How This Graphic Designer Travels the World on $50K

A recent study found that 74 percent of Americans go into debt in order to travel. I’m not surprised; between the rising costs of airfare, eating out, and extracurricular adventure activities, it’s easy to go over budget.

But what if you could trade your talents for travel around the world without shelling out your savings? That’s part of the strategy Abbey Ley, 33, employs to visit international destinations like Switzerland, Bali, and Australia. A freelance graphic designer, illustrator, and animator, she makes around $50,000 per year, a good chunk of which goes toward taxes, retirement, student loans, and business expenses. A few years ago, Ley started using her talents to afford travel while staying within her strict budget. Here’s what we all can learn from her process. 

Outside: How do you manage your freelance income and your savings?
Ley: I keep an active text document on my computer where I track my monthly bills and review it every few days. I have most of my monthly bills on auto-pay, so I never have to worry about late fees. For larger payments, like my student loans, I mark the withdrawal date in my calendar so I make sure to have enough funds in my account. In that same doc, I keep track of active clients and the amounts of projects affiliated with each one (when the deadline is and when I expect to be paid). To project monthly income, I total those up, but it often fluctuates; sometimes clients will put projects on hold or I’ll receive payments later than expected. Since my income is so inconsistent, I keep an emergency fund in savings, where I accrue 2.2 percent interest as long as my balance is at least $2,000. This is the fund I typically draw from for my travel adventures.

How did you get started on your current career path?
Early on in my career, a few years after moving to New York City, I worked as the art director for Wanderlust, a series of yoga, wellness, and music festivals. The events take place at different mountain resorts across North America, and traveling was an incredible perk of the job for most of the staff. My job designing, though, didn’t require me to work on-site at the events, so I had to get creative to make a case for my travel expenses to be covered. I took on the role of organizing teams of photographers at each event, took lots of photos myself, and helped run our social-media accounts. I didn’t get paid extra for doing this work, but getting to travel made it worth it. These experiences solidified my love for travel, and I realized that working on the go with a laptop thrilled me much more than sitting in an office. A few years later, I saw a listing to intern abroad in Switzerland for three months as a designer, and I jumped at the opportunity. The pay was low, but I saw value in having flights and housing paid for. The hours were full-time, but I took on freelance projects alongside the job in order to fund adventure-filled weekend trips all around Europe.

travel
(Abbey Ley)

What money-saving tricks or tips did you use on your recent trip to Bali and Australia?
I originally planned the two-week trip to Bali because my friend owned a meditation and yoga-retreat center in Bali, and she let me stay there for free in return for branding and graphic-design help. I traveled in late January and February, which is the off-season, so flights were much cheaper than they would be in the summer. I also stayed with a friend in Brisbane, Australia, so that took care of lodging expenses. When I wasn’t hosted, I booked lodging via Airbnb. Homestays in Bali are very affordable in comparison to the U.S., so I was able to stay in a few beautiful places for about $30 per night. Food is also pretty cheap (and delicious) in the country. 

Australia is more expensive, so while staying with my friend in Brisbane, I shopped at the farmers’ market and grocery store and utilized his kitchen to cook meals instead of going out all the time. When I left Brisbane to explore Melbourne and Sydney on my own, I booked my own room in shared Airbnbs (and made some great new friends). I also stayed outside the central business district in areas that were less expensive. One money-saving idea that I decided to do a bit last-minute was to take an overnight train from Melbourne to Sydney, which saved me a night of lodging. Even though I didn’t book a sleeper car, I was still able to get some decent shut-eye.

What tips would you offer someone who wants to figure out how to use their talents to trade for travel?
There are so many careers that can be done remotely and so many opportunities to travel for work. You probably have a skill or two that is worth value to someone else, if you think about it. Figure out what you’d most like to do, and research to find out all you can about it and the location you want to travel to. Reach out to people who are doing or have done what you want to do, and ask them questions. For women, there’s a Facebook group called Girls Love Travel that has been a great resource for me.

Save up in preparation for your trip, especially if you are trading your services or volunteering in exchange for travel. When agreeing to trade or volunteer your time, be realistic about the duration of time you can commit to. If you’re able to take on paid work while trading or volunteering, that will help. If not, look for opportunities that provide something of value to you (travel, housing, or meals).

Is there anything we can do from home to prepare for a long trip?
I always cancel subscriptions I don’t use or can live without. Trim is a great mobile app to help with this. Before I go on vacation, I try to double down on the number of meals I make at home. (I always save a surprising amount of money not going to restaurants.) I try to do this on the road, too.  

Finally, I rent out my Brooklyn apartment on Airbnb while I’m gone, even if it’s just for a couple weeks. For my Bali and Australia trips, I hired a friend who lived in my building to check on the place between guests. It took a good amount of communication and maintenance, but we figured it out in the end, and in addition to the extra income, I liked helping facilitate other people’s travel.

Steven Merrill, Financial Planning: Why can’t I keep up with the market?

Question: I have been investing for years, but I never seem to do as well as my friends. I own high quality mutual funds, but I don’t even earn as much as the mutual fund company says I should earn. Do you have any idea why my portfolio always seems to lag? This is getting frustrating.

Answer: Without knowing your portfolio history, it is impossible for me to explain exactly why your portfolio might be underperforming. However, there are several things you need to consider when you think about your investment performance.

First, keep in mind that measuring and reporting investment performance can be tricky. If you want a thorough discussion of the issues involved, check out the “Global Investment Performance Standards,” or GIPS. This 447-page document is the gold standard for investment performance reporting. It is published by the CFA Institute and is used by all reputable investment advisors as the basis for reporting performance. GIPS is available to the public at www.GIPSstandards.org.

You should also keep in mind that comparing your investment returns with your friends’ returns is a foolish exercise. Your situation is different from their situation in ways that you cannot possibly understand without digging into the intimate details of their financial lives. Investments that are appropriate for them may not be appropriate for you and vice versa. Focus instead on making sure that your investments match your circumstances and that your portfolio is properly constructed.

Consider also that your friends are probably not giving you the full picture. I’m not saying that your friends are lying, but they may not know what they are talking about. Remember what I was saying about the complexity of investment measurement and reporting? In any case, do yourself a favor and tune out the external noise and focus on your situation.

When it comes to your own investments, there are a number of reasons why you might underperform—even if you own a well-managed mutual fund. These reasons include the effect of loads or commissions, the timing of your investments or withdrawals, and what you choose to do with dividends. An example will help illustrate what I mean.

Let’s suppose you invest $1,000 in a particular mutual fund at the beginning of the year. At the end of the year your mutual fund company reports that your fund was up 10 percent. Without any extenuating circumstances, you would expect your investment account to now be worth $1,100.

However, suppose you paid a 3 percent load to buy the fund. In that case, you really only invested $970, and your investment would have grown to be only $1,067. You did earn 10 percent, but on a lower invested amount. Over time, the effect of that load will diminish, but if you pay a load on every addition you make to the fund, your performance will always lag. The Securities and Exchange Commission has tried to help investors better understand the effect of loads on portfolio performance by requiring fund companies to report load-adjusted returns in their prospectuses, but many people gloss right over those disclosures.

Mutual fund companies also report performance assuming you made a single lump-sum investment at the beginning of the year and held the investment for the entire year. To the extent you make multiple investments over the course of the year, or take withdrawals during the course of the year, your actual performance will differ from the fund’s reported performance. If the market is going up, your performance will lag the market.

Finally, published fund performance numbers assume you immediately reinvest dividend and interest payments back into the mutual fund. If you withdraw dividends or interest payments or invest them in something else, your actual performance will not match the fund’s reported performance.

Steven C. Merrell is an investment adviser and partner at Monterey Private Wealth Inc., in Monterey. Send questions concerning investing, taxes, retirement or estate planning to Steve Merrell, 2340 Garden Road Suite 202, Monterey 93940 or steve@montereypw.com.

More Than One-Third of Women Aren’t Happy With Their Financial Advisors

Hiring a financial advisor is a smart step on the road to financial security and independence. But new data from New York Life Investments reveals that women’s experience with advisors isn’t as positive as it could be. A good 40% of female respondents feel that financial professionals treat women differently from men, and 26% feel that they have less access to financial education than they should.

And it’s not just women who are average earners who feel this way. Though an estimated 70% of women with investable assets above $250,000 work with an advisor at present, 38% are less than completely satisfied with the professionals they’ve chosen. Not only that, but 67% of women change advisors because of poor service or lack of a personal connection.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

It’s crucial that you feel not only comfortable with your financial advisor but satisfied with his or her services. If that’s not how you feel at present, here are a few things you should look for as you seek out someone new to manage your money.

1. Someone who understands your unique needs and challenges

Women often struggle to save appropriately for retirement, and the reason often boils down to the fact that they earn less than their similarly qualified male counterparts. Throw in the fact that women tend to live longer than men, and it’s no wonder so many are concerned about running out of money during their golden years. As a woman, it’s imperative that you find a financial advisor who can understand, and perhaps even relate to, these concerns, and who can help you devise a plan that accounts for them.

2. Someone who respects your appetite for risk

Not everyone’s risk tolerance is the same. For some people, loading up on stocks is enough to make them lose sleep. Other investors, meanwhile, can see their portfolios lose 10% of their value in a day and barely flinch. Finding an advisor who understands and respects your personal tolerance for risk is a crucial part of establishing a long-term financial plan, so don’t even think about working with someone who pushes investments without recognizing how the risk involved might affect you mentally.

3. Someone who’s transparent about fees

Financial advisors, like all other professionals, need to be paid for their services, but understanding how that fee structure works is an important part of building a trust-based, long-term relationship. Normally, advisors either are paid on a commission basis or take a fee as a percentage of assets under management. The latter is generally a preferable arrangement, since it motivates them to grow your assets and discourages them from pushing mediocre investments that offer generous kickbacks.

4. Someone who’s a fiduciary

Some financial advisors hold to the suitability standard, which means they must recommend investments that are suitable choices for you. Other advisors, however, act as fiduciaries, which means they must put your best interests ahead of theirs. Finding an advisor who holds to the fiduciary standard is ideal, because it effectively means that you always come first — as you should.

There’s no need to settle for a not-so-great financial advisor when there are plenty of respectful, knowledgeable professionals out there. If you’re not satisfied with your advisor, don’t hesitate to find a better one. After all, it’s your money and future at stake.

An Echo Press Editorial: Easy ways to save money

As part of Financial Capability Month, the Minnesota Department of Commerce is reminding Minnesotans about basic low-cost measures people can take to reduce energy use, cut utility bills and put more money in their pocket. Here are a few ideas:

• Use a programmable thermostat to reduce your heating and cooling costs.

• Turn off computers and monitors when not in use.

• Plug home electronics, such as TVs and DVD players, into power strips and turn the strips off when equipment is not in use.

• Turn off lights and fans when nobody is in the room.

• Close your fireplace damper when not in use.

• Take short showers and use low-flow showerheads.

• Turn your hot water heater down to 120 degrees F.

• Wash only full loads of dishes and clothes, and air dry both when possible.

• Replace incandescent lights with much more efficient lighting, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

• Look for the Energy Star label when purchasing new appliances, lighting, and electronics.

• Have a home energy assessment to identify ways to make your home more energy efficient (weather-strip doors and windows, seal air leaks, add insulation, and more).

• Go to work via carpool, use public transportation, or telecommute.

The commerce department points out that simple behavior changes such as turning off lights, air drying clothes outdoors and setting your hot water heater at 120 degrees don’t cost you anything. But applied together, they can shrink your utility bills and grow your bank account over time.

Here’s an example: Replace an old energy-hog refrigerator with a new high-efficiency model. The new refrigerator will likely pay for itself in seven or eight years via energy savings, and you will enjoy additional energy savings for the life of your appliance.

Likewise, a properly installed and operated programmable thermostat will pay for itself in as little as one year with energy savings, according to the commerce department.

For more energy-saving tips, check out the Minnesota Department of Commerce Home Energy Guide (.pdf) or the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Saver Guide(pdf).

Your Money: The true value of a financial planner

Choose the plan that’s right for you. Digital access or digital and print delivery.

How to manage money in a marriage | The

Among the romance of it all, it is easy to put aside the fact that getting married means more than just saying ‘I do’.

For most couples, marriage means a merging of finances. With a lot of marriages ending because of disagreements over money, it is worth getting on the same page about how you will approach what can be a tricky area to navigate.

What changes after marriage?

In reality, not much changes in your everyday finances once you’ve taken your vows. You can receive some tax benefits under the marriage allowance (only if one of you isn’t a high-rate tax payer), and there are some benefits surrounding paying a lower rate of tax on interest earned from savings. One of the most significant gains is that if one of you were to die, the surviving partner would not be charged tax on anything he or she inherits from the estate.

However, the biggest change comes if you decide to take out a joint credit agreement in the form of a joint current account, mortgage or loan. Vows do not create a financial association, but these financial products do. This means that you are both responsible for the debt, and in the case of a joint current account, money is owned equally regardless of who deposited it into the account.

So how can you manage your money?

It is down to personal preference how you manage your money in a marriage, but here are three possible approaches you could adopt:

Separate accounts – You could just keep separate accounts for everything. In this situation you are not taking on any joint financial responsibility, but it could get complicated in terms of paying bills and household costs.

Halfway house – You could have a joint bank account that both of you pay a proportion of your salary into and that covers expenses and household bills. Then you would each maintain a separate bank account and therefore retain an element of financial independence. This can get complicated if there is disparity in your incomes, as you would need to work out what amount each of you should contribute to the joint account based on how much you earn. It can also become complicated if you add children into the mix, especially if one partner takes a hit financially by going part-time or giving up work in order to look after them.

Merge finances – The final option is to merge your finances entirely. In this case you would pay both salaries into one account (if you have two sources of income) and use that for everything. In terms of management, this makes it easier because you are just dealing with one pool of money, but it does mean a loss of financial independence. If you were to then separate, it could make it harder to divide up your finances.

Takeaway

The key thing is that in terms of debt, you are only liable for debts in your name, not for any debts of your partner. This applies to your credit score as well: if your husband/wife has an issue with debt, this will not affect your own credit rating unless the issue relates to a financial product that you jointly hold.

As with any sort of financial management, it is best to make a monthly budget and be aware of what you can and cannot afford. You can either do this separately, or if you are sharing finances, together. As difficult as it may seem sometimes, being aware of what money you have going in and coming out makes life that much easier and helps you to avoid getting into financial difficulty.

And as with anything in marriage, communication is key. It is best to discuss what financial responsibilities you and your spouse have both individually and jointly, and therefore what your money should go towards. From filling up the car to covering the mortgage, it all matters when you are sharing a life together.

Credit cards have a number of benefits. Among them is easy tracking of your spending, which can help you manage your finances, whether you’re married or not. If you’re after the top card offers on the market, a great place to start is our list of the top credit cards.



Why You Should Save For Retirement Over Education: Money in 60 Seconds

What should be a bigger priority for me: saving for my children’s education or saving for retirement?

This one hurts me. It hurts me to say this, because I’ve got children, and I really like ’em a lot. It’s gotta be your retirement. I know that doesn’t feel right as a parent, but if you have to make a choice, there are scholarships and there are loans for college. Nobody ever got a scholarship for retirement. And so this is one where you need to strap your oxygen mask on before assisting others, and — as much as it hurts me — to put yourself first.

The stock market’s had a good year so far. Is now a good time to invest?

Yeah! Wow, what a difference. Remember December? I remember sitting, December 24th, when the market was down like 2.4 or 2.5% and it was just like [choking sound]. And it’s up 16% since then. Now it feels like, gosh, maybe this isn’t a good time to invest. But let’s be perfectly clear: You have no idea. And anybody who says they have an idea has no idea. No one knows where the market is going from one week or one year to the next. There are just too many factors into it. So you want to — for those of you who are familiar with the term — dollar-cost average. For those of you who aren’t, you want to invest through up markets and down, a bit out of every paycheck, sometimes it’ll be lower, sometimes it’ll be higher, and then it evens out over time which doesn’t feel sexy, but actually is very sexy. It’s very sexy in order to earn market returns, because most folks don’t.

And go deeper on topics like cybersecurity and artificial intelligence at Microsoft on The Issues.


A Scorecard for Your Financial Adviser

Sometimes it can be difficult to fully grasp the value of a financial adviser. Do they mostly manage my money? Are they doing a good job for me? How would I even know? These are important questions that can often be difficult to answer.

SEE ALSO: 5 Ways Your Financial Adviser Should Hold You Accountable

There are many resources available that can help provide guidance when choosing a financial adviser. Perhaps the more challenging task arrives after you have selected one.

Nowadays, with technology as good as it is, the differences from one firm to another can be marginal. To help you in gauging the nature of your advisory relationship, let’s establish some updated metrics you can use. To do this, we have divided the scope of planning into two distinct areas, Financial and Lifestyle. For ease of illustrating, we have mapped below some areas of importance relative to each.

At first glance, the idea of quantifying the value delivered in each of these areas might seem daunting. No worries. We’ll simplify this process with an easy-to-use, objective way to continuously monitor the value of your adviser/client relationship.

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We suggest taking the areas above and creating a simple, one-page scorecard. The below template can serve as a basis for periodically scoring each planning area.

Adopting some version of this practice becomes a positive for both you and your adviser. Your scorecard can provide ongoing transparency as to the value you are receiving, while also yielding invaluable feedback for your adviser as to any areas requiring more time to explore together.

Evaluating the ‘Financial Planning’ Components of Your Plan

When looking at the planning areas, the financial components may not require a 50- to 100-page document, but more so a mutually agreed upon strategy for achieving success within each of them. Almost all of the financial planning areas — investment, cash flow and taxes, retirement and estate planning and risk management — are self-explanatory.

The “behavioral” component of financial planning is like getting adviser coaching. It represents timely, rational advice provided by your adviser during volatile times with high investor emotion.

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See Also: Financial Advice May Not Be Your Adviser’s Specialty

Evaluating the ‘Lifestyle’ Components of Your Plan

To better understand each of the lifestyle areas, it’s first worth noting as to why they are included in a financial plan. To some, the financial services industry is evolving into more holistic planning or financial life management as its primary objective. It seems natural that financial and lifestyle planning might marry, because they have positive correlation in many respects.

Let’s drill down a bit further in defining each of the lifestyle areas as to provide you more clarity.

  • Health Wellness: How lifestyle habits can impact one’s ability to enjoy retirement with quality of life. Afterall, you save all of those years not to be sidelined when you have more freedom of time. What would you prefer your plan to include as metrics for improving or sustaining your quality of life?
  • Energy Excitement: Areas you are most passionate about. Your plan can account for consistent time spent in those areas most meaningful to you.
  • Connectivity: Relationships are important to us as human beings. Staying in balance with our personal and professional lives is a metric worth including in your plan.
  • Contribution: Any intentions you have for involvement in your community or philanthropy. This could be expressed financially or with your personal time.
  • Challenge: Establishing some goals that will promote self-growth through courage and commitment. This could range from learning a new language to running a marathon as some examples.

Do some or all of these areas relate to your present plan? Do they sync up well with the financial components? In other words, is there collaboration between your intended lifestyle design and financial plan?

Designing a simple scorecard to encompass these areas will provide you and your adviser with a framework for quantifying value and satisfaction on a regular basis.

See Also: Investors Should Watch Out for Revenue-Sharing Agreements

Chris Giambrone is a co-founder of CoughlinGiambrone, LLC, a boutique wealth management firm based in New Hartford, N.Y. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and Accredited Investment Fiduciary® (AIF®). Chris has also earned a Certificate in Retirement Planning from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania.

Comments are suppressed in compliance with industry guidelines. Click here to learn more and read more articles from the author.

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.


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Five crucial money mistakes rich people never make

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Get rich by avoiding these 5 money mistakes



We all make mistakes, yet there are a few bad habits the super-rich tend to avoid. Here are five money missteps that may be keeping you from getting rich.

Financial advisor with laptop meeting with senior couple in dining room

When the stock market drops — as we saw in December, when major indexes all dropped at least 8.7% — you have to know what you are doing or you can get burned. If you don’t have time to spend a few hours a day tracking the market, the cost of a good financial advisor is well worth the investment.

Ivory Johnson, founder of Delancey Wealth Management in Washington, D.C., said most wealthy people don’t try to manage their money themselves — they hire financial planners, CPAs and attorneys to protect their assets and reduce their risks.

And when are risks the highest? When markets start taking investors on a roller-coaster ride.

“When investors are stressed, the odds of making a bad decision increase,” he said. “Wealthy people mitigate that stress by having good advisors.”

While some may balk at paying a fee, the returns on that money will, most years, be well above that amount. During the bad years, your advisor can help you mitigate your losses to preserve your wealth for the long haul.

A beachfront residence is seen in East Hampton, New York.

The average investor may have stocks and bonds in their 401(k) savings or investment portfolio. The rich branch out and diversify.

Remember Enron? Many employees of the energy giant bought into the company’s sales pitch so much that they put all of their retirement savings in its stock. And when the firm went belly up — so did all of their savings.

In addition to stocks and bonds, the ultra-wealthy invest in things such as real estate, limited partnerships and private markets, according to Tom Corley, author of personal finance tomes such as “Rich Habits.” That way, if stocks, for example, are having a really bad year, you may make up the difference with a good year in real estate or vice versa.

Another appealing factor that draws a lot of wealthy investors to real estate: It may provide an extra income stream. In addition to the potential appreciation of that property, if you rent it out you get an immediate source of income, which can give you a nice cushion should you lose your primary job.

And of course, you won’t be as worried in a year when stocks are down.

“Most wealthy families have real estate holdings because it offers recurring revenue, tax benefits and creates equity,” Johnson said. “It also puts less pressure on their stock portfolios to perform.”

A woman passes in front of a Bitcoin exchange shop.

The ultra-wealthy don’t get caught up in the latest fads, pouncing on the next “new” thing.

Take bitcoin, for example. The cryptocurrency took off in 2017, making instant millionaires out of some early investors. That spurred a lot of people to jump in and try their hand at making a fortune.

That could be fine — if you’re a professional trader or just want to play around with a little gambling money. Yet fads like bitcoin are risky business: The cryptocurrency has since fallen a stomach-churning 70% in the past year.

Warren Buffett, who is famous for his philosophy of investing in what he knows and then holding on to it for the long haul, told CNBC last year that “in terms of cryptocurrencies, generally, I can say with almost certainty that they will come to a bad ending.”

The legendary investor, who is worth $80 billion, according to Forbes, believes you have to know what you know — and stay the course.

“What counts is having a philosophy … that you stick with, that you understand why you’re in it, and then you forget about doing things that you don’t know how to do,” Buffett said at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in 2018.

Those who are caught up in the “follow the herd” mentality may do so because they are focusing on “one thing they think can make them rich overnight,” said Johnson at Delancey Wealth Management. “It doesn’t work.”

Visitors look at the painting Le Printemps, 1881, by French painter Edouard Manet during its presentation at Christie's Auction House in Paris October 22, 2014.

Wealthy investors are patient and don’t necessarily think about short-term returns.

“Most people don’t sit down and actually plan out how they are going to invest their savings over the next 20 years,” Corey said. “The wealthy do. They just don’t wing it.”

And it’s not just about making money for themselves; it’s about creating generational wealth that can benefit their grandchildren and beyond.

“Instead of buying a painting for the living room, they’ll spend extra money for art that can appreciate,” Johnson said. “They join clubs and organizations so the relationships they make will offset the fees, even if they don’t realize it for several years.

“This demands foresight, estate planning and patience.”

USA-TRUMP/MARKETS

The volatile stock market may make you want to run for cover. Because the rich are in it for the long term, they don’t tend to panic.

They also have a lot of liquidity and financial resources they can lean on when the stock market, real estate market or other investments go south, so they don’t “need” to sell, Corley said.

For Johnson, it’s also about the world giving us what we give out.

“Anxious investors receive anxiety, and confrontational people are always engaged in some form of conflict,” he said. Meanwhile, optimistic people experience more positive outcomes.

“Over a lifetime, this becomes a habit and you’ll often find that wealthy people who are happy got that way because they were optimistic, as opposed to becoming optimistic because they got wealthy,” Johnson said.

More from Invest in You:

  • Financial lessons a mother of two learned after an unimaginable loss
  • Two simple insurance charges to understand with health coverage
  • Josh Brown: How I explain the stock market vs. the economy

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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Cheryle Finley: Make the most out of a grocery budget

When dining out, we know exactly how much money we are paying for a serving of food. By the time we walk away with our receipt, the cost of the meal, tax and any gratuity have been totaled and paid. But how much do we pay for servings we place on our tables at home?

Buy a TV dinner, and you know how much you have invested in dinner. But use several ingredients to create a dish, and the cost is usually far from exact. Some keep very strict grocery budgets so their idea of food expense is much better than those with no actual budget. The entree cost might be an estimated $30 if spent on steak instead of $15 on ground beef.

Even without a grocery budget, most of us are interested in saving money when it comes to food. Buzzfeed.com has some helpful hints to make the most of our grocery money:

• Eat less meat. Use beans as filler in meatloaf and tacos.

• Dried beans vs canned. Dried take more prep time but save money. They also contain less sodium.

• Breakfast for dinner. Break out the eggs for a meatless meal. A dozen eggs go a long way.

• Buy cheaper meats. These can be just as good as more expensive cuts when slow roasted or prepared in your slow cooker.

• Buy a whole chicken. Break down the bird and use in different dishes or freeze separated parts in marinade.

• Invest in a vacuum sealer. Buy in bulk at a lower cost then freeze for later use. Vacuum sealing keeps frozen food fresh longer than freezer bags, and even though they can be a little pricey, they can save money in the long run and your frozen food will be better quality.

• Make big batches. Eat one batch and freeze the other for use on one of those many busy days we all have.

• Save leftover veggies. Keep a big freezer bag at the ready to keep adding that dab of veggies left after a meal for use in soups and stews.

• Grow your own vegetables if possible. You know exactly what you are eating. If a garden is not possible, visit the local farmers markets, buy in season, then can or freeze what you can.

• Check out sales and coupons. Don’t drive all over town to save a quarter but checking ads can save you money and help in planning a weekly menu which is also a money-saver. Shopping on Wednesday could help you take advantage of both last week sales and this week sales.

• Don’t shop hungry. This idea has been around since the beginning of supermarkets. Whether shopping the aisles or the ads, make sure you aren’t needing a food fix.

• Make your own sauces and dressings. Fresh is better. You can season to your own preference.

• Plan your menu for a week at a time. Save time and money scurrying around trying to figure out what’s for dinner. This will help avoid ordering takeout more than usual. Sale ads are invaluable in menu planning.

• Have a leftover night. Once a week, plan dinner around leftovers in the fridge.

Buying groceries is one of those times when the saying “watch your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves” can serve us well. A little planning and prep really can make a difference.

A good start to being thrifty is homemade salad dressing. Make fresh to go with your fresh fixings. Make it your own. Maybe you like more garlic or less vinegar. Plan tacos for dinner and make a double batch of taco meat for pinwheels the next day. These are great for quick dipping as well as appetizers. These recipes are from “Taste of Home.” If last night was rotisserie chicken, tonight the leftovers can be the quick stove-top casserole. Simple and delicious from “Rotisserie Chicken to the Rescue.”

Have a wonderful week, and happy eating.

Honey mustard dressing

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 garlic clove, minced

1 cup vegetable oil

Combine first five ingredients in blender. Gradually add oil in steady stream while processing until smooth and creamy. Store in refrigerator. Yields 2 cups.

Taco pinwheels

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup seasoned taco meat

1/4 cup finely shredded cheese

1/4 cup salsa

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons each chopped ripe olives and finely chopped onion

5 (7-inch) flour tortillas

1/2 cup shredded lettuce

Beat cream cheese in small mixing bowl. Stir in all except tortillas and lettuce. Spread over tortillas: Sprinkle with lettuce and roll up tightly. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour. Unwrap and cut into 1-inch pieces. Serve with additional salsa. Yields 3 dozen.

Homestyle chicken noodle casserole

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper

4 cups wide dry egg noodles

1 tablespoon butter

1 celery rib, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1 can cream of celery soup

1 cup milk

2 cups bite-size chunks rotisserie chicken

1 cup frozen peas and carrots

1 (8-ounce) container sour cream

Prepare noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse with hot water, drain well, return to pot and cover to keep warm. Mix together spices and set aside. Melt butter over medium heat in 3-quart saucepan. A celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to soften, about 4 minutes. Add soup, milk and spice blend. Stir well and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add chicken and veggies; stir well. Bring to a simmer and turn heat to low. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in noodles and sour cream. Heat through, about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Do not boil. Serve immediately. Yields 4 to 6 servings.

Address correspondence to Cheryle Finley, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.