Friday, December 30, 2011

Budgets: Are they Do-able?


Christmas is over and plastic organizers are showing up in all stores reminding us to clean house. It's time to clean house, literally and financially. Folks, it is time to sit down and think about a budget. A budget never works for me you might say. It doesn't if you don't do it right.

Gather up all your bills. Write down what you make. It is a bad thing if you suddenly realize you spend more than you make.You really need a slush fund to account for unexpected auto repairs and trips to the emergency room. How do you make your income cover your output?

Sell things you don't need. I've sold online, on community bulletin boards, and yard sales. I usually avoid the local paper because they charge too much.

Get extra jobs where you can. Sometimes a weekend job or a part-time job can help pay down credit card debt. Even an occasional time job of working the polls, substitute teaching, or even writing can put some extra dough in your pocket.

Plan your expenditures. Start a Christmas club now so you don't go broke next year.Put away money for your car each month because you know it will need tires.

Have an emergency fund of $1000. That way a new washer to replace your dead one won't put you into financial hot water.

Consider second hand. Often we buy things new that have a 500% to 1000% markup. A good example of this is jewelry and furniture. You can get some great deals combing the Internet, the paper, consignment shops and even just asking.

Cut expenses. A good place to start is halving your eating out, followed by basic or no cable, downgrade your cell phone plan, drop magazines you don't read, and quit gyms you don't attend. Downgrade your food brands. Seldom is a name brand worth the extra expense.

Live within your budget. This involves using the word "no" to members of your family. They won't like it at first, but they'll get used to it.

Constantly monitor your expenses to see what can be cut.The cup of coffee on the way to work tastes good, but you can bring your own from home for a fraction of the cost.

Sometime you need to downgrade a vehicle or even a home that is breaking you.

This is a new way of thinking and will take definite practice, but it can be done.

If you think you can't do it on your own. Contact Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University and find a seminar near you.


Have a goal. It is great to live with in your means, but the family works together better if you are working toward a goal. Please don't make it an expensive goal, either. Maybe something as simple as trip to the zoo or a family camping trip to celebrate reaching your finacial goal.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Store Coupons and Loyalty Cards



As you, all know tis the season to be shopping, but I want to spend as little as possible to that end; I use the store coupons and loyalty cards. You have to use them with some finesse, though. My daughter who is a hard-core Target shopper received a coupon for $15 off $150 purchase. This was not a good deal because she only received 10% off and she had to spend $150 to get it. So when is a store coupon a good deal?

You really want a coupon that allows you to use it on anything in the store including clearance. I’ve had plenty of department store coupons that prohibited me from purchasing almost every item in the store; the only reason for the coupon was to get me in the store. How good the coupon is dependent on the store and what you are buying. I used a 20% coupon at Bed, Bath, and Beyond to buy a wedding gift and saved $30. I used another BBB coupon that was $5 off any $10 or more purchase. Even though I saved 50% off my cooking sheet, the $5 coupon wouldn’t have been the best bet for the comforter I bought for the wedding.

I get coupons by signing up for loyalty cards and mailing lists for my favorite stores. I also scour papers, magazines, and the Internet for coupons. My relatives will give me their coupons for stores I favor. I do use multiple email addresses to get several coupons from the same store. The most important thing to do is only spend the bare minimum to use your coupon. I use my Ulta coupons all the time. I get one each month that usually ranges from 35-50% off a ten dollar purchase. With two females in the family, we can always use cosmetics or toiletries.

Store coupons to overpriced stores don’t save you money. It sounds like a great chance to visit a store you could never normally afford. You’ll find even when you show up that the discounted prices don’t even come close to normal prices, forget sales prices. Then horror of all horrors, they won’t accept the coupons for some trumped up reason. The store believes you’ll push through with the purchase at the regular inflated price. Studies have shown once a customer picks up an item or tries it on that they are highly likely to buy it. Ever wonder why the salesperson tries to get you to pick up something or at least try it on.

A coupon to a store you’ve never been to before isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it can be a good thing if you go with the intention not to impulse buy. When you go into the store, ask for specifics about the coupon how you can use it. This helps the store employee know you are a bargain shopper and it keeps you from any surprises. Who hasn’t shown up at a restaurant with a coupon only to find out it wasn’t good on weekends, holidays, or lunch?

When do loyalty cards come into play? Loyalty cards are best for sales. Any item that is on sale in your grocery can only be bought at sale price using the card. Most cashiers will run the item through on their cards if you forgot yours. The prices are much better with the loyalty card and you get additional rewards such as reduced gas prices, coupons, and free groceries—this is only applicable to the Kroger card.Loyalty cards track what you use and give you store coupons for the items you use. I develop my photos at CVS and I get very good coupons for photo precessing by using my loyalty card.


Pharmacy transfer rebate is another money saving game between Meijers and Kroger if you transfer your prescription you can get twenty dollars or more off your groceries with the coupon. Do ask about this before transferring because one store pulled the coupon because too many people transferred. Of course, you can transfer it back and forth a couple times, but keep in mind that your insurance company will only pay once a month for your refill. Another way to make a few dollars is point cards.

Points cards can be debit or credit cards. My bankcard gives me so many points for using it. I can use the points as cash back or to purchase gift certificates. Chase offers a Disney card that actually earns you money toward a Disney vacation. Some airlines issue a charge card that allows you to accumulate travel points. The only thing you need to remember about the points cards is to pay them off every month or they could become unwieldy.

Some people don’t like to use coupons, discount cards, or even loyalty cards because it embarrasses them. I went out last night to a newly opened restaurant and it was hopping. There were several well-dressed couples in the place and almost every one of them had the same half off coupon I had. Other people have no problems using the coupons why should you? The companies did put them in the paper, online, or even mailed them to you to get you into their business. My philosophy is always save money where you can.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Dangers of Impulse Shopping



Are you guilty of it? Most of us know that’s the reason all the candy bars, gum, magazines, and trinket items surround the grocery checkout lane. These same item displays have spread to every store from Wal-Mart to Kohls. These tiny add-ons pack on the money too.

Consider this, a regular pack of gum at the checkout aisle in $1.39. If I walked three aisles over to the gum and candy section, I could buy a multi-pack of three of the same gum for on sale for a $1. I just paid over 70% more for the convenience of not walking a few steps. Frugalnistas know this type of thing can add up quickly. This is the same reason we scan the gas stations is to get a few cents off the gallon because it all adds up eventually. Why do we buy impulsively?

Convenience is one, but often we buy items we never considered buying when we walked into the store. We come in for one item and leave with a different one, a more expensive item. A store wants to sell items, be it a brick or mortar store or online. Often the sale item will be surrounded by similiar items or add-ons. If you're buying a turkey, then you'll want gravy, turkey bags, a pan, stuffing, etc. Sometimes the sale item is flanked by items of better quality. The 49.99 microwave you originally planned to buy doesn't look so good sitting next to the more loaded models. The store is suggesting items to buy simply by placement. Online stores do this too.

Amazon always recommends a slew of items when I sign on to look. They know what I have bought or looked at previously, the fact I signed on is also an indication I am looking to buy. There is no real difference than the efficient salesperson that offers to bring a different color or size. Salons also used this technique. I went into a salon to use my gift certificate for a manicure and pedicure, and had upgrades suggested throughout my visit from a brow wax to flowers painted on my toenails. The impulse buy can also be fueled by the sales people. Not once, did I think of flowers painted on my toenails before I walked into the salon.

Often, you get home with your impulse buy and immediately regret it. Not enough to return it, besides it may have been final clearance and you can’t return it. Sometimes, we buy out of emotional need. Women will often joke about retail therapy. Nothing makes you feel as good as buying a new pair of shoes, unless it is two pairs. The feeling tends to go away when the shoes are uncomfortable. When the bill comes, it goes away big time. I’ve had incredible bargains sitting in my closet until I gave them away to Goodwill since I couldn’t use them or even sell them at a yard sale.

Avoid impulse buys by asking yourself these questions. Do I have to have it right now? (If you wait three days, you’ll be amazed that the feeling passes that seemed overwhelming at first.) If buying clothes, shoes, or accessories, can you wear the item to three different occasions? (The only thing you can rationalize wearing once is a wedding gown.)Do I have something similar to this already? ( How many pairs of black pants, black shoes, or corkscrews do you really need?) Am I buying this because I’m sad, disappointed, or even angry? Emotional buying never results in a good decision.

Want to avoid emotional buying don’t browse. Some people love to window shop, they cruise in and out of various shops with no real intention of buying anything and leave with an armload of bags. Credit makes it seem so easy because it is not like using real money. Shopping is not a recreational activity. If you need an item research it, before you shop. Look at the sales ads and check out prices online. This way you only need to hit one store with the best price. Pay in cash, always. You’ll be amazed how fast cash runs out. That is your budget telling you that you’ve spent enough.

What if you have a closet of impulse buys you now regret? Many stores will let you return them with a receipt. Others will let you exchange it for store credit and get something practical. You can also make gifts of them if no one has seen them yet. Item with tags still attached sell very well online. Just make sure to post good pictures and a detailed description. No one buys anything without a photo or a description. Often you can sell items you received as gifts you don’t want online too.

The one last thing that causes impulse buying is children. We’ve all seen some child throwing a tantrum in aisle twenty because his mother won’t get him a toy he wants. The way I dealt with this was I explained to the children before I went into the store that they would not get a toy or other item. If they were very good and didn’t ask for anything, they could pick out a candy that the three of them could share. Did this work? Yes, but it included me leaving the store once when one child tried to throw a tantrum. They all learned tantrums do not get you anything, but major trouble.

In conclusion, plan your trip, shop with a list, try not to shop when you are hungry or blue, and pay with cash. Any item not on the list but calls to you, use your questions. If you can’t afford to pay for it in cash then you don’t need it. Cutting out the impulse buys will really help your budget.

My final advice: those magazines that have those zinger headlines, which you buy for just one article, go ahead and get in the longest line you’ll have time to scan it without paying five dollars for a collection of advertisements. I will admit to paging through and seeing what stars look like without their makeup…like us. It would not have been worth three or four dollars to find that out.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Black Friday Shopping



Are you ready for Black Friday? It's not for the weak of heart. If you plan carefully you can get most of your shopping done in a day at greatly discounted prices.

1. Know what your family and friends want. Have their sizes and color preferences keyed into your phone. No one wants a call at 5am to see if they still wear 36/30 jeans.

2. Search the ads, right now online, stores are displaying their specials. They are aware of the danger of relying on the paper because fewer and fewer people are taking the paper.

3. Talk to friends who are previous Black Friday shoppers. Some stores are guilty of doing teaser ads. There is a great computer for $400, but there is only ten of them. No matter what time you get there you will not be one of the ten. These are stores you don't even want to waste your time on. Hint: Wal-mart, Best Buy, video gaming stores since they don't purchase that much product

4.Know the stores that stock the item and offer rain checks. I always shop h.h. Gregg because they always have what they advertise and they make a point of opening up before the other stores. They all all their employees there and you're out in under thirty minutes every time.

5.Know the stores to avoid, you probably seen them all the news. These are the stores with out-of-control crowds and someone gets hurt, if not killed. I avoid both Walmart and Target. Any special they have I can get online cheaper and not pay state tax usually. I also don't waste time stuck in the Wal-mart parking lot when I could be shopping at other stores.

6. Save your coupons. Places like Bed,Bath, and Beyond; Bath and Body Works; DSW, allow you to use your coupons on Black Friday. Other stores will have Black Friday coupons just to get you in the store. Read the coupons because they can only be used on certain things.

7. Go for the specials only. Don't start piling on stuff that isn't on sale.

8. I head to my favorite store, Kohls, which is everyone else's favorite store and hide everything I want to buy, then shop at the other less liked stores to avoid standing in line for two hours. No one has found my stuff yet.

9. Have an inside source. I've had employees who I knew casually actually hold promo merchandise for me.They offered to do it because I taught their child and I agreed. That's how my son got all the Pokemon games one year.

10. Because this is serious work, you should wear athletic shoes and sweatshirts, even fanny packs. You will need your hands free. You can wear your Santa hat for a festive note.

11. Shopping carts are usually not your friend. You can slide through crowds without a shopping cart. I know sometimes you need them.

12. Do not bring your children. Teen-agers can handle it if they can wake up early.

13. Ironically, with the focus on the day after Thanksgiving, more stores are starting their sales on Thanksgiving. You can easily buzz into Kmart, Walgreens and Big Lots before the big dinner.

14. Watch the Internet deals too. Many stores have an online presence and you can get the same deal without leaving your home.

15. Many malls offer gift wrapping if you want to get it all done at once.

16. If you shop in a group, take turns parking the car, so different people get a head start in the building.

17. Bring snacks. A granola bars and water stashed in the car will keep you going. Even gum will help some.

18. Be polite. It cost nothing to be nice, but it might cost you the items you want by being rude.

19. If you don't get what you came for, remember there will be other sales, lots of them.

20. Shop outside the box. I get amazing buys at Menards, Tractor Supply, even Rural King. Sure I am usually buying for my adult sons, but you'd be amazed the items they bring in just for Christmas.

Happy Shopping

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Is Extreme Couponing a Workable Deal?



Who hasn’t been amazed at those folks on the couponing shows who manage to get $200 of groceries for only $13? I know I have. I’ve envied them too. There are a few reasons why I won’t ever be the next Extreme Couponing Queen. I have a full time job, which prevents me from spending 20 hours a week combing newspapers, online coupons sites and sending off for coupons. Never mind the time needed to organize coupons, plus plan shopping trips to stores that maximize double, even triple coupons promotions, plus mailing in the rebates. Then there is the expense of buying the newspapers, and ordering coupons that I need to deduct from my amazing savings. I would be able to pay myself $7 an hour for every hour spent couponing. Most jobs pay more and offer some benefits.

My sister is an extreme couponer. She showed me off a garage full of metal shelving units filled with endless rolls of Rice Roni, canned tomatoes and cleaning supplies. My first thought was it looked like a supermarket. My second thought was she doesn’t cook much and she has a cleaning lady. How in the world can she use up all these items?

Would you buy something if you had a really good coupon? I would, at least once. This is what the manufacturer is hoping you’ll do. If I find out I don’t like the product for some reason then I would never buy it again. Makes sense. The extreme couponer often stocks up on items she’s unfamiliar with since it is such a good deal. Even items she would normally use go bad, especially cereals, crackers, chips and cookies. Cake and bread mixes attract weevils. Grain products attract rodents and moths. Grocery stores constantly battle insect and rodent issues. Do you want this for your garage or basement? If you live in a hot, humid climate there are few things you can store for long. It is never a good deal to have items that will simply be thrown away at a later date.

Instead of extreme couponing, I participate in Pretty Good Couponing. I sign up for all the promos, rebates, and loyalty cards I can. I usually get coupons in the mail from retail stores for 30-50% off. If I want to go to a particular store or place, I google a promo code for it. I usually find one.

Use your connections to get coupons or promos. I actually get several discounts from my AAA card and being active duty. Don’t be afraid to ask for the discount. I paw through the newspaper because coupons aren’t always in the middle. I listen to the radio for deals. I print off coupons I hear about. I tell my friends what I am interested in because they may have a coupon for it, or know a promo code.

Bring ads from competitors and ask if your favorite store will meet their price. Many will. Always talk to the manager often sales associates do not know. I do online surveys to keep myself in Penney’s coupons. Each coupon is good for $10 for any $25 worth of merchandise.

On the whole, I do not shop without a coupon, a promo code, or a loyalty card. I may not save $200 on groceries, but I do okay, especially considering the time I put into it, which isn’t much. I only buy products I like and will use. So for me it is a win-win situation.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saving on Christmas Shopping



Most people are starting to think about Christmas shopping now and that’s their first mistake. It is no wonder they pay too much, get caught in traffic lot chaos, and often don’t get what they want. I try to keep my eyes and ears open all year long. Sure, I do go out on Black Friday, but there is an art to that too.

Know who you are buying for their wants and dislikes, plus how much you are willing to spend. Put money into envelopes to keep you from spending more. Knowing you have only thirty dollars to spend on someone including tax will keep you from plunking down the credit card and charging 49.95. To keep that from happening, try lay-away. I know K-mart offers it, and I've heard Marshalls does too. Ask your favorite retailer. Lay-away allows you to pick out items and pay a little bit on them weekly. It allows you to stay in your budget and hides items up to a week before Christmas.

Adults are sometimes easier to shop for because they have likes that don’t change. My sister collects Gone with The Wind ornaments. The best time to buy these is AFTER Christmas when Hallmark stores halve their original price. It also depends on the store, some will go as lowest as 75% off. I always keep my eyes open at flea markets and yard sales where collectibles often come up for sale.

Christmas can be a time of restocking items like socks, mufflers, gloves, and underwear. Underwear and sock are usually on sale in August for the start of school. Many stores will highlight gloves and hats, but amazingly the best buys I’ve gotten on gloves and wool socks is Menards, especially on Black Friday.

Looking for candles, check out your local Krogers. Those big glass bottle candles that run as much as thirty dollars at department stores can retail as cheaply as $3.50 at Krogers. This is a seasonal deal so make sure to stock up. Another good place for candles is Kohls, which often has several scents discounted.

Did you get coupons in the mail? Check them out carefully. I usually get a Bath & Body coupon for $10 off $30 purchase THAT can be used on Black Friday. Often many retailers will you send you a coupon where you get $10 off something, but when you get in the store nothing you pick out is applicable. I go through plenty of J.C.Penney’s coupons that advertise get $10 off any $25 purchase. I get these off the Internet. They are always good for clothes. If you want a particular coupon or coupon code, google it.

Read the coupons carefully because you have to spend so much money and use it before it expires. Newsflash: DSW and Bed, Bath, and Beyond allow me to use expired coupons all the time. Bed, Bath and Beyond puts out some amazing coupons and I solicit them from my relatives. I may have five coupons that allow me to get $5 off any item if I spend $15. I have used two coupons at once. I think two is pushing it before the people behind me riot.

Don’t buy it if you were not planning on buying someone a present. Most people don’t like feeling obligated to give you a gift because you bought them a gift. People you might avoid gifting is co-workers, casual acquaintances, someone you went out with a few times. If you feel you must give them something. Make it small. You can bake them cookies too.

Assemble your own gift baskets. You don’t really want the prepackaged fruit baskets because often the bruises on fruit is hidden. I buy baskets at yard sales all year long. Places like the Dollar Tree and Goodwill is another source. Often you can make the basket portion out of a useful item like a mixing bowl, dog dish, or an oversized coffee mug depending on the theme. You can buy several nice gourmet teas, nuts, candies, even imported jams at Big Lots. By making your own basket, you can include what your recipient would really like.

Shopping with Ebay. Beware of falling into a bidding war. First price what you want off Ebay to get a feel for the actual price. Look for 100% rating, then free shipping. I often watch items and do not bid on them until the last minute only bidding exactly what I am willing to pay. Be careful to bid on only one copy of the item at a time.

Catalog shopping-every company that ships delicious edibles has sent me a catalog already. Most promise a free item, sometimes two, one even three, if I order anything. Because I’ve used the companies before I know their items. I will order the free known item for relatives knowing they’ll like it. I will often buy one item only and have it shipped to me. The purpose of this item can be as a gift for someone who gave me a surprise gift that I didn’t plan for or it is my contribution to a pitch-in that I didn’t plan for either.

Groupon-this year I’ve been using Groupon for Christmas shopping. So far, I’ve purchased headphones, tea, items from the Body Shop, and photo shoot for less than 50% of original prices. You have to signup for daily reminders at Groupon.com

A last great gift, especially for grandparents, is photos. I have made a number of photo gifts using my local Walgreens. I wait until they have a 40% off sale. I have made some items FREE because I am on the mailing list which alerts you to free items. I also use Shutterfly, an online service because it seems to be the easiest to use with the best results. They are always having some type of sale, never pay full price. You can always scrapbook an album of a special event too.

As for Black Friday, that’s another blog.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Paint the Town Red for Half Price




Who doesn’t like a weekend on the town, on even a night? Only problem is that it can cost plenty. One new way that can take the bite out of painting the town red is social entertainment sites including Groupon, LivingSocial and Bloomspot. These sites offer 50% off better deals on local dining, events, even travel destination resorts. There is also restaurant.com that deals only with restaurants. How do these sites work and are they as good as they sound?

First of all, you need to go online and sign up for email alerts. It is as simple as going to: www.groupon.com. The site sends daily postings of what promos are going on in your area. The company, which offers the promotion has to sell so many coupons/certificates before the offer is valid. It is usually a small number like 20 or 40. The seller also caps the number of certificates sold to not lose money too. That’s why a daily email is helpful because a deal you might want can be gone by the time you even decide to see what offers are out there.

There are all sorts of things advertised such as golf outings, dinner, merchandise, even pole dancing. You won’t like everything. I’ve been using it for about a year now and it has saved me hundreds of dollars. It has also opened my eyes to different things to do in the area I never knew about from ghost walks to mystery dinner theatre. Things I wouldn’t have tried unless they were deeply discounted.

The certificates are relatively simple to use. Depending on if you purchase an online item you type in the promo code and your item is sent to you. If you are going to attend something then you print out your certificate. If your event requires reservations, it if up to you to still make them.

Restaurant.com works about the same way, except it is only for restaurants. You usually buy gift certificates for $25 or $50 depending on how expensive the restaurant is. These certificates can be as low as $2 or $10 depending on the special they are running. I’ve used these several times without trouble, but make sure you read the small print. Some restaurants will not let you use them on holidays or weekends. The usual amount you are expected to spend to use the coupon is $38 and you should still tip the server based on actual bill. Your $40 bill might end up costing you $17, not including the tip.

It all sounds good. What do you need to watch out for? I would always call first before driving to a restaurant with a restaurant.com certificate. I have found that restaurants who were trying to drive business to their place by using promos close suddenly. I have also had restaurant owners tell me they quit honoring restaurant.com certificates because it cost them too much. This has only happened twice out of dozens of uses.

As for Groupon.com, I had a concert I bought tickets for cancel at the last minute. I received a full refund from groupon. I did have one restaurant go out of business that I never was able to use my certificate for and receive a full refund on that (much better results than restaurant.com.) I had one company Picaboo photos that advertised for a calendar and photo books at a reduced price, but failed to honor it. Groupon refunded money as soon as I contacted them.

Groupon.com has saved me tons of money on going out. I’ve also used them to buy Christmas gifts greatly reduced. As for the other sites like Living Social and Bloomspot, I haven’t tried them yet since they’ve never have anything I am interested in, but they might have something you like. Give them a look.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

ARTS ON A SHOESTRING




Ever want to visit a museum or take in a play, but the tickets were just too high. There are several ways to cut costs for the truly motivated.

When it comes to actually buying tickets, you can goes as a group for the group rate, or go on a matinee day, or take advantage of a senior citizen discount.

If the prices are still too high, there are several ways to get around that too. Many live theatres, operas, and ballets offer rush or standing room only tickets. After everyone has bought tickets and is seated you’re allowed to go in and sit in the empty seats. If the original ticket holder shows up at intermission you have to find another seat. I’ve actually sat in $120 season ticket holder seat for only $8. You might find two seats together since people usually buy them in pairs.

An even cheaper option is to volunteer at the Arts Center of your choice. Did you think they paid the ushers? It also gives you a chance to see new performers you might never have seen. I’ve volunteered for years and at the most, only miss the first five minutes of the show.

Don’t feel like volunteering, but don’t want to shell out cash either, try preview nights. These nights were designed for teachers planning field trips before the actual opening performance. Many teachers arrived with their whole families and a few neighbors too. Some theatres allow you to attend dress rehearsals free of charge.

Muesems often have one day a week or month that is free. You need to call to ask when it is because this will vary.

If none of these ideas appeal to you, then you can try winning tickets. I actually got very good at this by putting the local radio station on speed dial. I also kept the radio on while I was at work. Unfortunately, they always mentioned my name on the radio, so I had to back off calling—which means more chances for the rest of you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Holidays on the Cheap


The holidays are almost here and with them are expectations of lavish dinners and expensive open houses. Instead of working yourself into a dither and running up the charge card, here are a few suggestions:

FOOD

1. Renovated Potluck- assign each family or couple a dish to bring.
2. Coffee and sweets only—instead of a full course meal invite folks over for dessert only. That’s all they really wanted, besides socializing.
3. Progressive dinner- you have each course at a different person's house and split the expenses.
4. Cookie Swap- each person brings two dozen cookies and you exchange cookies and recipes. This gives you a wide variety of goodies to eat—without all the baking.
5. Picnic in the living room—spread a tablecloth in front of the fireplace and dine on fried chicken and potato salad. All the fun of a summer meal without the flies. It also makes people think you’re eccentric and fun!
6. Restaurant dining-many restaurants will give large groups a discount if you agree to only one entrĂ©e. That’s all you would have if you cooked.

ENTERTAINMENT

1. Mothers, and some dads, might enjoy a gift-wrapping party. Throw on some festive music for atmosphere. Make sure to have plenty of tape and scissors.

2. Families with children can make simple crafts such as photo frames, t-shirts, hand print molds. It also saves on gift giving expenses.

3. Christmas baking parties—baking is easier when you’re not on your own. Share the expense of ingredients.

4. Movie night- dig up some holiday favorites and put out the popcorn.

5. Digital Scavenger Hunt-teenagers or adults hunt for items on their scavenger list, but they only need a photo of it. You can delete the photos after the hunt.

6. Board games—everybody has them. Ask your friends to bring theirs too. A few cheap eats and you have a party.





GIFT GIVING

1. Exchange names within the extended family.

2. Have a budget. Let the kids know they can have one specific item in a particular price range.

3. Create gifts by baking, scrap booking, writing down favorite holiday memories, framing photographs. Try to remember this all year around—so you don’t overwork yourself in December.

4. Shop clearance, yard sales, swap meets, library sales all year long. The extra reduced price tags help defer costs, but buying all year around helps stretch the money too.

5. Get creative-a dog lover will enjoy a basket filled with dog treats for her pooch more than an expensive sweater.

6. Give services—a day of chauffeuring for a homebound relative is priceless.

7. Give a gift that reflects your hobby, family, or town—as a gardener I have several extra bulbs that I force for colorful Christmas gifts.

Remember it’s not the cost; it’s the sentiment behind a gift, meal, or a party. This holiday eat, drink, and be merry, but save money too.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Children's Parties Done Cheap


Ever notice the trend running toward more expensive, elaborate parties for children—everything from renting a water park to a small carnival. It seems like each parent is trying to outdo the next because they are. Teenagers often have dances with rented DJs and catered refreshments. Who can afford it?

Courtesy of my own children, I’ve attended a few of these blow-outs. Ironically, children are wandering around bored because the entertainment is provided for them instead of letting the kids play. Some of you remember parties with games. Here’s how not to spend a bundle and have fun too.

Cut your food expenses
Do not feed the children a whole meal. They won’t eat it and you’ll end up mad and broke. Cupcakes, ice cream sandwiches, even cookies are better than a bakery bought cake. Who can afford delivery pizzas?

Decorations
Forget the expensive tableware that ends up in the trash. Go to the dollar store. Teens, especially girls, tend to like the cartoon-themed tableware available for a buck. Balloons are your best decoration and all you really need is hot air.

Games/Activities
Depending on the age of the children, girls and some boys enjoy creating simple crafts that can be purchased cheaply at the Dollar Tree or Oriental Trading. Once completed, they serve as party favors.

Pre-teens girls enjoy a spa party. Back to the dollar store for some nail polish and face masks.

Boys and some girls enjoy games that involve running, busting balloons, and squirt guns—sometimes all in the same game. A favorite in warm weather is Capture the Flag. Even old favorites like Hide & Seek, Red Rover and Catchers still work. Don’t count out items you already own like your Slip-n-Slide. If snow is on the ground, gather up sleds for a sledding party.

Then, there is the scavenger hunt that can be played the traditional way or with old Polaroid cameras. The children take photos of the item. Your only expense is film. Polaroid photos can also be used as favors too.

Teen girls might enjoy a scrap booking party. Head back to the dollar store. The finished pages can contribute to a party book for the birthday girl.

Theme parties are a possibility if you plan ahead. Have a Christmas in July party by stocking up on items at the after-Christmas sales. Wal-mart and Dollar General lower their prices 90% after the holiday passes. Tableware and favors will be super cheap. One refreshment idea is to freeze ice cream balls rolled in coconut. They can be stacked to resemble snowmen. Kids can decorate Frosty before gobbling. Pop in a Christmas CD for music or even a DVD for entertainment.

You can do this with all the holidays, even Mardi Gras, because kids aren’t sticklers about dates. You can have luaus in the winter. Roast hotdogs in the fireplace for a bonfire.

The party is in full swing and you still have one whiny, bored child—at least you didn’t spend a bundle!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Making Disneyworld Affordable


I am preparing for my third Disney trip and I’ve discovered a few tips to cut corners. First step is decide if you can go off-season. Disney’s off-season includes small chunks of time between summer and major holidays. If you can get away mid-week that’s even better.

My first family Disney trip was a prepackaged tour with hotel, flight, and rental car. It was a good deal twenty years ago, but not so much now. Packages are advertised as a bargain because the airlines base it on you paying the highest price for everything, and then tell you how much of a discount you got. I can save almost 50% composing my own packages.

Let other people do the work for you. I put what I am looking for as far as an airline price on various sites such as: Travelocity, Last Minute Travel, and Travel Ticker. When a fare in my range comes available, I receive an email. It pays to shop ahead, but do not book too close to Thanksgiving or Christmas since prices take a major hike. Be open to airline perks too. Some airlines offer upgrades or discounts if you continue to use them. Other airlines specialize in flights to particular destinations and offer lower prices. So far, I have not been able to fly cheaper to Florida than Air Tran.

Almost all airlines charge a fee for bags. You’d be surprised how much you can get in one suitcase. I try to wear what will take up the most room in the suitcase. Two carry-ons is your limit, which includes a purse or laptop. I ditch the purse by packing it in the suitcase and keeping tickets, money, and identification in the carry-on. Got your airline tickets, now it is time to book your rooms.

Are you available for a discount? Shades of Green is a Disney lodging strictly for military families. Someone in your family must have an active duty military ID card. Your AAA card can garner you a discount too. My best luck has been staying at Lake Buena Vista Hotels, which are technically on Disney property. I shop online using sites like Travelocity for the cheapest rates. Once I locate the one I want, I call as opposed to booking online. When I call, I ask for a better deal. I can usually get $10 knocked off the room.

When choosing your hotel or accommodations, consider food. A room or condominium with some kitchen facilities is a real money saver. Every time you want water or soda, you drop four dollars at the prime hotels. Often they don’t even have vending machines forcing you to go to a pricey gift shop or restaurant. A small fridge and microwave can easily save you $100 a day on food for a family of four. Disney even allows you to carry your lunch into the park as long as you don’t bring a cooler on wheels or glass bottles. Some hotels even offer a free hot breakfast. Your cheapest meal will be breakfast. Lake Buena Vista Best Western offers an inexpensive breakfast buffet. I also use restaurant.com to get gift certificates for restaurants within walking distance of my hotel in turn saving about $25 on every dinner.


If you have children, you might consider a hotel with a mini-water park, pool, and playground. You will want some down time from pounding the pavement of the various parks and a hotel based water park keeps you from forking over almost $200 to go to a water park—this doesn’t include the transportation getting there either. Ask before you book if the hotel offers Disney bus service to the parks.

The real benefit of staying in a Disney hotel is breakfast with the characters, photo sessions with the characters, and even early entry into the parks. I received all of that just by applying for a Disney Rewards Credit card that came with Disney bucks to use in all the gift shops and restaurants inside the park. I will have to add here if you want to go Epcot, you might want to stay at the Swan because it is on the boardwalk, great swimming options, including a beach. You can easily walk to Epcot. My personal favorite--a fridge in your room.


You can manage without a rental car. Choose hotel or condominium with park bus service. You will probably pay a resort fee around twelve dollars for this benefit, but it is well worth it. After a long day at the park, it is heaven to walk up to a waiting, air-conditioned bus as opposed to hiking miles and miles to your hot rental car. Consider it is almost $600 a week to rent a car in Orlando. Airport transportation is often included with the Disney hotels, but tends to be spotty if you fly in late at night. Ironically, you can save money by booking a limo service like Quicksilver as opposed to renting a cab. A driver will meet you at the baggage area to handle your bags. You also have the option of making a grocery stop included in your price. The driver will pick you up in time to make your homeward flight without the hassle of returning a rental car. Depending on how far out your hotel is it runs around $100 for a town car for two without tips.

Park tickets are a major expense, especially with a family. Beware the park hopper tickets. They sound like such a good deal; you can go to all four parks in one day. This is not feasible unless you train for ultra-marathons. First, it takes time to get to each park, at least an hour. Hours spent under the Florida sun, walking pavement with children wears you out fast. You won’t want to hit another park. You can see most of the fireworks from the balconies of the surrounding hotels. The hopper tacks on another $30 on the ticket price. Everyone I’ve talked to admits one park is all you can do in a day. In fact, a day between parks is good policy just to recover.

You can usually buy your tickets before you go from AAA. The benefit is you don’t pay Florida sales tax, which takes the ticket price up to $100 for a day park pass. Sometimes a multi-day pass is a good bet, but you don’t start saving money until you buy a three day or more pass. It may turn out that you don’t have three days of park touring in you.

Know your prices. A one-day adult ticket is $84. I’ve seen people on EBay pay up to $122. Be careful whom you buy your tickets from because they are not always selling real Disney tickets; often they are selling vouchers for tickets that include a time-share tour. Finally, souvenirs, who doesn’t want to take home the memories.

Your best memories are pictures. Take plenty, and then you can have them made into everything from calendars to coffee cups at your local Walgreens back home. Visit places like Walgreens, Wal-Mart, even the Dollar General while in Orlando because they have souvenirs at reasonable prices.

By planning and putting out a little effort, an affordable Disney vacation can be yours.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

0% Credit Card Transfer Bait and Switch Trap




Your credit card finance charges are overwhelming, especially the department store cards. You find yourself paying $30 for t-shirts you bought on sale for $12 with your department store charge over a year ago after interest has been compounded. The simple solution is to take advantage of a recent mailing you received about transferring all your high interest accounts to a 0% credit card. Sounds good, but have you read the fine print. The fine print is usually small and incredibly boring. Here are a few items you should beware of:

1. Transfer fees-every account balance you transfer will be charged a transfer fee, which is usually between $60-$75 dollars per account. This usually doesn’t show up until you think you’ve paid off the balance. This can be pricey if you transfer several accounts.
2. Time limitations-in the exceedingly small print, your 0% interest may be applicable for six months, or as little as 30 days. As soon as the time limit expires, your interest jumps usually to 30%.
3. Penalties-one late payment usually cancels your great 0% great rate, which automatically jumps your interest rate up to the 30% rate plus the late payment charge.
4. Usage of the card-the whole reason you signed up for the card was to lower your debt, but the card issuer is counting on you using it for future charges. Your future charges WILL NOT BE AT 0%, they will be at the higher rate.
5. Hidden Charges-your intentions are good, you transfer your high interest account to a 0% rate charge and pay-off your debt within a year. Suddenly you’re hit with all sorts of odd charges, such as processing charges. I was even charged by Citibank for overpaying by 9 cents. They issued me a check for .09, which I didn’t cashed and charged me twenty dollars for issuing the check.

So, how do you get out of paying high finance charges to credit card companies? We’ve all heard about if we paid only the minimum payment on a $5000 credit card balance with standard interest rate, that we will be paying for the next forty years. The first step is to cut up your credit cards. If you don’t have them, you won’t use them. One card may be saved for emergencies or for car rental, but it is best not to carry that card on your person.

Your local bank will work up a consolidation loan with a fixed rate and fee. You know exactly how much you are paying in fees, which will be lower than the combined fees of the 0% credit card if you have more than one account to transfer. The monthly payment will be higher than if you went with the 0% transfer. Keep in mind, the credit card never wants you to pay off your balance. Usually within two years, you’ll be out of debt with a consolidation loan—unless you make the mistake of thinking you have all this extra money to spend.

So are 0% transfers to new credit cards ever a good idea?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Asking for the Bargain



Do you know you can make your own bargain prices? You probably already do this if you’re an avid yard sale shopper. Perhaps you ask the seller to go down on the price or combine item prices for a total lower price per item. If you already do this, you have the basic skills. If you don’t, you only need three things: a motivated seller, a reason to lower the price, and the ability to walk away.

Start with the ability to walk away, if you show up somewhere and babble on about how much you love something then You are the motivated buyer. The seller does little more than takes full price for his item. He doesn’t have to sell you because you’ve already sold yourself. He is sure of you. No matter how much you want something do not show it. Think of it as shopping poker. Before you even start looking for an item, set a mental price that you will not go over and stick with it. You can even use it as a bargaining chip. I often say I can only pay twelve dollars (you make up your own number) and pull out the cash money. Paying in cash is a powerful incentive. Actually seeing the cash pushes the bargaining power into your corner.

When you ask for a lower price, you have to have a reason. Maybe the item is damaged, out of the box, out of season, etc. Think of an appropriate reason, but be specific. I found three slightly soiled and ripped dresses at an upscale dress shop that I made an offer on to the manager. I pointed out that because no one sewed anymore and it was doubtful the stains would come out, the dresses wouldn’t sell. I probably couldn’t fix them, but I was willingly to try at $5 each. Now, I knew I could fix them, but most people couldn’t or wouldn’t and the manager knew this too. I bought three dresses for under $20.

Go to the top when asking for a discount. Salespeople usually can’t help you unless they’re on commission. Then they can choose to cut into their commission if it means a sale. Remember they are eager to make a sale with some money as opposed to no sales. Find the manager or owner of the store. Ironically, they are usually more willing to cut deals to encourage goodwill.

Think of why this would benefit the seller. The seller has to be motivated to deal. If it is the end of the day at an open-air market, street stand or even a yard sale, you can point out that the items would not have to be packed up again. With food and perishable items, a selling point is they will not be good the next day.

Suggest deals, you may not always get a lower price as you originally asked, but you can get other things. Getting a major appliance, ask for free delivery and removal of the old item. Ask for additional services if you are at a salon or buying salon products. Buying a phone, ask for additional apps. When I switched phone services, I received free phones and the employee discount when I mentioned checking out the competition. Buying at a local farm stand, ask for a baker’s dozen. What is the worst that can happen? Someone tells you no. You haven’t lost anything. Thank them politely and walk away. Let them see you walk away; they just might call you back.

I’ve left items I really wanted and came back days or weeks later and it was still sitting there unsold. The fact that no one bought it made me wonder about the value of the item. It was good I left it originally as opposed to giving into the impulse to buy it. The time apart from the item made me realize that I didn't need it, especially at that price.

In this depressed economy, will people deal? Yes, unfortunately every item is starting to become a luxury with less and less people buying. Online sites such as www.groupon.com and www.livingsocial.com that offer everything from dinner to golf at half price prove that companies want to deal. I guess the big question is why are you still paying full price?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Working the Mananger Special-Grocery Style


My daughter opens the refrigerator, pulls out a carton of milk, and looks at the bright orange tag and asks if we buy anything that isn’t a manager special. Not too often, I admit. The manger special is only good if you know how to work the manager special. Learn your grocery store to know where they place the manager specials.

When you enter the store, head for the specials first. You’re not the only one looking for a deal. Where I live the grocery ads start on Thursday, which means Thursdays are not good days to look for specials. Once the grocery blitz is over, the day before the next ad yields better deals as the store readies itself for the next shopping onslaught. Less people shopping means less competition for you.

With dairy items, especially milk, you can buy items with today’s date and they should have a shelf life of seven days. I often buy yogurt that is dated that day and freeze it. Cake mixes and cereal can be frozen to keep them fresh, especially since they are already past date. Remember to place them in plastic Ziploc bags first.

Meat can sit in the case for a couple of days, a week at the most. Meat that doesn’t sell can be dressed up as stir-fry, kebobs, even meatloaf with a brand new date extending the shelf life of the meat and raising the price. This is not a good deal. I avoid all the pre-made delicacies since I know it’s usually old meat masquerading as new. If you buy discounted meat and it’s bad, take it back. The store doesn’t want you sick or dissatisfied.

Frozen foods are usually always a good bargain because there isn’t much that can go wrong with them UNLESS the package has been ripped. Avoid any ripped packages. Most dinners and pizzas are on clearance due to the decision not to carry that item. If you like the item, buy all you can them, because there won’t be any more coming. This is when a small chest type freezer comes in handy. They run a little bit over a hundred dollars when you catch them on sale. Don’t overlook yard sales when looking for a freezer either, but always test it first.

Cosmetics and toiletries end up as clearance because the package is damaged or the item is discontinued. Check the box carefully. If it is a product that contains more than one item in a box, such as hair coloring, often one of the items is gone, which makes it unusable. Most of these items don’t have a shelf life, so even if they do have an expiration date, no worries. Avoid any cosmetics over a year old because they won’t work as well.

Pet products are usually clearance because the box or bag is damaged. Instead of getting a seventeen pound bag of dog food, you’ll get more of a 16.5 pound bag at half the price. This is a real savings if your pet will eat it. Canned food does have expiration dates. The food isn’t going to sit around your house long so go for it.

Canned goods usually appear as manager specials when they are dropped and get dents. No one wants dented cans because they remember vaguely that’s a sign of spoilage. Actually, it’s swollen cans and the food has to be pretty old. First, check the date to make sure it is current. Your grocer is not going to keep old cans on the shelf because making five cent on a rotten can of green beans is not worth losing his job and having a class action lawsuit directed at the store. Still, if the can is dusty or rusty, avoid it.

Dead ripe produce will often be bagged for clearance. These items must be used that day. Ripe bananas can become banana bread, smoothies, or banana pudding. Vegetables must be cooked because they won’t stand up well in a salad. Salads mixes need to be used that day and may need to be checked carefully before buying. The smaller leaf salads like baby lettuces or spring mix become wilted and bitter quicker. Coleslaw can get strong quickly too. Romaine or iceberg is your best bet.

Organic juices and bagged vegetables in the produce aisle do not contain any preservatives. You must use them in three days. You can freeze the veggies if you want to extend their shelf life. They are limp when they thaw, but work well in soups, stews, and casseroles.

If bread is on clearance it is stale or is a day away from being so. This is an item I usually avoid getting since most stores run bread specials every week The exception to the rule is the specialty rolls and bread. You’ll want to freeze these too. The fridge does not work because it allows the bread to go stale. On top of the fridge, where many people store their bread, speeds up the process of going bad.

Cleaning products are a no brainer. The only thing you want to check is to see if the applicator or spray nozzle works. If you can’t get the cleaner out of the container it is worthless. This is one of the few times, you might buy an open container. An example of this is those little packs you use for dish washing or the clothes washing can be bought for a fraction of their original cost is the package is missing a few packs. A wall air freshener that is missing the warmer, but still contains the scent bottle is great IF you only wanted the scent to begin with.

In closing, it isn’t bargain if you don’t need it, won’t eat it, or can’t afford it. Hair spray that was seventeen dollars and is marked down to twelve, stays on the clearance table. Happy Savings.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cheap is Good, Free is Better




If someone offered you something you wanted free, would you take it? Most of you are probably nodding your head yes. A few cynics will mumble something about nothing being free. Au contraire, I get free stuff all the time. Let me share my secrets with you.

First, many companies give out sample items just to get you hooked on a product. Beware any place that wants your credit card number because they will keep sending you the product and charging your card. A good place to check out these offers is http://www.totallyfreestuff.com/ The website posts the information you have to shift through and decide if the offer is genuine. Any offer that seems to be good to be true usually is. Avoid going to see timeshares, most people are unable to resist buying one despite saying they won’t. Also avoid extremely long surveys, you will not get a Target card or a iPod at end, but you will get major spam since they’ll sell your email.

Another way to get free stuff is take other people’s unwanted items home using Freecycle network. Go onto http://www.freecycle.org/ and find the nearest city near you. People list items they don’t want anymore and just want someone to come and get them. When I got ready to move, I listed several things I no longer wanted including an aquarium, a filing cabinet, and a trampoline. The first person who came and picked up the item, got it. That simple. Depending on the item, you may need a truck and some muscle. If you arrive and don’t like the item, then don’t take it.

Listen, be present, and ask are my three mainstays of getting free things. If I hear something is being giving away free, I’m there. A local library took old books off the shelf and offered them to anyone who would take them. No one did, except me, because they were old. I sold the out of print books online for over $3000. Sometimes you need to envision how you can use the product.

Most promotions, you have to be present, remember that disclaimer about your entry is void if you’re not present. I’ve been in various public places received free food, drink, Axe body wash and wrestling posters by being there. I also won free groceries by participating in a shopping cart race at our local store. Mine was a participation prize of $100 since I tore around the store like a madwoman. I won a Calvin Klein wardrobe by attending a fashion show at a local clothing store.

Asking has netted me several large items, usually furniture. We have an annual yard sale in our neighborhood and usually people do price furniture too high. The end result is it doesn’t sell. When walking my dog I may see the unsold item still in the yard or even labeled with a free sign. I’ve snagged a bookcase, bookcase headboards, a dresser, even an aquarium by simply asking for it. I also tell people what I am looking for and often they’ll have it in their attic, barn or basement and let me have it for free just to get rid of it. Currently, I’m on the hunt for a rocking chair.

Sometimes I trade things I have too many of or no longer want for something someone else has that they don’t want. A good example of this is firewood, when I quit using a wood burning fireplace and switched to gas I had a surplus of firewood that served no purpose. Ask for the deal, decide what you want or need, then propose a trade. Now no one has to take the deal, but most will.

Read bulletin boards in the library and the grocery, many people list things they would like picked up besides kitten and puppies. I get free plants all the time from people dividing hostas and irises. Plant groups are usually a good bet for this. Come this fall, I will harvest and bag all my sunflower seeds and give them away free. If your paper has a free section in the classifieds read it because you never know when something might turn up.

When you tell your friends about your free find, they’ll call you lucky. You’ll know better it is about being out there, looking, listening and asking.
Go to Google and put in free items and you’ll be amazed how many sites come up. Use your wits. If traveling to pick up something take a friend and directions. There is no reason to give out your credit card number for anything. Avoid long surveys that ask you to subscribe to different newsletters. Never ever do a timeshare tour even if you don’t buy, you’re still in a bad mood from the experience. If someone offers you something free, ask about any strings attached that’s your right. I’ve used one week free gym passes and never joined. If there is no obligation take advantage of it. Cheap is good, but free is better.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Frugal Diva Does Car Repair Bargaining


I have been called one of the cheapest people in the world. I can squeeze a penny not only till it screams, but until it melts. My money-saving secrets allows my family to live well in uncertain financial times. It's been a necessity as opposed to just being cheap. I will not apologize for being cheap, but will share some of my frugal tricks with you.

I will start with one of my most amazing tools of all, bargaining. I know some of you think you can't do this, but you can. I thought the same thing too when faced with an overwhelming repair bill for my daughter's car. Keep in mind, if you want to bargain you have to do it with the owner or manager, not the minimum wage employees since they have no power.

I knew two things: my daughter needed her car fixed and I had limited money. The bill a well known chain presented me with was staggering. It totaled almost what I originally paid for the car. Remember mechanics must have your approval BEFORE working on your car. You must agree to the price before signing off on the receipt. Anyone who refuses to state a price or tells you they don't know until they get inside is not on the level. BEWARE.

When presented with the monster bill, I explained that I couldn't afford it. Never be afraid to admit something is too high. We often pay too much because we're embarrassed to admit a price is too much. My significant other goes around paying full price for everything unaware that people can adjust prices if you ask for it.

First after telling the manager the price is too high, ask if there is some way to work it out so you can do business with him. No stomping out of the building with a hair toss, but maintain your manners, your smile and even a sense of humor. Flattery doesn't hurt either. Nothing false, but along the lines of how his company is reputable and that's why you came.

Usually he'll ask what you can afford. Go slightly lower than what you think you can afford because this will not be his firm offer. Ask what the car absolutely has to have done. It is no good to replace tires if the alignment is out of whack. The tires will be ruined in six months. The mechanic may back off on some the piddly things when he sees you're not one of those people who pays without negotiating.

This may take up to ten minutes. He might ask if you can charge it. Bad deal, do not agree to this. Basically if you agree, he has no reason to lower the price. I finally lowered the price approximately $600 by eliminating minor items that did not need to be fixed on her aging car and insisting I could not go over a certain figure. The manager gave me some free labor and found, surprisingly, cheaper parts.

Once I established myself as Cheapee McCheap, he gave me the name of a tire dealership where I could get cheap tires for the car, but that's another column.