We are Going to Save Almost $900 on Bills This Year by Doing Two Things

I kind of breezed over the many major milestones and changes we’ve gone through in the last year in my last post.  Just to pluck one out of the list, I went back to school.  I never completed college when I initially set out.  I graduated high school right into the recession and long story short – I couldn’t even afford community college.  I spent the years since then working retail, then office jobs, and eventually got settled in a stable job with solid pay, an amazing boss, and a great team.  Problem was, I was bored out of my mind.  8 hours a day in a cube with little to no challenging work or projects was agony.  I could actually feel myself becoming less intelligent.  It wasn’t until I left my job and started school that I even realized how unhappy I was.

Suffice it to say that quitting a great job and going to school full time isn’t cheap.  Alex works really hard and there are lots of things we’ve done to mitigate the insane cost.  Today I’m going to share 2 of the things we recently did to lower our monthly costs to live.

We are cutting cable and switching to Sling TV

I’ve been itching to cut cable for a few years.  I basically watch Game of Thrones, Outlander, Rick and Morty, and Friends reruns.  There is no reason I would need traditional cable.  Alex, on the other hand, has a never ending rotation of shows he “needs” to watch in addition to sports.  To keep our costs down for cable and internet, he would periodically call Comcast and complain about how high our bill was and they’d do whatever lying/magic they had to do to lower it a bit.  Rinse and repeat every 6 months.  Cutting cable never seemed like the right option because there were no other options with sports, and that’s really important to him.

Then I saw an ad for Sling TV.  Could this be the solution to our TV woes?  I perused their website and it looks like they have every channel we’d want, you can add on DVR, and local sports. They offer premium channel add ons for HBO and Starz (GoT and Outlander, respectively).  Some quick math and I realized if we added on literally everything we could ever want, it would still be cheaper than what we have now. By 40 fricking dollars a month! We ran it by our roommates and they were totally on board.

There are going to be a few upfront costs to switching.  You can stream Sling TV through a Roku stick, Amazon Fire stick, and whatever the newest Xbox console is.  We (and our roommates) have PS4’s.  Sling offers a free Roku stick when you sign up so we just have to pick up one more (approx $35) and all of us will be good to go.

We are also switching our internet provider.  I think I’m just over the run around with Comcast.  I know that they are all the same, but at least we can use an introductory offer elsewhere to lower our bill for a while.  We recently got a new modem as well so I’m hoping that will also speed things up for us.  Ours is really old and we have connection issues.  Tomorrow, our new internet provider is coming to set us up and then we’ll start Sling.  I’ll check in again once we’ve had it for a while to share our experience.

I lowered my car insurance bill and didn’t switch providers

I have been wanting to use Mint for a while, but my bank wouldn’t allow them to link up.  Until recently.  I’m not sure what changed (maybe it was my 2 emails over the course of 5 years).  In case you aren’t familiar with it, Mint is a website/app that you can link your bank, investment, and bill accounts to.  You can, “Manage your money, pay your bills and track your credit score with Mint.”  I really love having a consolidated view of my finances, but that isn’t why I’m bringing it up.  I linked my Progressive account and I got an alert from Mint.  It said that I was paying 25% more for car insurance than their average user.

This prompted me to go onto Progressive’s website and run a quote for myself.  If you can believe it, Mint was right.  My quote was actually more than 33% lower.  The kicker?  I got double the coverage, halved my deductible, AND lowered my payment.  I called Progressive and the guy I was talking to (to cancel my previous policy) was absolutely tickled about what I had done.  It seriously made his day, which made my day.

There are a few factors that made my payment go down so much.  First, it had been about 3 years since I got my policy and I just let it auto-renew that whole time.  Concurrently, my credit score went way up over the course of those years.  Also, and I don’t love that this is the way it is, I got married.  Apparently just getting married would have lowered my payment by $10. Not sure how that makes sense, but there is an actuary somewhere that could explain it. From a 5 minute online quote and a phone call, I saved us about $400 over the course of the next 12 months. My payment went from $108 to $75 per month.

 

Savings

Switching to Sling: $480

New Car Insurance quote: $396

Total: $876

 

There are probably a few other bills we could lower with a little attention, but these are the two that we just recently addressed.  I feel like we are still learning about personal finance so I get a little obsessed at times, and it paid off this time. If you’ve done other things to lower your monthly bills (utility or otherwise), let me know!

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Strike a Pose

I know that most of the people that read this blog have blogs themselves. For that I thank you sincerely. I am more grateful than the acceptable amount of grateful because you read this blog despite the enormous lack of good pictures.  I confessed here that I only have a camera phone to capture all the memories I’m making these days. Well your suffering is about to come to an end. Today I purchased this:

camera

Target is having a big camera sale right now so I jumped at the chance to get something better than what I have. As far as phone cameras go, I have one of the best.  It doesn’t hold a candle to the fancy DSLRs or even a point and shoot though. So I upgraded to the Canon A2300.  It is a 16 megapixel camera  with a wide angle lens. Definitely a step up from my lovely but lacking camera phone.

Here is the cost breakdown:

Original Cost: $179.99

On Sale For: $79.99

With RedCard Debit Card: $75.01

Along with the camera, case, and SD card that are included, I’ll be receiving a $10 Target gift card. Like I wasn’t already addicted to browsing.

Thank you for suffering along with my while I did my best (sometimes) to make my posts look good. Now the real challenge will be to see if I can make them look even better in Photoshop.  Now go get yourself one if you need it!

Jelly Jam

More than a year ago, my friend was engaged (now married) decided that she and I were going to make jam for her wedding favors. Neither of us had ever made jam, nor did we know where to start. It just happened to be around the time my cousin started her wonderful blog sharing traditional skills.  She gave me a simple recipe with advice based on her own experiences. Then my friend decided we would do cupcakes in jars instead. Sooooo…..I kind of put canning out of my mind.

Until yesterday. I just woke up and decided, “Today is the day!”  I went out and scooped up a few supplies.

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Then I just followed my cousin’s simple instructions.

8 cups strawberries (4 lbs)
6 cups sugar
3 tsp cinnamon (my secret ingredient)

INSTRUCTIONS:

01.  Sanitize jars, lids and rings in the dishwasher.  Keep the dishwasher closed until it’s time to fill so they stay warm. Otherwise the hot jam will cause the cold jar to crack.

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02.  Combine all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir frequently until sugar is dissolved.  Keep stirring regularly until mixture thickens. This could take up to an hour.

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03.  Using a candy thermometer, watch the mixture until it reaches 220 F.  Keep heat on medium, it’ll get there.

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04.  Fill jars to below the threads. One recipe I found said 1/4 in below.

05.  Wipe the rims of the jars clean with a damp towel, and place the warm lids and rings on snugly.

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06.  Bring water to a boil in a water bath canner or large stock pot.

07.  Once boiling, place jars on rack in the water canner or on kitchen towels (make sure these are level) with a jar holder so the jars are not touching each other with the water level about 2 in. above the tops of the jars.

image08.  Bring water back to a boil.  Once the water is boiling again, leave jars for as long as the recipe instructs (mine said 10 mins, it varies depending on your elevation).

09.  My cousin suggests turning the heat off and taking the lid off the pot and leaving the jars for 5-10 mins before removing them to avoid the jam rushing out of the jars. Gotta love life experience.

10.  Let the jars cool completely somewhere without a draft.

11.  Do NOT press the lids down. While they are cooling, you will hear little pings when the cool jam pulls the lid down, thus sealing the jar.

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I bought a water bath canning kit, which ran me about $25.  It came with the pot, rack, funnel, rim cleaner (dirrty), jar grabber, and magnetic lid picker upper. These are all technical terms I made up because walking to the recycle bin is too much work. My grocery store and some big box stores carry a pretty good selection of canning supplies.  For something that doesn’t require a huge start-up cost, I’m surprised more people don’t do this. Canning isn’t limited to jams.  You can make your own pasta sauce, pickles, pie fillings. Basically anything you can find in a can can be canned (lo siento if that was confusing).

By making these things yourself, you can save money. You can  avoid preservatives and fake dyes and generally the crap that’s in processed foods that you would be smart to avoid. You can have a real choice in the quality of foods that go into your canning. Not to mention that what you can will stay unrefrigerated for up to year unopened. (Maybe something to have on hand as a part of being prepared for an emergency)

Please do not think this was all sunshine and roses. I did it right…sorta.  When I finished the jam and it had cooled it was very runny. In my disappointment, I posted a status on Facebook about how I had failed at jam and my cousin told me that this recipe isn’t supposed to set like I was expecting. Basically I just have to cook it down to a thicker consistency. She told me this after I had already reprocessed the jam with store-bought pectin. Which didn’t work like I expected either.  Anyway, I’m lucky to have someone so knowledgeable who can explain to me how/what/why I did wrong (or sorta right) and she has some great tips.  Seriously, check her blog out. Seriously inspirational. Seriously.

So tonight I’ll be cooking the jam down again. I might also try another flavor because I like to torture myself.

I’m Back…With a Brand New Edition

Did you miss me? All 7 of you? Well I missed you guys. I’m officially back from my vacation and we had a great time. I am sitting at my desk in the Windy City with some 20/20 hindsight and more money saving vacation tips!

It was toasty down in Orlando so we did our fair share of sweating but so did our trusty water bottles. They were a life saver for sure. They saved us from dehydration and wallet murder. Yeah, wallet murder. I can’t say enough about how many beverages we didn’t have to buy, how much high fructose corn syrup we didn’t drink, and how much the humidity made me want to dive into those water bottles.

The night before we flew out, we packed and weighed our luggage to make sure we wouldn’t have to pay any overweight luggage fees. We soon realized that both our bags combined were under the weight limit. So here’s my suggestion: Pack one big bag for two people. If you are having a hard time fitting everything in one bigger bag, then you are packing too much. I only had 22 lbs of luggage for a 7 day trip.

Also, make use of the carry on option. We really wish we had just carried on our luggage. That could have saved us $100. If you bring 2 smaller bags, you can probably carry them on. If you can’t, they can check your bags at the gate (and we heard someone say without a fee). I can’t make any promises, but it could be worth a shot.

The DVD’s we brought kept us from being tempted to purchase in flight tv on the way there. On the way back they played some shows for free. Nice.

We got a few deals thanks to our hotel too. They gave us a few cards that got you a free apptizer or dessert (we didn’t use those, we mostly cooked in) but they also gave us a voucher for a free coupon book at the local outlets malls. We actually used them and when we got there we found out the malls charge $5 for them! I got discounts on shoes for me and my love, pinkberry, and some new work clothes. (Admittedly some weird shopping for vacation, but it was there and the deals were great).

Also, I thought I might do some little reviews of the places/vendors we used for our vacation.

United: Honestly, the customer service was surprisingly good. I have heard horror stories of how inflexible and rude some airline employees can be but the people we talked to from United were absolutely (refreshingly) sweet and helpful. They helped us get seats together on both flights and helped us whenever we looked a little lost (more than we thought).

TSA O’Hare: Fast but terse. Not understanding with people who we saw who didn’t know exactly what to do. The lines were very short and we made it through with tons of time.

TSA Orlando (MCO): Kind of hit or miss. The woman who checked our boarding passes and IDs was bubbly and nice while the people managing the line were practically rude and not as efficient as O’Hare.

The Fountains: A Bluegreen Resort: The room had literally everthing we could have needed. The kitchen was stocked with all the kitchen basics and appliances. It made cooking and eating in very easy. The layout of our building left something to be desired. It was faster to take 6 flights of stairs to our room than to use the very far away elevator. The staff was helpful. The grounds were clean and well kept. Tons of amenities and events even during off season. Overall very nice.

Carl’s Van Rentals: Like I mentioned before, they were very helpful over the phone. In person, they were just as helpful and the service was wonderful. Prompt pick up and knowledgeable about getting us back to the right place at the airport. The van itself was clean and in great condition. We never had any problems.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Their dedication to detail definitley showed. Every inch of the place fits the theme. Live performers (probably dying in 90 degree/extreme humidity) never faltered. Every cast member we interacted with was pleasent and helpful. Our safari driver was hilarious! The rides were great, especially Expedition Everest. Loved the animals everywhere.

Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure:  Ok, honestly we only went there to see the Harry Potter stuff, but we loved all of it! The Hulk roller coaster was a favorite for both of us. As far as the Harry Potter “island” goes, we were blown away. The rides were great, the shops were amazingly detailed and the butterbeer was (thankfully not book accurate) cold. Souvenirs were really cool and oddly priced. Some things were wildly overpriced while others seemed very reasonable.

Overall, we had a great time and didn’t break our budget too badly.

I$lands of Adventure

In just 6 anxious days, my boyfriend and I will be embarking on a vacation! While I’m sure you want to hear all about the silly girl giddiness I feel about it, I’ll spare you. Being the poor 2o somethings we are, we had to be very budget conscious.  I bet you want to know some sweet money-saving tips we used to book this wondrous vacation though. I’m happy to share.

We are traveling to the wondrous city of Orlando, Florida.  This is how we do:

Hotel – The Fountains Orlando. Yeah, it’s part of the bluegreen timeshares. The boy is a part owner thanks to his thoughtful parents so we get to stay there for free. Ok, so not everyone has parents who are part of something like this, but I bet you know someone who is. Or maybe they have a cabin near a lake, or a campsite, or a hookup. Trust me, if you look you will find something.

Transportation – We booked our flights as early as possible. The closer to your departure, the higher the cost. We are saving ourselves from having to park at O’Hare (which is practically theft) by parking his car at my office and taking the bus. It’s pretty convenient, but not everyone works within spitting distance of a major international airport. Do the fun thing and beg someone to drop you off. We also saved money on a rental car for Orlando by finding a company that doesn’t charge the renter for being under 25, and they will pick us up from the airport. Shout out to Carl’s Van Rentals! I called to double-check about the fee and the gentleman on the phone was very friendly. A+!

Dining – The Fountains only has 2 room villas with kitchens. You won’t hear me complaining. We plan on taking our lovely van to a local grocery store to pick up some way-cheaper-than-eating-out essentials like milk, cereal, lunch meats, etc. It is still vacation, but we plan on keeping the costs down by eating groceries and eating out with local deals groupon style. Your hotel room doesn’t have a kitchen or fridge? Buy some non-perishable snacks and pick up lunch from a local supermarket. Most have prepared foods for a fraction of the cost of even fast food.

Entertainment – The Fountains (like many other hotels) include DVD players in their rooms so we’ll be bringing along a few of our faves (forecast is showing rain for the entire length of our trip, hence the DVD precaution). We will also be (hopefully) hitting up a few theme parks. I got reduced price tickets through a perks program at work, but our hotel also offers more wallet friendly deals on the local parks and I bet yours would too. Google it, and they will come. We will also be bringing along a book or two and an ipod just to keep us occupied constantly.

Here are a few extras I picked up:

  1. Bring your own empty, refillable water bottle to the airport. You can’t bring more than 3 oz of liquid through security, but you can bring an empty water bottle to refill after you get through. Save yourself the $5.
  2. Bring your own snacks to the airport. It is suggested that we arrive 2 hours before our midday flight. This girl gets crabby when she is hungry. Save yourself the stress and the money and bring yourself some snackage.
  3. A vacation is an exciting thing, but you don’t need an entire new wardrobe. My closet is packed with clothes and I won’t be buying any new vacation clothes. If you really need to feel fresh and new for your vacation get a mani/pedi or a haircut. $30 well spent.
  4. Set a budget for your spending. We know that a nice picture frame with a picture of us on vacation will be more sentimental and long-lasting that 2 $40 hoodies, or any other wildly overpriced souvenir. If you see something you like and immediately have a place for it in your home that people will see and appreciate it, then fine. If not, pass it up. 
  5. If your family is anything like mine, they will be expecting you to bring them back some souvenirs. I started a little tradition of sending my younger siblings postcards from my various excursions and they always seem to love them. Less than $1 per person. I might grab another small something, but I don’t feel obligated to spend $20 on each of them (there are a lot of us).
  6. Book your vacation off season! Everyone is going to be traveling during the holidays, summer, and spring break. We booked our vacation during the fall when everyone else has run out of vacation days (it just so happens to fall on my birthday also). Orlando will still be sunny and exciting in September and maybe even less hellishly hot and humid than it would be when it’s also packed with people.