Saturday, April 28, 2012

Online Savings Club Memberships: Are they worth the money?

Maybe you heard on the radio an advertisement how you could save thousands on your groceries, get free gas, even get rebates on your utilities. All you had to do was join this savings club by calling all their 800 hundred number now. Does it work, and if so how?

I joined. I was listening to my favorite local radio station and figured they would not place a bogus ad. I am showing my innocence here. Not everyone meets someone great from the dating ads they advertise, nor does everyone’s husband love them better after the plastic surgery they also advertise.

When I called the number, a fast talking operator immediately took my credit card number. Instead of joining a club I was joining six with a monthly charge of ten to thirty dollars. I would spend almost $120 a month to be part of these savings plans, but I had one month free, and all that free gas they mentioned.

First you had to buy the gas, send in your certificate, with your gas receipt, and they would send you five dollars back once a month if everything went right. I had certificates never honored. I had letters sent back telling me I didn’t fill out the certificate out right, which was odd since I always followed instructions. In a year, I got back about $15, that’s it. I had to stay a member of at least one club to receive this benefit—it cost me $20 to be a member…not so free gas.

One of the clubs was Leisure Time travel club. What a rip-off I could get better deals using Travelocity or even calling hotels direct and asking for Internet specials. I dropped this one immediately.

The Smart Savers club was for local dining and recreation options. They featured places I didn’t want to go to. Many of the places were dives, and the recreation was mainly golf. I could also get better deals using and to go places I wanted to visit.

The next club was for coupons called Grocery Savers. This was one more straight forward you picked your coupons, you paid 10% of the face value of your coupon and  shipping. I found the coupons were almost on the expiration date so you had to use them all immediately if not you lost your money. This club had no monthly charge.

The club I stayed in the longest was one that offered to pay my utilities or at least $100. You were also able to buy $50 gift cards from Wal-mart or Petsmart for 20% off. They also paid a percentage of your car repair bill. You had to prove your bill was a legitimate result of a breakdown as opposed to maintenance. I lost a tire and a rim to a pothole. They paid about $90 on the bill. They changed their name, but I believe you can now find them on

So in the end, are the clubs worth the money? Usually not, since you can get the same services free elsewhere. I did use a couple of the clubs, but take in consideration for the $90 I got back, I spent $240 in monthly fees. In the end, I was only paying for the repair myself with almost 200% interest tacked on.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Proms for Pennies


Spring is in the air along with the whining of daughters for expensice prom formals. Dresses can run from a few hundred to a thousand dollar. The high schol prom is growing out of the price range of the average family. It is hard to finance one prom, let alone two if you have children close in age, as I do.
The Prom Dress
Buy out of season and category, best time to buy a formal is when it is 75% off. Many a girl has snagged a cocktail or even bridesmaid dress for a song instead of the traditional prom dress. Then there’s my daughter’s personal favorite, the borrowing of a friend’s prom dress. Schools are often having prom dress sales of used dresses to help offset the cost of formal wear.
Even formal dress shops are selling gently used dresses at reduced prices.
Remember you will wear this once.

The Tuxedo
Tuxedos are almost as expensive as the dresses. Some companies will allow the early bird to rent his suit at 50% off if he wears it to school for promotional purposes. Sam Meyers, as well as other formal wear companies, have annual sales where a traditional black tux goes for as little as $50. Forget the cummerbunds and bow ties, the modern tux looks more like a suit. If the boy has a dark suit, he could wear it. Even buying a suit is a good investment. The wild and crazy guy might enjoy wearing his father’s powder blue leisure suit to the dance.

Part of the whopping expenses is dinner at a fine restaurant, which can easily add on an extra $100. A group of parents can go in together and host a meal. It can be breakfast or dinner. The candle are lit, there’s no waiting, and best of all, no major discussion about what to tip. For a brief moment, the parents actually know where their children are. Another variation on this is the fast food pitch-in. Each couple brings a bag of fast food that includes one item for everyone. Many schools are also offering dinner at the prom, which may or may not be a bargain.

The Limousine
Split limo fees between several couples to cut down on expense. Shine-up the oversized SUV, and you can be the chauffeur. There’s something about dad dressed up in a suit opening and closing car doors that delights teenagers. The more couples the better, if your child thinks the idea is icky, her friends won’t. There is always borrowing the nicer car from a friend or relative. There is usually some exchange of a blood oath on this last one.

Flowers, Jewelry and Everything else
If you’re willing, three or more girls can get ready at your house. This allows them to fix each other’s hair and make-up, a major savings of time and money. Silk flowers are a better bet than real. There should be at least one person in the family with floral design experience. If not, go to Krogers to order your flowers. The grocery is much cheaper than a regular florist and they have actual floral
designers. Order early because they do get backed up.

As for jewelry, make it costume so there aren’t any regrets about lost earrings or broken necklaces.

The last major money outlay is photos. Why pay huge prices for portraits when every prom participant and parent will take numerous photos. One good professional photograph of the couple is enough. The best way to cut dollars is have your child pay for everything. You’ll be amazed at what thrifty shoppers children become when they foot the bill.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cut Out of Control Wedding Expenses

Heard the tales of million dollar weddings and Daddy had to take out a loan to pay for his Princess’s wedding? It doesn’t have to be that way. Keep in mind that the average wedding has more than a 50% chance of  ending in divorce. My stepfather a wedding photographer often has couples who never even pick up their album since the wedding didn’t even last the two months it took for him to complete it. Keep all this in mind, when planning your wedding, or your daughter’s.

Set a realistic budget. Many weddings can cost only $5000 or less. Here is a secret to remember no one really cares about the wedding besides the couple, and maybe their mothers. That’s it, really. Thousands spent on the reception, flowers, or even a dress, are a real waste if you were hoping to impress. Most people resent taking an entire day to attend your wedding.

Destination weddings are only fun for the couple. No one is thrilled at spending hundreds, even thousands of dollars to rush in for a weekend of waiting around for a couple to make their formal vows. Nope, that’s money they could have spent on their own vacation. Skip the destination wedding and the fancy venues.

The special invitations get thrown away. Why not go with Smilebox invite that allows you to insert your own photos and send as many invites as you want for $30 annual fee. You can then use then for all your other special occasions at no extra charge.

Who doesn’t have an ugly bridesmaid dress tucked in their closet that they only wore once. More considerate brides are allowing their bridesmaids to pick their dress, with only small stipulations on color. This allows the bridesmaid to pick out something she could wear again.

As for tuxes, is this a must? A well-made suit serves the purpose. A military groom looks extra spiffy in his dress uniform. Google tux rental and you can find some coupons for discounts.

Most brides spent the majority of their money on the own dress. Be careful on this. I attended two weddings. Both brides wore a Vera Wang inspired dress. One cost $125, the other five thousand, and it was on sale. The difference was one was handmade from a pattern by a professional seamstress. I could not tell the difference.

Venues can cost a lot. Your own church should not charge you to use it. Looking for something outdoors, check your state parks, your own backyard, or a botanical garden. Manny small wedding chapels, often have an outdoor chapel too. There is always a beach wedding, but keep in mind it is still a public beach. Maybe you have a relative or neighbor who has a beautiful yard. You can ask. It could be that they would be thrilled to showcase their yards.

Many brides are now making their own flowers with silk flowers. These can be picked up in bulk at flea markets or at Hobby Lobby or Ben Franklin store. You can enlist the help of your bridesmaids or family.

The rehearsal dinner doesn’t have to be a catered affair. It can be a simple dinner hosted by a family member, a pitch-in, or even a cook-out depending on the weather. Here is a shocker for some people; you don’t have to have a sit down dinner at your reception. What most people complain about is waiting around at the reception and you get plenty of that with sit down dinners. You can do a variety of things to cut costs.

Many table decorations that are actually quite nice are available at store like The Party Factory, DEALS, or even The Dollar Tree. Make sure to include mints, nuts, or other munchies on each table. Disposable cameras are good to allow guests to take candid shots of the reception. The cameras are left for the couple to develop.

People usually like to have some fun at the party so a DJ is a good bet. Ask around. Find out who does the school dances. The cost will be in the hundreds as opposed to the thousands.

As for the food, consider doing it yourself or at least your family doing it. Go to Gordon Food Service to pick up all the finger food your caterer will charge five times the price for. It just involves heating and placing on serving trays. You probably can get a few relatives, church ladies, or friends to help you with this.

It will take some planning on your part, but it’s all do-able.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Home Buying Readiness Checklist

Are you ready for a house? Easy lending laws of years gone by were ready to lend money to anyone, no matter what their credit score or employment status. Most people are still under the assumption that they can get a house loan for 100% financing. Veterans can still get a home for 100%. New home buyers can sometimes still get 100% financing through FHA loans, but this is a little tricky for several reasons.

An FHA loan will require a good credit score of  700 or above. Many lenders will tell you 620 is acceptable, but the loan will move slow and the rates will be higher. With this type of loan, your potential house must meet certain guidelines that basically make it good resell material if the bank ends up with it. The bank does not want a fixer-upper no matter how good the price is. People with FHA loans often default, which makes you understand the stipulations. Some home sellers will balk when told the roof or furnace needs to be replaced before the loan will go through.

Another little known fact is the FHA loan has almost double the closing costs of a traditional loan. Remember the down payment you didn’t have. You’ll need the equivalent of it to pay your closing costs. You can ask the buyer to pay some closing costs, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he or she will. The reason the cost are so high is because of the mortgage insurance.

Maybe you have a decent rating and want to go with a traditional loan. Perhaps you can easily scrape together 5% or more of the asking price. Good deal, if not, you might ask some relatives for help Be prepared to show paperwork that Aunt Hilda gifted you with 10,000 as opposed to a local loan shark. It feels like the bank is in your business, and they are. They just want to be sure you’re a good loan bet. Many people aren’t.

Bad credit rating, foreclosure, even debt reduction plans can be held against you when applying for a home loan. Not paying your school loan can cause you not to get a home loan too. If you’ve not been at a job for a year, then you’re also not a good bet. If none of these apply to you, then you just might qualify, if your debt to income ratio is in the positive. This is your bills compared to the money you make.

You should not spend more than 40% on current housing, associated costs, and utilities.If you make $4000 a month, then your total housing costs should no more than $1600. Your other monthly debts such as credit cards, school loans, and car payment should not exceed 15%, which would be $600. You still have taxes and insurance, plus food, and gas, and basically everything else to still pay for with the remaining money. If your debt to income ratio is higher than this, then you really need to get it down before even thinking about a house. Besides the down payment, there are a bevy of associated fees.

First you have to come up with earnest money usually $1000 in the Midwest. This assures the realtor you’re interested. If you can’t come up with this, then renting might be your best bet. Have your home inspected to find out if it has termites, radon gas, or just bad wiring. Pay the 200-400 dollars now to avoid costly repairs later. Major underlying issues can cancel out the sale. Do you really want to buy a house with corroded pipes? Inspection is the only way to find out. Ask your realtor for a reputable inspector. It is to her advantage that you’re happy.  Another good idea, although completely optional, is the home warranty, which runs about $350. It covers pre-existing conditions that your homeowner’s insurance will not cover.

So far, you’ve put down earnest money, paid for the inspection, put back money for a down payment, and closing costs. Are you moving into a neighborhood with home association fees, most do these days. They’ll expect those to be paid up front, not when you get moved in. It is usually a pro-rated amount from the closing date to the end of the year.

Most houses do not come with all the appliances. If you don’t have a fridge, stove, washer, or dryer, plan on buying one. Sometimes the homes need a little paint and some remodeling before move in ready. Other times a larger home might necessitate additional furniture, although you do not have to get it all at once. When you’re calculating your monthly mortgage payment, make sure to add in taxes, and insurance.

Then there are the movers. If you’re very lucky and don’t have far to move, you might be able to get a rental truck and round up some friends. If that’s not a possibility, then plan on spending $1000 -$4000 depending on how much stuff you have and if you’re moving out of state. All of the sudden, the whim of buying a house seems more like a financial mountain. There are benefits to buying a house, of course.

You can decorate as you like, plant flowers, keep a large dog, even have a vegetable garden if you so desire. With shorter loans such as 10, 15, and 20 years loans, you can build up equity quicker, and pay less interest. You still have the mortgage exemption too. Take time to consider everything to weight your options before making an impulsive move.