I've finally organized most of my posts by categories and they're now all in one place and easy to find. Click here to go to the archives!
I've had my blog for three years now! I never finish anything so I'm pretty happy I've stuck with it this long, ha. But I also know that if I don't process my life and musings by writing them down, I will go crazy. So even if nobody reads my stuff, I have needed this blog more than anyone!
Thanks everyone! :)
We don’t have health insurance.
However, we do have pretty much every emergency or maternity need provided for, 100%, directly from actual people.
The picture above is what that looks like in light of my recent ER and maternity bills: sweet cards and notes from individuals and families that I’ve never met, each accompanied with a check, all of which add up to almost exactly what my hospital and midwife statements are asking of me.
Additionally, each month instead of writing a check to an insurance company, I’m writing a check and making a card for people, with names.
I wanted to make a post about Samaritan Ministries, our alternative to health insurance, because I am incredibly impressed with this company and I wish we would’ve signed up earlier, before we had to pay $6000 out-of-pocket for medical expenses in 2012. For many of you, this might be a really good plan for you too. This isn’t a “sponsored post” and I don’t expect to make any money off of this; I’m just genuinely grateful for Samaritan and I want my friends to know about it!
Here’s how it works:
At the beginning of each month, I get a nice thick envelope from Samaritan Ministries. Enclosed is a member newsletter (which actually has really interesting and helpful articles therein), a prayer guide, and the name, need, and address of a family to whom I am specifically assigned to send an encouraging note and our check.
No matter how many kids we have, our monthly cost (they call it our monthly “share”) is the same for our whole family, and it was much less when my husband and I were under 25 years old. You can view the pricing here, but I am extremely pleased with our amount each month and I think the other pricing scales are fair too.
[Update November 2017]: Samaritan recently announced a new, much more affordable kind of membership called Samaritan Basic. In our case, the monthly share is half what we're paying now. The difference is that they only cover needs above $1500 (as opposed to $300 with the Samaritan Classic plan), so it's significantly cheaper per month but for minor bills you're still on your own. It also covers 90% instead of 100% of your bills, up to $5000 for maternity needs, and $236,500 is the maximum you can be covered. We are seriously considering this option for our own family to bring down our monthly bills.
One month I might send my share to a family in Wyoming whose daughter broke her leg. The next month I might send my share to a widower in Delaware who just had hip surgery. The next month I might be assigned to a family in California expecting a baby. One month out of the year I send a check directly to Samaritan Ministries, and that’s how they cover administrative expenses.
So let's say I have a publishable need. For example: this June when I was on vacation I went to the ER twice for strep throat, and I almost fell over in shock when I received the bills in the mail.
I called Samaritan and told them about it. The person on the other end of the phone prayed with me, submitted the information, and a few days later I received the paperwork in the mail.
I had to send some things such as an itemized bill, papers signed by Peter and I and one of our pastors, etc.
Then, a month or two after that, other Samaritan members are given my name, need, and address in their newsletter, and they respond. The checks and cards start coming in and we are reimbursed for our bills. (Some we already paid, some we were waiting to pay until we received the checks.)
I honestly didn’t know I would smile so much when it came to paying for health bills, but it’s truly a process that leads me in worship of Jesus.
One downside is that routine checkups, dental, and pre-existing conditions (including pregnancy that you already knew about before becoming a member) are not considered publishable needs. However, there’s no “deductible.” If a need costs more than $300, it is publishable up to $250,000. Unless the need isn’t publishable according to Samaritan’s guidelines---or in the rare case that there are more needs than shares and the money you need has to be prorated by a small percentage---you should expect to get 100% of the medical bill paid for by Samaritan. That’s really good.
How can this all work? I thought the website says it really well. And please know that Samaritan is a Christian ministry so you do have to be committed to Jesus and have your pastor sign a paper in agreement that this is true of you. This is taken from page 9 of their guidelines:
When the doctor asks for my insurance card and I say “I don’t have insurance”, the bill is given a significant discount because insurance companies are charged inflated rates. By the way, Samaritan members aren't fined for violating the Affordable Care Act, because there is an exception in the rules for healthcare-sharing ministries such as Samaritan (see the FAQ here.) I also like that I know my monthly share isn’t going towards medical issues I find deplorable.
I’ll admit I was skeptical of Samaritan because I was afraid the company would be overly anti-establishmentarian and offering poor quality just because they know people are desperate.
On the contrary, I have been so impressed with Samaritan’s professionalism, and I’ve found almost everything that’s written about the Lord to be worshipful and Christ-centered. Each month’s newsletter even includes a prayer guide for the persecuted church! So I love that I can trust the people on the board, and I back their decisions. Several times we’ve even had a reduced monthly share because there were fewer needs than there were monthly shares. That shows integrity and care on behalf of the administration and I really appreciate it.
[Update November 2017]: I'm only becoming more impressed with this company. They are always growing in efficiency and innovation, and the website is extremely easy to use. This year, I was able to publish a need and sort out all the paperwork without having to talk to anyone on the phone or mail anything in. It's all done easily through the website and taking pictures with my phone. I am always becoming more impressed.
So that’s Samaritan! You probably have lots of questions so I ask that you read the Member Guidelines and the FAQ. When looking into our insurance options, I spent a good bit of time taking notes and really processing everything before we made our decision, but after I read all the information on Samaritan's website, talked to a representative on the phone, and discussed it with Peter, it was a very easy decision to make. We know families who have been with Samaritan for over a decade, and they are pleased.
I’m really grateful for Samaritan Ministries and---especially since our family is growing pretty quickly so far---I don’t think we will be able to find a better option. And I see no need to. I love Samaritan! :)
November 2017 update: We've been members for about four years now and I still love Samaritan! For this post I updated our monthly share cost and I hope all the other information is still accurate as well.
From my series on frugality: in my first post I shared some principles and tips for surviving on a small budget, in my second post I shared tips for saving money when buying groceries and eating out, and in this article I hope to give some tips for vacation.
Sure, you can survive without ever taking a vacation or stay-cation; until the past few centuries, hardly anyone could afford to leave home on a yearly basis, but now travel is much cheaper so we can go for it! Don't be a slave to wanderlust, but remember there is much value in taking time to celebrate, rest, recharge, and make memories. One book I’ve read, Disciplines of a Godly Family by Kent Hughes, even considers family vacations a spiritual discipline. Whether you care about your spirituality or not, I think everyone agrees vacations are a really good idea.
However, vacations can be so expensive and might not seem doable with your budget. So here are some principles and tips for making them cheap. (By the way, that year that we made less than $20,000, we were still able to afford a cruise and a road trip!)
Here are two principles to remember followed by some tips. Since I only have four years’ experience of planning family vacations, I’m still learning and growing in this area so I would love to hear some tips from readers!
1. Be Flexible With Your Schedule and Arrangements
Don’t be a typical tourist! If you’re willing to be flexible with your situation and especially your schedule, you can save a ton of money.
Here are some ways that fleshes out:
When You Go
-Oftentimes prices are much cheaper in off-peak season, and it’s impossible to measure how much more enjoyable your experience will be without the crowds.
Here’s an example: A 3-Day Park Hopper to Disney World is $235 per ticket. If you’re a Florida resident, you can get a weekday pass to all four parks for the whole year (minus some block-out dates during the busiest times) for $239.63. And chances are you’ll have enough time to actually go on a lot of rides because the lines are significantly shorter during the week than on weekdays and summertime.
-Cruises are significantly cheaper in May, August, September, or mid-December because students are finishing up the semester or it’s hurricane season. I’ve been on twelve or so cruises with my parents and they’ve all been during these time slots. Sure, I’ve missed the first and last day of school before, and yes, my first cruise was during Hurricane Katrina so we had to be re-routed, but it was all worth it. :)
Side note on cruises: Royal Caribbean is far superior than Carnival and it’s worth it to pay a tiny bit more for a much better experience. Subscribe to their emails because they occasionally have “Kids Sail Free” promotions, which saves a ton.
-If you check for plane tickets on Google Flights, you’ll be able to see not only when flights are cheapest by a helpful bar graph, but if you look on the map you can see where flights are cheapest…plus they compare the prices and schedules of most airlines. I’ve found round-trip flights to Denver for $116 and to DC for $50.
Where You Stay
-Sure, go to a famous destination (such as Washington, D.C., for example) but that doesn’t mean you need to stay in a $300+/night hotel. If you use a site like Air BnB (use a friend’s link for $25 off!), you can rent out someone’s whole apartment in a good part of town for around $100/night. If you’re willing to stay in a room at someone’s house or you’re okay with being a little further from the most popular areas, you can find a room for cheaper, and maybe breakfast will even be provided. :)
Note: I can't guarantee a perfect experience using this site. Our most recent Air BnB host was not very hospitable and the listing was a little misleading, but we still think it was worth it because the location was so awesome and definitely 1/3 of the price it would've been if we stayed in a hotel in the same part of town.
-You can also use Groupon Getaways, Amazon Destinations, Living Social, Travelzoo, etc. to find deals on rooms that could be half off or more. The catch is you might have to go only during a certain window of time (and possibly last-minute) so, as stated earlier, if you can be flexible with your schedule you’ll save a lot of money.
-If you’re going to more of a nature-destination (ie Smokey Mountains) as opposed to a city or theme park, consider camping (which could be free) or staying in a cabin. This is especially a good deal if you’re going with other people and you can split the cost. For example, you can stay at a cabin in Red River Gorge, KY (which is amazing) that sleeps 8 for $125/night plus tax and a $35 cleaning fee. That includes a stocked kitchen and a hot tub on the back deck. If you split that with one or two families---or several single friends---it’s quite a fair price :)
2. Live Like a Local
-Buy groceries and bring Ziploc bags. Agreed, no one wants to cook while on vacation, and if you can afford to eat out for most of your vacation, some of your favorite memories might happen in the fun local eateries.
But if you’re able to have a little bit of self-control and bypass the $8 Dippin Dots till you get back to the room, for example, your whole family can feast on the $4 half-gallon of ice cream you bought at the grocery store.
If you spend $5 on a pack of water bottles and freeze them before you go out for the day, you’ll have cold water bottles whenever you need one and you won’t have to pay $3.50 per bottle.
If you plan just a tiny bit ahead and wash and pack some Ziploc bags full of grapes before you start your day, you’ll have a refreshing snack waiting for you and you won’t have to pay ridiculous prices for the same thing at a food kiosk.
And if you are willing to cook a bit while on vacation---this is another benefit of staying somewhere through Air BnB, because you can have access to a full kitchen---you’ll save a ton of money by making a simple breakfast and packing sandwiches and snacks for your day so you won’t have to buy overpriced and poor-quality meals while you’re on your day’s adventures.
If you don’t have a rental car or way of getting to the store, you can use a site like Instacart to choose what you want and someone will deliver the groceries to you. Use a friend’s link (here's mine) and your first delivery will be free plus you’ll get $10 to spend from whichever store you choose---even Whole Foods or Costco---and they can deliver in under an hour!
Even if you use Groupon and other deal sites locally, you might not think of using it when you’re out of town. Set your location to wherever your destination is and check out what kind of deals you can find!
This summer we visited Linville, NC, because we wanted to see Grandfather Mountain. I was a little bummed that admission was $20 a person, but then I found a Groupon that cost $20 admission for two people. I also used a 20% off coupon code and got some cashback from Ebates so I ended up paying quite a bit less than half the price.
Remember you can also eat out using Groupons!
-Talk to and read from locals.
If you can go to a place where a friend has lived at some point, you can get the insider tips and save a lot of money. You can also try to find the personal blogs of locals (Pinterest has helped me find these), which might be immensely more helpful than the typical travel sites. Also, once you arrive at your destination, try to find the locals and ask them for tips.
For example, I just went to Washington, D.C. and the popular thing to do is take an Old Town Trolley to see the sights (online sale price is $39/person for two days of hop on/hop off.) But the locals told me to take the DC Circulator, a pleasant public bus which literally costs $1 per person for two hours of hopping on and off around the National Mall (or any of the other circuits.) Sure, it wasn't narrated like the Trolley tour, but next time I will study beforehand so I can offer an informative tour of my own to the family.
Hopefully some of these tips can help! Now go take a vacation and don't go into debt over it :)
In the first post in this series I shared about how my husband and I thrived off less than $20k in our first year of marriage, and how one of the main reasons we were able to do that is because we learned how not to feel entitled to a high standard of living.
Today I’m going to talk about some tips I've learned for saving money when shopping for groceries and eating out.
Grocery Shopping Tips
-Consolidate errands by planning ahead. If you have several lists going of what you need and from which store, you’ll save so much on gas and time by visiting stores only when you were going that way anyway or if you had a bunch of errands planned for one place.
-You will save so much money by planning the week's meals before you leave to get your groceries because you’ll tend to cook foods with ingredients you already have. Meal-planning sites like Grocery Shrink Plus can be a great help since they tell you exactly what to make and what groceries to buy, so the $5/month subscription should definitely pay for itself if you stick with it.
-I don’t recommend extreme couponing. Grocery coupons are usually for processed foods or chemical products you either don’t actually need or can get cheaper from Costco or Amazon.
-However, I recommend getting a newspaper subscription for using coupons such as $5 off $40 at Publix or $10 off $20 at Smokey Bones. Wait until Groupon or Living Social is offering a deal on newspaper subscriptions; for example, I got 52 weeks of the Tampa Tribune (Sunday-only) for only $17. Since there’s a $2 off Publix or $5 off GFS coupon almost every week, it pays for itself very quickly. Plus I get to read the comics :)
-Eating fresh and healthy foods will save you money on medicine and doctor’s bills later. At first when I realized we were trying to save money on groceries, I thought that meant we would buy a lot of canned foods. However, eating fresh and whole foods is so much better for our bodies and we almost never get sick. We’re therefore happier, more productive, and almost never have to buy medicine or go to the doctor. Of course you don’t want to be adding laws to your life and obsessing over something as temporary as your body, but the principle of delayed gratification is worth remembering as well.
When I go to the store, I look at the conveyor belt and ask myself, “Is this mostly stuff I couldn’t have made by myself?” Admit it, it’s cheaper and healthier to make your own pancake mix. It almost costs nothing to make stuff like that yourself. (Confession: I do buy pancake mix now that I can afford it, ha!) However, I’m not sure if you can make your own peanut butter or orange juice for cheaper than buying it at the store. And as cheap and delicious as it is to make your own bread, know for yourself how much time in the kitchen you can handle. Time with Jesus and people is more important. Now that I have more wiggle room in how much I can spend on food, there are many items I’m willing to buy or shortcuts I’ll take so I have more time to spend on more important things, like people.
-Bulk stores can save you so much money.
I strongly prefer Costco, but if you don’t live near one, Sam’s can suffice. You can sometimes find a great Groupon or Living Social deal on a Sam’s membership. GFS doesn’t require a membership and they provide food and supplies for restaurants, so their prices and quality are great. However, sometimes the quantities are just too large for one person/family.
As you shop at bulk stores, you’ll figure out what quantities of food you can handle before it goes bad, but bulk stores are almost definitely the place to buy:
Aldi sells groceries for cheap. They’re able to have such low prices because they sell their own brand of foods and cut corners in a lot of places (shopping bags are not free and if you want your cart back, you have to return it yourself!) I will admit that sometimes their food’s quality is sub-par, but their policy is to refund your money and replace the item if you’re not satisfied, so feel free to experiment and see what’s good.
Amazon Subscribe-and-Save offers many desirable products (household goods, personal items, dry goods, etc.) with a Subscribe-and-Save discount. This means that if you subscribe to the item and get it regularly (you can choose whether you get them monthly, bi-monthly, twice-yearly, etc., but they only ship once a month) you will get a pretty decent discount.
Here’s where the money-saving really happens: if you have 5 or more subscriptions in a month, everything in that order is 15% off. Plus, they often offer good coupons on the items.
I buy my whole wheat spaghetti 16 boxes at a time this way. This is also how I buy my makeup, vitamins, etc.
A Note on Publix:
As much as I trashed Publix in comparison to Costco, I shop at Publix often and like supporting businesses that are run well. However, when we had less money I shopped at Walmart Supercenter for items I couldn’t get from Costco because it is significantly cheaper. Also keep in mind that usually the Publix BOGO’s are on “foods” such as Toaster Strudels and Ritz Crackers that you can probably go without anyway :)
I will again emphasize that if you are in financial crisis, try as hard as you can to avoid eating out because it really will sap up the money you do have.
Also, if you can’t afford to tip well, you still can’t afford to eat out.
However, if you are eating out, you probably never have to pay full price. Here are some tips:
-Create an extra email address for “spam.” Use this email address to sign up for emails from restaurants and retail websites.
-Use unroll.me to consolidate all the spam emails of your choice into one daily email. This way the coupons and deals are there if you want them, but you don’t have to see them every day. For example, if I’m going to get Papa John’s or Outback, I will search my email for their most recent coupon, but I don’t want my inbox flooded by them every day.
-Hey It’s Free has a great list of stores and restaurants that will give you coupons for free or BOGO stuff on your birthday. Plus you often get something free just for signing up :)
-Use deal sites for local restaurants! I love getting 50% off deals from Groupon, Living Social, Double Take Offers, and Amazon Local. Yipit has a lot of the deals from those sites all in the same place. In the Tampa area we also have a local site called CLDeals.com. I try to wait until the deal site offers a coupon (it’s not unusual to find an additional 30% off code for local deals), plus I also use Ebates (feel free to use my link to sign up!), which might even give me 12% cash back from sites like Groupon or LS.
-Around Christmastime and Graduation Time (May), restaurants often offer deals such as "Buy $100 in gift cards, Get $25 back." This is a great deal (especially since you can still use coupons in conjunction with gift cards!) but make sure the bonus money is in gift cards, which don’t expire, not a bonus card, which might give you a one-week window to use or have a minimum purchase (lame!)
-Be no slave to soda. Learn to drink water (request a lemon if you need to.) But remember to tip your server well and don't be a freeloader!
-Kids meals are generally ripoffs because you’re paying for a tiny portion of food, a sugary drink, a yogurt, and, like, five grapes. We prefer to buy an extra adult-sized entree to feed to the kids (which is usually the same price or less than 2 kids meals but offers significantly more food) then we even get leftovers to take home!
Some tips on packing lunches:
-You will save so much money by packing lunches.
Before we were married I discovered that if Peter didn't pack his lunch, that usually meant he wouldn't eat that day. He did this partly to save money, partly because he didn't want fast food, and partly because he was so busy working that he didn't want to have to stop to buy anything. Though being that extreme might not be helpful, it showed me the benefits of packing lunches and I found that building discipline in that area really communicated love to him.
-Cheese sticks are great for lunches but they can be pricey; save money by buying an enormous block of cheese, cutting it into bricks, then wrapping the bricks with shrink wrap and putting them in the freezer. Do this while watching a movie or something :)
-When you can, divvy out your own portions instead of buying single-serving packages. I've figured out that I can save a lot of money by buying a very large container of yogurt and giving the family yogurt from there as needed, mixing in a spoonful of jelly. This is so much cheaper than buying individual cups and I have more control over what ingredients they're getting.
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today