How to Lower Gas Bill and Save Money

I just received an email from my gas company regarding the increase in home gas prices for January 2023. The cause was attributed to a nationally unprecedented cold snap. The effect? An expectation for this month’s gas bill to double in price. During a time of inflation, this isn’t necessarily the news home owners want to receive for the new year. Here, I wish to share a few thoughts on how to lower the gas bill in your household.

First and foremost, I should acknowledge that not all these tips might apply to your particular situation. Take what you wish and leave the rest behind. We are lucky enough to live in Southern California, which avoids the frigid temps of winter. Ignore my call to keep the heat off. I don’t mean harm to anyone’s health! But perhaps alter the thermostat. Lowering a thermostat setting by 2 degrees will do wonders for your bill. This is because your home will lose heat at a slower rate when set to a lower temperature. If you continually heat your home to a higher temperature, it will lose heat at a faster rate due to a higher difference between interior and exterior temperature. Enjoy these simple savings tips!

How to Lower Gas Bill

  • Turn the thermostat down. Lower the heat setting to the lowest temperature you can tolerate. Heaters are the biggest gas guzzlers in the winter. Opt to cuddle under blankets for warmth. Bundle up in sweaters and fuzzy socks. Sidle next to cats, dogs, kids, or significant others. In a similar vein, hang out with all your family members in one room. The more body heat in a closed environment, the lower you can keep your thermostat. When I was young, my siblings and parents always spent evenings in the living room together – playing games, solving puzzles, reading books, or even watching a movie. It’s easier to warm a small space rather than a large one.
  • Turn the thermostat off when you are away. Of course this doesn’t apply if you have pets that need to stay warm. But if your thermostat is pre-set for a certain temperature and you don’t have pets, do not forget to turn it off when you step out, go to work, or go on vacation. A really easy way to do this is to get a thermostat that you can control with an app on your phone! We’ve owned the Google Nest and loved it!
  • Be mindful of the laundry. Only wash clothes when they really need washing. I am not embarrassed to share that I reuse pajama pants and sweaters throughout the week. Actually, I literally own one pair of pajama pants, which I wear only to bed, for the entirety of a week. It’s a habit my mom created and one that works well for my minimal lifestyle. And when you do run the washer, opt for the cold cycle when possible.
  • Hang dry clothes instead of using the dryer. Or at least do a combination. I get that clothes don’t feel the same when hang-dried. For people who aren’t used to the starchier feel of the fabric, I recommend half-drying clothes to save on gas. Set the timer for 15 minutes of drying time, to soften up the clothes, and then hang up to dry completely. This will save you so much money, as the dryer is probably the second source of gas usage in the home.
  • Skip the dryer setting on the dishwasher. We run our dishwasher every night, but open the door and pull out the racks to allow the dishes to air-dry. This saves electricity as well as gas! And in case you missed it, I have a long list of ways to save electricity here!
  • Utilize window treatments. Opening the blinds and drawing back the curtains during the day allows maximum sunlight to naturally heat up our homes. Likewise, in the evenings we draw in the curtains to reduce the amount of heat escaping our home. It also helps block out the chill from cold window panes.
  • Improve sealing around doors and windows. Making sure all doors and windows are properly treated with caulk will help to keep temperatures stable within a home. Caulking is an easy sealing process that you can do on your own! We just recently caulked a shower faucet after replacing it. The tube of sealer cost us less than $10!
  • Turn off kitchen and bath exhaust fans within 10 minutes of cooking or bathing. This will reduce the amount of warm air sucked out of your home.
  • Upgrade to an electric water heater. We have a tankless, electric water heater in the garage. Combined with the installation of solar panels, this can lead to huge savings!
  • Track your usage. Last but not least, track your gas usage. Log into your account and view how much you’ve used in the billing cycle thus far. Set a budget for gas usage and try to hit that goal! Be creative in how you do it, too.

I hope this list was useful to you. If saving money is one of your New Year’s Resolutions, sign up to learn how to set up a budgeting tool that works! My readers have found great success in reaching their savings goals by setting up a budget. This could be your year to do the same!

Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

Buy Nothing

My sister and I grew up resourceful. Having less means than those around us, we’ve mastered the art of getting things for free. Not in any sort of illegal sense, but by inheriting from others who are better off and less grateful for what they own. I remember the joy we used to get collecting freebies from school events. I ended up marrying someone obsessed with optimizing freebies on his birthday. And in our friend group, I am known to accept hand-me-down clothes. Currently, fifty percent of my minimalist closet is made up of second-hand items gifted by gal pals. Truth be told, I once dug out perfectly good food (still packaged in plastic!) from the trash when my roommate threw out unwanted pantry items. Needless to say, scrappy sis and I try our best to buy nothing.

But the phrase “Buy Nothing” is not just an act of non-doing. It is a group title as well. And one I am proud to be part of. Joining a local Buy Nothing Group on Facebook is worth a try. A community formed around the act of giving is rare but lovely. To be on the receiving end inspires one to donate items in return. Having trust that the community will provide in the future is refreshing. Respite from the individualism we’ve cultivated in our modern world.

Prior to this year, we only had enough holiday ornaments to count on our fingers. They fit nicely into a child’s shoe box. However, two days ago, a kind neighbor donated 90% of our current ornaments via our Buy Nothing Group. I was so grateful to unveil the goods I stowed away in my frunk. Red and gold globes glittered back at me, as if to say Hullo. I didn’t mind that a few were missing hanging clips, as I have twine in the kitchen cupboard to makeshift a dangle out of.

The best thing about Buy Nothing is that it goes in-hand with waste nothing. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Well I’ve always treasured the unwanted and unpopular. Depending on your local Buy Nothing group, you may find a plethora of well-to-do items. We are lucky to live in such a neighborhood. I joke that it’s a way to off-set our HOA fees.

Equally as useful, it’s a place to give to others. Rehoming things is quite the task, especially if you have a penchant for reducing waste. I’ve sold items on Poshmark and Craiglist, but there are some things not worth selling. I refer to the time it takes to post, the gas it takes to pick up, and the hassle of arranging a meet-up. But the Buy Nothing Project gives me a space to give guilt-free. I just set it out on my porch for pick-up at whatever time is convenient for the receiver.

And for those who are in a pinch, throw a call out to the universe. Post with the title ISO (“in search of”) and hope that a friendly neighbor would answer back. I’ve seen moms ask for costume props or event decor with the promises of returning if the borrower so wishes. Ripe bananas for the taking have been snatched up by someone hoping to make bread. Left-over zucchini avoids meeting the garbage man. Used baby items and dog beds run amok.

Anywho, for someone who writes about saving money this holiday season, I thought this was worth a mention. By now, Buy Nothing has taken off and become popularized by many financial independents. Perhaps you’ll find a gently used toy for gifting to a child to a need. Or a new duvet cover to replace a tattered one for a college student. I just snagged some puzzles for the winter season, with the hopes of slowing it down. It’s on the advent calendar somewhere. For those looking for a frugal life hack, this is certainly one of the best.

Lessons Learned While Aggressively Tackling Student Debt

The student debt repayment journey has taught me a lot about myself. Choosing to tackle it head on, difficult as it was, is the major event that I attribute my personal growth to. That’s what happens when you choose the untrodden path. The challenges help you grow. At the time, it was an act of desperation. I wanted out. The reasoning to throw all my money at the debt was that simple. Looking back, I realize it was also courageous, determined, inspiring, and powerful. But if I am being very honest, I only felt shame, sadness, and defeat at the time. I’ve learned a lot about myself since then. I’ve learned that I have more power in my hands than I thought. That I can shape and mold the future to some degree. That willpower and a good community can get me there. I’ve also learned that I was naive. I knew nothing of the financial world. My viewpoint surrounding money was shaped by my narrow and negative experiences. I didn’t know that finance could be a wonderful thing. Not that scary monster I once envisioned it to be. Often, I think to myself, if only I could write to my past self and send the letter back in time. Here are lessons I’ve learned while aggressively tackling student debt.

Getting professional help is worth the spend.

As someone afraid of spending money (and accumulating debt), it was surprising that getting professional help was the first thing I did. Probably, I was too lost to know where to go. I had to turn to someone. Looking back, that professional help saved us tens of thousands of dollars. It changed the trajectory of our lives, and allowed us to live exactly as we envisioned without giving up on our debt. Why do I leave it up to the professionals? Because I can’t know, learn, and do everything. I have realized that the team I create to support me is even more important than any determination or skill I can possess. Professional help can be expensive but you’ve got to approach it from the net profit you gain. I have always recommended Travis Hornsby from The Student Loan Planner for student debt help.

Tracking things diligently is the only way to measure progress.

You can get farther when you know just where you’ve been. Paying off debt is like shaving off a few pounds. People who wish to lose weight won’t do so if they aren’t tracking calories in and calories out. Without data, you lose the control. It goes the same way with finances. It’s difficult to consistently pay down the debt each month if you don’t know how much you make and (more importantly) how much you spend. Unless what you earn is grossly more than what you spend, you will unlikely hit your aggressive monthly student debt payment every single month. We use YNAB to track all our finances. It is my favorite budgeting tool!

Constant method evaluation is key.

Unlike investing in stocks, the set-it-and-forget-it way is not an efficient tactic for aggressive debt repayment. Constant re-evaluation of my methods helped me to improve them tremendously. I continually ask myself, “How can I do this better or more efficiently?”, “Is this the best use of my time?”, “What am I missing?”, “Where am I failing?”. So many times, I have stumbled across more creative ways to approach money. I’ve run a micro-bakery, built a dog-sitting business, and created a blog space that makes passive income. I’ve also found fun ways to be frugal, and made it a game to become 1% better every day.

Understanding personality matters. Knowing your weaknesses and strengths is an advantage.

I am an Enneagram Type 1. My biggest financial weaknesses are fears of not having enough, the pull to keep up with the Jones’s, and my resistance to facing difficult times head on. My strengths are the community I’ve built around me, my creativity and curiosity around ways to be better, and my ability to do without. Even though I give up easily, I have found that the best way to get around tough times is to do without. Reduce my needs, reduce the obligations, and reduce the stress. All of this while also reducing spending. YAY! I wrote about personality types and how it relates to money here. I recommend analyzing all of your strengths and weaknesses, and then going from there.

Feeling like you’ve reached financial independence isn’t the same as reaching financial independence.

This comes to me as a double-edged sword. I felt like I reached financial independence way before I thought I would. Even though our student loan repayment has been on pause since the pandemic-relief 0% interest rate went into effect, I felt like I reached financial independence when I quit a job that I hated while my husband was also out of work. That was the moment I stopped fearing money, or lack thereof. It was also the moment I stopped being dependent on work. I used to force myself to go in when I was sick. I used to choose work over family every single time. It wasn’t healthy, but I feared being seen as less than and ultimately losing my job because of it. Times have changed since then. The younger generation is teaching me a lot about mental health, live-work balance, and setting boundaries. Meanwhile, I am building my life around things I value, rather than the money itself.

So why is it a double-edged sword? Because perceiving I’ve reached financial independence takes away the motivation to PHYSICALLY get there. Mentally being there isn’t the same as physically been financially free. After two years of taking a break from paying down student debt, I’ve realized that our trajectory has plateaued since quitting that job. And while I’ve broken the shackles that kept me in fear for so long, I am now starting to know that the loans are still very much there. Luckily, I’ve come to this realization now, which has sparked a newfound interest in continuing on with my aggressive repayment journey!

Dreaming big gets you farther than those who think realistically.

Last but most importantly, dream big. Have AUDACIOUS goals. The more impractical the better! And believe in them too, whole-heartedly. One of the only reasons I was able to pay off my student debt aggressively was because I believed in it. Realistic thinkers will only go as far as the limitations they set themselves. Limitless dreamers will go even farther than that. Dream, believe, then act. You WILL surprise yourself!

Photo by Zach Ramelan on Unsplash

What to Do Now That Student Loan Debt Forgiveness is Blocked

I came on today not to spew about my thoughts on the blocking of Biden administration’s student loan debt forgiveness. There are enough opinions, from both sides, on the subject matter on the web as is. This space isn’t meant to polarize people by differences anyhow. I am here to offer what we can do in the meantime. My purpose here is to help. The likelihood that we face student loan repayment resumption sooner than debt cancellation is all too probable. It would be a shame to leave millennials on the stranded hope that their debt would disappear (even partially so).

I recognize that whatever advice I could give today is the same old song and dance, but it’s what has helped my family survive. If anything, I hope it serves as a reminder, an inspiration, or the last threadbare bit of community for you. At the very least, may it help keep your sanity intact. In my opinion, what shall we do now that student debt forgiveness is blocked? Prepare for the worst. Fortify our savings. Limit our spending. Rely on thyself, thy community, thy loved ones. Trust that you have the power to get through.

What to Do Now That Student Debt Forgiveness is Blocked

  • Increase your savings. Put as much as you can in the proverbial piggy bank while the interest rate is still at 0%. Lucky for you, the High Yield Savings Account rate at Marcus is at an all-time high of 3% APY! Compare that to Chase Saving’s measly 0.1% APY. Plus, my referral link here gives my readers an additional 1% APY for the next 3 months. Meaning right now you can sign up for 4% APY return on your savings. If you’ve been saving this entire time like we have, you can get a generous monthly return on your savings. Looked at another way, this interest earned can be like adding to your income earnings. You can read my article here about why Marcus is great for short-term savings.
  • Limit your spending. Inflation is very high right now. Holidays are coming up. The market is down. There are so many things going on right now that the savers are going to benefit a lot during this time. I would advise what I always do, which is to curb your spending. I wrote how to reduce spending during the holidays. I collected frugal challenges for you to try. I also wrote about budgeting and how it helped us tremendously pay down my student debt! We use YNAB to budget. It has been five years, and I still check in each week to look at our numbers! You can sign up with my referral link here to try YNAB for FREE.
  • Know what your payments will look like. I was on a call with my sister a few weeks back. She lives in Madrid, Spain and is more out-of-touch with the current student debt situation in the States. However, she herself still has debt from her Grad School program in California, ten years ago! I was filling her in, when she said to me, “I’m just going to pretend like it’s not coming back and the 0% interest will be extended again.” My sister and I are polar opposite beings. But I was shocked to learn that she did not even know what her payments will look like when it resumes. In fact, she didn’t even want to calculate it with me. I would highly recommend the avoidance technique. I get that it’s what a lot of you need in order to mentally get by. As if life wasn’t overwhelming enough! Having to carry the burden of student debt is taxing on the psyche. Trust me, I KNOW. But the one thing that saved me from depression, anxiety, and utter madness, was the feeling that I was in control of my finances. It made me human and alive again. I proved to myself that it wasn’t up to the rest of the world how my life played out. It’s going to be easier to assume there is nothing you can do, but I promise you there is. Now is not the time to shut down and give up. It’s the time to live to the fullest. Reading this book helps.
  • Speak to a finance person about your options. Look, I am not a financial professional, nor do I pretend to be one. I’m just another millennial trying to be 100% me while navigating my student debt. The truth of the matter is, there are a lot of financial paths to take. Shall you pay down your student debt while it is still at 0%? Shall you invest in long-term investments and prepare for retirement because time is on your side? Shall you place everything in short-term savings accounts and then pay the loans aggressively when it resumes? Are you all on the right repayment plan? I mean, I’ve got all the questions. As always, I turn to Travis Hornsby and his team at The Student Loan Planner. Travis saved us thousands of dollars by turning us onto the correct plan. I have full faith in his team and expertise.

I hope this list of what to do now that student debt loan forgiveness is blocked was useful.

Here are other student loan things I’ve written:

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

Ways To Save Money During the Holidays

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

Are you worried that inflation will cut into your holiday budget this year? Finances starting to feel tight as the end of the year draws near? That’s quite alright! Don’t let that be a damper on the holidays. There are many ways to make the holidays feel less consumerist (stressful?). As a frugal minimalist, I’ve pretty much gotten the holidays down pat. I created a list of ways to save money during the holidays, just for you! Some of these won’t be popular to all. But I hope you find one or two things that resonate.

Ways to Save Money During the Holidays

  1. Create a budget. In our household, we have a category in our budget specifically for gifts! This includes holiday gifting. We set aside a certain amount of dollars per month for any upcoming gifting expenses. Around November, we look ahead and see how much we’ve got in our budget for gifts. It’s early enough for us to stow away a few extra dollars a week if we feel we will run a bit short. We do all of our budgeting with YNAB (You Need a Budget), which is helping me pay down my massive student debt in a short period of time! If you want to REALLY get into the nitty-gritty, you can take my entire FREE Mastering a Budget course here.
  2. Write a list. Not writing a list of people to gift to during the holidays is like not writing a list before grocery shopping. Sometimes, things end up in the proverbial cart, unplanned. Most likely, those things were emotional purchases. Use logic. List a lucky few you want to prioritize. Keep the list short. Not everyone needs a gift.
  3. Offer a gift exchange. If you come from a huge family, offer the idea of a gift exchange. It is much more doable to buy a decent gift for one person rather than for twenty. And cost-efficient!
  4. Create a no-gifting letter. Me and my sisters have created a no-gifting rule over the holidays. We used to buy each other gifts every year, until we turned thirty and realized we were only shuffling money around. It sounds kind of silly, going through the hassle of getting someone a $50 item just to receive a $50 item back. I stopped gifting my sister after she moved to Spain in 2020 upon her request and my immediate acquiesce. My SIL and I haven’t been exchanging gifts since 2018! Have a conversation with friends and family who have similar money and life goals as you. You may find that they don’t value gift-giving either. Or rather, they value other things more! If you’re having trouble, I did write a holiday no-gifting letter here that you can borrow. Plus a few tips on how to collect the courage.
  5. Get rid of expectations. Holiday traditions are usually social constructs. Sometimes, it’s hard to ignore social expectations. Not everyone is as open to ditching tradition like your closest sibs are. But choosing to opt out of an office potluck or gift exchange could mean saving $50 for someone you prioritize more. Likewise, by simply reducing what you think it means to deliver an “acceptable” gift or contribution can mean saving precious dollars during this time. It may be emotionally difficult, but becomes surprisingly easier after a few tries. Think of it as reframing your actions to match your values. Where do your true priorities lie? By investing your hard-earned dollars on many mere acquaintances, you are taking away from those closest to you, too. Every yes is balanced by a no. Good reminders during this special time.
  6. Make homemade gifts. I published a list of simple (mostly home-made) gift options before. Something as simple as baking pie or making cookies would do. If you’d like to get crafty, making wax candles, bars of soaps, or decadent essential oil blends would be appreciated.
  7. Make consumable gifts. My husband and I love being in the kitchen and we will oft make jars of homemade sauces, gift baskets of pasta meals, or homemade syrups for coffee. For example, this orange simple syrup recipe is perfect for fancy Cafe Nicos. I have one girlfriend who makes candied almonds, toffee bars, and other sweets and ships them to our door. It’s a family tradition she’s been keeping for years, and they make a whole event out of it!
  8. Shop second hand. Thrift stores aren’t as inexpensive as they once were. Nowadays, they could cost as much as buying brand new. But there are other ways to shop second hand. For example, we joined our local Buy Nothing Group. It’s a great way to acquire another man’s trash and turn it into my own treasure. If you love to scout, this may be a great version of online, second-hand shopping. And some people give away things with tags still on it! Young kids especially love any kind of toy. They’re just so happy to unwrap a box!
  9. Gift free books from your Friends of the Library. We live in a community with lending libraries. I walk by it every day when I do my dog-walks (check out how I make $1k a month taking care of pets here). By checking in each time, I find random books of all genres, most of them very good. I’ve got a few bookworms in my life. So I package a few of the same genre to gift to my friends, along with a pouch of hot cocoa or bar of chocolate. I LOVE finding books they would want to read.
  10. Use up old gift-cards. There was one year when I discovered that Mike had been hoarding gift cards. Not in any intentional way. He just didn’t want to shop at those particular stores. I nabbed them and spent them to buy other people gifts. Or when I was really lazy, I just re-gifted the gift cards! They were in a box collecting dust and we were able to declutter them, which was a win-win.
  11. Gift based on love-language. I once wrote a post on how our enneagrams can determine our financial strengths. Likewise, our love languages affect the way we receive gifts. Thankfully, not everyone has the same love language. Some people like acts of service, so gift ideas would include babysitting their little ones while mom and dad have a date night or coming over to help gift-wrap. Other people’s love language are words of affirmation. A really well-written card that tells them what they mean to you is all they want for Christmas. For those who like quality time, perhaps puzzling at home or cooking a meal together will do. If your significant other loves physical touch, maybe a foot rub, facial or massage at home would be wonderful to them! And even if your person likes gifts, did you know that gift-lovers care more about the significance of the gift rather than the price tag? You can buy someone a diamond ring but if you let the concierge choose it or the recipient feels like you didn’t take their style into consideration, then it could mean very little, even though it cost a lot!
  12. Say no to junk-for-junk gift exchanges. You know that White Elephant game? I almost never sign up for those! Only a lucky few walk away with something worthwhile. Most of the time, I call these junk-for-junk gift exchanges, especially when the price limit is set low. I try to avoid them or when I participate, I opt for the most practical gift. Last year, I fought for a pasta kit. I figured I might as well take home dinner!
  13. Socialize selectively. This is a BIG one. When I first started my financial independence journey, I decluttered my friends. I realized that some of the people I hung out with still loved to party, or loved to shop and spend their money. I reprioritized my life to set myself up for who I wanted to be. And then I selectively said yes to certain gatherings, and said no to ones that did not add value. It was the best thing I ever did. I remember the days when I would bemoan, complain and physically dread certain events that I was only going to out of obligation. By being socially selective, I’ve eliminated stress, my sense of fakeness, and that which wasted my time. This holiday season, socialize selectively.
  14. Be creative in your get-togethers. Get-togethers don’t have to be fancy. They also don’t have to be expensive. Be creative. Make dinners a potluck. Do a boardgame night. Or watch movies with popcorn. Play music like you’re in a band. Our friends and I love gathering for pizza or bowls of pasta, and playing video games on the Switch. The girls gab while the boys have the time of their lives. We also used to do Fantasy Football together on Sundays. Creating a league meant an excuse to eat food and gather at someone’s house on the weekends. For the holidays, be creative in your get-togethers.
  15. Plan your get-togethers around something other than dinner. Hosting a dinner party for 12 can be quite expensive. If “potluck” isn’t an option for your circle, why not plan your get-together around a different time? Doing a breakfast gathering is simpler and cheaper than cooking an elaborate dinner. Breakfast gatherings are actually me and Mike’s favorite! We love to do coffee, bagels, donuts, pancakes, or waffles. A one-pan quiche is amazing! Bowls of fruit or a box of croissants really isn’t that difficult to get-together, and it’s affordable. Other ideas include an afternoon tea party with tiny sandwiches and cookies, a light cocktail mixer with appetizers, or a ‘fancy brunch’ with charcuterie and mimosas. Doing this can cut your grocery costs in half.
  16. Cut costs elsewhere. One way we cut costs is by dining out less. Since we are already attending a number of gatherings and eating tons of heavy foods, we try to cook more dinners than normal and eat at home. Another place one can save is on entertainment. Skip the movie theatres and opt for a bit of family time instead. To be honest, we are usually exhausted from the social events this month. We relish any time to just stay in.
  17. Opt for e-cards. This is the first year we are sending a few holiday cards by post with Basic Invite. But for the past five years, e-cards is really all we do. It’s convenient, efficient, and free.
  18. Find free holiday activities. We love free holiday activities. I prepare an advent calendar each year which contains fun things to do throughout the season without spending money. This was one I made a few years back! It’s literally my favorite list I have ever made.
  19. Return unwanted gifts. Some people think this is mean, but as the queen of decluttering, this is one of my favorite things to do. My family, by now, has been warned of my distaste for clutter. I have asked them many times to skip the gifts. Shall they choose to continue gifting me things that aren’t things I need or want because of their own merriment, well that’s up to them. But I do return unwanted gifts, and they know that I will. Most members simply enjoy the task of shopping and wrapping during this season, without a care what happens after the giving. If that’s what it takes to spread joy, I’ve learned to let that part go.
  20. Use nature for decor. Holiday decor gets expensive and requires storing year round. As minimalists who practice small space living, we don’t have much other than a fake tree and a handful of ornaments. We have two stockings to hang and three tabletop pieces we thrifted years back from Goodwill. One can save on holiday decor by bringing in garlands, berry branches, acorns and other natural elements into the home. This year, we plan to pick oranges from the groves by our house and make dried orange ornaments out of them.
  21. Stay home for the holidays. I understand not everyone has the privilege of living close to their loved ones and staying home for the holidays. But holiday travel can get expensive (especially with today’s gas prices!). Staying in makes a huge different. Even if you have to travel to see relatives, maybe stay home more often in the month of December. Those few times you skip driving can add up! Limit your grocery runs, forgo the movie theatres, and shop online (hopefully there’s free shipping).
  22. Borrow what you need. My mum luckily lives down the street and owns everything one would ever need for the holidays. I make sure to ask her for bakeware, cardstock, and even ingredients, prior to buying some of my own.
  23. Reuse old wrappers and bows. This is another thing I can find at my mum’s house and my SIL’s. Avid savers of gift bags and bows, my SIL has even gone so far as to fold up used wrapping paper neatly. She doesn’t tear into gifts like I do. Instead she flicks the tape off neatly, as does my husband.
  24. Regift gift cards and other gifts. Does this sound audacious to you? Not to me! I grew up watching my parents do this all the time! My mom works at a school and receives candles, soaps, Starbucks gift cards, and boxes of chocolate from her students year round. She would save some of the unwanted scents or fast food gift cards and gift them to nieces, nephews, and friends!
  25. Limit your own luxuries. I like to remind myself that the holidays are a time to give to others. That’s the true meaning for me. So I skip my coffee runs while I’m out shopping. I skip spending my fun money, getting my nails and hair done, ordering wine with dinner, plus other little luxuries you can think of.
  26. Travel outside of the popular dates. If you must travel, try to do it a few weeks before or after Christmas. You may find the flights and hotels are a bit cheaper. Another popular idea is celebrating after the holidays. Last year, Mike’s side of the family got a bout of COVID and our holiday party got postponed two weeks. Because it was in January, we were able to buy gifts on sale, groceries on sale, and avoid the crowds! Woo-hoo!

If you like this list, please subscribe to my email list to get more finance tips! Or pin the photo below to Pinterest and save for a later time. Lastly, I would love to hear your ideas as well. Comment below and let me know how you save during this time of year!

Where We Are At With Our $575,000+ Student Loan: An Update

Hi there! If you are new to the space, welcome! As you may or may not know, my name is Samantha Tillapaugh and I am known as The Debtist. I graduated from dental school at 26 years old in 2016 with more than $575,000 of student debt. Upon graduation, I was told by multiple financial professionals that the smart thing to do was to wait 20-25 years for student loan forgiveness (see options here). But the decision didn’t sit well with me. The debt was a psychological burden that caused me a lot of angst, anxiety, and made me depressed. I searched for a financial planner until I found one that listened to my desire to pay back debt and supported my decision. Since then, I have never turned back. Here is my personal student loan update.

Where We Started

In 2018, I first shared my personal story with Choose FI. I then learned that there were others who struggled with the psychology of having debt. So I dedicated my spare time writing about shifting mindsets around finance, and using lifestyle choices to reach financial independence. I surprised myself in 2020 when I reached independence BEFORE I paid back my loan. At the time, I quit a job that I struggled with, even when my husband was also without work during a pandemic which we knew nothing about. But for the first time in my life, money did not dictate what I did. I followed what I knew in my gut to be right, and it was the most liberating feeling I have ever felt.

My Money Story

Money psychology is deeply rooted in the narratives around money that we were told growing up. A lot of my fear of debt came from financial traumas as a youth. In choosing to face that fear head on and tackle the debt that I was afraid of, I gained not only financial literacy, but also a confidence and understanding of money that allowed me to have more control of it. Instead of being reactive to money, I know view money as a tool to get to where we want to go financially.

An Update on Student Loan Repayment

Today, I wanted to give you my student loan update and talk about where we are at with my student loans. I just released a second podcast episode with ChooseFI which details some of the things we have done since 2018. The Ever Growing List of Things I Have Done to Get Out of a Student Debt can be found here. We started at over $575,000 when I graduated from dental school. When the pandemic hit, I stopped making my aggressive payments since we didn’t know what would happen! My husband was without a job for the rest of 2020, and I quit my job November 2020 using the FU money we saved. At the time, we were somewhere between $430,00 to $440,000. Instead of spending the money, I continued to set it aside as if we were still making payments to our debt. Student loan repayment is set to resume January 1, 2023. At that time, we plan to make one lump sum payment that would bring our debt down to $200,000!

How We Got Here

To be honest, the first step was finding a financial planner who supports your loan repayment strategy, whatever you choose. I recommend Travis Hornsby from Student Loan Planner, not just for his expertise but also because he was one of the people who paid back a massive student loan aggressively. He had to deal with student debt personally, and can speak from experience and knowledge. My consultation with him saved me thousands of dollars, just by helping us choose the appropriate repayment plan. (We were on the wrong one!)

The second thing we did was cut our spending. Raising earning is fine and all, but lifestyle inflation is real. We learned how to use a budget for the first time with YNAB. To this day, my husband and I have budgeting dates and use YNAB to keep track of where our money goes. I highly recommend the YNAB app to all new budgeters because it is intuitive and easy! This step was so crucial to our journey that I even wrote an entire course on How to Master a Budget. It’s free and available on my blog.

Third, I changed my mindset to a positive one! I first found gratitude towards my debt and money story. This is a debt that is my privilege to own. I then approached life with a growth mindset. After realizing I had a lot of learning to do around money, I poured over books and binged podcasts. I also tried to find ways to make money doing the things I love. This led me down a rabbit hole of side-hustles which include being an early morning baker, opening my own bakery, being a wholesale director, creating a dog-sitting business, monetizing the blog, and more. My love for learning hasn’t stopped. Currently I am taking a teacher training course at CorePower Yoga to get my yoga teacher license.

Our ultimate goal was this:

To be free from student loan debt enslavement by facing my fear around money head-on without allowing money to dictate our life’s happiness. We wanted to focus on our goal of financial independence, while maintaining autonomy over the present moment. We wanted to built a life around freedom, both from debt but also from job dependency. At it’s core, we wanted to be free to do what made us both happy.

My only hope with sharing my story is to help others do the same.

Thank you for being here.


The Debtist

How We Made $2k Pet Sitting Last Month: Grow Your Clientele

Here again, talking about pet sitting ad nauseum. But I must share, how we made $2k last month pet sitting! This was after consistently hitting $1k since May 2022. Our dog-sitting venture first started with Rover in 2019 but did not become this successful until I started my own business called RMV Tail & Paws. Today, I wanted to share with you how to grow a clientele for your business so that you, too, could make money doing what you love to do!

But first, if you haven’t yet, make sure to check out my top 5 tools for growing a small business. This is a round-up of my favorites and includes everything from website, social media, email marketing, and accounting.

How to Grow Clientele for Small Businesses

I have one golden rule when it comes to growing your clientele: Be genuinely invested in their best interest. Care about your clients like you do about your friends and family. Trust me, wanting to help others is the best way to earn their trust, and their business. This is first and foremost my mission when it comes to gaining new clients. Money, referrals, and reviews come after taking care of the person’s needs.

Beyond that tid-bit of advice, here is a more step-wise actionable guideline to growing a clientele.

  • Communicate clearly. Have a website with a list of services, products and pricing. In this day and age, transparency is key. Be clear about what you have to offer, and what it costs. Make it easily accessible via a website. I use WordPress for all my website needs.
  • Honesty is the best policy, and I am very honest with my clients. I communicate with them from the get-go what I can offer them and what I can’t. Sometimes, clients have special requests that are outside of what I can provide. Or they ask for more than I can give. I am direct and honest when what they ask for does not align with my values or my business. Most of the time, they are grateful for my honesty, and if they have to look elsewhere, it’s in the best interest of both parties.
  • Use social media. It’s free marketing. I received some of my first clients through social media. I posted on a Facebook group for our neighborhood my services. I also use Tailwind to manage Instagram posts. On top of that, our neighborhood has an online bulletin on which I shared my website.
  • Promote your business in person. Be an open book. I constantly talk to others about the things I am doing. Not as a form of bragging, but as a way of saying, “Hey, how can I help you?” It all goes back to genuinely wanting to take care of others. Trust me, people can FEEL your intentions. I got into the habit of mentioning that I dog sit to my patients, my co-workers, my workout buddies, the farmers I volunteer with, and our friends. When I learn that someone has a dog, I always offer to watch them when they are away. And I carry my business cards while I dog-walk. I have run into multiple people who learn that I am a dog-walker/dog-sitter and book appointments on the spot!
  • Place business cards in other businesses. I have my business cards at a local coffee shop in our neighborhood. I also have them ever ready at the dental office. It’s a great way to grow! Simply ask neighboring businesses if they would promote you.
  • Actively ask for reviews. This is a biggie. After ensuring that my clients have a STELLAR experience, I go out on a limb and ask them for a review. I go so far as to send my clients the link to my review page. Every single one has been more than happy to do it for me, which is also validation that I am doing good work! YAY!
  • Take lots of photos. A picture says a thousand words. At least, for visual people like myself. I take photos of happy pups, pet cuddles, dog walks, and adventures. I post them on both social media and the website. If others can see how happy the pets are, they are more likely to choose my business over a pet spa or a pet hotel, where the pets don’t get individualized care, love, or attention.

If you want to start a pet-sitting business, you can check out this how-to guide I created. It goes through the 5 steps to creating a pet-sitting business.

You, too, can start earning morning doing what you love.