Don’t overpay to celebrate Independence Day

Are you planning to stay home and host a barbecue, or would you rather visit another city to celebrate the Fourth of July? Either way, you can have a special Independence Day within a reasonable budget. So take these tips to heart while you plan your day.


If you’re going to break out the grill and show off a little, have a strategy in mind before you approach the meat counter. You don’t have to treat everyone to a porterhouse. Go for a skirt or flank steak, and skip the boneless chicken breasts for legs and thighs, which have more flavor.

If you’re sticking with burgers and brats, you can jazz them up by putting some bacon into your hamburger patties and pre-boiling your brats in beer.

Think outside the box for the fixings table, too – put some slices of gouda and Swiss next to the cheddar, and let people make a more interesting hot dog with fruit-based salsas and pickled vegetables as a topping.

stephanie-mccabe-92133As long as you’ve got your grill fired up and your marinade game going, you might as well make enough for leftovers. You’ll be tired from the party, so it just makes sense. And you won’t risk running out of food if you get unexpected guests.

Don’t waste fuel by getting distracted. Once you have your coals or propane going, pay attention, keep the grill surface full and get your protein cooked efficiently.


Don’t make your guests honor our great nation with a lukewarm Natural Light. The Fourth of July should feel like a special occasion, so make a signature cocktail or two. Infused vodkas and other spirits are easy to make ahead of time, and you and your friends can be sipping on a strawberry mojito or a frozen lemonade made with blueberry vodka instead of the same old wine or beer you usually grab without thinking. neha-deshmukh-9593A bold, fruity sangria is always a crowd pleaser, too. All the aggressive fruit flavors mean you don’t have to use top-shelf liquor.

For the kids, a simple lemonade with slices of strawberry and blueberries is close enough to red, white and blue to feel festive without getting too complicated.

Be merry.        

If you’ve just got to get out of town, try the cheap options. Stay within driving distance, and crash with friends or family if possible.

The Midwest has plenty to offer for the fourth, all without the financial commitment of flights. Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, and Oklahoma City are all short drives away. They also happen to be rip-roaring destinations for patriots on Independence Day.

The Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock Lake, Grand Lake and dozens of others offer perfect weekend getaways. With five to seven friends you can rent a cabin for under $80 per person. Cozy sleeping quarters will ensure that you get to know each other well – so just consider that a bonus.

Of course, you’re always welcome to join us in Jefferson City for Salute to America. The andrey-larin-29559.jpgweekend includes various family-friendly activities, concerts and great food. The event culminates with a fireworks display set to music on July 4th.

This year’s Fourth of July falls on a Tuesday, which might make for smaller crowds and more muted celebrations whether you stay home or head out. No matter what your budget is, just be sure to grab a few sparklers and gather the people you love, and you’ll have a party worth remembering.

Get your music live. Keep your budget healthy.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to hear your favorite songs played in person. You’ve got to get jakob-owens-109784out of the house and dance. Concerts are where stress is banished, friendships are forged and memories are made. Unfortunately, they’re also where wallets are drained.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If you give yourself permission to let loose a little, that doesn’t mean you have to throw financial caution to the wind. A few simple strategies can keep you from wincing at your account balance while your ears are still ringing.

Set a yearly budget.

Allocating a certain amount every year for shows and other entertainment events can keep you under control. Checking your budget first can keep you from clicking “Buy” too quickly. Do you really need front row seats to an arena show? Or would you rather see three smaller acts for the same price later on in the year? It’s all about priorities.

Be on the lookout for free shows.

Up-and-coming bands, veterans and local acts play at parks, museums, outdoor shopping centers and sports venues on a regular basis. Sign yourself up for alerts and check websites for shows in Columbia, Jefferson City, Kansas City and St. Louis – and your only expense is the gas to get there.

Learn to love smaller venues.

lucas-gallone-105450Places like Kansas City’s RecordBar and St. Louis’ Baha Rock Club, among many others, will rarely charge you more than $20 a ticket – and prices are sometimes as low as $5. Seeing bands in a small venue versus a big arena is a more intimate experience: standing next to the amplifier, chatting with the band after the show and being able to get home without getting trapped in a traffic jam.


Shell out for your ticket – and nothing else.

The merchandise table is so alluring, isn’t it? That T-shirt will be a badge of honor! Oh, they have limited-edition vinyl! A poster I can get signed!

Just don’t tempt yourself. Stay away from the merchandise at concerts. In your adrenalized state at a live show, you’re likely to make impulse buys you’ll regret, and you can probably find a shirt or CD cheaper online later.

If you like to have a few drinks with your music, try to have them at home beforehand marvin-meyer-190672and designate a driver. Club tabs can skyrocket quickly, and there’s nothing worse than having one too many in public. You paid for the show, after all – so make sure you remember it. If you usually have a few beers at a show, consider taking Uber or another ride service – way cheaper than a DUI.

Buy tickets in person when you can.

Before buying online, see if you can purchase tickets at the venue or a local grocery store that doubles as a box office. Because hefty service fees add absolutely nothing to your experience. At all.

Get into the festival scene.

If you find the right festival for you, it can be a great deal. Fans of all sorts get an intense dose of sound every year at Buzz Beach Ball in KC. Indie fans will have three stages to pick from at LouFest in September.


Many festivals are family-friendly, rural events where you can bring your own food and camp out under the stars for a few days. It’s an easy way to combine your entertainment and vacation budgets while bonding with friends. Just make sure you’re going to see more than one or two bands you like, and you’ll get your money’s worth.

Don’t despair when you hear “sold out”

If you have your heart set on seeing your favorite act at the Sprint Center or Memorial Stadium but don’t want to shell out hundreds to a scalper, be patient and check eBay or sites like StubHub closer to the event date. Prices can plummet, even to below face value.

Spending your money the smart way on concerts means staying plugged in to cheaper locales and the local scene. You’ll end up seeing acts way before or after they make it big, and you’ll hear more diverse sounds. Concerts are tied to a lot of nostalgia for music fans, but once you get there, the memories are free.


Monthly Subscription Boxes: Affordable fun, or enough already?

If you have a credit card and a mailbox, there’s a monthly goodie bag of stuff designed just for you. Or at least, that’s what the exploding subscription box industry would have you believe.

The movement began in 2010, when Birchbox offered a monthly package of curated products for beauty and makeup enthusiasts. Since then, they’ve been joined by competitors like Ipsy and BeautyFIX, and Sephora recently entered the game with Play. The success of Birchbox and its imitators sparked an explosion of specialty offerings.

You can solve a mystery every month with Hunt A Killer. Curated snacks hit your doorstep with graze and MunchPak. Wine lovers can expand their palates with Winc and Glassful. Obsessed with Japanese candy? There’s a box for that. (Several, actually.) There are more than 600 box services to choose from, for everyone from comic book geeks to chocoholics, starting at about $10 a month. Now retailers like Walmart, Amazon and CVS Pharmacy are joining the movement.


Think before you sign up

There’s a downside to those delightful packages: They’re just stuff. They inevitably add clutter to our lives. Even though companies target their products to our individual tastes, some months are hit or miss. After a year, you’re left with a pile of tiny moisturizers, aromatic teabags and Star Wars stickers you didn’t love but don’t want to throw away.


Another drawback: Services can be hard to cancel because they’re set up on a monthly auto-charge basis to your credit card.

So if you’re going to subscribe, you’ll want to do some research first, to make sure you’ll actually use the stuff. If you’re only kind of into drawing, don’t waste $20 a month on Doodle Crate. (Or find a friend to split the monthly cost.) Sites like Hello Subscription and My Subscription Addiction can help you narrow down the overwhelming number of options.


Boxes worth trying

subscription-boxThese are some of the best-reviewed boxes in popular categories, according to Hello Subscription and My Subscription Addiction:

Beauty and makeup: Ipsy, Birchbox, BeautyFIX, Julep Maven, Allure Beauty Box, Yuzen, BOXYCHARM.

Geeky fandom: Loot Crate, Nerd Block, Geek Fuel, Lootaku, Fandom of the Month Club

Wine: VINEBOX, Blue Apron Wine, Bright Cellars, Winc, Plonk.

Food and snacks: Graze, Degustabox, Love With Food, NatureBox, Yummy Bazaar, Universal Yums, Snakku.

Pets: BarkBox, CatLadyBox, Loot Pets, Pet Treater, RescueBox, Purr Packs, PupJoy.

Men’s lifestyle: Robb Vices, Bespoke Post, Birchbox Man, Gentleman’s Box.

Arts and crafts: Smart Art, Studio Calico Kits, Quilty Box, Darby Smart, New Hobby Box,SketchBox, Yarn Crush.

Most sites let you browse previous months’ offerings before signing up, so do your research and be realistic about what you’ll have time to use. If there’s an option to try a box for just one month, take it. And shop around for discount codes, too; there’s no point in paying more than you have to.

If you do find yourself with a basket of unused dog toys, calligraphy pens or nail polish, don’t despair – monthly box leftovers make great stocking stuffers at Christmastime.



Planning is the key to moving affordably

Moving your entire existence is stress inducing even for the most organized people. It might not be your favorite thing to do, but it doesn’t have to put a giant dent in your savings, as long as you have a plan.

Start by writing things down. What do you know about the square footage and layout of your new place? How far away is it? Are stairs involved? Once you start figuring out those logistics, you’ll have a better idea of whether you’ll need to borrow Dad’s pickup or rent a larger moving truck – and whether it’s a job for you and a few friends or whether it’s better to hire professional movers. Give yourself plenty of time – at least a month, if possible – to get packed and organized. The farther away you’re moving, the lighter you should pack.

Get quotes and estimates. If you’re renting a truck to move to a new city, get prices from competing chains and take into account gas and mileage costs. It’s important at this point to know exactly how much storage you’ll need. If you’re hiring movers, ask for written estimates and research their reputations before signing a contract.

Whittle down mercilessly as you pack. Moving is a great chance to clear away clutter from your life. If you haven’t played old video games since your last move, should you really move them again? The same goes for your clothes, craft supplies and so on. As you pack, keep boxes marked “Sale,” “Donate” and “Trash” nearby. The less you have to move, the cheaper and easier it will be.


Space and weight equal money. If you’re a book lover, sell the titles you can do without to a used bookstore. The rest can be shipped by Media Mail through the U.S. Postal Service for around $12 per 20-pound box. Consider throwing out old CD and DVD jewel cases and storing the discs in a binder. Eat with the goal of emptying your pantry and freezer before moving, and don’t move things like old condiments and spices. Buy new when you get there.

Measure your furniture with a critical eye. If your big couch will be a tight fit and it’s seen better days, you’re probably better off putting it on Craigslist or Freecycle now than dealing with it in your new digs. The same goes for your dining room table and chairs, bed and anything else it takes more than one person to lift.

Sell your stuff to cover expenses. Now that you’ve decided what’s not going with you, have a garage or yard sale. Anything that doesn’t sell, donate to Goodwill or other charities that will pick up items.

Don’t pay for supplies you can get for free. Save up newspapers, junk mail and bubble wrap from deliveries in the months before you move, then use them to pack fragile items. Ask new neighbors if they have any moving boxes they want to unload. Liquor stores and supermarkets are great places to score sturdy boxes. When it comes time to pack, you can use bedding and towels to fill in spaces in boxes with heavy dishes or wall hangings.

Pack like a pro. Keep a box on your kitchen table with all your packing supplies, and label every box prominently by contents and the room it should be left in. One box, with your essential toiletries, medicine and whatever else you might need immediately, should be left aside to be packed last and opened first.

New city, new everything? If you’re moving far away, you’ll need to research your new town’s utility hookups. Find out as much as possible about water, trash, electricity, etc. when you’re there shopping for a place to live. (You can wait and ask around about cable and even Internet service for a few weeks.) Plan out your move like it’s a vacation if it’s going to take more than one day. Book a motel ahead of time instead of driving until you’re exhausted with no place to sleep.

Even if you’re just moving a few blocks into a new apartment, you need a plan. A new address can be a liberating experience, but every move comes with unexpected expenses. By making sure you’re not spending on moving services you don’t need, you’ll be able to relax in your new home – and maybe even pick out a new couch for it.