Budgeting for a vacation can be hard enough, but is it worth it when you have a baby in the mix? My family proved it is. My one-year-old daughter has been on three family trips, including one overseas vacation. How did we swing it?

Stagger the expenses. We purchased the plane tickets before my daughter was born (about a half a year in advance), and then added her on to the ticket. Although children under two years old can fly free, we booked a bassinet for $100. While booking early can be risky, credit cards and travel insurances allow you to switch or cancel plans with valid reasons. Planning ahead allowed us to save up for a few months.

Location is everything. Each vacation area has different lodging options for different prices. Be flexible about where you stay, and you can save a bundle. When we stayed in Washington D. C., we saved by staying in a hotel in the suburbs. We saved over $150 dollars on the hotel. However, hindsight I would perhaps have been better off staying in the center city and traveling via bus or subway. Parking cost a decent amount, even though we walked a lot. In Florida, we were able to rent a villa for less than what a hotel room would cost. Overseas, we rented an apartment for most of the time. Weigh your options to see what works best for your family.

Also, when traveling keep in mind the overall expense. In big cities such as Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, check out the myriad of free attractions. Also look attraction bundles or entertainment clubs for a discount. It's worth it if you're interested in most of the attractions offered on the pass. Also, make sure these locations are suitable for babies and children.

Practice food frugality. Staying in a suite or villa with a kitchen may be the same price or less expensive than a hotel. You will also save by preparing your own meals instead of eating out every day. Breakfasts are the easiest to plan ahead and prepare, if you're not lucky enough to have free breakfast included in your lodging. During our trips, we'd have a filling brunch then save time and money by skipping lunch and packing our own snacks. Occasionally, we purchased take-out food at half price at the end of the week at a local grocery, freeze it, and warm it up later for a relaxed dinner.

Pack your baby essentials. Bring along your car seat, and you'll save each day on the car rental. Car rentals are notorious for their add-on fees, and rental car seats can cost between $10-15 a day. They may cap it at $60-70 per seat. I love my snap and go stroller (purchased secondhand) and used it all over. A baby carrier is another great option to bring if you plan on walking. Although a baby carrier isn't as comfortable (you'll definitely get good exercise), it will allow you to go places a stroller just wouldn't work. If you're thinking of going hiking, touring places with bumps or steps, or visiting a museum that doesn't allow carriages, consider taking a baby carrier. These options allow public transportation and save on parking fees.

Also, remember your basic baby items. You don't want to buy an overpriced can of formula or package pampers out of desperation. And while traveling home by plane, you don't want to pay additional luggage fees, either.

So is vacationing with baby manageable? In a couple of years, the baby will be big and asking you for souvenirs, rides, and the dreaded "Are we there yet?" Enjoy relaxing with your little one while it lasts.

Photo by Wicker Paradise via cc

I have entered a phase in my life in which many of my classmates, friends, and family are in the thick of diapers, teething, and general child-rearing activities. I am not married, and I just bought my first house with rooms for family expansion but no crying offspring to fill the rooms just yet. I am often asked why I haven't started my own family. Whether it is circumstance, divine intervention, or conscious decision making on my part, waiting to start a family proved to be a financially sound decision for me. The following five reasons influenced this decision.

Learning to be careful with money
I definitely come from the cloth of learning from your mistakes. I found out the hard way what not paying your credit card bills, defaulting on student loans, and overall biting off more than you can chew can do to your credit, your stress level, and your quality of life. I wasn't ready to start a family while I was busy making financial mistakes. Now that I have a grip on these principles, however, I have the tools to execute them and hopefully pass them on, a concept I previously lacked.

Taking time to find out what I wanted to do when I grow up
When I was younger, I was hopelessly idealistic, and I proudly hold on to this value. However, it also led me down many roads before I found the path I was looking for. Taking some extra time let me explore, try different things, and eventually pursue what makes me fulfilled and financially solvent. Some people sail right into their ideal life, and some of us take the long way until we're better prepared for major life changes.

Learning from others
I always knew kids were expensive, but I never really knew just how expensive until I watched others embark on their journeys. Everything is a learning process, and one thing parents are exceptional at is sharing that knowledge. Waiting to start a family provides great opportunities to observe and learn from others until you're ready to take on the responsibility.

Waiting until I can rely less on parents
I can't imagine having a family without the support of my immediate family, but I know they appreciate I've developed self-sufficiency. They are always there to help, but now they get to live their own livse as well and enjoy their well-deserved retirement money. Waiting to start a family until I don't have to rely on my own parents ensured I won't be an undue burden.

Finally realizing how important family is to me
People always say you will never be completely prepared to have children and they will change your life in ways you never knew. This terrified me and delayed my decision to have a family. However, once I spent some time learning who I was and what my place in the world could be, that fear subsided. Financial stability was just an essential building block to truly knowing what I wanted, even if that took a while. And as they say, knowing is half the battle. I guess the other half is just the journey.

Photo by gabi menashe via cc.

Travel is something every 20-something should do. The older you get, the more responsibilities pile on and the more difficult it becomes to gather the time and resources necessary to pack up and see the world. It's not completely free, but there are a variety of ways to see the world on a budget: Start with a road trip.

If you're between jobs or feel stuck at your current position, consider hitting the road. Maybe you'll have better luck in a new city. If not, keep moving until you do.

Store your stuff
To make long-term travel affordable, you need to cut your bills. This means cancelling all subscriptions, utilities, and even your rent or mortgage payment. If you can't get out of the lease or sell your house because of financial constraints, sublease it.

You also need a place to store your stuff. Ask friends and family if they have space in their garages, yards, basements, attics, or closets. Anything you can't store for free, you'll have to either rent a storage space ($20-200/month) or sell/donate. Be sure to keep a receipt for tax purposes on any donations.

Prepare your vehicle
You need a running vehicle. Air conditioning, radio, and other accessories are secondary to a mechanically sound vehicle. If you don't trust your current vehicle to drive across the country at 80 mph, trade up. Either way, keep up on the maintenance, and check your tire condition before every trip.

Remember gas and parking
Your three biggest concerns when living on the road are affording gas (~$4/gal), finding a place to park, and recharging your gadgets. A day of driving will cost you anywhere from $50-$300, and you'll need to park eventually. Parking your car uses no gas, but you'll need to occasionally run the engine to charge your devices. Parking overnight is a subject in itself, covered here

In major cities, gas is normally cheaper, but parking is a premium. In more rural areas, you can often park on the side of the road, but you'll spend upwards of 20 cents extra per gallon. When planning destinations, pay close attention to free places to park and routes that use gas most efficiently to see everything you want to see.

Plan for eating and recharging
Electrical outlets aren't easy to find outside your home or office, but you can usually find them when visiting restaurants. Eating out at local holes in the wall can get pricey ($10-20 per meal), but you find a free place to sit, eat, recharge your electronics, and even surf the web.

Your budget will limit eating out between once a week and once a month. Keep hydrated, and buy bulk protein powder, trail mixes, peanut butter, and bread. For $20, you can eat for 10 days.

Traveling is an adventure where you learn about yourself by immersing yourself in other cultures. It's difficult to find both time and money, but if you're willing to take the leap and have an adventure on a budget, it can be accomplished. Map out a destination you've always wanted to visit and just drive there for a week. Each week you travel, you learn something new and are better prepared for next time.

Photo Daniel Weinand by via cc

HuffPost Live recently featured a segment on living a fulfilling life alone, which included a neuroscientist illustrating the positive impacts of breaks and vacations have on our brains. Luckily, our twenties are a time in our lives when we're free. We're freshly graduated and facing the world with a clean slate (student loans aside). But we're also facing pressure from family and peers to work hard and climb the ladder.

Instead of falling in line to join the rat race, however, I recommend taking a year off to travel and discover yourself. Exposing ourselves to different cultures is an important part of maturing, and we don't even have to leave the country. Take an extended road trip through different cultures; Just pack up your car and hit the road.

The American melting pot
Accents and regional slang aside, we all speak the same language, and since we share a POTUS, it's easy to assume everyone's experience is just like yours. When we take the time to experience travel beyond hotel swimming pools in another city, however, we begin to appreciate how different we all truly are. Someone growing up in Moab, Utah has a very different experience than someone growing up in Compton, Calif. Have you ever even seen Idaho or New York? Have you seen the wide array of landscapes within our borders? A year of traveling America offers a valuable insights into socioeconomics, culture, tolerance, and diversity.

Discover you
If you've never left the town or state you grew up in aside from a weekend, you've never had time to discover who you truly are. Part of discovering ourselves is facing the world completely alone. When we remain stagnant, we begin to rest on the laurels of our reputations. Traveling to a new place resets our reputation. We begin to be judged by our present actions alone.

Seize the day while you're in your prime
As a young person, we are essentially at the peak of your existences, even if we reach the singularity. It's the time when we're at our prime physical conditions. There's no denying, everything gets physically harder after that as your body and mind deteriorate. Life is a gift, and time rolls on, despite what you do with it. At the end of our lives, do we think we'll most regret not keep up with the Kardashians or that we only ever saw planet earth on Blu-ray?

The economy is tough, and pressure is building on the younger generations to get a job and help hold everything up. Every job market is competitive, though, and we'll make ourselves more marketable by spending that year traveling instead of in a cubicle. We'll have time for responsibility later.

Photo by Bruce Fingerhood via cc.
 

Decorating your first apartment can be a challenge. You just spent a ton of money on deposits and other fees, which doesn't leave you with much cash to furnish the place. Fortunately, second-hand stores are a treasure trove of potential. But even if you get all your furniture and home decor at a thrift store, your apartment doesn't have to look like one. Here are some tips on how to score the best deals that will make it look like an adult actually lives in your place.

Start with a theme. Think about the style that suits you or a color scheme you like. If you have a general idea of what you're looking for, it'll be easier weed out the good from the bad. Shopping with these ideas in mind will help your new place look a little more put together in the end.

Patience is the key to success. You don't need to rush out and buy the first couch or dining table you see. Take some time looking for pieces of furniture that you actually like and see yourself using for a long time. Look for quality items - couches with good springs, tables without wobbly feet, dishes that aren't chipped or cracked, and so on. Make sure to pay attention to colored-tag sales too, for an extra bargain. By taking your time and looking at all your available options, you avoid putting a large dent in your checking account over things you might not want later on and will slowly acquire things you actually find attractive.

An open mind brings creativity. Don't fret if you can't find exactly what you want. If you're crafty and don't mind a little do-it-yourself, why not make over something with a little potential by painting, staining, or reupholstering it? You could also make your own art for the walls so they're more welcoming and not so bare.

The lowly knick knack. Little details go a long way toward making any residence feel homier and lived in. Plus, they add a ton of personality. Classics like vases or candles are always a nice touch, but don't underestimate the power of a bizarre sculpture to really make a statement. Thrift stores are excellent places to look for trinkets because there's usually a wide variety and it's all fairly inexpensive.

It's good to remember that you don't have to stick solely to second-hand stores - look also at yard sales, estate sales, flea markets, Craigslist, or FreeCycle. Decorating from scratch while on a budget takes time and patience, but the end result is something you can take pride in. Not to mention, you'll be excited to show off your cool new pad to all your friends.

Photo by epSos.de via cc

Airbnb, a community marketplace for shared housing, is the tip of the iceberg for renters turning the renter's conundrum on its head.

No, you aren't a homeowner yet. And no, you haven't yet squirreled away the funds necessary to close on the condo of your dreams. You rue the idea of renting with nothing to show for it. So what do you do? Subletting can be a profitable option for those who travel, live with their significant other, or are interested in supporting the sharing economy.

Know the law
If you decide to sublet a property, know the law. No matter where you reside, it is illegal if the owner does not give you permission to sublet the property. Simple as that. But there are other instances where it is illegal regardless of if you secure the owner's permission. In New York, for example, you can't lease the property for more than the legal rent plus 10% additional fee if the property is furnished, even with the permission from the owner. Sure, that may put a damper on your dreams of big profits, but rent it all the same with furnishings and 10% profit is yours. It is also technically illegal to rent a property in New York City for less than 30 days.

In the United Kingdom, however, subletting is a slippery slope. A litany of cases have sprang up where people have sublet council houses (government subsidized estates) at the taxpayer's expense. Subletting property normally reserved for low-income families is a crime that even has embroiled the likes of Madonna. Some tenants have made a profit of nearly 1000£ a week ($1669.15) subletting council estates.

How to sublet your apartment
The Internet is a gold mine of resources for subletters. Popular resources include Craigslist, Airbnb, and sublet.com. You can forgo the red tape and legal babble of drafting a drawn out renter's agreement and simply announce your "property" online. The steps are easy:
• Register and sign up on the subletting site.
• Post at least three good photos of the property.
• Describe the size in square feet or meters and how the apartment is equipped (full bath, bedroom, kitchen, etc).
• Specify the duration of availability for renting.
• Include the rental and deposit fees.

Another great place to advertise your space is at local colleges and universities. Some schools keep lists of off-campus housing and have resources for student renters.

To keep everything above board, create a sublet agreement form. Avoid other unnecessary hassles by requesting all rental payments via bank transfer: You'll have bank records of all transactions between you and the tenant. Paying in cash is great until you realize no infallible record of payments really exists between you and the tenant.

Some offline steps to cover your bases include notifying the owner of the agreement via certified mail. If a tenant trashes your flat, you're fully armed to prosecute in a court of law with your sublet agreement and documented correspondence with the flat owner. Your bank records will also serve as proof of tenancy or negligence to pay on the part of the tenant.

Subletting can be a great way to cash in on an empty apartment. Be smart, and know your options.

Photo by Håkan Dahlströmvia via cc.
 

Years ago, before the housing bubble burst in the ugliest of fashions, it wasn't uncommon for unmarried individuals in their mid-to-late 20s to purchase homes on their own. Today, however, buying a home on one income is much less feasible. Securing a home loan isn't as easy as it used to be. Lenders are now imposing stricter requirements and scrutinizing credit histories like never before. Furthermore, in today's wishy-washy economy, job security can be pretty dang illusive, and many young people are undesirable loan candidates if they've moved from company to company.

Millennials are taking a new approach to home ownership: Instead of attempting (and quite possibly failing) to purchase property on their own, they're rounding up friends to serve as investment partners. In some cases, two friends purchase homes jointly and either live there together or rent it out; in other cases, groups of three or more pool their resources to buy.

Buying a home with friends can be a wise move financially and logistically, but be aware of the drawbacks.

The pros

Coming up with the down payment
If you can't swing 20% down on your own, enlisting friends a good alternative—because if you don't come up with that 20%, you can get hit with PMI (private mortgage insurance), which translates into a costly premium on top of your monthly mortgage payment.

Sharing the financial and logistical responsibilities
Owning a home with friends means you'll have more resources to cover maintenance costs and perform general upkeep. If your home has a lawn that needs to be mowed weekly and the sole homeowner, you'll need to either a hire a service (which can be expensive) or carve out several hours each week to get the work done. Co-owners, however, can divvy up the work.

Peace of mind
Even the most seemingly stable work situations can sometimes fall apart. If you suddenly find yourself out of work and you're the only one responsible for paying the mortgage, you can quickly run into trouble. But if you have at least one other partner in ownership, you'll have someone who's invested in helping to cover your share until you're back on your feet financially.

The cons

Counting on others
Sure, it's nice to have co-owners to fall back when you encounter a financial hiccup, but that cuts both way. When the roles are reversed, it'll be your own personal resources getting drained in an attempt to avoid delinquent payments or foreclosure.

Complicated paperwork
The more parties involved with a home purchase, the more cumbersome the paperwork will be. This could make the closing process more stressful and time-consuming, and you may incur additional legal costs to have added documents drawn up.

Having to vacate your home down the line
When you buy a home on your own, it's yours. Period. If you buy a home with friends, however, mine becomes ours. Well, what happens when you decide to get married? If you all have an equal stake in the home, chances are you'll have no choice but to move. And if you need your friends to buy you out in order to do so, you could wind up losing money if you've yet to build up equity i and the market is weak.

The bottom line

If you do decide to buy jointly with others, be smart about choosing your co-owners. The more reliable and financially secure they are, the less likely you are to regret your decision down the line.

Photo by midiman via cc.

Long before TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” got everyone hyped up on saving money by clipping coupons and building a big grocery stockpile, many people were already reaping the benefits of saving money with coupons or online saving tools. I've watched the shows, I still have questions: Do I need all of those items? Do I have space for them?

While the shows or websites about extreme couponing may inspire us to join the coupon band wagon, we don’t need to go overboard and fill our pantries and cabinets with items that we may have to learn to love or don’t need. Instead of bowing to the Gods of extreme couponing, here are some ways to avoid becoming an “over-the-top” couponer and save both time and space for items you need:

  • Don’t carry reward or store cards on a key ring or a compartment in your vehicle. Retailers have made it easy by offering a phone app. You can also organize the so you won’t have to go thumbing through the phone or search for your favorite store.
  • Check sale advertisements for the items you need and then search to find any coupons or deals. By searching only for the products or items you need, you can avoid wasting time going through papers or circulars that don’t have what you are looking for.
  • Save time and money by printing the coupons you need for one shopping trip. Online websites such as Coupons.com, Grocerycoupons.com, Redplum.com, and Couponmom.com are great resources to print coupons that can be used at the checkout. Also, signing up on retailer websites can provide discounts and coupons for products and items to buy in the store or online.
  • Why pay more at the gas pump when trying to cut the fat off your food budget? The time and gas you use to go down the road to another store with better deals is more cost-saving and friendly to your bottom line.
  • Knowing the shopping lingo will equal monster savings. You don’t need to have a sharp extreme-coupon eye to know the words that take you to savings heaven. Just know the difference between a store coupon (one generated from the register or the blinkies at the store) or a manufacturer coupon (one that comes from the newspaper or online shopping sites).
  • Score big with clearance items. Stores will have a huge markdown on items that are getting ready to expire or may have not sold. Non-extreme couponers can capitalize on the savings on buying items that have been marked down. Also, coupons can be used for items that have been put on clearance.

Photo by Ooingle.com via cc.
 

City living can be notoriously expensive, especially in major metro areas. In recent years, staggering rent prices have tempted many to flock to the suburbs for wide-open spaces and cheaper housing. But before you pack up your apartment, consider that while housing itself may be cheaper outside city limits, suburban living overall can be just as expensive as city living.

Housing
The cost of housing in the suburbs will often be cheaper than its nearby city counterpart, and as a bonus, you’ll probably score a lot more space. In Manhattan, the average apartment costs $3,300 a month to rent, while Brooklyn apartments costing $2,800 a month. But in nearby New Jersey, you can snag a two-bedroom rental for $1,400. Even owning can be cheaper on the basis of a mortgage and property tax payment alone. The average monthly mortgage payment in NJ is about $1,200 per month, and Jersey homeowners pay an average of $525 monthly in taxes. Whether you rent or own, you can save a good $1,300 on housing – but housing is only part of the equation.

Transportation
Many people who live in cities also work in cities. Keeping your once you move to the ‘burbs, however, might cost you. In NYC, a monthly, unlimited MetroCard costs $112, whereas a monthly transit pass from NJ to NYC costs more than $300 on average. On top of that, count on needing a car, which could cost an extra $250-$500 a month for your loan payment, $150 a month for insurance, and $50-$100 a month for maintenance. All in, your transportation costs can increase by $650-$950 per month by moving to the suburbs, and that doesn’t even include gas, parking, and tolls.

Housing maintenance
If you buy a suburban home, expect your maintenance and utility costs to go up significantly. It’s cheaper to heat and cool a small city apartment than a large house. Property maintenance is also spendy: Lawn care can cost almost $100 per month, and gutter cleaning, at an average of $185 a pop. And if you move to a place where sewer usage and trash pickup are your responsibility, your expenses will go up even more. Insurance costs also increase: renters insurance costs $15-25 a month on average, but homeowners insurance costs $75.

Entertainment costs
There's less activity and hubs of entertainment in the suburbs, which means one of two things: You'll either be doing less painting of the town and saving money or you'll be trekking to the city more and spending cash on transportation. Ordering food in the suburbs is also more expensive because many places charge delivery fees, which is not a common practice in most cities. Over the course of a year, these luxuries can add up.

The bottom line
Moving to the suburbs may save you on housing costs, but factor in increased transportation, maintenance, and entertainment costs before you make the big move.

Photo r. nial bradshaw by via cc.

Free to post job listings and free to search, Craigslist is often the first stop for any jobseeker. Luckily, there's usually no shortage of options: Craigslist receives more than 1 million new job listings each month.

The question is how to intelligently navigate Craigslist.

Craigslist can be a great way to discover companies, but it's also a free posting board for individuals. Freelancers and private contractors who respond to those ads are most at risk for scams, dangerous meetups, and risky payment plans.

How to protect yourself.
You shoot your résumé and samples to the anonymous Craigslist email URL, and they want to hire you? Hold on, tiger. Don't buy it.

Avoid scams.
Since Craigslist is unregulated and free for all, Craigslist scams run amok. Be smart and follow these tips.

  • Ask questions, and feel out if you're a victim of a scam. If your contact ignores your questions but responds with vague wording and immediate instructions, it's probably a robot programmed for identity theft.
  • Research the employer's name. If your contact claims to run local businesses or be an active community member but doesn't have a shred of online presence or media coverage, get out. Follow your instincts, and never proceed with anything unless you're 100% confident the employer is legit.
  • Watch out for ridiculously high wages, easy labor, telecommuting, and employers who are "currently out of the country" and can't meet or talk on the phone.
  • Above all, don't give out personal information (especially bank account or social security information) or unpublished samples; only include your email and phone number on your résumé. Don't ever send money for training kits or pay for background or credit checks.
  • A good rule of thumb is don't agree to anything or begin a project before you meet.

Arrange a safe meeting.
Follow these safety precautions when meeting a contact from Craigslist.

  • Have a phone conversation prior to meeting. Get a feel for the person's personality, and record your observations. Male or female? Young or old? Make sure the individual you meet matches your phone contact.
  • Tell several people about the meeting: where you'll be and when you plan to be home. Arrange to have someone check in with you.
  • Meet your contact in a public place and bring a friend if possible.
  • If you feel uncomfortable, don't feel pressured to sign anything or complete hiring information.
  • It's never too late to say, "No thanks" and get the heck out of there. Take that coffee to go, and have an exit strategy.
  • Lastly, don't ever get in a car with a stranger. Your mom was right.

Ensure an enforceable payment plan.
Freelancers and private contractors working with individuals have no legal recourse to collect payment for their services without a contract, so make sure to cover your bases.

  • Draft a payment agreement with specific terms and clear project expectations for both parties (including method of payment and deadlines). Have it notarized. After all, this contract is your main source of employee protection as a freelancer or private contractor. Don't compromise.
  • Use secure payment methods like PayPal, and don't accept checks.
  • Agree to collect payments frequently if paid by the hour, and don't complete the next week's work until you receive payment for the previous week (include that in your contract); if you're getting a flat project payment, remember the third-third-third rule: require a third of the payment up front as a deposit of good faith; a third when it's halfway completed; and a third upon completion.
  • Keep records of everything: meetings, contacts, payments, hours, projects, etc.

Photo by State Farm via cc.