20 Frugal Ways to Enjoy Outdoor Summer Fun

summerWarm weather seems to bring out a lot of excitement in everyone, particularly those who live in climates that truly have four distinct seasons.  Here in the Chicago area, when the weather gets warm after many months of cool to downright freezing weather, people seem to relish spending time outside.

Enjoying the warm weather doesn’t have to be costly.  There plenty of examples of inexpensive summer activities that can people can find outdoors, and quite often it’s just a matter of taking advantage of many locations and activities that are very close by.  Sometimes, even in your own backyard.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of low-cost outdoor activities that could provide some fun for very little cost.  There’s bound to be something in this list for just about everyone

Low-Cost Outdoor Activities

  1. Take a hike! It can be invigorating to go on a hike, in a setting that’s away from the hustle and bustle of traffic, cars, and even indoor noise.  Getting some exercise outside where you’re getting fresh air, and simply the sounds of nature, can be really refreshing.  And, in many cases, free or close to it.
  2. Have a picnic.  Instead of going out to eat, enjoy a meal outdoors.  Depending on who you’re with, it could even be a romantic setting! If you’re with family or friends, it will save you from cleaning up at home after guests visit. Either way, you can make the food and drink healthy, and it should cost less as well!
  3. Play sports.  For those who like to be active, playing a sport outdoors can be a great way to get some good exercise while not spending a whole lot.  I recently spent an hour in the park with my youngest kid, kicking around a soccer ball.  I plan on taking out some softball gloves and mitts and playing some catch soon too.  Granted, this wasn’t intense exercise, but it was a really fun way to spend time together and didn’t cost anything either!
  4. Start a garden.  This doesn’t have to mean a massive project.  Rather, a very small space of land could be used to grow some veggies that you would ultimately eat.  Saving money by enjoying your time outdoors and saving on food later is a good combination!
  5. Go camping.  While I’m not big into this, I know that many people are.  Instead of going somewhere for an expensive getaway, why not go camping for a few days? It should be less expensive, and could be fun to be outdoors for many folks.
  6. Take pictures.  We can only take so many pictures of our kids, friends, family, etc.  Okay, maybe never enough of kids, but we do need variety.  Sometimes it’s good to get outdoors and capture great shots of nature.  Or, perhaps images of cityscapes. Whatever the case is, getting outdoors in the warm weather can offer a great opportunity to flex your photography muscles.
  7. Go to the beach.  Living around here, we have a massive inland body of water: Lake Michigan.  I know people in other parts of the country might laugh, but there are some fantastic beaches on this like that would really surprise many people.  Particularly on the south and east shores.  Anyway, if there is a beach near you – whether on the ocean or a lake – going there can be lots of fun and inexpensive too.
  8. Go for a swim.  This might relate to #7 above, though it could also depend on how comfortable you feel jumping into that body of water near the beach! If not so much, then there are always pools to go to.  Many larger communities have pools that are available to residents, and can be fun way to spend a day without breaking the bank.
  9. Visit a National Park.  It might cost a lot to get to many of them, as they’re scattered throughout the country.  However, if there is one near you, there is an opportunity to see some incredible nature for very little cost.  Each year lately, there have been a few days that have been designated “free” days.  Do a search for a list of them, they represent a good chance to have some frugal outdoor fun.
  10. Try bird watching.  I know many people might not have the patience for this, but somebody I know very well has had a long-standing interest in bird watching.  He’s quite a bit older than me, so he’s been doing this as a hobby for a long, long time.  This seems to have brought him a lot of enjoyment, time outdoors, and great pictures.
  11. Find things to collect.  This can be a lot of fun for kids.  I recall being younger, taking a trip to Florida, and finding some really good shells on the beach (Gulf Coast).  It was cool to continually try to find one better and better, and in the process amass a haul of interesting finds.  It’s been decades, but those shells are still around somewhere.  Great memories!  This concept can be applied to other things, be it rocks, leaves, or many other things.
  12. Pick fruit.  I’ve gone blueberry picking in the summer, and it was fun.  There is something about the way freshly picked fruit tastes versus stuff that’s in the supermarket, you can often tell the difference.  It can also be cheaper , as evidenced by the unbelievable prices I got a few years ago. We got 4.5 pounds of blueberries for $7.25.  Yes, that’s pounds of berries.  At a grocery store, that might cost $40 or more.
  13. Go for a walk.  Going for a stroll around the neighborhood – assuming it’s safe and walkable – can be a pleasant way to spend some time.  Going with a friend or your spouse can provide a great chance to talk and catch up on things too, all while getting some exercise.
  14. Grill.  Grilling out can be a lot of fun, especially with a group of friends over.  It’s a great way to have some laughs, good conversation, and good seasonal food
  15. Watch a sporting event.  Okay, if it’s a professional sporting event, this might not be a low-cost affair.  However, one could catch a minor-league or amateur game for a modest price.  Maybe even horse racing.
  16. Visit gardens.  Some municipalities have fantastic gardens, and if you’re lucky enough to have any near you, take advantage and visit!
  17. Catch an outdoor movie or play.  There is actually a drive-in theater not too far from where I live, though it’s been about 5 years since I’ve been there. Maybe it’s time to revisit? Also, you could catch outdoor performances for free or little cost some places.
  18. Go to a festival or fair.  Do you have any summer festivals, or fairs that pop up during the warm weather months? It seems like around here, there is something going on every weekend.  These are often very low cost events that can be a fun way to spend time with people and take in the outdoors.
  19. Stargaze.  You’re not going to want to sit outside looking at the stars when it’s 20 degrees outside! When it’s 70 and pleasant, it’s probably a much different experience.  Much like taking in a beautiful sunset, it’s more fun to outside when it’s warm.
  20. Read a book.  Outside? Sure, why not.  Laying out by a pool, or on a blanket in a park, and catching up on a good book can be relaxing and good for the spirit.  If you go frugal and get the book from the library, it’s even better!

My Questions for You

Do you plan on doing any of these things during the summer?

What are your favorites?

Do you have any other suggestions, for low-cost and fun outdoor activities?


Big Long-Term Savings By Substituting No-Name or Store Brands for Premium Brands

We all have our favorite brand names.  No matter how value-conscious we might be, each of us – consciously or subconsciously –Coffee! probably has a few brands that we for whatever reason trust over the alternatives.

In some cases, there’s real merit to it.  There are some brand-name items that taste better , and some brand-name products that simply work better.  I’ve had my share of both of those.  But, I’ve also seen a few examples recently where there was seemingly little difference in the actual items other than the price.

Here are two examples:


Yes, we know the notion of doing away with a gourmet coffee drink every day is one of those popular examples used in showing how little daily savings can add up.  It’s a good point I agree with, in the case that you want to give up something entirely.  Which, of course, makes sense quite often.

If you want to keep what you like, but want to save money, there are ways to save money.  I previously shared my extremely frugal coffee savings method, which was of course over the top.  However, if you simply want to enjoy a regular coffee each work day, there are legitimate ways to save.  Simply buy a less expensive brand.

A great example was at a prior workplace where there two types of coffee offered in the cafeteria: premium, and “no-name” varieties.  For a medium cup of  premium (with a known brand name), it came out to about $2.40.  Not exactly inexpensive!  However, the no-name “house” variety went for about $1.30 for the same size.  Interestingly, talking to the cashier, there were people that regularly bought the more expensive coffee every day.  For me, I could detect little difference between the two, having tried each.

So, if somebody gets coffee every working day, the cost of getting the premium version can really add up.  Over the course of a year with 250 working days, that comes out to $275.  Just for buying a branded coffee over a house variety, with both being the same otherwise.

First Aid Products

Okay, so this is quite a departure from coffee! Yet, it’s another area where I noticed a difference in prices that made me wonder why people would spend so much more.

I was in the first aid aisle of a local retail/grocery, and came across what I was looking for: a topical anti-biotic ointment.  Good to have around, in case of cuts or minor injury.  Anyway, I saw a small tube of a premium brand selling for about $4.50.  Nearby on the shelf, there was a store brand version for sale for about $2.50.

Now, when it comes to health care, I’d be instinctively more likely to think about a brand name I trust versus something else.  However, in looking at the ingredients of the two items, they didn’t seem to be different based on the labeling.  In this case, why pay $2 more?

This can all really add up!  Well, think about that coffee example. That’s $275 right there.  Then go back to the grocery example.  If you can save $2 each week by making substitutions on household goods or food, that comes out to another $260 per year.  Just those two changes – switching coffee varieties and $2 in grocery savings a week – can add up to $535 annually.

In this example, just imagine if you did this every year for 25 years.  It’s $13,000 saved by simply doing a few painless substitutions.  Now, if you took those annual savings and invested them along the way and got a decent 8% annual rate of return, that $13,000 could increase by a lot more.  As in, to more than $42,000!.  Enough to buy you enough to buy you a couple of cars over those 25 years!

All for making a few painless substitutions in terms of brands!

Music and Money: It’s Apparently Not Cool to Be Frugal

How often do you hear people in mainstream media celebrate frugality, as opposed to sensationalizing people spending money on lavish homes, cars, engagement rings, and the like?

While there are some instances where frugality is discussed, such as home makeover or couponing type shows, we hear a lot more about lavish lifestyles celebrities have.  The idea of having money and spending it on fun things just seems more interesting, and worthy of celebrating, than being frugal. Actually, more so than even simply being financially responsible and paying bills on time!

I had previously shared my thoughts on a Katy Perry song “Last Friday Night”, where it discussed maxing out credit cards.  Actually, the lyrics said “maxed our credit cards”, but you get the idea.  A fun song about a fun night out just had to include references to spending like that.  Nothing about getting a deal, saving for retirement, etc.  Clearly, my expectations are way too boring :)

Well, I recently heard another song that included a reference to money that wasn’t exactly celebrating frugality or a conservative approach to financial responsibility.  Did I say my expectations are boring?  Anyway, this time the song was by Nicki Minaj, called “Starships”.  In the song, the following lines jumped out at us:

And I ain’t paying my rent this month

I owe that

Clearly, my definition of cool is way different than what I assume it is for the typical audience.  Except my young daughter, who upon hearing that line (in a thankfully clean version on the radio) immediately brought it to my attention.  She said “Daddy, did you hear that? Maybe you can write about it.”

So, here I am after listening to her.

At the obvious risk of sounding old, I wonder why in the world these popular songs that clearly resonate with younger listeners have to include references to maxing out credit cards and not paying rent that’s owed? Music and money seem to go together when it comes to spending. What about lyrics on something like what expenses to cut, or celebrating the ability to spend wisely?

Again, being responsible must be too boring :)

My Questions For You

  • What do you think of such lines in music, listened to by impressionable kids?
  • Why do you think it is that spending seems to be glorified in many cases?
  • Have you ever heard a song where people talked about saving money or getting a deal? I can’t recall one off hand!

Saving Money by Paying Tickets Late?

First off, let me say that in no way do I encourage actually getting parking or traffic tickets or purposely avoiding paying them when you’re clearly wrong.  If you’re a grown-up, and you know you did something wrong, I’m sure you’ll do the right thing and pay up.

That being said, there are ways to save money on parking or traffic tickets.  One way is to successfully contest a ticket, as I shared in a prior post. When you were not at fault and didn’t deserve the ticket, it’s worth contesting it. Just do it the right way, and you might get a postiive result as I did.

Another way to save money on a traffic ticket, depending on where you live, might be to pay it late.  I’m not sure what I think of this, but apparently in California, per this article in Moneyland, some people with unpaid tickets can save 50% of what they owe.  Now, there are a number of stipulations and restrictions that are noted, but for those that qualify, it appears to be an opportunity to save on money owed.

It would seem that the state would get some extra money and reduce the amount of unpaid tickets that are out there.  For an entity such as a state, one can imagine that it would be a good thing to bring in that additional revenue that would have otherwise been collected.  For the ticketed individual, he or she could get a nice reduction in the amount of money that was owed for the past transgression.  Win-win, right?

Well, maybe.  Or, maybe not?

I guess this could go either way.  The other side of the coin is that people who diligently pay for a ticket right away (which I would do if I legitmately owed it and didn’t contest it) might end up paying far more money than a person who was delinquent and waited a long time to pay.  In other words,  there is almost  and indirect reward of sorts  to those who didn’t pay when they were supposed to.  Instead of paying more or getting interest accrued, they would pay less over time!

That brings me to the following questions:

1) If you thought that there was a  good chance that  a ticket you  that you justifiably received  would ultimately fall under some kind of discount/amnesty type of program such as the one described, would you intentionally wait to pay your ticket?

2) What do you think of this program of offering discounts to those with outstanding tickets, who meet a set of parameters?

Is it Important to Buy Organic?

Hello everyone! This post was originally intended to be a recap of January here, with some acknowledgements, but I thought I’d first bring up the topic of buying organic. I’m curious what your thoughts are on the subject.

Buying Organic – How Often is it Truly Important?

This came to mind from a couple of places. First, the notion that seemingly everywhere we go in a grocery store, we’ll see some foods being labeled as organic. Be it fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, or anything else – it appears that there may be a really solid market out there for products sold as organic. The second place this topic came from was a conversation I had recently with someone, who strongly believes in organic as much as possible when it comes to diet, thinking it’s more than worth the extra cost.

Now, I do subscribe the the notion that investing in quality, fresh, nutritious food is a smart move. Obviously, your health will likely be better off with such purchases being consumed. Additionally, taking a financial angle, making smart choices each day can lower health care costs over the long run. It’s clear that choosing good nutrition can positively impact the quality of one’s life.

That being said, my thoughts have been that this more the case when choosing between alternative types of food. For example, choosing a frugal breakfast of oatmeal is likely a better choice than eating a bagel. It’s healthier and likely cheaper too.  However, when choosing between the same food – but one option is organic, and the other regular (non-organic) – the decision gets a bit fuzzier to me.

Here’s an example: if I want buy blueberries, and a container of regular berries costs $2.50, but organic berries cost $4.00, is it worth paying $1.50 for the organic version? Keep in mind that the quantity of berries is the same.

This example can be applied to any type of food, whether fruit, vegetables, dairy, etc. The idea of paying more for the same type of food that looks the same, but has the “organic” label, always makes me wonder. Personally, for the kids, I might get organic milk and cheese. That seems worth it, when I think about hormones and dairy. But I really wonder about some of the other types of foods, and often think that we can wash things thoroughly. I mean, if I buy a non-organic apple, for example, am I really doing something unhealthy? Is there that much of a difference between an organic apple and a regular one that’s been washed?

When you look at the potential volume of food that we can buy organic, the incremental costs could really add up. That gets me wondering how we should pick our spots buying organic, and how important it always is. I mean, I’ve seen cotton being noted as organic!

Feel free to convince me. I’m focused on nutrition now, and would like to hear any thoughts on this topic. If you think I’m wrong, please feel free to tell me why. I’m open to change :)

My Questions for You:

  • Do you place a high value on buying organic, or do you look the other way
  • If you do buy organic, what do you purchase in that category and why?
  • Do you have any advice or suggestions for others deciding on whether or not to buy organic?

12 Expenses to Cut: What’s Your Take?

Can you cut expenses with these?

It’s nice to find ways to cut out expenses, and operate a bit leaner financially. That is, as long as the changes don’t impact your day-to-day life too much:) Then, it’s a matter of viewing them as trade-offs.

A recent article in on Yahoo! Finance discussed 12 things that people can choose to stop spending on in the new year. Now, I often think that it’s worthwhile to consider how much time one spends on trying to save money, as it’s necessary to make money first before we can save it.  That being said, if we’re going to spend some time focusing on saving on consumer purchases, we might as well do it with some type of framework.

Recall that I recently posted on the topic of trying to spend wisely, where I suggested that we ask ourselves the following questions before purchasing:

  1. Do we truly need the item?
  2. Can we easily find a lower cost alternative?

Keeping that in mind, I’m going to go through the list of what to cut from our budgets (from the aforementioned article), and will answer those two questions for each one. Then, I’ll describe what I’ll actually do in practice.

  1. Coffee Shop Visits
    • I don’t truly need to do this, though I enjoy it
    • A lower cost alternative is available, such as home brewing
    • What will I do?: I will keep visiting. I suppose it might seem like I’m going against the system I devised, but I look at the visits as more than coffee. Which, by the way, is simply black coffee and not one of the more expensive drinks. I view it as renting space where I can get some work or writing done while enjoying a drink. The combination works for me in terms of productivity, so I’m going to keep doing it occasionally.
  2. Incandescent Light Bulbs
    • I don’t really need to buy these exact type
    • Not sure a lower cost alternative is available, unless you operate on sunlight:) Well, longer-term the energy-efficient ones are supposed to be cheaper anyway.
    • What will I do?: Buy the energy-efficient ones, and save money in the long run. Besides, the others are effectively being phased out.
  3. Disposable Water Bottles
    • I don’t need to buy these bottles
    • Lower cost alternatives are available, such as carrying a reusable bottle or using a water fountain. Remember when that was the norm? If not, maybe it’s just people that aren’t super young anymore:)
    • What will I do?: Use reusable bottles. I’ve bought a few, and will use them regularly. The disposable bottles I have bought were purchased in bulk for maybe 10 to 15 cents each – as opposed to the $1 or more rip off for single bottles many places. But still, once you get past the initial investment in a reusable container, it eventually represents the cheaper choice.
  4. Baggage Fees
    • Usually, for shorter trips, I don’t need to check a bag
    • A lower cost alternative is available: packing lightly, and carrying on
    • What will I do? Going forward, on personal travel I will be sure to pack lightly and avoid such fees. Of course, I had previously discovered an alternative way to avoid checked bag fees that I won’t try on purpose, but thought I’d share anyway:)
  5. Subscriptions You Don’t Use
    • We don’t need to spend on things we don’t use!
    • A lower cost alternative might be available if you choose to read – going online is one way
    • What will I do? Continue to go subscription-free. One can go online for much information, or go to the local library and read hard-copy periodicals in many cases
  6. Baby Food
    • I’m a parent, but past the baby days. But if you have a baby, store bought baby food technically isn’t a need
    • A lower cost alternative could be making it at home, so yes – one is likely available
    • What would I do? In that case, being in the position of being a parent of a baby, I would still buy some pre-made baby food. Now, I do think that it seems like a good idea to mix in some homemade food. However, with the demands of daily life for many working parents, time is valuable. Speaking from experience, I think buying at least some baby food is worth it for working parents.
  7. Credit Score Fees
    • I think checking one’s credit score is very important, probably a need
    • Apparently, free options are available
    • What will I do? I like the option of getting something for free.
  8. Cable
    • I don’t truly need cable
    • Yes, there are plenty of lower cost alternatives for watching shows and movies.  Hulu and Netflix were a few mentioned.
    • What will I do? Good question. Cable right now offers some things kids really enjoy, which has tipped the scales in its favor. But wow, it’s not cheap. I’m contemplating ending it, with other options filling in the gaps.  It’s not a need.
  9. Landline Phone
    • I don’t need a landline phone
    • There are lower cost options, and alternatives that are arguably more necessary
    • What will I do? I don’t have a landline phone, and haven’t had one for a while.
  10. Cleaning Supplies
    • I think they’re needed
    • There might be lower cost options, in terms of homemade concoctions
    • What will I do? I think there’s room for swapping out chemicals for more natural options for certain things, but I don’t have the time to devote to making my own cleaning supplies at this time. I’m sticking to primarily store bought items.
  11. ATM Fees
    • ATMs are useful, but their fees are not necessary
    • There are lower cost options, such as finding an institution that doesn’t charge you fees along those lines
    • What will I do? What I currently do, which is limit ATM usage to my own bank, where I don’t pay any such fees
  12. Home Repairs
    • It’s necessary to do home repairs, but only sometimes necessary to pay someone to do them
    • There is a lower cost option: DIY
    • What will I do? My past history has been to do repairs for the basics, but then call a professional for something that’s bigger and time consuming. I’m fine with paying when needed for such things, where it makes sense of course. No reason to stubbornly avoid paying other people or having a false sense of bravado when it comes to fixing things.

My Questions for You

Are there any of these expenses that you are fine taking on, as I am? If so, which ones?

Or, do you actively try to avoid expenses even if it means extra time and effort?

Can you think any other similar items that can be included on a list of expenses to stop paying?


Carefully Watch Prices – They Can Vary Significantly From Store to Store!

Recently, I had to purchase a box of envelopes after discovering that I didn’t have any at home. With online bill pay, the need for envelopes just isn’t top of mind in my home. However, once in a while you need to actually send a check via mail.

Anyway, I added buying envelopes to the list of things I needed to get done on that day. So, on my way to a local Wal-Mart, I spotted an office supply store very close to my destination and immediately thought “Envelopes!”.  So, I stopped on in and searched for envelopes.

Once I found the aisle with envelopes in the office supply store, I narrowed my search to the standard security-lined variety.  In doing so, I was searching for the best value. After all, an envelope is an envelope, right? Now, I didn’t want to buy in bulk and buy too many, so I settled upon a box of 45 for the price of $4.49.

After I paid, I got back in the car and drove over to Wal-Mart. As I walked into Wal-Mart, I quickly went through the store picking up the few items that I needed.  Before I got to the checkout area I thought about my envelope purchase just 20 minutes ago from the other store. That got me curious about what the cost would be for envelopes from Wal-Mart, so I walked over to the supplies area to look for envelopes and satisfy my curiosity.

As I found the envelopes section, I quickly found a box of security-lined envelopes. A glance at the price yielded a surprising figure: $0.97. That’s right, 97 cents!

I did a double take, and it was definitely $0.97 for a box of envelopes. I then looked at the box, and yes – it was for security lined envelopes. I very quickly thought “what about the number of envelopes in the box, maybe there are less”. Well, I looked at the box and it indicated that there were 40 envelopes in the box.

So let’s revisit the prices again (excluding taxes):

Office Supply Store: 45 envelopes for $4.49 – about 10 cents per envelope

Wal-Mart: 40 envelopes for $0.97 – about 2.5 cents per envelope

Basically, it cost me 400% more to buy envelopes from the office supply store vs. Wal-Mart. But wait – isn’t the former an office supply store after all?

Well, it might be, but that doesn’t mean that prices will be lower there. Now, for all I know the envelopes from Wal-Mart might have been a bit lower quality. Who knows? But as I mentioned before, an envelope is an envelope for these purposes, right?  To pay 4 times as much at an office store seems a bit crazy.

Doing so would almost be like ignoring coupons or coupon codes that could instantly help save money. For example, for a different type of purchase in an entirely different store – let’s say soaps, lotions, etc – you could take advantage of a coupon code to save money. So clearly, across product categories and stores, there are ways that we can save money.

Anyway, back to my specific experience – I went ahead and bought another box of envelopes, this second one from Wal-Mart. I had to go back the other direction anyway, and then stopped at the office supply store and returned the envelopes I had bought there.

Lessons Learned:

  • Just because a certain store specializes in a certain type of product, it doesn’t mean that it offers a better price than a general retailer
  • Prices for given products can vary significantly from store to store – even as much as 400%! :)

My Questions for You:

  • Have you ever bought something at one store, then discovered that you could have purchased it cheaper somewhere else?
  • Have you ever noticed any products for which there’s a wide range in prices, depending on where you buy them?

Inexpensive Summer Fun for the Family

In some lucky parts of the country, the weather is warm all year. Outdoor activities aren’t curtailed much during the seasons. Lucky for you folks! For the majority of us, however, summer is a great opportunity to fully enjoy the outdoors before the weather gets cold.  Of course, there are outdoor activities year round, but the range of what you can do in 80 degree weather with many hours of sunshine in greater than what you can do in 15 degree weather with less sunshine!

With that in mind, we recently spent a day driving a few hours each way for some outdoor fun. In lieu of an overnight vacation, I’m focusing on activities that are within driving distance and seasonal. Anyway, we set out to go from Chicago to the Indiana/Michigan border for blueberries and the beach.

Blueberry Picking

Just as you cross the border into the southwestern tip of Michigan, there are a number of blueberry farms. There, we picked fresh berries! Coming from an urban area, it’s almost a novelty to pick fresh fruit and vegetables. Thing is, it’s educational for kids to see where their food actually comes from. In this case, I thought blueberry picking was a good choice because it was right in the heart of the short season, and they’re quite the healthy food!

Anyway, we had a blast going out in the field and picking blueberries. For my oldest child, it was fun being able to run around and hunt for the best blueberries, and filling up the bucket with as many as she could.  For me, I was thinking about how tasty fresh picked berries would be, and how cheap they were:)

How cheap were they? Well, if you picked, they were just $1.40 per pound. What a deal! After we finished, we came out to nearly 2.5 pounds, totaling $3.45. As we were ready to pay, we discovered that you could buy berries that they had just picked for $1.90 per pound. So, we bought two more pounds.  In total , we paid $7.25 for 4.5 pounds of blueberries!  Compare that to a typical supermarket, where 4 pounds of blueberries might cost up to $40 all told. More than anything, it was a lot of fun.

The Beach

Then, following blueberry picking, we went to the beach.  Some of you might be wondering, “what kind of beach can be in Michigan?”. Well, I’ve been to 47 of the 50 states, have seen quite a few areas, and think this particular beach is a hidden gem. The name is Warren Dunes State Park, you can google it for more information.

The warm season to enjoy the beach is probably just a few months, but it’s a nice secret. There is a huge stretch of soft, sandy beaches, about as good as you can get if you’re not on the coasts.  Additionally, there are massive sand dunes adjacent to the coast. One reaches heights of 236 feet! We enjoyed the beach and got some great exercise climbing that massive dune.  It’s quite the challenge climbing something when your feet are sinking in deep sand!

Lots of fun for anybody healthy enough to spend time outside. Total cost: $8. Yes, for just an $8 entrance fee for our vehicle, we enjoyed a great beach, sand dunes, Lake Michigan, and a fun day outside.

Overall Assessment

We spent $15.25 between the blueberries and the beach/dunes park.  On top of that, we probably spent close to $25 in gas. Our food costs were no different than they would have been otherwise. So, for about $40, we had a great family day. We got to leave Chicago and go 2 states away for a totally different environment and great outdoor, summer fun.

Goes to show that fun doesn’t have to cost that much money. There are many times when we can have cheap fun.  In summer, when we can comfortably spend time outdoors, there are many opportunities to do so. We just have to find them!

My Questions for You

What are your favorite ways to spend time outdoors and enjoy the summer, without breaking the bank?

Did you get a chance to have any fun getaways this summer? If you’re a Squirrelers reader, I’m guessing you found ways to make it affordable:) Please feel free to share.

5 Steps to Increase Your Savings

We all would like to have more money, right?

Well, maybe all is a strong word. Some people are totally content with what they have, and don’t think they need more. However, most of us fall into that first group. We would like to have more money!

Here are 5 steps for increasing your savings:

  1. Discern wants from needs.  Figure out what you truly need, and distinguish these needs from what you want. Do you need a car? That’s probably the case, for most us.  Do you need a new car that costs $35,000? No. You could always buy a lesser brand that’s still reliable, and pay $20,000, for example.  Or, better yet, spend even less on a quality used car. The brand name is a want. The ability to safely get from Point A to Point B is a need.
  2. Track your expenses.  Instead of spending indiscriminately, track your expenses. If you track cash outflow down to the penny, you can get a really good idea of where your money is really going. This can help you figure out where you can cut the fat, so to speak.
  3. Live within your means.  OK, if you follow Step #2 above, you know how much you’re spending and on what you’re spending, right? Now you need to make sure that this fits within your income. Most people have a much better idea of what they earn than what they spend, it seems.  If you have both pieces of information, you can make sure that you’re spending responsibly.
  4. Maintain a gap between income and expenses.   Once we’re able to live within our means, we can take steps to make sure that there’s a gap between our income and expenses that results in savings.  Of course this means income exceeds expenses, not the other way around:) Many people say 10% is a good figure, but I think that is way short for most people. Working up to 25% or more is more realistic, in my opinion, for today’s reality of a self-funded retirement.
  5. Preserve and grow income.  Thus far we’ve focused on keeping control of expenses. That’s certainly important. That being said, we need to actually have money to save, before we can work on saving it! Let’s not take for granted the cash inflow part of the equation.  Working to maintain income first, and then working to increase income, are vital to our overall financial situation. Doing this, while keeping expenses under control as detailed in Steps #1 to #4, can supercharge our savings efforts.

The net result of increased savings is more money in our bank accounts.  From there, we can choose the best accounts for our needs. Ultimately, taking the money in these accounts and investing intelligently with a good rate of return (and time on ours side), we can work toward a bright financial future.

My Questions for You:

What steps have you taken to increase your savings?

Where do these steps above fit into your savings efforts?