Monday, April 29, 2013

Looking for a New Budgeting Tool

Now that I officially have a full-time job after graduation, I'm starting to plan for the real world. I will be moving back home for a few months to save some money and get settled into my new job.

While I don't need to jump and find a new place to live right away, I will eventually want to move out of Mom and Dad's house. In addition to that, I am looking to buy a new car in the near future. Regardless of what I buy first, I will need to save money over the next few months. I've never been a budgeter but I've always been good about saving money and being careful with what I spend.

But now with a new job, I will have a nice salary... which will make it harder to justify sticking to a budget. Lately I've been doing a lot of research on ways to effectively budget. I've found a number of great articles and blogs with several different tips and suggestions including using the budgeting tool is a cloud based budgeting tool that pulls from your bank accounts to create interactive graphics to help you manage your money. It sounds like a great idea and that it will be very useful to visualize how you're spending your money, but what makes me nervous is the way the website pulls from your accounts.

In order to access you have add your usernames and passwords for your credit card, savings and checking accounts - which is a risk concern for me. I have read several reviews such as this one from the New York Times, but none have actually helped me make up my mind about the site.

Does any one use or another budgeting tool? What are your thoughts about these tools and would you recommend signing up?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

From Trash to Cash

Even with all of the rain that has blown through Peoria in the past week, I am confident that nice spring weather is on the way. With spring, comes change. For seniors graduating, big changes are on the horizon.

I remember this time of year when I was a sophomore, two years ago. I was eager to move out of my sorority house and into an off-campus house with four other roommates. It was going to be an exciting adventure and I couldn't wait to finally have my own room. One thing I was particularly worried about was finding (and affording) furniture to fill our off-campus house. I had never rented my own housing before and I never had to accumulate furniture for living spaces. Not only that, but any random furniture my parents had lying around was passed on to my brother years before.

Instead of going straight to Bed, Bath and Beyond, I raided the houses of girls who were graduating from my sorority. Many were moving out of state or back home and didn't want transport some of the larger items they owned. I managed to find some great pieces including a couple of lamps, dishes and a nightstand and dresser.

Of the many things the girls were able to sell or give away, not all items were worn down and overused. In fact, the majority of items were fairly new. While the girls didn't make a large profit from their sales, I greatly benefited. I was able to fill my room, and several areas of the house for cheap.

For those who are moving into off-campus houses I would highly suggest asking upperclassmen about items they are looking to rid of before hitting the mall. Same with those who are graduating. If you will need furniture to complete a new apartment, what better place to look than the houses of your neighbors and friends.

If you're looking to lighten your load, rather than build it, don't hesitate to sell your items. Whether it be a lamp, a set of plastic cups or even an old vacuum cleaner, you might as well make some money before tossing it to the trash.

In these next few weeks I'll be pulling out several items to sell to underclassmen I know and I know many people will be doing the same.

Happy moving!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Managing Student Loans

While I'm am getting excited for graduation, which is right around the corner, I can't help to think about the amount of student loans that will follow me. Today I completed my exit survey for some of the student loans I have, while the amount of loans I have to pay back is lower than I expected... It is still a high number.

I was browsing through a blog a friend recently refernced called "Making Sense of Cents." On the blog there are several posts about paying back loans in the most efficient and cost saving ways. One post, titled "How to Stay Motivated with Debt Repayment" is just one that I enjoyed reading and will take a few tips away from.

If you are worrying about your loans I suggest looking at a few of the debt and loan posts on the blog as well as being aware of your finances.

1. Know how much you owe, and what your daily interest is.- This will help you project your budget and put in perspective how much you're losing each day you wait to pay your bill.

2.  Set long term goals and stick to them. Don't just say you're going to pay your loans off in under 10 years... DO IT!

3. Adjust payback plans. If you have state loans, be sure to adjust your plans in the future to best suit your needs, if you lose your job or income- there are plans that are more flexible and accommodating.

4. Relax. It will take some time, but you'll eventually be student loan free!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Movie Night In

One of my fondest memories growing up was going to Family Video every Friday night after dinner. Each weekend as a family, or just with my siblings, we would watch movies- new and old. The store managers knew me by name and I had memorized the layout of the store. It was nothing more than a routine then, but looking back now I guess you could say we were movie junkies.

Nowadays there is something old fashioned about actually going to a movie store to browse aisles of DVDs. A lot of people opt to visit a Redbox or just stream a movie from home. While a video store may not be as convenient as alternative options, there is a limited selection of movies that are available online or at a Redbox.

On top of the fact that there is a larger selection to choose from at a movie store, it is also less expensive. At Family Video, new release movies are about $2 and newly released and other older movies are just $1. Movies that are not a new release can typically be rented for 2-5 days. There are several Family Video locations in the area, and if you are a new customer- you're in luck. When you first sign up you get half-price movies for a whole month. On top of that, they send you home with a packet of coupons to use another time.

To be honest, I don't understand why people prefer to visit the movie store!

Just last weekend I rented two new release movies for about $2. It was awesome. Next time you consider visiting a Rebox don't forget about Family Video. Not only will they have that obscure movie you've been in the mood to see, but it will be less expensive too.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Peanuts and Cracker Jacks

Spring is my favorite time of year. The weather is warmer but tolerable, everyone's moods are lifted after a midwest winter and everything turns green... what's not to love?

The weather isn't the only great thing about Spring. Spring also means baseball season. Baseball is my favorite sport and there is nothing better than spending an afternoon under the sun in a ballpark.

I have always loved baseball, but my dedication to the sport grew stronger two summers ago when I interned with the Peoria Chiefs. The Peoria Chiefs is a minor league baseball team located right here in Peoria.

While it was a long summer, the time I spent at the Chief's stadium was full of memories. As a marketing and promotions intern I coordinated in-game promotions, interacted with fans and danced on the dugouts. I made great friends that I still get together with several times a year and I learned to love baseball in a new way.

This is why I'm excited for the Chief's season to begin. Opening day is this Thursday. If I'm not exhausted after a long day of work, you'll find me there. But it's not just the atmosphere that keeps me going back to the stadium.

 The Chief's have great deals and promotions all season long. From $1 hot dogs, pops and chips on Wednesday to free giveaways you'll get more bang for your buck.

My personal favorite is Thirsty Thursday. During Thursday games 16 oz. draft beers are $1. That's right $1. AND they have Summer Shandy on tap for any Lienenkugel fans.

A complete list of Chief's games and promotions are available here- I hope to see you at a game!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Happy Art

Dates are expensive. They don't always have to be, but when you're searching for something new and fun to do it often comes with a price tag.

Because I'm cheap, dates with my boyfriend are usually dinner out and renting a movie. While we often try new restaurants, it typically doesn't stray too far from that.

Last week we decided to try the Rhythm Kitchen for the first time. There is live jazz music after 6 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesdays, which was nice, but I wasn't impressed with my meal.

Regardless, on our way out we stopped to look in the window of an art studio in the same building. We were only stopped for a minute when a smaller, middle aged women came to the window and waved us in and we decide to explore.

The woman's name was Jody and she was the owner of the studio, The Hive. Even though there was a painting class in session, she brought us into the small studio and told us a little bit about her business.

The Hive is just a month old and is managed by Jody, who is retired. The Hive offers a variety of art lessons throughout the month. For just $35 you will receive materials as well as a two hour lesson. These lessons aren't just about the art of painting or sketching, The Hive offers lessons such as Cupcake Pop Art and a crafting lesson with wine corks.

Not only does the studio offer two hour lessons, it also has walk-in hours on Fridays which The Hive calls "Happy Art." During Happy Art hours, you can come into the studio and paint. For just $10 you receive a small canvass and paints and you can stay as long as you want and be creative.

For me the idea of a blank canvass is exciting. While my boyfriend, on the other hand, is doubtful of his creative abilities. We both agreed to come back soon for Happy Art and paint together. Even if you aren't on a date, painting and art lessons is a fun way to relax. If I hadn't agreed to go with my boyfriend, I would have already dragged my girlfriends there!

I'm excited to make my trip to The Hive and I couldn't help but share. For more information about the studio, visit their website, or like them on Facebook.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Meal for One Made Easy

Unlike many of my friends, I am not on a luxurious Spring Break trip. Instead I'm spending the week working in Peoria. However, I was able to go home for the weekend, before returning on Monday. Driving back to Peoria I knew my fridge was empty and I wouldn't last long without going to the grocery store.

 It has been only recently that I started shopping at Hyvee. And since I discovered their new Fuel Saver program, my visits have been more frequent. Monday after work I ran over to Aldi and Hyvee and that's when I discovered Hyvee's prepared meats section.

From marinated chicken to stuffed pork chops, Hyvee has a large variety to choose from. Because I often cook for myself, I was excited that there are several fresh meats available that not only spice up a meal, but would cut preparation time.

The best part is it was all inexpensive. Each marinated chicken breast was $1.67 (3 for $5), the stuffed pork chops were about $3 each. In addition there was also a large variety of twice baked potatoes for $1 each. I decided to try three different marinated chicken breast, italian, garlic butter and pesto parmesan seasoned. I also got a a cheddar bacon twice baked potato.

In addition to the prepared fresh meat, Hyvee also sells pre-made meals from their kitchen such as orange chicken and pasta salad. Depending on the meal and portion some items were inexpensive while others were more than what I would like to spend.

If you often cook for yourself, or are looking for something different to spice up your meals take a walk past the Hyvee butcher counter. You just might find something you like!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Stylish... For less!

This week's post is more for the ladies. Recently I have been going through my closet and pulling out the clothes I don't wear anymore. I figured if I condense my closet now, it will be easier to move come May.

This Saturday I took a bag of old clothes over to Plato's Closet on Sterling Ave., in hopes of making a few dollars. I dropped my clothes off then ran over to the mall to pick up a few things. When I came back, I was disappointed to find that Plato's Closet was only accepting one of my tops for $2.53. But the trip wasn't a complete waste. When I left Plato's Closet, I walked past a new shop right next store: Clothes Mentor.
Clothes Mentor is like the "big sister" of Plato's Closet. It is a consignment store just like Plato's but has more space, more dressing rooms and best of all better brands.

 Clothes Mentor carries business and professional outfits with brands ranging from Express to Ann Taylor Loft. Not only that, but the Peoria location has a complete rack of Vera Bradley bags. The difference between brands and products sold at Clothes Mentor and Plato's Closet shows that the target audience is full-time working woman vs. teenage girl.

I know consignment stores aren't for everyone, but I personally have always enjoyed stopping by Plato's Closest for lightly used jeans and great finds that still have the original tags on them. Needless to say, I was excited with what I found walking into Clothes Mentor. Although I didn't buy anything during my trip, I'm excited that I have another place to shop for business clothes at a discount price.

If you're in the area and looking for a new top to go with your dress pants, Clothes Mentor is definitely worth a stop.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

With a Cherry on Top

Over this past weekend my mom and her best friend drove down from the Chicago suburbs to spend a night with me in Peoria. In the past four years my family has made many trips down to visit me away at school, but this was the first time my mom was able to come down without the whole family. With that being said, I was excited to show her all of the places in Peoria that I haven't gotten a chance to.

One of our many destinations was Cherry Berry, my favorite spot to get a sweet treat in Peoria. While frozen yogurt has become a hip trend in the Peoria area, the same cannot be said for every town in the U.S. I knew my mom had never been to a frozen yogurt bar and decided this frozen yogurt joint would be a perfect after lunch snack.

Cherry Berry is a franchise yogurt bar. It's Peoria location, on Sterling Ave. (Across from Plato's Closet) opened about six months ago and since my first taste this fall, I've been hooked. The store is a little hidden, but it's always busy. In comparison to other frozen yogurt places, I like Cherry Berry the most because of it's flavor selections and price.
Both of these cups together were only $10.

Cherry Berry has 12 flavor selections to choose from, all of which rotate. That means each time you visit, there are new flavors to choose from. I think that by having a wide selection, it makes the experience more fun.

In addition, Cherry Berry is less expensive than other yogurt bars in the area. Each ounce costs 45 cents and although I don't fill my cup, my order is typically around $3.

Not only does each ounce cost lower, but the Peoria location of Cherry Berry runs promotions almost every day. From buy one, get on half-off to 3 oz off each cup the business advertises their specials on a daily basis.

For Bradley Students, Wednesday is student night and all students get 3 oz off their cup. Not only do they have great promotions, but they also have a rewards program, once you reach 50 points ($1= 1 point) you get a cup free!

My mom really enjoyed Cherry Berry and I have a feeling it is a place we'll visit together again. I have always loved frozen yogurt so I'm excited I found a place where I can enjoy a treat without breaking the bank. If you haven't been to Cherry Berry yet, it's definitely worth the trip!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Birthday Without Breaking the Bank

Earlier this week was my roommate's boyfriend's birthday. She was excited to celebrate with him and and took over the kitchen to make him a Funfetti cake. Late last week her main concern was where to take him for dinner. There are many nice places in Peoria that are perfect for birthday celebrations, but I didn't hesitate to recommend Alexander's Steakhouse.

Last fall Robbie, my boyfriend, wanted steak on his birthday. While we could have gone to Texas Roadhouse for inexpensive but decent steak, we decided to drive out to Alexander's Steakhouse. Being a steak house, I knew dinner at Alexander's was going to be on the pricer side but I was willing to spend the price to celebrate a birthday.
Sitting down with the menu I found the first bonus of the night: the Early Bird Menu. Because we were getting dinner before 6 p.m. we were able to order from the Early Bird Menu. This menu features some of the  popular items on the menu for a few dollars less than the regular dinner menu. I was already excited because I was able to save a few dollars.

But it gets better, while sifting through the menu I found a box hidden on the back page detailing a special deal for birthday guests. For guests who dine on their actual birthday, there is up to 20 dollars discount off your bill (depending on how many people are in your party), a free dessert AND a souvenir photo. I'm not sure about you, but I have never been to a restaurant, let a lone a steakhouse, who honored it's birthday guests so much! Sometimes there is a free dessert or a song, but I have never gotten a special birthday discount.  For Alexander's, this meal was a steal.

If you are having a hard time deciding where to go for your next birthday celebration, I'd recommend taking advance of this special birthday deal. And don't forget to go to Jimmy's on Farmington Rd. for a free after dinner birthday drink!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Groceries=Cheap Gas!

Up until a few weeks ago, I had a well tested grocery shopping routine.  I first would go to the Aldi on Sterling Ave. to pick up the basic items I needed, then made my way across the street to Kroger to pick up brand name items and produce. This route was a great way to save money on groceries and gas by eliminating having to drive across town from one store to the next. After only a few months, I had this down to a science.

Recently the Aldi location on Sterling closed to support the opening of a larger and nicer Aldi store on University Ave. While I was excited about a new Aldi opening, this meant that my two stop routine was no longer possible. Because I was never a very loyal customer of Kroger I was willing to search for a new grocery store closer to the new Aldi. 

We receive grocery advertisements in the mail from the larger grocery store chains in the area. Although I don't typically shop there, Hy-vee's ad is the best produced and is the one I find myself reading at breakfast. Recently they have been advertising a new program called the Fuel Saver Card. By purchasing particular items, you can earn anywhere between one to 10 cents off a gallon towards your next gas purchase. Intrigued by this new program, I decided to make a stop at Hy-vee today after my routine trip to Aldi. Without even noticing, I saved five cents a gallon from my purchase of more than $50. If I had actually paid more attention to the items that qualified, I could have gained more points.

Points, or cents, you earn from the program are unlimited and you can use the card at any Caseys, Shell or Hy-vee Gas station. But here's the catch, the discounts expire 30 days after the purchase. Personally, I may never go over a dollar in savings, but with the way gas prices keep rising every penny counts.

I know other grocery stores have similar programs, but I feel that by gaining cents per item bought makes earning discounts far more obtainable. This program also gives customers who are not loyal to Hy-vee, like me, more incentive to choose Hy-vee over Kroger. It's really smart!

I'm going to make my next trip to Hy-vee in 29 days and fill up on gas the same day (so that I can still use the cents I earned today). I'm excited to see how much this program can save me!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Four Meals- One Shopping Trip

I'm a big advocate for eating inexpensively, especially since I am usually feeding myself. While my roommates eat out 50 percent of the time, I prefer to cook at home. Even though I'm not the best cook, I take pride in how I am able to make multiple meals from several of the same ingredients. 

My favorite set of meals to make derive one common ingredient: a Rotisserie Chicken. You can find rotisserie chicken in just about any grocery store with a deli. They sell for about five to six dollars and there is enough meat to feed two to three people. However, by being smart about how you use the chicken, you can make the meat last for a week's worth of meals. I've learned that making meals with common ingredients you saves you money and time!

Below are several recipes you can make with with rotisserie chicken. When I buy my chicken I usually choose a traditional or herb seasoning for the recipes, but a lemon seasoning works great too! I'd recommend that you buy your chicken on a day that you have time to cook, so you are able to make the meals ahead of time.


Meal 1: Chicken and Rice

Amount of Chicken: Chicken Legs

This may be the simplest meal of them all. Cut the legs off of the rotisserie chicken and serve with rice and a vegetable. I personally recommend chicken flavored Rice a Roni and carrots and dip.

Meal 2: Chicken Soup

Amount of Chicken: A Chicken Breast and Wings
There's nothing like a light chicken soup, and using your rotisserie chicken you can make your own. Use the recipe below to make a quick and easy soup!


1 chicken breast of rotisserie chicken
1/2 Bag of baby carrots
2 arms of celery
2 bouillon cubes
1/2- 1 box of small shell pasta

1. Fill a large pot full of water and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, cut and break the rotisserie chicken into bite size pieces.

2. Once the water is at a boil,  bouillon cubes, carrots, celery, chicken as well as chicken skin for flavor.

3. Simmer for 30 to 60 minutes. While soup is cooking, cook small shell pasta.

4.  Finally, remove chicken skin, add salt and pepper to taste and add pasta to soup.

Meal 3: Chicken Salad

Amount of Chicken: As much chicken salad as you would like.
This meal isn't too complicated. All you need is mayo and celery. Chop the celery, mix in chicken and mayo to taste. Serve on toast or a bagel!

Meal 4: Chicken Chili

Amount of Chicken: About a chicken breast, or whatever chicken is left
This is a recipe for chicken chili. It is a recipe that my mom uses all the time and it's my favorite. It's awesome chili and perfect for a pot luck!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Money Down the Drain

This is a fun info graphic I found on Pintrest. While a lot of these tips apply to homeowners they are still interesting and might help lower your water bill.

Welcome to Simply Saving

I am a very frugal person. I hate spending money, especially when I don't have much to spend. Naturally, I'm always on the lookout for a good deal. Any where there is a sale or clearance rack - I'm there. 

Being a senior at Bradley University I have learned the in's and out's of Peoria over the past four years. Not only that, but I have learned how to be smart about my money when it comes to food, entertainment and everyday living.

Each week I will share tips to help you, or a college student you know save money and still have fun. Saving money is all about being conscious of the resources around you.