Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cooking Like Grandma Saves Money & Calories

                I visited my adult daughter and her roommates bearing a beautiful, plump raw  chicken. They were all puzzled how to fix it since they had never cooked a whole chicken. I quickly explained they could make it in a cooking bag and they were set. Statistics show that people under thirty no longer know how to cook. They live on a diet of drive thru and microwavable foods.  This isn’t good for your health or budget.

1.       First, make a list. Forty percent what we throw in the cart are impulse items. Grocery chains hire experts to get you to buy things you don’t need.

2.       Know your prices. Often we pay too much for an item because it is marked sale.

3.       Know your price per unit. Sometimes the larger item is a better buy. If you have someone to split it with, all the better.

4.       Buy basic ingredients as opposed to buy packaged items.  The hamburger dinner mix that cost around two dollars is about a five cents worth of macaroni and spices. You add the hamburger, butter, and milk. A cookbook might help if you want to make stroganoff, but it isn’t has hard as you might think. I use or and scroll until I find a recipe that I actually have the ingredients to make.

5.       Don’t have the needed ingredient. Substitute it. The best thing about my grandmother’s cook book was the substitution list on the inside cover. Here are a few from the Internet: spice, herb, and alcohol. Do not have buttermilk, apples, or eggs, then use the Cook’s Thesaurus to find a good exchange.

6.       Most recipes that call for ground beef, I use ground turkey or chicken. It is less fatty and cheaper. Got a freezer, then you can stock up on basic ingredients like chicken and ground turkey.

7.       As a working mother, I used to cook all the meals on one day, then freeze them. Some churches even have days where women cook ahead for an entire month in a few hours. Check and see if any the local churches have a Fix and Freeze program. Can’t find a program? Gather a few relatives, friends, or neighbors and start your own. Fix, Freeze, Feast is a good starting book.

8.       Do you have granny’s cookbook and her recipes make no sense because she used a pinch of this and a dash of that. Use this heirloom measurement tool.

9.       My own grandmother lived through the Depression so food was never wasted, ever.  Plan your meals so you use all food before it goes bad. Left over veggies can go into a soup or stew. Produce that is getting limp is stew worthy. A beef vegetable or minestrone soup is a good bet.

10.   Toast stale bread. A damp paper towel wrapped around a couple of slices and microwave for 30 seconds will revive it. The bread can become croutons, breadcrumbs and bread pudding. NEVER EVER, USE MOLDY BREAD. Bread mold goes all the way through bread even though you can’t always see it. It can have a bad effect on the consumer.

11.   Soft crackers can spend a few minutes in a warm oven to return to their original crispness.

12.   Stale cookies or overdone cookies can recover their moistness by wrapping a section of cut apple in paper towel and placing them all in a plastic bag overnight.

13.   Your slow cooker is best to cook cheap meat cuts. You can tenderize the meat by hitting it with a meat hammer, or an actual hammer wrapped in a clean cloth. Use meat tenderizer or pour leftover wine into the cooking liquid. The alcohol content cooks out while tenderizing the meat. Onions help too.

14.   Grow your own produce and herbs when possible.

15.    Recycle leftovers. Mashed potatoes can become potato pancakes.

16.   It is not cheaper to make your own bread. However, biscuits are much cheaper and taste better than canned ones.

17.   Leave the peeling on the potatoes and apples, it saves times and nutrients, just make sure you wash them first.


The good thing about cooking like grandma is you are more in touch with what goes into your body.  People who only eat out one night a week via the drive thru gain more weight than those who do not.  The secret ingredient was according to my grandmother was love. I was always able to taste it.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Holiday Parties that Don't Break the Budget

Trimming Holiday Entertaining Expenses

I just came back from a holiday party that the hostess must have spent hundreds. It was fun, but it was so over the top, and the food was barely touched because there was so much of it. My first thought was she could have cut expenses, and it would have still been a wonderful party.

1.       Alcohol is a major expense-not only are you buying liquor, you also purchase mixers, fruits, even barware if you don’t already have it.  A major savings is possible by dropping down to wine only, or a spiced punch. When you send out the invitations, indicate it is BYOB (bring your own bottle.) If you’re not comfortable with that, you can go alcohol-free.

2.       Sodas-some people stock up on a variety of sodas, which while not as expensive as alcohol, does add up. A selection of ice tea or hot apple cider, or even hot chocolate, or coffee is enough to satisfy most folks.

3.       Invitations don’t have to be fancy to get your point across-many people are using email invites sometimes featuring PDFs attachments. Got a smilebox account? Then get the most out of it by using it for Christmas cards, and holiday invites. It will save you on stamps too.

It is certainly more tactful than handing out invitations.

4.       Food-most people are under the mistaken impression that catered food is better. Usually, it’s worse and you just paid more. I would not recommend a full scale sit down dinner, unless it is for a group of eight or less. This is just too much work. A buffet with finger foods usually works much better. Places such as Gordon Food Service, Costco, Aldis, and Sam’s Club sell the large portions of the holiday fare at discount price.

5.       Fancy yourself a gourmet cook, and then you can cook ahead provided you have freezer space.

6.       Don’t be afraid of her old-fashioned pitch-in, or a cookie swap.

7.       There is also a cooking party. A theme such as Mexican or Italian is your base. You assign ingredients to the attendees. As the host, you always provide the most expensive ingredient. Then you prepare the meal together, which can be fun.

8.       You can also choose easy meals such as soup or chili. These are always winter favorites.

9.       Most people already have their house decorated for the holidays. Therefore, you really shouldn’t need anything else. Festive napkins and paper ware might add some color and make cleanup easier.

10.   Games might be nice depending on the crowd. You know your friends best. Offering small prizes might be a nice touch too. Remember keep it whimsical and cheap.

11.   Party favors can take the shape of brownie or cookies wrapped up in a bag with a ribbon to take with them.

12.   Holiday music when the first guests arrive is a nice touch, but make sure to turn down the music as more guest arrive so it won’t seem so chaotic.

13.   Make sure to take plenty of pictures. You can email them to various attendees, but I’d would advise against posting them on Facebook and tagging the people. Trust me; many folks actually resent this type of behavior.

14.   While this will not help you this year, purchase holiday paper ware and favors at 50% or below after the holidays for next year.


While it is a bad deal to run out of food or drink, make sure you don’t overbuy. Holiday goodies that you don’t normally eat won’t help your budget or waistline.  You can manage a holiday party without destroying your budget.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Inexpensive Christmas Gifts

It’s that time of year again. Where you spend too much money, run up the charge cards, and regret it in January. The average person spends about $800 on gifts including family, friends, and co-workers. How can you trim these expenses?

1.       The Extended Family Exchange-draw names, and set a gift limit, such as $15. You can still get grandma a gift, but it is better if it is homemade (less chance of it being re-gifted.)

2.       Secret Santa- this should cover the work gift giving.

3.       Friends-invite them over for a cookie exchange party.

4.       Photos make great gifts for family or romantic partners-Comb through your favorite photos. Pick out a few they are good for calendars, mugs, cards, even t-shirts at Walgreens and Vistaprint. Check your newspaper or online because both run coupons. Regular photos in a frame work too.

5.       Holiday bread- is always a favorite. You can make batches of banana , cranberry orange, or pumpkin bread for less than fifty cents a loaf. Disposable pans are available at the Dollar Tree or Deals. It is cheaper to make it from scratch too. J

6.       Soup, cookie, or cake mix jars-you can use canning jars for these since you want to keep expenses down.

7.       Bath and body products –airtight jars with a screw on lid are necessary. This is the basic recipe link, but site includes other variation. It will run you about a dollar a jar for product if you buy in bulk. Best place to buy your Epsom salts is discount store and Deals.

8.       Cheap Gift Basket-thrifts stores have a variety of baskets, but the Dollar Tree has them for a dollar. Decide on a theme. Use a towel, (dish, or car wash towel) to fill the bottom of the basket. You can make a car wash basket for your guy. (Get these items on sale.) The coffee lover’s basket is the cheapest if you include two cups. Mugs are only a dollar at the dollar tree. Flavored coffee samples are a dollar at most groceries. Throw in some tea, and hot cocoa. Top it off with a bow and note.

9.       Have a talent-paint a picture, write a poem, even compose a piece of music and record it.

10.   Rice Buddy Pack-these are simple to make with material remnants and rice.

11.   Family Recipe Collection- Buy a recipe card book from your local Deals, Dollar Tree or Big Lot store to record all the family favorite recipes. This is an excellent gift for newly married or recently moved out adult child.

12.   Candles- decorative jars or even wine glasses make excellent holders. You can find these at Dollar Tree and Goodwill.

13.   Unique Serving dishes-Hit the thrift shops for pretty glass plates, and crystal candlestick holders. The plate will rest on top of the candlestick holder. Adhere it with epoxy glue. Use plenty of it, and let it dry for a day.

14.   Dollar Bill Butterflies- the cleverly folded butterflies can land on a small basket of flower seeds purchased at the Dollar Tree. The seeds are viable since I use them every year.

15.   Flavored Vinegars or oils- head out to the thrift store again to pick up some lovely decanters that people received as gifts, and were clueless what to do with them. Wine bottles work too, although you will need a cork or stopper.

16.   Homemade Dog Biscuits- The recipe is in the middle of the page. You can also include the recipe too for the dog lover. They don’t have to be bone shaped either.

17.   Hot chocolate mix in a jar- this is great for chocolate lovers and families.

18.   Personalized gift-want something with your favorite saying, or an inside joke that only the two of you share. Try Zazzle, a new website that personalizes almost anything at fair prices.

19.    A coupon book- probably made them as kids for your parents. You can make them for friends and family including everything from a back rubs to a car wash.

20.   Christmas Cookie Ornaments- this is a great one for kids to make, and fun too. Remember: the ornaments aren’t edible.


Making Christmas gifts sounds overwhelming, but it isn’t. Pick a day, assemble your supplies, and elicit help if needed. Think of the parking lots you won’t be circling and the money you will be saving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Truth Behind Sales


The old dry goods store kept everything out year round you might need from sleds to swimming suits, but they discovered through smart marketing they could sell the exact same items with the scarcity concept. They manage this by rotating merchandise off the floor. People rushed in to get an item they earlier had no interest in earlier because it was likely to be gone soon and it was on sale.

This same merchandising trick is in use today. I bought a pair of summer sandals the year before marked down, but the same sandals came out of storage and went back to its original high price. This proves they weren’t sold out and that sales price do not stay down.

In the old days of paper tags, a person had to mark down an item. The price could only go down farther, which is the conclusion most people still have about an item. With computers, the tags aren’t even touched. A few signs denote an item is on sale. Timed sales such as door busters go back to the original price as soon as it reaches the specified time. Even if you were in line at 11:45, but didn’t reach the cash register until 12:01, you pay full price.

Since prices often to go back up, should you get it when it is on sale? It all depends on the actual price. Many items that are on sale in a high-end store I can buy at a discount store for regular price. Beware of the tempting buy one get one free offer, that has recently gone to buy one get one-half off. Pies are a good example of this. I wanted two pies for Thanksgiving. One store advertised a BOGO special, but jacked the price of the pie to nine dollars. (Those particular pies were never nine dollars they usually averaged six dollars.) I bought single pies that were on sale for three dollars each at a different store.

Often what looks like a good deal isn’t. Sometimes slapping a sale  tag on something is enough to get people to buy, or at least to come into the store. Many people are lured by a low price only to find the item on sale is of inferior quality, but it is sitting by two other models, one a little more expensive, and the other a lot more expensive. The majority of people picked the middle item, which they normally wouldn’t have bought if displayed by itself because of the price.

Then there is the merchandise that doesn’t exist. You come for the laptop that is under a hundred dollars only to find out they’re out. It isn’t too surprising because they only had eight. The premise is you will buy other things when you didn’t get what you came for. Most people do.

The lost leader sale is where one item such as a turkey is low if you buy a quantity of other groceries. Prices differ, but some stores make it a hundred dollars. The grocery store chain knows which items people think are must haves for Thanksgiving and raise the prices accordingly.

A red sale sign is on an item that was actually cheaper last week at regular price. Sales signs are often red because the mind and eyes respond to it first due to it represents both danger and food in nature. Women scurry over to the red sign to pick up the item. A few put it back. Anyone in sales knows an item touched is usually bought. There is a psychology behind getting you to touch an item. Once you touch it, try it on, or drive it, you have a sense of owning it. You seldom abandon something you own.

Clearance is where it is at, right? Some stores lowered the price ten cents and refer to it as clearance. Occasionally, when the store has less than a dozen items, the price goes way down.  Often out of season items will get a major cut to move them, while other stores hold on to the item knowing they can sell it next year.

Still other stores will sell their unsold stock to places such as Big Lots and Odd Lots. The reason behind this is they can rid of a great deal of merchandise for one price to bring in full price stock. Popular discount stores such as Target have found they can donate seasonal items to thrift stores and take full retail loss.

Are there good sales out there? You’ll need to comb the sales ads, clip coupons, use loyalty cards and discounts, and walk the entire sales floor. Many clearance items hide in the back of the store or on end caps facing the walls. Especially with clothes, the prices can be mysteries because the items are in the wrong place. This is why the price scanners are scattered throughout the store. Remember if you have to ask a cashier how much something is you are not obligated to buy it.

If the price seems too good to be true, pick it up. I’ve bought fresh salmon for dollar a pound. It was supposed to be ten. Most stores will give you the price because it was their mistake, but they will change the price immediately after you leave. I also bought my husband a Jerry Garcia tie at 40% off because the sale sign was over the Garcia ties. It was supposed to be over another tie display, but someone goofed.

Lured by a sale on artificial Christmas tree, I debated buying a tree. It seemed like a great price compared to other store ads. My husband asked me to contact the manufacturer online to get a feel for the actual price. I received the tree for half the sales price and they shipped it to me free. Some great buys are out there, but they aren’t always sales.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Man's Holiday Shopping Guide for his Sweetie

Men can’t win when it comes to Christmas shopping. Let me explain why from the retail side. The man you adore, and shopped endlessly for to find the perfect gift, can’t shop worth a darn. He tries. Even now, he knows the holiday season is fast approaching, and he should do something. Some men break up. Yep, that’s right.

The man is cheap you might complain. Truth is he’s more terrified. The mall is filled with angry women after the holidays exchanging presents. Ample ladies are returning teddies in small sizes. Other women are returning vacuums and power tools. Shoes that don’t fit along with the ugliest jewelry known to mankind find its way back to the store. The females toting these labors of love back to the store are usually upset because the gift wasn’t what she wanted.

There are also secret messages attached to the gifts. Ones the men didn’t even know about. Any household cleaning device such as a vacuum tells her she is a lousy housekeeper.  Kitchenware infers she needs help in the kitchen UNLESS she asked for it. Clothes whisper a multitude of stories from being too heavy, too thin, too frumpy, too boring, the list is endless.

Even when you think you are getting her what she wanted, there is the issue the gift will be perceived wrong. My own mother wanted an exercise bike, a pricey model too. When my stepfather managed to wrestle the sucker home for Christmas eve, she wanted to know if he thought she was fat.

Some men make the mistake of getting nothing because they figure their wife would take it back anyhow. Even worse than that is shopping at the drugstore on Christmas Eve. She’ll figure out the scented soap and inflatable foot bath were last ditch efforts. Consider online shopping, some even deliver on Christmas Day. I wouldn’t bet on this though.

A man can be a hero on Christmas day by trying one of these things. Limited budget-ask your wife for three gift ideas.  Let her know your plan to get one of the items for Christmas. If you can afford two, then go for it, but don’t tell her since that will be part of the surprise.

Second method is gift cards, money, or spa services. Then take your sweetie shopping. You can’t complain, and she can take as long as she wants. Have dinner out, and make a day of it.

Third way to surprise your significant other is to whisk her away for a vacation. Make sure it is somewhere she wants to go. There will be no joy in your holidays if you take her where you want to go. Sometimes concert tickets can serve this same purpose delivered in a romantic card.

You want to impress your darling, then, make her a stocking. Yep, a stocking filled with her favorite things from books, candy, toiletries, music, even candles. Anything you know she likes can go in it. The more unique the better because it shows your effort and love.

One book on being romantic talked about hiding your sweetie’s presents and making her look for them. I give the idea two thumbs down. The holidays are stressful enough without throwing in a cryptic message treasure hunt.

All a woman really wants to know is that you care. You have an infinite number of ways to show her this. In conclusion, be very careful if you try to buy her clothes or shoes it can be minefield of wrong messages.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Travel Insurance

Is it for you? I discover it existed almost sixteen years ago when reading the comment log of our Oceanside rental. People who booked the rental a few months before us encountered a hurricane. They lost all electric. It rained so hard they had to put towels by the doors and windows to keep the rain out. Their children were scared. It turned out to be a horrible vacation playing board games by candle light. His parting comment was he wished he had bought travel insurance.

After reading that, I began to buy travel insurance for every vacation. It wasn’t hard I was always reminded when I booked airline tickets online. It wasn’t too expensive usually twenty-five dollars tacked onto the tickets. The year before last, we traveled extensively, so we probably paid at least $200 in travel insurance. Even that isn’t too bad of a deal if it actually works. What is it supposed to protect you from?

Travel insurance is supposed to cover the cost of your trip or delay from unseen calamities such as major illness, death, if your hotel is underwater, or cancelled flights. It does not protect you from arriving at your hotel/condo and being in the middle of a hurricane. The travel insurance people would have pointed out that the family did arrive, and stayed at their appointed rental, and did have a vacation. If they were forced to seek alternative housing elsewhere, they might cover it. Of course, this family couldn’t leave because there was a hurricane going on, and to do so might result in death and injury.

I had a legitimate flight cancellation when I was going to see my sister for spring break. I did not receive any news of my cancelled flight. In fact, I received an odd voice mail telling me my baggage had already arrived at the Atlanta airport before I even boarded a plane. At the airport, I was informed not only was my flight cancelled that the airline had no flights that day. My only hope was to bump someone off a four am flight the next day. I spent plenty of time trying to get my travel insurance to work for me as far as getting another flight. NADA.

After one entire year, a written letter, and copies of all my receipts resulting from the delay, my claim was refused. I didn’t take this lightly. Wasn’t this the point of travel insurance? I was informed when I called because I purchased my ticket ahead of time that I was not entitled to a refund. With Homeland Security, who can actually purchase their ticket the day of flight? If I did go to the airport and buy my ticket then I would have known there was no flight, and would have not needed travel insurance. I would have also paid about $700 more for my ticket too.

Nothing seems to fit into their emergency policy of travel insurance companies. A friend was flying his minor children to Hawaii to spend time with their grandparents. His cousin would meet the children in California, keep them overnight, and then put them on the connecting plane the next day. Due to a business concern, his cousin called him while he was in the airport getting ready to go through security. He had to pull the kids from the flight, but received no refund. It wasn’t enough of an emergency to have his two minor children stuck in a strange airport overnight according to insurance.

Other non-emergencies according to travel insurance companies include late flights that allow the cruise ship to leave without you. If meeting a cruise ship it is better to fly in the day before. A friend was planning the trip of the lifetime for her family. Two days before her departure, her father died unexpectedly. After spending thousands of dollars on her dream vacation, she found out that the death clause apparently only applied to the person on the trip. Which in itself seems rather oxymoronic, how could you file a claim if you were dead? If you did die in route, your life insurance already covers that.

Now I look on travel insurance the same way I regard the ticket insurance that Ticketmaster tries to get you to buy after already hitting you with fees that are almost equal to the price of your ticket. I bought tickets to an outdoor concert that happened on the night of a vicious storm. The concert was rescheduled for an alternative night.  The night of the new concert, my husband was violently ill not allowing us to attend. I wrote to the venue explaining my situation and they allowed me to trade in my unused tickets for a future concert. It mattered to the local venue that I thought well of them, and would continue to use them for future events.

Travel insurance is always betting on that you will never use them. This is just another add-on in a world of travel add-ons. Most people are even unaware they purchased travel insurance. Those who do have it are often unsure how to file a claim. The industry is unusually slow working on a claim in hoping you’ll forget. Seriously, what is there to do? They look at your receipts and cut you a check as simple as that.

If you buy travel insurance, you have to buy it for each member of your family. It may not cover what you think it covers. I have yet to meet anyone who has ever had travel insurance paid.

Airlines have given me better seats and flight connections, hotels free rooms, and restaurants the occasional discounted meal on a trip.  Relatives have received free upgrades on cruises and trips because of problems, but no one in my circle has ever received anything back from travel insurance. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?  Have you ever received anything back from travel insurance, I would love to hear your story.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Holiday Shopping Incentives

A recent news program detailed that a sluggish economy has changed the way people shop. Often people won’t frequent stores unless they have a really good sale, or a special offer. Gone are the days of people casually window shopping, and buying something on a whim. This is why stores have to offer you an incentive.

Next week, will be the day I step out with ten different incentive cards to do my Christmas shopping. Incentive cards can come through the mail or email and their purpose is to get you back in the store offering you very good deals. Kohls, Penneys, and even Carsons have found good luck with offering a flat ten-dollar gift card. I find most of these cards have so many things you can’t use it on that I always go with clothes.

I also willing fill out their surveys to gain additional cards or 20% off my total purchase. I get several offers from Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Ulta for percentages off.  I also have relatives who give me their coupons. I will shop with family and use multiple coupons for one store. The only stipulation is you have to check out separately.  I also get multiple cards and offers because I use all my email addresses.

Other deals will include buying $30 of product and getting $10 off. I recently bought a beautiful winter coat that retailed for 215.00 for $85.00. It was on sale, then I used the fifty dollar coupon I was emailed. Some stores will allow you to use multiple discounts. Trust me, I ask.

Then there is buying your charitable discount. Many stores in an effort to be community minded will allow certain charities to sell a $10 coupon for $5. You are still saving $5, but the store will actually feature tempting deals to get you in to use your coupon. I have my $10 coupon, plus my $20 card for doing the survey. I am ready to save.

What if you don’t have any sort of coupon, incentive card, or discount to give you a reason to hit the store? Two things, I’ll ask for a discount. I usually go with the fact I am a good customer. This works for me nine out of ten times, but to be fair I frequent the same stores so they do know me.

The second one is I Google the store I want to shop.Surprisingly, I do find coupons. This works for online stores too.  Often Groupon has good deals this time of year. I did a great deal of my shopping via Groupon last year.

Before you go, read your coupon closely. I highlight everything it isn’t good on. Sometimes I make notes what I would like to get at that store. This allows me to buzz through the store, pick up the desired item, get my discount, and be gone. There is no strolling through the store stacking my cart full of items as the retailer might wish.

 As the season goes on, you might get better incentives. Bath and Body always puts a new incentive card in your sack dated for the next week to get you back.  
Now, you can shop all year around using incentives, but you seem to get more of them this time of year. You’ll also get catalogs that promise you free truffles or cheese with your first order. Online stores will
promise you free shipping or discounts. I really don’t like to use anyone who won’t give me free shipping.

As with anything, use your head. It isn’t a good deal if no one can use it and it is woefully overpriced. Don’t overlook clearance either, unless your card specifies you can’t use it for clearance.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How Good is Your Insurance?

After you have a wreck or hail damage is not the time to find out. Trust me, I’ve experienced both. A hailstorm destroyed my neighbors’ roofs and put a hurting on mine. By the time, my cut-rate insurance adjustor arrived most of my neighbors were getting new roofs. The adjustor attired in dress clothes and shoes climber the ladder and merely peeked at the steep roof. “No new roof for you,” he pronounced looking at a small section of the wet roof. He didn’t actually look at the roof and it was wet, which can fill in or gloss over some hail damage, which he probably knew. I followed him to his car pointing this out, and he said stiffly. “Just because your neighbors are getting new roofs, doesn’t mean you get one.” Well, I got one on my own dollar because I wanted to sell in the spring. Wait, wasn’t insurance supposed to protect me from these sorts of things. Maybe I went too cheap.

Another tale of woe this one from the auto viewpoint, our auto insurance was switched by my independent agent when buying a new house. I wasn’t sure why they switched it, but it was more expensive about $150 higher a month. That’s a big jump. I never got a clear reason behind this either. No wrecks, no speeding tickets, and four cars all over six years old, then my stepdaughter’s parked car was hit by a drunk driver. Despite the neighbor’s taking down the driver’s license of the offender, the insurance company has yet to do anything two months later. They don’t return my calls and tried to DROP me as a customer. I’ll drop them all right as soon as they pay the claim.

How do you know your company is on the level before you have a claim? Ask your friends, but make sure they filed a claim. I thought all my companies were okay before I filed a claim. Two friends’ houses burned down almost the same time. The first friend had no problem getting what she needed at the right price. The second friend was low-balled on everything. They would only give her fifty dollars to replace the wide screen television. After their modest house was restored to normal, they were hit by lightning destroying everything electronic. Company refused to pay told her she couldn’t have two disasters per year. Personal stories will help you select.

The big difference on the two women’s houses was replacement value clause. For about $71 dollars more a year, replacement value actually pays what it costs to replace an item. Another deal on homeowners if your house is destroyed by fire, you’ll have to pay to have the site cleared before rebuilding. This can cost you several thousand dollars make sure your coverage covers this.

Car insurance is an expensive item, but needed. Many commercials advertised cheap insurance, and it is pretty much that. Always have uninsured motor coverage because most of the people who hit you are uninsured. Some out the uninsured rates as high as 50%. There are ways to lower your rates even if you have teenagers.

Good grades this help out with your children, along with them taking online driving surveys to prove their driving skills. I believe anyone can pass these tests, so don’t worry. Multi-car discounts plus clustering with your homeowners will bring the rate down.

Make sure you have at least 100,000 on medical for each individual. Hospital expenses will run through 50,000 in no time. It sounds high but a few more dollars a month that will save you from bankruptcy.
Can you afford to replace your car if it is totaled? I can't so I carry full coverage on a paid for car. If the worst happens and the car is totaled at least I'll be able to get some type of replacement. The difference for me was about $20 a month.

Please don’t pick your friend or relative for an agent. If you do you might expect them to do superhuman feats to get you what is owed you, they’ll disappoint, and your relationship will be strained. The nature of an insurance company is to deny claims. Do you want to find someone who has a good record? Free Advice, a consumer site allows customers to rate their experiences with various insurance companies. Commercials aren’t your friend in picking out a company, and independent agents aren’t either. Please investigate on your own first. Don’t go to the insurance’s own site for advice because it would not be beneficial for them to report bad service.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Frugal Fine Dining

A dinner out at a nice restaurant as jumped almost as quickly as the price of gas. What is really frustrating is laying down anywhere from sixty to over hundred dollars for subpar food and service. How can you avoid this?

I have a three-prong approach to this dilemma. The first one is hitting lunch specials or specialty meals. Many local restaurants will offer specials a certain day, time of year, or week to beef up their business. This is a great time to check out the place to see if it could be your special occasion spot.

The second place is reading several reviews to get a feel for a place. The first glowing review might be deceiving. Online sites such as Yelp, and Tripadvisior inadvertently allow restaurant owners to write their own reviews, or ask friends, and employees to place favorable reviews.  I recently patronized a restaurant with questionable service, when I looked them up on the Yelp, among the glowing reviews where a dozen reviews mentioning my same complaint. I think I know which ones tended to be more genuine. I also know people tend to comment more on a bad experience as opposed to an average one.

When reading the reviews, consider what the comments were. A local Japanese restaurant run by recently immigrants, a commenter had the audacity to remark the family didn’t know how to cook Japanese. Another person gave a restaurant one star because they found the host aloof.  Focus on the issues that are important to you.

If you and your sweetie want a romantic restaurant, beware of casual and family friendly—please read well lit and over ran with other people’s children. If you walk into a place and it isn’t what you thought it would be, please leave. You know from the get-go it will not be a pleasant experience.

To save money at the restaurant avoid alcohol, if possible. I am not a heavy drinker, but I do know when I am being charged twenty-four dollars for a five-dollar bottle of wine. That eighty-dollar bottle of wine is only twelve at the grocery. As for mixed drinks, you overpay, but there is also no consistency in the product. Sometimes you’re not even sure you have the right drink.  Usually drinks are watery to make more money, and to have people order more.  Go with water and save a bundle. You can have a glass of house wine and not break the bank too. Often people will have a cocktail before they leave, but use discretion especially if driving.

If you’re going to a sit-down restaurant they almost bring you some type of house munchies, be it bread, crudités, or simply chips and salsa. The classic move is to ask what you want for an appetizer before providing this service. By the time you gobbled up your complimentary munchies and appetizer, and over-priced drinks, you may have to force yourself to eat the entrée. Pass on the appetizers. Get what you want as an entrée. Your waiter may recommend a soup and salad. Do you eat this much at home? If not, you probably won’t elsewhere either.

Finally, your waiter reappears with a dessert menu and the offer of after dinner drinks.  Unless you are eating at the hotel you’re staying at, pass on the after dinner drinks. You have to get home somehow. Do not pass on dessert because it is usually the best part of a meal. You can share a dessert if you want. This is your dining experience you really can have it your way.

So now, you’re ready for your special night on the town. You’ve check the reviews. Maybe hit a special night/week offering. Decided what you really want. Most restaurants have menus you can look at online.  Dressed for a night of fine dining at a reasonable cost. If you really like the restaurant, get on their email list because they will continue to send you coupons and offers to keep you coming back. Many have birthday and anniversary clubs too. Bon appetit.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Return of Lay-Away


If you’re old enough, you might remember lay-away. You pick out your Christmas goodies in October, then pay on them until you can retrieve before Christmas.  Stores got rid of layway saying it took up too much space, but stores are bringing them back as a convenience.  I heard many stores such as K-mart aren’t charging a lay-away fee. Is lay away for you?


1.       It helps you actually budget your Christmas shopping by only buying what you can afford.

2.       You also don’t have post-holiday credit card regret.

3.       It is a great place to hide items from curious family members.

4.       Keeps you out of the mall during the holidays.

5.       You can pay online.

6.       It guarantees you’ll have the hot toy or must have item that will sell out if you wait.

7.       Since you are shopping less, you are likely to spend less money impulse buying.

8.       Save more time since you are shopping less.



1.       It limits where you shop because not everyone offers lay-away.

2.       People change their minds. The drill your husband wanted he bought himself. Some stores will allow you to return an item to stock, but charge you a restocking fee.

3.       If you don’t follow up on your payments you lose everything. The forty dollars you put down, then promptly forgot you even had a lay-way belongs to the store now. ( Most will send you email reminders.)

4.       Keeps you out of stores during the busy season (some people think this is a bad thing.)

5.       It also keeps you from the major sales because you already bought everything and put it in lay-away, probably at full price.


So now it is up to you to decide if lay-away might work for you. Keep in mind, lay-away isn't magical. You don't put something on lay-away and hope you find the money in time, you budget for it.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Is A Hybrid For You?


I thought a hybrid car was in my future. I really did until I started looking. First, know before you buy this year that tax credits are only for electric cars and plug in cars. The traditional egg-shaped Prius or Escape Hybrid won’t qualify. In fact, most hybrids you thought qualify, don’t. The car must be new and capable of being plugged in. Check twice because the tax rebate still might not do that much for you. At the most, it might shave a couple hundred or even a thousand off your taxes. Is this worth paying at least seven thousand more than a fuel efficient car?

I wanted a hybrid because of the cost of gas.  That way I could save money. My first stop was doing research. Certain electric cars had some proto-type problems such as catching on fire. They had a limit how far you could drive them before they ran out of power. What do you do when you run out of electric? I am betting your work or the motel where you’re staying does not want you to run an extension cord to your car.  The natural gas hybrid totally baffles me since I have yet to see one natural gas station anywhere.

I was ready to buy my first new car in over ten years and I wanted a hybrid. I trolled the Internet and called dealerships. There were plenty of higher end models to be had. Problem with that was I would never ever recoup money spend.  One Honda salesperson walked me through a comparison study hybrid and non-hybrid. The hybrid sticker prices would always be 6-8,000 more than the regular model. All maintenance was more expensive, and they tended to break down more since they were new technology. The hybrid was starting to look less attractive.

The Honda rep asked if I was planning on driving over 180,000 miles in six years? No, I would be lucky to drive a little more than a third of that. Only people who planned to drive that much with gas at five dollars a gallon could hope to regain the extra money put out on a hybrid.  The Hybrid I had my eye on had 44 mpg for city and highway. The non-hybrid model had a mpg of 40 on the highway, and even up to 44 with the econo boost button. Okay, did you catch that? The same highway mileage. City mileage dropped down to 34-38 miles depending on how much I was stopping.

A friend of mine was ready to commit to an hybrid at the dealership. A quick call to his insurance company found his insurance rate almost doubled. Sure, new cars cost more his insurance rep explained, but hybrids more so because if they get in a wreck they are usually totaled. It isn't easy to replace parts on a hybrid, as opposed to your traditional car.

The item that decided me was color and style. Even though I was at a large dealership I was told currently there were two hybrids in the state. I could put my name on a list and when one came available I’d get a call. No choice what so ever I could end up with a black sedan with black leather seats.

Because hybrids are such hot items, salespeople do not have to deal or give you inflated value for your trade-in.  My deciding factor was my brother-in-law’s hybrid. I’d driven it and liked the quietness of the electric engine. My brother-in-law keeps cars forever because he maintains them in such good condition; however, his hybrid seemed to be self-destructing after four years. It wasn’t even lasting the time of an average six-year car loan. Hybrids are not great trade-in values because they tend to be more like laptops with their dated technology.

I went for the gas efficient Civic with econo boost. It is very quiet inside almost like having an electric engine. Now, if I opted for the hybrid, I would be on a waiting list.  I might get a call in a couple months and told what type of car I could purchase.

Still want a hybrid? Do your research. Many manufacturers are putting out brand new hybrids without any type of track records. Other manufacturers are putting out cars with horrible service and performance records. A car doesn’t do you much good if it is constantly being repaired.

 Sometimes you have to give up some options. Buying a behemoth of car even if it is hybrid will not result in great gas mileage. Paying over forty thousand for a hybrid is no guarantee of anything. Expensive hybrids break down just as much as the cheaper cars. They just cost more to fix. Then there is the plug-in problem. When will hotels start checking for extension cords being run out of hotel windows?

Consider how much you drive, plus original sticker cost, trade-in value, and maintenance fees to decide if you can afford a hybrid. Don’t buy it because you think it is cool. Remember those tiny, but cute, Smart Cars.  They get the exact same mileage as a Ford Focus according to the fuel economy site. Remember earth shoes were cool once too, but you never seen anyone wearing them now.