June 2009 - Posts - Dollar Stretcher Guest Bloggers
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June 2009 - Posts

  • Virtual Campus Tours

    College will take four (five?) years of a teen's life and perhaps as much as $210,000 of the family's finances. For a decision that important, you want all the information you can get. A campus tour can be a key element in the college selection process, as it provides a feel for the school to help decide if the chemistry there is right for that student. While nothing beats going yourself, the costs of these check-it-out visits to distant campuses when air travel is required can be daunting. And the personal days from work and school are also a limiting factor. While nothing beats going yourself, virtual tours may help in narrowing down lists or "experiencing" colleges that might fall through the cracks because of distance. Here are some options that can help.

    • CampusTours.com is a clearing house that offers the colleges' own videos in one place, so you don't have to look all over a school's website to find them. Their virtual tours can be short 5 to 10 minute videos or photos of the campus with written narration. Several hundred in the series and available free.

    • CollegiateChoice.com offers DVDs averaging one hour per college of over 350 schools. These are non-promotional, straight recordings of the actual student guided campus tour, so you see and hear everything you would have experienced had you visited the campus that day. $15/college

    • CollegeClickTV.com began by simply uploading any student submission about their campus. They are usually quite short, in the one to five minute range, but there are thousands of offerings on all sorts of topics. Available free.

    contributed by Cliff Kramon of CollegiateChoice.com, which has provided video college tours for over a decade!

  • How to Save Money by Using a Credit Card like a Debit Card

    Credit card rewards can be very enticing.  From travel rewards to cash back, using a credit card can save us a lot of money.  One of the big problems with using credit cards, however, is that studies show we spend more money than when we use cash. About a year ago, we found this to be true when we put most of our daily purchases on a Gold Rewards American Express Card. We earned a lot of travel points, but we spent way too much because we didn't feel the money leaving our checking account. We'd see a fat balance in our checking account because we weren't spending it. Feeling flush with cash, we'd end up charging too much on our American Express, and really feeling the pain the next month when our payment was due.

    Recently, we've decided to try using a credit card for our daily expenses again. We want to take advantage of a cash back credit card, specifically the Discover More Card, and use the cash rewards to pay down some debt. Since the More Card pays from 1% to 5% depending on what is purchased with the card, the cash rewards can make a real difference in the budget. But we also want to avoid spending more than we would with cash, and we've come up with a little tip to do just that.

    We plan to use the card for daily purchases, instead of cash or our debit card. And then daily or perhaps every other day, log into our Discover account and pay off our account in full. It literally takes less than 60 seconds to make an online payment, and the money comes right out of our checking account. This does take a few extra minutes every day or two. But as a result, we'll get the benefits of up to 5% cash back, and we'll see the money coming out of our checking account at the same time. Not only we'll this help keep us from overspending, it will also avoid any "surprises" the following month when the Discover bill is due.

    We've found that some credit cards will not let cardholders make payments electronically every day of the month. That was one of the problems with the American Express Gold Card. Of course, you can always send in a check any time you want, but that gets really tedious. So if you want to try this approach, but your credit card company won't cooperate, use an online savings account. Each day or two, simply transfer the amount you've put on the card to a savings account until your credit card bill is due. Not only do you get the money out of your checking account, but you earn a little interest at the same time.

    This post come from DR, the founder and Managing Editor of The Dough Roller, a money management blog.

  • 40th Anniversary Ideas

    My parents celebrated their 40th Anniversary last June.  All of the children worked together to plan the party.  We had one person who was in charge of organization and then each son/daughter took one area to plan and then shared his/her ideas with the group via email. This way we could all be involved even though we currently live in five different states.) It was a potluck, so we each prepared a dish or two to keep the costs low. We also used Evite.com, a website that allows you to send free invitations to people via email. (You get to design the invitation yourself, so we scanned in a photo of our parents' in their early 20s and put it onto the invitation.  It was a nice touch and we didn't need to spend a dime!)

    Since my parents were retiring at the same time, we made it into a Happily Ever After theme. We also found some cute favors and centerpieces that fit into the theme and cost less than $2 each (wrapwithus.com). One of them was a small horse and carriage figure that we filled with candy and another was a castle picture-holder. We put two picture holders on each table and then put an old picture of my parents into each holder. (Their wedding photo was in one, their first child, pictures of them dating, their first house, etc.) We also bought some chocolate melting discs and made some chocolate lollipops that we put into a clear vase ($1 at the Dollar Tree) for the favors and centerpiece in one.

    I made a PowerPoint presentation that told a 'Once Upon a Time' story about how they met and fell in love. Each slide had photos of them when they were dating and just married and then later when they became parents and then grandparents. My brother wrote some music that he put to the PowerPoint presentation. After we showed the PowerPoint, we put on a running slideshow of all of the photos of my parents and their families. We also made them a photo book that was similar to the PowerPoint presentation. (My parents were in tears!)

    We used our church hall, which provided the space and tables/chairs for free. We also ordered a large banner that had their wedding photo on it.  It was fairly inexpensive ($40).

    We also made fun games to play for next to no money. We made some RELAX cards (just like Bingo cards) that we printed off the computer and we asked each person to write down what they thought my Mom and Dad would do now that they were retired. (They had a list of activities to choose from.) They filled up their RELAX cards with the activities from the list and then we called out an activitiy from the list one by one until someone had BINGO. (They got to bring home the vase full of chocolate lollipops of their table.) We also made a crossword puzzle about fun facts about my parents' life. I made these on the computer as well, so the only cost involved was a ream of paper.

    We had a lot of fun planning the party and we were able to pull it off without paying a lot of money. The important thing is to play to your strengths and to the strengths of your siblings! And, of course, to have fun!

    -- Elizabeth

    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 by email to MyStory@Stretcher.com

  • Next Year's Perennials

    It's June; your annuals are coming along or in pots. Your perennials are growing fast. So why not just sit back and not worry about your flower beds until next spring?

    There is a good reason not to do this. Now is the time to start perennials and biennials for next year. It is easy, personally rewarding, and it can save hundreds of dollars. Consider this, a small starter perennial will usually cost $2 and up to $10. If you want lots of those delphiniums and want them in specific colors, what can you do? Plant now for next year and arrange your colors and heights to please you. Don't depend on box stores or nurseries to have the selection you want.

    Here's what I am doing right now. In the past two days, I have used 21 8-oz styrofoam cups, 21 fold down plastic sandwich bags, and a modest amount of good seed starting mix to literally start a few hundred perennials: 3 kinds of delphiniums, 5 kinds of hollyhocks, 2 kinds of echinacea, Canterbury Bells, 3 kinds of foxgloves, etc. Most of these seeds I bought from a very old seed company, Crosmanseed.com. Their seed prices range from fifty-nine cents to eighty-nine cents with a modest delivery charge. Very specific special varieties I will buy at stores or order on line at other seed companies.

    Now, you are ready to plant your seeds for next year's plants.

    1. Take a styrofoam cup and puncture a couple of holes at the bottom. A sharpened pencil or pen does fine.

    2. Write on the cup the  name of the plants and the date of sowing in the cup.

    3. Fill the cup with slightly moist growing medium, leaving about a half inch from the top.

    4. Carefully shake out a few seeds (you should have plenty left for later sowings if you need them,) and gently sprinkle them over the top surface.  At this point you may press the seeds into the soil. Sometimes it is good to sprinkle a fine covering of sand or vermiculite over the seeds if 1/4th cover is suggested on the seed packet.

    5. Loosely put the fold down sandwich bag over the cup, leaving it somewhat pulled up at the top. This does not need to fit tight. It allows some air to seep in.

    6. Place the cups in a sunny window sill or even better under a flourescent light (I use a 48" shoplight).

    7. Check with regularity for germination and growth. When the seedlings are big enough to handle, wet the medium thoroughly and gently pull the seedlings out with roots intact and place in a much larger container to grow on until they are large enough to put in the garden.

    8. Protect from sun scald by gently laying a piece of fifty-nine cent coarse nylon netting over them. This gives enough shade to harden them off. After several days, you may remove the netting and the plants should be hardened off and ready for full sun. If the plants are shade plants, then skip this part and put them directly into the shade first thing.

    9. These little plants will require careful watching so that they don't dry out. Monitor them well and next summer you will have all the blooming size perennials you could possibly want. Your only limitation is your imagination.  Use garden books and local gardens for inspiration.

    -- Gloria

    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 by email to MyStory@stretcher.com.

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