Thursday, August 31, 2006

Joining the No Limits Ladies Sisterhood

No Limits Ladies (NLL) has invited me into the sisterhood of finance.

When I was a little girl, I thought money appeared by magic, especially after my parents won a raffle prize that was large enough to help defray the cost of a new home in the suburbs when I was eight.

Mom & Dad tried to raise me right, but I still believed in magic.
If we had a computer back in the 60s and 70s, my folks would have sat me down in front of NLL so that I could see that girls can be smart about money.

Thanks to NLL for graciously providing me with a spotlight. I appreciate her and many other frugal/financial bloggers.

Ditching the Car

As a former subway-riding New Yorker, I’ve always been mystified by the American love affair with cars. Therefore, How to Live Well Without Owning a Car by Chris Balish—instantly caught my attention.

The book offers interesting factoids. This is my paraphrase:

• Between gas, repairs, insurance and misc. expenses, the average American pays about 18 percent of annual income on cars, according to a 2003 survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2006, that 18 percent figure is actually a low-ball estimate because a gallon of gas was only $1.55 at the time of the survey.
• A 2004 American Automobile Association Study places annual average auto expenses at $8,410 or $700 a month.

Here’s what you won’t miss about owning a car, according to a list from the book.

• Traffic jams
• Gas price spikes
• Strange auto noises
• Feeding and finding parking meters.
• Tracking down trustworthy repair shops; waiting for repairs
• Speeding and parking tickets
• Flat tires and dead batteries

It’s a long list. But most of the book is devoted to car-free strategies. I’ve only skimmed my review copy, but the text offers more than DUH!! suggestions with concrete tips for getting around on bikes, scooter and foot traffic.

A Sample of Tips:

1. Get a job closer to your home
2. Hook-up with car-driving neighbors, co-workers, friends
3. Ride a scooter to the office; cleanup with a stash of office-tidy clothes at work. Or use protective clothes for your two-wheel commute.
4. Pick the safest routes, not necessarily the "fastest" commuting routes for bikes and scooters.
5. Invest in great walking shoes.
6. Maintain a cache of toiletries at your desk.

Of course, I’m an odd person to write about this book. I suffer from driving phobia. (see my other blog). I loved living in New York because the public transportation system is excellent in Manhattan. I love Miami. I’m a major Miami Heat fan, but I wish the town had a world champion public transportation system.

Book details: 2006/ Ten Speed Press. The carfree website has a link to the author’s interview on NPR.

My comments at Help Your Money

Tim from Help Your Money kindly interviewed me for his blog. I've been a journalist for 26 years, (yeah, I'm 48) but I'm a newbie blogger and I've been so impressed with the wit, generosity and street smarts of the personal finance blogging community.

A public thank you to fellow bloggers who have walked me through templates, disappearing sidebars and dropped links. Thanks to all, including Tim, Mr. Help Your Money.

Pay Hikes: Spent on Arrival

New position, new paycheck and the money is already spent. I've done that. I'm getting better with birthday checks and other windfalls. My Strategy: I stash away or carry the check in my purse until I have time to make the deposit in my savings account. It's a new system and it's working.

(My birthday was in July and I still haven't touched the check from my Aunt.)

On the topice of pay raises: MSN Columunist MP Dunleavey has a good piece today about getting more mileage from pay increases. Her suggestions are helpful: set priorities, avoid upgrades, tinker with the budget.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Saving Power; Saving Money

Real Simple magazine recently featured an excellent piece about saving power/energy. The piece hit home for me because my latest electric bill (in Florida w/AC 24/7) was so high.

Other people in my region are also having utility bill sticker shock because of rate hikes and higher energy costs. (One friend had to downsize her vacation because of a higher-than-expected utility bill.)

But the Real Simple piece (The Organizer section from July) offers help:

To Save up to $500 annually on AC/Heating:
• Reduce heat/AC when you’re out
• Replace old furnaces/AC systems with energy efficient units
• Close up air leaks
• Use energy-efficient ceiling fans ( My local utility company reports that some ceiling fans can cost up to $8 per month to operate.)
• Switch to a natural gas heater.

Save up to $175 a year on home electronics:
• Unplug TVs and DVD players, when not in use. Incredibly, they drain your pocket even in the so-called OFF position.
• Unplug multi-outlet units (wall warts)
• Turn-off copiers, fax machines and printers. They burn energy even in the sleep mode.
• Unplug your PC when it’s not in use or at least use the sleep mode.

To save up to $400 annually on appliances
• Replace older (pre-1993) refrigerators. Those units typically burn $140 a year in electric juice. New models (1993 to 2001) cost only about $60 a year to operate.
• Swap your top loading washing machine for a front-loader
• Do your laundry in a marathon session to use the “residual heat from the dryer.”
• Only operate dishwashers at full capacity.

The article from the July issue has lots more good stuff. Go to the library. Real Simple also has an excellent online resource section with great tips.

Or send me an email ( and I’ll send you a longer copy of my summary.

Poll: Save & Work Past 65

Folks are saving, but most boomers expect to be working to 65 and beyond. That's the word from a new government survey and consumer guide with helpful insights about savings and retiring.

Here is the text:

"While 60 % of working baby boomers age 51-60 who called the Eldercare Locator during July report they are saving annually, over half think they will need to work past the age of 65.

To help boomers get an early start on their retirement planning, the Eldercare Locator in partnership with the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) just released a “Pick Up The Pace” consumer guide, designed to educate boomers about financial and retirement planning choices and to help them secure their financial outlook for the future.

The “Pick up the Pace” message includes:

§ Plan to have a long, active and healthy life – Consider lifestyle options today and identify resources available to help maintain an independent lifestyle.

§ Act now to have flexible choices later – Identify future income needs like health care and housing, review income sources such as Social Security and investments, and create an estate plan or will.

§ Control your finances – Develop a budget and stick to it, find ways to decrease spending, reduce debt, and have a plan for financial emergencies.

§ Evaluate lifestyle options that impact financial security – Take steps to stay healthy, anticipate changing housing and transportation needs, and take advantage of community resources that can assist with family caregiving.

Copies of the “Pick Up The Pace” guide are available online at and Click “Tools for Consumers”, or by calling the Eldercare Locator at 800.677.1116.

Lack of Preparation

With little savings, many boomers will be forced to work beyond retirement. “Approximately 30 percent of the American population is rapidly approaching retirement, and many are financially unprepared,” said Sandy Markwood, CEO of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging which administers the Eldercare Locator.

“Too many boomers have not planned ahead for potential major life events that involve finances, such as retirement, caring for parents, and changes in their health or that of a loved one,” said Jane Schuchardt, national program leader in CSREES’S Economic and Community Systems Unit.

Public Service Call Center

The Eldercare Locator, a nationwide public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, receives over 11,000 calls each month from older adults and family caregivers who are looking for information about services on a variety of aging-related issues. Callers receive assistance through the national aging network of state and area agencies on aging, tribal organizations, local service providers and volunteers.

About Administration on Aging(AoA)

AoA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is a Federal agency dedicated to policy development, planning and the delivery of supportive home and community-based services to older persons and their caregivers through the national aging network of state and local agencies on aging, tribal organizations, service providers and volunteers."


Seeking Input about Blogvertise

I read about Blogvertise on a blog in and I was wondering if anyone has feedback, insights, experiences.

I googled the company and ran across other bloggers with test posts like this.

By the way, I registered and this is my sample post, but this setup is pending mutual review. Translation: I will cancel if this is not legit or not ethical.
Your feedback is appreciated (post a comment) or you can write to me at

Cheap Solution: 13 Uses for Peroxide

I recently used peroxide and water to brush my teeth: Super white results that were far cheaper than the expensive teeth whitening products that can cost $20 and up.

So this list of 13 Uses for 3 % Peroxide -- written by Becky Ransey of Indiana --really intrigues me.

Becky writes:

"I would like to tell you of the benefits of that plain little ole bottle of 3% peroxide you can get for under $1.00 at any drug store.

My husband has been in the medical field for over 36 years, and most doctors don't tell you about peroxide, or they would lose thousands of dollars.

1. Take one capful (the little white cap that comes with the bottle) and hold in your mouth for 10 minutes daily, then spit it out. (I do it when I bathe ) No more canker sores and your teeth will be whiter without expensive pastes use it instead of mouthwash.

2. Let your toothbrushes soak in a cup of peroxide to keep them free of germs.

3. Clean your counters, table tops with peroxide to kill germs and leave a fresh smell. Simply put a little on your dishrag when you wipe, or spray it on the counters.

4. After rinsing off your wooden cutting board, pour peroxide on it to kill salmonella and other bacteria.

5. I had fungus on my feet for years - until I sprayed a 50/50 mixture of peroxide and water on them (especially the toes) every night and let dry.

6. Soak any infections or cuts in 3% peroxide for five to ten minutes several times a day.

7. Fill a spray bottle with a 50/50 mixture of peroxide and water and keep it in every bathroom to disinfect without harming your septic system like bleach or most other disinfectants will.

8. Tilt your head back and spray into nostrils with your 50/50 mixture whenever you have a cold, plugged sinus. It will bubble and help to kill the bacteria. Hold for a few minutes then blow your nose into tissue.

9. If you have a terrible toothache and can not get to a dentist right away, put a capful of 3% peroxide into your mouth and hold it for ten minutes several times a day. The pain will lessen greatly.

10. And of course, if you like a natural look to your hair, spray the 50/50 solution on your wet hair after a shower and comb it through. You will not have the peroxide burnt blonde hair like the hair dye packages, but more natural highlights if your hair is a light brown, faddish, or dirty blonde. It
also lightens gradually so it's not a drastic change.

11. Put half a bottle of peroxide in your bath to help rid boils, fungus, or other skin infections.

12. You can also add a cup of peroxide instead of bleach to a load of whites in your laundry to whiten them. If there is blood on clothing, pour directly on the soiled spot. Let it sit for a minute, then rub it and rinse with cold water. Repeat if necessary.

13. I use peroxide to clean my mirrors with, there is no smearing, which is why I love it so much for this.

I could go on and on. It is a little brown bottle no home should be without! With prices of most necessities rising, I'm glad there's a way to save tons of money in such a simple, healthy manner! "

--by Becky Ransey of Indiana

Cheap Solution: 13 Uses for Peroxide

I recently used peroxide and water to brush my teeth: Super white results that were far cheaper than the expensive teeth whitening products that can cost $20 and up.

So this list of 13 Uses for 3 % Peroxide -- written by Becky Ransey of Indiana --really intrigues me.

Becky writes:

"I would like to tell you of the benefits of that plain little ole bottle of 3% peroxide you can get for under $1.00 at any drug store.

My husband has been in the medical field for over 36 years, and most doctors don't tell you about peroxide, or they would lose thousands of dollars.

1. Take one capful (the little white cap that comes with the bottle) and hold in your mouth for 10 minutes daily, then spit it out. (I do it when I bathe ) No more canker sores and your teeth will be whiter without expensive pastes use it instead of mouthwash.

2. Let your toothbrushes soak in a cup of peroxide to keep them free of germs.

3. Clean your counters, table tops with peroxide to kill germs and leave a fresh smell. Simply put a little on your dishrag when you wipe, or spray it on the counters.

4. After rinsing off your wooden cutting board, pour peroxide on it to kill salmonella and other bacteria.

5. I had fungus on my feet for years - until I sprayed a 50/50 mixture of peroxide and water on them (especially the toes) every night and let dry.

6. Soak any infections or cuts in 3% peroxide for five to ten minutes several times a day.

7. Fill a spray bottle with a 50/50 mixture of peroxide and water and keep it in every bathroom to disinfect without harming your septic system like bleach or most other disinfectants will.

8. Tilt your head back and spray into nostrils with your 50/50 mixture whenever you have a cold, plugged sinus. It will bubble and help to kill the bacteria. Hold for a few minutes then blow your nose into tissue.

9. If you have a terrible toothache and can not get to a dentist right away, put a capful of 3% peroxide into your mouth and hold it for ten minutes several times a day. The pain will lessen greatly.

10. And of course, if you like a natural look to your hair, spray the 50/50 solution on your wet hair after a shower and comb it through. You will not have the peroxide burnt blonde hair like the hair dye packages, but more natural highlights if your hair is a light brown, faddish, or dirty blonde. It
also lightens gradually so it's not a drastic change.

11. Put half a bottle of peroxide in your bath to help rid boils, fungus, or other skin infections.

12. You can also add a cup of peroxide instead of bleach to a load of whites in your laundry to whiten them. If there is blood on clothing, pour directly on the soiled spot. Let it sit for a minute, then rub it and rinse with cold water. Repeat if necessary.

13. I use peroxide to clean my mirrors with, there is no smearing, which is why I love it so much for this.

I could go on and on. It is a little brown bottle no home should be without! With prices of most necessities rising, I'm glad there's a way to save tons of money in such a simple, healthy manner! "

--by Becky Ransey of Indiana

7 Tips for Saving Mixed Marriages

What happens when a super-saver marries a super-spender? When it comes to money, love does not always conquer all. But there are ways of bridging the checkbook gap.

That's the word from Diane McCurdy, a financial planner and author of How Much Is Enough? Balancing Today's Needs with Tomorrow's Retirement Goals.

Here is the text that I received:

The Spender/Saver Marriage:

# 1 Outline Differences

· "Sit down with your partner for a heart-to-heart talk and budget planning meeting. Lay all the cards on the table: I'm a saver; here's why and here's what that means . . . You're a spender; here's why and here's what that means . . . Let's talk about how we can compromise so that both of us are getting our needs met.

"It's amazing how few couples think to have this calm, rational discussion," notes McCurdy. "But not having it sets the stage for festering resentment, which blows up into arguments."

# 2 Establish a Safety Zone for the Saver

· The saver needs to know that he or she is saving enough off the top to ensure financial security.

"Compromise is a must. The saver needs to realize that maybe she doesn't need a million dollars in the bank in the next five years. Maybe it's enough to know the mortgage is being paid every month and that there's not more going out than coming in," says McCurdy.

# 3 Saver: Review Value of Attraction

· The saver also needs to remember why he/she was attracted to the spender in the first place. . "Acknowledge that your partner brings qualities to your life that you need--after all, there's a reason you didn't marry a carbon copy of yourself," says McCurdy.

# 4 Spender: Write Reality Check

· Likewise, the spender needs to recognize that security is numero uno for the saver to stay grounded--and that this very groundedness is part of what attracted him/her to the saver in the first place.

"Spenders tend to be instinctively drawn to people who are solid, dependable, and trustworthy," remarks McCurdy. "To expect your saver partner to be okay with maxing out all the credit cards is like expecting her to suddenly become a different person. It's not fair to her and frankly, you don't really want that either."

# 5 Create a Fun Zone for the Spender

· The spender needs to know that he/she can still spend and enjoy life without sabotaging family security.

"Don't try to impose a Spartan existence on your spender--it squelches all the joy from his life. Assure the spender that there is a happy medium between his freewheeling old style of spending and never, ever again buying anything fun," says McCurdy.

# 6 Create Wish List

· It's imperative for the spender to create a wish list, while recognizing that everything on the list can't be acquired at the same time.

"Spenders, make your list and rank what is the most important item for you," McCurdy urges. "Which do you want more, the big screen plasma TV, the fishing boat, or the trip to Jamaica? Once you decide, it gives you something to budget for and anticipate."

# 7 Lose Control

· Finally, know that if the spender is willing to relinquish control to the saver, there's a bonus: The saver will make it happen faster than the spender.

"Letting the saver manage the mutually agreed-upon budget may feel to the spender like 'losing,'" says McCurdy. "But it really isn't. Spenders, look at it this way: If your saver is in charge of money outflow, she probably won't dribble the plasma TV fund away on new CDs and $5 lattes. You'll eventually get your plasma TV, and she'll get the peace of mind of knowing you can both retire someday.

"Here's the bottom line," says McCurdy. "Money really is just a tool. We are the ones who give it so much emotional power. We would all be better off if we realized there is always more money to be earned and cultivated to fit our needs. We shouldn't allow the dramas we create around financial matters to ruin our marriages. Love does mean so much more than money."

# # #
How Much Is Enough? Balancing Today's Needs with Tomorrow's Retirement Goals (Wiley, 2005, ISBN: 0-471-73871-9, $14.95)"--

For more information: How much is enough

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Frugal Mavens Offer Top 10 Lists

Collect a village of frugal mavens and this is what you get: A great collection of "My Favorite Top 10 Frugal Tips." The forum tips range from inside-the-box standards (eat in/wash clothes in cold water) to outside-the-box suggestions (make your own salsa and seasonings.)

Here is the thread from Frugal Village.

Also I'd like to give a big shout out and thank you to 1st million at 33
for mentioning my guest column pitch on his blog and for hosting a wonderful Carnival of Personal Finance

Poll: Pension Envy & Borrowed Time

Teaching and civil service jobs -- with funded and steady pensions-- are looking real good to a lot of people. That's according to a new survey from New York Life.

The survey also has interesting tidbits about the risks of borrowing from your retirement account--a controversial move.

My favorite factoid: "51% of Americans not covered by a defined benefit plan wish they or their spouse had considered a career like teaching, law enforcement or civil service with a traditionally strong pension benefit."

Here is the text:

"Only 10% of Americans understand how much of their retirement savings they can safely spend each year without running the risk of outliving their assets.

According to a groundbreaking survey released today, nearly half of the Americans surveyed between the ages of 41 and 92 overestimated this safe withdrawal rate, which experts benchmark at 4% annually for the typical retiree.

At greatest risk are the more than one-quarter (29%) of all respondents who believe they can spend 10% or more of their savings each year. At that rate, based on historic investment returns, retirees risk running out of money in about 11 years or less – while studies show most of them will live significantly longer than that.

“Lack of knowledge combined with uncertainties surrounding investment returns and life spans mean that even retirees who have substantial nest eggs are gambling with their financial futures in retirement,” said Ted Mathas, executive vice president of New York Life Insurance Company.

Retirement and Social Security

*69% of those surveyed are concerned about major cutbacks in Social Security and half of all respondents are concerned about having to fund their retirement past age 85.

*70% of retirees said managing their retirement savings is as hard as – or harder than – saving for retirement.

*58% thought it important at or near retirement to supplement the income they will receive from Social Security or pensions by purchasing a product like an annuity that provides guaranteed retirement income.

Pre-retirees’ Top Priority: Learning More About Retirement Income

*Pre-retirees felt they should know more about, strategies for generating income in retirement was the top response, cited by 73% of pre-retirees, followed by planning for long-term care or major health expenses (70%).


*56% either want to share responsibility for managing their workplace retirement funds or want their employer to do it entirely for them.

Help For Investors

In an effort to help educate consumers in the critical area of retirement and retirement income planning, New York Life has developed an informational Web site for investors.

The site interactive quiz on retirement income, retirement income calculators, and a downloadable consumer brochure."

About New York Life

New York Life Insurance Company, a Fortune 100 company founded in 1845, is the largest mutual life insurance company in the United States."

Cheapest Cities for Medical Insurance

I tracked down this insurance pricing survey from eHealthInsurance. It's a rundown of the most affordable cities to get health insurance. Insurance is so important. I just took a paid staff position and my primary motivation: health benefits.

“We created this report to raise parents’ awareness of the affordable health insurance solutions available so they can make informed choices for their families’ budget and health,” said Gary Lauer, CEO of eHealthInsurance. “Children who do not have health insurance are much more likely to go without medical care, and our data indicates there is affordable health insurance available, which can give hope to many parents.”

Here's the short press release. (The company website has the full 8-page report w/prices and additioal details)

"Health Insurance Plans for Children as Low as $29 per Month

By skipping one night out at a family restaurant a week, millions of Americans can afford to buy health insurance for their children in the largest U.S. cities.

The city with the most affordable family health insurance is Grand Rapids, Mich., with a monthly premium quote of $159.06, or $39.77 per person.

St. Louis, Mo., is the city with the most affordable health insurance nationwide for children at $29 per month for a 9-year-old child. The cost of one family dinner at a neighborhood sit-down restaurant would more than cover the monthly premium for a child.[1]

The Most Affordable Cities For Children’s and Family Health Insurance report examines the most affordable health insurance options available in the 100 largest U.S. cities for children on their own health insurance plans.

The report also includes the rankings for the Most Affordable Cities for Family Health Insurance, a follow up to a report released in December 2004. The new report was released by eHealthInsurance, the nation’s leading online health insurance source for individuals, families and small businesses.

Most Affordable for Children's Health Plans

The other cities topping the list of Most Affordable Cities for Children’s Health Insurance are (2) Grand Rapids, Mich.; (3) Columbus, Ohio; (4) Long Beach and Glendale, Calif.; (5) Akron, Ohio; (6) Des Moines, Iowa; (7) Toledo, Ohio; (8) Santa Ana, Anaheim and Bakersfield, Calif.; (9) San Diego and Riverside, Calif.; and (10) El Paso, Texas.

The average premiums quoted for a 9-year-old child’s plan in these nine cities ranged from $39.62 to $51.50 per month for a plan with a maximum $1,000 deductible.

Most Affordable Cities for Family Health Plans The other cities topping the list of Most Affordable Cities for Family Health Insurance are (2) Columbus, Ohio; (3) Akron, Ohio; (4) Des Moines, Iowa; (5) Louisville and Lexington-Fayette, Ky.; (6) Phoenix, Mesa, Tucson and Scottsdale, Ariz.; (7) Omaha, Neb.; (8) Long Beach and Glendale, Calif.; (9) Cleveland, Ohio, Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo.; and (10) Bakersfield, Calif.

The premiums quoted for a family in these cities ranged from $179.68 to $229.00 per month for a plan with a maximum $2,000 family deductible.

The Most Affordable Cities for Children’s and Family Health Insurance report also includes rankings for family health insurance. The premiums quoted are based on a four-member family living in the 100 largest cities in the country.

Quotes were generated using eHealthInsurance for the 100 largest U.S. cities except Boston, Mass., and San Juan and Bayamon, Puerto Rico. Quotes in these cities were obtained using both offline and online carriers and brokers operating in the state or territory. Please refer to the report methodology for a detailed explanation of plan selection criteria.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, children under the age of 18 represent over 8 million, or 18 percent, of the total uninsured population. Many of their parents are working and, due to strict income guidelines, may not qualify for state or local programs.

One Family' Story
Fernando[2], a single father from El Paso, Texas, was determined to keep his son Fernando Jr. on a health insurance plan despite not being offered health coverage through his employer. Unfortunately, Fernando earns a little too much to qualify his son for Texas’ State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and since Texas has the highest rate of uninsured children at 21 percent, or 1.3 million[3], Fernando faced tough odds.

He did some research and found a health plan for his son that costs $54 a month. “I wish more parents were aware there are affordable options available so they can get their children insured,” Fernando said. “Kids are the future of our nation and must be put first!”

To view the full report (go the news release section) and click on “The Most Affordable Cities for Children’s and Family Health Insurance.”

About eHealthInsurance

Since its founding in 1997, eHealthInsurance () has become the nation's leading online source of health insurance for individuals, families and small businesses. eHealthInsurance, the wholly owned subsidiary of eHealth, Inc., offers more than 5,000 health plans underwritten by more than 140 of the nation's leading health insurance companies. The company is headquartered in Mountain View, California."

Special Welcome to Frugal Village Folks!

Thanks to all of the folks from Frugal Village who have stopped by my blog to check out the Sitting on the Fence of Poverty post about the PBS show Waging a Living, which I featured a little while ago.

The PBS show -- about the difficulty of making ends meet for the "working poor"-- airs tonight. The folks at Frugal Village had a lot of insightful thoughts about living expenses, salaries and economic pressure. It's a great thread and I plan to post it in the PBS forum.

Here is a "Waving a Living" Update about the people who were profiled in tonight's show. It might be more interesting to read their updated stories after watching the show.

A special thanks to Shell, a Frugal Village moderator, who originally shared my post with that forum.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Anti-Splurge Tips

Shopping is addictive. On a mad splurge, I once went to every Ann Taylor in Manhattan during a single afternoon. I was hunting down a shirt on sale! It was such a good deal that I purchased one in every color. I cringe at the memory.

I've grown up since then and I really agree with these anti-splurge tips
from Today show financial editor Jean Chatzky.

Prepping for Ernesto: Emergency Drill

Hurricane Season is not fun, especially with Ernesto in our forecast. Here is a story from my Hurricane Prep file with 2006 updates based on my experience during Ivan/Katrina/Wilma from the 2005 season.

You don't have to live in Florida to maintain a stock of hurricane/emergency supplies. For example, I once read about a California man who drives around with a 72-hour emergency supply kit in his car.

Here's my list of emergency preps:
1. Buy bottled water when it's on sale and save it! (Water that is more than a year old can be used to flush toilets in an emergency.)

2006 Update: Collect clean containers, thermos and water coolers. Fill empty vessels (gallons and gallons) with enough water for your household. This is not excessive. Last year during Wilma, we lost water. No running water for almost 2 days. We valued every drop in our stock pile.

2. Fill the tub If your local forecast includes a hurricane, a major electric storm or tornado, fill the bathtub. (Ignore this advice or lock the bathroom door if you have small children in the house.) When we lost our running water during Wilma, I was sooo glad we had filled up the bathtub. That water was used to flush the toilet.

3. Keep soapless hand sanitizers and baby wipes around. Enuf said.

4. Buy batteries on sale. Almost every week, Walgreens, CVS, Target, Rite Aid or other national chains offer batteries on sale. Keep an alphabet at your home. You never know! Buy up paper plates and plastic cutlery. Those items are important if you don't have electricity.

5. Set up a supply drawer and don't borrow from it. If you use it for leisure activities, you won't have it during emergencies. Stock the drawer or shelf with batteries, flashlights, candles, matches, canned goods, nuts and other non-perishables. Buy stuff on sale!

2006 Update: Keep a supply of books on tapes, flashlights, paper goods, fun snacks, instant soups, and camp cooking supplies. These are so helpful in a power outtage or during a post-storm period of disarray. Oh and keep lots and lots of cash on hand. When the power goes out, credit cards, ATM machines and electronic debit cards are not much use.

And though it sounds weird, set up a "safe room" in your home. For us that means a window-less area that we can go to when the winds are high.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

5 Retirement Savings Goofs

I'm saving pennies for vacations, fun, education and retirement. With those goals in mind, I read the following release from Alan Haft, a financial planner, with interest. Here is the text:
5 Major Retirement Mistakes

"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.

Haft explains the 5 biggest mistakes people make when planning for retirement:

· Thinking it’s too late to start planning.

Once you reach your 50s or 60s, it may seem too late to start investing. But 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 as you think to build up a nest egg.

· 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, understanding how long you will likely live is paramount when it comes to planning

· Miscalculating your savings needs.

Most financial planners will tell you to plan on needing 60% 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 that many people may not be correctly estimating their retirement needs. But thanks to software and online calculators, it’s easy to do so. Quicken offers one, as do many mutual fund companies.

· 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 could potentially eat away at most of their investment return, as these vehicles tend to return close to or less than inflation. As you approach retirement — and even in retirement — it’s important to consider keeping some money in growth investments such as stocks and stock mutual funds.

· Putting other financial goals first.

Retirement probably isn’t your only financial goal. You may also be saving for your children’s or grandchildren’s college education or saving for the down payment on a second home, for example. These are all important, but don’t place them ahead of a financially secure retirement.

Alan Haft is president of 5th Avenue Financial based in Boca Raton, Fl. He is a Certified Income Planner, Certified Senior Advisor with clients nationwide."

10 Steps to Sell Your Home Faster

Here are 10 smart and frugal tips (from MSN) for selling your home during the real estate slow down.

My favorites included: neutralizing the color of your home, creating your own video, hosting a work week Open House.

Weekly Wrap: Favorite Post-its

My Frugal Weekend Spa concludes with a weekly wrap-up featuring my favorite pieces from other bloggers.

Stress is often a side effect of our financial obsessions. Therefore, I loved, loved the Dumb Little Man’s post about 100 stress busters

Mapgirl posted a very thoughtful and engaging piece about getting the most for your medical dollars.

This piece about annual savings requirement from Free The Drone was insightful.

Likewise, Free the Drone also had a yummy piece about online restaurant discounts.

I love lists and Molly’s Brother offered a terrific list about 25 ways to make money.

Digital Breakfast chews over some thoughtful comments about the real estate bubble.

The Might Bargain Hunter chats about yard sale finds and strategies for the getting good stuff for less.

Adult ADD and Money has great tips for staying organized and saving money while grocery shopping.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Frugal Back Wash (Weekly Comments)

The Frugal Weekend Spa continues with a roundup of comments from other bloggers and readers.


No Limits Ladies talked about money, kids and education.

"The most important thing I have found is just setting an example makes the biggest impact on little ones."
--No Limits Ladies


Through a Glass Darkly spoke up about my post about the conflict between retirement savings and college fund savings:

"Great post. As a child of parents who haven't handled money so well, I can assure you I'd rather know my parents can afford retirement than know they could pay for me to go to college. I say that even after having paid for college myself. It's just that important."
--Through a Glass Darkly

No Limits Ladies also had insights about that post.

"I always pick answer D: put my money towards becoming financially independent and teach my kids to do the same. I know of three people who invested in real estate to put themselves through college, and fully intend to help my kids learn to first manage money- so they can afford the things they want in life for themselves."
--No Limits Ladies.


One Money Dummy Getting Smarter talked back about my 10 tips for cheaper vacations.

"The mini-bar prices always stun me! Mr. MoneyDummy's boss stayed at a hotel in Vegas in which the minibar was equiped with lazer sensors which charged the product to guests' bills the MINUTE the bottle was lifted from the case."
--One Money Dummy Getting Smarter

Calgirlfinance cheered about my $600 room for $149

"Looks like a fun time away! I love cheap vacations!"

Friday, August 25, 2006

Weekend Frugal Spa: Used Stuff to Avoid

MSN Money Columnist Liz Pulliam Weston has a super column: "10 Things You Should Never Buy Used". Her list includes car seats, mattresses and shoes. She offers interesting choices with great factoids.

I have my own personal list of creepy used stuff. (Details Later)

Meanwhile welcome back to my Frugal Weekend Spa. The menu includes:

1) The Friday Spotlight Guest Columnist: Jim of A Blue Print for Financial Prosperity. Thanks to Jim for being my debut guest.

2) The Frugal Back Wash: My favorite reader comments from the last week or so (ATA: Saturday night around Midnight)

3) And Sunday Post-its My Weekend Wrap Treatment of blogs posts

Also on Sunday night. I'll post a tentative schedule of my New Friday Spotlight Guest Columnists.

Guest Check-In: Blueprint for Financial Prosperity

My Weekend Frugal Spa debuts with a guest column from Jim of
A Blueprint for Financial Prosperity.

Jim -- the Carnival Man -- creates an engaging story line about a pressure washer. The details about his neighbor, his father and the search for a frugal, wet wash really pulled me in.

What's more, this Rent Vs. Own piece clearly demonstrates the economic reality discussed in Chris Anderson's book, The Long Tail.

Anyway. Here's the piece: Thanks Jim!

Dueling Dollars: The Rent vs. Own Battle

I spent most of Saturday morning and afternoon pressure washing my deck, blasting away all the gunk and grossness that had accumulated there the last who knows how many years before I bought it, and weatherizing it with some nice stain and water repellent.

I originally planned to use my neighbor’s 1200 p.s.i. pressure washer, which would have been the most frugal of choices (i.e. free!), but I quickly discovered that it was a little weak on the pressure (1200 is good for washing cars, bad for power washing decks) and it was malfunctioning (so I thought).

My first thought was to rent one from Home Depot, as I had seen my father do before when we pressure washed our deck in New York, which would’ve cost $60 for four hours or $86 per day for a gasoline-powered engine 2,000 p.s.i. monster. I really didn’t have a frame of reference, since I’ve never rented a pressure washer before, but I had seen pressure washer deals on Amazon for $130 (1200 psi varieties) so $60 for 4 hours seemed a little steep.

I briefly considered buying a pressure washer online and then waiting for it to arrive before cleaning off the deck but thought otherwise. This is the classic buy vs. rent when it comes to these unique-use pieces of equipment.

On the one hand, buying a 1200 p.s.i. pressure washer for $140 surely beats renting one for four hours for $60 and at the time I had no idea what the difference was between 2000 and 1200 (besides the obvious numerical difference).

The problem is that I really would only ever use the pressure washer maybe once or twice a year. I would only use it on the deck once every four years and I might spray off the sidewalk/walkway once a year. So for the other 364 days a year that I wouldn’t be using it, it would be taking up space in my basement. With a pressure washer, unless you have a lot of space to use up, chances are you will want to just rent one when you can.

That being said, 2000 is the minimum you’ll want to have if you’re thinking about blasting away at your deck and you won’t want to store this huge gasoline-powered engine monstrosity in your basement for use once a year (plus they’re hundreds of dollars).

If it wasn’t for the fact that my local Home Depot didn’t have rentals -- the closest rental was 25 minutes away -- I wouldn’t have searched the web for a better deal. Luckily I did because I found an ABC Rental place that rented the 2,000 p.s.i. monster for $40 for four hours and it was only 3 minutes away!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

My Wardrobe Confessions

I have great clothes and money has everything and nothing to do with it. That’s because my wardrobe is a combination of:

• Hand-offs from wealthy friends
• Great sales
• Presents from my dear Mom and Dad.
• Yard sales and estate sales
• Hand-me downs from teenagers.

On a regular basis, people comment on the quality of my clothes, especially the high-end (triple-digit) skirts. And I feel compelled to ‘fess up: I rarely pay retail. Consider my favorite jacket from Ann Taylor Loft. The original price: $99 reduced to $39.99 then reduced to $29.99.

I finally purchased the jacket at the 50 percent off clearance sale. My final price: $15 and I’m still saving the price tag as a reminder: Wait for the best price or do with out.

Sometimes I rave about my great finds and gifts because I want to make a point and dispute any notion that I spend my entire paycheck on clothes. Meanwhile, some anti-frugal shoppers equate thrift with deprivation. But no! I’m living the good life. I just pay less and save more.

By the way...if I save $1040 a year on clothes...slightly less than $80 a month.
I'll earn $13,081 after 10 years, assuming a 5 percent investment yield.
Calculations are from Hugh Chou's calculators.

Teaching Kids about Biz & Success

Lessons about money are important for kids. My kids had great summer jobs and their income power really boosted their self-esteem (and gave them a bit of extra money to spend and save.)

This piece (featured below) helped me.

"Real Tips for Parents: Coaching Your Child for Entrepreneurial Success

By Farrah Gray***

"You may not be able to give your child money or connections, but you can give them the values to live by: pride, respect, hard work, preparation, inspiration, the desire to give back and the strength to never give up.

Here are some of the ideas and tactics that you can use to put your child on the path to success:

Plant the seeds of success.

Let your home be a place where ideas and inspiration are abundant. Tell your child the following: “You can become and do anything you set your heart and mind to.” Let your child grow up believing that there are no limits to what you can do and that anything – and everything- is possible.

Shower them with words of encouragement and affirmation.

Let there be plenty of “can do” conversation in your house. Eliminate any and all evidence of overwhelming hopelessness from your home. Remind your children daily that they are destined for great things.

Show them the values of hard work and love.

Get them up with a kiss as you leave for work. Kiss them as you come home after a heard day. No matter how much money you have or don’t have, be a culinary and financial genius and a super parent – and show them how to turn a bag of potatoes, a can of beans, a package of ground beef and a loaf of bread into delicious meals that last for a week. Put TLC – tender loving care into the small things you do no matter how scarce the resources are.

Engender and encourage independence and an attitude of self-reliance.

Drive home the lesson that “you always want to have a backup plan”. Teach them that there’s no one going to change it, so what’s the point of complaining?

Encourage them to work and make money.

Believe in them and help them taste the sweet smell of success. Teach your child to get out of the lottery ticket mentality and work to make money to support hobbies and the purchase of personal items.

Let them start business, work for neighbors, baby sit or mow lawns. Encourage them to be creative and make things to sell. Let them experience the thrill of creating something themselves and selling it.

Children don’t always hit a home run the first time. But they’ll never hit a home run if they don’t learn to swing. Your child may make only five dollars on their first “business”.

But it will probably be the most important five dollars they ever make.

*** About Farrah Gray

Farrah Gray is one of America’s leading teachers on American entrepreneurial growth and personal development.

Farrah Gray is the author of Reallionnaire: Nine Steps to Becoming Rich from the Inside Out.

ISBN 0-7573-0224-6 $12.95

Health Communications, Inc.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Seeking Guest Columnists

I'm looking for guest columnists for my new Friday Spotlight column.

I'll start the Friday series with a piece called Me & Malibu Barbie.

Feel free to chime in and submit your essays for future Friday Spotlights.

I'll post a schedule if there is enough of a response.

The feature spot will include a link to your site, a short bio and an essay about frugal living.
Edited to add: Photo optional. Essays about frugal lifestyles and/or finance are fine.

As a former New York-based editor, I reserve the right to slightly tweak copy and edit for space.

Send me an email at or respond in the comment section of this post.

Yahoo Auto Efficiency Calculator

Yahoo has released a new calculator for measuring the total cost of operating your car.

This text arrived in my email box today:

"Detailed information including fuel costs, insurance, maintenance, fees/taxes, depreciation, financing and even opportunity costs can be quickly analyzed on the Yahoo Autos!Total Cost to Own estimate.

(Click on “New Cars,” then “Compare Cars,” and enter the cars you would like to see side-by-side.)

This data can then be charted against other vehicles to see how the total cost to own and residual value compares among multiple vehicles over several years. This new feature gives consumers a reality check on a vehicle's “true cost” over the lifetime of ownership.

For example, a search for vehicles with the lowest cost per mile over a five-year period, estimating approx 15,000 miles driven a year, turns up the following results.

Cars with Lowest 5 Year Operating Cost (Cost Per Mile)

1. Toyota Yaris (3-Door Liftback) - 37 cents per mile

2. Chevrolet Aveo (Special Value Sedan) - 40 cents per mile

3. Honda Civic Sedan (DX 5-Spd MT) - 40 cents per mile

4. Toyota Corolla (CE) - 40 cents per mile

5. Scion xA (5-Door Hatch Back) - 41 cents per mile"

Duck! The Insurance Rep is Here

For a new job, I'm studying the insurance menu. So I was really interested when this money-saving release about the insurance industry (below) hit my email box. It's aimed at businesses, but many of the points apply to the ultimate home business, namely our personal budgets.

Here is the text:

"Hide! Here Comes the Insurance Guy

"Rick Vassar is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill insurance person. Rick Vassar does not sell insurance. He buys insurance. He is a risk manager.

His new book, Hide! Here Comes the Insurance Guy, educates and entertains with energy and enthusiasm.

With a no holds barred and no prisoners taken approach, he takes the mystery out of the most mind-numbing insurance questions that plague everyone who’s ever sat down with an insurance policy and tried to make sense out of the minefield of questions that have to be answered.

“We all need insurance,” he says “but let’s face it – most of us can’t understand a single word insurance people are saying.”


1. Understand the language

Like any other specialization, insurance has a language and cadence all its own. You must learn the language to understand the process.

2. Know the players

Once you understand how all the pieces fit together, you will better understand the process. Better understanding leads to better management, which leads to savings.

3. Develop a strategy

Just as your business has a game plan (for example: goals, vision, mission, five-year plan), there are subtle yet distinct ways to work your insurance program to maximize your coverage for minimal cost.

4. Invest the time

You spend years and years going to school so you can get a good job or start your own business. You go to conferences and seminars to aid in your development as your career progresses.

If you take the time initially to learn about insurance, how it works, and how you can make it work for you, it will help you reap real financial benefits while providing the maximum coverage for your company.

Hide! Here Come the Insurance Guy – A Practical Guide to Understanding Business Insurance and Risk Management

By Rick Vassar, CPCU, ARM, AIS, ARM-P

ISBN 0-595-38608-3 List $17.95 196 pages 6 by 9 inches soft cover trade

ISBN 0-595-83388-8 List $27.95 196 pages 6 by 9 inches hard cover trade

Available from and from bookstores."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Quiz: Retirement vs College Fund?

Two financial pros discuss the "the pitfalls that most people suffer by saving for their child’s college education instead of their own retirement." Very interesting reading....

With school-age children and concerns about my so-called retirement fund, I read the following story pitch about the retirement vs college fund tug-of-war (below) with interest.

The text was sent to me by a representative for John Davis, President of private-sector retirement plans at Nationwide Financial and with Matthew Riebel, President of Nationwide Retirement Solutions.

Here's their text about this financial tug-of-war:

"Parents are typically selfless, always putting their children first. Retirement is one place where parents can’t afford not to be selfish.

When faced with the question of what should take precedence ― saving for your own retirement or for your child’s education, most parents would put their child’s needs first, but what they fail to realize is that postponing saving for retirement until after ‘little Jenny’ graduates from Harvard could have very serious implications down the line. Sometimes it takes a hard look at the numbers to put everything into perspective.

While you’re no longer in school or being tested, the following is one of the most important questions you need to answer – and while your grade doesn’t depend on it, your financial future does.

Question: Which parent is smarter and will be better prepared for the future?

Parent A, who consistently saved for retirement from child’s birth

Parent B who waited until after child graduated from college

Parent C who put retirement savings on hold for 10 years immediately before and during child’s college education

Correct Answer: Parent A.

For example a 30-year-old parent who began saving for their retirement when their first child was born, could have saved more than $750,000 if they had invested about 6 percent of their salary in a 401(k) and received a 3 percent employer match with a modest annual return of 7 percent.

Conversely, a person who began saving after sending their child to college would have only saved a little over $185 thousand at retirement. That’s 300 percent less money to live off of during the golden years. This calculation assumes the parent retires at 67 and had a starting salary of $35,000, which increased 3 percent each year until retirement.

Many parents feel compelled to support their children while they are at college and starting their first job. While this instinct is only natural, it is crucial to put your interests first.

If a person started saving for retirement and then put that savings on hold for a period of 10 years or so, before and during their child’s college education, they would save over $550,000 for retirement. While this is not as impressive a nest egg as in the first scenario it is quite an improvement over the person who began saving for retirement after their child graduated.

The following are tips from Nationwide Financial on how parents can save for both retirement and college:

1. Sit down with your child and discuss what you can and are willing to pay for in the way of tuition and other expenses.

2. Help your child research additional means of funding college expenses.

3. Apply for Scholarships and financial aid when appropriate. According to the College Board, there are more than 2,300 sources of college funding, totaling nearly $3 billion in available aid. Take the time to do the research. There are far fewer resources for retirement funding.

4. Encourage your child to contribute to his/her education by taking a part-time job

5. Look into dual-enrollment programs. Many states offer dual enrollment programs, which can help a student accelerate his or her educational goals, by enabling high school students to earn college credits during high school.

6. Student loans may make more sense than putting retirement savings on hold. With current interest rates on education loans of about 3.5 percent a child’s education can be financed with a low monthly payment.

7. Take advantage of products that can help pay for a child's) education without damaging your own financial future. For instance, a loan from your life insurance policy might help finance college expenses without risking your retirement savings, since you might need less coverage, as your children enter college.

Additional tips for saving for both retirement and college:

1. Start early and take advantage of the power of compounding. The sooner you start, the closer you are to reaching your goals. Today, many parents feel they can’t afford to save, but it’s surprising how little it takes to start building a nest egg.

2. Make it automatic. It’s easier to save money when you pay yourself first.

3. Invest extra money. If you receive unexpected income from a bonus, tax refund or inheritance, save a portion of that money for college.

4. Ask for relatives for help. Instead of having family members buy gifts for birthdays and holidays, ask them to contribute money to a college savings plan."

10 Luxe-for- Less Vacation Tips

Our last Hurrah of Summer consisted of a sweet spot of time in a luxury resort at bargain rates. I love Disney, but for less than the cost of a one-day visit to an amusement park, we covered luxury accommodations, meals, entertainment and transportation.

10 Luxury Get-Away Traveling Tips

1. Luxury Resort
We looked for a high-end resort, with off-season prices. We also searched for other discounts, including Florida resident rates and Triple-A membership discounts.

The off-season rate at the Grove Isle Hotel & Spa is $199, with the local resident discount rate of $149. That's a lot less than the peak season nightly rate of at least $529, excluding tax, tips, parking.

2. Creative Meals

Our family of five spent less than $85 on a total of four meals during our vacation. The room was equipped with a frig; we brought our own food and a sandwich press ( a mini grill).

The room came with complimentary coffee. We brought our own cake.

For special treats, we purchased cafe lattes, smoothies and other goodies from Starbucks and other little stores.

Our big-ticket meal expense: We spent $53, plus tip at a very nice kosher restaurant called the Gourmet Carrot. It was an elegant way to end our trip.

3. Avoid the wet bar in the room

Faced with lofty price tags of $60 a bottle, we avoided the little bar/hotel stock in our room. Very pricey stuff, with fine labels. I even managed to avoid the little boxes of Godiva chocolate, which were richly priced. Very tempting. (We purchased a large bar of high-end chocolate later at regular retail prices. It was worth the wait.)

We did, however, break down and open three cans of sodas from the bar stock. (We forgot to pack beverages.) To avoid the high charges, we replaced the sodas with low-priced (exact) duplicates from a nearby convenience store.

Here are other strategies we used.

4. Stay local to avoid costly road trip.

5. Explore quaint, old historical neighborhoods that we rarely visit.

6. Find a local resort (on a small island) that feels far from home.

7. Stay at a resort that has complimentary Internet and a free business center. (I've paid hefty fees to log-on and use the computers/faxes/equipment at some hotels and resorts)

9. Select a resort with a free fitness center. Some places charge you extra to use their spa and fitness center areas. (High-end spa treatments were extra.)

10. Get tips about local points of interest from residents or experts. Stay near an area with a vibrant night life. Once we left our little island, there was lots to do in the Coconut Grove shopping district.

Monday, August 21, 2006

$600 room for $149: Vacation Part 2

Staying in a $600 room for $149 is my definition of luxury. We're back from 2 days, one night at the Grove Isle Resort & Spa in Coconut Grove.

Trust me, the photos on the hotel website understate the beauty of this place.

Our little trip represented our attempt to experiment with off-season rates in a tropical resort near our home town. (Tomorrow, I'll write about how we kept the price low.)

Here's the breakdown of expenses.

$149.00 per night (The typical rate at the peak of the Miami season: $529. The maximum rate posted on the room chart in our closet showed a price of $700)
$20 overnight valet parking
$15 resort fee (included unlimited free use of hotel computer/Internet/biz center)
$21 taxes county and state tax

Altogether we paid $205 for a snippet of paradise.

Here's what I liked:

*Beautiful room with a water view

*Full balcony with comfortable, elegant chairs/table

*Unlimited use of computer, Internet/office supplies. (Very helpful for business travelers and bloggers)

*Free refrigerator in room

*Two televisions (including a large plasma TV in the main room and a small tv in the bathroom)

*Free morning newspaper (delivered in an elegant leather pouch)

*Free coffee (make it yourself in the room)

*Free use of fitness room.

*Beautiful walking trails, pool, spa area and seated/picnic areas

*A large chess set, with pieces that were almost as tall as my eight-year-old daughter. (My kids had fun playing chess on the oversized board)

*The complimentary bowls of fruit at the front desk and the fitness center.

The resort staff was kind, attentive and efficient.

Bottom line: Altogether, we spent less than $6o per person, with treats and perks for a fabulous short vacation that felt as if we were gone a week. We are so rested.

My Frugal Vacation Part 1

Using my phone and computer, I was able to track down some great end-of-summer travel deals. From special auctions to last-minute Internet promotions, there are many options for frugal travelers.

''If you want a wallet-friendly vacation, go off-season,'' said Marita Hudson, a spokeswoman for, an online service, owned by Cendant Corp., a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. sells discounted travel packages and stand-alone deals for hotels, cruises, air flights and car rentals. This service also offers a ''Cheap of the Week'' feature, which is a rundown of super cut-rate bargains.

CheapTickets also publishes a quarterly ''Off-Season Deals Report,'' which is a market-by-market rundown of off-peak prices in various cities. Not surprisingly, during hurricane season, New Orleans and South Florida offer some of the steepest discounts.

Of course, is not the only discount travel site in cyberspace. The many options include and I even found an Internet site that runs auctions for last-minute travel deals, with prices as low as $1, plus taxes and transaction fees. The website is called

The major travel websites (, and as well as most major airline, car rental and hotel chair sites also sometimes have specials.

For my own little end-of-season trip, I'm taking the off-season route. We're checking into a major resort in the Miami area. Off-season rates represent a significant savings. One resort quoted us a per-night rate of $159, compared to peak season rates of $269 to $429. When I mentioned our Triple-A membership, we were offered $143 per night.

And for that same resort, we found a rate of $100 a night on By staying local, we save at least $500 in gas and amusement park fees. I love roller coasters, but nothing beats a bit of rest and relaxation in an exotic, but local, retreat.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

My Favorite Post-Its Pt. 2

The thunder in Miami has stopped and I can go back online without fear of a blackout. Here are more of my favorite links for the week.

Molly's Brother on a Budget has great info about sites that let you
swap gift cards.

Tired But Happy has an informative post about making money while blogging. Great tips and overview.

Millionaire Artist has an insightful post about setting realistic financial goals. She talks about the importance of setting deadlines. The bottom line: freedom & choice.

My 1st Million at 33 has a post on his biggest finanancial blunder. Hint: he "misused" a cash gift of $90,000. It's a thoughtful post, but I'll gradually exchange his worst financial blunder for mine.

Post-its: My Weely Blog Roundup

Lots of good stuff in the blog community this week. Here's Part I one of my
Weekly Post-its.

Yet Another Blog about Money has a thoughtful and thought-provoking post on dental insurance. With a straight-to-the point style that beneifts managers should emulate, this post walks you through the pros and cons of dental insurance. Is it or isn't it a good deal to sign on for the company dental plan or your own dental insurance?

Can you live a meaningful life without kids?
Financial Freedumb ponders those questions in a recent post and offers some info on adoption and foster care.

No Limits Ladies has an interesting post called seven cures for a lean Fendi purse (Cure 5.) I liked her comments about having a good home.

Well it’s thundering in Miami and I don’t want to fry my computer when the lights go out.
I’ll post more post-its later!

Friday, August 18, 2006

More Lessons from My Dog

Scruffy --our dog-- is a rescue dog. We may have "rescued" Scruffy, but he has saved us from so many bad habits.

A little while ago, I wrote about some of the (frugal and time management) lessons we have acquired from our canine pet.

The learning continues. Here's an update.

1) Focus.

We play a modified version of soccer with Scruffy. We kick a small tennis ball; he plays goalie. He's fierce. It's hard to get the ball past him, because he is so focused on that fuzzy yellow ball.

Lesson: I should be as tenacious and focused about my savings, personal and professional goals.

2) Enjoy the home cooking

The sight of our home-cooked meals makes Scruffy salivate. He jumps; he whines and barks for a sample of our dinner.(We don't comply)

Lesson: Enjoy eating at home. The home-cooked food on my table is a major treat. Who needs expensive restaurant meals? I'll eat out less and enjoy more.

3) Be Alert

Scruffy barks when he hears or sees anything unusual or out of place around our home. He's sweet; but he's a great guard dog.

Lesson: I should emulate Scruffy's state of attentiveness as I study bank statements, store receipts and other documents. I should hunt down mistakes and other random charges that are out of place.

My Delusions, Savings & Retirement

When it comes to saving for retirement, I'm as deluded as charged. After years as a relatively well-paid financial journalist, I cashed out of a 401 K plan, (several years ago) to launch a free lance career. (Not my smartest fiscal move!)

My new plan involves these options:

1) Save, Save, Save

2)Work until I'm 120 years (G-d willing) (Wanted: position at an upscale bookstore with health benefits)

3)Write a bestseller, that produces a constant stream of passive income


4)All of the above.

I'm too young to retire now, but the news release (below) from Kiplinger has made me think. Check out the link below to the retirement calculator.

Here is the piece:



In a [2006] survey of American adults conducted by Roper Public Affairs, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine discovered that six in ten (63%) feel they are “on track” for their retirement, with almost as many (62%) confident that it will not be necessary to work when they retire.

However, when queried about how much money will fully prepare them for retirement, nearly four in ten (37%) say they will only need $500,000 saved, and 24 percent say they will need $1 million. Almost one quarter (23%) reported they don’t know how much they will need for retirement.

“Most Americans feel like they are headed in the right direction, but they aren’t certain where the finish line lies,” says Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Editor Fred W. Frailey. “Successful retirement preparation requires a well-defined goal and a disciplined plan for reaching it. We estimate that a retiree would need to have $1 million saved to achieve $50,000 of annual income, at a 5% withdrawal rate.”

Individuals looking to learn more about their unique retirement situation are invited to consult the free target retirement calculators.

Here is a link to other Kiplinger retirement resources.

Your retirement target
• Your social security benefits
• How bigger contributions to retirement accounts add up
• Which IRA option is the best

"Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine has been providing millions of Americans with down-to-earth advice on managing their money and achieving financial security since 1947. Along with it is a source of advice and information on saving and investing, taxes, credit, homeownership, paying for college, retirement planning, car buying and many other personal finance topics."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Dirty Dozen: Scams to Avoid

From Phishing to bogus "credit counseling" services, there are lots of scams out there. Here is a thoughtful overview of the financial traps out there:

Taxpayer Beware! 12 Tax Scams You May Encounter This Year!
By Becky Schmitz, EA, CTRS

Have you ever noticed how con artists never take time off? They are constantly on the lookout for ways to either get away with something or create havoc in people’s lives. And where better than in the income tax arena?

Because fraudsters use tax situations to hook individuals, they often manage to trick people into believing they are complying with tax laws, when in fact these lawbreakers are using trickery.

Each year the IRS reveals the newest scams known as The Dirty Dozen, which try to manipulate laws.

This year, the “Dirty Dozen” includes the following:

1. Credit Counseling Agencies: Reputable credit counseling agencies can advise you in regard to managing money and debts, but taxpayers should use caution when soliciting the help of credit counseling organizations.

They may claim to fix credit ratings but agencies that push debt payment agreements or charge high amounts for their services could potentially add to existing debt. The IRS Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division, is currently in the process of revoking the tax-exempt status of abusive agencies.

2. Form 843 Tax Abatement: This is also a new scam in which filers use IRS forms to claim their tax bills have been wrongly inflated. By misinterpreting the law, a taxpayer will wrongly try to get a refund of previous years’ taxes. Many using this scam have not previously filed tax returns.

3. Phishing: One of the more common tax scams these days is occurring on the Internet. Known as ‘Phishing,’ it is plainly an attempt at identify theft.

The unsuspecting person receives an e-mail claiming to be from the IRS but it’s actually linked to a fake IRS website meant to solicit a taxpayer’s personal information, such as Social Security numbers.

The con artist then uses the information to file for a fraudulent refund. If you receive an e-mail claiming to be from the IRS but you are suspicious, call 1-800-829-1040 to report it.

4. Zero Return: Fraudulent promoters instruct taxpayers to enter all zeros on their federal income tax filings. Naturally, returns with all zeros are not valid. If a preparer tells you to enter all zeros on your federal tax return, report him or her immediately.

5. Trust Misuse: The IRS has become very aware of Trust Misuse and is cracking down on the practice. Unscrupulous tax scheme promoters urge taxpayers to use offshore trusts to hide assets.

Taxpayers should be very cautious about Trust Misuse and seek the advice of a trusted professional before entering into a trust. If anyone encourages you to transfer your assets into a trust to reduce your amount of income subject to tax, you should be cautious. Several promoters and their clients have been prosecuted for this abuse.

6. Frivolous Arguments: Under this scam, various constitutional arguments claim that filing and paying taxes is voluntary. The fraudulent promoter will allege that the Sixteenth Amendment concerning Congressional power to lay and collect income taxes was never ratified, implying that the IRS lacks authority to collect taxes. This is absolutely untrue.

7. Return Preparer Fraud: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Return Preparer Fraud usually constitutes preparing and filing false income tax returns by preparers who inflate personal or business expenses, make false deductions, include excessive exemptions, and apply credits that are not allowed.

Taxpayers are responsible for accurate tax returns, so be aware of tax return preparers who promise big refunds. Make sure the company or preparer you are working with is credible.

8. Zero Wages: This is a fairly new taxpayer scam where the taxpayer attaches an incorrect form known as Form 4852 (Substitute Form W-2) or a corrected 1099 that shows zero income or little income. It probably includes a statement indicating a rebuttal of information that was previously submitted to the IRS. Beware anyone that encourages you to declare zero wages.

9. Abuse of Charitable Organizations and Deductions: The IRS has observed increased use of tax exempt organizations that improperly shield income or assets from taxation. In this scam, a taxpayer may try to move assets or income to a tax-exempt organization, but maintains control over the income or assets.

10. Offshore Transactions: The IRS aggressively pursues those who try to avoid U.S taxes by illegally hiding income in offshore banks and brokerage accounts or uses offshore credit cards, wire transfers, foreign trusts, and employee leasing schemes to hide money. The Internal Revenue Service has beefed up the money it will spend in the next four years to investigate these activities.

11. Employment Tax Evasion: Some scam artists encourage employers not to withhold federal income tax or other income taxes. This is based on an incorrect interpretation of the related tax code and is repeatedly proven false in court.

12. No Gain Deduction: Under this scheme, some tax filers try to eliminate their entire adjusted gross income by deducting it on Schedule A with the words “No Gain Realized.” This deduction has no basis in law, so if you are confronted with this, take heed. It won’t fly with the IRS.

If you think you've been a victim of tax fraud, you may call the IRS at 1-800-829-0433 to learn more.

Becky Schmitz, owner of Centsable Accounting, has recently been named the 2006 Top Practitioner from The American Society of the Tax Problem Solvers.

Collect a Commuter Tax

Save money when you drive by creating your own "commuter tax," according to the editors of Shameless Shortcuts, a book produced by the editors of Yankee Magazine.

Here's how the commuter tax works:

1) With each car ride, deposit 25 cents into a little container under your seat.

2) On a monthly basis, transfer your coin collection into an interest-paying bank account.

Believe it or not, the interest will add up and within a year you could have about $200 or more. That's enough for a spa treat, a short weekend getaway or an extra debt payment.

Or let the funds accumulate. For instance, if you collected $208 dollars a year in coins, and invested that same amount each year for 10 years, you would save/earn a total of $2,616, according to Hugh Chou's calculators . (Those figures are based on 5 percent annual return.)

(Shameless Shortcuts--$16.95 Rodale Inc./Yankee Publishing ISBN: 10899093914-- was edited by Fern Marshall Bradley)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Free Solar Calculators and Budget Tips

I recently received this news release touting a back-to-school freebie from Visa:

"Visa USA Giving Away 50,000 Free Solar Calculators

"Visa USA announced that it is giving away 50,000 free solar calculators through its at Practical Money Skills for Life financial education Web site

“To help students and their parents create a budget and stick to it, Visa is offering a free calculator and budgeting tips to anyone who comes to our financial education web site, ”said Jason Alderman, director, Visa USA.

Parents, students, teachers, or anyone who would benefit from a new calculator, can go to the home page of the Practical Money Skills for Life Web site to submit a mailing address so Visa can send the free calculator. Calculators will be sent as quickly as possible on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Resource Materials for Teachers and Parents

At the Practical Money Skills for Life Web site teachers can also access free lesson plans, as well as teacher guides, overheads and worksheets to help students develop personal finance, budgeting and money management skills.

For parents and students, there are interactive games designed to teach financial responsibility and important concepts such as earning, saving and budgeting money.


*Set a realistic back to school budget before you go shopping.

*Use back to school shopping as a budgeting lesson and have your kids prepare a budget with you.

*Take a print out of your estimated budget with you when shopping and have your child enter in all of the actual expenses.

*Encourage children to follow the budget. Stress that getting a more expensive item might mean sacrificing something else.

*Encourage kids to consider ways to cut costs and manage cash flow, like clipping coupons, looking for sales, or buying supplies each semester.

*Teach your kids to comparison shop to avoid impulse buying or paying for overpriced items.

*Differentiate between "needs" and "wants." Encourage children to contribute their own money to fill the gap between what they "need" and what they "want.”

*Tell kids that if they come in under budget, you will split the savings with them.

*Continue the budgeting lesson by starting kids with an ongoing monthly budget.
If your kids have a checking account, encourage them to keep up all cash, card, or check deductions in their checkbook register."

A Post-it on Fiscal Money Drains

I’m on a real big kick to trim the fat from my fiscal diet. So I just loved this post from the Mighty Bargain Hunter on 15 ways to save $15 dollars

My favorites from his list: drinking water (on rare nights in restaurants), canceling subscriptions you don't use and opting for a sink filter instead of bottled water.

And the comments following the post have great tips also.

As for me, I’m on a kick to reduce the energy charge in my house.

It’s the little leaks: speakers, radios and printers. Even when "off" and unused those item are still draining dollars from my sockets, especially the little gadgets with those little “off” lights. Real Simple did a recent piece about energy drains: the annual cost for plugged-in (but unused) gadgets is about $175, according to an article in that magazine.

So I've been running around my house pulling out plugs and turning off wall worts (multi-outlet units).

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Biz Tips for the Home Budget

My home budget is a low-ticket balance sheet, but I can borrow a few financial notes from the business sector. I am going to use the following business-oriented tips for my personal financial plan. Designed for entrepreneurs -- this advice -- also applies to our home budgets.

I'm especially interested in the tips about a mid-year financial cash flow review
and the inventory check. (We can check our own stock of home products and equipment.)

Here is the news release:

"With more than half of the year 2006 gone, businesses must re-evaluate their cash flow strengths and weaknesses.

Studies show that cash flow, or a lack thereof, can make or break
a business. For 2006, there are some definite cash flow woes,
and businesses across the nation must avoid these if they are
going to be around for 2007.

Karlene S. Robinson of KPR Funding Solutions, LLC, reveals these
woes and some quick tips to improve cash flow for the remainder
of 2006. Study these tips to find ways to improve cash flow on
either side:

1. Build a Cash Reserve:
A cash reserve is a must. This is simply a set amount of cash put back into
savings for emergencies.

A rainy day, a sales slump, a natural disaster that
leaves the business closed for several days (or even
weeks), health, or even personal issues can occur when
least expected. Robinson encourges business owners to
save enough operating cash for the business to last at
least several months when hard times hit.

2. Re-evaluate Business Cash Movement:
Cash moves in and out of the business bank account for items such as
invoicing, outgoing bills, cash jobs and payroll.
Business onwers need to know where their cash is going
and where it is coming from.

3. Inventory Check:
Business onwers should take a look
at their inventory list to see if there are products that
could be moved faster by selling to another vendor or at
a discount to present customers. Inventory that sits too
long could become that much-needed money right now!

Frugal Duchess Comment: I'm checking our home cabinets and closets. We're looking for stuff that we could sell on eBay, giveaway or recycle.

4. Energy Costs: Every business must
look at energy costs as a serious cash vacuum after the astounding rise
of oil and fuel prices of 2006.

Whether it is the cost to operate machinery, heat/cool the business facility, or buy fuel for company vehicles, thousands of dollars can probably be saved by analyzing the current energy consumption methods.

Robinson suggests opting for more fuel-efficient vehicles
and to be sure that the business office, warehouse or
factory uses the most energy- efficient heating and
cooling systems available on the market. Examine the
facilities for areas that may be causing a loss of

5. Debt Management: Manage the business debts wisely.

Refinance at lower interest rates. Keep payments up-to-
date so no penalties will have to be paid. Renegotiate
payment plans that are hurting your cash flow. Debt does
not have to hinder the business. It can be managed and
overcome if the effort is put forth.

"Entrepreneurs can keep their company afloat when difficult times
hit if they take these steps to improve cash flow. Adequate cash
flow is the key to long-term success," states Robinson.

About KPR Funding LLC

KPR Funding is a consulting firm that provides funding options to
help businesses with their cash flow." More info about
managing and improving cash flow can be found at their website

Sitting on the Fence of Poverty

Chasing the fabled-American Dream is a nightmare for many workers.
PBS has a new documentary about the working poor. The stories put a new spin on Reality TV. Some real-life profiles are below.

Here is the release material they sent to me:


By Roger Weisberg (the film maker)

"Summary: The term working poor should be an oxymoron. If you work full time, you should not be poor, but more than 30 million Americans — one in four workers — are stuck in jobs that do not pay for the basics of a decent life.

Waging a Living chronicles the day-to-day battles of four low-wage earners fighting to lift their families out of poverty. Shot over a three-year period in the Northeast and California, this observational documentary captures the dreams, frustrations and accomplishments of a diverse group of people who struggle to live from paycheck to paycheck.

National Air Date: Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2006 at 10:00 p.m. on PBS. (Check local listings.)

People in the film:

Mary Venettelli, Cream Ridge, N.J.

Mary Venittelli is a 45-year-old single mother of three living in southern New Jersey. She led a very comfortable middle-class life until she started going through a bitter divorce. When Mary enters the workforce to support her family, the only job she finds in her rural community is a waitress position, paying $2.13 per hour plus tips. Her evening schedule at the restaurant forces Mary to hire babysitters that she can’t afford and puts enormous stress on her children.

Mary relies on local food pantries for emergency food, borrows money from friends, and runs up $15,000 in credit card debt to pay her household bills.

She loses her car and is afraid she will lose her house. Ultimately, her divorce settlement stabilizes her financial predicament, but she realizes that her future is not secure. Mary returns to school to acquire new computer skills and begins to build a new life for her family.

Jerry Longoria, San Francisco

Jerry Longoria is a 45-year-old security guard whose $12 per hour job barely covers his modest living expenses and his rent in a single room occupancy hotel in a blighted neighborhood in San Francisco. Five years ago, Jerry was homeless and fighting a losing battle with alcoholism. Today, he is sober and manages to send his children regular child support payments.

Jerry's real passion is his work for his union. He leads rallies, speaks at city council meetings, and helps organize a successful campaign to improve wages and benefits for security guards. His biggest goal is to visit his two children whom he hasn’t seen in nine years.

Eventually, he is able to save enough to make an emotional journey to North Carolina, but shortly after he returns, he has a disagreement with his boss and is fired. With the help of his union, Jerry finds a new job, but it pays 20% less than his old one. Jerry worries that it will take him years to advance to his previous salary and that his plans for future reunions with his children will have to be put on hold.

Barbara Brooks, Long Island, New York

Barbara Brooks is a 40-year-old single mother of five living in Freeport, N.Y. She grew up abused and impoverished but is determined to break the cycle of domestic violence and poverty. Barbara struggles to balance her responsibilities as a full-time college student, worker, and mother.

She makes $8.25 per hour as a counselor at a juvenile detention facility, but her earnings are insufficient to make ends meet. To supplement her wages Barbara receives a range of government benefits including Medicaid, food stamps, child-care assistance, utility assistance, and subsidized Section 8 housing.

Barbara eventually receives a raise to $11 per hour, but her increased earnings make her ineligible for most government benefits. She calculates that by earning an additional $450 a month, she loses almost $600 a month in government aid. “I’m hustling backwards,” she says.

Barbara is convinced that the only way to become self-sufficient is to get a college degree. When she earns her associate’s degree, she finds a job as a recreational therapist at a nearby nursing home that pays $15 per hour.

She loves her new job with its professional status, increased earnings, and full medical benefits, but quickly discovers that she is again going backwards when her remaining government benefits are eliminated. With a heavy heart, Barbara resorts to working part-time so that her benefits can be restored while she completes her college education.

Jean Reynolds, Keansburg, N.J.

Jean Reynolds is a 55-year-old certified nursing assistant in Keansburg, N.J., who is supporting her three children and two grandchildren. She leads her union’s successful struggle to increase wages, but since she’s been at the same job for over 15 years, she earns the maximum wage of $11 per hour and does not qualify for a salary increase.

Jean's oldest daughter has cancer and Jean struggles to pay her medical bills along with the other household expenses. When Jean takes emergency custody of two more grandchildren, her wages cannot stretch to cover the needs of her family of eight. She falls behind on her bills and is evicted from her home.

As the family faces the prospect of living in homeless shelters, Jean reluctantly turns to public assistance. Although the authorities have consistently rejected her applications in the past, they discover that Jean’s sick daughter now qualifies for help. With emergency public assistance, Jean manages to find a place for her family to live but still struggles to make ends meet. Ultimately, Jean feels trapped in a dead-end job and cheated out of the American Dream.

:“In making Waging a Living, I wanted viewers to understand what it’s like to work hard, play by the rules, and still not be able to support a family,” says producer/director Roger Weisberg.

“It’s easy to take for granted the janitors and security guards in the offices where we work, the waiters and bus boys in the restaurants where we eat, and the nurses and care-givers in the facilities where we place our children and elderly.

“ I wanted to bring viewers inside the daily grind of the nameless people we encounter every day who struggle to survive from paycheck to paycheck. My goal was to get people to take a new look at the prevailing American myth that hard work alone can overcome poverty."

On The Waging a Living companion Web site: offers exclusive streaming video clips from the film, a podcast version of the filmmaker interview and a wealth of additional resources, including a Q&A with filmmaker Roger Weisberg, ample opportunities for viewers to “talk back” and talk to each other about the film, and the following special features:

• Exclusive podcast series: Tune in to during the month of August for downloadable conversations about the struggles of low-wage earners in America. Participants include New York Times writer Nina Bernstein, Nickel and Dimed author Barbara Ehrenreich, filmmaker Roger Weisberg, and more guests to be announced shortly.