Saturday, August 31, 2013

What You Don't Know About Insurance Can Hurt You

This last year has been quite an informative insurance tutorial, not that I wanted one.

*My stepdaughter’s car had the misfortune of a drunk driver ramming it while she was in Seattle. Even though people nearby took photos of the license plate and of the obviously drunk driver. The police managed to pull a name and address from this information. The insurance company claimed they could do nothing with this information. In fact, they informed us since the car traveled out of the tri-state area they no longer insured it. We then had to deal with something called Gap insurance. Dealing with claims across state lines can be tricky. It took over two months to fix what should have been easy. The car had full coverage including uninsured driver.

*What I did learn from this was to beware that some insurance coverage can stop at state lines. Large companies such as Progressive or Allstate usually covers everywhere.

*Smaller companies, while often cheaper, sometimes go under or choose not to pay on a legitimate claim.

*Comprehension can be a very good thing on cars, especially when an act of God/Nature occurs like a hailstorm.

*A good agent is just as important as or more important than the company is. When we returned from vacation, I tried to get the car stored in the garage insured for my husband to drive. It took three phone calls, two emails and an entire month for this to happen. The agent even yelled at me for calling him so much, while he assured me he would insure the car. He did not. My husband drove around almost six weeks on promises to insure.  Because I did send written confirmation, the company would have still been liable if an accident happened. Still, I shouldn’t have to work harder than my agent did.

*Decide how much insurance you need. We have two old cars that carry liability only. We told the children if you wreck it, you buy the next car.

*Is your coverage still up to date? You think this is a no-brainer, but many a widow/widower finds out life insurance they thought they had, expired. Why is that? Some are limited to age. It is only good up to a certain age. They are planning on you dying after the expiration age. Other times companies go out of business without bothering to inform the clients.  (I experienced this with homeowner’s company. The mortgage company contacted me to let me no I was uninsured. No refunds were forthcoming, either.)

*Know your deductible. Currently almost all homeowner’s insurance is $1000 minimum deduction.

* Do have alternative plans to handle a high deductible. A recent unplanned stay at the hospital wiped out our medical saving account in one fell swoop. I can now see the advantages of programs like AFLAC, which offer secondary insurance.

* Watch what you insure for on your secondary insurance too. For years, I carried accident insurance on my daughter via AFLAC for all the sports-related accidents she used to have.  Turns out, I should have carried sickness because that is what I needed. This is a little bit of a crap shoot. You can be insurance heavy and never use it. You can buy the wrong insurance, as I did.

*Know your limits on the insurance too. A close friend carried cancer insurance because she was afraid someone in the family would get it. Someone did. However, the insurance had very low limits despite the money she poured into the company over the years. They cancelled her policy six months after her cancer diagnosis stating she’d reached her lifetime limits.

*What benefit do you get from your company after investing thousands in their business? Thousands you may never ever collect on. Different car insurance companies offer a good driver discount to a vanishing deductible.

*Don’t be afraid to shop around. When I moved to a new state, getting new insurance was a major headache. Buying a house was easier. This made me uneasy about switching agents even though I had the angry agent who yelled at me. I did switch. This time it was relatively easy and saved over $1100 a year on car and home.

Now, I would love to find an equally good deal on medical. Anyone have any suggestions?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Colleges' Money-sucking Secrets

If this is the first year your little darling is going to school, then you know college is VERY expensive. You do not get what you pay for either when it comes to pricey campuses either. Most colleges insist freshmen have to stay on campus to get the “college experience.”

*Loosely translated we will charge you extravagant fees for a tiny room and a meal ticket. Few things you need to know about the door. Things disappear a lot. Roommates are sometimes the culprit. The roommate smokes pot in the room, your child is culpable too. Other words, he faces penalty for the roommate’s behavior. Even expulsion from the room you already paid for and there are no refunds.

*Dorms are not as safe as advertised. People who do not have rooms in the dorm often get in because they follow someone in, claim they are visiting someone, or a student props the door open because of a forgotten pass key. Often expensive schools are shiny opportunities for theft to the poorer communities surrounding the school.

* Security figures used in brochures often aren’t correct. Sexual assault, assault and theft handled by the campus police never make it to the regular police. As you can guess that would be bad publicity for the school. You’d do better to talk to a random student and not a handpicked ambassador.

*Dorm supplies are an unneeded expense. See what you have at home. Most things will be ruined while others end up in the trash at the end of the year because students didn’t want to go to the trouble of packing. Boys are more accepting of what they get. Trust me, I’ve moved children in and out of college and am amazed what is tossed. Towels, blankets, textbooks, even furniture crowd the dumpster.

  * The food at your child’s could be good or barely edible, but he has to get there at the right time to eat it. Schedules are not planned around your when the kitchen is open. My daughter consistently missed supper because of her classes. Most schools don’t provide meals on the weekend. The expensive meal plan has to be supplemented with other food. Often schools force the freshmen to take the most expensive meal plan. What is up with that?

Surveys have shown 70% of students who enter school do not graduate. Most leave after the first year. Colleges have to squeeze as much money out of the incoming freshmen as they possibly can. Students and parents wise up after staying around a few years.

In the olden days, you spent two years taking general core classes and thinking about your major. College wants your child to sign up for specific classes first. This way when your daughter decides she doesn’t want to be an art major, she’s tacked on another two years of school.  A college or university that let you sign up for core classes first is praiseworthy.

Books can be a major expense. One that often doesn’t merit the bucks spent. Many professors assign several books while only using one or specify the newest edition. Students can get by with older versions, buying them used online, electronic versions even checking them out from the library or renting them. Ask the teacher what book is the most important to have.

When your student is almost ready to graduate, an official will come around and tell them they need to sign up for graduate school. Most will be told they will not be able to get a job in their profession without going to graduate school. This isn’t true. It is often counter-productive. New college graduate only merit starting positions staying in college longer does not make you smarter. Often companies will hire the student with the BS first. If the company wants you to have a higher degree, they will have a tuition reimbursement program.  

What can you do to beat some of these expenses?

 Commute (This will save you food and housing expenses.)

·         Say you are commuting if you live less than an hour away. Look for an apartment. It will be much cheaper than the dorm, especially if you share it. After your first year, no one cares if you live off campus.
              Take your first two years of core classes at a junior college. This will save you thousands.

·         Don’t buy new stuff for the dorm. Cute items grow legs and walkaway. Items get lost too.

·         Have a fridge and microwave and buy food. It is cheaper and more dependable than a meal ticket.

·         Don’t buy your books from the bookstore, even used books. Their ideal of a discount on used books is $6. Don’t sell your books to the college bookstore either. Then the $125 book becomes worth only $12 bucks, but next semester it will sell for $92 to another gullible student. Renting books from Clegg is inexpensive. You can even borrow eTextbooks from Barnes and Noble.

There are endless expenses associated with higher education. Why pay more?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Staples Shoutout

The Staples Shout Out

I read recently that school sales aren’t as good as they were last year. Maybe. Staples still rocks. On a recent visit, I wanted to take advantage of the penny priced theme books. I picked up six, but I had to spend an additional $5 to merit this amazing price. No problem, I bought printer paper on sale for 6.99. Before you think that’s not a great price, it comes with a 5.99 refund making it a dollar. I also took advantage of roller pens that were free after rebate. I bought six tissue packages for a penny each.

Here’s what I bought:
6 theme books .01 each cent  normally they run about $1.29 when you replaced them in December.
6 tissue packs  .01 each these could have been purchased in the dollar store for $2 for 6
2 reams of paper  6.99 each
Pack of Pilot Roller Pens 4.99
My total was $20.43
After rebates it is $3.46

In the end, I purchased over $30 of supplies for just $3 and some change. Not sure, how I could have done better.

I am probably not the customer Staples hopes to draw in with their sales and rebate, but I am the one who gives them a Shout Out. They also have superior customer service too.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Cutting the Grocery Bill Down to Size

It seems as if everything is going up in price. School supplies are more than last year and gas consistently flirts with four dollars, which is why we need to get a handle on sky rocketing grocery prices. Here's part two. Use what you can.

How to Save Money on your Groceries, Part 2

1.       Bottled Water runs up your grocery bill. Studies have shown bottled water may actually have more contaminants than regular tap water. Contrary to commercials, it is bottled in a factory not the mountains.
2.       Bottled drinks such as Gatorade, Kool-Aid, and flavored water are all simply water. You can buy the mix and make it cheaper at home.
3.       Designer salt and seasoning might be labeled Cajun, Country or Seasoned Salt, but they are 90% salt. Salt is relatively cheap, so why are you paying four dollars for salt?
4.       Buy bagged fruits and vegetable, especially if they are on sale. Open the bag at home and remove any bruised or rotten ones. One bad apple or potato can ruin the whole bag.
5.       Do not buy individual items. Chips, soups, macaroni and cheese, or even frozen veggies for one. Often the single serving is almost the same price as a family size.
6.       Cook differently. In America, we expected everyone to get his or her own hamburger or steak. In other countries, the same meat is used in a stir-fry for the entire family.
7.        Make your own popcorn from actual corn as opposed to resorting to microwave bags. You’ll need a hot air popper for this, which you can find at Goodwill.
8.       Weigh your produce. That bag of grapes sounds like a great deal until you discover it will be nine dollars instead, of the four you thought.
9.       Know a bargain. A store I shop began labeling everything super sale when it wasn’t a better buy than previously. Keep track of your prices, so when something goes on an extreme sale, you’ll know it and stock up.
10.   Watch out for the displays. Often when we see a tower of breadcrumbs or a wall of beer that it must be on sale, right. No, this is clever marketing.
11.   Numbered sales that urge you to buy five or ten items will penalize if you do not buy the full amount. They didn’t use to, but now they do. If the ad is for three for $9, you’d naturally assume two would be $6. You’ll find at the checkout that two is actually $10.
12.   Buy cold cuts in the deli. You seldom get a pound of meat in your prepackaged containers. Do the math to see what the best deal is. If you have a coupon for your prepackaged meat, it might be the better deal. Deli meat often goes on sale too. When using deli meat, use it quickly because it spoils faster.
13.   Leave the kids at home- trade off childcare with a friend or relative. Not only will it make shopping faster, but it will also cut down on the whiny buys. The ones where the kids beg for it and you give in or you promise them a treat if they don’t whine.
14.   Watch the cash register. In the last year, 2.5 million dollars of mistakes were on the grocery receipts and these were the ones caught. It can be little things as sales items not registering, not using your loyalty card or coupons, not entering produce correctly.
15.     Have an extra freezer to stock up. Chest top ones use less energy.
16.   Stock up in November and December-this is the time of most sales and coupons. The freezer will come in hand for an extra turkey.
17.   Size does matter when it comes to stores. Bigger stores often have more items on sale, but not always.
18.   Neighborhood matters too. A recent study revealed that grocery chains sell the same items higher in low-income neighborhoods because the residents do not have transportation to go elsewhere and they’re using food stamps. I have seen a single egg sold for as much as a $1 in these neighborhoods. In the other neighborhoods, people simply drive to the cheaper store.
19.    Volunteer at your local food pantry. Many markets donate produce and fresh products to the pantry that spoils quickly. Often volunteers take these items home with them.
20.   Barter for your food. This works better if you are talking to a farmer. I have golden delicious apples on my trees that I can trade with my neighbor for her red delicious. You can barter actual work for food or go on barter sites such as Barter Quest.
21.   Buy frozen. Fresh strawberries are appealing, but have a limited few day life span.
22.   Pick your own. Be careful here because some farms have found they can actually raise the price on produce and let people pick them. Apples are probably easiest to pick. Often you get the better price the more you buy. Fresh apples can last a couple months in cool dry temperatures. Once they start getting withered looking, consider applesauce and pies.
23.   Avoid impulse buys at the checkout. There is a reason those items are there. Gum at the checkout is $1.29 while elsewhere in the store for three packs for $2.39.
Now that you know what to look for, Happy Savings.
Special thanks to Homestead for some of these money saving tips.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Slashing the Growing Grocery Bill

It doesn’t take much to notice the price of groceries is sneaking up again. Different packaging yields less for the same price. I’ve found myself spending $20-$25 more at the grocery for the same food. Many stores have done away with double coupons thanks to the extreme couponer frenzy. Many of the manufacturer’s coupons are becoming less and less. How can you slash groceries costs?

  1.       Watch where you shop. Thursday is my day for grocery ads and I check to see who has the best prices. This means I do shop at different stores. Aldis is still the cheapest, but doesn’t always have what I want. Trader Joe’s is owned by Aldis that makes them another bargain-shopping venue.
  2. Going Natural. I found to my surprise that Whole Foods is cheaper than Earth Faire. They even sell $3 wine.
  3. I’ve seen the commercials about if you bring your shopping list to Wal-Mart, how much money you save. I beg to differ. This applies only if you buy things not on sale. I am not sure if I ever bought something not on sale.  I do buy charcoal at Wal-Mart and some toiletries because they are cheaper.
  4.   Make a list first and stick to it. This means you are going to have to plan a menu and check your cabinets. Once you have a weekly menu, you’ll probably stick to it with minor variations. This has helped me not to buy items that end up freezer burned since I had to base menus on what I have.
  5. Skip convenience foods, most of the time. I laughed the first time I saw cut up celery stalks in the grocery store for the same price as an entire package of celery. The pre-cut vegetables and fruit are not only more expensive, but they rot faster.  The only exception is if they are on clearance and you’ll use them that day.
  6.  Forget about prepared soups. Have you seen how much soup is? A typical can is over $2 and some are as much as $5. Even though the can generously announce itself as having about two servings, it is only one. You can make your soup cheaper on your own. Be prepared to make a big pot and freeze some for later.
  7. Clearance items or sale price stock up bonanza time. Occasionally, you’ll see something you normally buy for rock bottom sale prices. When should you blow aside your careful shopping list to stock up? Decide if you'll it use in the coming month. Dry pasta is good for six months while cereal usually only lasts a month. Prepared freezer food should stay in the freezer no longer than six months to avoid freezer burn.
  8. Do not buy toiletries or cosmetics at the groceries. You can buy these items at the dollar stores. Our area has Ulta stores, which carry $3.50 coupon off any $10. Look for these in the Sunday paper. Ulta loyalty members get additional coupons too. Don’t forget to check out Walgreens & Wal-Mart for their generic copies.
  9. Look down or sometimes up. The most expensive brands are at eye level.
  10.   Try going meatless for a meal or two a week. Meat is often your major expense.
  11.  Make your own casseroles without the help of a box item. Lay in some macaroni and cream of mushroom soup and you have the basis for the boxed entrees. However, when Hamburger Helper is a $1 on sale and you have a coupon. It is hard to beat that price.
  12. Use discount groceries-I used to have one of these by me, but no more. They buy up items that didn’t sell well in the regular groceries such as gourmet items and price them low.
  13. Cook in bulk and freeze it. This allows anyone in the house to fix dinner without resorting to pricey convenience foods.
  14.  Use everything. Freeze your ham bones for bean soup. Use your chicken carcass for broth.
  15. Scale back your meals. Do you really need a dessert or bread? Your waistline will benefit from bypassing these items.
  16. Use actual portions printed in the cookbook or on the package. You can save money and calories at the same time.
  17. Shop the day before the grocery ad changes. Often you get the tail end of the sales and clearance items marked down for the coming day.
  18.  Ask for a rain check, when an advertised item is missing. Krogers and Walgreens are both good at honoring rain checks.
  19.  Buy only food at the grocery. It seems like a no-brainer, but it is so convenient to pick up laundry soap or medicine when you are already in the store. Convenient, but not cost efficient. Surprisingly, my local Walgreens runs great sales on everything from soft drinks to laundry detergent. Check your Sunday sales ads.
  20.  Take it back if it’s spoiled. I have bought stale bread, sour milk and steak that was green when I unwrapped it. I took it all back and received a refund. It is more important for a grocery to keep you as a customer as opposed to making a $1.75 off milk.
  21. Check your receipt. Ever feel like your groceries were higher than they should be? Often sales items don’t ring up as marked. I bought clearance jerky that rang up full price despite the markdown price. I brought it back to customer service, which refunded me the full price and gave me the jerky free since it was the store’s fault. That was an unexpected bonus.

Unbelievably…there are even more tips, but I will save them for another blog.