Monday, July 31, 2006

Strategies for Cutting Cable Bills

In a recent post about cable bills and movie rentals, I featured Bette from Hollywood, a woman with a $125 monthly cable bill. To my cable-free vision, Bette's expense seemed excessive. But one consumer's luxury may seem frugal to another.

At least one reader thinks Bette has a good deal.

''Paying for good things on your screen is actually a great use of entertainment money,'' wrote a fellow called Alberen. ``What else can you do all day, every day all month and only spend $80 bucks on it?''

He has a point. Trips to the movies, malls and bowling alleys can easily exceed $80 during a month's time, Alberen said. Bette believes that her cable-line reduces her entertainment expenses at other outlets. Consider the numbers: Weekly movie dates for two adults cost roughly $20 a week, before gas, popcorn and other expenses. On a monthly basis, four movie dates would cost at least $80 a week. Therefore, on an hourly basis, cable is a better value, Bette said.

Even so, there are ways to squeeze more out of your cable bill, according to Melissa Tosetti, editor and publisher of Budget Savvy, a California-based publication now available free at During a recent telephone interview, Tosetti, a cable fan, offered these tips:

Do your homework. At least twice a year, preferably quarterly, you should review your cable bills and check out prices offered by competing cable companies.

Think satellite. Even if your cable operator has a monopoly in your region, various satellite companies have competitive introductory promotions. Take notes.

Call the ''Cancel Service Department'' of your cable company with details about lower prices or discounts elsewhere. Be honest and be prepared with actual names and numbers, Tosetti said. It won't pay to lie.

Be persistent. Don't accept ''no'' on the first phone call. Repeat calls may yield a customer representative or manager more receptive to your comparison shopping. Plus, companies periodically run special promotions.

Bundle it up. Consider packaged deals that include Internet and cable access. Shop around and compare costs.

And finally, know yourself. Tosetti and her husband love the History Channel and HBO, but have little use for premium sports channels. Therefore, she tailors and reduces her cable expenditures to match her tastes. Launch your own television audit to eliminate cable waste.

''Of course, don't pay for what you don't use and watch out: the small screen is an incubator for body rot,'' wrote Alberen.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Eating Better, Eating For Less

At a recent Yoga class, the personal trainer --Angela Fischetti--who teaches our class urged us to eat more fruits and vegetables.

On a long-term basis, consumption of fruits and vegetables ultimately save money by perserving your financial and physical health. [better health = lower health bills]

Toward that end, I've found these frugal tips for getting more fruit into your diet, while saving money over the long and short-term.

These tips are from (PBH), Produce for Better Health Foundation. My personal favorite is the frozen grape tip, a trick we use regularly in our home.

For instance, PBH suggests:

For the Lunch Box:

* Pack dried fruit instead of candy.
* Pack some chopped veggies (like carrots or celery) and a cup of low-fat dressing for dipping; many stores now offer pre-packaged vegetables, making preparation a snap.
* Pack 100% fruit or vegetable juice in a squirt bottle instead of the usual sports drink or soda.
* Add tomatoes and lettuce to sandwiches to pack a healthy punch.
* Make it a peanut butter, banana, and honey sandwich instead of the usual PB&J.

For a Snack at Home:

* Make “Ants On A Log,” a popular combination of celery, peanut butter and raisins.

* Create a colorful fruit salad with all of their favorite fruits. Hint: let them pick out their favorite fruits and vegetables at the supermarket.

* Blend fresh, frozen or canned fruit into a cup of yogurt.

* Draw a picture. Use broccoli florets for trees, carrots, and celery for flowers, cauliflower for clouds, and a yellow squash for a sun. Or, include a message like “I ‘heart’ U” written with a banana as an “I”, a strawberry as the heart, and cantaloupe as the “U.”

* Keep fruit and vegetable treats in the fridge for a quick “grab and go.”

*Take 30 minutes and plan a weekly menu and a “healthy” shopping list.

*Allow your child to select a new fruit or vegetable at the grocery store – make them part of the process.

* Keep a bowl of fruit in the fridge ready for the grab and go crowd.

Eating At Restaurants:

* Make dessert a fruit salad instead of a brownie.

* Switch from French fries to cut fruit or fresh vegetables if available.

* Instead of soda, ask for 100 percent juice.

* Start the meal with a salad or a fruit salad, incorporating as many colors as possible – ask for extra veggies.

* Forget the supersize!

Eating Healthy While Traveling:

* If traveling by car, bring your own food in a small cooler and/or a picnic basket. Find a nice place to stop along the way for a picnic. Not only are you able to control what you eat, but you also save time and money while enjoying quality family time.

* Keep an assortment of dried fruit handy for snacking instead of candy. It will satisfy your sweet tooth while providing disease-fighting antioxidants. Better yet, mix your own trail mix with dried fruit, mixed nuts and sunflower seeds. Portion into zip lock bags or small plastic containers and keep in a basket so they are ready to go when you are.

* Bring individually packed single servings of pre-cut baby carrots and celery in re-sealable bags to snack on along the way. Use small re-sealable containers to pack dips such as ranch dressing, pimento cheese and peanut butter.

* Freeze grapes the night before so that they are nice and cool for the trip. They make great bite-size snacks.

* For convenience, pick up pre-packaged fruit slices or vegetables at your local grocery store. Some even come in their own containers with utensils and dipping sauces!

* Many fast food restaurants offer fruit and vegetable options instead of fries for guilt-free on the go. You can also usually add on a side salad or fruit cup for an additional serving of fruits or vegetables.

* As an appetizer, order a salad with low fat dressing or oil and vinegar.

* Switch to low fat milk from soda or drink tea with one sugar or sweetener.

* Remember that raisins do count as a fruit – pick some up when you stop for gas for a nutritious pick-me-up.

* Opt for tomato juice or V8 on the plane.

* Order a small size fruit smoothie at the smoothie bar.

Tips to help Americans eat more fruits and vegetables for a fraction of the cost:

* Buy canned fruits and vegetables – they only cost an average of nine cents an ounce.

* Buy frozen fruits and vegetables – they only cost an average of 20 cents an ounce.

* When you are purchasing fruits and vegetables, make sure that you consider the price per pound compared to the price per pound of other foods.

* Consider serving size as an indicator of price – often times serving sizes are smaller than people assume and you actually get more servings for less money with fruits and vegetables.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Budget Savvy Goes Free & Online

I recently received this note from Melissa Tosetti, Editor/Publisher of
Budget Savvy.I've really enjoyed this publication and I'm thrilled about Melissa's news:

"I am writing to let you know about a big change that has taken place with Budget Savvy. As you know, for the last two years, Budget Savvy was published as a print magazine.

I am thrilled to announce that we have moved Budget Savvy from a print to an online publication. By publishing on the web, our magazine becomes an organic- ever-growing resource for those of us who want to enjoy life, but still be financially responsible.

As we will no longer have to pay for printing and postage, we are passing that savings on to our readers. The online version of Budget Savvy is FREE.

We are excited to be able to offer articles that are timely and more in depth. The ability to upload new articles and content on a regular basis instead of just four times per year is another bonus for our readers.

But there is so much more that we can offer beyond the articles we publish. The online version of Budget Savvy also includes two new features:

The Budget Savvy World Report – links to articles from around the world that relate to the budget savvy lifestyle.
Living the Budget Savvy Life – Weekly updates featuring my personal adventures in budget savvy living.
As this is an organic process, we look forward to adding more features as the magazine grows. The first new feature will be a live forum for each of our departments:

Living Room - Ways to add style and simplicity to the home
Rec Room - Tips on affordable travel and entertainment
Fitting Room - Putting together a great look with imagination and style - on the cheap
Powder Room - Makeup and skincare ideas with products from the department store to the drug store
Pantry - Cooking and kitchen management basics
Board Room - Career and personal finance advice and information

By shifting from a print to an online version of Budget Savvy, we will be giving our readers a better, dynamic, more useful product."
Budget Savvy

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Costs & Safety of Bottled Water

Recently, we purchased a filter system for our kitchen faucet. It's a frugal option to bottled water.

Believe it or not, bottled water may not be the safest option for you and your family, according to report from the University of Florida (Pinellas County Extension. My favorite part of the report (highlighted below) is about how some companies just sell bottled municipal water, which is otherwise free.

In my own research about bottled water, I've spotted many labels where municipal sources are listed as the water stream.

Here's a quick snippet from the report:

"Sales of bottled water in this country have exploded in recent years. Bottled water, in spite of its popularity, may not be safer or more healthful than tap water. Some studies have found that tap water tends to have lower bacterial counts than bottled. Also, some brands are just packaged municipal tap water, sometimes further treated, sometimes not. In addition, bottled water is costly and bulky. Thick opaque containers can impart a plastic flavor. Big rigid polycarbonate water-cooler jugs can leave chemical residues.

If you care about conservation of resources, tap water is by far the best choice, according to the World Wide Fund For Nature. Millions of tons of plastic are used every year to make water bottles. Disposing of these bottles contributes to air pollution. The FDA regulates bottled water safety using EPA water standards and establishes definitions for labeling.

If you buy bottled water, you’re probably better off buying brands bottled by members of the International Bottled Water Association because the National Sanitation Foundation inspects their plants. "

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

My Back to School Shopping Plan

I live within walking distance to both Walgreens & I can really take advantage of special promotions at both stores. It's great. I also stock up on supplies that we will need throughout the school year.

And the PTA at my kid's school has cheap, tax-free prices at their supply school.

Meanwhile, the release below has some solid tips on saving money during the back-to-school shopping season.

"Getting Kids Ready To Go Back To School
Doesn't Have To Break The Bank

With back-to-school shopping on the horizon this month, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast (CCCS) recommends that consumers develop a manageable budget plan to cut costs when preparing children and college students for a new school year.

Consumer Credit Counseling Service, a non-profit organization serving consumers in Palm Beach County and on the Treasure Coast, offers free confidential budget counseling, including an analysis of a family's financial situation and a forum to ask questions and resolve debt issues. A certified credit counselor can discuss income, debt, assets and liabilities and help the family develop a plan to manage finances.

For back-to-school, families should consider the following cost-saving tips:

Take advantage of sales tax holidays. In Florida, parents can enjoy tax-free shopping for many school supplies. From July 22 through July 30, shoppers will not pay sales tax on the following back to school items: Clothing and related items with a sales price of $50 or less, books with a sales price of $50 or less, and school supplies with a sales price of $10 or less. This can help your back to school budget go a little further.

Take inventory. Begin with a list of all back-to-school needs and expenses including supplies, equipment, clothing, and fees for sports, music and science labs. Next, check around the house for what the family already owns. Last year's book bag and supplies may be just what is needed to start the new school year. Most students will not need entirely new wardrobes. Clothes, shoes and coats are recyclable and can look like new outfits with inexpensive accessories. Well-maintained musical instruments and sports equipment are considerably less expensive than new ones.

Buy demos and display products. For big-ticket items like computers, accessories and other equipment, a store's display merchandise with small cosmetic blemishes offer great consumer savings and often come with warranties. According to The New York Times, almost $80 billion of excess or returned inventory piles up each year. American retailers and manufacturers realize they can recoup some of their costs by selling these products at a discount to consumers. Simply inquire to a store manager about the availability of these items for purchase.

Invest in smart plastics! Instead of paying for cell phone plans, consider phone cards. Also, consider pre-paid credit cards that allow an increase in credit limits as often as needed. Instead of paying for a car and insurance for college students far from home, it may be smart to establish a frequent flyer membership so they can earn points for traveling home.

Eat wisely on campus. Generally, it is both cheaper and healthier to pack a lunch than to eat at school food counters and off-campus fast-food restaurants. Deli wraps, cold cuts, cheese and veggie snack trays, and salads with grilled meat are easy to make and will keep in lockers or cars for a few hours. Consider investing in a food dehydrator to make fruit chips, fruit rollups and beef jerky.

Comparison shop. Sunday circulars and direct-mail coupons provide great updates on sales of trusted, name-brand items. Pay particular attention to sales expiration dates. If an item is not already on the shopping list of necessities, don't buy it, even if it is a great deal.

Shop online. Several national office supply stores are offering good online prices for school supplies. Look for free or inexpensive delivery.

Pay with cash, if possible. Set a spending amount and stick with it. Pay with cash when possible and leave the checkbook and credit cards at home to avoid temptations for unplanned and unnecessary purchases. If short on cash, some stores still offer consumers layaway plans for time needed to save up for purchases.

Use credit wisely. If using credit is absolutely necessary, then limit purchases to items that can be paid off in 90 days or less. Use a credit card with the lowest interest rate. Consumers should always remember that using a credit card is like taking out a short-term loan. If care is not taken to minimize charges and make payments on time, this short-term loan could become a long-term financial and credit disaster.

Prepare for next year. Start budgeting now for next year. Set aside money that is designated for back-to-school shopping. This way, the family will not be overwhelmed by unexpected costs that could lead to a financial crisis.

"Today's students often need more sophisticated supplies than their parents needed," said Jessica Cecere, president of CCCS. "The demands of their academic programs may require personal computers, calculators and expensive lab fees. Without careful planning, families may be forced to choose between their child's educational needs and household bills. Back-to-school sales, thrift stores and recycling last year's clothing and supplies are all supplements to the most important step a family can take: budgeting."

Contact CCCS at 800-330-CCCS or or

CCCS is accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Services and is a member of the Better Business Bureau and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). Governed by a community-based board of directors, CCCS is funded by creditors, clients, contributors and grants from foundations, business and government agencies. Service is available in English, and Spanish.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Kids & Purse Strings

This is an interesting piece from Take Care America. Great tips about parenting and money lessons.
Here is the text:

"Purse-String Children: Fostering Financial Independence

Take Charge America Offers Tips on Teaching Your Children How to Make Sound Financial Decisions

"If I want this and give me that are phrases frequently uttered from the mouth of your child, it may be time to cut the purse strings. Fostering financial independence at a young age can pay off big time in the future…literally.

Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, a non-profit credit counseling company, says it is important to teach younger children and teenagers the importance of making sound financial decisions at an early age.

“Money management skills are learned by examples that are set from parents, as well as through practice,” Sullivan said. “Helping kids build money management skills can prevent them from falling into debt later in life.”


Visa USA has coined the generation of teens and twenty-somethings now entering the workforce, Generation Plastic, or Gen P. Sullivan points out that this nickname wasn’t earned through shrewd money-saving skills.

“Many people think it is no big deal to purchase frivolous items on credit cards. Reversing this type of thinking pattern will prevent a lot of financial heartache in the future when interest rates and fees start accumulating,” Sullivan said.


There are things parents can do now to ensure their children’s financial success in the future:

*Give younger children an allowance and let them learn how to spend it. Keep in mind that an allowance must be earned, not expected. If you have chores that are normally included around the house, do not include those as part of the allowance. Select chores that are considered above and beyond the minimum. If your child does not complete these extra chores, do not automatically give them allowance money. Moreover, do not give your child extra money for personal spending outside his or her allowance. Budgeting money is just as important as earning it.

*Suggest older teens get part-time jobs. Teens are less likely to have a lighthearted attitude toward money once they understand how hard it can be to earn an income. Consider reducing or eliminating allowance at a certain age in order to encourage your teen to get a part-time job.

*Provide extra opportunities to earn money. As your children get older and more capable of taking on work outside their daily chores, offer them the opportunity to make money from projects you would normally pay someone else to do, such as light yard work, or extra cleaning.

*Start a savings account in your child’s name. This will help your child learn the basics of banking and they will be able to watch their account grow, or shrink, depending on how they manage money.

*Take your child shopping. Use this as an opportunity to teach your child how to shop on a budget, take advantage of sales and use coupons. Set a budget before you go, make a list of items that are needed or wanted and help your child prioritize and make decisions.

*Go half-and-half. If your child wants an expensive item, compromise and offer to pay half. This can help a child learn the significance of hard work, while valuing a parent’s earning power.

*Do not use money as a source for rewards or punishments. Money is not something children (or adults) should feel they deserve or are entitled to as a result of behavior. Teaching your child to associate work and money, rather than expectations and money, will help them gain financial independence.


A new, nationally-renowned financial curriculum, developed at Montana State University and sponsored by Take Charge America, is helping teachers and parents tackle this tricky topic in an entertaining way. The Family Economics and Finance Education (FEFE) lesson plan is free. It can be downloaded at Family Finance

About Take Charge America

Founded in 1987, Take Charge America, Inc. (TCA) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization headquartered in Phoenix, AZ. TCA is committed to helping consumers gain control of their finances and offers a variety of services including education, budget and financial counseling, and when necessary, debt management."

Boost Low Savings Rates

My Aunt Norma and Uncle Ike just sent me a check for my birthday! Should I buy a new outfit? Books? A Meal? Nah. I think I'm taking the suggestion below about saving unexpected funds. THANKS AUNT NORMA AND UNCLE IKE!!!

The news release is about the recent lows in savings rates. Honestly: I should be saving more. Check it out:

"As Savings Rates hit a 70-year Low, CCCS Offers Tips for Saving for Emergencies and Beyond

"With personal savings at its lowest level since 1933, and with the Federal Reserve announcement to once again raise the lending rate, many consumers may be just a paycheck or two away from financial disaster.

"Living from paycheck to paycheck isn't an uncommon practice," said Jessica Cecere, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast (CCCS). "And while that practice might work under ideal circumstances, many consumers would find themselves ill prepared to handle the unexpected financial challenges that can accompany a job loss, sudden illness or disability, divorce, or other life altering event."

Saving money is a key component of personal financial planning, and saving for long-term financial security starts with some basic strategies.

Set your sights on a goal
Start by developing some short and long-term financial goals. Short term goals might include saving for a down payment on a car or home, taking a family vacation, or purchasing furniture. Long term goals might include saving for a child's college education, creating an emergency fund, or preparing for retirement. You will be more motivated and likely to follow a savings plan if you are working toward something specific.

Make savings part of your monthly budget

You plan for your monthly rent or mortgage payment and for your car payment, so make paying yourself part of your planned monthly expenses. If possible, have a portion of your paycheck directly deposited into a savings account, and when you get a raise, be sure to raise the amount your are saving-you won't even know it's gone. If you don't already have a budget, it's time to create one. You can find helpful worksheets and budgeting tips at

Create your own "Extra Income"
There are lots of opportunities to reduce expenses that can add up to big savings over time. Drop your spare change in a bucket at the end of each day, and once a month deposit that money into a savings account. Instead of making a daily trip to your favorite coffee spot, pour a cup at home and save $800 or more a year. Bring your lunch to work even two days a week and you could save $120 or more each month-that's $1440 a year. Reduce your air-conditioning bills by raising your thermostat 1-2 degrees. Take advantage of sales at grocery and department stores; stock up on staple items you normally buy, but be careful not to impulse buy items simply because they are on sale. If you do use credit cards, use cards with no annual fee and pay off your balance every month to avoid compounding interest charges.

Plan for the Unexpected
Most financial experts recommend having a minimum of three to six months of living expenses in an emergency fund. This fund can provide financial security in times of emergency and can significantly reduce the stress associated with the crisis. An emergency fund should be kept in a separate account that would be easily accessible should you need it.

Unexpected Money Should Always Be Saved
One of the easiest ways to boost your savings is to put all unexpected money into your savings account. This can include bonuses from employers, income from yard sales, tax refunds, rebates on purchases, and gifts of money from relatives. You will never miss the money, and your savings account will grow even faster.

A Few Words About Retirement
Whether you are on the verge of your golden years, or you have only recently entered the job market, you should be planning for your retirement. The fewer years you have until retirement, the more aggressively you will need to save. Many company retirement plans allow for "catch up" savings for older workers. If you wonder whether saving today can really pay off in the future, consider this: If, beginning at age 18, you saved $3,000 a year for 5 years, and earned a return of 10 percent each year, at age 65 you would have over a million dollars. Your $15,000 investment over five years would yield more than a million dollars.

"There really is no secret to saving money," said Cecere. "It requires a little bit of planning and a personal commitment to invest in your future."

About CCCS
Since 1975, families have turned to Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) of Palm Beach County & the Treasure Coast for help with money problems. CCCS is a nonprofit, community service agency dedicated to empowering consumers to achieve economic freedom. A United Way partner, CCCS provides confidential budget counseling, money management education, debt management programs, comprehensive housing counseling and bankruptcy counseling and education."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tightening Up on Eating Out

Confession: I love eating out. From small pizza shops to high-end Northern Italian-fusion cooking, I just love being served.

In my home, dining out is reserved for birthdays, anniversaries and other special excuses. Fortunately, we've developed a few frugal strategies for eating out.

1) Order lots of appetizers; but share meals
2) Drink the free water. Soft drinks --even at moderately priced restaurants-- can cost $2.50 and up. For a family of five, that's $12.50 (plus tax) for the first round of drinks. With two drinks per person that's $25 before you've even take a bite.
3) Skip pass the stuff that you can make better & cheaper at home. Why, why why spend $10 on fancy mac and cheese when you can make panful for pennies.
4) Share the sweet calories and cut costs.
5. Stay at home
6. And always, always tip generously. The former waitress in me rebels against cheap tippers!!!

Check out the following survey from ACNielsen.
It's insightful.
Here is the text:

"ACNielsen: Cutting Back on Out-of-Home Entertainment, New Clothes and Technology Upgrades are Consumers' Top Three Belt-Tightening Measures Globally

"US Consumers Cite Cutting Down on Take-Out Meals as Number One Strategy

"When the cost of living is rising faster than income, the world's consumers are fairly unanimous about what they'd cut back on to avoid blowing their budget. Out-of-home entertainment, spending on new clothes and upgrading technology are the top three belt-tightening measures of consumers worldwide, according to an online survey by ACNielsen, the world's leading market research and information company.

The survey, conducted in November 2005, polled over 23,500 respondents - regular Internet users - in 42 markets. In the United States, unlike most markets surveyed, consumers cited cutting down on take-out meals as their most popular cost-cutting method. Just over half of all respondents worldwide claimed they would cut down on out-of-home entertainment (57%) and spend less on new clothes (53%) to stay within their budgets, with nearly half (48%) also saying they would delay upgrading technology to tighten their belts.

Cost Saving Measures - United States vs. Global Average

Cost Saving Measure US// Global

---------------------------------------------- ---------- ----------
Cut down on take-out meals 66% // 44%
---------------------------------------------- ---------- ----------
Try to save on gas and electricity 61% // 37%
---------------------------------------------- ---------- --------
Cut down on out of home entertainment 60%// 57%
-------------------------------------------- ---------- -------
Spend less on new clothes 54% // 53%
--------------------------------------------------- ----------
Use vehicle less often 47% // 27%
-------------------------------------------------------- ----------
Use coupons more often 46% // 19%
-------------------------------------------------------- ----------
Switch to cheaper grocery brands 42% // 35%
--------------------------------------------------------- ---------
Delay upgrading technology 41% // 48%
-------------------------------------------------------- ----------
Cut out annual vacation 38% // 29%
--------------------------------------------------------- --------
Delay the replacement of major household items 37% // 36%
-------------------------------------------------------- ----------
Cut down on telephone expenses 24% // 34%
------------------------------------------------------- ----------
Look for better deals on home loans, insurance,
credit cards 16% // 17%
-------------------------------------------------------- ----------
Buy cheaper brands of alcohol 8% // 8%
---------------------------------------------- -------- ----------
Cut down on smoking 8% // 10%
------------------------------------------------------- ----------
Something else 7% // 7%
------------------------------------------------------- ----------
I don't take any actions 4% // 4%
-------------------------------------------------------- ----------

In the US, while the economy remains fairly robust and unemployment is low but median wages are flat, consumers seem not to be employing cost-saving strategies to a large degree, or if they are, are spending the saved funds almost immediately. In fact, earlier this year, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that American consumers spent more than they earned in 2005 for the first time since the Great Depression.

"To a degree, belt-tightening strategies are a reflection of lifestyles in each region, and the potential for where the biggest saving can be made," noted Tom Markert, Chief Marketing Officer, ACNielsen. "It also reflects priorities - where consumers will look first to cut back, and also where they are not prepared to make concessions. In the US, the enormous amount of take-out food we consume, the billions we spend on out-of-home entertainment and as the world's largest user of energy, these three areas may be the big budget numbers that can be reduced without too much lifestyle compromise. Based on the country's negative national savings rate, however, any money saved by US consumers is probably simply spent in other areas."

"We believe the strong numbers in the 'cheaper grocery brands' response is clearly tied to the rise of private label goods throughout the US and the world, both in terms of amounts spent and categories now included," noted Markert. "I believe the US will crack the top 10 in this area in the not too distant future, especially if some of the hard discounters that have enjoyed so much success in Europe make a bigger push into the US market."

In terms of coupon use, Markert noted, "The US consumer clearly recognizes coupon usage as a meaningful cost saving strategy. Both manufacturers and retailers of consumer packaged goods have long leveraged coupons to build trial, volume and store traffic, but it may be time to hone the marketing messages about coupons to stress the impact they can have on overall cost savings for household budgets."

ACNielsen is the world's leading marketing information provider. Offering services in more than 100 countries, the unit provides measurement and analysis of marketplace dynamics and consumer attitudes and behavior

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Picking My Own Pockets: Small Changes

Like pennies from heaven, a trail of coins runs through my home. There are dimes in the desk drawer, nickels near the computer and quarters under the sofa. One day, I collected more than $15 in ''pocket money'' from the corners of my home.

That small change could add up to large savings, especially if the money is invested in the stock market or stashed away in a simple savings account. There's a lot of power in pennies.

My own parents amassed a large pile of loose change for my oldest son. Last year, in honor of his bar mitzvah, my folks filled a large coin bank for my son. He was surprised that the contents -- nickels, quarters and dimes -- held more than $250.

Those funds have additional earnings power when prudently invested in stocks, bonds, mutual funds or passbook accounts.

For example, in 1978, if I had invested $150 of my baby-sitting money in Federal Express (or another blue chip stock), that investment would be worth $17,732.14 today. That's a return of nearly 12,000 percent.

Even small amounts of capital can be invested in financial markets. For instance, through dividend reinvestment plans -- known as DRIPs -- you can invest as little as $10 in individual stocks. In a DRIP plan, your dividends are automatically channeled back into additional purchases of stock. Your funds painlessly accumulate below the radar of frivolous spending.

Different publicly traded companies have a variety of options, including plans without fees.

But if you think the stock market is just another form of legalized gambling, then consider a bank or a credit union. If $250 is invested in a bank account today it would be worth an additional $26 to $178 in 10 years based on current rates, according to Mark Holmes of Eastern Financial Florida Credit Union, South Florida's largest credit union.

But the difference is especially dramatic if $250 in loose change is applied to your loan balances, Holmes says. An extra payment of $250 on a $2,500 credit card balance would save about $300, excluding the original $250 in small coins. If your spare change were applied to the $200,000 principal of a 30-year mortgage, you would save about $1,449 in interest over the life of the loan.

Fortunately, loose change -- like humidity in July -- is everywhere.

Almost everyone has a strategy for collecting pocket change. I've heard of shoppers who constantly break larger bills and hide the change in a savings account. A federal credit union in Texas urges its customers to ``empty your pockets each day and put the spare change in your home buying account.''

Other financial mavens recommend the pay-yourself luxury tax, which works like this: Make your own gourmet coffee, do your own nails or wash your own car.

Save the money that you would have spent in a jar to use for emergencies or deposit in a savings account.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Frugal Green Cleaning Tips

I'm a big fan of the Center for American Dream, a consumer organization that promotes frugal, simple and eco-friendly living.

Here's a very green guide to household cleaning. This system works:

"Simple Steps to Green Cleaning: Save Time, Money, and the Environment at the same time

General Household Cleaning:

Clear the Clutter

Time to spend: 15 minutes per room
Make your way around the house with a large laundry basket and remove any misplaced items. This is an excellent tip for simplifying and organizing your house with out using any cleaning products at all, and you will be amazed at how much cleaner it looks once you have removed all the misplaced items. Start room by room and move clockwise around the house to avoid scattering and being overwhelmed.

[Frugal Duchess comment: the website also lists excellent 15-minute and all-day cleaning guides for each room of the house. Very helpful.]

Get rid of all that stuff in the

Time to Spend: A whole day

Have a lot of expired stuff you don't know what to do with? Maybe you have a car battery that's been sitting in the garage for ages, or an old TV that doesn’t work, telephone books from last year, and so on and so on. You feel bad about throwing them away, but don't know what use they could be or who could rescue them. So they just sit and sit and sit. If you’re tired of watching all that stuff gather dust, we may have an answer. A lot of it can be recycled, donated, or reused.

Yard Sale: One man’s trash is another’s man’s treasure. This is an excellent way to clear your house of clutter, and let others benefit from items that you no longer want. You can bask in the warmth of the sun as you get money for your unwanted goods., and you may even be able to donate your proceeds to your favorite non-profit. Another way to do this is to have a virtual garage sale, by posting you unwanted items to be sold on Ebay or giving them away through free cycle.. If you choose to use Ebay, you can even donate a portion of your proceeds to the Center for a New American Dream by selecting donate to a non-profit option when posting your item for sale. .

Donate to Thrift Store: Bring your items to a Salvation Army station, second-hand stores, or school clothing drive.

Regift: Offer old clothing, lawn care items, etc, to a neighbor, friend, or co-worker who may need them.

: There are ways to recycle almost anything these days, from computers to glass to cell phones to tires to Christmas trees. The trick is finding out where to take them. That’s where the Earth911 website comes in. Just enter your zip code in the form below and you'll be taken to a site that will give you information on all the recycling centers in your area. They'll also tell you what's ok to leave on your curb and what you'll have to take to a center. So pop in your zip code and start clearing out that garage/attic/basement/closet...

To locate your nearest recycling or
Household Hazardous Waste Collection
Center, please contact
1-800-CLEANUP or tap into |"

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Love, Money & Wedding Bells

Before I started writing about finance, I used to have a Whatever
attitude about money.

But after studying Wall Street and starting my own family, I belatedly understand the importance of money, especially in a marriage.

(Reality check: Bills don't pay themselves; babies don't diaper their own bottoms)

Therefore, the following piece about love & money from the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast really rings a few wedding bells in my brain.... Check this out...


Getting to know your future spouse's financial side

"While all engaged couples dream of married bliss, finances can often be the number one problem in marriage and a leading reason for divorce. Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast suggests that as couples mull over which fine china to select, where to honeymoon or even where to live, they also talk about their current financial situation, future financial goals, and attitudes toward spending and saving.

CCCS provides the following tips for engaged couples to ensure that the marriage can start on financially strong footing.

Calculate your net worth individually and as a couple. Share information about full-, part-time or supplemental income, monthly expenses, and existing loan and credit card debt. For better or worse, you inherit all of your fiancé's finance issues - the good, the bad and the ugly.

Map out short- and long-term financial goals - including preferred living standards. Perhaps you've talked about how many kids you want, what type of pets you prefer and who gets to sleep on the left side of the bed. But have you truly shared your feelings on short- and long-term goals? Does your future spouse have a desire to retire in his/her 50s? Or does she/he want a second house on the beach? What about retirement savings plans, insurance policies, life insurance plans or investment accounts? Or perhaps you are on a strict budget to pay back the debt you've accumulated. It is important to talk now about long-term goals and any necessary short-term sacrifices.

Develop a plan to reduce debt redundancies and to pay down debts. Identify areas where bills unnecessarily overlap and look for opportunities to use your married status to decrease expenses. For example, most cellular phone companies offer family plans that can cut monthly phone costs, or see if joining the same gym can help to reduce monthly dues. CCCS also suggests creating a plan to pay down both of your debts. Credit cards in particular can be the most expensive debt and have significant impact on the types of interest rates you might qualify for when applying for a mortgage or car loan. Find ways to pay off credit cards entirely or at least double your payments - never pay just the minimum on credit card bills.

Create a comprehensive budget. Take into account current income and expenses. While income generally increases with a marriage, oftentimes expenses increase too. Take a realistic look at what your new monthly expenses will be as a married couple. Keep in mind that certain bills will increase such as groceries, commuting costs and even dry-cleaning expenses. Be sure to plan the amount of money you plan to place into savings each month to create a joint emergency fund, to save for a down payment on a house, or even to build a joint retirement nest egg. Consider setting aside a small amount of money per week that each spouse can spend at his or her discretion.

Share your credit reports and credit scores. For many couples, marriage signifies the impending desire to purchase a new home or make other major purchases. But it is crucial to know about your fiancé's credit report. Americans are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies every 12 months. Log onto to obtain copies of your reports and consider purchasing your credit score (for a nominal fee). In the process, carefully review the reports and correct any erroneous listings. Be sure to examine both of your credit scores and debt-to-income ratios since lenders use this information when assessing loan applications.

Decide when to merge accounts. Discuss early on the pros and cons of maintaining separate or joint accounts. If your fiancé has bad credit, maintain separate accounts for the time being, but work with him or her to pay down the debt and begin the process of improving the credit score. If you both have good credit, consider opening joint accounts for household expenses and savings, but possibly maintaining a separate account for personal spending money.

Plan the wedding of your dreams - and of your financial means. Now that you are headed on the right path to financial bliss, be sure that the happiest day of you life does not become the one that ruined your finances and credit rating for years to come. Be sure to set a budget prior to planning the wedding and stick to it! There are lots of convenient ways to cut costs and still have a beautiful wedding.

"Financial problems can cause irreparable damage to even the most compatible relationships," said Jessica Cecere, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. "Open and honest communication before you walk down the aisle can identify areas of concern and build a foundation for financial success."

CCCS is a nonprofit, community-based organization and a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC). For more information, call 1-800-330-CCCS or visit us online at"

Cover Your Assets at the Gas Pump

I don't drive, but I do own a car, which is driven by my husband. (I plan to get my driving permit soon.)

Once I recover from my fear of driving, I plan to test a few theories about saving money at the gas pump. In the meantime, I like this release that I received yesterday from authors Kenny Joines and Ron Hollenbeck, who have written The Gas Mileage Bible

Here is the release. It's an interesting release, albeit a tad long. If you have limited time read at least the first section of quick suggestions. Come back later and read the full text:

"Protect Your Pocketbook at the Pump

"With gas prices reaching $3.00 per gallon and higher across the nation, most of us are worried about the impact on our pocketbooks.

The Gas Mileage Bible is packed with 45 easy to use actions people can take to squeeze more miles out of every gallon and pay less at the pump, whether they are traveling this summer or just tired of paying so much for gas. Among the numerous tips:

1. Keep your engine tuned and well maintained. Get a tune-up and exhaust gas analysis.

2. Keep your tires filled properly – if the tire pressure is low, you will increase your gas consumption significantly.

3. Use high quality synthetic oil in your engine.

4. Replace your factory paper air filter with a High Flow Replacement Air Filter.

5. Make sure your wheels are aligned to reduce rolling resistance.

6. Lighten your vehicle weight - Remove all unnecessary baggage and payload from your vehicle.

7. Apply synthetic bearing grease to your wheel bearings.

8. Use high quality synthetic oil in your transmission, differential and transfer case.

9. Make your vehicle more aerodynamic – take off anything that increases wind resistance like luggage racks or car top carriers. If you have a pick up truck, drive with the tailgate up (in a closed position).

10. Keep your air conditioning turned off when it is not hot.

11. Keep your fuel filter clean and replace it regularly.

12. Ensure your power steering fluid and belts are properly maintained.

13. Make sure you are using the proper coolant in your vehicle.

14. Buy the lowest octane grade of fuel recommended for your vehicle.

15. Check your gas cap and make sure it doesn’t leak air.

16. Check your spark plugs and replace them with high quality spark plugs and ignition cables.

The Gas Mileage Bible
By Kenny Joines and Ron Hollenbeck
180 pages 5.5 in by 8.5 in
trade soft cover or ebook formats
ISBN 0-7414-3059-2

[Frugal Duchess comment: stop here and come back when you have more time]

“The most important thing to do is change your attitude and choose to make a difference,” Ron Hollenbeck says. “At $3.00 a gallon, even small improvements and some changes in driving behavior can make a substantial difference very quickly.”

Hollenbeck and Joines have identified over 40 individual actions that vehicle owners and drivers can use to improve gas mileage, save money and be more earth friendly. Their “L.E.D. Method” summarizes three main categories of ideas and actions for getting better fuel economy:

L stands for Losses that you can reduce that are due to friction, wind resistance and rolling resistance. Reducing the losses allows your vehicle to travel further with each gallon of gas.

E is for Efficiency that you can improve so that you get the maximum amount of energy can out of each gallon of gas.

D is for Driver since your driving technique can result in improved gas mileage by over 30%.

All their ideas are based on sound scientific energy saving principles that anyone can use. Here is a typical case in point:

The owner of a typical SUV that gets 12 miles per gallon, drives 15,000 miles per year and costs $3.00 per gallon will spend $3,750 dollars in a year.

If the owner improves his gas efficiency by 30 percent so that his car gets 15.6 miles per gallon, then his gas cost for the year will be $2885, and can save more than $865 in gas.

Hollenbeck and Joines say that the single most important thing people can do to reduce gas consumption is actually really simple, but it’s also the hardest thing to do.

All you’ve got to do is… Drive as if you have an egg under your gas pedal.

Acceleration and fast driving burns gas faster than anything else. Instead of pushing the curve and going as fast as you can, slow down. Come up to cruising speed slowly, and coast to a stop. On the hills down, use gravity. On the hills up, don’t accelerate, just take it easy. Instead of tailgating, slow down and leave space in front of your car as a buffer to minimize sudden braking. The even pace will be more relaxing and safer. You’ll also be astounded at how much money you will save.

The EPA has data that shows that for each 5 mph over 60 mph, it is like paying an additional $0.21 per gallon for gas. Or, another way to look at it, for every 10% faster you go over 50 mph requires an additional 10 to 20% of fuel.

Driving at 55 miles per hour can thus save you 20 to 25 percent of your costs for gas. Drive in the right lane, except if you have to pass.

One thing is for sure, that if you go gunning around town, your mileage will drop as much as 37% and will drive your costs way, way up.

Added benefits to improving your gas mileage are increased performance, reduced maintenance, increased vehicle life, reduced emissions and greenhouse gases, and conservation of a rapidly diminishing natural resource - oil. So, according to Joines and Hollenbeck, getting better gas mileage not only helps protect your pocketbook, it is also the socially and environmentally responsible thing to do.

In a recent emissions test, a vehicle that had many of the tips in this book applied to it had reductions in hydrocarbons, which are essentially unburned fuel, and carbon monoxide emissions of over 90%. Dangerous nitrous oxide emissions were reduced to zero.

Joines and Hollenbeck also warn about fuel saving gimmicks and gadgets that don’t work. There are many fuel additives, pills, magnets and devices out there being pushed on the uneducated public. Some of these products are outright fraud, while others don’t make a big difference in your gas mileage. A recent example of this is the Texas lawsuit brought against BioPerformance, Inc., maker of fuel additives that have been shown to actually reduce your mileage. Consumers are also warned to be cautious about multilevel marketing schemes that have cropped up around these gas saving gimmicks.

The Gas Mileage Bible also identifies and analyzes the different types of automobile engine modifications you might want to consider. These include things like air intake and exhaust systems, electric cooling fans, throttle body spacers, and other more costly engine improvements that are available on the market.

For more information visit"

Monday, July 10, 2006

Netflix, Movielink & Cheap Home Entertainment

My home is a cable-free, antennae-free video zone. Our small screen entertainment consists of rented, purchased or borrowed movies. Needless to say, we spend either a small fortune at movie rental stores or large blocks of time at the public library, where DVDs and tapes can be borrowed for free.

Libraries are great and offer a surprisingly broad selection of current CDs and DVDs. But the late fees really add up if circumstances or disorganization cause you to miss the library's due date. Meanwhile, Blockbuster has also launched an extended viewing plan, which gives you more time to watch and return rented videos. But the cash-ticking meter still runs if you miss the extended-return deadline.

Cable and satellite TV are always an option. But monthly fees range from about $19 (basic, no-frills cable) to $100 and higher for pay-on-demand, digital cable with premium channels and all the bells and whistles. A fully wired friend, Bette from Hollywood, has a cable package that costs about $120 per month and includes HBO, Showtime and the Do-It-Yourself network.

Another friend, a busy mom with several small children, has solved her video conflicts by enrolling in Netflix, a publicly traded company that operates an online DVD movie rental service.

''Netflix is cheaper than cable. And it doesn't allow the kids access to all the cable channels,'' she said. ``We can pick the kids movies that we want for them.''

Three weeks after enrolling in Netflix, my friend has created a comfortable cycle of ordering, returning and receiving new videos. Her plan -- one of nine subscription plans offered by the company -- works like this. For a flat fee of $14.99 per month, my friend receives an unlimited supply of videos, with no additional charges for shipping or late fees. Monthly fees range from $5.99 to $17.99, depending on your selection of options.

Under my friend's plan, she receives two videos at a time. Last Tuesday, for example, she received two DVDs from Netfix. She watched one video on Tuesday night and the second DVD on Wednesday. After returning the videos on Wednesday and Thursday, my friend received her next selections on Friday and Saturday. With a video return label sporting a Fort Lauderdale address, she has a two-day turnaround time for returning and receiving her rental sections. ''You have to get it into a cycle -- but you can have a new movie every night,'' she said.

BellSouth operates a similar service called Movielink (, which enables consumers to legally download hit movies at a low cost to play on their home computer or television. There are no subscription or late fees and rental prices begin at 99 cents per movie.

While browsing on Movielink, I found a daily special for 60 cents and another rental selection for $2.99. After downloading a movie, you can store your selection on your home system for 30 days, with a 24-hour viewing window once you hit the ''play movie'' button.

The system requires high-speed Internet access. BellSouth provides a free software program called the ''Movielink Manager,'' that makes it possible to manage and view movies on home PCs. For viewing on TV, you'll need a special cable linking your computer and television costing from $5 to $75, depending on your home equipment.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

5 Hollywood Lessons about Money

I love lessons from unusual sources. For instance, I could write a book about the financial tips I've learned from my dog Scruffy. (Hint: patience, planning and persistence).

Therefore, I especially enjoyed this news item from a Hollywood producer about money.

The release is below:

"Renowned Investment Advisor and Film Producer Explains …



Alan Haft, a nationally renowned Investment Advisor...has perhaps the most unusual background of any financial advisor: for many years, he was partners with famed actor James Woods in a feature film production company, having worked with the likes of Oliver Stone, Kathy Bates, Michael J. Fox, Dolly Parton and many others. In short, from Hollywood he knows first hand how to manage huge investments, maximize returns, minimize losses and parlay that knowledge – and the lessons learned -- to individuals.

Haft explains the 5 biggest mistakes people make when planning for retirement, and often injects a Hollywood twist to help people understand essential investment concepts:

· Thinking it’s too late to start planning.

Once you reach your 50s or 60s, it may seem too late to start investing. But it’s never too late. Thanks to the power of compounding, boosted by the tax-deferred growth offered by individual retirement account (IRAs), 401(k) plans and annuities, it may not take as much time as you think to build up a nest egg.

Morgan Freeman was 50 years old when he landed his breakthrough role in “Street Smart.” “Too late to start planning?” Hardly. Since then he’s accumulated a legendary body of work along with an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

· Underestimating your life expectancy.

Almost 20% of workers expect their retirement to last 10 years or less, while an additional 15% expect their retirement to last 11 to 19 years. But according to the 2000 Retirement Confidence Survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), half of the men reaching age 65 have an additional life expectancy of approximately 17 years, while half of the women reaching age 65 have an additional life expectancy of approximately 21 years. Naturally, miscalculating how long you will likely live could be detrimental to your retirement planning.

In Hollywood, underestimating the life expectancy of production is grounds for total disaster. During production, a typical film could easily cost the studio well over a million dollars a day. Underestimate how long it will take for a film to be completed, and you will most likely never work in that town again.

· Miscalculating your savings needs.

Many financial planners will tell you to plan on needing 70% to 85% of your pre-retirement income in your retirement years. But can you really predict how much you’ll need based on general percentages? According to the EBRI survey, only 53% of workers have tried to determine how much money they’ll need to save by the time they retire. But half of the workers who did try to estimate their retirement needs increased their investments or changed their asset allocation as a result of their calculations. That suggests many people are not correctly estimating their retirement needs. Thanks to software and online calculators, it’s easy to do so. A personal favorite:

In Hollywood, a close friend running production at a major studio confirms most films come within 5% of their estimated budget. A studio simply cannot make major miscalculations, and much more importantly, neither should your retirement.

· Not taking inflation into account.

Many investors, particularly older ones, are uncomfortable with market volatility. As a result, they invest solely in Treasury bills, fixed-rate CDs, and savings accounts. Doing this will eat away at most of their investment return, as these vehicles tend to return less than the current rate of inflation. As you approach retirement — and even in retirement — it’s critical to consider keeping some money in growth investments such as stocks and low cost stock mutual funds.

Whether your interest is investing or in Hollywood, taking unnecessary risk is never wise, but taking calculated, controlled risk is essential to achieving success. If Hollywood avoided any risk, we would never have seen such fantastic genre-breaking films such as “Unforgiven,” “Pulp Fiction,” “The Usual Suspects,” and many more.

· Diversification is key

If you ever lost significant money in the markets, it can only mean one thing: you were not properly diversified. It’s been said a thousand times before: diversify, diversify, diversify (but don’t overdo it or you’re sure to get lackluster returns). Cover the fundamental asset classes, monitor your withdrawal rates and you’ll have a much better chance for achieving long term retirement success.

Ever hear of the Hollywood Studio that distributes only romantic comedies? You never will. Every studio knows it’s impossible to predict which genre will be hot at any given moment, thus the reason year after year you’ll always get plenty of diversified genres to choose from.

The biggest surprise many Baby Boomers and retirees encounter is the realization that their ‘bulletproof’ retirement savings plan is riddled with bullet holes. Living longer, ironically, often means outliving nest-eggs intended to ensure financial comfort.

“The road to success and profitability in Hollywood in many ways mirrors the principles of preparing for retirement,” says Haft. “The entertainment viewed on TV or in theaters is an example of either prudent decision making based on proven principles, or risky ventures that create big problems. The studio hotshots and high-profile actors can teach the public an awful lot about managing money for retirement.”

Alan Haft is based in Boca Raton, Fl and Newport Beach, CA. A well-known personal finance expert, he has been featured in scores of publications including the Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, and top newspapers around the country. In the early 90s, Haft, with veteran actor James Woods, formed Breakheart Films. While serving as Vice President of Breakheart, Haft was involved with numerous feature film and television projects such as “Killer” (with Oliver Stone as Executive Producer) and HBO’s Best Picture Emmy Award winning “Citizen Cohn.”

Frugal Text Book Options

I thought that this release from Best Book Buys provides some great money-saving ideas for parents and college students.

Shopping portals provide great resources for cheaper books. I've crunched a few numbers and have been impressed by the potential savings:

Here is the release:

"On average college students spend approximately $800 a year on their textbooks.

According to Steve Loyola, president and founder of, an online price comparison shopping site for college students and a service of Best Web Buys, students can save up to 72 percent off the list price by comparing prices online.

Steve Loyola offers the following tips for shopping for the best textbook deals:
· Check your book list before heading back to college. Many college bookstores post the required text books online for each course. Similarly, many professors post the required reading online.

· Use comparison shopping sites which scour the Internet within seconds. Remember that not all comparison shopping sites are really showing you the lowest price first. Some give higher placement to stores that pay to be promoted. Make sure to click the sort button to find the lowest price.

· Order early. The best deals and selections for used books are when the supplies are at the highest.

· Consider buying an international edition. International editions can save students up to 72 percent off the list price of their U.S. counterpart. Shop at an online site that clearly delineates between international and US editions such as

· Search for textbooks with the same ISBN number as specified by your professor. Be careful that you are actually purchasing the edition you want.

· Check for store coupons and free shipping offers. Go to Google and enter the name of the store you wish to buy your books from and the word “Coupon”.

· Consider buying from an out-of-state retailer. Many out-of-state retailers will not charge sales tax. Compare each store’s availability and estimated shipping time.

· Before ordering, check out the store’s reputation and return policy. Many sites post ratings and feedback about the store’s customer service. Double-check the sales tax and shipping costs before submitting your order.

· Print the order confirmation page. It will contain information you may need to resolve any problems with an order.

· Sell your books back when the semester is over. A number of online bookstores will buy used textbooks. Best Book Buys has a link to participating sites at

At, students can compare prices on over 5 million book titles across dozens of reputable online stores (including, Amazon Marketplace, Barnes and Noble, eBay,, Overstock, and Powell’s) and more than 20,000 sellers including overseas sellers. Best Book Buys has been helping college students from more than 1500 colleges across the nation find the best prices for their new and used textbooks since 1997. The company was founded in 1997."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

10 tips from a Millionaire Dad

My dad has always given me great advice about money: Save, Stay organized, Plan for tomorrow. I could write a great book based on the advice from my parents. But someone else has written a-My-Dad-and-Money book. Here is a news release that I received, featuring 10 financial tips.

"When it comes to finance, father really does know best,
according to Charles W. Buffington, Jr. and Charles W. Buffington III,Buffington's son, who said: "My dad became a millionaire following simple principles. I listened to his advice, and I did what he said. And it worked.
Today, my wife and I are financially secure because my dad said it, and I did.

Together they have written: He Said It, I Did It Lessons From My Father
on Mastering Personal Finance.

The Buffingtons offer the following tips for minimizing debt and maximizing
1. Have a clear vision and strategy for your financial future: remember
that hope is not a strategy
2. Give generously and wisely: practice educated giving
3. Keep score know your true net worth, play aggressive offense by
investing and aggressive defense by eliminating or reducing debt
4. Live below your means
5. Create a realistic budget: Budget = Income Planned Spending +
6. Start investing now and make it a habit invest every month
7. Figure out a way to buy a home
8. Avoid debt at all costs... if you have debt, realize that it is costing
you money, and causing unnecessary worry. When paying off debt, prioritize
your payments reduce the highest-interest debt first
9. Keep good credit know your credit score and take decisive action
to improve it
10. Find multiple streams of income find investment vehicles such as
401(K)s, mutual funds, and bonds, or turn your passion or hobby into a
business. Opportunities are all around you. Open your eyes for your own
streams of income.

The sad reality is that millions of Americans lack basic financial knowledge.
Consider these statistics:
Eighty-five percent of Americans have a true net worth of less than $250
The average savings of a retired couple amounts to only $7,000
Paying off debt accounts for 92 percent of family disposable income

For the senior Mr. Buffington, these statistics are all too real. Like many,
living on the paycheck-to-paycheck treadmill was a part of life for Mr.
Buffington. Buffington recalls that he even thought he was doing pretty well
until he lost his job and realized that his choices were limited because he had
no savings and lots of debt. At that point, Buffington saw that he had one of
two choices he could be a victim, or he could be a victor. Buffington chose
the latter and sought help from the best resource he had available: his
Father. And Buffington did far more than break the confines of debt; he
became a millionaire and achieved financial freedom.

Charles Buffington, Jr., founded a management consulting firm and is a
graduate of Harvard Business School. He runs the Buffington Foundation,
which works with charities that help women and children. Charles Buffington
III is a graduate of West Point and holds an MBA from Emory University. "

Monday, July 03, 2006

My Scooter, Costco & Gas Savings

I thought I was cool. On a foot-pedaled razor scooter, I ran an errand, checked in on my kids, and squeezed in a bit of exercise while saving money on gas.

But I had second thoughts about my fuel-saving push when I looked at the bemused expressions on the faces of my kids. I feared that my scooter escapade was an embarrassment to my children.

If I'm really serious about saving gas, there are many roads to economy. I don't need a razor scooter to be fuel efficient. From unusual fuel vendors to price-checking services, it's possible to contain gas costs even during the peak summer travel months.

During a casual conversation, a friend mentioned that she was going to Costco, one of several wholesale clubs in the nation. And although her shopping list included the standard items, such as bulk purchases of paper goods and tuna fish, she also had plans to fill up her tank at Costco.

I made a few phone calls and I discovered that Costco sells gas at about two-thirds of its 238 warehouse stores in the United States. And the prices tend to be lower than local gas stations, according to my friend, a regular gas customer of Costco.

''That's our goal. We want to offer the lowest prices in the warehouse and at the gas stations,'' said Bob Nelson, a spokesman for Costco. There is one catch: You have to be a member of Costco to gas up at the store's pump. But often pump savings outweigh the $50 cost of the annual club membership, according to GasBuddy, an Internet-based service that tracks gas prices throughout the United States.

Other wholesale outlets such as BJ's Wholesale and Sam's Club also sell gas at various stores. For example, in my region, BJ's sells gas at five South Florida stores: Boynton Beach, Cutler Ridge, Kendall, Hialeah and Homestead. BJ's spokesperson Sharyn Frankel said, ``Prices though are typically 4 to 6 cents less than the average price in the market.''

At Sam's Club, company spokesman Olan James declined to give specific numbers but said, ``We try to be competitive in the markets where we sell gas.''

For many retailers, low gas prices are a loss leader -- a lure -- to get you into the store, where higher-profit items are for sale, according to GasBuddy.

Meanwhile, beware of service stations that are annexed to auto repair shops. Gas is typically higher at those outlets.

From your home computer, you can track the lowest gas prices. and are a few of the Internet-based sites that provide gas prices based on zip code, city, state and region. By providing a zip code, you can locate the lowest prices within a specific zone.