Can You Afford To Get Married?

Posted on July 23, 2014 by:

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Cupcakes and cookies on a table

Cupcakes and cookies won’t cost as much as a big wedding cake, and they’re just as delicious.

You may not be able to afford the wedding of your dreams. You may not be able to afford the wedding of your mother’s dreams. You may feel like you can’t even afford to be a guest at someone else’s wedding.

But you can afford to get married—even if you have student loans.

A marriage license and a trip to City Hall or the chapel don’t actually cost that much. It’s the big party that goes over budget. But there are ways to do it on the cheap without feeling like you’re cheaping out.

***

I don’t just mean looking on Pinterest for DIY wedding decorations, although that will save you some cash too. I mean changing your attitude about what a wedding means.

The bridal industry loves to quote the price of an average wedding at about $25,000. But remember, giant celebrity weddings are included in that kind of figure. Most weddings cost a lot less. Mine was under half that, and we could probably have gotten it lower if we really tried much more. Here’s what worked for us:

1. Keep it small and plan quickly: Fewer people and less planning time means a small affair. We thought of it as a large dinner party rather than a small wedding. We managed to keep it under 60 guests.

2. Know your priorities: Everyone’s got one thing they think is most important. For us, it was food. We cut way back on the invitations, the dress, the ring, the entertainment, the transportation, the wedding party … everything but food and drink for the guests.

I know one couple who wanted lots of friends at the wedding, so they set up a big tent out in the country, did all their own decorations, and had the groom’s college roommate’s band play the reception. The band was awful and the food was forgettable, but everyone had a great time.

3. Pay for it yourselves: If it’s your money on the line, you’ll find it a lot easier to pay for what you want, and not pay for what you don’t want. If someone’s parents are paying the bill, they’re also calling the shots.

Bucking Expensive Traditions

We also saved money by skipping out on some traditions we didn’t feel especially attached to. You may find it hard to give up on some things, but try to remind yourself that no wedding can have the whole shebang.

Cake: Almost any other pastry costs less than a four-tier wedding cake. Some people do regular cakes, or cupcakes or cookies or selections of pastries. We opted for pie.

Ring: The pressure to buy a diamond, and to buy a big one, is immense. But the diamond engagement ring was largely invented by the diamond cartels and their ad agencies in the 1930s. Consider a beautiful ring that’s not a diamond—you can find great value in sapphires and rubies these days.

If you must have a diamond, consider practicality before you go for the biggest one you can afford: AskMen points out that a big solitaire is actually kind of hard to wear every day. In fact, I know one woman stopped wearing her ring when she accidentally scratched her daughter’s face with it. My wife still wears her ring, but it’s a low profile setting. Not coincidentally, we paid less than a thousand for the engagement ring and matching wedding band.

If you do want a diamond, shop wisely, and look to estate sales and vintage stores, where diamond rings sell for a fraction of their original price.

Clothing: Wedding dresses are absurdly expensive. A good party dress tends to be cheaper and looks just as nice. Dresses in with prints or in colors other than white are especially useful, because you can wear them again. Grooms look as good in a suit as in a tuxedo, and will find they can wear them on more occasions—like job interviews.

Managing Money for a New Couple

Of course, the cost of the wedding isn’t the only reason people say they’re afraid they can’t afford to get married.  And if you’re reluctant to get married because you have cold feet and are just using the cost as an excuse, we can’t help you.

But if you worry that you and your sweetheart have different amounts of student loan debt, or fear that your debt will hold your partner back, check out these articles on couples and finance:

Are you planning a wedding on a small budget? Tell us about it in the comments!

(Photo: thingsarebetterwithaparrott)

Save On Travel Accommodations By Staying With Locals

Posted on July 18, 2014 by:

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red couch in living room with bookshelf, plants, and lamps.

A couch may not be as comfortable as a hotel bed, but it will save you a lot of money.

When traveling, one of the biggest expenses is usually accommodations.

If you’re backpacking in Europe, you’ll likely find that hotels are out your price range—even budget ones usually cost at least $70 per night. Hostels could fit your budget better, but their prices vary greatly, with the minimum usually about $20 per night.

Fortunately, savvy travelers can find lodging that’s cheaper than this—or even free! As long as you do your research, maintain an open mind, and stay safety-conscious, you can stretch your cash by staying with locals. Here are different ways to do it.

***

Stay With Someone You Know

The most obvious one, right? On my first big Eurotrip, my friend and I planned most of our travels around where we would have a place to stay with people we know. Now that I’m back in Europe, I’ve met up and stayed with several people I met that previous trip. Because that’s the secret here: Make friends while traveling.

Two summers ago, I stayed for a night with a local resident I befriended in Berlin after I checked out of my hostel. She welcomed me into her home for a full week when I returned to Berlin this summer. This trip, I also stayed in a Berlin hostel for a few days, and then visited someone I met there, at his house outside London. Just be friendly and offer other travelers a place to stay with you if they ever make it to your home. They will likely do the same for you!

Surf Couches

The international Couchsurfing network links travelers with local hosts who have a spare sleeping surface. You can request a place to stay by sending personalized messages to potential hosts. Network users fill out detailed profiles and review the other Couchsurfers they meet, in order for people to get an idea of other members’ personalities and past couch-surfing experiences.

Joining is technically free, but some hosts ask that surfers bring some small contribution to the household, like groceries for a shared meal or toilet paper. You can also spend $25 for an optional “verification” that supposedly improves your odds of getting accepted as a host or guest. However, most of the hosts I’ve stayed with weren’t verified—I relied on user reviews instead!

In my experience, the Couchsurfing philosophy is all about social and cultural exchange—it’s not the best for people who simply want a free bed when they come home from a long day of sightseeing. Couch hosts are also more likely to welcome other couch hosts, so if you want to surf, consider having travelers stay at your home first!

Volunteer

Several online networks facilitate homestays for travelers to take a “working holiday.” Organizations such as WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), HelpX, and Workaway match willing and able workers with hosts who need help during the day, in exchange for a place to sleep and some meals.

Members pay a small fee to join some of these sites, but it costs around the same amount as one or two nights in a hostel. Many of these volunteer exchanges have a minimum stay of about 2 weeks.

Again, this is not a typical tourist vacation option; however, for those looking for an interesting, immersive experience, a volunteer exchange is something to investigate. The most common type of working holiday is farm work, but other opportunities include working at a hostel, cooking for other volunteers, babysitting, website work, and much more.

Save A Few Bucks On Hostels

The arrangements above aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. If none of them is possible for you, I can offer one pro tip for getting a slightly cheaper night at a hostel: Do not use any of the popular hostel booking sites. These are all a bit more expensive than booking directly through the hostel’s personal website.

You can use these booking sites to find a hostel with available beds, but then book through the hostel website. You may need to send an email or make a phone call, which seems like more work, but it’s worth it if you want to save a few dollars!

How do you save on accommodations when traveling? Share your tips in the comments!

(Photo: rabi)

3 Ways You Can Get Fit For Free This Summer

Posted on July 17, 2014 by:

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Staircase in woods overlooking lake and castle

Who needs a Stairmaster when you can climb this for free? The view’s much better than the gym, too.

If you’re like me, there isn’t a gym rat bone in your entire body.

Hey, it can be intimidating to hop on a treadmill and run your 13-minute mile next to the marathon runner-in-training. Unfortunately, if your insecurities keep you away too long, you just wasted a perfectly good (and expensive!) gym membership.

Besides that, activation fees, cancellation charges, and monthly payments to use state-of-the-art facilities may not be in your budget, and that’s OK. I’ve found three ways to get fit for free—so grab your sneakers and leave your wallet at home:

***

1. Meetup Groups

Meetup.com is a wonderful resource to find like-minded people in your area. It’s not only for “Singles in Dallas!” or “Moms Who Scrapbook!”—you can also use it as a way to find locals interested in sports!

Simply create an account, plug in your interests, and watch the suggestions pop up. I’ve found groups as broad as Austinite hikers to niche communities of chicks with afros who love the outdoors. Both are right up my alley!

If you enjoy group activities and find that a support system motivates you to get active, meetups are a great start. The group organizers will inform you of all upcoming activities, and you’ll find running buddies in the process.

2. YouTube Fitness Channels

YouTube is a life changer. Any recipe, home improvement project, makeup review … if you want to learn it, someone on YouTube can teach you. That includes exercise!

There are many vloggers, from enthusiasts to accredited professionals, who dedicate their YouTube channels to fitness and healthy lifestyles. It will take some trial and error to find out which workouts and personalities motivate you the most, but here’s a few that I like as a starting point:

  • BeFit: features top fitness trainers like Jillian Michaels so get ready for a butt kicking!
  • Blogilates: Cassey Ho is bubbly, beautiful, and inspiring. She’s the full package!
  • Ekhart Yoga: They don’t just teach you poses—their videos are full-length, featuring several type of yoga.
  • LEAF tv: General lifestyle channel with a yoga playlist.

If the gym intimidates you, transform your living room into your personal training session! You can watch these full-length workout videos from your mobile devices, laptop, and smart TVs. These people have dedicated themselves to providing a free resource—make use of it!

And since abs are made in the kitchen, subscribe to nutritionists and healthy eaters also. My favorite channel at this moment is Fit Men Cook. Simple recipes, colorfully stunning photos, and everything translated into Spanish.

3. Open Houses

Get a little crafty!

Sign up for newsletters from your local yoga studio, YMCA, university gym, etc. Be on the lookout for open houses and trial classes. Show up! A free hour of Bikram never hurt (OK, it might hurt, but you know what I mean…).

I live close to my alma mater, and I’ve showed up for free classes. Thankfully, nobody ever asked for my student ID; so if you still look like a college kid (or a professor?), test the waters!

***

No excuses, right? You don’t even have to invest money in your health—just your time! It will be worth it in the long run.

How do you stay fit for free? Tell us in the comments!

(Photo: Wikimedia)

A Journey Of Cracked Cellphone Screens And Broken Dreams

Posted on July 2, 2014 by:

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computer game with image of trees and river

Having a cell phone is like playing Oregon Trail, only with less dysentery.

Before last year, I had never had a nice cell phone. I always settled for what was free with my upgrade or a hand-me-down. It never really bothered me.

However, when I last found myself in need of a new phone, Apple had just released the iPhone 5. I was tempted and decided to splurge some of my savings on the latest and greatest.

A friend explained that this would be great for me now and later, because my next contract would likely begin around the launch of the next iPhone in 2 years. There is, however, a major flaw in this plan: it is very, very difficult to keep one cell phone for 2 full years.

***

To me, an apt comparison of the cell phone journey is the Oregon Trail. No, not the migration path of pioneers across the land (that was actually difficult, while cell phone problems fall firmly into the first-world category of dilemmas).

But it is a lot like old computer game version of The Oregon Trail. The stakes are low, but the desire to reach the Promised Land is oh so high. Our phones have become the 21st century wagon train. We do everything we can to keep them rolling.

The End Of The Line

Those of us who have crossed the proverbial Rocky Mountains know all the tricks. Battery life diminishing? Bring a charger everywhere. Buttons not working? iPhones have an assistive touch feature. Possible water damage? Put your phone in a bowl of rice.

But what can you do when the wagon totally breaks down? After many minor issues, my phone recently gasped its last breaths, never to respond to my touch again. So I sought a money-savvy solution. Here are three steps for how you can do the same.

1. Look around your house. Remember the “old” phone you discarded because it wasn’t good enough anymore? Well, when your new phone stops functioning altogether, the definition of “good enough” changes. I looked around my house and found a fully functional iPhone 3. It was battered and worn, but working.

2. Talk with your cellphone carrier. I chatted with AT&T reps online on more occasions that I’d like to admit. However, I learned a lot in doing so. For instance, a trip to their store netted me a completely free SIM card and moving my number to a device I already owned didn’t cost a dime. I can only speak for my carrier, but the important thing is that with research and interaction, you can avoid a huge purchase.

3. Prepare for sacrifices. Moving back a few models wasn’t without its hiccups.  All of my information on the cloud transferred, but I’m still sorting out my music and lost all the notes I had saved (I can live without the latter). But, hey, that pales in comparison to not having a working cell phone. I’m a millennial with a mild Twitter addiction, after all.

***

Without spending any money or renewing my contract, I have a phone that works. And for me the best part of all of this, the wheels are back, the oxen are reinvigorated, and we’re headed to Oregon!

Godspeed on your journey, everyone.

How do you save money when your phone breaks? Let us know in the comments!

(Photo: erikthenorsk)

4 Ways You Can Have A Budget-Friendly Summer

Posted on June 26, 2014 by:

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Flaming grill with burgers and hot dogs

BBQ potlucks: cheaper (and arguably more delicious) than going out to eat.

Summer is my favorite time of the year—and not just because my birthday falls right in the middle of it. The good weather that comes with the endless “summer daze” means more outside events and, with that, endless possibilities for good times.

This will be my first summer in New York City, as well as my first summer as a freelancer. In order to keep up with my loan payments/survive New York, I have to be extra conscious about my spending.

With that in mind, I made a few “suggestions” to myself that I encourage you to follow for a budget-friendly summer.

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1. Get Your Daily Vitamin D

Remember a few months ago, when it was winter and the sun seemed lost forever? Well, now that sun is hanging around until 8 p.m.—and I’ve decided to take advantage of it.

This season, I plan to spend at least 3 hours a day outside. Whether it’s reading, writing, tanning, attempting to skateboard, or listening to music, I make sure I get my dose of Vitamin D. If I can make a day of it, I take a hike, go to a park, or visit a beach.

If the weather is sweet, why not enjoy what you love doing, OUTSIDE. It will improve your mood, and even better, nature won’t cost you anything. Nothing’s worth more than a sunset. Make it a thing to catch it every evening.

2. Always Bring Your “Chalice”

OK—maybe not an actual chalice, a canteen will do the job for this suggestion.

It’s important to stay hydrated during the summer, but you can’t buy something to drink every time you leave the house. Cheap bottles of water add up, as do more “fun” drinks like smoothies. You might feel better after these indulgences, but your wallet will dry out.

So, this summer, I’m making it a point to carry around my own water. If I want a smoothie, I take the time to make it at home. Bananas and papayas are cheap—combining them should give me something that tastes amazing, not something that costs three times as much as the ingredients.

3. Summer Grilling Is The Perfect Excuse To Potluck

Summer is synonymous with barbecues. If you want to save a little cash, as well as enjoy the nice day outside, why not have a BBQ potluck? Someone brings the veggies, someone else brings the steaks, someone else the bread or the chips … Before you know it, you have an epic meal among friends.

It’s only been a few weeks of summer, and I’ve already been to three different BBQ potlucks. The leftovers have been amazing, as these have kept my stomach and my bank account full.

4. Take Advantage Of Your Location

New York is packed this summer with free outdoor concerts, art shows, outside movie screenings, and block parties. It’s amazing all the things that are happening at the same time in this city.

I encourage everyone to look up events in their own town. Whether you’re close to a coast, or in the Midwest, summer festivals are everywhere. Take a moment to research your town’s summer events and plan accordingly. You’ll miss these opportunities come winter.

What are you looking forward to the most this budget-friendly summer?

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

4 Money-Saving Tips For Summer Parties And Picnics

Posted on June 23, 2014 by:

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Two men and one woman outdoors with a wooden table with food.

Have everyone bring a dish to your summer party. You’ll save money and have a greater variety of food.

Summer is a great time of the year to enjoy some fresh air and some good company. That makes it the perfect season to throw a party!

There are a lot of ways that you can do this, but with food, drinks, and decorations, hosting your friends and family can get expensive. I’m finding this out firsthand, as I plan a picnic to celebrate my college graduation.

Fortunately, I’ve come up with some ideas to cut costs, and I think they could be helpful for any picnic or party. Here are four ways I plan to save.

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1. Buy In Bulk

If you are having a lot of people over, like for a graduation party or reunion, buying in bulk is one of your best options. Not only do you get a lot of product, but you also could save a lot of money!

Great food items to buy in bulk include beverages, hot dogs, eggs, pastas, and in-season fruits and vegetables. Also, paper goods, such as paper plates, cups, napkins, and plastic-ware, can be cost-effective to purchase this way.

The great thing about buying food in bulk is that you can use leftovers later—as long as you have a plan to do so before items go bad. You can compare prices from your local wholesaler, farmer’s market, or even just your supermarket. Party and dollar stores are great resources for paper goods, as well.

2. Ask For Contributions

When my family throws parties, we often all contribute food. Kind of like a potluck! Not only do you get an amazing variety of food, but you save money too.

If you don’t feel comfortable asking your friends or family to bring a dish, but they still offer to contribute, perhaps ask them to pick up some other item. Plastic-ware, plates, cups, or beverages are a great way for someone to help out while not asking them for too much.

And if you’re the one bringing a dish, check out these cheap and healthy recipes for a BBQ.

3. BYOB

At my party, I want to celebrate with some adult beverages with my friends and family. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get something everyone likes. Plus, all those cans, bottles, and kegs add up.

If you are interested in having alcohol at your party (and old enough to do so), a good way to save is to tell those invited to bring their own bottles (BYOB) or alcohol. That way, not only do they get what they would like to drink, but they are also happy with their decisions.

4. Decorate Minimally

Personally, I don’t think that you always need a theme or decorations for a picnic or party. However, I am not opposed to decorating either—provided you don’t spend a lot of money.

Because I am doing a graduation party, I am looking at small things, like weighted centerpieces and tablecloths that not only represent the occasion but also can serve multiple purposes. You can do that same thing for others party ideas, like luaus and reunions.

***

Having a great time—not worrying about expenses—is what’s important when hanging out or having a summer celebration. Hopefully, you will have a great time and find these tips helpful for your next party or picnic with family and friends!

Know of any other money-saving tips for summer entertaining? Let us know in the comments!

(Photo: susievision)

3 Hidden Costs That Could Crush Your Low-Budget Euro-Trip

Posted on June 20, 2014 by:

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pile of five suitcases

Baggage overage fees might catch you by surprise on your European getaway.

It’s easy to get confused while traveling—and it’s even easier for any “mistakes” you make to result in a fee or ticket of some kind.

Luckily, you can easily avoid many of these hidden costs if you look up rules, customs, and common fees for each city you’re traveling to, as well as for each company or bank you’re utilizing.

Check out three fees I’ve personally run into—and tips for how to avoid each.

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1. Money Exchange Costs

On my current trip, the first thing I did at my departing airport was make a terrible financial mistake—and I wasn’t even in a foreign country yet! I changed all my U.S. dollars into Euros at the American Express currency exchange office.

I did zero research beforehand, so I should have walked away. However, after initiating the transaction, I felt roped in, and I was too shy to decline the exchange. Somehow, I lost about $30 in fees.

Instead of changing cash at the airport (like I did), look up banks in your destination city that have a partnership with your bank at home. Then, when you withdraw money, get a week’s worth of cash and keep it somewhere safe (like a hostel locker or a money belt under your clothes). Making fewer withdrawals in total will keep your fees to a minimum. But don’t take out too much money at once—just in case.

Also, if you’re lucky enough to have a trusted friend or family member living in the country you are visiting, you can transfer them money for free through online banking or PayPal. Then, they can withdraw cash from their account for you. This is the cheapest method I’ve found yet!

2. Airline Baggage Overages

Most airlines have limitations for the amount and weight of your luggage. And while your transatlantic flight might have high limits, budget airlines for traveling between European countries won’t.

On Ryanair, each checked bag costs around €25 (~$34) when you book your ticket. If you check a bag last minute, they up that charge to €50. I booked a flight from Berlin to London for just €25, so bringing an oversize suitcase without booking it in advance would cost as much as two additional plane tickets! Since I plan to return to Berlin, I’m leaving a bunch of my stuff with a friend there to avoid these fees.

Check your airline’s rules carefully. If you are able to leave home with just a carry on, then you should be able to use budget airlines without paying extra baggage fees.

3. Public Transportation Fare Evasion Fees

In Berlin and some other European cities, you can get on the train or bus without tapping or swiping a card. In Berlin, you’re supposed to buy a ticket and validate it with a time stamp before you ride the train. Now, if you really need to save money, you might think it seems easy enough to take a free ride. You might even “get away with it” a few times—until a control officer (dressed in plain clothes) asks for your ticket.

If you fail to show a valid ticket, you will be charged a fine of €40 (~$54) on the spot. There’s no mercy for tourists who don’t speak the local language, and if you don’t have the money, you must provide your passport number and home address. If you don’t pay the fine, it could cause problems if you ever try to return to the country.

However, watch for fraudulent control officers. My best friend was caught in Budapest without a ticket, by a man she suspects was impersonating a control officer (he had no ID badge).

Ultimately, the best way to avoid fare-evasion fees, whether they’re charged by a real official or not, is to make sure you have a ticket! If you ride trains and busses frequently, buy a full day pass or weekly pass, depending on how long you’ll be there, to save money.

What hidden costs have you discovered when traveling abroad? Tell us in the comments!

(Photo: elliotmar)

Money-Saving Tips For Hair Product Junkies

Posted on June 19, 2014 by:

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Shelves of bottles of hair products

With so many choices, it can be hard to tell which products are best for your hair and budget.

I got my hair relaxed for the first time when I started elementary school. For the next 13 years, my family spent time, money, and effort chemically straightening my curls. I simply thought it was part of overall hygiene and hair care—every two months, burn those fuzzy roots into submission!

By the time I was a senior in high school, my poor strands were fried and limp. I’d spend time, money, and effort to add volume back into my hair. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “Why am I doing this—don’t I naturally have curly hair? Aren’t I, ya know, genetically predisposed to voluminous hair?”

***

When I started college, I decided to trade in the chemicals and flat irons and let my tresses flow free! Of course, since I hadn’t cared for (or seen!) my natural hair texture since I was a toddler, it took a solid 2 years of trial and error to figure this fro out.

If you have curls, coils, or waves, you may have also spent a lifetime trying to tame them (or, worse, hide them altogether). Here are my tips to help you put your best foot forward and still flaunt your curls and kinks—all without breaking the bank.

1. Know Your Hair Type

Don’t fall for flashy marketing! Just because the model on a product looks like you doesn’t mean it will work for you. Flip that label around and read the ingredients!

If your hair is brittle, look for proteins. If your hair is dry, look for moisturizing and conditioning ingredients like aloe vera and glycerin. (Check out my current favorites in CurlMart.com, because I could talk about hair products all day …)

If you need help figuring out what your hair is, look at categories like curl pattern, porosity, hair density, and width. Through research, I discovered that I have thin and fine hair, as opposed to thick and coarse. Many conventional products marketed to my demographic don’t work—they actually weigh my hair down!

2. Mix It Up

OK, so you read this blog post a little too late, and you already have a stash of products that you’re not crazy about. Don’t toss ‘em! Instead, make some adjustments.

Add olive oil to conditioners if they’re not slippery enough to help you comb. I bought a liter-sized bottle of Tresemme that did zippo for my hair (it came with a pump, so I couldn’t resist). Sure, it was only a few bucks, but it was my few bucks. A few tablespoons of EVOO later, and I could comb through my hair with ease.

Mix gels that are too soft with gels that make your hair too crunchy to make the perfect styler. Save your money and add a dollop of your favorite conditioner to a mini spray bottle of water and enjoy a whole new product—leave-in conditioner! This comes in handy when I travel. You can just repurpose one product into two and save room for more important things.

3. Be A Smart Shopper

Ask about the return policy for hair products. I’m serious. Don’t abuse this tip, though; if it takes you half the bottle to realize you don’t like a product, don’t expect a refund! But it never hurts to ask, right?

Be a smart shopper, and take advantage of sales. BOGO (Buy One, Get One) sales are popular among curl-friendly brands like SheaMoisture, so that is the time to stock up! Black Friday and Cyber Monday are both opportunities to buy a variety of products at a fraction of the cost.

We all know the best price is FREE, so I encourage you to attend meetups, conferences, and hair shows. My favorite YouTubers and bloggers often have events to connect with their fans, and if hair is one of their passions, expect swag bags! There’s one sitting in my car right now—easily worth $50—that I got just for attending!

Lastly, don’t forget about a good ol’ swap session. Gather your fellow curly haired friends and trade items. One woman’s trash could be another woman’s good hair day.

How do you save on hair products? Share your secrets in the comments!

(Photo: cleanwalmart)

4 Tips For Packing Luggage For A Summer Trip

Posted on May 16, 2014 by:

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Fully-packed backpack

One investment worth making? A good, large backpack. Go for that over a rolling suitcase, which can be a pain to lug around (especially if broken).

Two summers ago, I went on a 7-week Euro trip. I spent lots of time meticulously prepping for my adventure, as I was determined to pack efficiently on a small budget while still being fashionable.

However, this was my first big trip, and as I traveled, I realized I had gone wrong in more ways than one. I’m now getting ready to travel again for several months, and this time, I’ve learned from my costlier mistakes. If you’re planning a big trip, you can benefit from these four lessons too.

***

1. Pack Light

An experienced traveler once told me: Pack everything you think you need, and then bring half of it. I didn’t listen last time and later needed to ditch my sleeping bag, bulky towel, a pair of shoes, and some of my clothes. I also seriously regretted bringing my old film camera. (“But how cool would it be to have real photos of my trip that I can hold forever,” I kept telling myself.)

If you find that you really need something you didn’t bring, you can pretty much always buy it. It may not even be that much more expensive, especially if you factor in the cost of fees for overweight luggage. In addition, other travelers often leave things behind, and many hostels provide free bedding, towels, and perhaps other amenities like a hair dryer, iron, or toiletries. Research this in advance—sometimes, you’ll find that hostels charge a small rental or deposit fee for these items, but it can be worth it to save space in your bag.

If you’re not sure what to bring, check out a site like onebag.com for a list of essentials.

2. Test Things Before You Leave

If you pack light, test everything you bring—especially new things. I wish I had tried out that camera before my trip. It ended up being broken, and the whole roll of film I shot got exposed, ruining all the photos. There’s no point spending the money or effort to bring something along if it doesn’t work.

I’ve tested out my new universal plug converter, inflatable neck pillow, and vacuum seal packing bags. I also wore my new shoes around for a few days to test the fit and break them in. I even practiced filling my bag with all the stuff to see how much would fit, how heavy it is, and if the clothes would get too wrinkly.

In addition, I plan to save some money by hand washing my laundry—and I’ll test that too. On my last trip, I hand washed clothes in a hotel sink to find that some of my heavy cotton clothes took days to dry and a pair of burgundy pants dripped pigment all over the bathroom, staining the white bathmats and towels.  

3. Mail Stuff Home

This is always an option, when you find you don’t need something you brought, or if you buy new stuff that you won’t need for the duration of the trip.

I ended up sending home a bunch of souvenirs and gifts from the first leg of my trip. I needed to lighten my load, especially because I was about to start frequently flying on budget airlines with strict baggage size limits. Don’t just assume that mail will be more expensive. Budget airlines may charge fees for oversized baggage that can cost more than your ticket! Read the fine print.

4. Don’t Go Overboard With Special “Travel” Gear

Beware of the unnecessary and overpriced gear targeted toward worried travelers who are over-preparing. You probably don’t need a “special” travel vest, blanket, shoe bag, iron, hair dryer, travel humidifier, or fold-up plate, cup, and bowls.

On my last trip, I wished I’d brought a travel clothesline and a solid bar of laundry soap (rather than a “mini’” bottle of Tide). However, I don’t necessarily bother with special travel clothes. as summer clothes tend to be lightweight anyway.

For this trip, I bought a raincoat that folds into a pouch at Salvation Army for a few bucks, and I’m bringing that inflatable travel neck pillow. Otherwise, I’m sticking to the essentials. Do the same, and you, your wallet, and your back (it’s no fun carrying all this stuff!) will have a great time.

What packing tips do you have that could help someone save money? Share them below!

(Photo: J Bradley Snyder)

5 Cheap And Easy DIY Condiments

Posted on May 2, 2014 by:

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Bacon guacamole.

Anna’s homemade bacon guacamole. Because if you’re going to DIY, you might as well add bacon.

Buying prepackaged guacamole or a jar of pickles may be easy and fast. However, the time and effort to make these yourself is totally worth the savings—plus, homemade varieties are almost always more delicious than their store-bought counterparts.

Here are my five favorite DIY condiments that are tastier and cheaper to make at home.

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1. Guacamole

We’re all familiar with this creamy green dip, which is great on chips, sandwiches, burgers, and burritos. It’s super easy to buy guac, but it usually costs about $5. Instead, get a bag of four avocados at the store for about $4 (you’ll likely get two batches out of that) and make your own.

Your ingredients can be simple or elaborate. At its most basic level, smashed avocado + spices + lemon or lime juice = guacamole. You can add garlic, onions, hot peppers, tomatoes, fresh herbs (like cilantro or chives), or whatever to make it fancier and flavorful. No matter which way you do it, the ingredients should cost between $2 and $4.

I invented my favorite guacamole recipe on a whim—and it happens to be topped with bacon bits.

2. Garlic And Herb Cheese Spread

Have you ever tried “fancy” garlic and herb cheese spread for crackers or sliced baguette? Common brands include Boursin, Alouette, and Rondele.

An 8-oz tub of Rondele cheese costs a whopping $5.99+ at my local supermarket, while a 5.2-oz package of Boursin goes for $6 or $7. I discovered a magical, delicious recipe for homemade spreadable cheese. And the ingredients can cost as little as $2 or $3 for a 12-oz batch, provided you buy the necessary butter and cream cheese on sale.

3. Pickles

Many people think making pickles is a time-consuming process involving special equipment for shelf-stable preservation. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be. In my opinion, refrigerator pickles taste better—and they certainly take less time.

My favorite pickling recipe from my mom takes 24 hours for fresh cucumbers to taste much like the kosher dill pickles you might buy from a legit delicatessen. I usually add carrot sticks or sliced bell peppers to the jar, which are just as good, if not better, than the pickled cucumbers. You’ll also need fresh dill, which you can preserve by drying or freezing.

The supermarket charges about $5 per jar of my favorite brand of refrigerated kosher spears (well, my favorite until I started doing my own pickling). The ingredients for a homemade batch (two large jars) can definitely cost less than $3 or $4, if you buy the produce on sale or at a discount market.

4. Chipotle Mayo Sauce

A good friend of mine recently fell in love with chipotle mayo. He makes large batches of this sauce and leaves it in my fridge so he can top all kinds of dishes with it when he cooks with my roommates or me. It lasts a long time and tastes great on burgers, Mexican food, sandwiches, and more.

He won’t share his secret recipe, but the Internet knows about chipotle sauce, too. Try this simple recipe. If you already have mayo in your fridge, your only expense would be a $1.19 can of chipotle chilies in adobo sauce (and you only need to use a couple—the rest will last several months in the fridge for future chipotle recipe experimentation). Experiment by adding lime juice, garlic powder, black pepper, and other spices to taste.

For price comparison, a 12-oz bottle of chipotle mayo at the supermarket will be about $3.50. The homemade version should cost less than $1 or $2 for a large batch.

5. Pesto

Pesto is an especially great recipe for those who keep an herb garden. Plant a few basil starters (which should cost just a couple dollars each) in a sunny spot and you’ll have more basil than you know what to do with by the end of summer.

For those without a green thumb or a sunny yard, a large package of basil (enough for two batches of pesto) should cost about $3. The other ingredients can be cheap too, especially if you substitute pricey pine nuts with something more affordable, such as almonds, pistachios, or pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

All in all, a batch of fresh pesto can cost less than $4 with supermarket ingredients or $2 if you grow basil in an outdoor garden. A 7-oz tub of fresh (refrigerated) pesto will cost nearly $6 at the supermarket.

What condiments do you make at home to save money? Share your recipes in the comments!

(Photo: Anna Marden)