December 2011 - Posts - Dollar Stretcher Guest Blogger
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December 2011 - Posts

  • Top 10 Tips for Home Economy

    by Molly Mitchell

    While the big wigs argue about the best way to bring the U.S. out of a financial crisis, there are many things you yourself can be doing for your own home’s prosperity. To help out, we have provided the top ten tips on how to best manage money in and around the home and include everything from saving up to shopping right.

    1. Plan a Budget – This one seems elementary, but only by knowing where your money comes from and where it’s going can give you an accurate picture of your current financial affairs. Use bank statements, check stubs, and even credit card bills to tally up what you spend and where.

    2. Pay Down Debt – Interest rates may be low now but are not expected to stay that way. If interest rates do go up, those with the most debt will be hit hard. If you are carrying debt, especially those on credit cards, it is important to pay it down as soon as possible.

    3. Refinance – Planning to live in your home for at least a few more years? Then consider refinancing it to take advantage of the low interest rates. There are tons of companies who will take your information and give you a quote at no charge.

    4. Green vs. Green – To save costs on electric bills or to help the planet, many people decide to go green. There are many programs, such as the $1,500 tax credit for new windows, but beware of these. The average cost of replacing windows on the average home can be $10,000 or more. Calculate what you will save and when the windows will pay for themselves before you take a multi-thousand dollar plunge.

    5. Adjustable Thermostat – Unlike the above, this is one cheap switch that can really save you some money. They start at about $25, can be installed by those with a little DIY experience, and can save you hundreds of dollars a year by heating and cooling your home only when you’re there.

    6. Shop Around – If you’re reading this, you have an internet connection and a device to read this on. This means that you can instantly shop around for whatever your heart desires in just a click. Utilize the internet to get the best price and other perks such as free shipping and no sales tax if you buy out of state.

    7. Buy Used – Who says only new products are any good? There are many items where used is just as good as new such as movies, furniture, and many others. Check out sites like eBay or Craigslist as well to get great deals.

    8. Bulk Up – Staples such as toilet paper, light bulbs, printer paper, and more can all have their prices drastically cut if you buy in bulk. Can’t afford one of those premium club memberships? Then try splitting the cost with a family member or friend.

    9. Water World – Did you know that wasting water can add up to hundreds in extra costs in just a year? Doing things like putting a brick in the toilet or fixing that dripping faucet can add up big. A drip in your home if let to run for a year can even cost more than what it would cost to have a plumber fix it.

    10. Save – Whether for a short term emergency fund or retirement, saving is a key cornerstone to any home economics plan. Even in a down market, there are many insured investments that can go up in value and earn you some extra bucks in addition to the bucks you save.

    Molly Mitchell is a Economics graduate student and also owns the site Economics Degree. Her site helps students find the right Economics Degree to fit their needs.

  • Changing a Behavior

    by jd in st louis - Renaissance Woman

    No matter what behavior one is trying to change, there is a need to look realistically at the problem and figure out what to do about it to create change. First, identify the problem. Second, determine how to fix it. But, how do we get to the second step?

    There is a basic law of physics that goes like this. You are in a box. You want to move the box. No matter how hard you try from inside the box, you can't move it. To move the box, the moving force must be outside the box. From outside the box, one can see where the box needs to move. From outside the box, one can apply leverage, creating the force to move the box.

    These basic laws apply to changing anything in our lives, including budget, diet, cleaning, and bad habits.

    First, identify the problem, then get yourself outside the box to determine how best to create the change you need. Inform yourself by reading, speaking to experts, researching your options. Moving outside that box mentally also gives some emotional breathing room. The first step is the hardest, which is acknowledging there is a problem. The next step is the one that requires the most work, namely inform yourself, get a plan, move the box.

    With the holidays coming up, many of us have more than one problem looming. There are financial considerations. There are time/work/energy issues. There may well be emotional issues related to spending time with extended families.

    If finances are a concern, get outside the box and determine, first, exactly how much money you have to spend on gifts and entertaining. Outside of the box experiences include placing a dollar amount that is available to you without going into (or further into) debt. Make a list of those you want/must give gifts to. Then, decide who on that list can be removed. Call or email those people right away with a kind message stating that your holiday priorities have changed and you'll be paring them from your gift list or making a donation in their names rather than giving gifts. (This can cost you as little as you want.  Simply list all their names and addresses with your donation. The charity will take care of notification and won't mention how much you gave). For those you absolutely must give a gift (say the children in your home), go for quality rather than quantity. One well chosen gift with two small stocking stuffers will create more joy than a trunkload of "the latest thing." Determine your budget and stick to it. The payoff is ridiculously wonderful!

    If entertaining/cleaning/shopping is a challenge for you, start making a list and checking it twice to eliminate the unnecessary. I know I can't afford household help, but I can lower my expectations of just how well manicured the house will look, how expensive the menu will be, and how much help I can reasonably ask of others. Most people are willing to help if they are given specific chores and left alone to do them. If the dust bunnies and Cheerios stuck to the kitchen floor are completely unacceptable, remove them. But, no one will be checking under the tables for dust streaks or opening your curtains to check for clean windows. If they do, point and laugh! Changing your expectations of yourself is one really good way to move the box.

    Finally, that great big bugaboo, FAMILY. If you really dread seeing certain family members, then don't see them! Accept no command performances. Be busy. Respect your children, especially the teens and twenty somethings, enough to support their absence from Christmas dinner. If people don't want to be there, why force them? If Grandma or Aunt Tootie is critical, let them know that the young 'uns are where they need to be. That's right - where they NEED to be. Believe me when I tell you that you will teach your children a valuable lesson when you relieve them of the command performances. Family of Origin can be a pain. Cousins don't always love or even tolerate each other. Aunts and Uncles seen but once a year are strangers to toddlers and should be treated as such - kindly and firmly. So, especially if airplane tickets or tanks of gas are involved in seeing extended family, rethink the plans to remain within your budget. Travel is cheaper at other times of the year, and there are fewer demands on our bank accounts and work schedules, fewer travel delays due to inclement weather, and lower expectations from everyone.

    The Spirit of the Season is one of love. Love yourself enough to change the things in your life that interfere with your enjoyment of the Season. Choosing (or feeling like you're being forced) to overspend is incompatible with the Spirit of the Season. There is no upside to that.

    Do not expect that you can enact all these changes this year! This takes practice. But, you can change how you feel about spending for gifts, cooking for the masses,  and working at the office and home to create enjoyment for others. Expect some of this for yourself. Start now with identifying those things that interfere with your serenity and joy. Write them down. Get a plan. Understand that you can't implement all the changes at once. But, change ONE thing this year, this season. Make that your highest priority. Don't Overspend. Step outside the box to move it, a little at a time.

    Everyone is smart about something! That's why we have The Dollar Stretcher Guest Blog. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it to MyStory@Stretcher.com

  • Historic Gasoline Prices: When’s the Best Time to Drive?

    by Dale Cooper

    Gas prices seem to go up at the most inopportune times, with little or no warning. But if you look closely, patterns emerge that can help you predict the next spike. So why do gasoline prices fluctuate so drastically, and when is the best time to buy?

    How Gasoline Prices Are Determined

    Gasoline is refined from crude oil, which is a “commodity,” a good that satisfies a want or need. As such, commodities are subject to the economic forces of supply and demand. These forces are the reason gasoline prices fluctuate as dramatically as they do. When crude oil production is limited, gas prices rise; when there is an abundance of crude oil, prices fall. There are other factors at work as well, but the basic principle of supply and demand is what dictates the price of gasoline.

    When to Buy?

    Even though gas prices can change dramatically over a short period of time, there are recognizable trends that emerge. For example, gasoline prices are high during the summer months when most people take vacations. Also consider:

    • Time of day – Gasoline prices will generally be at their lowest before noon as local gas stations normalize their prices to match competitors.

    • Day of the week – Gas prices tend to peak during the weekend, so buy your gas during the middle of the week, especially on Wednesday.

    Where to Buy?

    You’ll often find that where you buy your gas affects the price as much as when you buy it. Average gasoline prices between states can vary by as much as a dollar per gallon. States on the West Coast tend to pay a much higher premium for gas than those in the South and Southwest. Locally, gasoline prices are usually higher in more affluent areas and near major freeways. It’s not usually worth the extra fuel to drive out of your way to a cheaper gas station, but keep in mind which locations offer consistently lower gasoline prices and fill up when you drive by.

    When gasoline prices spike, consider other ways to save money save money on driving. Driving a more fuel-efficient car and finding more affordable auto insurance are two effective ways to cut costs. Browsing auto insurance reviews is a good way to find competitive insurance prices while making sure you’re not sacrificing quality and service.

  • 8 Top Unusual Gifts for Students Under $20

    by Jon Vincent

    Is there that person on your list that has everything and you just can’t figure out what to get them for the holidays? Maybe it’s a friend or coworker – or, maybe it’s a Secret Santa gift and you’re just stumped on what to buy.

    When you’re stuck in a rut, it might be time to consider our list of unusual gifts for the person who has everything:

    BananagramsBananagrams is the hottest new game for those who love words. It was recognized as 2009’s Game of the Year and includes Scrabble-like tiles packaged in a banana pouch. The company also offers two other word games for under $20, which are Appletters and Pairsinpears.

    Gourmet Beef Jerky – Sure, it sounds silly, but gourmet beef jerky can be quite the hit at a holiday gathering. For $19, Gary West Meats sells 4-ounce packages of several beef jerky flavors including traditional, cracked black pepper, Cajun, and teriyaki. Or, if you just can’t decide on flavor, you can mix and match in one package.

    Indie Rock Coloring Book – For those who want to take a journey through music, creativity, and artistic expression, look no further than an Indie Rock Coloring Book from the Yellow Bird Project. The designs were all hand-illustrated by Andy J. Miller and are dedicated to musicians like Iron and Wine, The National, and Bloc Party.

    Reusable Grocery Bag / Keychain – If you have a friend that wants to go green but can never seem to remember his or her grocery bags when they go to the store, consider the Container Store’s reusable shopping bag + keychain. The bag rolls up and attaches to a keychain so your friends will never find themselves at the checkout without a shopping bag again.

    Recycled Colored Pencils – Called Smencils, these colored pencils are made out of 100% recycled newspaper, but don’t smell like ink. The 10-pack (for $14) features scents like watermelon, orange, grape, cinnamon, cotton candy, and root beer that you can smell while sharpening the pencils. It’s great for kids and artistic friends.

    Bicycle Chain Bottle Opener – For just $9.99, get your bike and beer loving friend a recycled bottle opener made from a bike chain. The opener has an anodized aluminum head and comes in a variety of color choices.

    Pooh Stationary – Made from 75% elephant dung (seriously), this beautiful stationary is perfect for the kids or writers in your family. The cards feature beautiful designs and are available for $10 each or 3 for $25. The store also carries travel journals, cotton t-shirts, eco-friendly envelopes, and photo albums…all made from the same material.

    Vegan Hot Chocolate – Created from cocoa liquor from raw squeezed cocoa beans, this vegan hot chocolate mix can be made on a stovetop or in the microwave. It’s beautifully packaged in a colorful box with a bow and is the perfect gift for just $16.

    They may be quirky, but these gifts will surprise everyone on your list. After all, what do you buy for someone who has everything?

    Jon Vincent turned his obsession with Black Friday ads into a website and a career! He's been interviewed about his website, BlackFriday.info, by the New York Times, CNN, Tech Crunch and more. When he's not hunting down Black Friday ad leaks, he stays busy by writing frugality and savings advice.

  • Spend Smarter This Holiday Season

    by Stephanie Ann

    It's not too late to spend smarter over the holiday season. Credit cards are a notorious shopping trap that make it easy for the shopper to lose track of how much they spent and then they get hit with high fees when the bill comes. For all of the drawbacks of using credit cards, there are ways of making credit cards work to your advantage this holiday season. Many credit cards partner up with retailers and offer customers special deals, such as getting an extra 5% off your purchase when you sign up for that promotion.

    Many credit cards offer a cash back rewards program, and if you pay off your credit cards in full each month, the holiday season is a great time to cash in those rewards. If you have multiple credit cards with cash back programs, take a strategic approach and get cash back on any cards you can and take note of how much cash back credit you have. For example, I call credit card company A where I have $30 worth of cash back credit and tell them I want to cash in my points and have the $30 deducted from my account. Then I call credit card company B and apply the $50 cash back credit I have with them towards my credit card. Then I make a note that I can go shopping and spend $30 on credit card A and $50.00 on credit card B knowing that the cost of the purchases will be canceled out by the cash that was deducted from these accounts as part of the cash back rewards program.

    The place where I really like to cheap out is in the trimmings. I like to buy gift bags, tissue paper and individual holiday cards at dollar stores, which cost next to nothing. For a set of boxed holiday cards, I shop at my local used book store, Half Priced Books, which usually has a nice selection around the holiday season and they send out coupons if you sign up for their mailing list. If you normally send someone a card and a gift, you can cut your shipping and gift wrap costs by buying gifts that fit in a holiday card. Gift certificates, tickets for events, and entertainment and magazine subscriptions are a few examples of great gifts that would fit into a card.

    I worked in retail before I started my writing career and the biggest mistake I saw holiday shoppers make was wandering aimlessly through stores and not having any idea of what type of gift would be appropriate for the people they were shopping for. These aimless shoppers often get so tired of shopping they end up buying something just for the sake of having a gift to give. Judging by the amount of returns, they often bought things that the recipient didn't want, which is always a huge waste of money even if they got it on sale. If you have a clear idea of what type of gifts you are going to buy, it's a lot easier to do a little research online or in stores and get a good idea of how much your spending total will be. If this total is too high for comfort, you can look for cheaper alternatives, such as making large batching of homemade goodies and then dividing the batch to put them in cheap cookie tins for different people on your list.

    Stephanie Ann's book The Cheap Diva's Guide to Frugal and Fabulous Living: How to Shop Smart, Look Your Best, Decorate with Style, and Have Fun for Less Money! is full of tips and strategies for making the most of your money during the holiday season and year round. Packed with easy strategies for shopping smarter, making the most of the fashion, beauty, and home decor products you already have and hassle free entertaining ideas, this book and her blog at blog at thecheapdiva.com is perfect for busy women on a budget.

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