade gently used costumes and accessories at no cost. Serve light snacks and request that each attendant bring at least one item to exchange.

How To Teach Kids the Basics of Budgeting and Spending Responsibly

Budgeting and spending responsibly aren’t skills that should be developed later in life. Money knowledge is on the same plane as reading and being polite. By instilling positive, responsible spending habits, you’ll set up your kid (or kids) for success.

Set an Example

There’s no doubt about the fact that kids are great observers and absorb what’s going on around them. So, be cognizant about how you talk about money and how you actually spend money. When it comes down to it, practice what you preach.

An Allowance

In the world of parenting, allowances are extremely common. However, they are about more than just simple cash every week. Make an allowance something that is earned from doing chores/homework, not something that is a given. If they aren’t good or tasks aren’t completed, don’t give an allowance. This shows kids the connection between doing work and receiving money.

Additionally, you can also use allowance money and birthday/holiday gifts to form a mini bank. Let them know how much money they have. You could keep the information in a notebook or maybe display it on the fridge, so it’s visible.

When they want to buy something, like a toy, have them look at the cost of it. Then, have them compare the cost to the amount of money they have. In order to help them make educated choices, help them set goals. Good questions to ask include:

  • What do you really, really want? Based on its cost, how many weeks would you need to save to get it?
  • Is there anything you can do to get to your goal quicker, like a lemonade stand or additional chores?

It can be helpful to keep the money that accumulates in two jars: spend and save. Instead of the traditional opaque piggy bank, try something see-through, so kids can visually see money adding up.

Apps/Games

For young kids, it may be difficult to tell the difference between game currency and actual in-app purchases. A good amount of parents have been surprised when they’ve been charged for in-app purchases when their kids use their tablets.

A great lesson revolves around the difference between play money in games and actual currency. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to block in-app purchases, either.

Real Budgets

As kids get older, they can handle more complex information about money and finances. Of course, you probably don’t want your kids to know the ins and outs of your personal budget, but what can you share? Think it over by yourself or with your spouse, and share what you feel comfortable with.

Explain your thought process and let your kids know when you’ve run into challenges. That way, they’ll be able to see that budgeting isn’t a black and white process, and it can be difficult sometimes – beyond just buying a recreational item.

At the end of the day, whether you’re a mom or a kid, budgeting is difficult. There is always more to learn (after all, that’s probably why you’re reading this blog!). Emphasize this to your little ones as they grow up into young adults, and you’ll be sure to see them flourish financially.

Top 5 Money Tips For New Parents

A new member of the family means a lot of things, from new experiences and memories to new fears and frustrations, chief among them the fact that you now have to stretch your money to completely support a new person.

Budgeting for a family is no small chore, especially if you’ve never had to do it before. It doesn’t have to be difficult or intimidating, though. By following these 5 money tips for new parents, you can get your new family’s finances off to a solid start in no time.

Establish An Emergency Fund ASAP

You’re probably concerned enough with just covering the day to day expenses when it comes to your new family member. Savings, beyond what you may or may not have automated, might not seem like a primary concern from the beginning.

It should be, though. It’s recommended that you have six months’ worth of non-discretionary income set aside to make ends meet should something happen to your earning ability. It’s not always fun to think about losing your job when you have a new baby, but it does happen, and if it does, your family needs to be ready.

Try to have enough to cover half a year’s worth of basic living expenses, including rent or mortgages, utilities, bill payments, food, and baby expenses such as diapers and new clothes, set aside in advance. Whether you’re getting this set up before baby comes or you’re starting after the fact, worry about this before you start worrying about college funds or pre-school tuition. Those things are important, but so is your family’s living security.

While you’re at it, take a look at life insurance. It may have been frivolous when it was just you or just the two of you, but now that someone is going to be depending on your income for several years to come, life insurance is an important security measure to make sure that your child is cared for in tough times.

Evaluate Your Primary Expenses

Next on our list of top 5 tips for new parents is to take a look at how much you’re spending on the necessities.

You know that adding a new person into your family budget is going to change things, but have you truly considered by how much? Remember, you’re not just going to need to buy one wardrobe’s worth of baby clothes that will last until they reach their toddler years, you’re going to need to re-outfit that growing body every couple of months.

There’s no one number that’s going to tell you how much extra your kid is going to cost you, and you’re going to have to be prepared for your budget to not go exactly as planned, but it’s important to look into the potential cost of raising your child, and evaluate your budget from there. There are even a number of online calculators to help you get started.

When you know how much you need for your child, you’ll be in a better place to decide how the rest of your budget should be allocated. Necessities like food, shelter, utilities, etc., aren’t going anywhere, but you’ll be surprised where you’ll be able to cut back.

Look Into Alternative Options

Once you know where you absolutely must spend and where you can cut costs, don’t be afraid to look into alternatives where costs are still high.

New parents are easy targets for advertisers because your time and mental resources are already pretty tight, but the newest or flashiest isn’t always going to be what you need. Buying gently used on things like furniture and clothes for your new kid is a good way to cut some of the initial costs that are only going to last between a few months and a couple years.

Look into alternatives for things like health insurance, too. Increased premiums might make employer benefits a costly addition to your budget. Government-backed coverage might save you some cash while still keeping your whole family healthy. If you do run into emergencies with your budget, you can try applying for an alternative loan solution such as a title loan.

Look Into Tax Advantage College Savings

You might need that safety net first, but saving for college should be something that starts early. With estimated costs at a quarter of a million dollars by 2030, college isn’t going to come cheap and it’s not going to happen on its own.

Options like a 529 College Savings Plan provide parents a chance to save without the savings being subject to federal and in most cases state taxes, meaning that you’re getting a full dollar for every dollar you put in.

Don’t Hesitate To Ask For Help

When you’re tired, stressed, or just don’t know what to do, loading up on hundreds of dollars’ worth of baby books and paying for top notch sitters and nannies won’t get you nearly as far as your own network.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your supporters, whether that’s other new parents, your own parents, or other friends and family. If you need a sitter or help getting your kid to an important appointment, talk to someone you trust with your kids. Often, they’ll do it for nothing more than the promise that you’ll return the favor down the road.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, either. Things like medical needs should never be overlooked but a seasoned parent might be able to reassure you that a red spot is nothing more than diaper rash and save you the cost of a copay that you didn’t account for. Remember, it takes a village.

There’s no set number when it comes to budgeting for a growing family, and there’s no definitively right way to do it. Just set your priorities, look at all your options, and don’t be afraid to take help where you can get it. Most of all – don’t be afraid to not be afraid. You’re going to be a great parent.

Are Farmers Markets Too Expensive?

Are Farmers Markets Too Expensive?

Fresh Georgia peaches

Summer brings about the return of farmer’s markets, local garden, and fresh produce. Farmers markets usually have fresher, higher quality goods and produce than the grocery store selections. Their haul is also often organic and locally grown and produced. But when you visit your local farmer’s market, are you paying more money than you should?

What Consumers Believe Versus The Actual Facts

People often claim cost as the main reason why they don’t frequent their local farmer’s markets. Many consumers believe that farmer’s markets are more expensive than their grocery store when comparing the same items. But is it true?

The Nevada County Public Health Department gathered data from the prices of their area farmer’s markets and compared it to prices obtained from area grocery stores from January 2014 to July 2014. They found that while farmer’s market produce is very similarly priced to the grocery store counterparts. In fact, 5 out of 10 item prices measured found that the farmer’s market prices were equal to or cheaper than the grocery store alternative.

Organic Produce Prices from Placer and Nevada Counties

Another study in 2007 by University of Seattle economics professor, Stacey Jones, found that a comparison study of 15 items revealed that the farmer’s market items were slightly cheaper than the nearby grocery store’s items. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture studied conventional food in four Iowa cities and reported that the farmer’s market prices were more often cheaper or equal to prices at the neighboring grocery stores.

Across different tested regions, farmer’s markets proved to be cheaper than most consumers expected them to be. But are you always saving money when you visit your local farmer’s market?

It seemed to depend on the produce; for more commonly found vegetables that are easy to mass-produce, the grocery store prices tended to be slightly cheaper than the farmer’s market prices. But for more specific kinds of produce like sweet potatoes and butternut squash, the prices were equal. For things like apples, beets, and chard; the produce at the farmer’s market was cheaper.

Pros and Cons of Grocery Stores and Farmer’s Markets

So with prices that are fairly comparative between the two, which offers a better buy?

The Grocery Store

  • Pro: You can find out-of-season fruits and vegetables that have been shipped in
  • Con: Their frozen produce is typically cheaper than their fresh selections
  • Pro: There is greater consistency in product with factory farming methods
  • Con: You’ll pay much more for organic produce here than at the farmer’s market

The Farmer’s Market

  • Pro: Produce is much fresher (usually harvested within the last day or two before your purchase) and often organic
  • Con: Your selection is limited to local growing conditions and season
  • Pro: You’re supporting small, family-owned businesses
  • Con: Non-produce items like locally-raised meats, honey, etc. are more expensive here than the grocery store’s factory-produced versions

In the bigger picture, the grocery store offers more selection that offers slightly lower prices than the farmer’s market. But much is factored into the price of your produce: production and shipping costs, time, labor, variety, season and weather conditions, demand, and quality, just to name a few examples. Take that into mind when deciding whether or not your farmer’s market is excessively expensive.

What You Pay Depends on What You’re Shopping For

In another study done by Jake Robert Claro, a graduate student at Bard College, they found that organic items found at farmer’s markets were 40% cheaper than the grocery store’s organic counterparts in the area. So if you’re looking for naturally-grown, organic produce that you know exactly where it came from… the farmer’s market will have cheaper selections for you and your family.

But if you’re buying imported produce in bulk- the grocery store is still marginally cheaper than the farmer’s market. Another consideration to make… how long is the shelf-life of your purchase?

Price becomes tricky when you’re trying to pin down what you’re paying for. It makes it difficult to determine whether or not you’re paying too much for your produce. Something to consider is how long you’ll be able to use that head of lettuce before it spoils.

Grocery store produce isn’t as fresh as farmer’s market produce. That’s almost always a guarantee just because it’s more cost-effective to have that produce shipped into the store from further away. Farmer’s market produce is local, so it was more recently harvested.

So if you buy a head of lettuce from the grocery store for a cheaper price than you would at the farmer’s market, but it only lasts you two days before it begins to wilt rather than the farmer’s market lettuce that would have lasted you the week… are you really saving money when you just had to throw away the majority of that lettuce?

Again; it depends. You’d be saving money if you use your grocery store produce within the first few days after purchasing it. But if you need to keep your food fresh a few days longer, the farmer’s market might be your more frugal option.

How to Make Farmer’s Markets Cheaper

If you do decide that your local farmer’s market is a better deal, then you should know how to get more bang for your buck. While data seems to support that farmer’s market prices are often equal to (or even cheaper than) grocery stores, not all farmer’s market selections are going to be cheaper than the grocery store versions. You’ll need to know what to look for and when to shop!

Some money-saving tips to help you shop smarter at a farmer’s market:

  • Scope out the area, and go for a smaller market rather than the bigger, busier ones that tend to be higher-priced.
  • Become a repeat customer; get to know your local farmer… they’ll tip you off when the prices dip lower.
  • Don’t become set in your shopping list; often the items you planned on buying are too expensive… opt for cheaper produce and try out a new recipe instead.
  • Buy in bulk; because seasonal items are in surplus, buy a lot of whatever’s at a low price then freeze or can what you don’t need right now, or go in on the purchase with your family/friends and pay almost nothing.
  • Walk through the entire market before making your purchases; some vendors will offer lower prices than others for the same items, or have buy-one-get-one deals.
  • Play the waiting game; prices often drop just before the market closes, or if you haggle a bit. It’s risky since you might not buy what you came for, but it can save you money.
  • Bring cash; most vendors deal exclusively in cash (or in goods and services if you have those to offer for a better bargain).

Farmer’s markets don’t seem to be “too expensive.” In fact, they seem to be trying to compete with or even beat out the grocery store prices to capture your business. Visit your nearby farmer’s market this summer and take note of the prices then compare them to your grocery store selections. Those prices can change on a daily basis, but if it ends up being cheaper than your local grocery store it could be well worth the change in your routine.

Eating Healthy on a Budget for Families

Eating Healthy on a Budget for Families

Hear us out when we say: we get it. Feeding a family healthy foods on a budget is no easy task. Kids complain about health foods not tasting as good as their processed counterparts, Ingredients can be expensive, and prep times can go on for hours depending on the dishes you serve.

But fear not – there’s no reason to panic or navigate away from the page just yet. We’ll start with some cheap (but nutritionally powerful) ingredients, and some simple meals you can make with them. However, we’ll also throw in some incredible tools that can help you make a healthy, inexpensive meal for your family out of the ingredients you have lying around your house. And when we say “any,” ingredient, we mean “any.”

Bananas

Benefits: You have probably heard it shouted from the mountain tops that bananas are an excellent source of potassium. Well, the mountain-shouters are right, but did you know bananas are also a great source of fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and vitamin A? Among many other nutrients! Plus they’re usually one of the cheapest fruits out there, usually falling in a price range south of $1 a bunch.

Quick meal idea: You can eat them on their own or add them to other healthy breakfast foods. Try slicing up a banana and adding it to another inexpensive nutritional power-player: oatmeal. Both are packed with fiber, which will keep you feeling full for hours after your meal.

Eggs

Benefits: Full of nutrients like choline, sulfur, and lots of protein, eggs are the gold standard for a healthy food that won’t bust your budget. The beauty of eggs is they can be incorporated into a variety of different meals and dishes, from their simple fried or scrambled forms to quiches and casseroles.

Quick meal idea: Whether you prefer to cook with the entire egg or just the egg whites, there are so many ways to use this food of many faces. One great meal that also allows you to incorporate some greenery in the form of broccoli is a simple scrambled eggs with ricotta dish. Throw some broccoli, salt, and oil into a pan for about 6 minutes. Then add 8 large eggs, scramble until almost set, then remove them from the heat and sprinkle on some ricotta.

Beans

Benefits: Beans have long been a favorite of herbivores and omnivores alike because they can take on many different forms and flavors. With flavor, fiber, protein, iron, and antioxidants, ingredients like black beans are tasty, nutritious and cheap, often costing just 99 cents for a can.

Quick meal idea:From black bean soup to black beans and rice, there’s almost nothing you can’t do with these legumes. Try simmering a can of black beans with some minced garlic and onion. Then pour them over some brown rice and sprinkle with cheddar cheese, cilantro, tomato, avocado, and whatever other vegetables you enjoy. If you’re feeling really crazy, add some hot sauce.

Cabbage

Benefits: It’s a cheap, healthy ingredient that’s also incredibly underrated. Though it may get a bad wrap for being an incredibly uninteresting food most often incorporated into your grandmother’s questionable casseroles, there’s actually a lot you can do with a head of cabbage and a little imagination.

Quick meal idea: It’s as simple as chopping up a head of cabbage into thinly-sliced pieces (think: coleslaw), throwing it into a heavy-bottomed pan with some butter for 10 – 15 minutes, then seasoning it with salt and pepper.

Spice Things Up with a Cutting-Edge Cooking App

You may see this list and roll your eyes at the overly simplistic portrayal of foods, but did you know there’s a way to make a tasty meal out of just about any combination of ingredients, including those on this list?

If you’re like NPR correspondent Eliza Strickland and you’re into food experimentation (or you’re sick of the frustration that comes with making a trip to the grocery store and forgetting a key required in your dish), there’s an app for that, and its name is Watson.

After being programmed with the information for over 9,000 recipes from Bon Appetit magazine as well as the flavor compounds found in foods, Watson can create recipes from just about any combination of foods. So if you’ve got food lying around the house that you’d like to incorporate into heart-healthy dishes, let Watson do the thinking while you do the cooking.

Remember, food is the fuel your body uses to function, fight off disease, and heal from injury. Feeding yourself (or your family) meals full of preservatives and overly-processed foods is kind of like pouring sugar in your own gas tanks (no pun intended). It doesn’t just give your body fewer nutrients to work with – it oftentimes contributes to and exacerbates certain ailments.