Classy Frugality

Making the most of life while living on a budget

Category: Musings

Now What?

Sometimes big events are anti-climatic.

I shared in my last blog post how Fred and I recently became debt-free and compared it to my recent experience running a 5K. Both events were big for me – milestones in my life that I will look back on with pride and fondness, and yet, both events felt a bit disappointing in the moment.

Don’t get me wrong – I am so glad for both of those things, and I am proud of both of those accomplishments. But sometimes you look forward to something for so long, that when you finally get there, you think “Now what?”

Fred and I paid off our last loan payment on July 1. We punched in the numbers, pressed send, looked at each other and then I eloquently said…”Now what?”

We have been paying on our student loans for 5 1/2 years. It’s been a long journey, and I didn’t ever think it would end. We had talked about what we wanted to do when we became debt-free, I just didn’t anticipate how I would feel once I actually got there.

Photo 2016-07-26, 7 08 59 PMAfter we became debt-free, people kept telling us, “You should celebrate!” We didn’t fully know what we wanted to do, but once we got the official “Your student loans are paid in full!” letter, I knew that it was time to commemorate our freedom somehow. So we took our “date night envelope” and we went to The Keg (a fancy steakhouse). We hardly ever go there but we both love the food, so it seemed fitting to splurge a little. We dressed up, we ordered a bacon-wrapped steak, we ate, we talked. We told our waitress why we were celebrating, and then she gave us each a free dessert (so amazing). We took a picture. We discussed what we wanted to do with our money now that we wouldn’t be making student loan payments anymore.

Photo 2016-07-26, 8 06 56 PMAfter we ate our free dessert and paid the bill, we went home and opened up a bottle of Martinelli’s that Fred insisted we keep from our wedding (that’s 6 years ago, folks). Thanks to refrigeration, a good seal, and some preservatives, the sparkling cider tasted just as delightful as it would have 6 years ago. We toasted being debt-free, we took more pictures…

And now here we are. Life still mostly looks the same – we budget each month, we still use our envelopes of cash to keep us on track. We’ve slightly increased our date fund and our personal spending money (much to Fred’s delight). We still pay our bills, we just don’t pay student loan payments anymore.

As time has gone on, I think the reality has sunk in a bit more. It’s very surreal coming out from a burden you’ve had for years. I took out my first student loan when I was 18. Now, at age 29, I’m re-surfacing from 11 years of being indebted. I’m learning that sometimes freedom takes time, and it’s not all about feelings. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but I’m grateful to learn it.

You may be wondering, “What will you do with all of your extra cash now, Browns?”  Great question. (That’s what I would be wondering if I was reading someone else’s blog about being debt-free.)

As many of you know, Fred and I recently accepted jobs with a nonprofit and we will be moving to work and live in Guatemala (starting in January) for the next two years. I’ll be teaching English as to students in a Guatemalan school, so I’m actually going back to university part-time in September to get my TESL certificate.

For me, this has been the coolest thing about getting out of debt. I’m going back to the same university where I started 11 years ago with just a dream in my heart and student loan in hand. This time, I’m going back without a student loan, paying in cash. I couldn’t be happier.  I have come full circle and I know that I am never, ever borrowing money again…and that feeling is worth all of the years of sacrifice and payments.

Can’t Buy Me Love

Photo 2016-03-25, 7 22 14 PMI used to think that money solved everything.

This is not entirely inaccurate – money can do a lot of good things like feed hungry families, buy medicine for the sick, or provide something for someone who desperately needs it. But money is just a tool, and like any tool, it can be used for good or for evil. In addition, as The Beatles reveal to us in their famous song, there are some things it just can’t buy.

This journey to becoming debt-free has revealed a lot to me about what kind of person I am. I have learned what I value, what I truly want, and I have learned most of all about being content where I am. Although I don’t have this down pat (I’m not perfect yet!) I have definitely come far from my days where I thought we would be poor forever and pitied myself.

Now I have a better mindset when it comes to money – mainly that I’m not stuck in this poverty mentality anymore. I realize that we are intentionally putting heaps of money to pay off our debt that we could be using for something else. Sometimes I catch myself thinking “I can’t afford that!” and feeling sorry for myself.  In those moments I force a shift in my thinking to instead tell myself, “I could buy [that thing] if I wanted to – but I am intentionally putting my money towards debt.” It helps. It reminds me that we don’t have much further to go, and that the sacrifice is worth it.

I have been thinking the last few weeks about what it will be like to be debt-free. We plan on paying off the remainder our debt (just over $14,000) this year for sure, and more specifically in the next few months (if all goes according to plan). We have started dreaming about what kinds of things we’ll want to do with our money (currently about half of all of our income goes towards debt at this point in the game), and I have started eagerly awaiting the day when I can do “whatever I want” with money.

I have to tell myself that this is not completely accurate. I won’t be able to do “whatever I want” because debt or no debt, there are bills to be paid and things to save for. We will still budget each month, we will still have a plan. Even if the purse strings are loosened a little, we certainly don’t want to waste what we have worked so hard for. We also don’t want to forget these long years of “humble living” (as we affectionately call it) because these years have truly shaped our character, and like a fire, these years have brought our deepest flaws and desires to the surface.

Money can expose our weaknesses, and it can certainly help in certain situations, but it can’t do everything. I’ve been thinking lately about the things that money can’t buy that we can have. These beautiful things are a blessing, and no matter how much money you have, you won’t be able to buy them.

 

After all…

Money can buy souvenirs, but it can’t buy you memories.

Money can buy you a wedding, but it can’t buy you a happy marriage.

Money can buy you food, but it can’t buy you contentment.

Money can buy you tickets to a show or fancy presents, but it can’t buy you friends.

Money can buy you sleeping pills, but it can’t buy you peace.

Money can buy you a vacation, but it can’t buy you rest.

Money can buy you any material thing you could want, but it can’t buy you character.

 

I know now that money can’t buy everything, and for that, I am grateful. 

Ways I’m Practicing Thanksgiving This Christmas Season

Photo 2015-11-27, 8 45 09 AMAs an American living in Canada, I have the privilege of celebrating Thanksgiving day twice (and having a wonderful reason to eat a big turkey meal with loved ones in October and November)!

This year, I realized that I want to practice Thanksgiving not just on those days set aside and given to us off of work, but always. Especially with Christmas coming up.

This realization came mainly as I was planning my Christmas present list. I LOVE giving gifts (probably one of my main love languages) and last year Fred and I spent way more than originally planned. Sure, we budgeted for it and paid cash for everything, but we definitely wished we had planned better. Giving gifts is wonderful, but there has to be a better way to appreciate those we love in our lives rather than overspending and under-planning, right?

I was also thinking about what I wanted to buy with my own Christmas money that I would likely receive and started feeling frustrated. Instead of thinking how nice it would be to have a little money to spend on something for myself, I started thinking about how it wouldn’t be enough to buy everything that I wanted.

TIME OUT.

I couldn’t believe I had slipped into such a greedy place. It shocked me enough that I knew that I needed to pause and reflect. I like to fancy myself very content, frugal, and appreciative. However, as a person living in a North American context, it’s so easy to get caught up in being focused on material things. Especially as Christmas approaches, greediness is not only culturally okay, but even encouraged (I write this on Black Friday – a prime example of this).

I realized that I often forget about being thankful. Thankfulness is the best cure for greediness in my experience – and this Christmas season, here is how I am going to practice the art of giving thanks to combat greediness:

1. Giving away what I don’t need or use. 

This has been my new favourite thing lately. I’ve been going through clothes, drawers and closets to find things that I have just kept because I forgot about them or wanted to keep them “just in case.”

So far I’ve given away a few boxes of things that I definitely don’t need and have freed up some valuable space in our conservative apartment. It feels amazing to get rid of things – you should give it a try!

2. Appreciating what I have.

Once you get remove the things that you don’t need from your home, you’re left with the things that you actually use and you can appreciate them more. I find that if I think about using the things that I actually have rather than focusing on what I don’t have, I am more thankful.

Photo 2015-11-27, 8 57 00 AM3. Celebrating progress.

As Fred and I continue to pay off our debt  (with just $21,726 left to pay out of over $95,000!) I am choosing to focus on what we have accomplished instead of being frustrated with what we still have left to pay off.

I shared on social media how we paid off my U.S. student loan last month and never wrote a full blog to commemorate it. Today I share that I am thankful that we have paid off this $22,596.75 loan in just under 5 years. (This would be over $30,200 CAD with the current exchange rate.)

This is a huge accomplishment and instead of thinking that we still have one loan left to go, I need to remember we have paid 5 out of our 6 loans. For that, I am thankful.

4. Making my Christmas gifts.

Instead of just buying something and checking something off a list, I am making the majority of our Christmas gifts this year. It reminds me how thankful I am for the person I am giving it to, rather than just giving them something that I “picked up.”  (Bonus budget tip: This is also a great way to save money as homemade gifts usually cost less if done right!)

Fred and I affectionately call these my “Christmas crafts” (inspired by Dave Ramsey telling people to “make Christmas a craft” when paying off debt.) In addition to saving money, I am actually having so much fun and am more thankful for people as I spent more time making something for them!

5. Focusing on being thankful instead of on what I don’t have. 

This is the main thing that keeps me thankful. Sometimes I look around my house and say out loud “I am thankful for my chair and couches that I didn’t pay for” or “I am thankful that I have a nice place to live.” (Side note: Our lovely ’70s couch featured in this blog’s title picture. It just seemed right.)

Just acknowledging out loud that you are thankful for something really shifts something in your heart and mind and I really believe it can change the way we view our circumstances. Feel free to give it a try today!

How do you practice thankfulness? Leave a comment below if you’d like to share with me. :) 

Confessions of a DINK

It has been 2 months and 6 days since my last post. Although you should never make excuses, mine has been summed up in one word: work.

I shared with you how Fred and I were both working full-time and how that was a new season for us. I’ve decided to share some of the pros and cons of being a (true) double income no kids (affectionately known as “DINK”) family.

Pros:

  • MONEY.  Fred and I were blown away at how both of us bringing in a full-time income allowed us to have lots of money, (most of which) went towards knocking down our debt load. We paid off a line of credit and made significant progress on my student loan (see picture).

    Here is the progress we have made on my student loan since last February. The orange strip under the blue line until the top has been paid since August - around $6,000.

    Here is the progress we have made on my student loan since last February. The orange strip under the blue line until the top has been paid since August – around $6,000.

  • Never being bored. I know that this is a bit of a new concept to people, the idea of being bored, but I will admit that sometimes it happened to me (not very often, mind you). With a full-time workload, being bored was never an issue. There was always something to feel guilty about that I was not doing.
  • Feeling important. This sounds silly, but it’s nice to feel like your life is “meaningful” and that your days “have a purpose.” I was working two part-time jobs, both of which I was passionate about, and that made me feel like my life was important.

Cons: 

  • Not much free time. When you work full-time, your days are…full. For me, having always had some days off, it meant that my weekends were used for resting and errands, and then before I knew it, Monday rolled around again. Life was…full. And not always fun.
  • Tiredness/sickness. I never thought of myself as a sickly person, but last fall I was constantly sick. My immune system was having trouble adjusting to working 40+ hours, and it seemed that working like a normal person was too much for me. I said no to a lot of things I wanted to do, and canceled a lot of plans on account of my weak immune system.
  • Having more money than time. This is an interesting concept that I have been aware of for the past few years. Sometimes, you have more time than money. Other times, you have more money than time. I have never been in that position before, and so, I did some things that seemed very foreign to me, like buying gift cards as presents instead of making something, or buying things at the store that I would normally make from scratch. It could be that I just wasn’t used to this, but I didn’t love this. I prefer to have time to do the things that save me money.

I’m intentionally reflecting on this season because once again, our season has changed. Fred and I both had 5-month teaching contracts that ended this month, and we are both substitute teaching. I am still working part-time at a non-profit, but my days are suddenly much freer. For example, today I did not get called in to teach but already had a plan for getting in my work hours, so I had the whole day to myself. After a really busy season, this made me feel guilty. Fortunately, I pushed those feelings down and had a lovely restful day (which included a nap).

We know that this new season will hold a different kind of lifestyle for us. More flexibility, more days off, less traction with our debt, and more time together. Although it’s not exactly what we had in mind when we decided to “go gazelle” and get our debt paid off, we are taking this season with expectation that it will work out just as it should. And we’re going to try to enjoy our days off, too. :)

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Contentment vs. Comparison

For most of my life, I have struggled with contentment.

I remember even back to my elementary school days, where I always wanted what I didn’t have: boys, clothes, friends, toys, you name it. This flaw has remained with me to this very day where I still compare my life to others.

I know we can all relate to this.

As wonderful as social media is, it gives us a chance, through several mediums, to compare ourselves to those we know. Pinterest sometimes makes me feel like my cooking is not good or creative enough. Facebook reminds me that I am not going through an exciting life change like many of those around me. Instagram can trick me into thinking that other people live more glorious lives than I do.

And it goes on and on. We compare.

We compare our lives, no matter how wonderful they might be, to other people. “I wish my wedding was that beautiful.” “I wish I was having a baby right now.” “I wish my meals looked like that.” “I wish I had important and funny things to say on Twitter.”

This influences the way that I view wealth as well. I have come to believe that I am poor – that I don’t have as much as other people have, and therefore, I am poor.

What a ridiculous idea.

Sure, Fred and I are still paying off debt, and sure, we don’t have as much money as other people, but there has never been a day in my life where I am lacking something that I truly need. I might want a more glamorous home or phone or car or wardrobe, but I truly have more than enough.

In those moments, I need to remind myself that I am not poor – that I have more than enough, and that comparing my life to other people’s will not make me happier.

This week I joined Instagram. Seems funny, seeing as I mentioned above how it sometimes makes me feel less glorious, but there has been a freedom in it for me. To show the parts of my life that I want to share with the world, the parts that aren’t necessarily fancy, but give a glimpse into something that gives me joy.

This week, I have the privilege of being on a trip with my job in Mexico. I am with friends that I love, and we are eating delicious things and seeing interesting sites, and that has been fun for me. Next week, I will be back home, and I want to resolve that even when I am not eating delicious food or lounging on a beach, I can still be content.

I can still be happy with my life the way it is right now – I don’t have to wait until I am debt-free or have a family or have a bigger and better [fill in the blank].

Will you join me?

Will you remember with me that contentment is better than comparison? That we can be happy where we are, with what we have, without checking to see if others have it better?

I’m going to give it a try. Worst case scenario, I can log in to Facebook and start comparing again tomorrow.

But I think more joy will come if I remember that I am truly blessed.

Get involved with the blog!

    • Leave a comment below to keep the conversation going!
    • You can also tweet me (@classyfrugality) to share your thoughts. 
    • You can now follow me on Instagram (@classyfrugality) – remember there is no need to compare – I’d love to see your life too!
    • Also, make sure to subscribe to my e-newsletter to make sure you never miss a post!

Paletas en el Centro de Villa de Alvarez (popsicles in the centre of Villa de Alvarez) #popsicles #Colima

A photo posted by Beth Brown (@classyfrugality) on

Cook Like A Mom

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get overwhelmed trying to make dinner look like a Pinterest post.

I really like Pinterest – don’t get me wrong. I love getting new ideas and seeing all of the clever DIY ideas, but I know that with our grocery budget, we value cost and health over beauty.

Growing up, my mom always made simple dinners that were delicious, healthy and cost-effective. I thought that once I started making my own meals, I could follow this example and it would be the best way to go.

That’s when I realized that not everyone cooks like my mom.Photo 2014-06-25, 6 15 35 PM

Simple casseroles, crockpot meals, and family-style dishes are all well and good, but they are certainly not very “trendy” right now. Right now it’s trendy to have tasty and creative meals that are a step below gourmet, whether or not you’re on a budget.

When I cook meals, I think about how much it costs and how many leftovers it will make. I usually never make a meal that only has 2 servings. We don’t have the time to make small meals that don’t also function as lunch for the next day.

Now that my husband and I are both working full-time (a first for us in our marriage), we need to make simple, nutritious dinners that taste good and allow us to have left-overs that are necessary to keep ourselves on budget.

My “secret” is to to make large portions and then put them into individual portions so they are all ready to go for the next day. I don’t know if you can relate, but I am often in a rush in the mornings and need to be able to throw together a lunch quickly. Having your leftovers in ready-to-go portions saves time and effort in the morning.

So that’s my secret to share with you today.

Photo 2014-06-25, 6 16 02 PMHere it is in just three easy steps:

1. Don’t try to make your meals look perfect.

2. Make large, simple meals with several portions.

3. Put in individual containers for an easy left-over.

Bing, bang, boom. A simple way to make your life (and your budget) easier!

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When Life Gives You Lemons…Count Your Lemons

My husband no longer has a job.

This wasn’t really a surprise for us, as he was told 2 months ago that he was being let go due to enrollment (he’s a teacher). We had hoped that somehow things might change and that there might be a place for him, but the end of the school year came, and the decision was final. He officially wasn’t going back to the school he’s worked at for the past four years.

Fred has been the primary breadwinner since we got married, and although I’ve been working part-time for three years (and doing lots of substitute teaching this year), he’s always out-earned me. I’ve always been fine with that – we’re definitely a team, and I have found that I do really well working part-time and managing the home part-time.

Now things are going to change.

Life will look different than we planned: I’ll be working more, Fred will be substitute teaching and maybe doing some other work on the side, and our traditional roles in the home are likely going to shift a bit. Life has certainly panned out differently than we hoped or planned.

You know, I hate that old expression “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” because it implies that the only thing you can do when you get thrown a curve ball in life is to simply to try and hope to make something delicious out of it. I think there’s another approach.

The news that our biggest source of income being lost should have made me feel scared. It should have made me freak out and worry about how we’re going to eat and pay the bills.

Fortunately, thanks to Dave Ramsey and the advice we picked up out of his book The Total Money Makeover and the principles he teaches, we were prepared. We already knew that Fred’s contract ended in June, so we’ve been saving for 6 months to make sure we had money to live off of in the summer.

We also have a little emergency fund of $1,000 in the bank, just in case (click here to read another story about how having money in the bank saved us from financial drama), which makes me feel extra secure. On top of that, I have a part-time, short-term contract starting in August teaching grade 6, which combined with my other part-time job as a Communications Coordinator, keeps us fed and paying the bills until Christmas. 

So the biggest thing that happened when Fred got this news was that we were emotionally disappointed that he was leaving a job he loved, and really grateful that we had savings.

No drama. No fights. No staying up all night wondering if we’ll make it.

Life gave us lemons, we counted our lemons, and we know we are going to be just fine. 

Want to respond from your own personal experience? 

  • Leave me a comment below to share about a time in your life that you were thrown a curve ball 
  • You can also tweet me (@classyfrugality) to share your thoughts!

Also, make sure to subscribe to my e-newsletter to make sure you never miss a post!

*Disclaimer: This post contains an Amazon Affiliate link. That means that if you use this link to buy the book that I talked about, I’ll get a little something to support the blog and our journey to becoming debt-free. No pressure to use it, I just wanted to warn you! Also, I was not compensated in any way to discuss this product – I just really like it.* 

Ode to 27

Yesterday was my 27th birthday.

In some ways, I feel old, in other ways I feel really young. I think I’ve learned a lot over my life, and so for you today I have 27 things that I have learned in my lifetime. (I’ve grouped them into different categories for your convenience.)

Ready? Here we go. 

 

Money

1. Most money is just numbers on a paper (ex. your bank account balance) or theory (ex. your house may be “worth” $500,000, but unless someone buys it, you won’t have $500,000 in your pocket).

2. Budgets really do make you feel like you’re in more control, not the other way around. Seriously.

3. Credit cards are not evil, but even people with the best intentions can get conned by the marketing scheme. (Including Fred and me!)

4. Making more money seems exciting, but once you have more, it’s just more responsibility.

5. There is nothing you can buy that is more satisfying than paying off the debt that you owe. 

 

Kitchen

6. Never microwave coffee tumblers, especially ones that are metal (they will spark).

7. Mold grows the opposite colour of the of the food it’s on (ex. green mold on white bread so you can see it).

8. Rice does not freeze well. It tastes really mealy – not worth it.

9. Making things from scratch almost always saves money, and it tastes better (ex. chocolate chip cookies).

10.  Lemon juice cleans rust off of knives. 

 

Work

11. Doing what is expected of you doesn’t set you apart: you need to do more than is expected to be noticed.

12. It’s always better to over-dress than under-dress.

13.  Always plan to arrive early, especially for a job interview. Chances are you’ll be running a bit behind, and with that extra buffer, you’ll never be late. (And if you’re like me, it allows time to get lost if you’re headed to a new place.)

14. Talking to and becoming friends with your co-workers is important. Building relationships with them shows that you work well with others, and helps you enjoy your work time more.

15. Working somewhere just for the money isn’t enough to keep you there. If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, quit. It might be harder in the moment, but in the long run, you’ll be happier and more fulfilled.

 

Marriage

16. Being married does not always mean you’ll be happy. 

17. Being married means that you’ll always have someone to talk to – even if you don’t like them all of the time.

18. It’s not helpful to have “his” and “hers” money – it creates division and secrecy (except for personal spending money, and only when you both know about the amount).

19. It’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate.

20. Don’t compare yourself to other couples – it will make you unhappy. Your relationship is what it is – work with what you have.

 

Community

21. Friendships are stronger when you fight and work through things instead of ignoring the issues.

22. It’s important to celebrate milestones with people you’re close to – it builds community.

23. Every member of a community needs to be “all in” and trust the people around them for it to be truly meaningful and transformative. 

 

Random

24. Mason jars are the most versatile containers in the world. You can use them for almost a million things (candles, juice, leftovers, bathroom supplies, craft supplies, flowers, salads, and many more things).

25. Always bring a snack with you. You never know when you’re going to need one.

26. Flossing your teeth every day will save you hundreds (or thousands) in the long run because it will prevent cavities. (Trust me, I speak from super personal experience when I say this. Flossing saves money!)

27. Age is just a number. Your year of life is what you make it, and is not defined by your age category. 

 

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Conventional Celebration

IMG_8432

Having fun at our wedding 4 years ago

Today is Fred and I’s 4th anniversary. 

I’m currently sitting on a couch, watching Gilmore Girls and wearing my pajamas, and Fred is at a mandatory event at the school he works at. Some people might look at this situation and think “That’s so sad! Why aren’t you celebrating? I can’t believe you’re alone on your anniversary.”

But I’ve never been happier. 

We learned at a marriage retreat that year four is the most common year for divorce in Canada. Although it’s never been a real threat for our marriage, I feel like we have reached a significant milestone.

Last night we went out for dinner to celebrate our anniversary and my birthday (which is tomorrow). We budgeted $80 for this dinner. I took it out with the rest of our cash for the month and put it aside so it would be there for our celebration.

As we were deciding where we wanted to eat to celebrate these two events, I said, “I don’t want to spend $80 on dinner. I’d rather put it on debt.” 

We took $40 and put it on the line of credit we hope to pay off by August (or at least by the end of 2014). We then took $30 and went to White Spot, where we enjoyed a simple meal. I got fish and chips, Fred got a burger and a salad, and we shared (the salad was for me – we split the fries because they’re endless).

Photo 2014-05-27, 6 55 17 PM

Post-anniversary dinner last night

It wasn’t fancy, but it was great. We came home, ate a dessert that I had made the day before, and spent the evening together. It was perfect. We loved having a night together to just hang out, and we realized that didn’t need to spend $80 to celebrate and enjoy each other’s company.

This whole experience really caused me to think about our society’s expectations for celebrating milestones in our lives.

I want to know when we decided as a society that staying together for another year can only marked by a fancy dinner, a vacation, or a huge gift.

Now I know that not everyone believes this, but I somehow had this in my mind that as a married woman, I needed to do a good job every year on this day by planning something fancy, buying a gift, or spending lots of money. I felt like a bad spouse when I realized that this isn’t what our anniversaries would like look as we were trying to get out of debt (or maybe ever).

I think the celebration should happen every day in the small moments: when you forgive each other even when you don’t want to, when you see each other every day and still want to spend time together, and when you make your budget for the month and it feels like a party because you’re on the same page.

I’m happy. My husband and I still like each other, we believe in the same things, we’re working together when it comes to our money, and we’re committed to each other. What dinner, or other conventional method of celebration for an anniversary, could encapsulate and properly honor all of that? 

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