How to move on a budget

movingThe only thing worse than packing up all your belongings and moving them somewhere new is figuring out how to pay for it. New rentals usually require security deposits, moving supplies can get expensive, and don’t even get me started on how much money it costs to pay someone to lug your boxes to your new digs.

Moving is stressful enough without draining your bank account. I just moved about 800 miles from Missouri to Colorado to start a new job.

Here are some of the ways I cut down on moving expenses:


Moving boxes are such a racket. When you’re stressed, it’s easy to get suckered into dropping money on cardboard boxes, which can cost about $1 a piece. Buy enough boxes to hold literally all of your possessions, and the cost can get out of hand fast.

What to do instead: Hit up local stores and ask for their old boxes. Produce and liquor boxes work well because they are designed to hold heavy loads. Make sure you start looking for boxes early in your packing process. I had to run to the grocery and liquor stores on several different days to get all the boxes I needed.


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Depending on how far you’re moving, you’ll need to decide whether the cost of moving your items outweighs their value.

In my case, getting rid of some of my stuff meant saving hundreds of dollars on gas and a rental truck. I fit all my belongings in a trailer I could pull behind my car, rather than renting a much more expensive moving truck and towing my car down 800 miles of I-70. I calculated the cost, and it would have cost me more money to move my bed and used armoire than it would to replace the items when I got to Colorado. So I sold them both in Missouri and saved the cost of moving them and got some extra money to help cover my other expenses.

In addition to selling the bed and armoire to save space, I also unloaded shoes, clothes and a TV I didn’t use anymore. It made packing all my stuff easier, and it gave me a little extra spending cash at a time when I desperately needed it.


There is probably no time in your life you’ll be less nostalgic then when you’re trying to stuff all of your keepsakes into cardboard boxes, but don’t go too crazy when you’re downsizing.

It’s helpful to keep small, easy-to-pack items so you don’t have to restock completely when you get to your new place. I made sure to keep a lot of household items such as cleaning supplies, pantry items and pet supplies. These things won’t take up much room, and replacing them can be surprisingly expensive. Make sure that you’re keeping most of the things you’ll need to get your new home set up so you can avoid dropping a bunch of cash on little things you threw out to avoid packing.


pivotHiring moving help is incredibly expensive. I asked for bids from several moving companies just to see how much it would cost me, and all of them quoted me at thousands of dollars. Instead, offer to buy your friends a nice meal and some beer in exchange for their help. It will save you a ton of money. Of course, you have to return the favor the next time they need someone to help cart boxes up the stairs.



Cheap, last-minute Valentine’s Day ideas

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Hey, procrastinators. You are not alone. February flew by, and Valentine’s Day came up fast this year. But the important thing is to stay calm and not panic.


Good, because I have some nice, affordable ideas for you and your boo. As we all know, nothing says romance like being practical.


Estimated cost: $20 (buy cheap vodka, guys. It’s going into a sauce)

Everyone likes having a nice dinner cooked for them, and this dish is beautiful and red, making it perfect for Valentine’s Day. This recipe by Rachael Ray is amazing and so very delicious. Shout out to my former roommate Courtney Ledo for changing my life by introducing it to me. This recipe is also vegetarian so it will work even if you or your SO don’t eat meat.

You’ll need:

  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 cup of vodka
  • Chicken stock (using bullion makes this a bit cheaper)
  • 32 ounces of crushed tomatoes
  • 16 ounces of pasta (costs about $1)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 20 fresh basil leaves

Follow the instructions on the recipe link, and enjoy an inexpensive, but non-terrible wine with your Valentine’s Day feast. Here are Instagrand’s wine recommendations. I suggest a red wine with this dish.



Estimated cost: $5-10

Things you need:

  • Glitter (because, duh)
  • 1 poster board
  • Glue
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Scissors
  • A camera or a field trip to a photo booth

Go to the craft store and get some a poster board or two and turn them into photo booth props. I think the best props are fun shapes that you can hold in front of you. For Valentine’s Day, lips and hearts work well, but it works as long as it’s something you like and think is cute. You can also make a sign with your names, significant dates (anniversaries or funny quotes and inside jokes)

You can find a photo booth at a mall near you or take the pictures yourself. Just make sure you set up a nice backdrop and good light first.

Here’s a website I found with some great ideas for props.

Shout out to coworker and Internet genius Matt Cavanah for this idea.


Estimated cost: $0

Mix tapes are a great way to share music you love with someone you care about. Instead of making a literal mix tape, just create a playlist and share it on whatever service you use. Just don’t overthink it. Pick songs you enjoy or songs that the two of you have enjoyed together. Have you been to any fun concerts together? Include that music. What about soundtrack songs from  movies you both love? Also great.

THE HOME THEATER EXPERIENCE (Movie with wine and fancy snacks)

Estimated cost: $10-$15

Stay at home and watch a movie you have both been anxious to see. Elevate the experience with one of those bottles of wine Instagrand has recommended over and over again. Make some tasty snacks you can enjoy at home. I suggest popcorn (which you should already have in your pantry), and spice it up a bit. It is Valentine’s Day, after all. Here are some recipes for flavored popcorn.

If you really want to get fancy, buy some goat cheese, salami and crackers and have yourself a full-on wine and cheese night.

It’s better than a theater because you can snuggle on the couch, you don’t have to deal with feral Valentine’s Day crowds, and can enjoy a glass of wine (or two) with your movie.


The easiest way to make your road trip cheaper

As you’re reading this, I am likely driving somewhere on a highway between Memphis and New Orleans. And you better believe I’m not wasting my money at fast food drive-thrus on the way.

We’ve already gone over what a waste of money fast food is, but it’s hard enough to resist the greasy temptation during the workweek. When you’re traveling, it can be almost impossible.

Until now.

One of the best habits I’ve developed since starting to travel as an adult is leaving with a cooler packed full of meals and snacks. Before this trip, I ran to the grocery store and spent $16, the price of about two fast food meals, and got enough food to have snacks, breakfast and lunch for the whole trip. THE WHOLE TRIP, Y’ALL. FOR $16!!!!!06-Cynthia-Hair-Flip

This doesn’t mean I’m not going to eat out at all on the trip. In fact, I’ll be damned if I’m not going to eat buckets of delicious Cajun food in New Orleans. But, instead of eating three mediocre meals a day at a fast food restaurant, I can save on breakfast and lunch and then eat a dinner out wherever I want.

It makes me feel like I can enjoy my trip more and spend my money where it counts.

For about $16, I got:

  • A loaf of sliced whole wheat bread
  • Sliced cheese
  • Two containers of lunch meat
  • A bag of clementines
  • A bunch of bananas
  • Cheese sticks

From my pantry, I brought:

  • Applesauce
  • Peanut butter
  • A bag of almonds

All this means have tons of snacks, sandwiches, peanut butter toast for breakfast, etc. and I can save my money for way more fun things than fast food.


What are some of your favorite money-saving travel tips?

CHEAP EATS: $2.50 chicken burrito bowls

I made this tasty meal last night, and my house still smells like tasty Tex Mex. I’m so happy. The ingredients in burrito bowls aren’t that expensive, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to enjoy them at home without spending a ton of money. Here is what you need to make Chicken burrito bowls (with guacamole!!!), and have enough for about 5 servings. This makes a great packed lunch to take to work and help spare you the temptation of eating out.

This isn’t quite as cheap as last week’s $1, but it’s still a pretty good deal when you consider that this would cost you ten times as much at a fast food restaurant. The total cost comes out to about $2.60 a serving. As always, if the meal isn’t big enough, feel free to add more food. The cheapest way to make this meal bigger is to add more rice.

  • Chicken tenderloins (I got 1.49 pounds for $4.46)
  • 2-3 cups uncooked rice (about $1)
  • Black beans, canned or raw (about $1)
  • Two avocados ($1.40 at Aldi)
  • Lemon $0.35 at Aldi
  • Cilantro ( about $1.50)
  • Salsa (you can make your own for less, but I was being lazy. About $2)
  • Block of cheese (about $1.50)
  • Seasonings from around the house $0

Total cost: $13.21

Per serving (assuming 5): $2.64

This basically means that for the price of getting one and a half burritos with guacamole at Chipotle, you can make five.

How to make it

  1. Cut the chicken into cubes and cook in a pan on the stove. I seasoned mine with a lot of chili powder, garlic, onion powder, celery salt and black pepper.
  2. While the chicken is going, start the rice in a sauce pan. When it’s done cooking squeeze the lemon (or lime) juice over it. Salt it, and mix in some chopped cilantro.
  3. Mash the avocados and add lemon juice, garlic, some chopped onion if you have it and salt and pepper.
  4. Cook the black beans
  5. Shred the cheese
  6. Assemble your delicious burrito bowl, and enjoy.

PACKING TIP:If you’re taking this for lunch, keep the guacamole and salsa separate. That when when you heat up the burrito, you can keep those ingredients cold, they way they are supposed to taste. Mix them in after the meal is warm.

Easy ways to save money on laundry

IMG_0625 (1).JPGIf there is anything that living in apartments with coin-operated laundry has taught me, it’s that washing and drying clothes can get pretty expensive pretty fast. If you’re doing multiple loads, you can end up spending $20 or more a month on laundry. 

Reducing the number of laundry loads you do each week will help you cut this cost dramatically

Here are some of my favorite (easy) habits that help me cut down laundry costs:

Hang your clothes up as soon as you’re done wearing them

If you’re like me and work an office job, most of your outfits can get at least two wears out of them, but only if you don’t toss them in a hamper (or, you know, on your floor) when you get home from work. Hanging your clothes up after a wear will help keep them wrinkle-free and smelling fresh. Doing this basically cut my weekly laundry load in half, which saved me about $5 a week.

Mix and match

If you are the type of person who worries about wearing the same outfit twice in one week, you can always change up your clothes by mixing and matching and adding new accessories. For example, I have a black dress I like to wear to work a lot, but I will usually change it up by adding a belt, jewelry and sometimes a scarf or pashmina. This is a way to feel like you have a new outfit without having to get another piece of clothing dirty. You can also do this with any other piece of basic clothing such as a blazer, pants or a dress shirt.

Check the machine size

Many laundromats will have a few extra large washing machines. This could allow you to combine two small loads of laundry and save the cost of running a load.

Bring your own detergent and fabric softener

The stuff they sell at the laundromat is ridiculously overpriced. Like scam-level overpriced. Buy your own, pack it in a small container and take it to the laundromat.

On that note, use the high efficiency detergents

Most washers use less water than they used to, and these soaps are designed for that. A little bit of this detergent goes a long way, meaning you won’t have to buy it as often. Also make sure that you are measuring how much detergent you use. Otherwise it’s easy to use too much detergent, which leaves residue on your clothes and means you end up buying it twice as often.

Pick up!

I am one of those people who tries on three outfits before I go to work. If I hang them back up, no harm done. But if I crumple them up and toss them onto the floor, I have to wash clothes I didn’t even wear. That’s ridiculous. Don’t be like me.

Dryer sheets

You can put these in your pockets (while the clothes are hanging in your closet and not on your body) to give them a little bit of that freshly washed smell.

CHEAP EATS: Delicious, $1 lunch every day of the week

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Eating lunch out is a sneaky expense that can cost you a lot before you even realize what’s happened. $5 here, $8 there doesn’t seem like a big deal, but eat out three times a week, and it’s easy to get over $100 a month just on fast food for lunch. That’s more than a grand a year on mediocre food that’s really not worth the splurge.

I like to think of myself as a person who packs lunch, but if I’m a little late for work, that all goes out the window. Unless, of course, I’ve planned ahead.

One of my favorite thrifty tricks is picking an easy meal I can cook ahead of time and take for lunch every day for a week. This way I don’t have to scramble to hack something together at 7 a.m. come Monday morning.

There is nothing more satisfying than waking up and remembering you’ve already done something to take care of yourself that day.

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Roasted drumsticks and a salad are a favorite go-to lunch for me, and the total cost ends up being less than $1 per meal, assuming you have a few basic ingredients in your pantry.

Here’s what you need:

  • Chicken drumsticks (a package of 9 cost me $3.34 at Aldi)
  • Spinach or mixed greens for salad (about $2.50)
  • Salad dressing (I made my own using ingredients I had in the house. You can do this or use whatever dressing you have on hand. $0)
  • Any other vegetables you have that you want to use up. (I had some green onions and cherry tomatoes that I threw into the salad. You don’t need this, but it’s a good way to put ingredients to use)
  • Seasonings you have around and think would go well with chicken. This week, I used celery salt, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and chili powder.

TOTAL COST: $5.84 (which for me, includes enough drumsticks for two weeks)


  • Preheat oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Season with spices you like
  • Bake for about 20 minutes, or until skin is crispy

I also made a big batch of salad. Each morning this week, I’m packing a big bowl of salad to go with the chicken. I made five lunches for this week and froze the rest of the drumsticks for next. If you want a bigger lunch, pack 2 drumsticks. They’re cheap enough that you shouldn’t worry about the extra cost. Rice is also a great way to make a meal more filling, and the cost is negligible.

Whether this particular meal looks tasty to you or not (HOW COULD IT NOT???), you should start thinking about quick and easy things to make in bulk that you can pack for lunch. Frozen meals seem like a good, cheap idea, but they’re usually pretty expensive by comparison, don’t taste that great and are packed with stuff that is not awesome for you.

What are your go-to sack lunches?

What to keep in your pantry so you always have cheap meals on hand


Being hangry is bad for your relationships, your emotional well-being, and even your budget.

If I’m ravenous on my way home from work without a dinner game plan, things don’t go great for me. I’ll angrily rummage through the fridge, desperately hoping some home-cooked meal materializes. Finding none, I’ll pick up the phone and order delivery.

I know you are careful to grocery shop with a plan and budget for eating out, but you will still inevitably find yourself in a pinch like this. Keeping your kitchen stocked with cheap foods that you can turn into a tasty dinner without much effort can help you avoid splurging on hangry takeout.

Here are some things I always want to have on hand.



It’s delicious, costs a dollar works with a lot of different flavor profiles. Also, it takes ten minutes to cook, a must when you’re post-work starving.


Like pasta, you can get this for as little cheap as $1. You can use it in all sorts of dishes, but it goes especially well with the first pantry item on this list, pasta. Put it in a sauce pan, add garlic, onions (or whatever seasonings you have on hand and want to include), heat on medium and enjoy your pasta sauce. Sauces are also a great way to use up produce you have that might be nearing he end of its life. Wilted celery, for example, can still work as a nice aromatic in a red sauce.



Use them to make fresh cut french fries (cut them into french fry shapes, fry them in vegetable oil in a pan). You can also turn them into baked potatoes or drizzle them in olive oil, sprinkle with seasonings and roast for a hearty side dish.


Applesauce is cheap and delicious. I usually opt for unsweetened, but you do you. Sprinkle a little cinnamon on top, and have yourself a nice, cool dessert. You can also mix it into hot oatmeal or use it as a substitute for oil in some baking recipes.



This is another cheap snack that you can make your own with whatever spices you want to use. Pop a bag in the microwave, and sprinkle on whatever flavors you want to add.



Rice is one of the least expensive items you can buy at a grocery store, and you can use it with a ton of ingredients. Add some red beans and some seasoning, and you have a complete meal. I also sometimes mix in salsa, avocado, black beans and shredded cheese to make my own burrito bowl.



I know what you’re thinking, but you can make ramen packs a little more palatable by adding other ingredients. The good news is you can decide what to add based on what you have on hand and what you like. Some of my favorite ramen add-ons: Peanut butter (about a teaspoon of it will melt and become part of the sauce), hot sauce, red chili flakes, a fried egg, green onions, garlic and onions.

2016 goals for cheap millennials part 2

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I can’t believe it’s already mid-January. Is it too late for this New Year’s resolution thing?

No? Thank goodness, because I did not have a backup blog plan.

Last week, I outlined some of the most important 2016 goals for thrifty millennials. In that post, I talked about evicting credit card debt from your life, saving for emergencies and planning a budget. Check it out if you haven’t already.

Here’s the second installment of tips.

    Throwing food away sucks for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s essentially the equivalent of chucking cash into your trash can. One study estimates that U.S. households throw out 25 percent of the food they buy. THAT’S INSANE. How to cut food waste from your life:

    • Grocery shop with a plan. We’ve already talked about how to be a smart grocery shopper and cut your bill by 75 percent, but it’s worth remembering the importance of shopping with a plan. Don’t get spinach if you aren’t going to use it! Buy things you will actually cook with, and if you’re purchasing stuff that can go bad, make sure you watch the expiration dates.
    • Use the groceries you have before spending money on more food. I know it’s hard to come up with ways to use your leftover ingredients. That’s why we are so #blessed to live in the Internet age. There are all kinds of websites that let you search recipes based on ingredients you already have. My favorite is  Supercook. 
  • Auto pay is so freaking great, except, you know, when it’s the worst. In addition to helping you sidestep late fees, it’s also a great way to forget what you’re actually spending money on. Raise your hand if you signed up for a free Amazon Prime account and forgot to cancel it after the trial period was over.Netflix, gym memberships, magazine subscriptions, Spotify: All of these are bills that you might forget you’re even paying, but that doesn’t stop those companies from charging you each and every month. Go through your bank statement and make a list of all the regular bills you’re paying and how much they are. If there’s anything you don’t want anymore, or anything that costs more than you want to be paying, cancel it. Enjoy extra $$$.
    The size and scale of this goal is totally up to you, but it’s important that in the drudgery of saving for retirement or the possibility of unemployment that you’re also socking away money for something that would actually be fun. This could be a vacation, a massage, a big night out, whatever you want and think is reasonable for you. You work hard for your money. Enjoy some of it! The easiest way to do this if you’re using a budget is to set aside a line item for your splurge. If you’re using a budgeting app, just tell it how much you’re saving for it each month. When you don’t spend that money, the app will keep adding up how much you’ve saved until it’s time to treat yourself.

Getting rid of credit card debt & saving for emergencies: A 2016 guide for millennials

startups-photo.jpgThe holiday season is over, and that means after months of splurging on holiday gifts, office party treats and New Year’s celebrations, it is time to take a deep breath and take a look at your credit card statement.

Are you with me? Are you good? ARE YOU OKAY?

Don’t worry, if you need a cheap glass of wine right about now, I’ve got you covered.

Now that the initial shock is over, it’s time to get excited for 2016.  I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions in general, but I think the start of a new year is a great time to take a look at what you want out of your money, and figure out a way to make it happen.

So whether your spending got away from you over the holidays or you somehow managed to sidestep the rampant consumerism giving the rest of us January panic attacks (how did you do it???), start thinking about what you want this year.

Here are some financial goals every cheap millennial should have. I got excited writing this post, and ended up writing A LOT. Rather than ask you to read it all now, I’ll publish the second installment next week.

If you’ve already done these things, pat yourself on the back. You’re a rock star. A+


    You know what’s kind of miserable? Working hard just so you can spend a fat chunk of your paycheck on stuff you bought months ago. It’s time to free yourself from credit card debt (or worse, payday loans). That shit is toxic, and you don’t need it dragging you down.So let’s make it happen. There are a few ways to go about this, and I’ll write about them in more detail in another post. But here’s the tl;dr version to get you started:

    Make minimum payments on all of your debts except the smallest one. Put every penny you can toward paying off that smallest debt and get it out of your life as soon as humanly possible. Once it’s gone, roll the money you were using to pay off that debt toward your next-largest one. Lather, rinse, and repeat until debt-free. (Check out Dave Ramsey’s blog for more)

    CRUSH IT WITH AN AVALANCHE: If you want to follow this method, look at the interest you’re paying and go after the most expensive debt first. Make a list of your credit cards or loans and prioritize them based on interest rates. The highest interest rate is the most expensive debt you have, and according to the avalanche method, it’s the debt you should kick to the curb first. Make minimum payments on all of your debts except the one with the highest interest. Work as hard as you can to get rid of that high-interest debt. When it’s paid off, use the money you were spending on it and fold it into payments for the next highest interest-incurring debt. You get the picture.


  • cards left

    The last thing you need when you’re trying to get on track financially is your car to break down and have you scrambling to find the money to fix it. There will almost certainly be some unexpected expenses this year, so get ready to handle them. Start saving to have about $1,000 tucked away for such an emergency. It sounds hard, but it’s super important.

    you ready

    Once you have enough money saved up to handle an run-of-the-mill crisis like your car going into revolt, it’s time to start thinking about what would happen if you lost your job. I know, I know. It’s miserable to think about, but sometimes it happens. You should start tucking away enough money that you could live off your savings for three to six months if you suddenly needed to.When you pick your goal amount, be honest with yourself about how much money you would need. Include your average spending on rent, groceries, utilities and insurance, and then try to estimate what you would spend on eating out, gas, and shopping if you were out of work. I hope you don’t have to tap into this money, but better safe than sorry.

  • HAVE A BUDGET.peggy saving money.gif

    For the love of god, do this.

    Budgets let you plan for fun things (like travel and nights out). And for me, it’s the only way to know where my money goes and stay on top of things. You make all the rules, so pick what you think is worth spending money on. Whether it’s eating out or going to movies, having a budget can help make it happen without breaking the bank. Here’s my how-to guide for newbies. Check it out.

And that’s it for this week’s Instagrand, but next week I’ll continue with the New Year’s resolution theme. Things to look forward to: Finding extra money in your budget, saving for fun stuff, and saving for fun stuff.

See you then!

Let’s raise a glass to budgeting


Contributing Writer

I firmly believe that during stressful times, a bit of red wine and dark chocolate can go a long way.

Believe me — I’m an ardent defender of my time to enjoy just a little bit of both each day.

Thanks to thoughtful budgeting, I really refined this practice during college and learned how to find things I liked without hurting at the cash register. This was — you guessed it — one of the poorest times of my life to date.

It’s easy to spend a load of money on wine, but it’s also mercifully unnecessary. There are more than enough ways to get your fix on the cheap.

Example: Years ago, waiting in line, at Aldi — a discount grocery store. I was purchasing a bottle of Winking Owl red wine. No joke, this sells for around $3. The couple behind me mentioned how they brought this very $3 bottle of wine to a fancy dinner party. Guests offered rave reviews for this “new and unknown” brand of wine.

Little did they know, this brand was also likely the cheapest at the dinner party.

Take that, expensive brands.

Plus, if you’re like me, you’re not nearly serious enough to be able to explain the difference between a Malbec and a Merlot. Forget about trying to decipher the difference between price points.

Red wine is red wine. And it’s a great way to relax. Especially if you didn’t just empty your wallet buying it.

Here, I offer a few tips for frugal who imbibe:

  • While boxed wines carry a less-than-fancy reputation, they also might not be the cheapest option. As always, crunch the price of wine you’re getting by a standard metric such as per liter, or per bottle.
  • The liquor store you choose matters. Look for discount outlets. Also, consider the city you choose to shop in. City or state taxes might also raise the price by a few percentage points.
  • Boxed wines are better for the environment than glass bottles; the negative costs to the environment aren’t factored into the sticker price.

A few recommendations:

  • House Wine: No, really — that’s the name of this boxed wine. I bought the 3L Box of Malbec, and this has inched its way to my favorite brand of wine.
  • Bota Box: I wasn’t as fond of the taste in this one, but it still remains my second favorite box. I found the taste a little less full than that of House Wine.
  • Vella boxed wine: It’s like that old high school friend who’s a little bit annoying, but you know will probably be in your posse forever. Most often one of the cheapest boxes of wine, but it does the job.
  • Winking Owl: While it makes me cringe to buy several bottles, when one box would do — it’s a darn good wine. It’s available at Aldi stores, and thanks to funky liquor laws, it’s not available in Minnesota.

In addition to being a frugal wine connoisseur, Lukas Udstuen is a bilingual multimedia journalist located in Minneapolis. He speaks English and Spanish. He is available for freelance work. Get in touch with him here.