Friday, September 25, 2009

How to Trim Fat From the Family Budget

Small changes have reduced electrical charges in my home. On a year-over-year basis, we have used 20 percent less electricity due to two minor adjustments. We have switched most of the light bulbs to compact florescent bulbs (CFLs), an energy-saving option. Additionally, during the day and vacations, we turn off the water heater, a move that generates cool savings.

(photo by Yael Rosenberg)

Those are just a few of the ways of finding additional space in a tight budget, according to the Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) of Palm Beach County, Fla., and the Treasure Coast. How do you cut the fat if your budget is already lean? A reality check will help you write smaller checks for household bills, according to the folks at CCCS.

"Successful saving starts with a realistic look at how you are spending money now and what changes you can realistically make," said Jessica Cecere, president of CCCS.

For example, consumers can cut electric bills by $50 or more by washing clothes in cold water, using energy-efficient bulbs and installing a programmable thermostat, Cecere said. Here are other recommended changes:

Trim salon visits. It's possible to save several hundreds of dollars annually with do-it-yourself haircuts, manicures and pedicures. If you're hooked on salon pampering, stretch out visits to the professionals with home-grooming sessions.

•Free movies. Libraries and community centers are a source of free movie rentals. One credit counseling client saved $20 to $40 every month by borrowing movies from the library. Another option: Set up an informal movie library with friends, neighbors and co-workers.

•Review monthly expenses. Periodically review automatic bill-paying charges, credit card statements and other monthly bills. Automatic debits may include gym fees, vacation clubs, publications or other subscription services that you may no longer use, according to CCCS. Scan bills for overcharges and other errors.

•Go green. Energy efficient appliances use less energy and save money over the life of the product. In my home, we were surprised to learn that our old refrigerator and stove were energy hogs. Likewise, a CFL bulb uses 75 percent less energy than a standard light bulb and last 10 times longer, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Currency Exchange & Other Tricks to Save More Money

Currency exchange is a thrifty tool in my home. To save money, my 11-year-old daughter has swapped five single dollars for a five-dollar-bill and has traded up for even larger denominations. She uses the larger bills to preserve capital.

“When I see smaller bills, I think I have more money to spend,” my daughter said, adding that it’s tempting to buy treats with single dollars. “I’m not going to buy a chocolate bar with a $20 bill.”

It’s a numbers game that we all play with our budgets and wallets. In fact, banks, financial planners and marketing gurus have launched a variety of programs built on different savings techniques. Here are a few of my favorite money-saving tricks.

Loose change: Bank of America has a “Keep the Change Program,” in which purchases made with a debit card are rounded up to the nearest dollar and the difference is transferred from the customer’s checking account into a savings account. My do-it-yourself version of that program is simple. Just toss your loose change into a jar every day and watch the coins accumulate. It’s a painless way to create additional savings.

Dollar matching: While saving for a home, my brother created an unusual program. For every dollar he spent, he placed 20 percent of the purchase amount into a savings account. That system helped to create a nest egg for his first home. Other savers recover from frivolous purchases with a dollar-for-dollar transfer into a savings account. This dollar-matching strategy discourages careless expenditures and forces you to cut fat from the budget in order to fund the matching transfer.

Pause button: Whether shopping for clothes or cars, cooling-off periods can eliminate impulse purchases. Some families hit a 24-hour pause button when considering merchandise over a certain dollar amount. I’ve also met shoppers who use the checkout line to debate the necessity of smaller items in their cart.

Related Posts:

10 Creative Ways to Save Money: Bank Survey

6 Ways I Scam Myself into Saving

photo credit: Sharon Harvey Rosenberg

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rosh HaShannah: New Year Greetings From an Ironing Board

We can iron out past wrinkles in money, relationships and clothing. That's what I learned as I ironed clothing for Rosh HaShannah, the New Year on the Hebrew calendar.

Even if you don't celebrate the holiday, September is still a time of beginnings and renewal, including a new school year, a post-Labor Day cycle on Wall Street and changes in leaf colors.

Long before I converted to Judaism, I always felt a shift in September. Here's what I learned while ironing garments this September.

1. Restoration: Wrinkles can be removed from shirts, relationships and money. The process requires time, tools and enough heat.

2. Execution: It's a cliche. But it's so true: Anything worth doing, is worth doing well. If I'm balancing my checkbook, reading a story to a child or ironing a blouse, it's important to give my best to the moment and the task. We only have the present moment, everything else is an illusion.

3. Housework: Don't overlook the value of housework. Sweeping floors is important. Washing clothes is valuable, and ironing creates value. Household chores represent an investment in our personal space. What's more, the process can create a valuable meditative exercise in humility and patience.

4. Frugal values: It was tempting to go shopping for new clothes for the new year. But time and budget restraints detoured my shopping trips. Instead, I plugged in the iron and pressed dress clothes that were laundered. With the investment of time and heat, all of the garments --including my sons' dress shirts -- looked near-new. I also found shirts, skirts and jackets that I had forgotten about.

5. Pay attention: I burned the thumb on my left hand in a moment of carelessness. My hand was on the iron, but my mind was elsewhere. Likewise, I have made financial and personal mistakes through reckless actions. Time has taught me to pay attention to duties, responsibilities, commitments and my higher self.

Rosh HaShannah is a time of apology. I offer a heartfelt apology to anyone I may have injured through carelessness, thoughtfulness, bitchiness or other moments of insecurity or inconsideration.

6. Do for others: This afternoon, I applied a hot iron to garments for my entire family. It's not enough for me to look pressed and cleaned; my family should also benefit from my work. It's the same with money and health. I enhance my own wealth when I share with my extended family and community. It's not enough for me to have health insurance; it's important that we all benefit from wellness, preventive medicine and cures.

I wish everyone a sweet New Year, filled with healthy new beginnings, universal love and peace. And of course, universal healthcare. L'Chaim...To Life!!

L'Shannah Tovah!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 7 Lessons From the Financial Meltdown

In this guest post, offers 7 Lessons from the Meltdown, including:

"1) Where's the money? You'd better know—literally. The reported $50-billion swindle orchestrated by Bernard Madoff and other fleece jobs should put to rest the notion that you can get rich from unpublicized investment opportunities unavailable to mere mortals. If you give any adviser discretion to buy and sell investments without your prior go-ahead, you must demand to know where your money sleeps.

2) Cash is never trash. True, you'll never get rich earning 1% a year in a money-market fund. But that's no reason to insult a larger-than-usual cash reserve. The beauty of cash in times like these isn't that it protects you from losses in stocks and other stuff, although it does do that. The lure of cash is that it enables you to pick up investments on sale. Gobs of quality stocks fell more than 50% but have now risen substantially in the last six months. You couldn't buy them unless you had some money in reserve.

3) Wild swings over short periods are the new normal. How many times in the past year and a half have the market and sector averages fallen hard one day and soared the next? Or bounced more than 1% up and down several times during the same day's trading? "Fire, ready, aim" describes how traders act today. Don't expect any change soon, if ever.

4) Don't deify those who warned about losses. Few people who get paid to predict the market's fluctuations get it right. However, if you have an adviser who isn't habitually negative but urged you to switch more into cash and Treasuries a year ago, then you should shower him or her with praise. Sending over a nice bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers would be an appropriate thank-you gesture."

Here's the link: For the other financial meltdown lessons.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cheap Cleanup: Washing the Stove & Tiles With Vinegar

You don't have to spend a lot for eco-friendly household and personal care products. I use vinegar and water to sanitize my home without the expense or waste of harsher chemicals. Beyond toss salads, I use white vinegar for the following cleaning duties:

Kitchen surfaces: With two capfuls of vinegar and a half cup of water, I have cleaned and polished a white enamel stovetop. The homemade solution cut through a mixture of cooking oil and splattered tomato sauce. The same solution works on kitchen countertops and stainless steel sinks. White vinegar also effectively cleans cookware, coffeemakers and carpet stains, according to How to Clean Practically Anything, a reference guide published by Consumer Reports.

Tile floors and walls: My husband cleaned our white tile floors with a bucket of vinegar and water. He mixed one cup of vinegar per half-gallon of hot water, with a few drops of essential lemon oil. That mixture cleaned the floor and left a fresh lemon scent. I have applied a similar mixture to the bathroom tiles and countertops.

All-purpose cleaning spray: recommends filling a spray bottle with equal parts of water and white vinegar. Use this solution to clean appliances, countertops and other surfaces. Some restaurants and daycare centers use vinegar and water to clean tables and chairs.

Hair conditioner: Organic apple cider vinegar (ACV) provides a great hair tonic. Mixed with water, ACV conditions the hair and combats dandruff. As a hair rinse, ACV has left my hair cleaner and softer. The acid in the vinegar removes the buildup left from commercial hair care products and kills bacteria, according to, which recommends mixing one-third cup of apple cider vinegar with a quart of distilled water

Friday, September 11, 2009

Finding My Money Leaks: The August Report

Yup. I could have saved more and spent less in August. As promised, I paid careful attention to my spending, saving and consuming habits in August. We all have money leaks. Here are my downfalls & solutions:
  • Lost items: I use paraben-free cosmetics from Origins and Burt's Bees. Unfortunately, while at the zoo with my kids, I lost my favorite lip gloss. I was careless and should have paid more attention. The replacement cost represents money that I could have saved or used for other expenses. My goal for September is to lower or eliminate careless costs.

  • Expired coupons: As a member of the frequent shopper program at CVS, I often receive coupon offers that are attractive. For example, during the summer, I received a coupon for $5 off a $20 purchase, which would have been perfect for school supplies. But I didn't check the offer date, and the deal expired before I used the coupon. My goal for September is to be more vigilant about deals and deadlines. I also plan to make better use of my calendar by flagging important expiration dates and stashing my receipts in the folder section of my home calendar.

  • Light check: We have made tremendous progress on our electric bill and have converted our home to CFL bulbs. With the exception of the light bulbs in the display case and the the lava light, my home is illuminated by energy-saving CFLs. However, sometimes when we are rushing out of the home, we have forgotten to turn off lights, the air conditioner the fans. One ceiling fan can cost up to $7 a month if it runs nonstop. My goal: No matter how busy, I plan to double check lights and power before the morning or afternoon rush hours.
  • Costly delays: I traveled a lot during the summer, including short trips to Pittsburgh and Orlando. Travel specials offered great deals, but I could have spent less if I had not procrastinated. My goal: Book early, save more.

  • Keep records: My August money leak challenge prompted me to pay closer attention for 30 days. On a scale of 1-10, my attention span hit the mid range of 6-7. I can do better. My September goal: From September 15 -30, I plan to keep an expense journal. With a shorter tracking period, I hope to gather more insights and cut more waste. Watch this space.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Poll: Saving $50 Beats Diets, Love & Time

If you had a choice between saving an extra $50 a week or gaining an extra hour daily, what would you do? I vote for the extra hour, (seven hours a week). But more money beat out diet, time and sex, according to this recent survey from Here is a snippet from the full survey results:

- Over half (57%) of those surveyed would rather save $50 an extra week

- vs. 31 % who would rather lose one clothing size

- or 6% who would opt for more sex

- or 6 % who would rather have an extra 60 minutes each day.

The Real Bonus

My choice:
Please give me another hour every day! With an extra seven hours a week, I would use 33 % of the extra time to earn more money, 33% of the bonus time would be spent relaxing, and I would spend the remaining time with my children.

Here's another nugget from the poll:

"More women (45%) feel better when they’re cutting grocery costs vs. sticking to an exercise regimen (24%)."

Once again, I disagree with that allocation of time. A commitment to an exercise program can yield both long-term savings and better health. Preventive medicine and exercise represent savvy investments of time and money. Consider the cost of obesity.

The Power of Coupon Clipping

"Consumers are changing their spending habits, but not drastically. The survey, conducted by DMS Research with 5,877 respondents (5,250 females and 627 males), uncovered that small changes such as clipping more coupons, are taking precedence over large lifestyle adjustments like driving less or cancelling gym memberships.

Across all categories of spending, more women tend to be tightening their belts than men, cutting back on vacation, spending, and dining out.

The survey revealed:
Almost three-quarters of respondents (71%) are now clipping coupons;

Four in ten respondents (41%) consider treating themselves to something under $49 to be a splurge;

Even in a tough economy, just over one-quarter (28%) of respondents won’t give up purchasing quality items and 17% won’t give up buying their favorite beauty product

'We know how important saving money and saving time are these days, so we aren’t surprised with the findings that something as simple as using coupons – and increasingly, electronic coupons – is on the rise,' said Tara Trocki, director, AOL’s 'This is a testament that using a free, simple service can lead to significant financial savings without having to make a major lifestyle adjustment.' "

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Cut Your Beverage Tab at Bars, Restaurants & Resorts

It's possible to spend less for drinks at bars, restaurants and resorts. Here's my list of do-it-mostly-yourself drink recipes.

  • Spiked & flavored coffees: At bars, restaurants and resorts you can save a lot by ordering plain American coffee and a shot of Baileys Irish cream liqueur or other liqueurs. One shot of liqueur is good for spiking several rounds of coffee, especially if the establishment offers bottomless cups of coffee. Final ingredient: Tip the waiter or bartender generously.

  • Virgin drinks: When lounging poolside at a resort, beach or hotel, save money by ordering the non-alcohol version of pina coladas or other mixed drinks. Spike your virgin drinks with your own small bottle of rum or vodka. At one one resort, virgin drinks were $4-5 each, compared to $8-12 for the spiked versions. Note: Only use this recipe at resorts where it's customary for guests to carry DIY snacks, sodas and food. Many resorts have no problem with customers bringing brown-bag treats from hotel rooms, beach bags, the food court or other take-out establishments. Final ingredient: When you order the virgin drinks, be sure to tip the waiter or bartender generously.

  • Watered down drinks: One area resort serves strong drinks. When I asked for a watered down version, one fellow customer chided me. She told me take the strong drink as-is and to request an extra glass of soda to dilute the original drink. In this fashion, it's possible to create your own two-for-one drink special. Final ingredient: Tip the waiter or bartender generously.
  • DIY iced tea or iced coffee: Some hotels and resorts offer guests free (hot) coffee and tea bars, with high-end herbal teas and gourmet coffee. At one resort where we were staying, I made a cup of hot passion fruit tea and requested a cup of ice from the bar area. With the ice cubes and the hot herbal tea, I was able to create a tall glass of iced tea at no charge. The same strategy works for turning hot coffee into a chilled-out drink. And of course, it's good karma to tip the bartender for the ice.

  • Drink water: It's healthier. It's cheaper.


Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money -- a coming of age memoir about money -- and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

Friday, September 04, 2009

How to Find Cheap Food at Airports

Stormy weather delayed my flight plans and prompted me to spend over 10 hours traveling through three airports. My growling stomach felt like extra baggage as I tried to find a frugal meal plan. I fed my appetite without starving my wallet with the following steps:

Find a drugstore. Many airports have vast shopping malls, which include national or regional drugstore chains, where prices are competitive. At a chain drug store in Pittsburgh International Airport, snacks and beverages were cheaper than comparable items at other shops in the airport mall. For instance, a package of two large peanut butter cookies was 79 cents, compared to prices of $1.50 to $3 per cookie at other vendors in the food court area. Yogurt, iced cappuccino, crackers, nuts and other food items were also good bargains at the drugstore.

Drink tea. Beverage carts, cafes and specialty stores sell hot coffee and specialty espresso drinks for $3 to $4 per cup. In contrast, from one high-end coffee stand, I purchased a large cup of Earl Grey tea for $1.80. With cream and a dash of cinnamon, the tea was a taste of luxury.

•Go green. Basic green salads are reasonably priced at many airport food courts. Veggie-only salads cost $2 to $4 at fast-food restaurants. What's more, packets of mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard can be mixed with pepper to create French dressing. Ask for crackers.

•Pack food. I often carry small bags of baby carrots, single-serving cans of tuna fish and snacks when I travel. This survival kit becomes valuable when late afternoon travel plans stretch beyond midnight.

Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of the "Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money" — a coming of age memoir about money — and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's "10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget," both available on

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Fixing the Ferret: Lessons From a Faulty Toy

My daughter fixed her ferret with a foot of fishing string. As such, our story about a defective toy has a happy ending. Our quick repair taught us valuable lessons. Here's what we have learned:

  • Hit the return button. Why didn't we return the broken toy, asked one reader after reading the original story: Cheated By a Ferret: One Child's Lesson. We have several reasons: 1) We lost the receipt; 2) we trashed the original packaging, and 3) most importantly, we were too annoyed to think of the obvious. Anger can be counter-productive. Anger can be expensive. The faulty ferret should have been returned for cash or store credit.

  • Be creative: My daughter found inspiration in a piece of clear fishing string, which resembled the original "invisible" string that made the ferret move. From her repair, I learned to think outside the tackling box and to constantly consider ways to find new uses for everyday materials that are around the home.

  • Repair, recycle, reuse: It's tempting to toss out worn, broken or outdated merchandise, including toys, clothing and shoes. We live in a disposable society, and we're often quick to contribute to landfills. My goal is to find new uses for old items, including an old teapot, worn out socks and old calendars.


Monday, August 31, 2009

How To Give School Lunches Good Grades

The school year is new, but early grades for brown bag lunches have not been promising in my home. For example, servings of leftover lasagna recently failed the lunchroom test. The pasta tasted great, but looked unappealing in a small sandwich bag, the kids said.

It's a challenge to assemble lunches that are nutritious, tasty and frugal. Aria Kagen, co-owner D'lish, a private chef company, offers these tips:

Be a cookie-cutter. Update boring sandwiches with interesting shapes. Kagen uses cookie cutters to style sandwiches in to unusual shapes. Even tuna fish or peanut butter can appear exciting when shaped into hearts or stars.

Invest in containers. Packaging counts, and attractive food containers can upgrade the taste, texture and freshness of school lunches. Kagen recommends purchasing containers in different sizes for hot and cold food, including a thermos for soup. Reusable lunch containers also deliver an eco-friendly lesson plan about recycling.

Spice it up. Pack a taco shell, re-fried beans, ground meat, sour cream and chili sauce into small, individual containers. With those ingredients, your child can put together a taco in the lunch room.

Prepare ahead. Fresh vegetables, fruit slices and green salads can be prepared and stored on Sunday night and packed into lunches as needed during the rest of the week. That menu plan will save time and money.

Add a few flourishes. Kagen uses festive paper napkins decorated with action heroes for her son's lunch. Other families slip in hand-printed notes or hand-decorated napkins into brown bags or lunch containers. "Make it an experience," Kagen says. "It doesn't take a lot of money."

Related Articles

Back to School with 'Zero-Waste Lunches'

Zero Waste Lunches: How to Make Your Own Executive Style Supply Kit

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What Airports, Hotels & Places Offer Free Wi-Fi?

I am trying to fly home to South Florida from Pittsburgh. My flight is delayed due to weather in Atlanta, where I have a connecting flight. But Pittsburgh International Airport has free Wi-Fi, which is making this long delay productive.

Free Wi-Fi is important, and if I have a choice between two airports in a region, I will book the cheapest flights in airports with free Wi-Fi. I am assembling a list: Which airports, hotels, cafes and stores have free Wi-Fi? Please leave a comment, with your travel experiences.

I will also make constant updates.

Pittsburgh International Airport (If you have to be stuck in an airport, this one is great!)
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport

Hampton Inn
La Quinta
Inns & Suites

Malls & Stores
Shops of the Sunset (Coral Gables, Florida)
Whole Foods
Barnes & Nobles

Dunkin Donuts 41st Street on Miami Beach

Friday, August 28, 2009 10 Things to Avoid Buying for College Students

When I was a college freshmen, I wanted to buy every item listed on the school shopping list. But there is no need for parents or students to snap up every item on the shopping list, according to’s list of "10 Things College Students Don’t Need." Here's a sample from that list:

"1. New Textbooks. To avoid paying unfathomable new-book prices, see whether your university offers a rental program — or rent from a Web site such as, where you can save up to 85%. Order the book for a one-time fee—for example, about $60 plus shipping for a $180 calculus book—keep it for a semester, then return it with free shipping, or you could buy it. Or, head to the used-book lot. For example, searches the Web for the best prices on used textbooks.

2. Big Meal Plan. Brain food is important, but avoid loading up your child's meal account with enough money to feed the football team. It’s best to start with a low number of meals and see how much your student uses. Many colleges will give you the opportunity to replenish the meal plan midyear. You could also supplement your kid's meal plan with gift cards to the local grocery (or the local pizza joint). Or you can buy gift cards at

3. A High-End Laptop or Desktop Computer. An inexpensive laptop should meet your student's computer needs. For example, you can buy an Acer Aspire One, which has a 10.1-inch screen and weighs just 2.4 pounds, for less than $300 at Best Buy, WalMart or Target. Be aware, though, that netbooks don't have DVD drives or huge amounts of storage space, so it'll cost extra to get plug-in external drives or memory cards.

4. Printer. Here's what you can save by skipping this unnecessary item: about $50 for a printer, $30 for replacement ink and $9 for a pack of paper. For about $10, your child could buy a flash drive instead, save his 20-page term paper on it and print the paper in the campus computer lab, which you may already be paying for. Some schools include a technology fee in room and board costs—$100 per semester in some cases.

5. Cable TV. These days, you don't have to foot a hefty cable bill when your child can catch the latest movies and TV shows online., and let you download current TV shows for free. The movies offered on these sites are slightly old, but you can get a Netflix DVD-rental subscription for as little as $5 a month. "

The full list of 10 Things College Students Don’t Need.’s Back to School 2009 package

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Shopping Alarms About Kids & Money: A Grocery Store Lesson

An alarm went off when my friend Yael recently paid for her groceries. It was a basic transaction. She paid for the food with a debit card and requested cash back.

However, when her pre-school son watched the exchange of plastic for food and cash, a siren sounded. "Mommy," he shouted. "You won a prize." Alarmed, Yael decided it was time to teach him more about money.

Nationwide, other parents are finding gaps in their children's financial education. For instance, according to a recent T. Rowe Price survey, nearly 60 percent of parents feel as if they should be doing more to school their children about finances. Here are a few lesson plans:

Child labor and allowances: My school-age children get a boost when they earn money from household chores, baby-sitting or lemonade stands, and it's not just about the cash. Earning and managing a few dollars improves their common sense and self-esteem. Such lessons can begin with toddlers, with small chores and rewards.

Shopping trips: Going to the grocery store with children typically leads to higher food bills. But the short-term detour around sugar cereals and other treats can create long-lasting "teachable moments" about unit-pricing, marketing gimmicks and nutrition.

New age tools: The Internet has a wealth of finance games for kids. My daughter, for example, has spent hours at and, which offer imaginary financial systems in which children earn salaries, build homes and make virtual purchases. The money is not real, but the lessons are valuable. Other sites include: and (from the Treasury Department).

Old school tools: A game of Monopoly can last for hours with lessons about saving, spending and investing. Over that board game, my kids have become savvy about the value of budgets and delayed gratification. It's not just about paper money or color-coded blocks of real estate.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How To Get Free E-Books

During a recent bus ride, Jessica Goldstein, a fellow passenger, was staring into her cell phone. But she was not sending out text messages or checking e-mail. Classic literature had bookmarked her attention.

Goldstein, a technical writer, uses her cell phone as an electronic book gadget. She downloads free books through Project Gutenberg,, a nonprofit organization that enables readers to download free electronic copies of books onto desktop computers, smart phones or palm organizers.

"It's like going to the library on a bus," Goldstein told me as she read "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" by Friedrich Nietzche.

Project Gutenberg has a catalog of about 30,000 titles that are available for free. Additionally, the site has affiliate relationships with other sites that offer access to 100,000 free books.

Here are other resources for readers seeking free electronic books to read at home or on the road.

- Barnes & Noble. The company offers a free application that works on smart phones and desktop computers. The app can be downloaded at and provides access to free e-books.

- DailyLit ( is a service launched by a former Random House editor and a social media guru. Classic titles, such as "Moby Dick," "Pride and Prejudice" and "The Prince and the Pauper" are delivered by plain text e-mails to your computer, cell phone or other handheld devices. Each e-mail has an installment of the book and you pick the frequency of the e-mails. The service also includes a fee-based subscription for new titles, but books in the public domain are free and there are lots of them, including many titles on school reading lists.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Money-Saving Driving Tips for Labor Day Weekend

If a road trip is on your map for the Labor Day Weekend, consider these frugal, fuel-efficient driving tips from the Drive Smarter Challenge video contest:

"Decrease your speed. Gas mileage usually decreases rapidly above 60 mph. Each five miles per hour over 60 mph is like paying an additional 20 cents or more per gallon for gas.

Drive sensibly. Speeding, rapid acceleration (jackrabbit starts), and rapid braking can lower gas mileage by 33% at highway speeds.

Use cruise control and overdrive gear. Cruise control cuts fuel consumption by maintaining a steady speed during highway driving. Overdrive gear, when appropriate, reduces engine speed, saves gas, and reduces engine wear.

It’s a “drag.” Avoid carrying items on your vehicle’s roof. A loaded roof rack or carrier increases weight and aerodynamic drag, which can cut mileage by 5%. Place items inside the trunk when possible to improve fuel economy.

Turn down the AC. Operating the air conditioner on "max" can reduce mpg by 5-25% compared to not using it.

Avoid idling, which gets 0 mpg. Cars with larger engines typically waste even more gas while idling than cars with smaller engines.

Fill up before returning rental. Rental car companies charge higher gas prices if you don't fill up the tank before returning the vehicle."

Related Post:
Win $5,000 With Frugal Road Tips: A Video Contest

Friday, August 21, 2009

Win $5,000 With Frugal Road Tips: A Video Contest

Want to win $5,000 with your video camera? This announcement offers energy-saving driving tips and a chance to win money and other prizes.

"It's the dog days of August, one of the heaviest time frames for road trips – what with travel to universities across the country combined with the "last hurrah" of summer vacations leading into the Labor Day holiday weekend.

As you capture those road trips for posterity on your camcorder, consider turning them into a fun, two-minute video that can garner extensive exposure on the web and win a $5000 grand prize, VIP NASCAR and Indy race packages, new tires, gift cards, car care guides, and more in the Drive Smarter Challenge video contest --

The online video contest is a new feature of the award-winning Drive $marter Challenge fuel-efficiency campaign sponsored by the Alliance to Save Energy and 16 other diverse nonprofit, governmental, trade association and for-profit partners.

The contest runs through September 20.

Contest Details

To enter, submit a two-minute (or less) video that illustrates one or more of the Drive Smarter Challenge gas- and money-saving driving and vehicle maintenance tips, including those featured below:

Planning your road trip:

  • Get a customized map with low gas prices along the route. Getting lost while driving in unfamiliar areas could lead to an expensive waste of gas. Print a customized vacation map that highlights low-cost gas stations along your route using campaign website resources. Or navigate with a GPS system.

  • Choose the right vehicle. If your family has more than one vehicle, drive the car that gets better gas mileage if possible.

  • Watch the clock! When possible, drive during off-peak hours to reduce gas costs and stress by avoiding stop-and-go or bumper-to-bumper traffic conditions.

  • Check out other travel options. Consider trains, buses, or public transportation to your destination when possible. Explore new ways to get around at your destination. Find information on biking, public transportation routes, car sharing, walking, and renting hybrid or fuel-efficient vehicles on the Drive $marter Challenge website resources page.

Before you leave: maintenance tips

  • Inflate your tires. Keeping your tires properly inflated improves gas mileage by around 3%.

  • Select the right oil. Using the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil improves gas mileage by 1 to 2%. Motor oil that says “Energy Conserving” on the API performance symbol contains friction-reducing additives. Change your oil as recommended to extend the life of your vehicle.

  • Tune up. Fixing a car that is noticeably out of tune or has failed an emissions test can improve its gas mileage by an average of 4%."

Coming next: Saving money on the road.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sales Clerk Offers Inside View: 'We're Supposed to Befriend Kids'

Do some sales clerks try to pal around with tween shoppers in an effort to get the kids to spend more money? Yes, says one reader, a sales clerk, who offers a great reply to the post: Telling My Daughter the Truth about Her New 'Friend,' The Salesclerk!

Here's one sales clerk's story:

I was hired about a month or so ago at a 'tween clothing store, and I've come to find it not so much my cup of tea. We're supposed to make "friends" with the girl and adult, or the girl[s], and try to sell them as much stuff as we can, by talking to them, or even looking at what they have, and bringing more stuff that matches/accessorizes/looks similar, and show it to them and so on.

I find it uncomfortable, personally, because while I love kids, and enjoy talking to the few people who are very friendly, I'm only supposed to be friendly enough to make the sale and make more sales while doing it, and that in itself makes me feel fake, seeing as we're supposed to make the store feel like a second home to the girls, but yet simply see them as consumers and a goal of how much money we can get them to spend?

I personally would get quite irritated with a sales person bringing me loads of stuff, and always have been that way, so I have a hard time seeing how so many people could like someone following them & constantly foisting things on them.

Just my rambling thoughts after an exhausting day at work.

-- written by MVanity

Thanks to MVanity for providing such a thoughtful comment. (@ MVanity: You make great points, and I appreciate your insider's view. Thanks for taking the time to write!)

As a shopper, I'm in the same bag as MVanity. I also get annoyed when I'm tracked through a store. But my pre-teen daughter can be flattered by the attention.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Guest Post: Consumers Union: Beware of Prepaid Card Pitfalls

Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, offers this guest post on the dangers of prepaid cards:

"While prepaid cards are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to check cashers and traditional bank accounts, a new Consumers Union report finds that the cards come with high fees and don’t offer consumers the same kinds of protections as other forms of plastic payment.

Prepaid cards are reloadable cards that can be used to make payments similar to debit cards and are becoming the foundation of a second tier banking system used by a growing number of low income consumers.

Here's a link to the full report about prepaid cards.

“Consumers using prepaid cards end up paying a mountain of costly fees that can add up quickly and undermine their finances,” said Michelle Jun, staff attorney for Consumers Union. “Prepaid cards are being marketed aggressively, so it’s important for consumers to understand the hidden costs and how these cards might leave them vulnerable if lost or stolen.”
Prepaid cards are a growing business and usually bear a network logo such as Visa or MasterCard and often have the word “debit” printed prominently on the front of the cards. The Federal Reserve estimated that 312 million transactions were made with pre-paid cards in 2006 for a total value of $13.3 billion.

Consumers Union reviewed the terms and conditions of 18 different prepaid cards and found that consumers face multiple fees and other costly “gotchas’:

Activation Fees: 17 of the 18 pre-paid card issuers reviewed charged consumers a fee for activating their cards. These activation fees ranged from a low of $3 for the Walmart Money Card to a whopping $99.95 to apply for and initiate the Millenium Advantage card.

Monthly Fee: 15 of the 18 pre-paid card issuers charged monthly fees ranging from $2.95 per month for the FinanSe card to $10 per month for the Rush Card. Most pre-paid card issuers will waive the monthly fee if a direct deposit is set up. Some card issuers will waive the monthly fee if the consumer chooses the “pay as you go” option.

Fees to Get Cash: All 18 card issuers reviewed charged fees for withdrawing cash from ATMs in the U.S. On the low end, the FinanSe, SVC Revel, and Espree cards charge $1.50 per withdrawal. The NetSpend Visa card charged the highest fee – up to $2.50 for each withdrawal. Charges are usually even higher for international withdrawals.

Balance Inquiry and Statement Fees: 17 of the 18 card issuers charged fees for checking balances at ATMs, ranging from 50 cents to $1. This does not include any additional fee charged by the ATM owner.

Customer Service: Most pre-paid card issuers provide free customer service, but consumers using the Millenium Advantage card will be charged $1 per minute when they call customer service, while users of the Espree card will pay $3 for each customer service call. Some pre-paid card issuers charge customer service fees after a limited number of free calls.

Fees for Inactivity: Eight of the 18 card issuers charged fees when cards are not used after a certain period of time. These dormancy fees range from $1.95 per month for the Rush Card (after 90 days of inactivity) to $9.95 per month for the Exact card.

Overdraft Fees: A number of prepaid card issuers claim that they do not charge fees when users spend more than the available amount on their cards. However, Consumers Union found that 10 of the 18 cards it reviewed included overdraft or “shortage” fees. These range from $24.90 charged by Espree for overdrafts to $29 charged by Eufora and AccountNow.

Routine use of prepaid cards can result in significant costs for consumers as all these fees add up. For example, Consumers Union found that a consumer using the Rush Card’s pay as you go program who made three ATM withdrawals, three bill payments, eight point of sale purchases and two deposits would be charged $43.75 for the first month in fees.

Less Protection
When prepaid cards are lost or stolen and used by others to make fraudulent transactions, consumers are not protected by the same regulatory and statutory safeguards that enable other debit card users to recover their money. If a consumer contacts a card issuer about a lost or stolen debit card within two business days, the consumer’s liability is limited to up to $50 (or up to $500 if the consumer reports the debit card lost or stolen after two business days). By contrast, prepaid cards may only have voluntary protections that could be revised or rescinded at any time for any reason.

Credit Building
Some prepaid cards claim to provide consumers a way to build a credit record or include a credit line feature. However, Consumers Union found that the prepaid card issuers may report “credit building” activity to an alternative, less used credit reporting agency or may report only the payment of the card’s high monthly fees. The credit line feature may provide credit which is as expensive as costly overdraft loans and payday loans.

Finally, consumers with traditional bank accounts have peace of mind that their money will not be lost as long as their bank is FDIC insured. But consumers who use prepaid cards have no guarantee that they will be able to recover all their money in the event of a bank failure because the funds may not be insured by the FDIC. "
--Source: Consumers Union

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thrifty Reader Seeks Help: Spoiled Kids & Too Many Yard Sales!

What do you tell a thrifty mom who thinks her kids are spoiled? That scenario recently landed in my e-mail box. Here's the note:

Hi, I am concerned because I finally realized how spoiled my kids are. I've been buying them whatever they liked, although it's from thrift stores and yard sales. Because it's so cheap, I get them more than five things.

I find my 8-year-old son being un-appreciative, unresponsible and rude, and I think this could be why. Now the house is full of toys, and I don't know where to start. How to unspoil? I am overwhelmed. Do you know what I should read? How do I start, please?

Please chime in with tips, links and resources. Thanks!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Free Family Entertainment: Watch the Sky Tonight

We're hitting the roof tonight for an evening of free family fun. There's going to be a meteor shower, and it won't cost a thing to share the skylights with the kids. But how can you get the most fun and education from the evening? For answers and insights, I turned to David Dickinson from Astroguyz:

"Stargazing," says Astroguyz, "is a completely free hobby. When I was a kid, we would all lay out on the lawn and watch the Perseid."

The Perseid Meteor Shower: a Q & A with Astroguyz.

"When will I be able to see the Perseids?

The Perseid meteor shower is the most well-known and dependable shower of the year; typically, 60 to 100 meteors are seen, silently streaking through the sky. This year, however, there is evidence that we may see rates as high as 200+ per hour centered around 4 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, August 12. A day or two prior or after may be worth watching as well; meteor streams are notoriously unpredictable.

Early AM is always the best time to watch, as the Earth faces forward into its orbit after midnight. Folks can starat watching after sunset, but the best results will be in the early morning. I'll probably try to get up 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. and see what I can see.

By the way, 4 a.m. will be the peak on the east coast and 2 a.m. is the predicted peak for the west coast.

What are they?

The Perseids are tiny remnants of the comet Swift-Tuttle. As it sheds material into a
stream about the sun, the Earth periodically sweeps through its wake. Dozens of comets and trails have been identified; we just happen to sweep through the Perseid trail in mid-August. Most Perseids are dust grains; even those big, bright fireballs you see are probably not much larger than pea-sized!

What will I see?

Scanning the skies will probably yield a meteor or so a minute at the shower's peak;
keep in mind that the quoted rate of 200+ an hour is an ideal rate, assuming no light pollution and a radiant that is directly over head. This year, a bright moon might prove to be a negative factor. The farther north you are, the higher in the sky the radiant will be. Also, one viewer alone cannot cover the entire sky at once; several viewers facing different directions will up your odds for success.

Is this a unique occurrence?

No; the Perseids are only the most dependable annual shower of the year.
One shower, the Leonids, occurs in mid-November and is capable of large outbursts every 33 years. The great Leonid storms of 1833, 1966, and 1998-9 were some of the greatest shows in astronomy history!

Do I need a telescope?

No, meteor showers are one event that can be enjoyed with the naked eye.
Counting and recording what you see in a given interval can even yield useful scientific data, as the modeling of meteor streams is still not completely understood. Clouded out? You can even listen to meteors via FM radio or the Internet.

In any event, its always worth looking for yourself; you never know what you might see!"
--David Dickinson,

Other frugal sky-watching tips: Grab popcorn, chopped veggies, lemonade or other beverages. My friend Myscha recommends finding a lawn chair with a reclining back. You'll get support and comfort while stargazing.
Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money -- a coming of age memoir about money -- and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Cheated By a Ferret: One Child's Lesson

My daughter feels cheated by a six-inch stuffed ferret, which recently took a $4 bite from her allowance. But I believe the furry ferret provided a long-term investment in my daughter's financial education.

The back story: While shopping at a national chain store, my 11-year-old daughter stopped to watch an in-store infomercial, which featured an endless loop of a toy ferret executing tricks. On the screen, the toy looked so cute. "It had this invisible string," my daughter explained.

"The commercial showed it doing all these cool tricks and stuff," she said, adding that the ferret was tied to the transparent string that seemed invisible from a distance.

The reality: "The string broke the first time I tried using it," she said. "The ferret worked much better in the commercial."

Her $4-plus-tax lesson: "Commercials aren't always true."

As a parent, I learned the following lessons:
  • Children (even teens and tweens) need adult supervision in stores.

  • No matter how savvy you think your kids are, there's always more to teach and more to learn.

  • Kids need decoders for advertisements, promotions and retail offers. Don't assume that your kid understands that strings are always attached. Something that is transparent to you may be a complete mystery to kids with money.

  • It's important to let kids make minor shopping and spending mistakes with their money. In the ferret situation, the financial penalty delivered more value than any lecture I could have offered.


Monday, August 03, 2009

State-by-State Guide to Tax Holidays - A Guest Post From Kiplinger's

"Sixteen states and the District of Columbia will let you skip sales taxes on school supplies, computers, clothes and other merchandise on specific dates in August. Perhaps you’ll have to cross state lines to save an extra 5% to 10% -- but the journey is worth it. and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine have put together a list of sales tax holidays, which begin in August. Here is the state-by-state guide, which includes tax holidays during other parts of the year.

* When: August 7-9
* How much: 4%
* On what: Clothing less than $100, computers less than $750, school supplies less than $50 and books less than $30

* When: August 16-22
* How much: 6%
* On what: Clothing and footwear less than $300

District of Columbia
* When: August 1-9 and November 27 through December 6
* How much: 5.75%
* On what: Clothing, footwear and accessories less than $100

* When: July 30 through August 2
* How much: 4%
* On what: Clothing and footwear less than $100, personal computers and accessories less than $1,500 and school supplies $20 or less

* Georgia shoppers also will save October 1-4 on energy- and water-efficient products.

* When: August 7-8
* How much: 6%
* On what: Clothing less than $100.

* When: August 8-9
* How much: 4%
* On what: The first $2,500 of any purchase

* When: July 31 through August 1
* How much: 7%
* On what: Clothing and footwear less than $100

* When: August 7-9
* How much: 4.225%
* On what: Clothing $100 or less, school supplies less than $50, computers less than $3,500 and software less than $350

New Mexico
* When: August 7-9
* How much: 5% to 8.5625%
* On what: Clothing less than $100, computers less than $1,000, other computer equipment less than $500 and school supplies under $15

North Carolina
* When: August 7-9
* How much: 7%
* On what: Clothing less than $100, school supplies less than $100, instructional materials less than $300, computers less than $3,500, computer supplies less than $250 and sports equipment less than $50

North Carolina shoppers also will save November 6-8 on Energy Star products.

* When: August 7-9
* How much: 4.5%
* On what: Clothing and shoes less than $100

South Carolina
* When: August 7-9
* How much: 6%
* On what: All linens, school supplies and clothing, accessories and footwear

* When: August 7-9
* How much: 8.5% to 9.75%
* On what: Clothing less than $100, school supplies less than $100 and computers less than $1,500

* When: August 21-23
* How much: 6.25% to 8.25%
* On what: School supplies and clothing and footwear less than $100

* When: August 22
* How much: 6%
* On what: All purchases less than $2,000

* When: August 7-9
* How much: 5%
* On what: School supplies less than $20 and clothing and footwear less than $100

And October 9-12, Virginia shoppers will save the state sales tax on Energy Star and WaterSense products less than $2,500.

West Virginia
* When: September 1 through November 30
* How much: 6%
* On what: Energy Star products less than $5,000 "


Sunday, August 02, 2009

Spend Less for School Supplies: Price-Matching Tips & Other Strategies

Back- to-school budgets are taking a hit this year. The average family will spend $548.72 for school supplies, down 8 percent from last year's average tab of $597.74, according to the National Retail Federation. We can cut costs even more with a few strategies.

"Advanced planning, careful shopping and a little research can go a long way in helping you stay within your budget," said Jessica Cecere, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. Here are a few tips:

Shop at home. Before going to the mall or shopping online, take stock of the supplies in your home. There may be usable supplies from past school years. My home stash includes binders, almost-new spiral notebooks and pencils.

Use your ZIP code. Visit a store's Web site and type in your zip code to find deals in your neighborhood. In my neighborhood, back-to-school specials include a set of four glue sticks for 20 cents, compasses for a nickel each and packages of ruled index cards for a quarter each. Web sites also offer coupons that can be printed and used in local stores.

Create a clothing exchange. Have a back-to-school party. Party favors include bags of outgrown school uniforms and fall clothing, which can circulate during the party or within a circle of friends. Your cast-off clothing could fill a gap in another family's school wardrobe. It's an easy way to save money and to recycle.

Check out the dollar store. Some "dolar"r stores sell school uniform pants for $5 a pair. Other dollar stores sell pencils, notebooks and crayons. Local consignment shops and thrift stores may also have back-to-school sections with bargain prices, according to Consumer Credit Counseling Service.

Go to school. As a fundraiser, our local PTA sells school supplies at competitive prices. These sales can save time, money and gas. Some PTAs, for example, will bundle and package a complete set of supplies based on a class list or let you browse through their supplies.

Study price-match policies. Office Depot, OfficeMax and Staples have price-matching policies, and if you bring in a flyer with a lower price from a competitor, those stores will match other advertised prices.

related articles:

Spring Cleaning Uncovers Fall School Supplies

Last-Minute Back-to-School Shopping Tips:

Back to School with 'Zero-Waste Lunches'


Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money -- a coming of age memoir about money -- and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Pick a Savings Sacrifice: An August Challenge

Is there fat or folly in your budget? During the next month, I'm going to carefully examine my spending habits and make a list of areas where I could cut back and save more. It's my August challenge. During the first week of September, I'll publish my areas of weakness and opportunities for increased savings.

The ritual of saving should be sacred during a recession. A survey from Women & Co. shows that "affluent women cited regular savings as one of their smartest financial moves."

Below are some decent savings tips from Women & Co. My favorite is the "savings sacrifice," which involves reflection, honesty and discipline.

"Take a snapshot of your finances. Saving requires you to analyze, plan, organize and evaluate. But first, you need to know the current state of your finances. Start by downloading Women & Co.’s helpful worksheet.

Set savings goals. Slice and dice your savings needs, first into long-term (e.g. retirement) and short-term (e.g. home repairs) goals. Then you’ll be able to better decide how to allocate your money to help you reach them.

Make a “savings sacrifice.” Track your expenses carefully for an entire month and then evaluate them. Are there services or products that you don’t use or can stretch between uses, like visits to the salon or dry cleaning? You may have to make a lifestyle sacrifice for a limited period until you meet your goal.

Save some money monthly. Automatically put a set amount – no amount is too small – of every paycheck in your savings account. Immediately deposit unexpected income such as birthday checks or garage sale proceeds.

Establish an emergency fund. Aim to accumulate enough to cover 3 to 6 months of living expenses at a minimum. Determine as a household what defines an “emergency.”

Pay down debt. It doesn’t make much sense to scrimp to put money into emergency savings if you are carrying high-interest debt. Put money toward paying down this debt first, while still adding as much as possible to your emergency fund.

Invest in your future – before your child’s. If you can’t save for both college and retirement, save for your retirement first. There are other options to fund college – grants, loans, scholarships, etc. – but none for funding your retirement.

Stay up-to-date and involved. The lives and financial needs of women are unique, and can potentially impact our retirement, Social Security benefits, and healthcare expenses. Continue to build your knowledge about your finances and stay up-to-date on the key issues impacting your savings plan. Actively seek out the financial information you need."
--source: Women & Co.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Frugal Thrill Rides for Last Days of Summer: Low-Cost Vacations

Between seasonal discounts and neighborhood promotions, my kids are staying busy this summer -- and we're saving money. Here's how:

Theme parks: Seasonal promotions are available to Florida residents at Busch Gardens, Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World and others. At Busch Gardens, we purchased two-day passes for the price of a single day -- and tapped into additional savings by taking advantage of an online-purchase offer from AAA. Our cost worked out to $30 per person per day compared with the full price of $70 a day for adults and older children. Other parks have comparable deals.

Local passes: Through Sept. 30, Miami Metrozoo, Miami Seaquarium and Wannado City offer a combined Summer Savings Pass that offers unlimited admission to all three for $20 per person with the purchase of a general admission ticket at any one.

Summer reading: With school just weeks away, a visit to the library is a frugal way to get going on required reading for school-age children. In my house, we're counting pages and creating a reading log to avoid a last-minute literary crunch.

Indoor malls: Through August, Dolphin Mall is hosting a Summer Fun Celebration with a changing calendar of activities for families. Summer events at Aventura Mall include storytelling, character days and an indoor playground. Check for similar activities at the shopping center nearest you.

Public parks and recreation centers: From free movie nights to low-cost eco-tours, local parks and recreation centers offer no-cost or low-cost family entertainment. Our youth center, for example, has ice skating, swimming and bowling at budget-friendly rates.

• Friends and family: During a recent five-day trip to Tampa, we saved $500-$1,000 in lodging and meal expenses by staying with friends. We're lucky to have accommodating family in the Orlando area, too. We give our hosts gifts, consideration and reciprocity. In fact, our Tampa friends plan to stay with us when they visit South Florida.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

To Shred or Not To Shred? Paper Management Tips

When should you shred old bills, financial records and other documents? Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast offers these tips for managing the paper trail of home documents.

Out with the Old

"Do you really need to keep that water bill from 1998? How about your tax returns? Keeping good financial records is a critical part of managing your household finances, and spring cleaning is a great time to review them, purging what you no longer need. These records can help you ensure timely payment of bills and avoid late fees, dispute errors on credit card statements, apply for retirement or disability benefits, file insurance claims, and more. Bankrate has an excellent table that summarizes how long to keep financial records.

Here is a summary:

  • Keep any tax-related records for seven years.

  • Keep records of IRA contributions permanently.

  • Keep quarterly retirement/savings plan statements until you receive an annual statement. If the numbers match, shred the quarterlies and keep the annual summaries permanently.

  • Shred unimportant bank records after one year; keep the rest permanently.

  • Keep brokerage statements until you sell the securities.

  • Most of the time you can shred bills once you get a cancelled check. Keep bills for big items permanently.

  • Keep credit card receipts to reconcile with your statements; then keep the statements for seven years.

  • Paycheck stubs should be kept until you receive your end-of-year tax statements.

  • Keep house records permanently.

  • Don't just throw away statements and other records you no longer need to keep. Discarded financial records are a prime target for identity thieves, who look for account numbers and personal information to use. Purchase an inexpensive cross-cut type shredder and make sure it is conveniently located so that you will use it-like right next to your garbage can.

  • Shred all documents that contain personal or financial information, including credit card offers and receipts.

  • Review your insurance coverage-Review your life insurance policy to ensure it provides adequate coverage for your family. You can also save money by raising your deductibles on auto and homeowners, or renters, insurance. Every several years, shop rates, comparing policies point for point.

In with the New

Start by evaluating your current financial health-log on to CCCS and take the 60-second financial health exam. It will help you assess your financial risk and get a realistic picture of your current spending habits.

Create a system, and stick to it- You can organize your records in a filing cabinet, in hanging folders, or some other system, but choose one that works for you so that you will use it.

Develop a spending plan-Outline how you will spend, and save, your money. In addition to regular monthly expenses, such as housing, utilities, groceries, and insurance, you should also plan your spending for things like entertainment, lunches out, haircuts, and an occasional luxury. As rising gas prices continue to account for more of your monthly expenses, reduce spending where you can, such as eating at restaurants and your daily purchase of premium coffee. Don't forget to plan your savings too. If you have a spending plan, you are more likely to stick to it.

Track your income and your expenses-Use a calendar to note when you will receive income and also record when bills are due. Avoid late charges and unnecessary finance charges by paying bills on time. If you are mailing your payments, allow at least a week for them to arrive. If you pay on-line, be sure to adhere to deadlines by your bank or creditor to ensure payments arrive on time.

Record all spending, not just bills-That daily trip to the coffee shop, the few dollars you spend on lottery tickets, your highway tolls, and other "forgotten" expenses can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars each month and can stand between you and financial freedom.
Tax Organization-Start a tax folder for 2009 and start gathering information that will help reduce your stress at tax time. Include receipts for charitable gifts and out-of pocket medical expenses, documentation of work-related expenses like travel/mileage if not reimbursed, educational or child care costs, etc."

Source: CCCS

Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money -- a coming of age memoir about money -- and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Be Green. Forget Race: Consider Police, Gates & Customer Service

If you’re puzzled by the fallout from the conflict involving Harvard Professor Gates and the Cambridge police, forget about race, politics and racial-profiling. Instead, view the situation as if it were a business or shopping scenario. Forget about black-and-white issues. Let's be green* --as in money.

Be honest: What would happen if you were mistakenly accused of shoplifting in a grocery store? Bottom line: The store would apologize. Here's why:

Consider this scenario: You are shopping at a grocery store. A fellow customer suspects you of shoplifting and reports those allegations to store security.

The situation looks suspicious. You have been spotted cramming food packages into a bag. It looks bad.

The reality: Prior to arriving at the store, you had purchased items at another store. In the second store, you were comparing ingredients to make sure your new purchases will match the other items.

Bottom line: The situation looks suspect, but you have a valid explanation.

Security officer: Doing his or her job, the officer confronts and arrests you. Eventually, the situation is resolved when you produce receipts and match the “suspected merchandise” with the legitimate documentation.

The fallout: In the meantime, tense words are exchanged. Both sides – the customer and store security – get belligerent and angry. It’s not pretty. We won't even talk about race. Let's stay green.

The smart Customer Relations strategy: However, at this point, either the store manager or the security officer realizes that a serious mistake launched the entire scenario. As the well-meaning, but misdirected agent of the mistake, it’s the store’s obligation to diffuse the situation. That was not done in Cambridge.

The Green Solution: The customer has been wrongly accused. In a savvy mode, the store apologizes. The officer apologizes. The wrongly accused accepts the apology and apologizes for the subsequent belligerent tone.

Everyone moves on. And that’s what happens when you remove race from the situation.

The Cambridge Police made a mistake. We all make mistakes. For the police, there’s a civic obligation to acknowledge that a mistake – however well-intended -- occurred.

It’s not (just) about race.* It’s about good customer service.

*Edited to add: It's not JUST about race. The above scenario was created to show that even if we remove the racial element from the story, the Cambridge Police Department erred.
News Roundup:

Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money -- a coming of age memoir about money -- and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Kiplinger's Monthly Guide to the Best Sales: When to Buy Stuff

To get the best deals, you've got to know when to shop, according to the folks at Kiplinger's Personal Finance. Some purchases are difficult to time perfectly, such as stocks, airplane tickets and gas. But many other consumer staples—from cars to electronics to produce—go on sale predictably at certain times of the year. To help you plan your purchases (and save a bundle), has developed a Month-by-Month Guide to Best Bargains.


· Furniture. New furniture hits showrooms in August, which means you can save 10% to 50% in July as retailers make room for the new inventory

· Broadway tickets. The official Broadway season kicks off in the fall, so summer is a good time to see the outgoing year's hits at cheaper prices. Look for discounts of up to 50%. Not in the Big Apple? Check out your city's consolidated ticket booth to snag a last-minute deal on theater admission year-round.


· Patio furniture. Buy outdoor furniture in August as summer wraps up and retailers clear out their inventory. You'll still have a couple months of nice weather to enjoy your purchase — not to mention you'll be ready for next year. Retailers usually start marking down pieces around July 4, but the big discounts (up to 50% off) roll in during August.

· Outdoor toys. August is the best time to buy swimming gear, swing sets, beach toys and other items for outdoor fun as retailers make room on their shelves for fall and winter merchandise. Look for discounts of 30% to 75%.

· School and office supplies. Even if you don't have a student in your household, you can benefit during the back-to-school shopping season, when retailers offer some of the year's lowest prices on pens, pencils, paper and notebooks. You can also find bargains on staplers, printer paper, file folders and other home-office necessities.

· Swimwear. The August/September back-to-school shopping season is also a great time to buy swimwear. Families' minds—and wallets—shift from summer to fall, so retailers clear out bikinis and replace them with coats.


· Produce. From strawberries and peaches to tomatoes and corn, fruits and vegetables abound in June, July and August. This glut of supply makes for a good time to stock up. You can freeze, can or dry the bounty for eating in the leaner months ahead. See to find out what's in season. --source:

Here's the complete month-by-month buyer’s guide.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Delivery Charges, Massages & Other Ways to Earn Cash at Yard Sales

Sell food, set up a massage chair or display crafts. There's more to garage sales than second-hand merchandise, according to Kathryn Vercillo, of the Money Saving Blog. In this guest post, she offers suggestions about making extra money at yard sales.

Making Extra Cash at the Yard Sale

The most efficient yard sales are those that allow you to make easy cash with some bonus sales. In addition to selling your junk, you might offer the following items for sale:

Beverages. It’s cheap to make lemonade or iced tea and people will be happy to pay you for a glass on a hot day.

• Snacks. You may consider buying some snacks in bulk and selling them for a markup during your sale.

• Crafts and artwork. If you’re crafty or artsy, then you may want to make some items for the sale. I know one artist who threw a bunch of her old Polaroids in a box and listed them for $1 each; a surprisingly large number of people bought some of these on a whim at her yard sale.

• Delivery charge. If you have large items available for sale then you may let people know that you’d be happy to deliver the item to them at the end of the day for a small fee.

• On-site services. Are there any services that you can provide to people who are at your place? For example, massage therapists may set up a chair and offer 15-minute massages for a fee.

• Future services. If you operate any type of business or provide any services, then make your brochures and business cards available during the sale. You just never know who might see them and want work from you down the line.

--written by Kathryn Vercillo of the Money Saving Blog, which was named one of the Top 20 British personal finance blogs earlier this year.

Related articles:

How to sell crafts
How to make lemonade


Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money -- a coming of age memoir about money -- and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday Roundup: Links I Liked

Happy Monday! Zero-waste lunches and the beauty of multiple savings accounts are just a few of the topics in this collection of posts and quotes from fellow bloggers. Here is a roundup of articles that caught my attention:

Will "forced frugality" last?

Many colleagues and family members say they feel a need to be frugal in this economic climate due to job loss and investment losses. With this shift to frugality it seems that shopping at thrift or dollar stores is suddenly trendy. However, will this new wave of frugality last?

How To Get A Job By Thinking Outside Of The Box

In this jobless era, however, the few and the bold (to paraphrase a military slogan) are the ones who will get the good positions available.

Forget Economic Stimulus! 20 Ways To Improve Your Finances Today

But no matter how stormy it gets out there, your best bet is always to remain diligent and conservative — otherwise you may ride the wave right into the gutter. Use the following tips as guidelines to keeping your head above water — fiscally, physically and emotionally — in these particularly unsteady times.

The Psychology of Having Multiple Savings Accounts

Back in 2007, I finally designated a savings account specifically...So it's no surprise that I've become a fan of having multiple savings accounts for specifically designated purposes.

Zero Waste Lunches: How to Make Your Own Executive Style Supply Kit

Ready for a make-it-yourself zero waste lunch kit you can take from backpack to briefcase in the blink of an eye? Read on.

Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money -- a coming of age memoir about money -- and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Free Event-Planning Tools: DIY Party Tips

With seven party planners in three states, organizing an August baby shower for my youngest sister has been a challenge. Fortunately, we've found a practical to-do list at www.babyshower101.

With this planning tool, we have time to delegate chores and to shop around for the best prices. That strategy applies to other seasonal, daily or milestone events including vacation planning, back-to-school shopping and emergency preparations. There are several checklists online and on paper. Here are a few tips for using no-cost or low-cost event-planning lists.

Check your PC. Excellent planning tools may be right under your fingertips. For example, my laptop is programmed with Microsoft's "Task Launcher." This program has templates for different projects, such as "plan a vacation" and "prepare for the holidays." Each project has a preset checklist that can be tailored for your event. My favorite feature is the deadline option that links a specific chore to a built-in calendar, which generates periodic reminders of deadlines and appointments.

Avoid the soft sell: Many Web sites and blogs offer great to-do lists for college planning, spring cleaning and retirement planning. Search engines also provide links to checklists or to-do lists for different activities, events or functions. Some planning tools, however, include pitches for fee-based products and services. I stick to the free material.

Pick up time management tips: At there are great techniques for managing time and setting goals. The site, like other Web sites, also offers a free blank template for creating to-do lists and a system for establishing priorities.

Go old school: Seasonal to-do lists are standard features in many consumer magazines and newspapers. And of course, pen, paper and a traditional calendar are low-tech tools for creating a checklist and a timeline.


Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money -- a coming of age memoir about money -- and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.