Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spending 'Cents', Common Money Wasters

I am always looking for ways to scale back a bit. Especially now that I am unemployed. I was reading an article recently by Lori Bongiorno that contained a couple things I hadn't thought of yet. Things I thought maybe others hadn't heard of either and may benefit from regardless of their job situation. So here are some ways you can spend more 'centsfully' and avoid wasting money.

  • Bottled Water. It hasn't been proven in the U.S. that bottled water is safer than tap water. They New York times estimates that it costs someone $1,400 per year to drink eight glasses per day of bottled water vs 49 cents for an annual supply of tap water. A scaled back option would be to install a filter and drink filtered water. It is still healthier and less expensive.
  • Dryer Sheets. They can do more harm than good with the chemicals that are in them that can get in your clothes and then absorbed into your skin. A cheaper and healthier alternative to achieve the same result would be to use distilled vinegar and baking soda in your laundry (1/2 cup white distilled vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda). If you want the 'scent' a dryer sheet can give put some of your favorite essential oil onto a piece of fabric and toss it in.
  • DVDs, books, and TV shows. This is a great one. We all know about the library option to save money. You can borrow DVDs and books there for free right. But, that means you have to keep an eye on the due dates. If you don't prefer to do that check out Swaptree. They can help you trade books, movies, music, and video games. You can also eliminate your cable television service. I know you may think this is crazy but trust me I did it and its not that bad. You can see a lot of your favorite shows for free on Hulu. And, depending on which network you watch, you can catch some current episodes online. I love to watching Dancing With The Stars and although my digital converter box does give me basic channels to watch basic TV stations my schedule doesn't allow me to catch this show. Since I don't have cable television to give me the DVR option I just catch up online. ABC has all full episodes of their shows on their website.
  • Trash bags. A necessity for all of us but it doesn't mean we have to pay for them. Try using those left over grocery shopping bags that seem to always pile up (instead of throwing them away). I know we all know this but it doesn't mean we actually do it. I am guilty of this. Time to put it into action.
  • Wrapping paper. You can get creative with this one although I am not sure yet whether I am even fully on board (let me know what you think). Look through you house for items to recycle like old maps, sheet music, kids' artwork, newspapers, magazines, paper bags, and more. Wrapping gifts in newspaper or magazines doesn't have to appear tacky especially with a little forethought. Think about the gift recipient. What are they like? Are they a sports fan, gardener, or do they like to read books? Choose relevant images or wacky photos. Paper bags can be cut up and decorated (or not).
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Where Will Your Tax Refund Go?

Approximately 71% of Americans will receive a tax refund this year.  Where will it go?  Let us know what your economic stimulus plan is.

Will you pay off or pay down debt?  You may not experience instant gratification, but, you will feel financial relief.

Will you invest it?  Maybe contributing to an IRA especially if you are laid off and are not currently contributing to a 401k as a result.

Will you use if for personal enrichment?  Some view this as a way to squander their return.

Will you donate it?  Afterall, many charities are hurting as well as a result of the rough economy.  It will help advance recovery and could be a chance to donate beyond your normal means.

Let us know what your economic stimulus plan is.
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Monday, April 13, 2009

Dollar Stretching Exercises For Tight Times

Regardless of whether or not we are in a recession I think times are tighter and cost of living has increased.   I've done some research and have gathered some good tips that have been shared by blog readers regarding ways we can stretch our dollar to make it go further.  Much of it has to do with our mindsets, however.  Instead of thinking "what do I need to buy?", think, "what do I have that I can use?".  That is how many got through the Great Depression.  Follow are a few things you can do to work out that dollar.  I've put them into categories.

Cooking and Eating Savings
  • Bring lunch from home.
  • Eat less. The average American consumes too much food.
  • Get creative with leftovers to reduce waste.
  • Make your own jello or pudding cups rather than buying them.  Its cheaper.
  • Always take a snack or water where ever you go. Will reduce temptation to stop at fast food.
  • Cook large amounts and freeze for busy nights.
Car and Gas Savings
  • Walk as much as you can or ride your bike
  • Keep tires properly inflated to appropriate pressure
  • Regularly maintain you car
  • Fill up with gas in the morning.  Air is cool and gas is dense. You'll get more gas and less air.
  • Use to find the lowest gas prices.
  • Don't suddenly stop or accelerate. Try to maintain consist speed to improve gas mileage.
Utility Savings
  • Keep lights off during the day.
  • Let dishes air dry after running them through the dish washer.
  • Line dry clothes by setting drying racks over heating vents during winter and outside during the spring and summer.
  • Turn off the PC if you won't be using for an hour or more.
  • Keep the freezer full.  If you have to, put milk jugs filled with water in the freezer.  It's less expensive to keep a full freezer cold than an empty one.
  • Never leave the water running when brushing your teeth, rinsing dishes, etc.  Only use the water you need.
  • Use a programmable thermostat and don't run the heater at night.
  • Use a fan.
Savings Around The House
  • Store batteries in the refrigerator.  They last longer.
  • Use rechargeable batteries.
  • Email for free samples.
  • Use water from boiling food or a dehumidifier to water your plants.
  • Use a kitchen rag instead of paper towel.
  • Wash a re-use Ziploc bags.
Entertainment Savings
  • Eat out only once per month.
  • Prepare special dinners at home, rather than going out to celebrate.
  • Go to the park and have a picnic.
  • Take advantage of 'get in free' days at museums, etc.
  • Visit your local tourism guide for special events.
  • Do free things for entertainment: hiking, free city concerts, game nights, etc.
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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Be Frugal, Be Happy

There is a connection between frugality and happiness.  For some it may be hard to believe because some people may equate being frugal to not spending money on things that make you happy.  In reality, you can be frugal with things that end up allowing you to be able to save money to spend on things that make you happy.  Of course this is if its done correctly.   

You must have a higher purpose for the effort.  Don't be prudent just for the sake of prudence.   For example, if your purpose is your family you may work toward saving on day to day basics such as groceries or energy so that you have money to put towards college for the kids or a family vacation.  You can take this a step further in being frugal on a vacation to make everlasting happy memories.  Finding ways to cut the cost down on lodging (condo rentals, hotel lodging, etc.) and car rental can give you more money to spend on a fun excursion.  The same can be used if you are single.  Perhaps your higher purpose is getting a college degree or buying a new car or going to that big concert.  By being frugal on other things you can save money to put toward those that make you happy.

The level of happiness tends to be higher for experiential purchases vs. material purchases.  Experiential purchases would include things that create a memory to hold on to.  These purchases can also make those around you happy.  Referring back to my previous example with the family vacation, being able to go on fun excursion can be fun and memorable for the entire family and not just the buyer.  While experiential purchase create more happiness, according to studies by Ryan Howell at San Francisco State University, the level of the experience doesn't affect the level of happiness.  For example, a $400 weekend getaway can provide as much satisfaction as a $40 dinner.

To read more on this topic, visit Laura Rowley's blog.
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Thursday, April 2, 2009

My Couch Is Your Couch

Summer is coming and that means vacation time is coming.  Are you planning one?  Thinking of taking a smaller one?  After all the economy is a bit tough on the pocket book, right?  Well, hold on a minute before you think further.  Maybe you can take the big vacation after all.  Maybe even the trip you wanted to take to your favorite international destination.  I know what you are thinking, that's way too expensive for me right now.  What if you could go and didn't have to pay any lodging?  That could change the cost of the trip a bit.  That is what Casey Fenton was thinking when he found an inexpensive plane ticket to Iceland back in 2000 and had a idea to email 1,500 students at the University of Iceland to see if he could stay there.  This led to the idea of Couch Surfing.

Per wikipedia, the CouchSurfing Project is a free, Internet-based, international hospitality service, and it is currently the largest hospitality exchange network.  The project was commenced in 2003 and formally launched on January 1, 2004.  To date there are more than one million registered users.  You don't have to offer up your home to be a user of the site.  You can use it solely to 'surf' for a 'couch' to stay on.   After a traveler finds accommodation, the communication is consensual between the traveler (a.k.a. surfer) and host. They work out logistics between them that satisfy both parties.  It is expected to be free but the surfer may offer to pay for food expense or compensate in other forms such as helping to clean up a little when they stay, etc.  Also, the host can also accommodate by offering to the surfer to show them the sites around town.  Its really an added bonus to receive that from someone who lives there.  The site also offers other safety tips if you are thinking of 'surfing'.

But, how safe is this?  Feels as though you would be staying with a total stranger.  First, keep in mind there is correspondence between the two parties before arriving.  You have some time to get to know each other a bit.  Also, CouchSurfing has implemented things to help strengthen the trust circle.  Their network is built with friend  link-strength indicators and testimonials. They have a voucher system where members can vouch for each other (referrals).  And they also have a verification process where they validate name and address. Once you complete the entire process your member profile is marked as being validated.  So if you are surfing you can choose to interact with only those members that are validated if you choose.

I have not yet used this service but would love to hear from anyone who has.  If you have used CouchSurfing can you share your experience?
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