What to do with a stimulus check?

calculator and notepad placed over stack of usa dollars

I’m not going to take too much time to discuss whether or not the government sending out stimulus money is a good idea or not. I want to focus more on some ideas of what you can use any “found” money for.

First, have you lost a job, worried about losing your house or apartment, or figuring out how to put food on your table? That’s first and foremost where the stimulus money should go. Make sure you can get yourself on stable ground before considering other choices.

Second, pay down or pay off debt. However, if you’re going to pay it down just to rack it back up again, then what’s the point? You need to pay off the debt and keep it gone so you can free up some monthly cash flow to save and invest.

Third, start or finish an emergency fund. If you don’t have 3-6 months of expenses saved up somewhere that you can get your hands on, put the money towards that.

Four, put it towards any important major purchase you’ve been saving for. Have you been saving to replace a vehicle or fix something around the house? If so, put the money there. I wouldn’t say that a new phone or TV falls under this category though. While it may seem important, those things can wait and you should continue to save for them as you have been.

Five, invest in yourself. Have you been considering taking some classes or getting a certification that could further your career or bring in additional income? Maybe you’ve considered hiring a career or fitness coach? A great long term investment is to improve your health or add a new skill. It should pay off in the long run.

Six, invest in a mutual fund. Our national debt continues to climb and at some point, we will have to deal with it. We may experience a period of inflation that becomes incredibly difficult for us to live with. Long story short, we can’t borrow our way into the future. That being said, investing for the long term is one way to ensure you’re ready. If you were to take a $1400 stimulus check and invest it for 20 years at a 10% return, you’d have around $9400.

If you have a 5 year old and you receive $1400 for them and decide to invest it and they leave it there until they turn 67 years old, it could be worth over $500k by then (using the same 10% return above)

Last, but not least, give it away. If you feel like you’re doing well financially, then find a cause that you believe could use a boost and give the money to them. Perhaps you know an individual that is struggling and could use a helping hand.

This list is certainly not extensive. You could even apply a combination of the items above if you’d like. Do you have any other ideas that I didn’t think of? Feel free to add them in the comments.

Ohio’s Ludicrous Tax on Hybrid Vehicles

Toyota Prius

I recently discovered that as part of Ohio’s new bill to raise money for roads and bridges, they also passed a new $100 registration fee on hybrids and a $200 registration fee on electric cars ( https://www.cleveland.com/open/2019/05/ohio-owners-of-electric-hybrid-cars-say-new-taxes-fees-are-punitive.html). The reason for these fees is supposedly because these vehicles use less gasoline, so they therefore do not pay as much in tax from gasoline purchases.

This argument for electric cars makes sense since they do not use any gasoline. However, the hybrid car tax appears to be excessive. Let’s do some comparisons to prove my point.

2006 Toyota Prius

This is the car I drive. It’s got over 249k miles on and it keeps on running. According to FuelEconomy.gov it gets an average 46 MPG. If I drive an average of 15,000 miles per year, I would consume a little under 327 gallons of gas. The new gas tax is .105 per gallon. That means I would pay an additional $34.24 a year in fuel tax at the pump. Not bad. However, we now need to add in the new $100 registration fee for my hybrid, which brings my grand total to $134.24 a year to fund the roads.

2006 Toyota Camry (or other similar 25 MPG sedan)

I don’t drive this car, but lets assume that there are quite a few cars out there like this and they average 25 MPG. If this car also travels 15,000 miles per year, it would consume 600 gallons of gas. With the new gas tax, the owner of this car would pay an additional $63 a year at the pump. However, they don’t have a $100 registration fee, so therefore, it stops right there.

The Interesting Part

If we take into account the full fuel tax of $.385, the total tax paid comes out to be $225.55 and $231 respectively. That sounds a bit more fair until you start looking at higher mileage vehicles that are not hybrids. For example, a 2006 Toyota Corolla can average 29 MPG, which means in the end, they only pay a total of $199.14 in fuel taxes per year, compared to the Prius $225.55.

We’ve been assuming 15,000 miles a year. Let’s look at some other mileages:

12,000 miles

Prius (46 MPG) – $200.44

Camry (25 MPG) – $184.80

Corolla (29 MPG) – $159.31

10,000 miles

Prius (46 MPG) – $183.70

Camry (25 MPG) – $154

Corolla (29 MPG) – $132.76


The only way to save more money driving a Prius, at least in regards to taxes is to drive more to get your money’s worth. Not an ideal situation. If you’re someone who drives less than 15,000 miles a year, you’re probably better off with a good old fossil fuel burner that gets reasonable mileage and you’ll likely come out ahead when it comes to the new taxes to fun Ohio’s roads.

You budget how much for gifts?


In this post, I’ll be discussing how much we budget for gifts each month.

Get to the point already!

We budget $100 for gifts each month. Over time, this amount started around $50 a month and has increased to $75 and now $100. We’ve kept it at $100 for quite a while now.

How do you stick to it?

Given what this category covers, we can generally stay under this amount pretty easily each. Sometimes we’ll have an amount that carries over and other times we might spend slightly over this amount.

What all does it cover?

As you would expect, this category covers gifts.

  • For birthday parties our daughters are invited to
  • For extended family members
  • Random acts of kindness or pick me ups for people
  • Cards and gift bags

It does not usually cover Christmas or birthday presents for the immediate family. We oftentimes use savings for that.


How much do you spend on presents each month? What other categories would you like me to cover? Let me know in the comments below.

You can also see how much we spend on other budget categories here.

You budget how much for personal care?


In this post, I’ll be discussing how much we budget on personal care each month. This group is pretty straightforward when looking at what it covers.

Get to the point already!

We budget $75 for personal care each month. This amount has been very consistent for a long time. It had been a bit less in the past, but we increased it a while ago to make sure there was enough for those in our family who don’t get their hair done as often.

How do you stick to it?

This is pretty easy. I get my hair cut once a month, so much it rolls over from month to month so that when my wife or daughters needs something, there is plenty there. The key is to not steal from it when other budget categories might be overspent in a month.

What all does it cover?

This category honestly doesn’t cover very much.

  • Haircuts for anyone in the family (including the dog)
    • For me this is roughly $19/month
  • Hair styling or coloring
  • Optionally makeup and cosmetics


How much do you spend on personal care each month? What other categories would you like me to cover? Let me know in the comments below.

You can also see how much we spend on other budget categories here.

How we got paid $11 for 3 months of cell phone service

cell phone

Let me start by saying this isn’t a scam. We were able to make money on a month’s worth of cell phone service using many of the things I’ve described in this blog.

We’ve used Total Wireless for our cell phone service. There is no reason to go into a lot of detail here because you can read about it in other blog posts (here and here and here). The result is that we pay $62.27 a month for 2 lines and 15GB of shared data.

You’re probably thinking that sounds like I’m paying them, and that’s true. However, I recently determined a way where I could get paid for a month of cell phone service.

The Math

This might get a bit confusing, but essentially I found several deals that when piled up on top of each other, I actually made money for a month worth of cell phone service. To start, Total Wireless was offering 30% off of a phone and month of service bundle. I also was able to use eBates to get a 11% refund through the Total Wireless site. Here is how the math works out.

  • $199 iPhone 6
  • $60 2 line 15GB shared plan
  • $259 subtotal
  • -$77.70 30% off Total Wireless discount (Code found on slickdeals.net)
  • $181.30 discounted total
  • $13.99 taxes
  • $195.29 total paid by us to Total Wireless

At this point, we were out $195.29, but received a month of service and an iPhone 6 in exchange. Now comes the fun part.

  • $219 iPhone 6 sale on eBay
  • -$28.55 eBay and PayPal fees
  • -$6.50 shipping
  • $183.95 total received from the sale of the phone

If you do the math so far, you’ll see I’m out $11.34. Still not a bad amount to pay for a month of cell phone service.

The Missing Pieces

Remember how I said I used eBates to get a refund? That amount came out to be $15!

So when you subtract $15 from $11.34, you’ll see we were actually paid $3.66 for a month of cell phone service!

I didn’t just buy one iPhone 6, but actually purchased 3 of them and did this 3 times to get 3 months of service. The second phone I sold on eBay for a little less and actually spent $0.16 for the month of service. The third phone I sold through a Facebook garage sale site, and made over $8. When you add it all up, I made over $11 and got 3 months of cell phone service in exchange!


Before putting down this much money, I did a small experiment a few weeks earlier by buying a refurbished phone for $9.99 and using the same discount code along with eBates. I was able to prove that even if I didn’t sell the phone, I would still save $8.88 on a month of service. I did end up selling the phone for twice what I paid for it. After fees and everything, we saved $20.14 on a month of service. That’s when I decided to research doing larger deals to see if it would work.

Pretty crazy, right?!?! What do you think? Would you try something like this? Let me know in the comments below.

You Budget How Much For Entertainment?

movie camera entertainment

In this post, I’ll be discussing how much we budget on entertainment each month. Lots of things could fall under entertainment and depending on where you live or the types of things you value as entertainment, you may want to budget a more.

Get to the point already!

We budget $50 for entertainment each month. This amount has been very consistent for a long time. We decided to start budgeting for it to make sure we could plan a date night.

How do you stick to it?

We generally do a pretty good job of staying within that amount. Occasionally we’ll go over, and sometimes we stay under. We’re generally able to stay under it though because we’re usually pretty busy with other things, or find things to do that doesn’t cost anything. For example, we purchased season passes this year to Cedar Point. That can provide a lot of recurring enjoyment without affecting the entertainment budget.

What all does it cover?

This category covers A LOT! Below are a few of the items that would fall under this budget category along with some notes.

  • Movie rentals
    • Library movies are free and they can transfer any movie we’re interested in from another branch to our local branch.
  • Movie theater
    • We have a theater that isn’t too far from us that has tickets half of what you would pay at the “fancy” theaters.
  • Babysitting
    • We pay our babysitters pretty well because we want them to come back!
  • Other extracurricular activities, i.e.
    • SkyZone
    • Tickets to get into a park
    • Expenses related to entertainment like getting ice cream


How much do you spend on entertainment each month? Do you have a hard time staying under budget? Let me know in the comments below.

You Budget How Much For Clothing?


In this post, we’ll be covering how much we spend on clothing. Not everyone shops for clothes each month. We tend to avoid it at all costs until it’s necessary.

Get to the point already!

Just like the fuel and restaurant budget, we budget $200 for clothing each month, for a total of about $2400 per year.

How do you stick to it?

How much we spend varies from month to month. For example, when the seasons change or a special event is coming we might spend more than $200, while other months we may spend a lot less. Luckily with YNAB the amount we have left at the end of the month will carry over to the next month’s budget.

What all does it cover?

This is a pretty self-explanatory budget category. It covers clothing and just about anything we wear. That can include coats, shoes, swimsuits, and more. We will sometimes use it for other things as well such as bath towels or bedding. They’re all made of cloth right?

There are certainly ways to keep this budget in check. One way is to hand down clothing from older children to younger children. Another may be to shop for clothing from places like Goodwill or consignment shops. We rarely buy clothing unless it’s on sale or we have discounts. We tend to do a few large purchases a couple of times a year, or when we’re desperate.

One major win for us is that we don’t buy clothing unless we need it. That means we’ll keep clothes for a long time until they’ve essentially worn out. We’re not “shoppers”, which means we don’t tend to browse clothes until it’s time to replace them. This helps us in keep our clothing budget in check.


How much do you spend on clothes each month? Where do you tend to buy new clothes? Are you a shopper or someone who avoids it as much as possible? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo by mynameisharsha

You Budget How Much For Restaurants and Dining Out?

In this post, I’ll be discussing how much we spend on restaurants and dining out. Depending on where you live, the cost to eat out probably varies a bit. However, there is one way to make sure you stay under budget – eat at home! It’s healthier anyway.

Get to the point already!

Just like the fuel budget, we budget $200 for restaurants and dining out. This amount has been pretty consistent what we’ve used for this category.

How do you stick to it?

The short answer – we don’t. We oftentimes go over. That wasn’t always the case until about a year ago. Before then we’d sometimes go over, but could stay under more easily.

What happened a year ago that made us start going over? Volunteering at church. The group we volunteer with oftentimes gathers at Chick-fil-a for lunch and/or dinner various times on the weekend. That can eat up our restaurant budget pretty quickly with a family of four.

Under normal circumstances this amount is enough for us to eat out at a nice restaurant a couple of times a month, fast food 4-5 times, and maybe a date night.

What all does it cover?

Just like the grocery budget, the dining out budget can cover some items outside of just going to a restaurant. Whether it’s a sit down or fast food restaurant, it’s covered. It also covers quick visits to get some ice cream or frozen yogurt. Finally, it covers things we might buy while for immediate consumption. For example, if we were to go get a slush or pick up a bag of chips at a convenience store to eat right then, those would count towards the restaurant budget.


How much do you spend on restaurants and dining out each month? Do you have a hard time staying under budget? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo by Sean MacEntee

You Budget How Much For Gasoline/Fuel?

I’ll be continue covering our budget this month. In this post, I’ll be discussing our fuel or gasoline budget. This one is a little tricky because it can vary a bit depending on a number of factors, such as the types of cars you drive and the number of miles driven each month.

Get to the point already!

Here it is – each month we budget $200 for gasoline or fuel. There have been periods of time where it has been more or less depending on what gasoline prices are. On average, $200 seems to cover it every month.

What do you drive?

We drive two different vehicles in our home, and they’re somewhat opposites when it comes to miles per gallon. Our first car, and the one driven the most, is a 2006 Toyota Prius and gets almost 50 MPG depending on the weather. It has over 200k miles at this point and continues to run well. I commute about 50 miles each day to work, not counting additional driving on the weekend.

Our second vehicle is a 2011 Toyota Sienna. It averages anywhere from 19-23 MPG depending on the type of driving that we’re doing. My wife drives it a varying number of miles each day. Some days that might be a lot, and other days it may sit in the garage.

What all does it cover?

Unlike the grocery budget, the gasoline category is pretty simple. It covers gasoline and fuel for our cars and lawn mower. There is one minor exception to this – vacation. If we’re driving somewhere for vacation, we tend to not use the fuel budget, but instead use whatever we’ve got budgeted for vacation instead.


How much do you spend on gasoline each month? Do we spend more or less than you do? I’d love to see in the comments below.

Photo by Adam Hinett

You Budget How Much For Groceries?

grocery store aisle

If you’ve just started budgeting or planning to start, you’re probably trying to figure out how much to budget for each category. If you’ve budgeted for a while and you’re interested in seeing how your budget compares to ours, you’ve come to the right place.

In this post, I’ll be covering our grocery budget.

Get to the point already!

Here it is – each month we budget $500 for groceries for a family of 4. We previously budgeted $475 just a few months ago, but recently increased it. We’ve got 2 adults in our house and 2 girls, ages 10 and 8. (Man, can they put away the food though!)

We use our grocery budget for a wide variety of items.

  • Food purchased at a grocery store or to be consumed at home
    • This doesn’t include snacks purchased at a gas station to be eaten the car (that would go towards dining out).
    • It would include milk bought at a gas station for use at home, or snacks purchased at a gas station if we were taking them to a party.
  • Toilet paper
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Vitamins
  • Toiletries – shampoo, conditioner, body wash, etc
  • Razors
  • Dog food

How is that possible?

We do the majority of our grocery shopping at Aldi. It’s quick, convenient, has great prices, and the options are actually pretty healthy without us having to think about it. They sell the majority of what we need and for everything else we supplement with other stores.

We also use Target’s subscription service which saves us 5%, with an extra 5% off for using our RedCard. This allows us to get what we need (dog food, razors, and vitamins) when we need them.

You might now be thinking:

“Do you eat a lot of processed food?” Not really.

“You must eat out all the time. Show me your dining out budget!” Patience, young Padawan. We don’t eat out that much, maybe a few meals a week.


How much do you spend on groceries each month? Do we spending more or less than you do? I’d love to see in the comments below.

Photo by MinuteDreamer