March 2010 - Posts - Dollar Stretcher Guest Bloggers
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Dedicated to bringing you some of the best information to help you survive tough economic times

March 2010 - Posts

  • Natural Insect Control

    contributed by Kelly

    I am an Alameda County Master Gardener, who is always on the look-out for solutions that are the most environmentally-friendly. For flying insects, you can put yellow paper stapled to a stake and cover with a cheap plastic bag, then cover the bag with Tanglefoot, which is a sticky material used on wrapped tree trunks to keep ants and gypsy moth caterpillars out of the trees. When the bag is covered with insects, discard it and put up a new one. You can also do the same with blue cards and catch a different group of insects.

    Quick Fixes

    Last June when we had four or five days in the 100s, almost all my vegetables were in full bloom and suffered near complete bud drop. To hasten new bud production, I put Epsom salts directly into the water chamber, about 1/4 cup. Watered my in-ground plants with the solution too. Everything re-bloomed and we had a great crop.

    Tomato-Leaf Spray

    The alkaloids found in tomato leaves are toxic to sof-bodied pests such as aphids. As a bonus, this spray also will attract the beneficial Trichogramma wasp, which preys on corn-earworm eggs.

    1 to 2 cups tomato leaves
    4 cups water

    Gather tomato leaves from the bottom of the plant so you won’t interfere with tomato production. Mash or chop the leaves and add two cups water. Let steep overnight. The following day, strain out the leave and discard. Dilute the liquid with two more cups of water. Spray on affected leaves, especially the undersides of lower leaves where aphids congregate. To lure Trichogramma wasps, spray the entire corn plant.

    All-Purpose Spray

    Works on a multitude of pests, including slugs and Japanese beetles.

    1 garlic bulb
    1 small onion
    1 teaspoon powdered cayenne pepper
    1 quart water
    1 tablespoon liquid dish soap

    Chop the garlic and onion in a blender. Add the cayenne pepper and water. Steep for one hour. Strain through cheesecloth. Add liquid dish soap so the spray sticks to plant leave. Mix well. Spray the mixture on both sides of the leaves. Store remaining spray in a labeled jar in the fridge. Note: Certain plants are very sensitive to soaps and can develop leaf burn. Always test on a leaf or two the day before spraying the whole plant.

    Hot Pepper Spray

    Easy-to-make hot pepper spray repels insects, curious cats, dogs, and marauding squirrels when they eat treated plants. Wear rubber gloves when preparing and using the mixure; the peppers can cause irritation.

    1/2 cup hot peppers
    2 cups water

    Puree peppers and water in a blender. Strain the liquid through a cheesecloth. Apply every five to seven days until the pests are gone. We saved our second corn crop from the hordes of squirrels with this spray, after we lost 1/4 or our first crop to them and sought a cure.

    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  to MyStory@Stretcher.com


     

  • Stack & Save Couponing: The New Way To Save Online

    by Mike Allen

    Here’s a coupon, shopping tip that might help you enjoy bigger savings online. For this example, let’s say you are looking for a comforter set and your budget is $120.

    You might start by browsing and find online stores with coupon codes and free shipping specials. When you think you have found a comforter that might fit your needs, you dig deeper by looking at all of that store’s coupons and bargains.

    After viewing all of that store’s coupons and bargains, you can start your plan of attack. You might notice that they are having a seasonal sale or they have an online outlet or clearance section. That’s good news for bargains. You might be able to "double dip" by combining this sale or some clearance items with a coupon code (some stores only apply coupon code discounts to regularly-priced items, but many do not). That’s the first step.

    So let’s say in this example we have a 20% off coupon code for $100+ orders. Let’s say this store also automatically gives you free shipping on orders over $100 (no coupon code needed but you pay $5.95 shipping for orders under $100). Let’s start shopping and see how you can maximize your savings.

    In our example, let’s assume that you found the perfect comforter set that’s regularly $149.99 but has been marked down by 20% for the spring sale. For the next week, it is only $119.99. That’s a pretty good deal right there, but you can do better and save more.

    Assuming this store allows coupon codes to be applied to sale items, let’s use our 20% off coupon code since this order exceeds the $100 minimum price requirement for that coupon code. Your coupon code discount will be $25, which brings your order total to $95.99. If you pay $5.95 for shipping your total becomes $101.94. Not too shabby. But you’re still paying for shipping. Since you’re right under the free shipping threshold, you can do even better.

    Here’s how. Do something creative to get your order size over $100 without raising your overall cost over $101.94. Add something that costs at least $4.01 so your order cost becomes at least $100. Why pay for shipping if you don’t have to, right? And if you can add to your order an item that costs less than shipping but it will bump you into the free shipping level, then that’s even better — it’s like getting that product for free!

    You search around for items under $5, and in this example, let’s assume you find a $4.99 item that you’ll save to use as a stocking stuffer next Christmas. That brings your order total to $100.98 and you now get free shipping!

    You got a great deal, stayed $19.02 under budget, and even got a bonus item essentially free.

    $149.99 regular price
    - 20% Sale Discount
    $119.99 sale price
    - 20% coupon code
    $95.99 new price + $5.95 shipping = $101.94
    + $4.99 item to achieve $100 minimum for free shipping
    $100.98 order total (you get free shipping)

    Overall you saved $55 off the original product price and the bonus item purchased actually cost you $.96 less than shipping would have cost you!

    This is sometimes called "stacking" since you combine a sale + a coupon + free shipping. You can often stack a shipping special and a coupon or a clearance sale and a coupon, but rarely can you stack actual coupon codes. The bottom line is that stackable offers can bring you a lot more items at a lot less cost. And that doesn’t even begin to count the time, gas and sales tax savings you may receive as well.

    Mike Allen is President and "Chief Executive Shopper" at Shopping-Bargains.com - a site dedicated to coupons, coupon codes and free shipping deals.

  • Avoid Paying Taxes with a Credit Card

    by Bill Hardekopf

    The tax deadline is less than a month away and consumers will soon be bombarded with messages encouraging them to pay their taxes with a credit card. While this may sound appealing to consumers who may be struggling to find ways to pay their taxes in this turbulent economy, it should be avoided at all costs.

    The IRS and some credit card issuers both promote the benefits of paying taxes with a credit card.  Payment with a credit card is easy and it can be made over the phone or online. It delays the pain of payment for another month. Consumers can even earn reward points on some cards with your tax payment.

    But credit card payments of taxes are actually made to third-party providers, which are contracted by the Internal Revenue Service. Processors charge anywhere from 1.95% (payUSAtax.com) to 3.93% (FileYourTaxes.com). Most third-party providers charge 2.45% fee for processing your credit card payment, making this a very costly convenience.

    The 2.45% processing fee adds $122.50 to an $5,000 tax bill. If you don't immediately pay off the credit card bill, interest charges from your credit card will add even greater penalties. Since interest rates have increased significantly over the past year, this makes paying your taxes by credit card even more costly than last year.

    Along with this significant processing fee and possible interest penalties, consumers should also consider other factors if they are considering using their credit card to pay their taxes:

    • Know your credit limit before you charge your taxes. If you are anywhere close to your limit, this is not an option for you. Issuers are now very sensitive about debt loads and customers who are close to their limit. This sends a warning to issuers that you are a risk for default. If this payment puts you close to your credit limit, it can raise your credit utilization score, an important factor in your credit score. This can result in a lower credit score and higher interest rates from your lenders.

    • Verify that the tax payment will be treated as a purchase and not a cash advance. Cash advances come with a high interest rate and typically a 3% cash advance fee.

    • Be careful how you provide your credit card number. The IRS warns filers not to write the credit card number on the return and not to mail in the credit card.

    • If you cannot afford to pay your taxes right now, there are less expensive options than a credit card loan. An installment plan with the IRS is one possibility; the interest rate is currently 4% percent for underpayments. Another option is a personal loan with a bank or credit union. You may receive a lower interest rate, and that rate will likely be fixed, unlike the IRS interest rate and a credit card's interest rate, both of which may change.

    • Obtaining reward points for using your credit card is not a good reason to charge your income taxes. Several years ago, generous credit card reward programs offered 3-5% cashback and some cardholders were able to make a little money by paying their taxes with a reward card. Since the typical reward card now offers 1% back for cash, points or miles, the 2.45% processing fee will cost more than the rewards you can earn. You are better off saving the money on the fee.

     Consumers should avoid using their credit card to pay their taxes. It is much smarter to use your tax refund to pay off your credit card balance. Paying down your credit card debt will improve your debt utilization ratio, which helps your credit score, which improves interest rates for other loans. That can improve your financial stability.

    Bill Hardekopf is the CEO of LowCards.com, a site dedicated to simplifying the confusion of shopping for credit cards. It is a free, independent website that helps consumers easily compare credit cards in a variety of categories such as lowest rates, rewards, rebates, balance transfers and lowest introductory rates. It also gives an unbiased ranking and review for each card.

  • Credit Card Usage Continues to Decline

    by Bill Hardekopf

    The Federal Reserve reported on Friday that consumer borrowing increased in January for the first time in a year. The increase alone was significant, but the news was even more surprising since it occurred despite another drop in credit card loans.

    According to the Federal Reserve, total consumer borrowing rose to $2.456 trillion in January, an annual rate of 2.5%. The increase came from nonrevolving credit like auto, personal and student loans that rose at a 5% annual rate. Revolving credit, which is primarily credit card usage, fell for the 16th consecutive month, decreasing at an annual rate of 2.3%.

    Recent studies underscore some clear trends either taking place or projected for credit card usage.

    • Credit card usage has dropped substantially over the past three years, from 87% of consumers surveyed in 2007 to 56% in 2009 (Javelin Strategy and Research). More here.

    • Debit card usage is increasing significantly. According to their annual reports, MasterCard's debit card usage increased 10.5% in the United States while Visa reported a 17% increase. MasterCard also reported its credit card usage dropped 13%.

    • The number of new credit cards issued declined 45% last year, according to Equifax Consumer Credit Trends.

    • The average balance on Visa, MasterCard, and American Express accounts dropped 5% to $5,434 in the fourth quarter of 2009 from $5,729 in the fourth quarter of 2008.

    • According to a BIG Research survey in January 2010, 30.5% of respondents said they would pay with cash more often, up from 23.0% a year earlier.

    • The same study showed consumers are concentrating on eliminating debt. 37.9% are prioritizing paying down debt over the next three months, rising from 34.4% in December.

    • Issuers will reduce credit card lines by $2.1 trillion in the next 18 months, wiping out nearly 45% of the spending power U.S. consumers now have on credit cards, predicts investment bank Oppenheimer & Co. More here.

    Over the past 18 months, banks cut credit limits for 58 million cardholders. If issuers keep this up and cut 45% of the spending power on credit cards, they will be forcing consumers to continue to reduce their usage of credit cards and find alternative forms of payment like debit cards and cash. That might not be a bad thing for the financial well being of the American consumer.

    Bill Hardekopf is CEO of LowCards.com, a site that simplifies the confusion of shopping for credit cards. It is a free, independent website that helps consumers easily compare credit cards in a variety of categories, such as lowest rates, rewards, rebates, balance transfers and lowest introductory rates. It also gives an unbiased ranking and review for each card. The LowCards.com Complete Credit Card Index is the most objective and comprehensive resource on the Internet.

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