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How to Get Starbucks for FREE!

Yes, you read that correctly. Most of you know how obsessed I am with Starbucks. If you’re new here and want to read about my obsession and near bankruptcy from funding my Starbucks addiction, read this blog post. Now, if you are ready to learn my secret hacks to getting Starbucks for free, keep reading.

Now that I have your attention, shall I get on with it? Ok, hang on to your knickers ‘cuz it’s gonna be a wild ride.

Let’s Get The Obvious Out of the Way

Starbucks has a reward program cleverly called Starbucks Rewards. This is a reward program that allows you to earn “stars” a.k.a. points on purchases made using their app. These stars can then be redeemed towards free food and drinks. To sign up, you do need a gift card or and e-gift card to get started. If you would like to learn more about their rewards program or would like to join, you can click here.

Here’s What You Came For

Speaking of gift cards, this is the method I use to get 95% of my Starbucks drinks for free. Have you heard of rebate apps like Drop or Swagbucks? If you want to learn how I use these apps to make extra money, you can read this blog post I wrote about easy passive streams of income here. Aside from using these apps to make a little extra cash, I also use them to earn free gift cards to Starbucks.

The Drop App

I know I shouldn’t have favorites, but I can’t help it. The Drop app is my favorite rebate/cash back app to use. This app rewards you for shopping the brands you already shop. What makes this different than other rebate apps is that you get your rewards or cash back instantly. None of this “you’re check will be there in 3 months” nonsense. You make a purchase, you get rewarded. It’s that simple. All you do is link the debit card that you use the most and every time you use it, Drop matches it with their available rewards and gives you cash back. You can redeem your cash back through direct deposit, PayPal or my favorite…gift cards. It’s like I get free coffee just for doing my grocery shopping, buying my kids a birthday present or paying for a dinner out. It’s a wonderful life, truly. If you would like to sign up for Drop and give it a try you can click here. Then, enter your phone number and it will text you a link to download the app. But wait, let me sweeten the deal. After you install the app, if you sign up using my code x4e2b then we will both receive $5 loaded to our app for free. Sweet, right? I think I just got a cavity.

Swagbucks

Swagbucks works a little differently than Drop. Swagbucks rewards you for shopping online, watching videos and taking surveys. You earn “SB’s” a.k.a. points for these which then can be redeemed for gift cards to tons of different places. As for me, I always redeem my points for gift cards to Starbucks. You can use Swagbucks from your phone or desktop computer. I don’t really do any online shopping or watch videos through Swagbucks, but I do take a lot of surveys. Whenever I am waiting at a doctors office, long grocery line or whenever I have nothing else to do, I will hop onto Swagbucks and complete a few surveys. There are different types and lengths of surveys but all of them are very easy to complete. If you want to try out Swagbucks and earn some free gift cards, you can sign up here. If you sign up through that link, you and I will both receive 300 SB immediately for free.

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How to Get Your Free Credit Report

Apparently, this is not a new thing. I remember when I first learned about obtaining my free credit report. A friend of mine was explaining how she pulls her credit report every year for free. My jaw dropped in amazement. “Tell me your secret Jedi master!” I begged. She looked at me like I was crazy. Clearly, this isn’t a new thing either.

Who Can Get a Free Credit Report?

Basically, anyone and everyone. According to Experian, ” The Fair Credit Reporting Act provides for a free report if you have had adverse action taken, which includes having an application declined, but only from the credit reporting company that provided the report the lender used in making the decision.” You can read more about this here. Federal law also allows consumers to obtain their credit report for free at least once per year. This means you can obtain your credit report from all three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and Trans Union absolutely free.

Where Do I Get My Free Reports From?

If you were denied credit from a company, that company has to provide you with the name of the credit bureau they used to obtain your information from. You then can contact the credit bureau by phone, mail or website. Here are links to each of the credit bureaus:

Additionally, you can get all three of your credit bureaus from AnnualCreditReport.com. This is a website that is operated by all three major credit bureaus. It allows you to get all three reports in one convenient location.

Another popular alternative is to use sites like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame. Both of these websites are personal finance companies that offer free credit reports, scores and insights. You can sign up for free access to these sites here:

Another Option

Ultimately, the above options are great ways to get your free credit report pretty quickly. Another method that I use to monitor my credit that is just as convenient is through my financial institutions and credit card companies. I bank with Chase and they offer an option called Credit Journey to their customers. This allows me to check my Trans Union credit score and report. However, it doesn’t give me access to all three bureaus.

My credit card companies also offer a similar option with my account. One credit card company allows me to see my Experian credit score and report while my other credit card company provides me with my Equifax credit score and report. This makes it pretty handy to check my scores whenever I want. Plus., I don’t have to fill out any forms like I do with AnnualCreditReport.com or each of the three major credit bureaus.

Don’t Pay For It

Check with your financial institutions and your credit card companies to see if they offer free credit scores and reports to their customers. From my experience, most do. There is no need to pay monthly membership fees or access fees to obtain your credit report. You are entitled to know what is on your report and entitled to receiving those reports for free. Don’t pay for what is already yours. Once you have your credit in order, consider starting a budget to help get your finances in tip-top shape.

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Starbucks on a Budget

Hi, my name is Melissa and I am addicted to Starbucks. It’s hard for me to admit that but I feel a lot better now that I’ve put it out into the Universe. What makes me feel even better is knowing that I can get Starbucks on a budget!

The Hook

We are all familiar with the green twin-tailed mermaid logo. You can find these coffee houses on pretty much every corner and inside almost every retail store across America. I know mythically Sirens were believed to use their mysteriousness and beauty to lure sailors into the sea. I am no sailor but let me tell you that this Siren has a hold on me. Her hold is so strong that my morning coffee is no longer a commodity but a legitimate splurge. I had to figure out a way to get my Starbucks on a budget.

My Go-To drink is a Venti iced Caramel Macchiato sub sugar free vanilla, sub blonde espresso and add two Stevia. (Don’t judge me. I am #teamsweet and complicated) The way the caramel dances with the vanilla syrup and the precision of the espresso as it marks the freshly steamed milk. All poured over ice in a way that causes the clouds to part form the Heavens. Mm mm I can almost taste it now. OK Melissa, get back on track, focus. What was I saying? Oh yeah, this delightful drink was what I looked forward to every day. What I didn’t look forward to was the $5.90 I had to hand over every single morning.

Rock Bottom

As I started to get more serious about budgeting and living within my means, it forced me to take a good hard look at my Starbucks addiction. The damage this was doing to my finances is what really woke me up. A $5.90 iced coffee seven days a week amounts to $165.20 a month. A MONTH! My water bill is less than this. Yet, here I was. Drinking my water bill away every single morning oblivious to the decreasing girth of my bank account. The financial impact this was having on my life was the main reason I needed to find a way to get my Starbucks on a budget.

Speaking of girth, did I mention that my delicious drink I had every morning also amounted to an extra 350 calories and 53 grams of carbohydrates per day? That’s an extra 10,500 calories a month that I definitely did not need. This realization forced me to find a healthier and cheaper alternative because obviously I couldn’t give it up completely. That was be ludicrous.

The Negotiation

Ultimately, I knew I had to be logical and methodical about this. This was serious. This was DEFCON 5 for Pete’s sake! First, I was going to need to figure out how to cut out the actual times I physically visited my beloved coffee shop. I work three days a week out side of the home. Since I like to fully enjoy my coffee and experience all of the joy it has to offer sip by sip, I decided to only buy Starbucks on my days off. This way I would not be rushing to work in the mornings rushing myself to gulp down 24 ounces of my caffeinated beverage. I could sit back, relax and fully enjoy it in all it’s glory. To compromise, on the days I worked I would make my coffee with my trusty ole Keurig. This was totally doable for me.

Bringing it All Together

Next, I had to figure out how to make this drink cheaper and healthier. This drink I was obsessed with is basically all carbs. How could I get more protein and less carbs into this drink? The only solution I could think of would be adding in a protein shake. I have tried hundreds of different types of protein powders and protein shakes. Even those protein coffee powders that claim to taste just like coffee only to fail miserably. Basically, I needed a protein shake without the grittiness. Oh yeah, it also couldn’t taste like protein.

My favorite protein shakes are Premier Protein ready to drink shakes. It also just so happens that the caramel flavor is my favorite as well. Perfect! Let’s throw that into the drink. Now all I have to do is add in my blonde espresso, sugar free vanilla syrup and sweetener. I remember the first day I tried this concoction. I only have one word for you, earth-shattering. OK, that’s technically two words or does the hyphen make it one? I don’t know. Anyways, check out the price difference and calorie difference with this drink.

However, you do need to take into account the nutrition information of the protein shake. This would bring the calories to 170, 6 grams of carbohydrates and 30 grams of protein. Mission accomplished! Instead of drinking my water bill every month, I successfully cut my Starbucks addiction from $165.20 a month to $47.68 a month. Also, I cut my calories from 10,500 a month to 2,720 a month.

The Coup De Grâce

Ultimately, it comes down to taste right? Does this drink have all the bells and whistles that the original drink had? I am proud to say that it most certainly does! In my opinion, I think it even tastes better than the original drink. I am happy to say that I now get to enjoy my Starbucks on a budget without all the guilt and without needing to take out a second mortgage to fund my addiction. I challenge you to try it out and let me know in the comments if I’m right or completely delusional.

Want to know what’s even better than getting Starbucks on a budget? Getting Starbucks for free. Check out this post on how I do just that. Shhhh!!! It’s our little secret!

Happy caffeinating!

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What in the World is a Sinking Fund???

I’m glad you asked. I have heard budget bloggers talk about sinking funds and how important they are to their financial well-being. I would be so amazed by the large amounts of money people were able to save all while making it look so effortless. However, I always thought to myself “I’ll check into that later” and then conveniently forgot about it…until a few months ago.

So, let me take you back to August 2019. I am sitting on my couch enjoying the ice cold air conditioning (it’s August in Arizona. Need I say more?) and I’m running through my head Christmas and birthday gift ideas for my kids. They both have birthdays in December, lucky me. Naturally, I start running an invisible tally in my head until I make myself queasy from the grand total. That’s when a little voice in the back of my head (like way in the back…like under a box, even) whispers “try sinking funds, you must.” That’s when I actually made the effort and dove head first into sinking funds. I haven’t looked back since.

Sinking funds are money that you set aside to help soften the hardship of an expected future expense. These are expenses like holidays, birthdays and vacations. It makes it more manageable to save small amounts of money over a longer period of time versus trying to save a huge wad of cash in a short amount of time. I like to think of sinking funds as the chisel that is slowly chipping away at something. I know what you’re thinking. Melissa, isn’t this like an emergency fund? Let me explain.

Sinking Fund vs Emergency Fund

Although they may look alike, talk alike and sound alike, they are more like cousins than sisters. Both sinking funds and emergency funds are methods used to save a large amount of money. However, here are the distinct differences between the two.

Initiating My First Sinking Fund

After I educated myself on what a sinking fund was, I decided to give it a try. I decided I need to find a way to save $800 by Christmas. Here’s a sample of me putting my thoughts down on paper lol.

This was my plan. If I put away $100 every paycheck for the next 8 paychecks, I’d have enough money for my December occasions. I decided to make a cash envelope for this sinking fund. This method made it easy for me to see my progress which only motivated me further. Get this free cash envelope here!

What Do I Really Think of Sinking Funds?

Honestly, sinking funds (IMO) are genius! It really isn’t a new concept, if you think about it. It’s reminiscent of my childhood piggy bank. I remember saving every penny I found so I could buy the new Corvette for my Barbie dolls. This is the same concept…only I am older and I don’t play with Barbies anymore.

I really enjoyed using a sinking fund for my December occasions. Utilizing sinking funds is something I will continue to do from here on out. In fact, I have already started my sinking fund for Christmas 2020. I created a cute cash envelope that also doubles as my tracking sheet. Check it out in the Free Stuff tab above. You simply download it, print it out and use it to save for your holiday spending. Happy saving!

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Why New Year’s Resolutions Suck

Why New Year’s Resolutions Suck

Yep, you read that right, not a fan. New Year’s resolutions suck almost as much as diets and budgets lol. Anything that makes me commit to certain rules or tries to stuff me into a perfectly gift wrapped box is honestly not for me.

Our brains are actually wired to revolt against conformation. Think about it. From the time you were able to pick up a pencil to write your name, you favored one hand over the other. To this day (unless you’re ambidextrous) you still write with your dominant hand. This is because our brains have been wired to know that we use our right (or left) hand to write. Have you ever tried to write with your non-dominant hand? Yeah, so have I lol. It’s pretty difficult to do. This reminds me of resolutions.

Why are resolutions so difficult to stick to? Well for me, I have a routine. I like things a certain way. I mean, who doesn’t? Now I have made a resolution that requires me to adapt and stick to it immediately because if I don’t, then I fail. Therefore, I am a failure. Sheesh, this does not sound like a good time amiright? If I didn’t mention before, New Year’s resolutions suck!

This is the same concept behind why diets don’t work. Forcing yourself to conform to something that takes you out of your comfort zone is a recipe for disaster. Now I know people will say, “But Melissa, being out of your comfort zone is when a person experiences growth.” Ok, you’re not wrong but you’re not right either. Ultimately, it depends on the architecture of your comfort zone. Was I able to draw out my own blue print? Am I able to make my own rules? What are the repercussions if I fail? If I am not able to stick to it will I feel like crap about myself? These are all questions that are important to ask when designing your comfort zone.

Intentions? What are Those?

So, instead of resolutions, I like to set intentions for the New Year. This isn’t to be confused with Day 1 pedal-to-the-metal resolutions. An intention is more of an acknowledged notion of moving forward. Setting an intention removes the pressure of a set-date or time to complete the goal. Setting an intention is like setting your radar or your GPS. You know where you’re going but you have options (highway or surface streets?) on how you will ultimately arrive at your destination.

Another tip to setting successful intensions is asking yourself why this is important to you. Whether it is to lose weight or to stop smoking to improve your health, or maybe it’s to stop impulse shopping to improve your financial situation, you need to ask yourself “why.” Having a reason that is important to you and a reason that actually means something to you helps you to be mindful of the intentions you are setting.

However, the best tip IMO is to stop beating yourself up mentally. Thinking negative thoughts about why you won’t be able to accomplish a goal or getting down on yourself because of a setback is no bueno. Self-demoralizing thoughts sabotage progress and hinder our belief in ourselves. The easiest way to overcome this is to recognize when a negative thought enters your mind then add “but I am doing/making/choosing such and such to change that.” For example: “I am never going to lose weight…but I am making small changes like walking for 30 minutes every day to change that.” Using this method turns your negative into a positive. And when all else fails, fake it till you make it baby!

In Closing

Really guys, I am excited for the New Year. It’s an opportunity to reflect on our own progress and acknowledge new goals. I have set my intentions and am ready to see them come to fruition this year. I hope you have all set your intentions as well. While you’re at it, head over to the “Free Stuff” section and download some freebies to use, especially if your intentions are to improve your finances this year.

I would like to wish each and every one of my readers a safe, prosperous and happy new year. Cheers!

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How to Start a Super Simple Budget

I feel like it’s everywhere. “How I paid off $40k of debt in 8 months” and “How I saved $1200 a month using this budget.” I am not hating. Don’t get me wrong. I just feel like these are especially unique situations. Getting out of debt is a real struggle. It’s not glamorous and its not effortless.

Getting Started

When I started my journey towards financial freedom, the first thing I needed to learn was how to create a budget. I tried creating a budget on Quick Books and even tried creating a spreadsheet on Excel…only to not ever use either of these again. Finding a budget that works for you hugely depends on your learning style. I love computer graphs and colorful charts but I learn best hands-on.

I found this budget sheet on thebudgetmom.com website and decided to give it a whirl. This is a great budget sheet. However, I found myself whiting out certain sections of the sheet that didn’t really apply to my situation. I wanted something super easy (and cute to look at) to use until I became more familiar with budgeting. Ultimately, I ended up creating my own budget sheets. (You can get them free under the Free Stuff tab) Below is a picture of how I set up my monthly budget sheet. I like to know what I have to pay and when I have to pay them in correlation to my paydays. This type of budgeting is called paycheck budgeting.

The Rationale

Overall, this method has helped me make my payments on time (no more forgotten payments Yay!) and it has helped me plan special purchases. For example, (referring to my budget sheet pictured above) I know I have two birthdays this month. Budgeting these special occasions on to my monthly budget sheet ensures that I can control which paycheck the extra expenses will come from. This way, my regular monthly bills are not affected and I don’t forget to buy birthday gifts.

Honestly, I lived and breathed for TBM’s budgeting techniques. I learned so much from Miko. You can check out her page here.

The How-To

How to use this budget sheet:

  1. First, write down every bill you pay. Write down the company name, amount due (estimate if the amount varies per month) and write down the day it is due.
  2. Second, fill out the calendar for the month you are budgeting. Write the bill name down on the corresponding dates on the calendar.
  3. Next, write in your paydays with your estimated net take home pay.
  4. Color code your paydays for each week and highlight the bills you will be paying with each weekly pay check with the correlating color.
  5. Finally, sit back and admire your masterpiece!

It’s Not Over

Once this monthly budget sheet is completed, I take it a step further. I use my Paycheck Bill Tracker sheet to write down the exact dollar amount of each expense. Ultimately, I also use this sheet to deduct the total amount of expenses from my total amount of income. You can download all the budgeting sheets you need for free here. Depending on what (if any) is left over after doing this, I also use this sheet to determine how much will be placed into savings and my sinking funds. Wait, let me not get too ahead of myself. More about my Paycheck Bill Tracker and sinking funds on my next post.

Would you like to see how I distribute the left over funds from each paycheck? Comment below & I’d be happy to show you!

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Passive Income You Can Start Using Now!

Three Easy, Minimal-Effort Passive Streams of Income You Can Start Now!

We could all use a little extra money, am I right? I’ve spent nights pinning articles on how to make extra income. Every pin I come across always offers great suggestions but usually the recommendations are very time consuming. For instance, a common suggestion is to start a YouTube channel. That’s a great suggestion (check out my channel here) but it takes a lot of time. Aside from the fact that you need to film something that interest people, edit your video, upload your video and promote your video you also need to meet certain criteria before you can monetize your video. Ain’t nobody got time for that, especially when you need a little extra income now.

What about the recommendation to sell your unwanted clothing online? I do this exact thing on Poshmark (check out my closet here.) The buzz kill is that you have to find time to take pictures of all your items, write descriptions for each item and then price the items competitively. Then, you sit and wait to see if anyone makes an offer on your item. You can usually get your money within a few days after a purchaser accepts your item. This is a great way to make extra income but you have to be ready to put the time and effort into it.

My point is, these are all great steams of income, but I want to share something with you that will provide a quicker return without taking up a lot of wo-man hours.

I am going to share with you 3 passive streams of income that will generate a bit of extra cash for you now with little to no effort. Don’t get me wrong; These suggestions are not going to make you rich over night, however the potential to make a pretty penny is definitely there. Are you ready to get that bag? Lesssgo!

Cash back apps are a great way to make money on items you were already planning on buying. Wait, come again? I am going to make money on the money I was already going to spend? Yasss Queen, that’s what I’m sayin’. How this works is you link your debit card to the app and once you make a purchase with a corresponding rebate, you get cash back. Here are some screenshots of my most recent cashback payments I’ve received from cash apps. I have seen people who use these apps religiously and make a ton more money than I do. However, the amounts I am showing is just from me “setting-and-forgetting” the app and going about my day. Not too shabby if I do say so myself.

I am a total “set-it-and-forget-it” type of gal. I don’t want to have to wade through pages of rebate offers just to see if anything matches what I am going to buy. Just let me swipe my card and get cash back? K? K. Bye.

Dosh is a new cash back app that I am absolutely in love with. Similar to Rakuten (formerly Ebates), you earn cash back on items you routinely purchase. What I really like is that you can link your debit card to the app and earn cash back online and in-person. You don’t need to waste time looking through their rebate deals and matching them to your purchases. You make the purchase, Dosh matches it to all the available rebates it offers for that item and bada-boom bada-bing, you get your cash back deposited into your account. You can check out Dosh here and Rakuten here.

So, the next stream of income I use that takes a wee-bit of time are survey sites. This is not a set it and forget it type of income stream. However, I like to use apps like SurveyJunkie and Swagbucks when I’m waiting in the doctors office, in a long line at the grocery store or sitting on the toilet (come on! We all play on our phones in the bathroom lol) When you have down time, why not make some extra cash?

Both of these apps allow you to cash out your money with a bank transfer, PayPal or e-Gift cards. You get to choose how you want your cold hard cash. Check out Survey Junkie here and Swagbucks here.

Finally, the third stream of income I want to mention is car advertising. What is car advertising you say? Well, let me explain. If you have a car, it could generate some extra cash for you. Sites like Carvertise pay you money to allow them to advertise their business on your vehicle. Just think about this. All you have to do is drive your car like you normally do, but the only difference is you make money while doing it. Cha-chiiiiiiing! Check out Carvertise here and see if it’s something that would work for you.

That’s how I like it. Pay me money to do the stuff I was already planning on doing.

These, my friends, are true passive streams of income that take almost little to no effort at all.

Although some of my posts contain affiliate links, I am not an affiliate or ambassador with any of the companies I mentioned above. I mentioned them because I personally use them. Any link listed is a referral link which allows me to receive a small referral bonus. This referral is offered to every single customer using their app.

Maybe once you have extra dough rolling in from using these passive streams of income, you might be interested in saving some of it. Learn how you can save like a pro here.