Saving Water Equals Saving Money

July 7, 2009 · Filed Under Being Frugal · Comments Off on Saving Water Equals Saving Money 

As summer heats up, water becomes a much more valuable commodity, especially in drier or drought-burdened locales. That alone should give us incentive to save water in every way we can. But of course, saving water means saving money, and what could be better than that? Here are some ways you and your family can save water all year round, but especially during the “dog days” of summer.

• If you suspect you have a water leak, ask the water company to inspect it just to be sure. If you find you do have a leak outside that has affected your water bill, ask for a credit. The water company will often comply.

• Never use running water to thaw meat or other frozen foods. The safest method for defrosting foods is overnight in the refrigerator.

• Never let the water run while shaving, washing your face or brushing your teeth. You can easily brush your teeth while you’re waiting for water to get hot enough to shave or wash your face. And always fill the basin for these tasks to save the most water.

• Be sure your toilet tank isn’t leaking. Add a drop of food coloring to the tank. If the toilet is leaking, the water in the toilet bowl will change color in about a half hour. If you do have a leak, flush the toilet so the food coloring doesn’t stain, then check for worn out or malfunctioning parts. Fixing a toilet is relatively inexpensive and easy and can save considerable amounts of money over time.

• If you have an older toilet with a large tank, place a brick in the tank to displace some of the water. It will use less water for each flush, but you’ll never know the difference in the way it works. Also be sure to replace or adjust the handle if it sticks allowing the water to run.

• Don’t flush unless you need to. While I can’t advocate disposing of toilet paper anywhere other than the toilet as I’ve seen some people do, it does make sense to not flush facial tissues, bugs or other trash down the commode unless you were flushing anyway.

• Reuse dish water and other “brown water” by pouring it on your garden or outside plants.

• Run your dishwasher or washing machine with a full load only. If you must clean a smaller load, be sure to adjust the water level and temperature correctly.

• Dripping faucets are not only annoying, they cost money. But changing a washer on a leaky faucet is a very inexpensive fix that can save thousands of gallons of water every year.

• Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator. It saves having to run the tap to cool the water every time you want a drink.

• Take shorter showers and eliminate baths if at all possible. Change out your showerhead to one that uses less water, or one with a cut-off valve that lets you shut off the water while you lather.

• If you have children who are too young for showers, fill the tub only one-third full and put the stopper in the tub before you turn on the water. Once the water gets hot, it will quickly heat up the cold that pours out first.

• Water your lawn only when absolutely needed. Set out a barrel to collect rain water and use this free resource to irrigate plants when you can.

• Rather than fully washing your car, rinse off the dust. This saves a lot of water, and it’s often all that’s required to keep your car looking shiny.

• Be sure your water heater is insulated so it runs as little as possible. Some people are satisfied with slightly hot water, while others want it practically scalding. Whatever your preference, set the hot water temperature at the lowest setting needed for your comfort.

• Install an aerator on your kitchen and bathroom faucets if you don’t have them already. Less flow saves water.

• Choose water-wise plants when landscaping to minimize the amount of water needed to keep your plants healthy. Consider cacti and succulents, as well as pine trees and a variety of hardy grasses and ground covers.

• Use a broom rather than the hose to clean driveways and sidewalks

There are many, many more ways to save money by saving water. Develop the habit of using less water and not only will your budget benefit, but the environment will be improved as well.

Save Money by Hosting a Swap

July 3, 2009 · Filed Under Being Frugal · Comments Off on Save Money by Hosting a Swap 

If you love to shop, but your budget says you shouldn’t, why not try something different and organize a Swap? You’ll still feel as if you’re shopping because you’ll be browsing “new” merchandise to select things you want to “purchase.” The difference is that you don’t pay cash, you “pay” in similar items.

Swapping or bartering items you have on hand for items you want can save you a bundle. And swaps can be a lot of fun in the process! They’re easy to organize, you can swap for any number of items, and you can acquire things you really need at no actual cost – other than something you were going to get rid of anyway.

Swaps do require some planning, though, to be successful. Here are some tips to help you as you begin organizing your first swap.

Decide on the Type of Swap You’ll Host

You can swap anything you have a surplus of. Common swaps include children’s clothing, women’s clothing, books, toys, baby items, CDs or movies. But you don’t have to stop there! Swap direct sales products such as Avon or Tupperware, homemade dinner casseroles, cookies, even services like babysitting or running errands.

Choose a Date and Invite Your Friends

Once you know what you’ll swap, you need to find others to swap with. So pick a tentative date for your first swap and talk to friends and family to see who’d be interested in taking part. When you have a group of moms who are interested, firm up the date and tell them what to bring.

Set Some Rules for the Swap

Swaps can be run a variety of ways. You can have everyone bring a set number of items such as 10 books each, or 15 pieces of clothing. Or you can have everyone bring a dollar amount of merchandise such as $20 retail value in their company’s products. The former typically works best for used items, the latter for new ones. Whatever you decide, let your guests know what they’re expected to bring.

If you’ll be swapping services, create a simple form that allows the provider to list what they have to offer and the dollar amount. If you’ll be swapping used items, ask that all items be in very good condition, clean and ready to use by the one who will take the item home.

Decide if You Plan to Offer Refreshments

If you want more of a party atmosphere, you can provide cookies or finger food, and soft drinks. If you want to keep it more professional, put on a pot of coffee and leave it at that. Whatever you prefer is fine. Just keep in the mind the tone you want to set and go from there.

Choose How to Handle “Leftovers”

Invariably, you’ll have some items leftover that no one wants or can use. You will need to decide what to do with the surplus. You can have everyone take back their own leftovers, or you can agree that any unused items be given to a local charity. If you choose to donate them, you can take them yourself, or ask for a volunteer to handle that task. Just know in advance how you’ll handle the excess so you don’t end up with more things in the house you don’t want or need.

Organizing a swap is a relatively simple task, and requires only some planning and preparation. Everyone involved, however, can reap big rewards and it’s certainly something to consider if you have an abundance of items you no longer want.

Smart Yard Sale Shopping for Frugal Moms

June 25, 2009 · Filed Under Being Frugal · Comments Off on Smart Yard Sale Shopping for Frugal Moms 

Yard sales, garage sales, rummage sales, tag sales – whatever you choose to call them – are a great way to save money on almost anything you need. Some people shy away from such sales because of the stigma associated with buying someone else’s used stuff. But if you can change your mindset and see yard sales as a way to get what you want for less, you’ll be amazed at what you can find.

If you’re a total newbie to the yard sale frenzy, there are some things to keep in mind. In no particular order, here are some tips to help make your yard sale experience a huge success from the first day out.

Beware… yard sales are addictive! After finding a few great deals, you may discover you need one of those bumper stickers that say, “WARNING: This car stops at all garage sales!”

• Yard sales are everywhere, so keep your eyes open. Check your local paper, Craigslist and other sites that offer free yard sale ads. If you plan to spend the entire day “yard saling,” map out a rough route so you know which direction you’re going. Be on the lookout for unadvertised sales, too! A lot of people will simply set out some items and throw a sign up on the corner rather than spend the money on advertising.

• The most common days for sales are Friday and Saturday, but you can find some sales on other days of the week. Get in the habit of stopping at every sale you see if you have time. A quick stop may uncover an expected bargain or two for just a couple minutes of your time.

• As you become experienced in locating sales, you’ll develop a feel for what areas to avoid, but give yourself time before you eliminate neighborhoods. Just because an area is filled with expensive homes and nice cars, never assume they have good yard sales. Often, the sales in those neighborhoods are much more expensive than sales in average middle-class communities. Often people who don’t frequent yard sales have no clue as to how to hold one, or how to price their merchandise.

• Always be safe. Never leave your car running when you stop at a sale, and never leave a child in the car unattended. Keep your purse or wallet with you. Never set your belongings down if there is anyone standing nearby. Be aware of your surroundings and never stop at a sale where you feel uncomfortable. For the most part, yard saling is a safe hobby, but it’s best to use common sense to safeguard yourself and your property.

• Plan your day well. Rather than spend money on food, pack a cooler with some water and soft drinks, a snack and a couple of sandwiches. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing, take cash for your purchases, and don’t forget the sunscreen. You can have a lot of fun at yard sales and save a lot of money in the process.

• While many “experts” will say you should expect to pay about one-third of the retail price for an item. that generally applies only to very large items such as appliances or furniture. Smaller items such as books, clothing, household gadgets, home decor items, etc. can be found much cheaper. Depending on the area in which you live, you can find many nice items at yard sales for 25¢ to 50¢ and sometimes less.

• If you see something you really like but aren’t sure you want to buy it, pick it up and carry it with you as you browse. Planning to “think about it” with the intention of going back for an item before you leave could cost you a bargain you’ll regret losing.

• Inspect everything you’re considering before you buy. If it’s made of fabric such as clothing, linens, etc., look for rips, stains, flaws and other irregularities. If it’s made of glass, check for cracks or chips. Examine every item very closely so you know exactly what you’d be paying for.

• Don’t disregard an item simply because it’s damaged. For example, if you find a great designer outfit that you know would fit you well and in a color you absolutely love, but it has a small stain no the fabric, consider your options. Can you remove the stain? Cover it with lace or another kind of trim? Wear a jacket or vest to hide the flaw? Consider all possibilities if it’s something you really like. If you don’t think you could repair it, or don’t believe it’s worth your time and effort, then put it back. But look at the potential in yard sale finds – especially if you know they’re a really good deal.

• On the other side of that coin, don’t buy something only because it’s a good deal. You’ll find a lot of really great bargains on some really great items at yard sales. Learn to discipline your yard sale spending just as you would if you were shopping at the mall. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself with a house full of great deals you don’t want, and no money to spend on what you need.

• .If you’re looking for something specific, go early. Many times the “good stuff” will go quickly. Most sales start by 8:00 a.m. and end by 1:00 or 2:00 in most areas. Don’t go too early, however. Common courtesy says to follow the hours advertised and not arrive before the sale opens.

• Many people fear they must haggle for prices if they go to yard sales, but that’s entirely up to you. If you feel comfortable asking for a reasonably lower price on something, do so. If you don’t feel comfortable, and you’re not willing to pay the price on the tag, pass the item by. Let your own personality guide you. You’ll discover as you become more comfortable going to sales that even the most introverted shopper will ask for a reduced price at times.

• Take along a friend but leave the kids at home, if possible. Any mom knows what it’s like to take children shopping. Multiply that by 25 when you’re going to yard sales. It’s much less stressful, quicker and cheaper to ask someone to watch the kids if you plan to spend the day at sales.

Teaching Your Children to Save

June 24, 2009 · Filed Under Being Frugal, Frugal Parenting · Comments Off on Teaching Your Children to Save 

As parents, we want our children to grow into successful, well-adjusted adults who understand the value of money and who know how to manage it. But money management isn’t a skill learned by osmosis. We can’t just hope they’ll soak up what they need to earn and save money, prepare a budget, manage a checkbook, pay their bills and stay out of debt. We have to teach them. And beginning to educate our kids in money management will be most effective if we begin early, even as young as four or five.

Regardless of the age of your children, look for ways to continually help them learn the value of money and the skills they need to manage it properly.

• The Bible says that he who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat, and while you can’t neglect feeding your children, you can teach them that money is earned not simply given. Use an allowance system in exchange for weekly chores and household help. Assign age-level tasks that your child can easily accomplish and pay them an allowance based on their completion of those tasks. If they don’t do their chores, they don’t receive an allowance.

• Closely related to teaching your child that money is earned is the concept that money must be budgeted. If you spend everything you receive in one day, you won’t have anything for later in the week. A child will learn this important lesson if, when they spend their entire allowance in one day, Mom and Dad don’t give them more money until their next allowance.

While this may be especially hard for some parents, this is a very important lesson for children to learn. It develops lifelong budgeting habits that will serve your child well when she is on her own and supporting herself. If you truly want your children to learn that money is earned, force yourself to not give in to their pleas for more spending money. It won’t take long for your child to begin to make wiser spending choices in order to have money left at the end of the week.

• Understand reaping and sowing. The principle that you “reap what you sow” applies to all areas of life. Teaching a child to give – either to their church, or to a favorite charity – will help them develop a generous spirit that will last a lifetime.

• Teach them to “pay” themselves. Saving money is how we pay ourselves by providing for short and long-term goals and ensuring a safety net of ready-cash in the event of an emergency. While your child may not have an emergency, the sooner they learn this concept, they better they’ll be since it’s much harder to develop a habit of saving when we don’t practice it in our youth.

• Help them start a savings account. As soon as your child has the minimal amount required to open a savings account, take them to the bank to set up their account. This account can be used for long-term savings goals such as college, and will help them develop a lasting savings discipline.

• Help them to understand the banking process, rather than simply doing it for them. Talk to them about how to fill out the deposit forms – even if you have to fill out the form. Explain the idea of earning interest and how it will make their savings increase.

Of course, this education will have to progress as the child grows, but even the youngest child can understand that they have to “tell the bank whose money this is” on the savings form, or that they “get paid for keeping their savings in that bank.” Again, this will be excellent practice for later in life when they must manage their own finances.

• Look for the best interest rate. You probably won’t want to settle for the first savings account you find, or the one offered by your bank simply because of convenience. It’s important that money invested in savings earn the best rate it can so it can grow the fastest. This will encourage your child to save even more as they see their savings increase.

• Be sure to allow money to spend. While you want your child to understand the value of money and you want him to save, he also needs to understand the joy of having money to spend. Be sure to allow a portion to spend however he chooses.

• Encourage short and long term savings goals. College may be a long-term goal, as can a car, a senior trip or some other large item. Short term goals can include a new bike, skateboard, shoes or anything else your child can save for within a few weeks.

THere are others ways to teach our children about money, but the important thing is that you start right away. Doing so will ensure you’re raising children who will become budget-conscious adults with the abilities needed to provide for themselves and their families.

25 Ways to Save Money In Your Household Budget

December 13, 2008 · Filed Under Budgeting · 2 Comments 

Financial Peace Junior photo credit: Matt McGee

Let’s face it times are tough economically, and we could all use ways to save a little green, giving us a little wiggle room in our budgets. As a long time keeper of the budget, I have always looked for ways to tweak my budget and use it to my advantage. The following are just a few of those ways, hopefully you too can make them them work for you as well.

1. Clip Coupons. Clipping coupons truly can save you cash, especially when matched with the weekly sales.

2. Don’t be brand loyal. When you are willing to buy store brands or other brands you may not prefer because it is on sale and you have a coupon you’re more likely to save money.

3. Turn off your land phone line. Ridding yourself of this added expense can be positive on your budget as most of us are mobile these days and use our cellular phones much more frequently.

4. Have an errand day. Making multiple trips to the grocery store, post office and to pay bills can eat up gas in your vehicle quickly, not to mention that the more you go, the more money that you spend.

5. Use your real plates. Paper plates may be more convenient, but they are also more costly. You can wash the real thing for much cheaper.

6. Eat leftovers. Whether you take them for lunch the next day or serve them in a bit of a variation the next night leftovers are a money saving idea for sure.

7. Be a one car family. While this may not be possible for every family, it can truly save you money, just think, less spent on insurance, gas, and other auto maintenance.

8. Stay home. it is just a fact that the more on the go you are the more you tend to spend as a result. Staying home can save you money day after day.

9. Comparison shop. Don’t always assume the sale you find is the very best deal to be found. Comparison shop online or through store fliers to truly find the best deals out there.

10. Cook from scratch. It is just a fact that cooking from scratch can save you a load of money. Those boxed meals may be convenient, but they definitely cost you more green. Plus scratch cooking is oh so goo.

11. Be a do it yourselfer. From cutting the grass to fixing the sink those who do it themselves whether than getting hired labor can save themselves a great deal of money.

12. Don’t buy dry clean only. Though the dry clean only clothes may look nice and appeal to your sense of style they will begin to put a dent in your wallet as you have to have them professionally cleaned so look for wash and wear styles that are similar to save you this expense.

13. Use vinegar. Vinegar has so many uses that many people are not aware of, from cleaning floors to placing in your dishwasher as a rinse agent it can be an inexpensive alternative to many things.

14. Just use cash. It just seems inevitable that if you shop with cash you spend less. After all once it is gone, it’s gone and we know that so we act accordingly.

15. Pack your lunch. Maybe the leftovers mentioned earlier or a sandwich or other favorite meal. Packing a lunch saves big bucks after you think about the money you’ve spent eating out day in and day out.

16. Find free entertainment. We all like to be entertained, but it can often be pricey. So, as an alternative find free entertainment that the whole family can enjoy, whether you rent movies from your local library for free, or go out in the great outdoors for a cost-less outing it’s a great way to save.

17. Take advantage of store discount cards. Many drug and grocery stores now offer discount cards that will help you to save a little extra when shopping with them. They are free to apply for and can get your some great store deals.

18. Keep a spending spreadsheet. Keeping up with your spending on a spreadsheet for example can help you to realize what you spend money on month after month and as a result of your awareness you will most likely see where you can begin to cut back.

19. Use a programmable thermostat. It gives you the ability to bump up the heat so that it doesn’t run all day when you’re not at home or the air doesn’t cool an empty house in the summer, it can save you more than you might expect over time.

20. Pay on time. Being late on bills can often result in a late fee that you could avoid by simply paying on time or ahead of time.

21. Buy used. We all like to get new things, whether it be a new car, new furniture or new clothes, but with almost everything you buy there is the option to buy used and it can be a great one.

22. Use energy efficient appliances, light bulbs and the like. Saving energy saves you money, it is as simple as that.

23. Replace your air filters often. A dirty filter can cause your air conditioner to have work harder, which makes it more costly to operate. Changing the filter often can deter that.

24. Stay on budget. Why create a budget if you’re not going to try and stick to it. Budgeting can save money if it is stuck to. It may take some time to get a budget that works for you but don’t give up.

25. Always be aware of your spending. Spending is one thing that you must stay up on and never let it slip your mind, alwasy being aware of where your dollars are going can help you to be ready and willing ot do what you can to save.

Credit Card Debt Reduction Circa 1992: Nothing Much Has Changed

November 18, 2008 · Filed Under Being Frugal, Budgeting · Comments Off on Credit Card Debt Reduction Circa 1992: Nothing Much Has Changed 

I discovered treasure in the doctor’s office! As I was pawing through stacks of magazines to pass the time, I stumbled upon a vintage 1992 magazine. How fun! I had a grand time devouring the way-cool fashions (fussy), the amazing hairstyles (big), and the over-the-top recipes (high fructose). Then I came across an article about credit card debt reduction. Were we really concerned back then about reducing our credit card debt? Compared to today, it all seemed so, well, loose.

In truth, 1992 may not seem particularly “vintage” with respect to clothing and hairstyles, but certainly in the credit market, 1992 feels like a century ago. I wondered how the 1992 world of debt relief differed from the 2008 version, what with the collapse in the credit industry. Certainly, the “tight credit” economy today is a much more complicated arena than the “loose credit” economy of 1992. Therefore, credit card debt relief circa 2008 has to have different strategies than credit card debt relief circa 1992. Yes? No.

Surprisingly, the process of getting and keeping your credit card debt in control hasn’t changed significantly in the past 16 years. We lived in a vastly different economic climate in the 90’s than we do today. Credit was King. So then, why hasn’t getting out of debt changed to reflect the credit market conditions of today?

The tenets of credit card debt relief remain the same for all these years because basic financial strategies never change. Spend less than you earn and save the rest. When credit cards became the norm for everyday spending, we entered a new “credit poor” world. And, after some years, we are all suffering. I suspect that in 1992 an article about debt relief didn’t get as much readership as, perhaps, the clothing and hairstyle articles. Today is a very different story. Today when people thumb their way through a magazine, they are looking for some help designing their future financial stability, and not their clothes.

Then what are the basic strategies for a family like yours to get rid of their credit card debt for once and for all? Briefly outlined, here they are, just like they were 16 years ago:

1) Cut-Up, Burn-Up, Shred-Up, or Blow-Up Those Credit Cards.

Painful as this is, Get Rid Of Those Credit Cards! I don’t know how many people try to pay off their credit card debt while clinging to their credit cards! Why don’t you try to lose weight while clinging to that donut. It makes as much sense. If it wasn’t a crucial step, it wouldn’t be The Number One Step, now would it. Begin with those ridiculously high-interest department store credit cards, and destroy them all. Yes, all of them. They’ve offered you 10% off your next purchase; figure out what the interest on that so-called “savings” is going to cost you. Not very pretty, is it.

Now lay out your major credit cards, then stop. You’ll need to keep just one major credit card, meaning a Visa, Master Card, American Express, and the like, for the purpose of booking flights, hotel rooms, and any emergencies. Of those major credit cards, which has the lowest interest rate, no annual fee, sky-miles, and other special incentives? Keep that ONE card and destroy the others. If you can’t trust yourself with one major credit card, do what the financial experts do: put it on ice. Literally, put it in water and freeze it. If you need to book a flight or have emergency maintenance done on your car, thaw it out and you’re set. Sort of eliminates impulse buying, doesn’t it.

2) Do the Household Money Math.

Take a good, long, honest look at your income. How much money do you bring into your house each month, after taxes of course. Now, map out your monthly household expenses that keep your family sheltered, clothed, schooled, and fed. Don’t forget gas for the car, insurance, medical needs, and anything you need to live. Be sure to include every expense so you don’t find yourself dipping into your “debt reduction fund” later for incidentals that you should have planned for. It’s better to plan a bit heavy on the expenses column because you’d rather have a few extra dollars to pay on your credit card debt than come up short.

Now you have your so-called “disposable income” which is what you need to know before you take your next step. This is the actual money you have each month to apply to your credit card debt. Take out your last month’s credit card statements and review the total on each credit card statement. Decide if there are any “local” store credit cards in which you would like to maintain good customer standing. Prioritize your credit cards and divide up your disposable income between them. That is the amount you are able to pay each month on each credit card. Write that figure down and make thorough notes on each statement about what you can pay and cannot pay, such as the late fees or over-charges, or 18% interest. Now, you are ready for the next step. Take a deep breath.

3) It’s Time to Call Your Creditors.

This is probably the most unnerving step for most people. However, you cannot avoid this unpleasant step because it is necessary if you want to achieve your goal of credit card freedom. It’s unrealistic to think that you can just make monthly payments on a credit card with high interest rates and gain any ground toward paying it off. If you have already tried this you know what happens. The interest escalates and your little payment gets swallowed right up, not even making a dent in the principle. It’s discouraging to say the least, and impossible.

You’ve already gone through the last month’s statements from all your credit cards when you divided up your disposable income. Review your initial notes and make any adjustments you think you may need on each of last month’s credit card statements. You want a good solid dollar amount that you can pay each month figured out on each credit card statement before you make your calls. Remember, you will also be asking for a lower interest rate and a reversal of any late fees or over-charge fees that you may have incurred as this is the only way you will be able to send that amount each month.

Calling the credit card company’s customer service number is a heart-pounding experience for most people. As a former customer service employee, let me tell you that the person you are talking to is nothing more, and nothing less, than an employee. He or she is paid to do a job for a company. Now, go ahead and call the first credit card customer service number. When you get a real person, tell them that you want to pay off your credit card, but cannot afford to make the monthly payments as they are currently set. You may want to practice this line several times; even writing it down: “I want to pay off my credit card, but I can’t afford to make the monthly payments as they are right now.” Then you will tell them how much you can afford to send them each month, but you’ll need late fees and over-charges reversed. Then ask for a reduced interest rate, and let them know that this is the only way you will be able to send them money each and every month until it’s paid off. You may not get everything you wish on the first call. They may reverse the late fees, but not the over-charges. They may not come down as far as you want them to on the interest. Do what you can. The most important thing here is for you to do your homework first. Know what you can pay each month, and negotiate the rest. Keep in mind that you can call them again as your situation changes and you want to renegotiate.

If you have received letters offering you a one time payoff for a particular credit card, ask the credit card company customer service employee if it is a legitimate offer. If it is legitimate and if you have the money, you may want to consider that as an option. One note though, the difference between the debt you owe and your actual one-time payoff to satisfy the debt may be subject to income tax. Check your state and federal guidelines before you decide. It may still be a viable option, but you want to be prepared at tax time.

Back in 1992 when credit was easy, you may not have gotten very far in negotiating with the credit card companies. In 2008 we have a whole new economic scene out there. These credit card companies are living and dying by whether or not they can get YOUR payment each and every month. They WILL negotiate, but you need to be firm and do your homework.

4) Sacrifice, Sacrifice, Sacrifice.

Don’t you just love it when you get your income tax refund or a bonus at work? It’s so fun having some “found money” to spend any way you please, isn’t it? Not anymore. I hate to be a Scrooge here, but somebody has to watch out for your frivolous ways. That’s how you got here in the first place. Now that you have a plan, every extra penny you have MUST be used to pay down your debt if you expect your plan to work. Any time you spend that extra money that fell into your lap on something other than paying off your debt, you have just also tacked interest on it. Think about it. If it doesn’t go to paying down your debt, the principle you owe on your credit cards didn’t get any smaller, so you are paying interest on that money. How many times is that same money going be spent when you pay interest to a credit card company because you still have a balance with them? Ouch! You’ll get a faster return on that found money when you use it to pay down your credit card debt.

5) Stick With Your Plan.

This may very likely be your financial plan for a long, long time, depending on the amount of credit card debt you have. We’ve all seen the commercials; “How I Got Out Of Debt In Six Months”, and we know that is simply not true. It took you some time to get in this mess, perhaps years, and it will take you some time to get out. After about the six month mark, you may feel a little restless and want to spend a bit of your hard earned cash. You may even see your credit card balances drop within a sort of “comfort level” for you after awhile. Before you decide to splurge, take a look back in time, browse through your credit card statements, and tell me what incredibly important item you see on any statement. Now, add up the interest you’re paying every month and tell me again if any of those items you purchased were so valuable that you were, and are, willing to pay two, three, or four times their value. Well, that’s what just one little indiscriminate spending spree will cost you in the end. The trick is, if you get comfortable with your money, pay even more down on your debt. Your freedom will come that much quicker. Be smart and stick to your guns.

6) Give Your Income a Boost.

This is an area of debt relief that is seldom approached. Partly because not everyone is able to easily supplement their income with another job. That’s understood. But, just raising the issue of more income is a reasonable step. There are many variables to increasing your income. If you feel worked-to-the-bone every day, it’s hard to imagine how you could earn additional money. Where will you find the time? Or energy? If you fall into this category, this option may not be for you; but wait. Are you being honest? Are there things you can, and would, give up to earn more money? Do you currently volunteer for a group that you could beg off of for awhile so you can pick up a temporary second job? Do you rush home from work to make meals for the family when someone else could get things started so you could put in some overtime? Can your household adjust to a different schedule so you could pick up extra money in a shift differential? How about some temporary work just over the Holidays, like gift wrapping? Are you a clever baker? Could you make and sell cookies at your local grocery store? Could you tutor students after school? Does an office building in your neighborhood need a weekend cleaning person? Are you currently making something that other people would buy? Take a look at your schedule. If you knew that you could do something to make extra money, and you knew that it was temporary, would you do it? I believe it’s something worth considering.

7) Carefully, Very Carefully, Check Out Debt Consultants.

The one thing that has changed since 1992 is the use of credit card debt consultants. There are hoards of companies out there today trying to sell you the light at the end of the proverbial debt tunnel. But be careful, the light could be an oncoming train, because not all debt consultants are what they appear to be. If you decide to look into using a debt consultant, interview as many as you possibly can. Ask direct questions, don’t beat around the bush. Ask how much of your money they are going to keep before they pay your creditors. If a debt consultant says things to you like, “don’t worry about that” and “it will be okay”, start worrying about that because it won’t be okay. Listen to your gut, ask people who have worked with a consultant for a recommendation, and check the Better Business Bureau. It will cost you more to hire a third party debt consulting company than it does to negotiate directly with the credit card companies. Consider first checking into non-profit debt consulting groups. Your own bank may even have consultants free of charge. Here again, you must do your homework thoroughly. You don’t want the solution to be worse than the problem!

Back to the 1992 credit card market versus the 2008 credit card market. As they say, The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same. Handling your money comes down to the same sound economic advice that it has for centuries, and yes, your grandparents were right – Don’t spend more than you have, and save a little each week.

Are you ready to get rid of your credit card debt? Now, of course, credit was too easy for too many people for far too many years. We all fell into that, so don’t beat yourself up about it. But, do you want the credit card companies to continue to reap the benefits of that soft market when you’re struggling to meet your monthly bills? Many of us find ourselves with the difficult and long drawn-out task of getting ourselves out of debt, and staying out of debt. The methods outlined here are pretty basic; the same now as they were back a decade or more ago. We know they are tried and true. We know that if you develop a good financial plan and stick to it you will accomplish your goal of credit card freedom. Okay, now everyone, nose to the grindstone and hang in there!

Surviving and Saving When You’re Sick

October 22, 2008 · Filed Under Being Frugal · Comments Off on Surviving and Saving When You’re Sick 

by Tawra Kellam

My husband and I paid off $20,000 in debt and medical bills in five years on $22,000 per year averaged income, and I am disabled with Fibromyalgia and ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Here are some of the ways we lived frugally and made it work:

#1 Keep meals simple.

Try any of these simple meals:

-Chicken, with a bottle of hot and sour sauce dumped over the top and served with rice.
-Taco salad made with bagged lettuce, hamburger browned with taco seasoning, sour cream, salsa and olives.
-Baked chicken with freezer rolls and sliced cucumbers, peppers, carrots, tomatoes and ranch dressing.

Most of our meals take under 20 minutes to prepare. Write down 10 quick meals that are family favorites. Keep the “quick favorites” list in a specific spot and always keep the ingredients for these favorite meals on hand. Then, when you are sick and can’t spend a lot of time cooking, you can make something quick and easy.

Also, make as much of dinner as you can when you are feeling your best. Then if you aren’t feeling well come dinner time it will be almost all done and you won’t be tempted to send for take out.

#2 Get the kids to help with daily cleanup.

Kids can help pick up most of the house with proper direction. Mine are 10, 9, and 5 and have been helping since they were 3. I ask each of them to pick up toys. Then I ask each of them to pick up four more things. Later, I might ask them to empty all the trash cans and the dishwasher. Let the kids help as much as possible. Mine spend about 10 minutes a day helping and it makes a world of difference!

#3 Use paper plates.

They are cheap, come from a renewable resource and can be composted – use them! They cost about one cent each, so spending five cents for our family of five is way cheaper than the $40 take out!

#4 Give each person his own color of drinking glass.

This way, you can prevent family members from getting confused about whose glass is whose and constantly getting out new glasses.

#5 Try to do at least one load of laundry a day.

That way you won’t get overwhelmed or behind.

#6 Let non-critical things go!

Ignore the dust, the dirty windows, and other things like that. If you are lying sick on the couch where you look right out a dirty window, then ask your kids or hubby to clean it, but otherwise forget it until later!

By doing just these few things, you can keep yourself from going insane and save some money, even when your sick.

Save Money:How to Make Baby Food

October 13, 2008 · Filed Under Frugal Parenting · Comments Off on Save Money:How to Make Baby Food 

There are so many ways to save money raising your baby! If you’ve wondered how to make homemade baby food, keep reading…

Make Your Own Baby Food- The Easy Way!

Is your baby about to start solid foods? Are you thinking of making your own baby food?

When you make baby’s first foods, you can save money and reduce waste. You also can choose more nutritious options. Fresh foods are typically more nutritious than canned, and you can purchase organic food to prepare for baby if you wish. You can also avoid unwholesome ingredients that show up in commercial baby food.

Making baby food doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. In fact, the easiest and cheapest way is the best way!

The easy way to making your own baby food:

1) Don’t bother with buying one of those baby food grinders. They’re hard to clean and too much hassle.

2) If you wait until your baby is 6 months old to start solids, you can almost always just mash with a fork to the desired consistency.

If you’re breastfeeding, you can even wait until baby’s “pincer grasp” is developed and offer him small finger foods like peas, bits of grated apple, and the like. The pincer grasp is developed when baby can pinch small objects (like those bits of carpet fluff or food on the kitchen floor!) inbetween his thumb and first finger. In fact, if you have a family tendency towards food allergy, waiting longer to start solids may be preferable. No matter what baby’s age, always offer one food at a time and wait several days to watch for signs of allergy before offering another. Take it slow.

3) Start with fresh single ingredient foods like:

Steamed carrot, turnip, potato, yam
Ripe pear, peach, melon, plum
Cooked squash
Grated apple- raw or steamed
Well cooked beans
Hard cooked egg yolks (avoid the whites until 1 year)

Some of these foods could be served raw. Others are lightly steamed (steaming retains more nutrients than canning), to make them softer for baby.

4) It’s not necessary to make a big deal of preparing baby’s food.

If you want to take a lot of time blending food and freezing them in ice cube trays, you could certainly do that. But I’m all for the easy approach!

Although you do want to avoid giving baby salt and sugar (and spices that may upset the tummy), you can usually just take an ingredient from your own menu and “make” baby’s dinner.

For instance, if you’re steaming veggies to serve at dinner, take a tablespoon of them out of the pan before you add butter and salt. Put this in baby’s plate and mash away. Voila! Instant baby food with no extra work. Or take a bit of beef from your roast and mash mash mash until it’s very soft.

Even when you’re at a restaurant, you can either bring an apple with you and “grate” it finely with a spoon at your table, or bring along a banana or other portable food. Any restaurant with a salad bar would have cooked beans or avocado. Or give baby a bit of your baked potato (before you add the goodies on top).

Life with a new baby is challenging enough. Keep starting solids simple!

For more helpful tips on simplifying life with kids, visit:

About the Author: Carrie Lauth, mom of 4, publishes a free newsletter for Moms doing things the natural way. Get your copy plus free subscriber goodies at:

Quick Kids’ Meals

October 13, 2008 · Filed Under Frugal Meals · Comments Off on Quick Kids’ Meals 

Kids have to eat. Three meals a day, every day. All moms know how important it is to have an arsenal of quick kids’ meals handy. You never know when you’ll have to put healthy food on the table in a hurry, or when you need quick ideas so dad can help.

Dunk It

“Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.” ~ Jim Davis “Garfield”

Lucky for us, kids love dip. Cut some fresh cucumbers, carrots, zucchini, broccoli, celery, and bell peppers and serve them with ranch dressing. Even finicky veggie-haters will eat their veggies with dressing on them.

Saved by a Sandwich

“All sorrows are less with bread.” ~ Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

Start with two waffles, an English muffin, bagel, croissant, or a hotdog, hoagie or hamburger bun. Simply add jam, peanut butter, fruit slices, meat, hummus, veggies, eggs, or cheese. The possibilities are endless.

Oodles of Noodles

“The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.” ~ George Miller

If you’ve got noodles, you can make a meal. Add some salad dressing and some meat, garbanzo beans and veggies and you’ve got pasta salad. Or, start with noodles and add a little butter and parmesan cheese to make buttered noodles. And, there’s always the classic standby – add pasta sauce and a dollop of cottage cheese onto noodles and you just made lasagna.

Wrap it Up

“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.” ~ Calvin Trillin.

If you’ve got tortillas and leftovers, you’ve got a wonderful meal. Warm up your leftovers and wrap them up in a tortilla with some cheese. Voila! Leftovers Burrito.

Spuds from Heaven

“My idea of heaven is a great big baked potato and someone to share it with.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

Potatoes are a meal waiting to happen. Microwave a potato, pile on cheese of any sort (cheddar, mozzarella, cottage cheese) and some meat, veggies, or even salsa or sunflower seeds, and you have a delicious dinner.

Soup Warms the Soul

“Worries go down better with soup.” ~ Jewish Proverb

Fill a pan with broth and veggies. Then, just throw in whatever you have in the house, meat or beans, leftovers, a can of diced tomatoes, noodles or rice, and spices. You just made soup in minutes.

Turn the Day Upside Down

“I went to a restaurant that serves ‘Breakfast at any time’. So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.” ~ Steven Wright

You can have breakfast any time, too. Cereal, eggs & bacon, waffles, or pancakes. Breakfast is always better at night.

Next time you’re in a position to magically make a quick kids meal, refer back to this list and presto – you’ll have dinner on the table in minutes.

Visit for more food ideas. And, if you’re looking to save money by making frugal meals, visit .

Save at Secondhand Stores

October 10, 2008 · Filed Under Being Frugal · Comments Off on Save at Secondhand Stores 

By Sandy Shields

One of my favorite ways to save money is to shop at secondhand stores. I always seem to find a new treasure! Plus by shopping resale I can pay only a fraction of normal retail prices. I recently visited a new thrift store that opened near my home. I brought home 14 “like new” articles of clothing, and I only spent $48.00! What a great feeling!
You can do it too!

Did you know that there are many thrift and consignment shops now on the internet? Visit this page to see some of my favorite online resale shops. Thrift stores and consignment shops each have their own advantages and disadvantages, but I use both to find the best deals.

Thrift Stores

— Advantages —
• Profits go to charities such as Salvation Army, Goodwill, City Rescue Missions, and Parents Anonymous.
• Unbelievably Low prices!
• It is possible to find new merchandise.
• Carry clothing for men, women, and children; plus books, appliances, furniture, linens, and toys.
• Regularly offer sales and discounts.
• Those who donate can receive a tax deduction for the amount donated.
• Name brands at very low prices.
• Large selection of merchandise.

— Disadvantages —
• Generally there is no customer service.
• Sales are final, with a limited (if any) return policy.
• Most of the merchandise sold is used.
• Stores are sometimes dusty, dingy, and poorly organized.
• Stores only have what is available. No various sizes or styles.
• Stores typically only have one of a particular item.
• Customer must check clothing for stains and defects.
• Customer must try clothes on before leaving the store.
• Customer must test electrical items.
• Customer must have plenty of time to browse.

Here is a very helpful guide by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:
Hazardous Products Being Sold in Thrift Stores

Consignment Shops

— Advantages —
• Allow customers to sell items.
• Most shops are well organized.
• Regularly offer sales and discounts.
• Usually provide customer service.
• Quality is better than thrift stores.

— Disadvantages —
• Higher prices than thrift stores. Profits are split between the store owner and the consignor. Typically a 60-40 split, with the higher percentage going to the store owner.
• Customer must watch for damaged or defective merchandise, but not as often as thrift stores.
• Customer must keep track of own sales if selling merchandise.
• No funds to charities.
• No tax deduction.

The most important thing about resale shopping is that you have plenty of time to browse and that you are flexible. Patience is required, as you may or may not find what you are looking for. But if you have time to browse what’s available, you will likely bring home a great deal!

To find out more about resale stores, visit these links:
The Resale Guide
The National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops
Listing of Resale Shops Online


Sandy is a freelance writer and webmaster of She enjoys living the frugal life, saving money, and helping others to do the same. Subscribe to her newsletter to receive more money-saving ideas and frugal tips. Reprint permission granted with this footer included. Copyright © 1999-2003.

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