Thanksgiving on a budget

There is so much to celebrate this time of year, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s! But when you’re in charge of the budget, festivities can quickly get expensive. Here are 15 ideas to reduce costs so you can focus on what really matters—gratitude.

The best bet: Think outside the box

Don’t let tradition limit your creativity. Who said you have to cook a huge turkey or dress the table with fancy china and cutlery. Think out of the box!

Ideas to consider:

  • Potluck Thanksgiving: Ask each person to bring a dish to share. Everyone contributes to create a meaningful sense to the celebration.
  • Modern twist on tradition: There’s no need to cook a whole turkey. What about turkey sausages, turkey slices, turkey burgers or even turkey tacos.
  • Share the cost: Discuss splitting expenses with your family and friends in advance. Your gift could be the cooking while everyone chips in on the budget.
  • Give back: Volunteer at a soup kitchen or retirement home in your community. Some organizations even welcome children and give them special roles setting the table or decorating the room.

Setting the mood:

  • Decorate with nature: Create a festive centerpiece with colorful autumn leaves or pine cones.
  • Feel cozy: If you’re in the mood for a fire but don’t have a fireplace, you can stream this eight-hour fire on your TV, complete with crackling noises.
  • Repurpose Halloween: Do you still have a pumpkin from Halloween? Turn the carving against the wall to enjoy the smooth side during Thanksgiving.
  • Double up on décor: Choose decorations that will work throughout the holiday season.
  • Dress to impress: Everyone could dress a little nicer, wear a Fall color or a tacky sweater for laughs. This can give your celebration a vibe that sets Thanksgiving apart from other days.

Thanksgiving feel-goods

Consider activities that make the holiday special

  • Create a Thanksgiving trivia contest or quiz on the history of Thanksgiving.
  • When everyone is seated, go around the table sharing what you are most grateful for this year.
  • Cut out leaves from construction paper and have guests hang them from a branch after writing something they are grateful for on each one.
  • Take advantage of being together to plan a gift exchange for the holidays. Write each person’s name on a piece of paper and everyone draws a name (or use Set a spending limit on the gift.

After the celebration

  • Thanksgiving leftovers are delicious: Invite your guests take home what you won’t be able to eat in your household. Make new recipes out of the old, including turkey sandwiches, tacos, and enchiladas.
  • Be careful on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Focus on the spirit of Thanksgiving and being grateful for what you have instead of giving into the desire to spend money on things you don’t really need.

Last wish: Enjoy Thanksgiving!

The best budget apps for beginners

Thinking about using a budget app for the first time? We recently wrote about the pros of using mobile apps to keep track of your finances. Here are four recommendations for free options that are awesome for beginners. They are easy to set up and easy to use, and none sync to a bank account.

Interested in some advanced features or want to sync your budget app to your bank? Check out our review of synced-apps.

These apps don’t sync

Don’t have a bank account? Don’t worry. You’ll add each income and expense to these budget tracking apps yourself. This has the benefit of raising your awareness of your own finances. The drawback is that you’ll need to stay on top of adding your expenses. If you forget to add one, your tracking will be off.

App: Presupuesto Diario Original

Excellent if you want to control your budget every single day


  • Spanish-language app for Spanish speakers
  • Very simple and intuitive to use
  • Does not require previous registration – just download and track!

The awesome part is that this app turns your finances into a game and “challenges” you to “win” by saving money every day.

The first time you log in, they will ask about your income and recurring expenses like rent and cell phone bill, and your monthly savings goal. You can change this information later if your financial situation changes.

Then, they will work out your maximum daily budget (i.e $50/day.) From there, you add each expense as you spend money, and it will calculate how much more money you can spend that day. You should adjust your spending so you don’t go over the daily maximum. However, the more you save one day, the more funds you will have in your budget for following days.


The app offers a limited choice of categories to classify your expenses (i.e. grocery, entertainment, rent…). Once you get the hang of using the app and you find you need more categories, you can consider upgrading to a paid account. It comes with some extra services, as well.

As with all free apps, you will see some advertisements when using the app.

App: Spending Tracker

Excellent if you want the big picture of your finances


  • Designed for long-term financial planning
  • Allows for customized categories
  • Can add recurring monthly expenses (rent, cellphone bill)

This budget app does a great job creating graphical views of your finances. Just turn your cellphone horizontally. You can also set an alarm through the app so you don’t forget to check your budget status. Finally, it enables you to export your budget tracker information to other backup systems like Dropbox.


The advertisements on this app are more frequent than other apps.

App: Receipt Box

Excellent if you think simplest is best


  • Super simple format
  • Two ways to view your budget: balance sheet and pie chart
  • More than 35 expense categories

Do you want a basic tool where all you do is add and categorize your expenses to see the final monthly balance according to your income? This app works like that, as if you were writing it down in notebook. Except you will use icons to represent your expense categories, for example, an eggplant represents the category of food.

It also allows you to track the way you paid, such as cash, PayPal, or your debit card. Finally, you can add notes to each expense. So, you can categorize a grocery run as food and tag it for something special, like you purchased cake for someone’s birthday.


This app does not allow you to plan future or recurring expenses, like rent, or to establish saving plans. It is also focused on a monthly budget instead of a daily one.

As always, it has ads.

App: Everydollar

Excellent if you use a desktop computer and mobile device


  • Syncs to an account that can be accessed from your computer
  • Many more services and customizations than the above apps
  • Allows you to track your debt

To use this budget app, you need to create an account. This is necessary to be able to access it through a mobile device or desktop.

Everydollar is a kind of “Spending tracker” with so many extra services and possibilities for customizing your experience.

App: Goodbudget

Excellent if you think in categories


  • Syncs to an account that can be accessed from your computer
  • Creates mini-budgets for your categories of expenses

You must create an account for Goodbudget as well, since it can be access from the mobile device or computer.

Goodbudget classifies your expenses by “envelopes” as if you had physical cash stored in envelopes with different labels. You set a maximum budget for each envelop and adjust your monthly spending to that envelope. For example, your food envelope might have a $300 per month max. Record all your food expenses in that envelope until the envelope reaches zero or the month ends. If you have money left over, add it to your savings!

Now it is time for you to choose the budget app that works best for you! Good luck!

Tips before buying a used car

In most parts of the US, having a car is a must. For most families, it is also one of their biggest expenses, along with housing and health insurance. That’s why it is important to invest time in researching all of your options, both online and in your general area, to find the best deal, which very well might be a used car.

First question… New or used?

While the idea of a new car is fun, let’s be honest, we have other priorities in life, right? Also, new cars lose their value faster than used ones. The good news: You can find high quality and reliable used cars nowadays.

For families or individuals on a budget (aka all families!), especially one with other important needs, used cars are a great choice. Keep these thoughts in mind before buying yours!

Narrow your options

There are so many options available. To help you narrow down the selection and make the right choice, consider the following:


Ask yourself: “What will I use it for?”, “How often?”, “What roads will I drive on?”, “Do I need extra space for kids?”, “How often do I transport or store stuff in my car?”, “Will anyone else need to drive it?”, “How often will I need to take it on long trips?”. Be honest about your primary needs so you can determine:

  • How many miles should be on the used car already? You’ll want a car with fewer miles if you need to drive long distances or have the car last longer.
  • Do you really need all-wheel-drive? If you live in the snow belt, consider getting an extra set of wheels with snow tires mounted instead. It could end up being the same or lower cost, and offer better gas mileage as well as better traction.
  • How many passengers will you be transporting on a regular basis? How many doors and seats do you need?
  • How much “stuff” needs to fit?  Do you need a big trunk or will a small one do? If you only need to haul large loads occasionally, can you borrow or rent a larger vehicle for those times?
  • How important is good gas mileage? The environmental impact?


Think about the maximum budget you can afford and how you might get the money you need. Will you need to take out a loan? If so, ask yourself these 3 questions before choosing a lender. Also know that dealers and retailers have relationships with banks and might be able to help you get a loan.

If you want to pay for the car in cash, how much would you need to set aside each paycheck and for how long, in order to buy the car?

How to find a used car worth your money

Start with an online search to learn about available options on websites for used car retailers, like Carmax, used car dealerships, or through private sales found on Craigslist or eBay.

Check reviews about retailer / dealership businesses online to see which ones seem trustworthy and if other people have had good experiences. In the Google search bar, simply type the name of the company followed by “review”, to find customer opinions.

If you opt for a private sale, try to figure out if the seller is a reliable person. You could also consider buying from a trustworthy friend, a friend of a friend, co-worker, or neighbor.

With a private seller, you might have a better chance to negotiate the price, but it could be riskier in terms of liability, since retailers and dealers might offer warranties.

Once you see that dream car…

No matter how in love you might be with a car, don’t forget to take these precautions before making the commitment to purchase:

  • Safety comes first! Always keep that in mind.
  • Inspect the car by closely looking at windows, seats, tires, suspension, car body, lights, controls, trunk, roof, engine, etc.
  • Take it for a test drive on a highway and in traffic, and in conditions similar to those in which you drive most often.
  • Ask for an independent inspection from a professional mechanic (you should be willing to pay for this). If the seller does not agree to an inspection, think twice before buying it.
  • Look at the miles driven and age of the car.  A car with 12,000-15,000 miles could last many years. If it has more than 100,000 miles driven, it may need repairs more often, but could also still last years. Keep that in mind.If you do decide to buy this car in a private sale, take a picture of the dashboard for a record and in case of any oddities during the pink slip transfer
  • Check if it is a fair price: Using the mileage and year, check the value on Kelley Blue Book’s website.
  • Do internet research to find out if this particular kind of vehicle is affordable to maintain. Look at fuel consumption, for any typical breakdowns, cost of maintenance, etc.
  • Does the car have a warranty? If it does, the seller should show you a written document saying so.

Your car insurance costs could change depending on the auto. Check it out before buying!

Finally: “finance” steps

  • Negotiate. Do not be afraid to discuss the price and conditions. Remind yourself that you are in control and that you must feel convinced about the deal before you take it. If not, push back and leave. It is as simple as that.
  • Ask for the real final price, including registration fees, to avoid surprises.
  • Dealerships sometimes offer extended warranties. Check what the warranty on your car choice covers and double check that your car insurance doesn’t already cover it.
  • Finally, sign the deal and…


More info and sources at: Federal Trade Commission

Does Halloween “scare” your pocket? Here are some money-saving tips for this year

The season has changed. Stores seem possessed by the Halloween spirit, with aisles full of decorations, costumes, and special candies conspiring to get you to spend money!

Resist the temptation.  You do not have to spend a lot of money to enjoy Halloween. Here are some terrific ideas that won’t “terrify” your pocket!

Set a maximum budget

Do the math and decide how much you can spend for Halloween. Then, figure out which items are worth spending on…Costumes? Candy? Décor? Set a budget.

If you have older kids and plan to buy or make a costume, let them know what the maximum budget is for the costume or the materials to make one. Let them know you expect to stick to it.

Halloween costume: Use your creativity

Halloween is an opportunity to be creative. Try to use old clothes or recycled materials to create something from scratch. You’d be surprised by what you can make out of paper, cardboard boxes, paper roll, duct tape, egg cartons, cans, plastic bottles, etc.

Need ideas? Go online and look up “costumes from recycled materials”, “handcrafted costumes”, or “costumes made from boxes”… There are a lot of fun ideas out there!

Another option: Swap costumes with friends or family.

If you want to buy a costume, try to shop early since prices go up as October 31st draws near. You can also buy small accessories online, at dollar stores, or places like Walmart or Goodwill. Or plan ahead and buy next year’s costume when it goes on sale on November 1!

Look for fun events and activities that are free (or nearly free!)

Spending time with friends and family is what’s important.

  • Check to see if there are free events in local libraries, parks, children’s museums, schools, or community centers. They often organize craft workshops, jack-o-lantern contests, special exhibits or parades.
  • Some neighborhoods go all-out in decorating their homes. Find one near you and walk around enjoying the décor.
  • Visit a pumpkin patch to pick out a pumpkin for carving. If your kids are too young to carve, go online to find other ideas for decorating pumpkins.
  • Take advantage of the “Early Bird” price in movie theaters to watch a horror movie.
  • Enjoy learning about other traditions, like Día de los Muertos. See if there are related events or exhibits near home.

Have fun at home!

There are countless Halloween activities you can do at home (great if the weather is bad!). Some ideas:

  • Scary movie marathon! Check the TV guide for special TV shows or horror films. Popcorn, blankets and low lights will add to the spookiness. Here are some movies to watch for each age group.
  • Have fun painting faces, playing hide-and-seek with the lights off, handcrafting Halloween decorations, or dancing to the rhythm of Halloween songs… and so many other options.
  • Use that pumpkin: Practice your carving skills, roast the seeds on the skillet for a little Fall snack, and cook delicious pumpkin recipes.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a great Halloween!

Tips to save money in your back-to-school budget

We hope you enjoyed at least a few days of relaxation this summer! But now…let’s get back to reality and schedules. We know it can be tough, but it does not have to be tough on your pocket with this back-to-school budget plan.

Planning, planning, planning


Start by writing down a list of all expenses the school year involves. It may include supplies (pens, crayons, notebooks, binders…), backpacks, clothes, extracurricular activities, lunch money, field trips…


Can you re-purpose anything? Maybe you have an old backpack that needs a washing and some cool patching designs, so your kid can be excited to use it. Look for supplies/clothes in those boxes or drawers you haven’t opened in a while. Sometimes we buy new items only to discover we already had them, hiding in unexpected places.


Plan the amount of money you can afford and make a list of what you will buy with it each month. Think about seasonal sales. For example, most stores offer school supplies in August at a discount, while other items, like shoes, might go on sale in December.

Consider hosting a costume “trade” with other families, looking for easy-to-make costumes online, or buying Halloween costumes the year before since they tend to go on sale right after Halloween. Goodwill is a great place for Halloween shopping!

Month  Budget What Where
August $80 Backpack




Discount Grocery Store

September $50 Art class fees



End of summer sale

October $50 Halloween costume

Sports fee




Education is one of the most important things in their lives, and you can teach them to follow a monthly budget so they can help you stay within yours.

Now yes! Let’s go shopping!

While trying to find the best school bargain, you could consider these tips…


Dollar stores are a great option, and only buy what you really need. Sometimes “Just $1” is very appealing, but as you know, dollars can add up and get you off budget! Check discount grocery stores, too, since they dedicate full aisles to “back to school” items and sometimes have good deals as well.


At the end of August-September, you can find sales on summer clothes that can be used in the transition to Fall (maybe just in warmer states). Planning a few seasons early will save you money next summer.


(Not all states apply). You will not pay the taxes on certain, important items. For example, On August 10-12, Texan residents don’t pay taxes on clothing, backpacks and school supplies up to $100! If you live in one of these states, take full advantage by gathering coupons.


You can find pretty cool clothes for your kids at thrift stores. Swap stores even allow you to bring in your clothes in exchange for some new (to you) used clothes, a perfect situation for growing children. Remember as well to check Craigslist, Facebook Market, and other webs/apps where people in your community offer good prices or even items for free!


This could saves you money long term if you have the money to make the purchase and the space to store extra items. Or you could plan bulk purchases with other families. For example: kids need 4 notebooks a year. You can buy a pack of 12 notebooks for 12 dollars. That pack could be divided among 3 families (3 kids) and each family pays just 4 dollars.


Remember your childhood when your parents bought you that large t-shirt saying “Bigger the better! It should last all year and you grow too fast”. The story is the same generation after generation. Also, for any jackets or other goods your kids might lose, help your kids form the habit of always double checking for items through constant reminders. (Label them just in case.) Consider second-hand jackets, either hand-me-downs from older friends and cousins or inexpensive ones from Goodwill or thrift stores.

And now that you are ready with these tips… Let’s rock that school year, family!

The perfect gift for Father’s Day on a budget

Love is in the Details, not the Dollars

While you may want to show your dad your appreciation with a great gift, there are other things to consider – such as sticking to your budget and not adding to personal debt. This year, make it all about the little details. Follow these tips for a meaningful gesture on a budget.

Custom-made card instead of store-bought

No need for a store-bought card. Show off your creative skills (or lack thereof) and hand-make a card using printer paper. You could even fold it up to make it fun, check out the video tutorial at the bottom of this page on making a paper bow.

Food is the key to the heart

Live with your parents or close by? Start the day sweet by surprising your dad by making his favorite breakfast. Can’t make it over in the morning? Homemade lunch or dinner are just as impactful. Make it an event by also making their favorite dessert!

DIY caring coupons

Give Dad DIY coupons for nice deeds from you: An offer to do some chores around the house, like doing the dishes or fixing something broken. Remember you’re having Father’s Day on a budget, so feel free to go overboard with these free and thoughtful actions… and don’t forget to follow through!

Whether you’re saving up to upgrade your car or paying off your debts, remember that you don’t need to spend a ton to say a whole lot. It’s the little things that count (and they usually don’t come with a price tag).

Budget apps for budget lovers!

Recently, we wrote about <a href="">apps to keep track of your finances, their advantages, and the basics about how to get them</a>. Here, we will answer the last question: Which one is the best? And the answer? It depends.

We will help you figure out which is the best, based on your needs and willingness to use it.
<h2>First of all, synced or not?</h2>
If you have a bank account, keep reading. If not, check out our <a href="">review of apps that don’t sync</a>, which we also think are better for beginners.
<h2>Apps synced with your bank account</h2>
Imagine buying groceries with your debit card and that $25 expense from Save Mart automatically appears in your budgeting app. Cool, right? This is the main advantage of synced apps. With other apps, you’d have to type the expense into the app yourself.

A disadvantage is that setting up a synced app is not quite as simple as setting up the manual apps. But if you love budgeting and the idea of the sync, it will be worth it.

Let’s review some options!
<h3>Mint – App store score: 4.8 stars (out of 5)</h3>
Excellent if… You are looking for a very complete, easy and free app where you can control all your credit accounts. Perfect for all levels: Beginners can simply manage their budget and receive alerts. Pros can measure the efficiency of their investments. Mint offers a lot of useful tools (but not all of them are free).


Mint can connect your bank accounts, credit accounts, loan accounts, retirement plans and even investments in one place. You can:
<li>Track your budget</li>
<li>Track the performance of your investments</li>
<li>Categorize your expenses (i.e. shopping, restaurants, holidays…)</li>
<li>Set up alerts by text message or email when payments are due and account balances are low</li>
<li>And even check your monthly credit score</li>
The app also offers tips and suggestions on how to save money and set goals, and will send weekly summaries by email.


Mint has some problems with syncing transactions in real time and issues with automatically categorizing your expenses (for example, you might make a health insurance payment that goes automatically into the “shopping folder” instead of “Health and fitness folder”.)

Since it is a free app, you will receive ads related to credit card or financial offers according to your profile.
<h3>You Need a Budget (YNAB) – App store score: 4.1</h3>
Excellent if… You are purely focused on budgeting: Income & expense categorization, bill management and goal settings. It offers a very visual dashboard, making its use crystal clear, but it is not free.


YNAB keeps track of your net worth (incomes, expenses and bills). It classifies them and synchronizes with your bank accounts more efficiently than MINT. You can set goals and it gives you predictions and suggestions. Simple to use because of its simplicity of tools.

YNAB also offers a lot of workshops online to improve your family finance.


It has no credit score monitoring or investment features. Customer service is only offered by chat; there is no email or phone number. You will pay annually ($7/month).
<h3>CLARITY MONEY – App store score: 4.7</h3>
Excellent if… You want tools that directly “take action” on your behalf:  You can transfer money between accounts, cancel unwanted subscriptions (i.e. Cable company, Spotify or Netflix) or find better deals through this app.


Clarity Money is perfect if you want their special and unique tools. They will sync bills of several services (credit, debit, bank, etc.) and are able to cancel unwanted charges (or even find lower prices) on your behalf. Want to reduce your cable bills? Maybe they can help!

Other nice features are the possibility to
<li>Transfer money between your accounts</li>
<li>Create a saving account (federally insured) where they deduct what you want and when you want periodically for personal goals</li>
<li>Get your credit score (You have to give them your SSN and date of birth)</li>

This is not the best app for budgeting since it has very limited features and only tracks fixed payments but not variable ones. It does not offer customizable categorizations or an alert system either.

It definitely can help you to save money, but they do charge for that service when they find savings.

It is free. That means that, like Mint, you will receive ads related to credit cards.

After this fast review, now it is your turn to choose the one that fits better with your needs!

<em>This is for information purposes only.  Third parties are not affiliated with Oportun and is solely responsible for its products and services.</em>

Manage your budget with free, simple apps

How well do you understand your monthly budget? Do you know how much money you spend on food each month? What about recurring expenses like car insurance? Do you know how long will it take you to save money for that new sofa or dishwasher?

Thankfully, tracking expenses and managing your budget is easier than ever.

All you need is a smartphone.

Tracking your budget by phone is even easier than paper and pen

There are many free mobile phone apps that can help. The best are easy to use, as well as share very similar features, such as:

  • Budget setting on a daily, biweekly, monthly or annual basis
  • Determining income, expenses, and final balance for the period
  • Storing fixed, recurring expenses like rent, car, and insurance payments so you don’t have to add them manually expenses each month
  • Categorization of expenses (home, shopping, entertainment, auto, health)

Making Better Decisions through Better Monitoring

By using mobile apps to record every expense , we can make better decisions on-the-go about personal and family finances. The data collected in these applications can help us:

  • Decide when and whether we can afford to make a particular purchase by taking into account current and upcoming expenses and bills;
  • Plan for foreseeable, non-monthly payments, such as a twice-yearly car insurance bill or annual vehicle registration;
  • Compare how much you spend at any business with how much you spend at other businesses (ex: the purchases of the XXX business are always more expensive than the YYY business)

How do I get these apps?

You should have a smartphone and a Wi-Fi / data connection to download an app.

Find the “Google Play” or “App store” icons on your screen. Tap on the icon and, in the search bar, type keywords such as “Personal finance”, “Spending tracker” or “Budget”.

Among the free ones, some will require registration either by creating an account or by registering via email or Facebook.

Select the app that looks easiest to use and that best meets your needs.

Start tracking

Once downloaded, familiarize yourself with the application and manually add your day-to-day expenses. Saving receipts and bills and entering the information on a schedule, such as each day when you get home or Saturday mornings could help you stay on track of your budget. Make it a habit!

At Oportun we offer loans with affordable and fixed payments. Once you get a loan, you can add these payments as a fixed expense in your app and easily track what you have paid.

At the end of the month, analyze the results and make decisions that help you achieve your financial goals.

Happy tracking!

5 DIY car maintenance tasks to save money

Regardless of the car you drive, sooner or later it will need maintenance. But there’s good news: You can do some of that maintenance at home with the help of your owners’ manual AND without having to pay a mechanic! You just need an afternoon and the parts. So, get ready to roll up your sleeves and save yourself some money (could be a few hundred dollars a year!) that you can put to other uses with these 5 DIY car maintenance tasks.

1. Replace the fuel filter

Estimated time: 5 – 10 minutes
Estimated cost: Around $14 to $60
When to do it: About every 10,000 miles, depending on the car you drive. Check your owner’s manual.

A clean fuel filter can help your car run better, with more power and more miles per gallon, so you won’t have to fill up the tank as much.Don’t know where your owner’s manual is? Just Google search your car make, model and year with “+ owner’s manual”. Most car manufacturers post manuals online!

Need extra help? Search YouTube videos for car maintenance tutorials!

2. Replace the air filter

Estimated time: 15 minutes
Estimated cost: $10
When to do it: Approximately once a year or every 12,000 miles, check your owner’s manual

A clean air filter helps keep your car’s engine clean to help it run better and save you money on expensive maintenance. And like the fuel filter, it also helps you save on gas!

3. Check tire pressure

Estimated time: 5 minutes
Estimated cost: $0
When to do it: Once a month

Having the proper tire pressure can help your car drive more efficiently and therefore save you money on gas expenses. The maximum pounds per square inch (PSI) is printed on each tire, but check the car manufacturer’s recommended PSI since it is often lower than the maximum.

4. Change the windshield wipers

Estimated time: 5 – 10 minutes
Estimated cost: From $7-$20 each
When to do it: At the beginning of rainy season, or as needed

A good set of working wipers are important to keep you and your family safe from blurry road conditions. With new wiper blades in place, you should be able to have a clear view of the road ahead, and when you do it yourself, you’re saving a bundle on labor!

5. Oil change

Estimated time: 30 – 60 minutes
Estimated cost: $20
When to do it: Every three months, or 3,000 – 5,000 miles for many cars. Check your owner’s manual.

Removing the old oil from your car’s engine and replacing it with new, fresh oil can improve your engine’s performance, improve gas mileage, and make your vehicle last longer.

There you have it! In one afternoon, you can help keep your car in shape, save on going to the mechanic, and put that money you saved toward your kids’ school supplies, the next family trip or your future home!