Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Gifts: A Last Minute Guide


It always seem like we have plenty of time to prepare for the holidays, and then BOOM! Christmas is upon us like an avalanche and we’re left scrambling to come up with some last minute Christmas gift ideas. If this sounds like the yearly scenario for you, and you only have days left to get your holiday shopping done, here are a few last minute gift ideas that might help you out of a tight squeeze.

Coupon gifts – Sometimes we don’t need an actual object to make us happy on Christmas. I can tell you from experience, my wife would much rather be pampered with a half-hour massage from yours truly than have most of the Christmas gift ideas I could come up with at the last minute.

Tickets – You can order tickets online to a variety of sporting events, plays, movies, or whatever your gift receiver is interested in. While the actual tickets themselves might not arrive until after Christmas, it might not matter. Just print out the information – minus the price of course – fold it, and put it into a holiday envelope, and you’ve got a perfect last minute Christmas gift! This is what my wife did for me last year when she bought us tickets to the Indianapolis 500 and I was completely overjoyed. I didn’t need the tickets in my hand, just the knowledge that I would be going to the event.

Gift cards – Widely available at places like your local convenience mart or drugstore as well as a variety of retail shops or online, it’s hard to deny the power of gift cards these days. While they might not have that personal gift giving touch, they make for quick and easy last minute Christmas gifts and take the burden of coming up with an idea off your shoulders.

Food or libations – Making a last minute run to the local grocery store or superstore can work out in your favor as a last resort gift idea. Picking up some nice wine, a good bottle of booze, or a favor food item can be a nice way to celebrate the holiday season. Using wine bags or a nice basket in which to present your gift, and picking up some flowers or a Poinsettia along the way, can make your Christmas gift idea look a little classier and as if it wasn’t a last minute purchase.

______ of the month club – While these type gifts are often a bit on the pricey side, similar to tickets to a show or sporting event they are great ways out of a gift giving jam. You can just give the print off the order receipt as acknowledgment of the gift. Beer, steak, gourmet fruit, or whatever, there is plenty of variety out there when it comes to finding various items to receive monthly.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday Parties: When The Budget Counts


Having a Christmas party can be a great way to get friends and family together for a fun time and good food. But even if you hold your Christmas party at home and cook all the food yourself, the costs of a Christmas party can still add up -- significantly in some cases. Between food, drinks, cleaning, and decorations, you can find yourself spending hundreds of dollars just for one event. So if you’ve had it with overspending on your Christmas parties, and you’re looking for some ways to save, consider these budget tips that might help in reigning in your Christmas party costs.

Utilize your discount stores – Consider checking out your local dollar or party supply stores. You can stock up on cheap party supplies, decorations, and party favors. You might want to pick up some super cheap cleaning supplies while you’re at the dollar store.

Themed party sets – At many party supply or discount stores, you can often find cheap, themed party sets that may include cups, plates, napkins, and party favors. These sets can make your life easier as well as save you money.

Make punch – Brewing up a big bowl of punch can save you money on cans of soda as well as liquor costs at your Christmas party. Since no one will know what kind of mix you are using, you can use lower costs brands of liquor and sodas, or reduce the amounts of liquor you add to the mixture.

Bring a dish – You could invite your guests to bring along a favorite dish to help you save on food costs. You can phrase it as, “Oh, I just love that _____ you make! Would you mind bringing that to the party?” This way, it makes the other person feel useful, appreciated, and as if they are contributing to the Christmas party.

Minimize – Often, by using smaller plates people have less room for food, so they take less, meaning that there is less waste and lower consumption, thereby decreasing your Christmas party costs. The same goes for cup or glass sizes.

Choose your spot – Depending on the size of your home, you might not want people roaming about and straying into portions of your home you aren’t using during your Christmas party. Therefore, consider keeping doors shut to unused rooms or areas within your home. This way you can shut off vents to these areas to save you on heating costs. With people coming and going, letting cold outside air in from outside, you’ll have enough space to heat without extra rooms being left open.

Have the kids decorate – By having your kids do the decorating by making pictures, party favors, and other holiday crafts, it makes them feel involved, saves money, and if it looks cheap or chintzy you can say, “This year I let the kids decorate,” and your guests probably won’t say much.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday Budget Buys


Times are tough, and buying Christmas gifts can be a hit to your budget that can be hard to take. You don’t want to look like Scrooge, but hey, you still want to eat too. Don’t get down on yourself and the holiday season just yet though. Here are a few ideas that might help you come up with some cheap gifts that will let you get through the holiday season with your budget still intact.

Dollar Store Delights – Forget the DVDs, cell phones and diamond pendant earrings as stocking stuffers this year. You might be surprised, but you can load up on some pretty good buys at your local dollar store. Many of the items you find there can make for perfect stocking stuffers or tasty treats on which to nibble on Christmas Day. For ten bucks plus tax, you can get out of there with ten cheap but fun items with which to fill stockings or give as office gifts at work.

Gift Cards – Gift cards can be great budget buys for family members. This might not sound like the best cheap Christmas gift, but give me a chance to explain. Many couples and families go out to eat at restaurants make home repairs, and buy clothing. With gift cards, you are pre-empting the costs that would come anyway and turning them into Christmas gifts. Plus, many stores are offering free gift cards when you spend a certain amount on another gift card -- you might buy a $100 gift card and receive a $25 gift card for free -- meaning you have two gifts for the price of one.

Goodwill Gifts – Now don’t scoff at this idea as one that is beneath you – especially if you’ve never been to a Goodwill store before. Goodwill has a variety of gift options ranging from clothing and kitchenware to toys and games. While you might have to do a bit of sifting, you can come across lightly used and sometimes unused items, some of which are brand name products.

Gifts.com – Gifts.com can be a fast and easy way to come up with cheap Christmas gift ideas. Their easy to use website allows you to sort by price, recipient, occasion, even personality. It can be a great to find a variety of budget gifts for adults and children alike. You might want to check out the alarm clock for the “Morning Impaired,” one of my personal favorites.

Agree to Nothing – Sometimes you just reach a point when it’s time to call it quits with the whole gift-giving thing. If you’ve reached the point where you are just tired of buying gifts you know people really don’t want or need and you don’t like or getting the same type of gifts in return, why bother? Talk to your friends and family. See if they feel the same way. If so, you might agree to skip gift giving this holiday season and just enjoy the good company of family and friends during a party or dinner instead. Doing so can save you time, money, and the effort involved in purchasing gifts that might go unused or unappreciated anyway.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cheap Christmas Gifts: Unique Ideas


Does the approach of another holiday season during an economically tough year have you scratching your head when searching for unique gift ideas? It can be hard enough coming up with interesting gift ideas, but when you have to do so on a budget, it can seem downright impossible. There are plenty of cheap Christmas gifts out there, and there are quite a few unique ideas as well, but typically the more unique the gift, the more it costs. So how do you combine the two? Well, here are a few ideas that might offer a little bit of both to help you out with your cheap, yet unique Christmas gift ideas.

ID Guard Stamp – This little jewel can be a great unique Christmas gift that fits well within your budget. Not only can it save you on your Christmas budget, but it could save the person you give it to by protecting their identity and personal documents. You might find that you buy and extra one to try out for yourself.

Alarm Clock – No, not just any alarm clock, this is the flying alarm clock! Yes, you heard me right, I said flying! This could be the perfect unique Christmas gift idea for the person that has a tough time waking up in the morning. When the alarm goes off, a helicopter-like top goes spinning from the top of the clock, forcing the sleepy head to rise and find the top in order to stop the alarm.

Bank – Let’s be honest, times are tough and money is tight. But buying your child a cool bank is the perfect unique Christmas gift to teach them the importance of saving early on. There are some pretty neat banks out there to make saving money fun. Consider something like the Money Maze Bank or similar gift for the child who has money to stash.

Snuggie – Not quite the rage they were last year, but still a possible gift idea. Consider changing it up and trying a Collegiate Snuggie as an affordable Christmas gift. It can be a great unique gift idea for a college student, graduate, or just the avid sports enthusiast.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tips for Saving on a Christmas Dinner


With Christmas fast approaching and the economy suffering, you might be searching for ways to conserve a little cash during the holiday season. You want to stick to a budget but at the same time, you don’t want to look like Scrooge, skimping on the essentials.

Christmas is a time for caring and sharing, and it just wouldn’t be the same without a Christmas dinner. If you want your dinner to be fun and friendly, but still stick to your cost savings plan, here are some quick and easy tips on how to save money during your Christmas dinner.

FOOD & DRINKS
Here are some simple ways to save on your food and drink budget, as well as make what you purchase go further.

• Have each guest bring a food dish.
• Have guests bring their own alcohol.
• Save leftovers.
• Pass on alcohol altogether.
• Serve punch rather than individually portioned and more expensive drinks.
• Buy generic.
• Buy in bulk.
• Prepared in advance and buy your supplies and food items when they are on sale.
• Skip the soda.
• Make your own snacks and hors d’oeuvres.

PARTY SUPPLIES
Dinner is more than just food and drinks. There are all the supplies that go into decorating and making your dinner more than just a quick bite to eat. Here are some ways to make efficient use of your party supplies as well as some ideas of what to buy to keep your costs to a minimum.

• Use your own glassware rather than costly paper/plastic products.
• Send invites over email to avoid buying paper invitations or consider make your own.
• Create your own party decorations.
• Use party decorations from last year’s party.
• Borrow party supplies you don’t have from friends.
• Buy Christmas decorations at post-Christmas sales for next year’s party.

MISCELLANEOUS
Here are a few extra tidbits and tips that can make your party efficient while saving you a buck or two in the process.

• Keep the thermostat low since large parties tend to generate more body heat.
• Turn lights off in unused rooms during the party.
• Close doors to unused rooms during the party to save on heating costs.
• If it’s snowing, shovel your own walks and driveway rather than paying someone else to do it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Using a Gift Card to Buy a Gift Card


Here's a question for all you gift savvy buyers out there. I haven't been able to find an answer to this one, and maybe you'll be able to help me out.

I've been wondering lately if it is possible to use a gift card to buy a gift card. You might be wondering why I would want to do this, so I'll explain.

Let's say you get a gift card to Blockbuster. Maybe you aren't particularly into watching movies and don't want to buy any of their candy. However, they happen to sell gift cards to other stores and restaurants at the checkout.

Could you use your gift card to buy a gift card to a place you might be more prone to go?

If anyone has tried this or knows the answer, please let me know. Thanks.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Money Saving Tips of the Week #8


With Thanksgiving just around the corner, here are a few tips that might help you reduce your holiday feast expenses.

*Accept help
When someone offers to help with holiday meal preparations, you might want to take them up on it. People often like to feel needed, and they may enjoy contributing a special dish to your holiday extravaganza. With seven or eight guests all bringing a dish of their own creation, you may be able to greatly reduce your food costs as well as make your guests feel involved and appreciated in the dinner preparations.

*Go to someone else’s for Thanksgiving
Maybe you’re tired of hosting Thanksgiving this year and want to leave it up to someone else for a change. This can be a nice change of pace, not to mention more relaxing and much cheaper. Instead of paying to feed the entire family and possibly friends as well, make a dish or two to contribute to the meal, maybe bring along a bottle of wine, and save yourself plenty of money in the process.

*Start preparations early
When you’re at the store, keep an eye out in advance for items you know you’ll need for Thanksgiving dinner. Buying ingredients (that will stay fresh until they are needed) when they are on sale can keep you from having to purchase them at the last minute when you have little choice but to pay full price.

*Reduce alcohol expenses
Depending on the types of friends and family you have, alcohol may or may not be a necessary evil involved in your holiday plans and preparations. Alcohol costs for such events can add up quickly, and be even more expensive, if not more so than the food you serve. If you feel alcohol is a requirement for your Thanksgiving, consider making a punch rather than serving straight liquor. A punch can make your booze go further and can mask a lower-priced liquor behind other flavors.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Last Week’s Big Cutback: My Personal Budget Cut


Last week, I decided it was time for a change. I’d had just about enough of certain utility companies continuously jacking up their rates (they’re so sneaky about it, adding a couple bucks onto your bill every three or four months so you don’t tend to notice it as much), so I decided to do something about it.

When I was working in the hotel business, I had the extra income to blow on superfluous items like the larger cable television packages, and fancy phone services, but as a freelance writer things are a bit tighter financially. Not only this, but it was just frustrating having to pay for services that just aren’t used or not used enough to make worth the cost.

Phone Service
My wife and I aren’t big on chatting away on the phone. We make the necessary calls, a long distance ring or two to stay in touch with distant friends and family, and the occasional local call. We’ve always had a land line for such purposes and bought a pay-as-you-go cell phone for emergencies and occasional use when traveling.

As of late however, we found that we just weren’t using our land line phone enough to make it worth the cost. We were paying about $65 a month for the service, which was making it hard to justify with our pathetic use. Half the time we are over at our in-laws on the weekends (they live 5-minutes away), and we can always use their phone for longer conversations if needed. Still, the decision to be done with land line phone service was difficult. We’d had it for so long that it was almost like a security blanket. But with our cell phone, we are only required to put a total of $20 every three months on the plan, which means that we could save almost $700 a year if we ditched our regular service. Once I figured that out, it was a no-brainer.

Digital TV
Next on the chopping block was our digital television service. I must admit, it was nice having 200 channels, but by my estimation we probably only watched 15-20 of them on a regular basis. We were paying $110 a month for our digital television and internet services. Since internet services are important to us, we decided to leave our high-speed service alone at. However, we cut our digital television watching down to the basic $20 plan, which mainly consists of local channels.

We also sent back the extra digital receiver for a television we rarely watched and for which we were being charged $7 a month. Overall, our cutbacks got us down from $110 a month to about $55. A 50% cut and one that could save us $660 per year.

Incidentals
It might seem a bit silly, but there are certain, more minor benefits to this personal budget cut as well. Each month there is one less stamp I’ll have to use for the phone bill – a savings of 44 cents a month, or about $5 a year – hey that’s lunch at McDonalds; a big one if I order from the dollar menu! And with one less bill that means one less check I’ll have to write each month.

With fewer television channels to watch this will hopefully mean better productivity for me, and it will be less of a temptation for my three-year-old to want to watch cartoons (we were watching way too much television). Now when he watches tv, there will be little choice but to watch the PBS Kids channel. I prefer their educational programming to any other kids’ channel anyway. And so…

THE GRAND TOTAL IN SAVINGS IS…
With only two adjustments to my monthly utilities:

About $115/month which translates to almost $1400 in savings a year!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Nice New Retirement Website

Here's a site that I just found. I like its down-to-earth feel, and if you're looking for retirement information, this site has tips and advice from the people who are living it now as opposed to those of us who are still dreaming the dream.

Visit Retirement-Online to learn more about the process of retirement and hear from real retirees on their thoughts of all things retirement.

Money Saving Tip of the Week #7: Halloween Costume Money Saving Ideas


With Halloween right around the corner, here are a couple ideas to save a few bucks on your costume.

* Switch Off -- You might still have Halloween costumes of yore stashed around your home. Rather than being the same thing you were last year or running out to buy a new costume, consider checking with friends, family or co-workers to see if you can trade old costumes with them.

* The House Search -- I'll bet you have a Halloween costume or two somewhere in your home, and you may not even know it. What do you wear to work each day? It might be a great, not to mention quick, easy, and cheap Halloween costume. Scrubs to be a nurse or doctor, a company logoed shirt or uniform, or similar outfit might work. Hawaiian shirt, board shorts, and flip-flops, etc. for a surfer dude or chic, lifeguard or whatever, is another idea.

* Do-it-yourselfer -- With a bit of imagination and a few props from the local dollar or discount store, you may be able to avoid the pricier Halloween costume shop or rental store. You'd be surprised what you can come up with just using the toy section of a store. I was even considering my son's toy fireman's hat -- yes, sadly it fits -- paired with suspenders, boots, blue pants and a white shirt for a last minute (and more impantly cheap!) Halloween costume.

Whatever you decide to be this Halloween, with a little imagination, you could save yourself a lot of money! So have fun, be safe, enjoy yourself, and beware of all that tasty candy!

Friday, October 22, 2010

5 Great Personal Finance Blogs


It's often interesting to me when I come across other personal finance blogs. I like to see how other people set up their blogs and the information they like to convey. Of course, the ones that really grab my attention are the ones that appeal most to the average person, not the ones that lose their readers in technical jargon and advanced investing strategies.

Here's a list of five personal finance blogs that I found particularly interesting (of course I couldn't resist the temptation to through my own in the list).

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Money Saving Tip of the Week #4, 5, & 6



Since I haven't posted in a while, here are three money saving tips to make up for my absence.

With winter approaching, utility bills can start to climb as we attempt to keep our homes warm and cozy. Here are three tips that might assist you in reducing energy consumption and help you keep your utility bills down in the process.

Tip #1) Consider using space heaters to help add heat to your home. I have two of those little electric space heaters you can find at most home supply stores (they typically run about $10-25 US). While for safety reasons, I don't leave them on while I'm not around or while I'm sleeping at night, they can be great when you want to pump up the temperature of a room a little bit. I can raise the temperature of my master bedroom by 10-15 degrees fahrenheit in about half an hour. This saves me signficantly on natural gas used to run our sorely energy inefficient furnace.

Tip #2) Those same tiny little space heaters are often about the same wattage as those they put in the fancy electric fireplaces that are all the craze these days and sell for hundreds of dollars. Unless you're looking for ambiance, you can save a good amount of money by avoiding the purchase of an electric fireplace and just get the electric space heater instead.

Tip #3) I have found that the use of an electric blanket can make for additional savings on the heating bill. I purchased one last year on sale at Target for around $70 (I had to get one big enough for a king-sized bed). It keeps us warm and toasty and allows me to significantly lower the thermostat for our furnace at night.

I have access to the natural gas consumption rates for our home over the last several years and I have discovered that I have reduced our bill not only year over year, but by more than half compared to the people who were living there before us.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Money Saving Tip of the Week #3


Having just finished a vacation out to the state of Washington, I've realized something quite important. These days, efficient packing when it comes to air travel can make a reasonably large dent in your travel costs.

More and more airlines are charging for checked bags, and even at $20 per bag each way, this can add up quickly. While there might still be an airline here and there that doesn't charge such fees, they are becoming a rare breed.

Rather than pay these rediculous fees, the family packed light, each taking one carry-on bag. And by carry-on bag, I don't mean a full-sized suitcase, I mean a regular sized backpack. Of course since we were staying at a place with a washer and dryer, we had the advantage of not having to pack many outfits. Still, things were a little tight. It also meant we were forced to leave certain toiletries and other items behind, but that was okay because we had a plan.

We knew that a local discount dollar store existed near where we were staying. This meant that items such as soap, shampoo, shaving cream, socks, a few toys, and similiar items could be left behind to be purchased when we arrived. We figured that even if we spent between $20-40 at the store buying toiletries and clothing, we'd still come out ahead by $40 (the airline we traveled charges $20 per bag each way).

Therefore, consider this example the next time you're packing your bags. While you might not be able to pack as lightly as we did, even by eliminating one or two bags from your travel inventory, you can save quite a bit of money.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Monthly Resale Efforts


It's amazing just how much money you can make by selling back your old stuff. From having a garage sale to selling books, CDs, and other items over the Internet, there are so many convenient ways to convert your unused or unwanted belongings into cold, hard cash.

Here are a few of my experiences with reselling some of my stuff over a one month period. I've included a breakdown of just how much money I made from each of my endeavors.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Money Talks and so Should You: Discussing Finances with Your Partner


It's amazing how so many couples avoid or feel uncomfortable talking about money. While it's often one of the most important issues in a relationship, many of us would just prefer to talk about something else.

However, in an effort to keep our relationship's healthy, it's often important to discuss and explore issues pertaining to our personal finances. If you think it's time to start opening up when it comes to 'money talk' here are a few things to consider.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Money Saving Tip of the Week #2


Unlike many people these days, I don't tend to spend much time talking on the phone. This fact left me questioning why I even have a land line phone anymore. Sure, it's nice to have around just in case, but I realized my need for such a service was more habit based than necessary. I'd always had a land line phone and signing up for this service just came with the territory whenever I moved to a new location.

Seeing as I now had a pay-as-you-go cell phone though (mostly for emergency purposes), I decided it was time to do away with the old phone service. At the time, I was paying $65 a month for the land line phone. With my cell service, I am required to put a total of $20 onto the plan every three months -- more if necessary (so far it hasn't been).

Even though on a per minute basis the cell phone is more expensive, overall the plan only requires me to pay $80 per year, where as the land line phone service would have been around $780.

This means that I'm saving $700 a year, and even if I add a little more than the $20/3 months onto the cell plan, I am still making my change in service well worthwhile.

Something to consider for all you non-talkers out there!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Surviving the Recession is a Frame of Mind


Most of us would probably agree that the current recession stinks. Sure, there are always those who will profit from a particular situation be it bad or good, but for many of us, we are counting the days until the economy turns the corner and things start looking a bit brighter.

But maybe this recession is more than just about a bunch of mortgages gone bad and a financial crisis caused by the greed of others. Maybe we need to look at ourselves a little bit and begin to consider the way in which we spend and handle our personal finances.

While it might be a bit late for this go around, we might be able to learn a little something from our experiences in this recession in order to change our mindsets and let us be a little better prepared for next time.

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Money Saving Tip of the Week


Just wanted to throw this little thought out there for all to ponder.

I realized the other day that we probably only watch 10% of the cable television shows we have available through our provider, yet our cable bill keeps increasing on a regular basis. While I love certain shows on channels we wouldn't get through a basic service, there are several of these programs that I can either watch online or when we're spending time at the in-laws house, which we do on a regular basis. Therefore, I hacked into our cable bill by cutting our services and sending back an additional receiver for the downstair's television we weren't using.

Long story short, I got our cable/internet bill down from just over $110 to a little over $60. That's $50 bucks a month savings, which equates to $600 a year. Not too shabby huh?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Surviving the Recession is a Frame of Mind


It might seem as if the economy will never get out of the current funk it's in. In all likelihood, it will, and when it does, we need to remember how bad things got before they got better.

Understanding why things got as bad as they did, as well as making sure we don't make similar mistakes can help us avoid repeating the recession's evil effects in the near future. While things are bound to get bad again, learning from this recession can help us better prepare for and handle the next recessionary round, because it will come...eventually.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

6 Ways to Keep Your Elderly Loved One's Money Safe


Watching out for the financial safety of an aging loved one can be a considerable task, and one that's not to be taken lightly. There are plenty of scams out there aimed at the elderly, and as technology advances, the opportunity for this demographic to be taken advantage of seems only to increase.

To better protect an elderly loved one in your family or just someone you know, maybe even yourself, here are a few tips that you might find helpful.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Save Hundreds of Dollars on Carpet Cleaning


Here is a post regarding a little DIY job I decided to do at my in-law's house. Their carpet was in need of a bit of cleaning and I was the man for the job. I thought this might be an opportune time to do a little research and see just how much money my lovely labor and rented carpet cleaning machine could save compared to a professional carpet cleaning company.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Get a Grip on Summer Spending


Summer can be a tempting time for you and your wallet. The air is fresh, the weather is nice, and you probably want to get out and do stuff.

But doing stuff can cost money. And summer spending can quickly get away from you in a number of ways and for a number of reasons.

Here are a few ways you might reign in your summer splurges when it comes to the cash that's flowing from your coffers.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lending to Friends? Beware!


Times are tough and credit is tight. You might have some friends who are in need of a little financial help and you are the one they are looking to for that assistance.

If you're considering lending money to friends, here are a few things to keep in mind before handing them the cash.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Finding Inspiration in Your Personal Finances


It can be difficult these days to find any sort of inspiration in your personal financial situation. If you search hard, work at it, and dig deep enough though, you might find a glimmer of hope when it comes to your money.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Costs of Having a Hobby


Hobbies might be an important, maybe even an integral part of your life. They can keep you from boredom, help you teach others, can provide great satisfaction and enjoyment, and may even make you money. At the same time however, these activities could end up costing you money. While you may feel your hobby or hobbies should not be dictated too tightly by financial aspects, the money you are spending on these activities will likely still have to be a consideration.

Affordability
One of the most important considerations of having a hobby is affordability. How much money will your hobby cost, and do you have the money or time needed to devote to your hobby or hobbies? It can be frustrating to enter into a hobby only to find that you can’t fully take advantage of the opportunity it presents, or participate in the activity due to lack of funds.

In order to determine whether the hobby or hobbies you have selected are economically feasible, it might be a good idea to speak to others who are involved in the particular activity, do some online research or visit your local library and check out a few books or magazines on the hobby to determine associated costs. Whether it’s camping, caving, golf, or collecting, hobbies can often range greatly in costs depending on how involved the participant decides to become or what the hobby is. It may therefore be a good idea to get more than one opinion or read more than one publication to get a better idea of how much you’ll be spending on your hobby. Once you have a general idea of how much a hobby will cost, it can be a good idea to lay out a budget.

Hobby Budget
Hobbies are meant to be fun, but costs can get out of control if you let them. Once you have an idea of how much a hobby might cost you, it’s time to determine how much you can afford to throw at it. Many hobbies will require a reasonably sized initial investment to get started. You may have to buy gear, equipment, supplies, a membership, or other items needed to partake in your hobby of choice. As with camping, you could find that the initial costs for a tent, sleeping bags, backpacks, cookware, and related equipment is quite high, but after those items are obtained, the cost of camping as a hobby can drop off dramatically as your equipment (if maintained properly) may last for years or longer.

Other hobbies might not call for such a large initial buy-in but will require continuous reinvestment due to the regularity of re-supply costs or as in golf, club membership dues or rounds of golf, cart fees, etc. A hobby such as collecting dishes, silverware, antiques or similar items, might not call for much of an initial financial outlay, but over time may become a regular expense as the collection builds and items are found on shopping trips.

Going into your hobby with a budget can help provide a general idea of how much it will cost as well as how much you can afford to put toward your hobby. A budget can help avoid unforeseen surprises when it comes to the cost of your chosen pastime and may allow you to better enjoy your hobby without overdoing it when it comes to costs.

Earnings
Sometimes hobbies can make you money. This might be a fantastic, not to mention unexpected aspect, since you’ll hopefully be doing something you love while making money at the same time. You may even find that your hobby pays for itself. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves quite yet. A hobby is something that is meant to be enjoyed, not necessarily a money making venture. If you are able to tie the two together though, you may get the best of both worlds.

Whether your art is selling by way of your paintings, ceramics or weaving, you’re writing freelance articles, reselling antiques or collectibles, making a profit as a woodworker, make a bit from selling your gardening products, or just enjoy reselling items at garage sales, there are numerous ways hobbies can earn you a buck or two. However, it’s often important to the enjoyment of your hobby that you don’t let making money detract from the joy you receive from your pastime. If the two can comingle, so much the better, but if a hobby becomes work, it may no longer be a hobby!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My Aunt's First Novel!!!


My aunt just published her first novel, Bondage and Freedom: A Civil War Romance. Here's a brief summary of the book from her publisher, AuthorHouse's bookstore page.

"When the Yankee nurse's wagon overturns, she does not expect a captain of Confederate cavalry to rescue her. Unable to reveal her identity to the enemy, Lydia remains silent until Brinton's tender care overcomes her fear. In the final days of the Civil War, Lydia and Brinton strive to serve their causes in East Tennessee and find something more powerful than hatred. The bondage of war gives way to freedom in their love for each other."

To find out more or order your copy CLICK HERE.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

How to Deglaze a Pan


While I’m no food expert, or even a great cook, I do enjoy a good gravy, and I HATE to waste food! Deglazing is not only a delicious but economical way to pick a pan clean. This process involves using the bits of meat and juices that remain in the bottom of a cooking pan to create tasty and natural gravy. The techniques involved in deglazing can be as simple or as extravagant as you want. While I’m still a novice at the technique, here are a few things I’ve picked up so far that you might be interested in hearing.

Let’s start with the basics. Some of the best gravy I’ve ever tasted has been completely natural, using only the bits of meat, skin, and juices left from a cooked bird or a roast. Adding a little water during the cooking process can help to ensure that there is enough juice to work with and that the bits of meat that have adhered to the bottom of the pan are moist. Water can also be added once the meat has been removed and the gravy gently brought to a boil.

Health nuts out there may recommend attempting to remove any fat or bits of meat from the mixture before serving. In many cases though, dishes such as duck, goose or large roasts are most often prepared around the holidays and one should be ready to indulge. However, if you are adamant about watching your waistline, then straining out all the good stuff is always an option. The remaining gravy will probably still have more natural flavor than store bought, although it may not be quite as thick.

There are plenty of variations to deglazing a pan. Some people like to add a stock of some sort, possibly beef, chicken, fish or vegetable. Still others choose to flavor with wine, cider, brandy, or assorted fruit juice or alcohol. As a safety side note, if you decide to use straight alcohol, make sure to remove the pan from an open flame before adding. One might also select from a variety of herbs and seasonings including, garlic, salt, basil, oregano, fennel, rosemary, etc. or any combination thereof.

Smaller dishes, such as filets and cutlets, and all types of meats including fish, chicken, steak, pork, and even vegetables can be deglazed. One trick to deglazing just about anything is making sure you use a pan in which bits of meat will adhere to the bottom.
This can ensure you have a little something to work with for your deglazing process. Another key element in the deglazing process is ensuring that you don’t overcook the meat, thus evaporating the meat’s juices and oils, which are essential to producing the flavor rich stock with which to make your gravy. Sometimes, giving the meat a slight basting while still cooking, will ensure some of the meat’s juices seep to the bottom of the pan.

If, upon checking the status of your gravy while heating, you find it is not thick enough for your liking, there are several options. One of these options consists of using a mixture of fat from the drippings of the meat and butter as a thickener. Another is to use butter mixed with flour. Probably the most effective technique though, is mixing a little cornstarch with a bit of cold water and stirring it into the gravy until you have the consistency you are looking for. If your gravy becomes lumpy, you can always toss it in the blender or hit is with the hand mixer when no one is looking. Your gravy is then ready either to be served in a separate serving dish for individual portions or drizzled over the meat itself, thus enhancing the overall flavor of the meal.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Emergency Food Supplies


Part of efficient and effective living is planning ahead. Here are a few of my thoughts when it comes to what to stock for an emergency food supply.

The scope and range of possible emergencies in the 21st century are broader and far wider reaching than ever. From natural disasters such as floods, storms, fires, epidemics, and droughts, to man made catastrophes like terrorist activities, financial collapse, civil unrest, environmental destruction, even the crash of technology based services such as internet or electronic banking, emergencies can encompass a variety of possibilities. These disasters can last from a few hours to weeks or even months, and can affect very specific areas and societal demographics or be spread across vast regions, countries, even the entire world.

Having a stock of food and water available for yourself and your family is one of the best ways to be prepared for an emergency. Simply having a supply of food isn’t enough though. You must ensure that you have certain types of food on hand and that they are properly stored. Storing your food supplies in a cool dark place, rotating them by freshness and expiration dates, and having well packaged, non-crushable containers for easy storage and transportation, are all factors to consider when compiling your emergency food stores. But you can only stock so much, so what foods are best to have on hand during an emergency?

If space is a factor, you aren’t going to want to have many items like chips, pretzels, crackers, etc. that are poorly packaged, low in nutrition, take up a lot of room, and are easily crushable. This type of item is better replaced by high protein foods that are compact and will keep for long periods such as peanuts, peanut butter, granola, etc. When it comes to your emergency stockpile, forget the frills. In an emergency, you want the necessities, so in most cases you won’t be stocking the condiments, milk, butter, eggs, etc. You need food that won’t spoil quickly and is easy to transport and store.

Necessities

First off, you won’t be getting far in an emergency without water. While you will need it to drink, it is also quite difficult to cook many types of food without water. Therefore, bottled water should be the first item you stock in your emergency food supply. Besides water though, you should have flour, sugar, powdered or condensed milk, salt, and dehydrated or powdered eggs. These items have a long shelf life, don’t take up much room, and in a long-term emergency these ingredients will provide a long list of foods and meals you can create.

Staples

Items that are canned or dried can often be great additions to your emergency food supply due to their long shelf life and easy storage. Dry cereals such as oatmeal, cream of wheat, granola, grits, etc. are perfect for your stock. Regular boxed cereal can be good as well, although you have to watch expiration dates more closely. Other good staples include noodles, pastas, dry soups, peanut butter, peanuts, and dried meats. If you don’t want to have to add water to make your meals, consider canned fruits, vegetables, pastas, and other canned, ready to eat foods.

Special needs

If you have someone in your family with diabetes or hypoglycemia, you should consider storing special items to meet their needs. Fruit juice, powdered juice that can be mixed with water, raisins or dried fruit, and candy can be good for getting blood sugar levels up. Low carbohydrate/high protein foods such as dried meat, tuna fish, peanuts, and peanut butter, are other good foods to have in your emergency supply for helping to regulate blood sugars. Since the majority of these foods can be eaten by those without special needs, and typically have a long shelf life, they make great additions to your emergency food supply.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Why Are You Wasting Your Money?


There are plenty of ways to waste your money, and in this current economic environment, wasting money is not a wise move to make. The problem is, you could be wasting money and not even realize it. What might seem a normal expense to you, might be an unnecessary expenditure to someone else. If you want to save a couple of bucks or think you might unwittingly be tossing your hard earned money down the drain, here are a few areas in which you might be able to cinch up your belt a bit and hunker down when it comes to where your money is going.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Potential Pitfalls of Retirement


There are plenty of pitfalls lurking in almost any retirement no matter how much we plan or how well we think we've covered our bases. While there are certainly some obvious pitfalls to avoid, here are a few that you might not yet have considered and that could sneak up on you in your golden years.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Going Generic on These Items Can Save You Hundreds: Part II


Here is a follow up to a post I did in May.

While utilizing generics or store brands may not be for everyone, and certainly not for every product or situation, there are times and products upon which the switch might prove useful and save you money.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

How Much Allowance Will You Give Your Kids?


It can be difficult to know how much of an allowance to give to your kids -- or whether to give them one at all. What should the structure of an allowance be based upon and how do you make it a valuable learning process for your children?

While you probably want to teach your kids to appreciate and value money, how to save and to spend, you may not want to overdo it with a large allowance, which can spoil them and do just the opposite. At the same time though, giving them more money, while increasing the number of items they much buy for themselves, can teach fiscal responsibility. This can make deciding upon an allowance amount a difficult balancing act, and one that will likely have to be tailored around your personal financial situation as well as the dynamics and relationships within your family.

Here are a few areas to consider when deciding how much of an allowance to give your kids.

Setting an Amount
Setting an allowance amount is often easier when a child is young. A quarter or 50 cents a week can seem like a great deal of money when they are just three or four. However, as a child grows and begins to realize just how much the things he or she wants to buy really cost, expectations of a regular and meaningful payout from mom and dad often increase as well. This is where things can get a little tricky.

As families differ widely in their incomes, expenses, savings, and spending habits, there may be a great disparity between allowance amounts as well and what amount you feel is sufficient for you child’s needs. Sure, you probably want your child or children to be able to splurge once in a while and buy something they’ve been wanting. But you likely also want them to learn the value of a dollar and realize that the things we often want in life must be saved for (even though many parents don’t seem to realize this).

Therefore, consider thinking of your child’s allowance as you would your weekly or bi-weekly paycheck. Your child will be paid for doing minor tasks around the house – things like taking out the trash, cleaning his or her room, feeding a pet, etc. If you decide upon a dollar a week as an allowance, you may want to grow this amount over time, as your paycheck would, to adjust for cost of living increases. Every year, consider having a review to judge performance, much like you may have at your workplace. Review how the child has performed assigned duties and base the allowance increase upon this performance.

Extras
As a child grows, so will his or her financial wants and needs. This can leave the standard allowance amount a bit lacking at times, needing to be supplemented by extra work or bonuses. Again, think back to your work, and how each year you may have duties added to or taken away from your particular job description as you and your work grow and evolve. Similarly, as a child grows and becomes more adapt at certain jobs, consider increasing payment for this work. You can still maintain a standard allowance amount each week, but you may choose to add duties for the child to accomplish, and therefore increase their set allowance amount. You may also decide to pay separately for things such as yard work, painting the house, washing the car, taking siblings to and from school or extracurricular activities, and so on.

You might also consider special bonuses for items that your child accomplishes without being asked or certain thresholds or achievements met by the child. However, these bonuses could take the form of a special family dinner, a trip to the movies, or other activity. Not everything must revolve around the attainment of money, otherwise you may risk your child growing up thinking he or she should only do things for cash rather than out of the kindness of his or her heart.

Making it a Learning Process
Receiving an allowance as a child can be a wonderful learning experience. But you can’t expect children to understand the process of receiving, saving, and spending money without guidance along the way. It is important to take time to explain why they are getting this money, how it could be used and for what, and what the consequences are of improper money management or lack of effort in their job duties.

Consider helping your child to open a savings account and as they age, possibly a checking account. If they are interesting in the stock market or other investments, your guidance could prove invaluable to them as they take early steps to financial independence. Being open and honest about money and finances (if you are knowledgeable yourself) can help a child immensely and may assist them in avoiding financial mistakes as they move into adulthood.

As a child, I had a friend whose father (a single parent) would give him $50 (what I thought was a huge amount of money) allowance every week. I was extremely jealous and thought my parents should do the same. However, this friend was to use the money for his food, clothing, and other necessities, as well as entertainment. I thought this was the coolest thing, because at age 9, he was already learning what things cost, how to spend and manage his money, and what would happen if he spent it too quickly.

Continuing the Growth Process
As a child grows into a teenager and eventually moves into adulthood, this doesn’t mean it’s time to let the learning process stop. Sure, we all have to learn and make mistakes on our own, but this doesn’t mean that parents should sit idly by and watch their children fail at personal finance. And while you might not want to get involved or step on any toes, there are ways to teach without necessarily ‘nagging’.

During their early adolescence and teen years consider letting your child sit with you as you pay bills, study investment performance, and review credit card or bank statements. While this process might seem boring to you, your child might find it extremely interesting and educational. I only wish I had known how much utilities cost, what a home mortgage ran, and that we actually had to pay taxes on our property when I was a teenager. I certainly would have set my income expectations a bit higher had that been the case.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cooling Your Home on a Tight Budget


Cooling a home during warmer months can be aggravating, especially when battling a tight budget. Rather than getting hot under the collar when the electric bill arrives, keep your cool. The following tips can alleviate the summer sizzle and help maintain a tight home cooling budget.

BATTEN DOWN THE TIGHT BUDGET HATCHES
Remember those movies in which sailors seal hatches to keep water from pouring into their storm struck ship? Well, on a hot day, you’re the captain of the S.S. Tight Budget, and it’s your job to keep out warm air. The same spaces that allow cold air to seep into homes during the winter, may allow warm air inside during the summer. It is therefore important to inspect the following areas:

* Window seals
* Doors
* Seldom used rooms
* Attic
* Basement

Holding a lighted candle or even just your hand in front of windows or doors can help detect airflow from cracks. Caulking or sealing these spaces may decrease air seepage. Also, you might consider partitioning areas that aren’t used frequently. Closing doors and vents to unused rooms when cooling a home can make a difference of five to ten degrees or more. Ensuring an attic is properly insulated can maintain a tight budget as well.

APPLIANCE RELIANCE
It’s amazing just how much appliances can add to the temperature of a room or home. Dishwashers, ovens, toasters, refrigerators, washers and dryers all produce heat that can bust an already tight budget. If it’s necessary to use these items when cooling a home, consider the following:

* Use a microwave instead of stove or oven for cooking
* Use appliances at night when energy rates and temperatures are typically lower
* Use cold water to wash clothes
* Dry clothes outside
* Air dry dishes
* Vacuum refrigerator coils and vents every couple months

Don’t forget, even items such as televisions, lights/light bulbs, stereos, DVR, DVD, and CD players emit heat that can hurt your chances of cooling a home.

A TIGHT BUDGET BUSTING DAY
Ambient light is a leading cause in increasing room temperature and can destroy any chance of cooling a home while abiding by tight budget constraints. There are several ways to combat this solar foe.

* Close blinds/curtains on sunny days
* Plant trees/shrubs to block sunlight
* Use awnings

On the other hand, Mother Nature can be used to your advantage. Opening windows allows breezes to cool a home and can be a great money saver. Using fans to circulate air can save on a tight budget and be particularly helpful in cooling a home.

AIR CONDITIONING
If you are looking for a new air conditioner, bigger isn’t always better. Larger units may run for shorter periods and eat up more electricity when cooling a home. If you find it necessary to run an air conditioning unit, consider using a programmable thermostat. This can allow you to leave the air off, or set it at a higher temperature during times when you are away, thereby cooling a home on a tight budget more effectively.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Spring Cleaning Cooling Checklist


While spring months may already have come and gone, you may still not have yet had the opportunity to fire up the old air conditioner. Having a professional inspect your cooling system may be a consideration for your spring cleaning process. Such an inspection may help avoid costly repairs down the road and make your cooling system more efficient, saving you money over the long run. There are however, some simple, spring cleaning steps that you can take on your own to prepare your cooling system for peak performance.

TEST RUN
Whether your cooling system consists of central air, wall units, or three box fans and a tray of ice-cubes, it is best to do a spring cleaning test run before temperatures begin to rise. Testing your cooling system can alert you to problems before temperatures reach the boiling point. There are several things you can check for when completing your test.

* Check for even and consistent operation.
* Listen for any unusual sounds.
* Ensure all vents are functioning.
* NOTE: You should make sure the outside temperature is above 60 degrees when conducting the test upon your central air unit. Operating an air unit below this temperature could cause damage to the system.

SIMPLE SPRING CLEANING CHECKLIST
A spring cleaning test can also allow you to do a bit of preventative maintenance before your cooling system is expected to perform its job. There are several quick and easy tips that can make your air conditioning unit more efficient and circumvent issues that could become major problems.

* Check, clean, and replace filter.
* Ensure drain hoses for humidity removal are not clogged, and are draining properly.
* Inspect humidifier pad.
* Check for signs of corrosion on pipes and air conditioning unit.
* Remove winter cover from the outside condensing unit.
* Clean the condensing unit to free it from accumulated debris.
* Make sure condensing unit is free from grass or foliage that may have grown around it.
* Check to see that inside vents are open or closed and unblocked, depending on the areas of your home you choose to cool.
* If using a programmable thermostat, check to see it is properly set for your comfort level.

These are reasonably easy steps that can prevent future issues and better direct a service professional to problem areas if needed. Also, you might consider planting trees or shrubs around the exterior condensation and fan unit to keep it shaded. Direct sunlight can affect the performance of the cooling system. Just make sure that there is at least a three foot clearance or more to avoid obstructions falling into the fan or clogging the unit.

PROFESSIONAL SPRING CLEANING CHECKLIST
Finally, there are a few items on the spring cleaning checklist, which you should probably leave for a cooling system professional to inspect. These include:

* Inspecting refrigerant lines and electrical connections
* Checking and lubricating fan motor and belts
* Looking for air or water leaks
* Checking the condensate line and drain pan

Following up with your inspector to ensure that these areas can be checked off the spring cleaning checklist, can save time, trouble, and money down the road. Remember, preventative maintenance can be the key to an efficient and smoothly running cooling system.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ways to Raise Cash Quickly


In today’s economy, quick and easy (and legal I should add) ways of finding cash are in high demand. Many of us find ourselves scratching our heads and wondering what we can do to cover those extra bills. Friends and family are often options, but asking them for money can be embarrassing or belittling. So here are four quick and easy ways to help you rake in some extra green without much effort.

RESALE
First, look around you. What do you see? Probably rarely utilized objects that clutter your home. Books that are collecting dust on the shelves, DVDs you never watch, CDs you don’t listen to, and even the clothes in your closet could all be money waiting to be made. You might want to try sites like Cash4Books.net or SecondSpin.com to see if you have books or CDs worth selling back. Otherwise, stores like Half Price Books will purchase most books, CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes, even magazines that you may not be able to sell by way of the internet. Given, you won’t get what you paid for them initially, but something is better than nothing, right? EBay or eBay stores may also be good places for resale, especially if you have antiques or larger ticket items such as bicycles, cameras, electronic or video equipment, jewelry, coins, and other high value items.

Have clothes you don’t wear or your children have outgrown -- even vintage items? Check your local newspaper or advertising magazines and you will likely find stores that will purchase these types of clothing. They might only choose a couple of items from the bags you bring in, so have a garage sale with the leftovers. Those that don’t sell there can be donated to charity for a tax deduction on the donation.

GARAGE SALE
If you have items that don’t quite fit the resale label but are still usable, a garage sale is another good way to pull in some cash. Take a weekend, put out some signs directing people to your sale and wait for the cash to tumble in. Invite friends and neighbors to join you in your efforts. Increased numbers of items and participants will likely increase the draw of your sale as well as your profits. My mother recently pulled down over $600 dollars at a weekend garage sale with a neighbor.

SELL A VEHICLE
This might sound a bit extreme, but you would be surprised at how many people have vehicles they pay maintenance and insurance costs on but do not regularly use. When I sold my last car, I took it to CarMax. They did a fantastic job of making the resale process painless. I was in and out in just over an hour with a reasonable check for my aging vehicle. They bought my car with no pressure to purchase one of their own, and their sales staff was well-trained and professional.

CUT YOUR EXPENSES
This is probably the easiest money you’ll ever make. It’s simple -- don’t spend so much. That hundred-dollar cable bill is probably not a necessity. I know, I know, you can’t live with out cable, but I bet you can live without two hundred channels. My wife and I recently downgraded our lineup and amazingly still find plenty of shows to fill our evenings while saving money at the same time. The same goes for cell phones, movies, food, clothing, etc. I’m not saying you should necessarily become a miserly hermit, but cutting back just a bit can help bring the cash in quick.

And, if all else fails there always the blood bank…but I’ll leave that for another post.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Early Retirement: Will You Be Ready?


Now don't stop reading just because the words "Early Retirement" are found in the title of this post. Yes, I'm sure that to many of us, early retirement might seem like a laughable notion, especailly considering the currrent economic environment, but sometimes we need to step back and re-evaluate our approach to an early retirement before we altogether dismiss the idea.

The following article is one I put together in an attempt to get the wheels turning when it comes to what it might take at least to consider the idea of preparing for an early retirement.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

10 Money Saving Tips for Your Apartment or Rental Property


You might not be building the equity as you would in a house when renting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t save money. While at first glance there may not appear to be many money saving opportunities in an apartment or rental property, you could be pleasantly surprised. There are plenty of relatively simple ways to increase savings when you’re renting.

UTILITIES
Determining whether your rent will include cable, water, trash, heat, or similar utilities, can add up to big savings. If one property offers free cable but you don’t watch much television, you may want to search for a rental that offers free trash and water or heat instead.

EXTRAS
Make sure to ask about additional fees for extras such as a fireplace, balcony, lake view, washer/dryer, garage, etc. Often if you ask about these extras during the viewing of the apartment, you can negotiate them for a discounted price or maybe even for free.

AMENITIES
Utilizing free apartment amenities such as a gym or pool can save you on costly gym membership frees. Taking advantage of apartment sponsored activities for residents such as free movie nights, Sunday brunches, book readings for the kids, and aerobics classes, can also save you cash.

A WALK THROUGH
By doing a walk through before moving in and moving out of your rental, you can avoid being charged for damages incurred by others. If you find problems on the initial inspection, ask for them to be fixed or at least ensure they are noted before you sign the lease.

WINDOWS
Leaky or broken windows and window seals can increase heating and cooling costs. A window’s position in relation to the sun can affect ambient lighting and temperature levels, possibly helping you to save on utility costs.

REPAIRS
When it comes to fixing things in your rental property, you should contact the property manager for even the smallest of repairs. This is a good idea for several reasons. First, because this is a service for which you pay rent. Second, repairs cost money, money you could be saving, and if you don’t make the repairs correctly, you could be held liable for future problems and repair costs.

PAINTING
Moving into an apartment can be exciting, and you might want to enhance your new living space with a fresh coat of paint. Paint, however costs money, and more than likely, if you do paint your rental space a different color, the landlord will require that you repaint before you leave, costing you even more.

RENTER’S INSURANCE
Having renter’s insurance is a small price to pay for protecting not only you, your belongings, and the residence, but also residents around you from damage or injuries originating in, or issuing from, your apartment.

RESPECT THE PROPERTY
By treating a rental property as you would a property of your own, you can avoid costly repair charges incurred when you leave.

FORWARDING ADDRESS
Before you turn in your keys when vacating a rental, ensure the rental agency, their accountant or the landlord has a forwarding address to which your security deposit can be sent.

Reducing Expenses in Retirement


We often become so caught up in the amount of money we need to retire that we tend to forget to step back a moment and consider how we might cut costs during this crucial time in our lives. In retirement, cutting expenses can be just as effective as increasing income – it’s often six one way, half dozen the next. Money is money, and the less you have going out, means the less you need coming in.

While retirement savings are certainly an important aspect of living out your golden years in peaceful financial security, you may be able to reduce the amount needed to find this security by eliminating certain expenses. While most of us will vary in the incomes we need (or feel we need), our personal lifestyles and living standards, and what we feel might be cut or reduced when it comes to our retirement expenses, there are certain areas that might be more prone to trimming when looking for ways to save money in retirement.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Decrease Your Business Losses With Increased Security

Whether you're running a big business or small, operating from your home or a separate business location, security issues, especially internal ones, can cost you dearly. While you'd probably like to think that all the employees you've screened and hired are upright and honest people, temptation to pick up a few freebies from the office could overtake their reason. While you'd think that common sense would tell them that a having a job is more important than nabbing a few free pens or some petty cash, that often isn't the case.

This article is devoted to helping you consider certain security options and precautions, assisting you to better maintain your internal security, and keeping your employees in line when it comes to that five-fingered discount they might be debating.


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Friday, May 14, 2010

Going Generic on These 10 Items Could Save You Hundreds


Going generic or choosing a store brand when it comes to certain products may not always be the right move. Depending on your particular tastes, product needs, and financial situation, going the cheaper route might not always pay off. Determining which products are worth the risk however, is often easier said than done, and you may not be sure you've make the correct decision until you've buckled down and purchased the product.

You might be surprised however to find that when it comes to buying generics and store brands over name brands, the rewards often outweigh the risks. Here is a list I've compiled of certain products with which I've had success moving away from pricier name brands, to enjoy not only quality store brand or generic versions of, but healthy cost savings as well.

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

10 Money Saving Tips for Homeowners


Homeowners are often faced with a variety of problems, issues, and repairs that can cost hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. There are however, ways to decrease how much money you put into a home. Practicing preventative maintenance, and being prepared for repairs and emergencies, can greatly increase home-related savings.

STONE
Crumbling, cracking, and chipping stone is an inevitable part of almost any homeowner’s experience. Driveways, walkways, sidewalks, steps, porches, and foundations are affected by the weather, tree roots, settling, and ground movement. By patching cracks, breaks, and chips in stonework when they occur, you can slow the rate of decay and possibly prevent costlier issues.

SEALERS
Weather sealers can be a great way to preserve areas on and around your home. They can extend the life of metal, stone, brick, and wood by helping protect them from outside wear and tear, including rain, ice, snow, and sunlight.

CAULK
By ensuring gaps and cracks around windows and doors are sealed, utility costs can be diminished by reducing the amount of hot or cold air entering or leaving your home. Not only this, but the risk from water damage can be decreased as well by sealing cracks and edges around showers, sinks, wash basins, windows, and other areas where seepage and moisture are prevalent issues.

PAINT
A coat or two of paint can be a great protector, slowing metal from rusting, wood from cracking and rotting, and stone from chipping. It is also a cost effective way to maintain your home, enhance curb appeal, and reduce the amount spent on repairs.

UTILITIES
Your home likely uses different levels of energy each season. By gauging utility consumption, you can find usage patterns, determine if there are leaks, and gauge how much energy or water various appliances use.

APPLIANCES
Upgrading older appliances to more energy efficient models can be pricey initially, but over the course of time can save money through decreased energy consumption.

UTILIZE YOUR SPACE
By looking for naturally warmer (or cooler) areas inside your home, you can make the best of your living space during various seasons and reduce your utility costs. Partitioning certain, less frequently used portions of your home, and closing vents to these areas can help make your home more energy efficient and increase your savings.

NATURAL RESOURCES
Using airflow, wind, sunlight, shade, and other naturally provided resources to heat and cool your home can help to reduce utility bills. Harnessing natural weather patterns around your home can actually save you quite a bit of money.

LAWN
Doing your own yard work, instead of hiring a landscaping company, could save you hundreds of dollars a year. While yard work might not always be fun, and investing in a lawn mower, yard tools, and other supplies and equipment will cost you initially, by not paying a lawn company, you will likely rack up savings over the long haul.

BEING PREPARED
Being prepared for emergencies, unforeseen repairs, and other situations that can cause damage to your home can save you money. By having a generator for emergencies, proper tools for repairs, a wet-vac for water issues, and similar equipment, you can decrease response times to issues that could affect your home’s well being as well as reduce the amount of damage done to your home.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What To Do When You're Out Of Work


Being out of work can be a stressful time to say the least. While many of us dream of not having to hold down a regular job, when the time comes and we find ourselves without work, and more than that, without an income, panic can set in.

The following article contains some areas for consideration after a job loss that might help to keep you financially stable in what might otherwise be an uncertain time.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

5 Tips for Working From Home While Caring for a Child


Working from home while caring for a child can be one of the most difficult work-related balancing acts someone can attempt. While it might seem like a dream to those sitting in an office all day, let me assure you, there are times when I dream of being back in a peaceful office where at five o’clock I could leave my work and troubles behind for the day. If you do decide to take on this challenge, here are some tips that might help make your attempt successful.

Organization
Organizational skills are key if you plan to try to work from home while caring for a child. It can be difficult enough just organizing your own life, let alone child’s and your work all at the same time. By keeping your roles as separate as possible through utilization of various areas of your home or apartment (i.e. bedroom or playroom for your child’s toys and activities, a home office for your work, and living or family room for your personal activities) you may be able to maintain some level of organization. You can also stay organized by developing and maintaining a routine.

Routine
While this aspect of working and raising a child at home can be difficult to develop and maintain, it can certainly help you stay on task and get everything done that needs to be done. As your child grows, changes, and develops, your routine will need to change with him. The better you can roll with the punches and modify your routine as needed, the easier it will probably be to stay on task and get things accomplished.

Utilize down time
This is probably one of the most important aspects of working from home while raising a child. It can be near impossible at times to get things done while your child is awake and needing attention. This can become very frustrating when you are in the middle of something important. Consider utilizing nap times or the few occasions when they are actually entertaining themselves to try to be as productive as possible. It might be tempting to use this time as a break for yourself, however, if you plan on accomplishing anything related to work, then you should probably try to buckle down and devote these few precious hours to your work.

Stay busy
Staying busy might sound a bit ridiculous considering the fact that you will actually be doing two jobs, but even with a child to care for and work to do, you can still become a bit lazy at times. By keeping your child busy, it will often allow you to stay busy as well. When you think about it, when is typically the hardest time to keep yourself motivated? Is it when your child is up, busy, and active, or is it when he or she is snuggled in for a nap or at nighttime? In most cases, it is probably the latter. Lying down with your little one can be the kiss of death to a productive day.

Squash the little things
It can be easy to let the little things get you down. Getting distracted by all the little household chores or projects that need to be done other than work or child-related activities, can burn your day up before you know it. You should probably try to put as many of these minor issues out of your mind until you have finished your work for the day, or, sadly as this sounds, you can use them as breaks. Even folding laundry or doing dishes can seem more exciting and relaxing than work. Consider putting your little one to work doing some of these menial jobs (matching and folding socks, separating white clothes from colors, etc.) that you don’t have time for when he or she is old enough. This can help teach great work ethic, keep them busy, and allow you to get some work done.

5 Cost Saving Ideas for Parents with a New Baby


Having a baby can be a stressful time for any parent no matter how prepared they think they are. And much of that stress can come from the fact that a baby is going to be expensive any which way you do the math. Fortunately, there are ways to diminish the cost of having a newborn, you just have to know where to look and how to do it. Here are some helpful tips on how to save money when it comes to preparing for and supplying a new baby’s needs.

Furniture
When it comes to a newborn, buying furniture can really suck the old wallet dry. Therefore, consider asking friends and family to see if they have leftovers from when they had children. Chances are, some will have bassinets, changing tables, cribs, play pens, etc. leftover or stashed in garages, basements or attics. If this isn’t the case, the items are too dated, or you fear they may be unsafe, then you might want to try garage sales or second hand stores before buying new.

Clothing & shoes
Much like furniture, friends and family might be happy to relinquish lightly worn clothing that they have been holding onto. Garage sales or resale shops like Goodwill Stores can be wonderfully cheap ways of finding baby clothes as well. When it comes to shoes, many little ones outgrow them before they’ve hardly had a chance to wear them. This can be good news for you since there will be plenty of lightly worn shoes in resale shops just waiting to be picked up cheap.

Diapers/wipes/formula
You might not be aware of this, but Target offers a store brand for diapers, wipes and formula. In my opinion, not only are these items nearly as good as the name brands, they could save you as much as 30-40%.

Food
When it comes to little ones and food -- be careful! Sure, you want to be the greatest parent on the planet and load up on the best of the best when it comes to the nutrients for your tiny tike, but remember, they have to actually ingest the food to have it be good for them. So even if you find a great deal on baby food, it might not be worth buying a lot of it unless you’re sure they’ll eat it…and just because they eat it once doesn’t mean they’ll eat it again.

Toys
Once again, friends, family, and garage sales can be a great resource when it comes to toys, so you don’t necessarily want to be in a hurry to run out and buy all the newest and cutest trinkets for your tiny tot right away. And much like food, when it comes to what they like, it might not always be the popular brand or item of the day that truly pleases your little one. They might like swinging a paper towel roll or shredding tissue more than playing with the trendiest of toy.