Get That Discount: How To Negotiate A Sale

If you get sticker shock from something you want but can’t afford, think again. Many prices are negotiable given the right setting, and you may be able to get what you want for less.

  1. Just Ask

Many people feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about it, but negotiating a price really benefits both parties. A salesperson would rather make a sale at a lower price than none at all, and you get what you want for less. Practice your skills often to increase your comfort level. Garage sales and flea markets are a great place to start. Once you feel confident, go for a better deal on your next big-ticket item such as an appliance, electronic equipment, furniture, hotel stay or car rental. The simplest path to a discount begins by asking “Can you do any better on the price?”  You can also ask if any markdowns or promotions will begin soon, and you may be able to buy at that price if the seller fears you won’t make a second trip back later.

  1. Be Casual

If you really want a particular item, don’t let the seller know. Your willingness to decline an item if the price is too high gives you negotiating power. If the seller thinks you will pay a high price, he or she will insist on a high price. Give the impression that you are just browsing and picked up something that caught your eye.  Say “It’s nice, but I can take it or leave it.” Show hesitation about the purchase; a long pause as though you’re having difficulty deciding will usually push the seller to offer a better price or add something extra to the deal. If the seller doesn’t budge, do walk away. There’s a chance they’ll chase you to offer a better price.

  1. Knowledge is Power

Research the typical price for the item you want. Knowing the going rate enables you to spot the markup that less informed customers would pay without question.  You can also use a competitor’s price to negotiate. Retailers hate to see a sale walk out and take their business elsewhere, so knowing that a customer is already looking elsewhere gives them incentive to make the sale at a better price.

  1. Pay Cash

For an independently owned business, paying with cash instead of plastic could net a discount. Processing a credit card costs the business, and checks take time to clear along with the risk of a bad check. Cash is better than inventory, so the upfront payment also gives you negotiating power, especially if you have cash but are just a few dollars short of having the sticker price.

  1. Be Patient

Salespeople are trained to control a sale. Be friendly but firm and stay focused on the price. Negotiation takes patience, and the side with more of it will get the better end of the deal. If a salesperson says he or she doesn’t have the authority, ask for a manager.

Remember that grocery stores, discount stores and large chains may not be willing to negotiate price, so don’t waste your time and theirs. Be friendly and stay confident and you will be able to negotiate like a seasoned shopper in no time.


Save Money By Doing It Your Self

To Do It Yourself Or Not To Do It Yourself?

Are you a do-it-yourself type? Do you aspire to be? With the increased specialization of labor in today’s workforce, the character of the jack-of-all-trades handyman is disappearing. You may want to save money on a job by doing it yourself, but is it always cheaper? Even if it costs less, will the savings be worth the time you spent on it? Several factors can help determine whether you should tackle the challenge or stick to what you know and leave the rest to the pros.

Do you have the skills?

Do you know what the project requires, or could you learn by doing a little research? Are you prepared for unexpected complications with the project? There are plenty of resources out there for those who are willing to learn, but some skills require experience, practice and finesse that you won’t learn in a week. Also consider if you would be proud of the job you did yourself, or if you would rather trust

Do you have the tools?

Once you have the skills, you need the equipment for the job. If you have the equipment or can borrow it from a friend or neighbor, then you can go ahead with confidence. However, if you have to buy all new power tools for the job and you only use them once, the project will probably cost you a lot more overall than if you had hired a professional.

Do you have the time?

Will you be able to complete the project just working nights and weekends or taking a few vacation days off work to finish it? If you have great enthusiasm starting a project and your motivation wanes as time goes on, a do-it-yourself job may turn into a half-finished nuisance you’d rather be rid of. Before starting, estimate a best case, worst case and most likely case for how long the project will take. If it seems likely to take more time than you can reasonably commit, outsourcing is best.

Is there danger involved?

There are some situations in which the potential danger far outweighs the potential benefits of doing the job yourself. Some work that you should never do yourself unless you are a professional in the field: electrical repairs, plumbing, asbestos removal, gas appliance repair and roofing. Safety always comes first, and an expert will do the job correctly without risking injury or damage to your home.

Is it worth the time?

How do you value your time? Is the task something you would enjoy doing yourself, or are there other ways you would rather spend your time and resources? Consider the time you would spend as hiring yourself. Put a monetary value on your time, a cost per hour for your time. Compare the cost estimate from a professional to the hours required for you to do it yourself. Considering the numbers along with less tangible factors will help you feel confident in your decision.


Eight Everyday Items Worth The Extra Dollar

The classic conundrum: when shopping, do you seek to spend or search for savings? Is it always true that “you get what you pay for”? While you can sometimes find a great product for a lower price, often a lower price means less durability, reliability and value. There are three basic rules of thumb for products worth spending the extra dollar. If it is used daily, you will almost definitely notice a difference in quality and wear over time. If it is a big-ticket item, something you buy only once every few years and costs a lot of money, you might lose money buying two or three cheaper products over the lifetime of one higher quality option. Lastly, if a breakdown or malfunction would be inconvenient, choosing the cheapest option incurs risk that you don’t need. Think of the dishwasher that breaks and floods the kitchen or the car that breaks down in the middle of the family road trip. Here are 8 everyday items worth the extra dollar.


If you enjoy cooking at home, you need good quality pots, pans, kitchen knives and other utensils. If you don’t cook often, quality cookware will make cooking simpler and the results better tasting. Pots and pans with a copper bottom heat more evenly than cheaper counterparts so that food cooks more evenly and burns less easily. A good block set of knives will include every type of knife you will need in the kitchen, last longer than cheap cutlery and require less maintenance.

Weather appropriate clothing

If you live in a climate where temperatures are below freezing from November to March, a quality winter jacket is worth the investment. In order to really stay warm, a down jacket, wool coat or waterproof shell with fleece lining is a must. Retail for such a coat ranges from one hundred to several hundred dollars. Same goes for warmer climates; you’ll be glad you splurged on lightweight, breathable clothing for the added comfort. Clothing designed to keep you cool with synthetic fibers will be much more comfortable than a standard cotton t-shirt.

Living Room Furniture

Furniture is a big-ticket item that you will probably own for 5-10 years. Since it will probably be used often, it makes sense to pay more for comfortable furniture that will last. You will feel the difference, and so will your family and friends. You only want the best for them too, right?

Bed and Bedding

Your daily health and energy level largely depends on the quality of your sleep. A more expensive mattress is often the better value simply because it will outlive a cheaper mattress and last about ten years, not to mention the better sleep quality. Can you put a price on a good night’s sleep?


Do you carry stuff every day? Is the way you carry it comfortable? If not, you could be causing yourself unnecessary muscle aches and back pain. Students with backpacks often carry heavy loads and depend on one backpack for several years. Since backpacks are often tossed, dropped, overloaded, and carried everywhere, backpacks made of cheap materials won’t do the job. Comfort is also key, so durable materials and thick, well-padded straps are requirements. Consider also the inconvenience if your bag rips on the way to class. You have to find a new way to carry books, supplies and possibly a laptop for the day, then shop for a new backpack as soon as possible. For those in the white-collar world, a leather briefcase or attaché case is more reliable, durable and professional than a cheaply made cloth bag.

Your Car

An unreliable car is both costly and inconvenient. If you have a long daily commute, both comfort and reliability become especially important. The right vehicle depends on each individual’s needs and wants, so a more expensive car may or may not be “better” for everyone. Bottom line: don’t choose a car based on its prices. There is an extraordinary variety and potential for customization in automobiles, so know your own wants and needs, find a car that suits you and forget the rest.

Home Appliances

The idea is simple; a more efficient washer will save money in energy and water usage over time. But how long will it take to recoup the higher cost? An Energy-Star certified washer uses 14 gallons of water per load versus the 27 gallons that a traditional model uses. At calculators for appliances, lighting and electronics can give you a detailed overview of savings from increased efficiency. Since washers, dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators and the like are large, costly and (hopefully) durable goods, high quality pays for itself in savings and convenience of not having to replace it frequently.


If your TV is a silent fixture of your living room and speaks only in the voices of news anchors and weather forecasters, the most basic of television sets will work for you just fine. However, if you avidly follow sports televised sports, love movie nights or host parties to watch a popular TV series, you’ll enjoy the bigger, better electronics every time you turn on the tube. Same goes for the home stereo system; for those who really enjoy quality sound, the difference between the high end and the bargain is the difference between the New York Philharmonic and your preteen’s school band concert.

Toss-up: A Cell Phone

This comes with a disclaimer. A broken cell phone is a hassle; personal and professional contacts wonder why you suddenly stopped responding while you do your best to find other means of communication. A durable phone means you may not have to rush to replace a broken one but instead upgrade when you choose. It is important to have a cell phone that really suits your needs, so if your phone is your right-hand man – figuratively as well as literally – the phone that works may be worth the extra cost. However, if you prefer to carry the newest model at all times, it doesn’t make sense to splurge on a phone that you won’t be using in a year.


How To Save Money With Cheap Car Insurance

While state minimum car insurance may not be enough for every driver, auto insurance companies can provide cheap car insurance for drivers on tight budgets looking for affordable premiums. All 50 states have financial responsibility laws that require every driver to have a minimum amount of car insurance and provide proof of insurance as well. Although this is intended to protect the public from negligent drivers who cause injury and damages to others, most states have low liability limits that may not provide enough coverage, making it important for drivers to find cheap coverage so they can purchase enough protection from their carrier and shield themselves against out-of-pocket expenses for repairs and potential litigation.

Bodily Injury

Mandatory state requirements are usually $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. Medical bills and payments for an injury to one person in an auto accident can easily exceed the $25,000 limit. If more than one person is injured in an accident, the cost of the injuries could reach more than $50,000 per accident coverage. If an insured driver has any financial assets, a court can force the sale of the assets to satisfy judgments for injury claims that exceed the policy limits. For this reason, buying low cost car insurance online does not necessarily mean purchasing coverage at the state minimum, but finding quotes from a reputable, top ranked insurance company so family’s can buy enough to adequately cover themselves.

Property Damage

Although the limits vary between states, most states have a minimum property damage limit of $10,000. While this may seem like a lot, the average new car in the U.S. costs nearly $25,000. In a serious accident, the cost of car repairs or replacement could be more than $10,000 and the driver at fault for the accident would have to pay the difference out of pocket. Carrying state minimum limits coverage does not absolve the driver from responsibility for damages that exceed policy limits.

Uninsured Motorist

Uninsured motorist coverage is similar to bodily injury and property damage liability insurance, but UIM covers the insured driver for injuries and damages caused by a driver who is uninsured or has insufficient insurance to pay out the no-fault driver’s claims. Not all states require that drivers carry uninsured motorist coverage, but in some states that don’t require underinsured insurance, drivers have to sign a waiver of coverage. Uninsured motorist protection can be very cheap, giving drivers the opportunity to protect themselves with extra coverage just in case an opposing individual was not responsible in purchasing coverage or making on-time payments. Drivers comparing car insurance quotes can easily add UIM coverage onto their policy just to see the rates car insurance companies charge.

No Fault

Only 10 states have no fault car insurance laws, and not all ten require that drivers carry personal injury protection (PIP car insurance) coverage. PIP insurance or medical payments coverage pay medical bills for the driver and passengers in the insured car if they are injured in an auto accident, regardless of who is at fault for the accident. Some states, like New Jersey, offer optional protection for lost wages, lost services and a death benefit at an additional cost.


Insurance companies, agents, and brokers know how to cut corners on coverage just to make your premiums look low, so drivers seeking a policy should ask questions first. Don’t ever just ask for the cheapest rates they can get you. This will likely result in absolutely bare minimum liability limits, and what could have cost you an additional $100 per year could end up costing you thousands in out-of-pocket repair costs, medical bills, and attorney bills.

Multiple Policies. In some cases, it pays to have more vehicles insured due to the savings discounts for “multiple car coverage”. A family of three may pay more for insuring two vehicles than they will for adding a third, even if it is not being driven. Additionally, if one car is newer and more valuable than another, don’t buy the same coverage for all the cars in the policy. Buy full coverage for one and liability-only protection for the other if you can afford to replace it in-case of a major accident. Usually, the threshold is, if a car is worth less than $5,000, it is probably better to have liability coverage only and forego more protection.

Furthermore, insuring a vehicle with the same company that carries your life insurance or other type of insurance is another way to save. Companies usually offer up to 15% off each policy you buy with them.

Low Mileage. Another way to save is to decrease the usage of each vehicle by asking for a “Low Mileage Discount”, while choosing higher deductibles. Not that you needed statistics to prove it, but for obvious reasons, the less you drive, the less chance you have of getting into a car accident and submitting a claim to your carrier.

Customer Loyalty. According to my friend in the insurance industry, this is the most publicized discount, but not 100% of consumers who qualify have it applied to their discount. Every car insurance policy-owner should call their carrier and ask for it to see if they can up the percentage discount or if they qualify, no matter how long they’ve been a customer (assuming it’s been at least one year, though).

Defensive Driving Classes. Some states require insurers to offer a 10% discount for up to 3 years to drivers who have completed a defensive driving class. The classes are inexpensive, about $30 and take about 8 hours. Even in states which do not mandate the discount, many insurance companies offer the discount voluntarily. Some classes are offered online, but drivers seeking cheap car insurance should make certain that the school offering the classes is approved either by the state or by the insurance carrier.

Final Word

Most drivers get online quotes to find affordable rates, whether they need state minimum auto insurance coverage or a policy with more protection. Drivers can also easily compare different types of car insurance, including collision coverage, liability insurance, or comprehensive car insurance. Instead of dealing with a sale rep, agent or broker, just add and subtract these coverage options from your policy and you can see how much each one adds to your monthly or annual premiums. Like anything else, the more information you have at hand, the better decisions you are able to make.

To learn more about saving money, investing, credit and debt, real estate and career advice, check out Gajizmo was designed to educate and help consumers make better financial decisions in their lives.

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7 Things You’re Paying Too Much For

If you’re tired of your monthly bank account balance vanishing into oblivion faster than you can say “Pay Day,” take a look at these common expenses many Americans are paying way too much for. You might be able to cut your spending by taking a few simple actions.


If you just can’t start the day without your standard quadruple-shot Venti Americano coffee, consider the hefty chunk of change this habit is likely taking out of your pocket. Starbucks and many other coffeehouse franchises are notorious for marking their products up by as much as 300%. Someone who spends $3 or more every day on fancy lattes is way overspending on coffee – you could make your own at home for less than a coffee is something you pay too much money forquarter a day.


Take a look at your monthly expenses to make sure you know exactly where your money is going. You may be surprised to find that you’re paying for things you don’t use anymore, such as a magazine subscription or a gym membership. You may also be able to cancel other subscriptions in favor of cheaper alternatives. For example, many customers have opted to cancel their expensive cable subscriptions since the rise of online video streaming companies such as Netflix and Hulu.


A recent study by Credit Sesame reported that a third of Americans are overpaying on loans by as much as $541 a month. That’s more than $30,000 in less than 5 years. If you’ve improved your credit since you first took out a loan for a car, for your home or any other reason, you may be able to refinance and get a much better rate. As a matter of fact, improving your credit score also could help lower your payments on other expenses, such as utilities, rent and insurance.


If you’ve become complacent with your insurance company and the rates you’ve been paying for years, you’re probably paying too much. It’s important to shop around every year or so using websites to compare rates and offers from a variety of providers to find the best value available for you. You may also be able to adjust your policy if you’ve had the same coverage limits for several years in addition to finding other smart opportunities to save, such as good-driver and bundle discounts.


How often do you dine in at restaurants or order take-out instead of cooking or packing a meal from home? If the answer is more often than not, you’re spending way too much on food. The $7 you spent on a hamburger meal from a fast food joint could be used instead to buy an entire chicken from a grocery store and create multiple meals for yourself or your family. Even if you only buy food from dollar menus, purchasing staples from a grocery store that can be combined to form a variety of meals is much better for your body and for your wallet than eating out.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American family spends almost $3,000 a year on gasoline alone. If you’re shelling out hundreds of dollars on gasoline every month, you might consider cutting back on road trips and finding alternative modes of transportation such as carpools, public transportation or bicycling. It’s also important to monitor gas prices and fill up when you’re sure you’re getting the best value. Don’t just choose the first station you see when your car is on empty – plan ahead to get the biggest bang for your buck.


It’s easy to quickly burn a hole in your pocket when you go out for a night on the town or even just take the family out to a movie. It’s best to take advantage of cheap or even free entertainment options such as a trip to the park or other community activities, but if you (understandably) need to enjoy an occasional fun night out, just make sure to a plan. Take a limited amount of cash with you to the bars, and eat a big meal before going to the movies so you won’t be tempted to blow $10 or more on an overpriced bucket of popcorn and a small soda at concessions.

The bottom line is that you can improve your bottom line by taking more control over your spending. Choose where you can cut back, and enjoy the extra cash you’ll have in your pockets.


When families try to save money, they usually turn to cutting discretionary spending first. No more dinners out, nights at the movie theater or shopping sprees at the mall. However, most overlook a potential source of significant savings: the grocery bill. Slashing the food budget sounds like a painful task for those in the most extreme poverty, but there are many ways to cut costs and still eat well.

  1. Know if it’s really a deal. Don’t be fooled by big, bright sales flags and pictures in ads. Being “on sale” doesn’t mean it’s the best price you can find for the item. Stores can mark an item down less than a dime from its original price and call it a sale. The smart shopper’s solution is to keep a price book. Record the usual and the best prices you paid for items you buy often and compare each so-called sale to those numbers. Also pay attention to how often stores offer these best prices. You want to buy enough to last until the next sale but not so much that you store it forever.
  2. Buy in bulk ONLY what you can use. Buying in bulk isn’t such a deal if you wasted half of the jumbo size container you buy, so buying everything in bulk doesn’t always lead to savings. The best items to buy in bulk are canned foods and dry goods like flour, sugar and rice, for example. Bulk ketchup, not so much.
  3. how you can cut grocery bills and eat wellAsk your local grocer how the store deals with items nearing their expiration dates. You may be able to buy many products at a discount because these dates reflect a very conservative estimate of the shelf life of the product. Many bakeries will sell day-old bread and other goods as well, and you can freeze any extra above what your family will eat fresh.
  4. Coupons. You don’t have to take this step to the extreme to save money. Savings can be as simple as going online to a few great sites like RedPlum, SmartSource and Become familiar with the coupon policy at the stores where you shop. Some stores offer double coupon specials on certain days. If the store allows, you can get great deals by combining manufacturers’ coupons with store specials. However, some may not accept internet coupons or have other specific limiting policies, so to keep it simple, know the policy before you shop.
  5. Store brands can offer great savings on basic items because you don’t pay for a name, but if you are brand loyal, you have options for saving as well. Most brands have Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and email lists to share news, promotions, special offers and coupons with loyal fans.
  6. A few quick hints: More expensive items are usually placed on shelves at eye level while the lower-priced counterparts occupy the highest and lowest shelves. Beware the items conveniently displayed near the checkout; travel sized items and candy at inflated prices are there to tempt you.
  7. Lastly, be alert at checkout. Cashiers have a monotonous job and even the best make mistakes. If something doesn’t add up right, speak up.

You can save money on groceries without resorting to ramen. With these secrets to savings, you can keep your fridge, your stomach and your wallet full.


5 Ways to Immediately Lower Your Energy Costs

Of all the things you pay for each month, it’s a good bet your energy bills take up the lion’s share after your rent or mortgage. Whenever you’re tightening your budgetary belt, thinking about ways to decrease your energy use is a particularly useful and painless tactic for limiting your expenses.

The first thing to do is take a look at your existing energy bill. If you’re spending a lot of money each month, find out whether you’re in a deregulated market or not. If you are, you might be able to save just by choosing a new energy plan. For instance, people that compare electricity rates can usually save a lot of money just by switching providers.

If you don’t live in a deregulated market, there are still plenty of ways to save money on your energy costs. Try out some of these easy tips, and you could be surprised by just how much you can save!

1. Replace your light bulbs

immediately lower your energy costsIf you still have incandescent light bulbs in your home you’re still using technology developed over 100 years ago! Times have changed and there are several new types of light bulbs that offer increased efficiency and thereby lower running costs. Replace your old light bulbs with either CFLs or LEDs, and you’ll quickly start saving money on energy.

2. Use power strips

Many electronic gadgets use power even when they’re turned off. How do you keep that from happening? Use a power strip! By plugging all your electronics into a power strip and flipping the switch when you’re not using them you’ll prevent any unnecessary power usage.

3. Adjust your thermostat

Whether it’s freezing or sweltering outside, you can make an adjustment to your thermostat that can save tons of energy. Just raising or lowering your indoor temperature by two degrees will make a marked difference in your energy costs. You can make up for those degrees by wearing thicker layers or running fans – both of which use little to no energy and can keep you just as comfortable.

4. Always cover foods when refrigerating them

Taking the extra step to cover your food and drink with foil or plastic before putting them in the fridge is a simple action that can prevent your refrigerator from working harder than it has to. This is particularly true for hot foods because the heat they put off raises the temperature in the appliance, making the condenser work harder to return the temperature to its coldness setting.

5. Don’t use warm water for cooking, washing dishes or laundry

Whenever possible, try not to use hot water. Your hot water heater uses a lot of energy, and in most cases you don’t really need warm water. If you’re running the washing machine, use cold water to save energy and keep colors from fading. When you’re cooking, there’s no need to put hot water in a pot that you’re about to boil anyway. For dishes, cold water is just as effective as long as you don’t let the dishes pile up for a few days before tending to them.

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Gel pens?  A secret code?  Paper cut-out letters?  These are some unique ways in which you can write a budget.   Actually creating a budget, however, is a whole different ballgame.  There are a lot of different factors involved, perhaps the most important being that you want to write a budget you can actually stick to for a long period of time. The most important thing to understand before starting a budget is that you absolutely have to have one to make the best decisions with your money and ultimately reach your financial goals. Since it has to be done, find a way that makes it do-able for you and your family.

Try making budgeting a game.  This can be either personal or with your family members.  If budgeting somehow has an element of fun, it will be much easier to stick to in the long run.  While making it fun, you can also find ways to make it a bit competitive; this can also push your family and yourself to make better choices with money all around. Here are a couple different things you can try right away to get your budgeting game started.

how to start and stick to your budgetSee who can be the most creative with not throwing things away.  Ultimately, reusing things you would usually get rid of will save you money because you will (hopefully) cut down on buying new things.  They key is to repurpose items; give them a new job to do.  For example, old glass jars can be repurposed as cups and containers.  Old clothes and t-shirts can be used for new blankets, to cover pillows, and as washcloths and dishrags.  While this does create some extra work for you and your family, it could be really worth it if you save money for something fun in the long run, like a family vacation or something new for your home.  Aside from saving you money, repurposing keeps everyone thinking creatively, which is always good for adults and children alike.  It is also great for the environment because you are cutting down the amount of waste your household produces in a year.  Basically, everyone wins.

Cut coupons competitively!  Couponing can get out of hand, but, at the same time, it does save you a lot of money (if you have the will power to sit through hours of clipping and searching for the things you need.) Before big family shopping trips, (or personal shopping trips) have everyone make a list of what they want or need and then sit down with the coupon section of the newspaper.  Have everyone cut out coupons for the things that are on their lists, and when you get to the store, see who has saved the most.  They should probably get a prize of some sort (perhaps the opportunity to buy one item that is not attached to a coupon? Just an idea.)  Overall, having some fun family rivalry just might take enough of the drudgery out of couponing and budgeting in general to make it worthwhile.


Top Items To Buy Used

Many stores claim to “eliminate the middleman” implying that one less retail markup means big savings for you, the customer. However, you can eliminate the retail markup and then some by buying used. You can feel good about saving the environment too by keeping still-useful items out of landfills and buying fewer new products. Here are the top ten items to buy used and save money.


Cars depreciate in value significantly over time (except collector cars), with the greatest value loss in its first years. The moment you drive a new car off the dealership lot, it drops in value from the price you paid to the wholesale price, losing about 11% of its value on average, and after five years is worth about a third of its original value.


top value used itemsMost people remodel, change residences or update their home, but most furniture is made to last for twenty years or more given that furniture is made to withstand years of daily use and show little visible wear. Secondhand is often equaled to new but at half or less of the cost. Upholstered furniture like couches, recliners and loveseats wear out soonest due to flattening of the cushion and fabric wear, but hardwood pieces like dining tables and chairs, end tables and dressers can last for decades.

Kids’ Clothes and Toys:

Kids outgrow clothes and grow tired of toys quickly, so it doesn’t make sense to splurge on new clothes for a short period of ownership. At thrift stores and garage sales you can buy kids’ clothing for just a few dollars, and for most children it is the novelty of the toy, not its price, that counts. Bicycles, particularly, are expensive if bought new and are quickly outgrown or crashed. Bike helmets, however, should be bought new, as well as car seats or booster seats.

Musical instruments:

For a child’s first introduction to playing and performing music, a used instrument will suit their needs on a budget most parents can afford. Used is also best if your budding Beethoven turns out to be a Brahms instead and loses interest in the instrument in just weeks. A new, top-of-the-line piece is excessive unless you plan to perform professionally. Whatever you choose, buy from a reputable dealer who can sell you or help you find additional supplies, accessories and repair services.

Entertainment Media:

Just-released CDs and DVDs can set you back a Jackson each. Pre-owned CDs and DVDs are often available at thrift and consignment stores, pawn shops and video rental stores for less than a Lincoln apiece. Used books are another great way to save. Why pay full price for an item you’ll only use once or twice? Unless the book you want is a popular new release or a recent bestseller, you can find it at a used bookstore like Half Price books, which also sells CDs, records, textbooks and more. You can shop online too; on eBay and Amazon’s third-party seller network you can easily search and compare prices from different sellers around the country.

Exercise and Sports Equipment:

Thirty-eight percent of Americans who make New Year’s Resolutions want to lose weight, according to a survey by GNC. In a well-intended burst of enthusiasm, many rush out to buy exercise equipment for the home only to find that it gathers dust in the back room months later. The secondary market is full of barely-used pre-owned equipment at affordable prices. Durable sporting equipment like baseball bats, nets, tennis rackets and hockey sticks are also best to buy used, since adults and children alike can go through phases of fascination and apathy with a sport or activity.

Power Tools:

Another common New Year’s resolution is do-it-yourself home improvement. Even when the job is finished, power tools purchased for the project might never leave the garage again, even though they could withstand many hours of use with proper care and storage. Local classified ads, pawn shops and online seller postings are great places to find the right tools for the job. Reconditioned tools are another option if you want to know exactly what you’re getting. They are repaired and tested by the factory, and most come with a one-year limited warranty.


Gemstone jewelry sells with a huge retail markup. Consider instead estate sales and auctions or a reputable pawn shop. If buying from an independent seller you may want to have the item appraised before buying. Some jewelry stores also sell pre-owned pieces so you can compare side-by-side. Vintage jewelry has a certain mystique and appeal. Fashions change in jewelry and you may find a style from the past that perfectly fits you or a loved one.


For college students who have to buy their own, textbooks can cost $300 to $800 per semester. Why buy new for an item you will use for a semester and never again (or maybe not use at all)? There’s also the risk that a professor will change textbooks or a new edition will be published and you won’t be able to recoup any loss through resale. Instead of funding the overpriced bookstore at your university or ordering online and paying for shipping, look for other students who buy and sell books. Facebook and Craigslist have connected buyers and sellers in a city like never before, so you can save by buying used at the right price, and you support a classmate who also needs to save money for groceries, so you both win. If only Economics 101 was really that easy…

Designer Clothes and Accessories:

With designer clothing, the cost comes from the label, not the item. Those who buy designer duds update their wardrobe often and sell clothes to consignment stores or thrift stores, where you can get them for the same price you would pay for new jeans of average quality from another brand.


That’s right, you can get an iPad for less. Refurbished electronics are factory-tested and good as new. The only aspect diminished is the price. Look for a warranty just as you would if you bought new; one year is ideal.

When buying used, it’s not about getting what you pay for, it’s about getting the quality that someone else paid for by purchasing after the early depreciation in value while the item is still prime for use.


First Three Bills You Should Cut

The basis of a budget is elementary: spend less than you earn. Spending can be divided into two types. Fixed costs are those that must be paid every month, the same amount or approximately the same. Variable costs are just that, unpredictable and varying from month to month. However, some of your bills might not be as fixed as you might think. If you’ve trimmed the fat from your budget and overlooked monthly bills, writing them off as “fixed,” you’re missing out on an opportunity for savings. Here are the first three bills you should cut to balance your budget.

1. Cell Phone

While you probably won’t rack up a $201,000 cell phone bill, you’re likely still paying too much. Data, apps, and overage charges on top of your regular bill aren’t so smart for your budget. For starters, consider the accessories and peripherals for your phone; cases, covers and chargers add significantly to the overall cost. Buying them where you buy the phone is convenient, but the same items likely cost less online or from a third-party outlet.

If you’re new to smartphones, monitor your data usage and find the plan that fits your habits. A service like BillShrink can help you navigate the maze of plans, terms, conditions and fees. If you use only a small amount of data, you could save money by switching to a less expensive plan, but once you’re over your data, the charges can pile up like unread emails in your inbox that you can’t access without incurring more charges. To reduce your usage without sacrificing productivity- or Angry Birds- be sure to take advantage of free wi-fi hotspots. It seems obvious, but according to a Nielsen survey, only half of smartphone users access free wireless internet connections in a given month. Some apps eat up data even when you’re not actively using them, so you may need to proactively turn off GPS or other background apps and disable automatic updates. Ironically, there’s an app to help you locate and turn off vampire apps: Advanced Task Killer.

save money by cutting these bills firstPaying for cell phone insurance? Don’t. Insurance is meant to guard against catastrophic loss and protect what you can’t afford to replace, like your home. If you can’t afford to replace your phone, you overspent on it. Consumer Reports recommends keeping your old phone and reactivating if your new phone suffers an untimely death; use it until you qualify for another free or reduced-priced phone.

If you travel overseas, plan to change to an international plan or turn off your phone completely. You could be charged international roaming fees just for having your phone on, in addition to fees for incoming calls and texts. Most carriers allow you to change to an international plan on a month-to-month basis, so there’s no reason to rack up a huge bill in roaming charges.

2. Heating and Cooling

Depending on your choice of location, heating or cooling bills (or both) can burn a hole in your wallet. Regulate your temperature and your monthly bill by preparing your home and getting smart about utilities. To keep out winter’s chill, make sure your home has adequate insulation, an investment that pays for itself many times over. Cover old windows that leak heat with plastic kits available at home improvement stores. Even a fix as simple as a rolled-up towel on the sill or at the base of a door can make a surprising difference in the average temperature.

Find your lowest comfortable temperature and set your thermostat. There’s no reason to shiver to save money, but you may not even notice one or two degrees of difference, and one degree means two percent savings on the heating bill for the average house. Nighttime is perfect for lowering the temperature further because body temperature actually drops to prepare for sleep.

For those in warm climates who would like to chill out, there are options besides running the air conditioner like a marathoner’s daily workout. Dehumidifiers and ceiling fans will make your home environment feel more comfortable; just be sure to turn off fans when you leave the room, since they’re only moving air across your skin, not actually lowering the temperature. Don’t overlook the amount of heat generated in the house either. The oven, dishwasher, dryer and electronics all produce heat, so turn off electronics not in use, use the air dry setting on the dishwasher and consider hanging clothes out to dry. Closing curtains and planting shade trees on the south and west sides of the house can reduce the solar heat entering your home.

Whether heating or cooling, don’t pay for rooms you don’t use. Close vents and doors for spare bedrooms or rooms used primarily for storage. Well-maintained systems run more efficiently. Clean filters regularly and consider an annual inspection for your furnace.

3. Home Mortgage

This week’s market rate for home mortgages is 3.62 percent according to If your mortgage interest rate is a point or more higher, you would likely benefit from refinancing. A lower interest rate is a no-brainer for savings, and if you can afford a higher monthly payment, you could even shorten the term of your loan from thirty years to twenty or fifteen. The savings from refinancing can make the higher payment affordable, and repaying the loan sooner means huge savings in the long term. However, if you don’t feel confident in your job security or if your income is variable, taking on a shorter-term loan is risky. You can always make extra payments on a long-term loan, but you don’t want to fall behind once you’ve committed to the more aggressive repayment option.

Now you’ve begun to master cutting expenses that you thought were fixed and saved money without major sacrifice. All it took was a few changes of habit and a little legwork. It’s a valuable skill that will serve you well financially. Keep honing your skills and maybe you could take them to Congress and teach a lesson there.


Practice Mind Over Money

If you are surprised by the numbers when your credit card bill arrives or can never figure out why you can’t keep cash in your wallet, you probably spend without really thinking about it. Maybe you’re often rushed, distracted or forgetful when you spend money. Such a habit takes time to break, but you can succeed with patience and conscientious effort. Here are a few tricks to jog your memory and help the habits stick.

  • MAKE A BUDGET. If there is one single method that will help you reach your financial goals, it is making a budget. Seeing the number s in black and white brings consciousness to spending that never existed in the finances of many households. It forces a person to really think about available income, examine all expenses and prioritize spending. The importance of these three tasks cannot be overstated. When you examine your income, you may see ways that you could earn more. When you consider your expenses, you may see ways to reduce expenses without really losing anything. When you prioritize your spending, you can stop spending on what isn’t benefitting you and save more money for what counts.
  • practice mind over moneyWhen you shop, compare a purchase to something more concrete and meaningful than just dollars and sense. It’s the “broke college kid” mentality: if you really only have X dollars and overspending is not an option, you have to compare and choose to spend wisely. For example, if Amy goes out for dinner and drinks with friends and spends $50, that’s equal to two weeks of groceries for her. Even that $30 pair of jeans means nearly four hours of work at her $8/per hour campus job; four hours she would like to spend studying for her final exams. A simple, concrete comparison clarifies your priorities and helps you easily make good spending decisions. To get into the habit, keep a pay stub with your cash and make a personalized credit card holder with a picture or a phrase to trigger this examination of a potential purchase.
  • Establish a waiting period before spending discretionary income. Consider three different things you could do with the money if you didn’t buy the extra stuff. This will help you to practice the last and most important habit…
  • Spend Consciously. When you need to save, save, but if you stick to your budget, pay your debts and maximize your investment opportunities, you should feel free to spend what is truly extra money on anything you really enjoy, even if others believe it is frivolous and unnecessary. The problem with American attitudes toward money is that too many people fall into two extremes. One group spends on impulse, barely thinks about their purchases and realizes only later what they bought and how much they spent. The opposite view will go to extremes to save money, deprive themselves, and feel guilty for spending money for anything, even if the purchase is well within their budget. Bottom line: don’t spend without thinking, but if you can afford it and you have truly thought about the purchase, you shouldn’t feel guilty about spending on something you would really enjoy. After all, if your spending habits are responsible and you are financially secure, why shouldn’t you enjoy the result of your hard work and dedication?

Have any comments on this topic?  Please leave us some below.

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Before You Budget

Budget, budget, budget. It’s the magic word these days. It seems everyone is making one, balancing one or blowing one. If you’re preparing to make your budget, you’re probably eager to get started, but don’t let your early motivation fade and leave the job half-done like an overly ambitious home improvement project. Be prepared for some legwork before you can crunch out a budget and don’t get discouraged; perseverance will pay off quickly and the benefits compound in the long run.

Making the Mindset

Chances are you’re not making a budget just for the fun of it. You have a reason to take a good look at your financial habits and start making adjustments. The backbone of a budget is financial goals. Perhaps you’re trying to pay off debt, save for retirement, send your kids to college or someday travel the world. Whatever you want to do, you need a plan to get there financially. To set goals that are realistic yet challenging, make them specific and WRITE THEM DOWN. Writing them down forces you to clarify and elaborate more than the vague ideas you can keep in your mind and creates a sense of commitment. Assign priorities and break each long-term goal into manageable short-term mini-goals. Setting such milestones helps you mark progress on your financial journey and stay motivated to stick with your plan.

Changing Habits

what to do before you start budgetingThe most difficult part of making a budget is looking your habits in the eye, sometimes habits to which you deliberately turned a blind eye. Those who begin budgeting for the first time are often surprised by at least one category of their spending, and you have to be willing to make changes. If you have a partner, you should both be prepared to talk frankly and openly about your individual spending. If one partner denies, blames or makes excuses, the team effort will fail.

Have Patience

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Warren Buffet’s fortune. Preparing a budget is work; saving receipts, compiling data and figuring out where all the cash went is no cakewalk. Be patient and persistent, and it’s better to let a few dollars slip by than to give up in frustration trying to track every penny.

Make a Plan

Budget methods are like shoes; the right fit is comfortable, practical and makes you confident, and it will take time to find that right fit. Most budgets are set up on a monthly schedule since many expenses occur monthly, but you may want to coordinate your budget with your pay schedule so you know where your money goes right away and prevent it from being frittered away unconsciously. Those who want to put strict reins on their spending might prefer Dave Ramsey’s envelope system.  Also, see our article about whether or not envelope budgeting works. Numerous types of budgeting software exists, free or requiring purchase. If you bank online you may be able to download statements to Excel or Quicken to make organizing simpler.

If you’re ready to get started, what are you waiting for? If not, what are you waiting for? Being prepared is a wonderful thing, but don’t get stuck in prep mode trying to perfect every detail before launch. Like riding a bike or running a marathon, the hardest step is getting started.


Parties, home decorations and treats usually mean spending outside of your normal budget. Don’t be spooked by the spending or let money vampires drain your bank account dry; you can celebrate without breaking the bank, and that’s no ghost story.


Instead of buying out the Halloween aisle at your local big box store, use your creativity instead of your credit card and make your own decorations. Buy old white sheets from garage sales or thrift stores and splatter with red food coloring. Layer a clean sheet or, better yet, a sheet of plastic underneath. The inner layer will keep your furniture clean and the upper layer looks festively creepy. For a darker effect, you can cut apart black trash bags, tape them together and finish with fake spider web. You can create shadows that make your guests do a double-take using just a flashlight and heavy construction paper or cardboard. Cut out simple shapes like bats or ghosts, tape them to the light and position the flashlight carefully to place the corresponding shadow. If you want a really over-the-top scary scene, try making your own shrunken heads!

Food and Beverage

The key to memorable party refreshments is not how much they cost but how much fun they are. That doesn’t mean you have to outdo Martha Steward preparing the treats; remember that she has a whole crew to help. A decorate-your-own cookie or cupcake station with plenty of options ensures that everyone can have his or her individualized treat. It satisfies the sweet tooth, while the act of preparation actually makes the eating more conscious and enjoyable.  For the adults, what could possibly be cooler than a pumpkin keg?


Fun and games that are available but generally unstructured make the best party fun. Children and the young at heart – on Halloween, who isn’t- will enjoy making trick or treat bags by decorating plain brown or white lunch bags with markers, stencils, stamps, glitter, sequins or any other odd craft supplies you might have available, the stranger the better. A feel-box can really set the Halloween mood; cut holes in boxes big enough for guests to put their hands in if they dare and guess what nasty object is inside. Try cold cooked spaghetti noodles for “worms,” peeled grapes for “eyeballs” and more ideas here.


save on halloween stuffPlan ahead now for next year; costumes will be priced to sell after Halloween to make room for Christmas, so you’ll find savings to die for on classics like skeletons, zombies, vampires, etc. Also, many costumes can be made easily with a little time, creativity and a few resources. Any old clothes, ripped and covered in fake blood with some dramatic makeup to match can be a zombie costume. Popular variations include zombie clown, zombie bride and zombie prom. A cardboard box is the start of a Rubik’s Cube or jack-in-the-box.

This Halloween, you can celebrate in scary style while keeping the costs from creeping up on you. By using items you probably already have around the house, you save and have money left over to start building your zombie apocalypse survival kit.


How To Save Money On Gift Buying

Americans spent $35.3 billion during the holiday season last year. Shopping for gifts may mean fighting the crowds at your local mall, surfing retailers’ websites endlessly or rushing through the store on Christmas Eve for the last gift on your list. For many, the holidays are a stressful time both personally and financially. Those who shop with a strategy, however, can save themselves the stress and spend less money on great gifts. By following a few simple tips, you’ll have happier holidays and avoid the fiscal hangover that often lasts well into the New Year.

Plan Ahead

Last minute gift shopping: heading to the store, hurrying through looking for potential gifts, worrying about finding the perfect gift, waiting in line and paying any price for it. Has this ever happened to you? Does this happen to you every year? It’s a strategy that’s stressful for you and your wallet.

To save time, stress and money, make a plan. Before major holidays, create a list of people for whom you plan to buy gifts and how much you can afford to spend on each. Spend a little time brainstorming potential gifts for each recipient. If you have a general idea, you can comparison shop, watch for sales and buy gifts for much less than retail price. It helps to make several shopping trips throughout the year instead of one major shopping spree. You will be able to keep perspective on how much you’re spending, avoid building up a large balance on your credit cards and feel less overwhelmed with the pressures of buying the right gift for the important people in your life.

how to save buying giftsFor those in your outer gift-buying circle –landlord/tenant, coworker, neighbor, etc. – stock up on basic gift items that you can buy in multiples or bulk at a lower cost. Lotions and soaps are appropriate gifts for almost anyone; candles, picture frames and photo albums are also good choices.

Flash-sale sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and RetailMeNot, to name a few, can be perfect for gift buying if you know what you are looking for. If you plan to buy a watch for your brother and jewelry for your mom, you can watch the sites throughout the year and buy when a discount on that item becomes available. It’s an advantage for you because they will only think you spent too much.


When it comes to the presentation, you do not have to spend a fortune. Post-holiday sales are the best time to stock up on wrapping paper, gift bags, gift tags, bows, ribbons and holiday cards. You can add a creative touch without adding to the cost; wrap in brown paper and decorate any way you like with stencils, stamps or other art supplies. Go green and wrap in newspaper; give the comics a second life.

You can turn simple, inexpensive gifts into perfectly personalized, thoughtful ones. Consider a personalized basket of gifts with a common theme suited to the recipient. For those who appreciate a good wine, you could include a bottle of wine, two glasses, some gourmet crackers and maybe some chocolate. You can likely save by finding discounts on the individual items and create a gift that’s more than the sum of its parts.


Yes, it sounds tacky, but it can benefit the giver and the recipient if done correctly. The rules for successful regifting: only give to someone who will truly appreciate the gift. If you can’t imagine buying it for someone else, don’t regift it to him or her. Only new, unused items are eligible. Tacky is anything used, obsolete, personalized, or accidentally regifted to the original giver. Don’t use the holidays as an excuse to give away the clutter in your closets. However, if you have a bookworm friend who would appreciate the novels you received but never had time to read, you already have the right gift for the intended recipient.

For the person who has everything, consider giving an experience instead of an item. Giving concert tickets, museum memberships, or spa gift certificate can bring memories to the recipient instead of adding clutter when you don’t really know what to buy. Here is an opportunity to be creative and personal with your gift by tailoring the gift toward the recipient’s interests and preferences. Brewery tours, craft shows, sporting events, anything; giving this kind of gift reminds a person to take time out of a busy schedule for what he or she enjoys.

Many savvy shoppers fall into the retail trap when buying gifts because they don’t apply their money-saving habits when purchasing gifts. Consumers often feel pressured to spend during the holiday season to find the perfect gift or to impress coworkers, neighbors, family and friends. Shopping last-minute causes many to spend more than intended, especially when the gift-shopping is combined with travel plans, party preparations and family affairs. Saving money on buying gifts isn’t being cheap; it’s being smart with your money. Planning ahead and thinking through each purchase means you will also give more thoughtful gifts that are well suited to the people who receive them.


Saving Money During Your Baby’s First Two Years

Raising a child from birth to age 18 can cost anywhere from $200-250K. That’s the MSRP of an Audi R8 GT, which takes much less time commitment and maintenance cost. However, there is hope for new and expecting parents. Discount sites exist for every market niche, and items for infants and children are no exception. Check out BabySteals, Baby Half Off, Green Baby Bargains, BabyDirect and more. Instead of spending a fortune on your new arrival, following these tips can save you a bundle on your bundle of joy.

The average infant uses about 6,000 diapers in the first two years. Parents have two main options for diapering: cloth or disposable. It’s a question not only of cost but also convenience, environmental concerns, and of course baby’s comfort. Fortunately, there are ways to save with both options. If you prefer disposable, you can save by buying in bulk. is a great place to comparison shop, buy in bulk and save. Amazon Warehouse Deals offers open-box and slightly damaged merchandise at a discount, so you will sometimes find quality diapers in damaged packaging, although the stock is not constant. Nearly all diaper manufacturers offer coupons on a regular basis, so keep an eye out for those as well. If you choose cloth diapering, prefolds are usually the most economical option. They will require a diaper cover or nylon pants and some type of fastener. has a wide selection of cloth diapers, diaper accessories and bed & bath for baby well as resources for those new to cloth diapering. Those who choose cloth may want to use a diaper service to save time although it will cost a little more.

save money on your babyWhen it comes to clothing, babies don’t demand designer duds or the latest fashions, and they don’t know or care if an older sibling or cousin wore it first. Good quality secondhand clothing or store brands make sense, since an infant grows out of clothing so quickly and won’t wear it long enough to be worth spending a lot. Rompers, sleepers, socks and a hat or two are the basics, plus cold weather gear if the climate demands it.

Making your own baby food does save you money, but this savings is even overshadowed by its other benefits, particularly for parents who prefer “natural” choices for their baby. By making your own, you ensure that it is always fresh with no additives, and if your child has allergies it is easy to ensure food safety. With simple one-ingredient purees to more complex table food recipes, you can give your baby greater variety of tastes and textures, incorporating the same fruits and vegetables you already buy for yourself.

At each baby checkup, ask your doctor for free samples. Companies send masses of their product samples that the hospital or clinic is glad to distribute to parents.  Before scheduling an appointment concerning an illness, call your pediatrician. Experienced professionals can often diagnose common problems over the phone, saving you the time and hassle of an appointment as well as the co-pay.


How to Make a Budget

Making a budget for your yourself or your household is more about the commitment to improving your finances than it is about actually sitting down and writing out your family budget.  In fact, it is more about having the will to save money, or should I say having the will power not to spend it.

With that said, budgeting is an important part of learning how to better manage your money.  If you’re serious about improving your finances, then here are some steps you can take to help you make a budget and improve your finances.

Manage Your Bills.  One of the most important parts of managing your money is to manage your bills.  Make sure that you have a good grasp of when your bills come in and don’t just pay them without first making sure they are accurate and that you have done your best to reduce each bill.  Sometimes picking up the phone and asking for a better rate can reduce your bills, especially for services like television, phone or internet bills.  For me, I created a checking spreadsheet that I have used for years to manage my monthly bills and to keep my finances organized and up to date.

Find Ways to Save Money.  Once you’ve got your bills under control its time to find some creative ways to save some money.  Literally, there is no end to how much money you can save over the long run if you keep finding new and creative ways to save.  If you’re willing to make lifestyle changes to save money, there are even more options to save.  Note that many methods take months to start saving you money, so get started today.

help making a budgetUse a Budget Worksheet.  Once you’ve made some decisions about how to spend your money more wisely, it’s time to find some budgeting tools to help you record and track your monthly budget.  Of course, we offer a free budget worksheet that you can use, but we also list several other top household budget worksheets that may work just as well for you.  Download whichever copy you like the most and start using it.  Remember that with a little spreadsheet skill, you can really turn any spreadsheet into your own personalized budget.

If you don’t like using spreadsheets, don’t worry, there are lots of budget tools and free budgeting software that you can also try.  Although software is less flexible, a lot of it is automated and if used properly can save you some time gathering your budget information each month.

Keep At It.  Just like any excercise or diet program, you have to stick to your budget program.  Use your spreadsheet or software to help you track your spending and to look for new opportunities to save money.  Over the months, you’ll find that your finances will continue to improve.  It’s important that you don’t give up, especially if you have a bad money month or two.  Keep the faith and you can stay motivated to improve your finances!

Do you have any advice to add?  If so leave us a comment.


8 Ways to Save When Starting College

Save by Maximizing Aid Eligibility.

Financial aid awards can make a difference of thousands of dollars. Grants and scholarships don’t leave the student with a heavy burden after graduation. Knowing how financial need is calculated in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you can take steps to prepare and maximize your eligibility for financial help. In short, anything you can do to reduce liquid assets before filing the FAFSA without losing value benefits both parent and student. Some tips:

Save money in a parent’s name, not the child’s: A college’s formula for calculating financial need considers about five percent of parental assets and twenty percent of the child’s assets. The lower tax bracket is incentive to save in the child’s name early in life, but once the child nears college age those funds work against them in terms of financial aid. Now is also the time to pay necessary expenses for the future: you’ll probably spend on a laptop for college, car repairs and dorm furniture anyway, so paying for it now reduces the student’s available resources from the financial aid viewpoint.

Maximize retirement fund contributions: Retirement funds are excluded from parental asset calculation, so saving for your future helps your student save for theirs. Many parents think that paying for their child’s education is their responsibility. However, students get financial aid to pay for college, and they have a career ahead of them to pay off debts. Parents don’t get help paying for their retirement, and they don’t have years ahead of them to rebuild savings once they’ve drained their accounts into tuition payments. Borrowing from a 401(k) is one of the worst mistakes parents can make because it incurs early withdrawal penalties and erases years of savings.

8 ways to save on collegePay off consumer debt: The FAFSA does not consider parental consumer debt in the need-based financial aid calculations. For example, the child of a parent with a high income and credit card debt will receive less aid than the child of a parent with a lower income and no debt. Paying off debt reduces the assets measured by the FAFSA, and repaying the debt sooner benefits you by saving money in interest. You have to repay the debt at some point, and before filing the FAFSA is the time to do it.

Save by Taking a (Tax) Break.

The federal tax code encourages college attendance by giving tax credits for tuition costs. If your adjusted gross income is less than $80,000 if you are single or less than $160,000 filing jointly with your spouse, you qualify for two important federal tax credits, according to a free tax calculator. The American Opportunity Tax Credit lets you claim all of the first $2,000 plus one-fourth of the next $2,000 in tuition and required fees for enrollment. You can claim it during the first four years of an eligible degree-granting program. The Lifetime Learning Credit can be worth up to $2,000 per year, but there is no limit on the number of years it can be claimed. It also includes courses that are not part of a degree program, so workers who take occasional courses to improve job skills are also eligible. You may only claim one of the credits for one child in a given year. Find more information on, which publishes FAQs on a range of tax topics in language anyone can understand.

Know why you’re going to college.

This could be the most important step in saving money when starting college. If you know why you are at your chosen college in your chosen field, you are less likely to change majors or transfer, which can lengthen your time in college if credits don’t count for your new major or don’t transfer to your new school.

Choose your studies carefully. Career tests, personality assessments, job shadowing and volunteer work can help you learn your strengths, weaknesses and preference. If you research careers and know your personality and preference, you will likely pick a path that suits you and leads you to a rewarding future in the workplace.

Choose your school wisely. Research your top choices. Don’t just take the tour, participate in it. Talk to your tour guide to get behind the script and ask as many questions as you need. Talking with students or taking time to just explore the area can give you a feel for the campus and decide if it fits you.

Start somewhere else. If your dream school is so expensive you can only dream of affording it, consider taking prerequisites at a more affordable school. First, become familiar with school policies on transfer credits. You may be able to take college-level courses during your senior year of high school. Scoring well on Advanced Placement (AP) tests or the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) can count for college credit and allow students to skip introductory level courses in their first year of college. Most curriculums have a core of basic requirements that are similar across colleges. You could take the same courses at a local community college for much less money, perhaps even living at home and commuting for additional savings. Consider also location, since in-state tuition is usually half or less of out-of-state tuition. If you want to go out-of-state, move to that state and work for the minimum number of months required to be a legal resident before enrolling.

Know your learning style. Knowing how you learn before you get to college will help you make the most of your class’s right from the start. If you learn by doing, sign up for a learning lab or form a study group with friends. If you need time alone to absorb information, find a quiet, comfortable study spot where you can do just that. Your grades will be better, making you eligible for more scholarships in the future and helping you retain what you learn, which is really why you’re there in the first place.


The Truth About Budgeting

know the truth about budgetingThe truth about budgeting is that it’s hard work. You think: “Why can’t I just have everything I want all the time?” Maybe you don’t even want luxury items or super expensive clothes and stuff like that, you simply want to go out to eat a bit more often and get a great Starbucks coffee every other day. The answer is simple: You can’t have everything you want when you want it because you need to pay off your student loans and maybe retire before you’re eighty. Budgeting means giving up things that you like in the present so that you can have what you want in the future. Whatever your reason for budgeting and saving your money, it is going to make the present a little less enjoyable for you, but your future will be much more exciting.

Another truth about budgeting is that it doesn’t work unless you make it work, which means if you don’t personalize your budget and have a plan you will not be a very successful budgeter – you can’t just print off a budget plan from the internet, you have to use the internet as a resource to create your own. To be a successful budgeter, you have to really know yourself or give yourself a trial period to see what works for you. The best place to begin is to record your spending for a period of time. You should probably start with at least a week and continue meticulously recording your spending for up to a month (any longer and you will just get bored). When your recording period is over, sit down with your notes and add up where your money is going. Look at what categories take up the most of your money; do you throw it away at Starbucks? Do you grocery shop too often? Do you make too many Target trips in a week? Find out where your money is actually going.

Once you know where your money actually goes every month or week or other period of time, you can effectively start limiting your spending in certain areas to free up money for saving or spending in another area. Looking at your spending data you will probably realize that you are overspending on something that you hadn’t really thought of. For example, you might see that you are spending upwards of one hundred dollars a month on your special eat-out Fridays. That is a perfect place to save money, because although you might think that you need to go out to eat at least once a week, there is a guaranteed chance that you will be just fine if you limit your consumption from once a week to once a month.

Overall, a budget is a commitment. Like anything you commit to, it has to fit your lifestyle and your needs. Once you have a dynamic budget that works for you, you start to worry less and enjoy life more – in the long run too, which is the important part of creating a budget.


I was reading an article about how people save for retirement, and it struck a few chords with me.  The first thing it said is that most people struggle most of their lifes trying to save money for retirement.

I’d have to agree with this.  After all, you can’t save money while you’re still in school.  And schooling takes up nearly 20-25% of most people’s lives.  After that, if you went to college then you probably have years of student loans to pay off.  If you didn’t go to college, chances are the job you find isn’t going to make you wealthy right away either.  What I’m really trying to say here is that you don’t even get a chance to start saving until you are in your mid twenties.  Then, there’s the buying a house, having kids, and saving for your kids future.  Not to mention that the cost of raising a kid is now approaching several hundred thousand dollars over their lifespan.  And then, just when you start to get ahead, there will always be something to set you back.  Perhaps it’s a bad economy, a job loss, your children’s tuition, a large medical bill.  Whatever the case, saving money for retirement is difficult.

how to burst saveEnter the concept of burst saving.  Burst saving is really a concept of how to save money quickly when you can.  Most people that use burst saving are only able to do it for a short period of time.  That is why it’s called ‘burst’.  For example, if there is a time when both you and your spouse are working and you have held your costs down, it is possible that you can save a lot of money each month.  Or maybe, you start getting bonuses at work or some larger raises, but don’t raise your spending.  You can start to save a lot more money.  Burst saving doesn’t last forever, but by really taking advantage of the times that you can save money without raising your expenses, you can really juice up your retirement savings.

For most people, burst savings comes later in life.  After their kids are done with college, their house is paid off, their expenses are low, and their income is at its peak.  However, with some proper planning, you can get your burst in early.  For example, when I graduated from college, I started making pretty good money after about four years.  The first thing I did in the first two years was to buy a car and pay for the entire car and all of my student loans within two years.  That meant I had the next eight years before I had kids to burst save.  I put all of my bonuses and a lot of my paychecks into savings and invested them all.  It worked great for me, and if I hadn’t made some poor investments and gotten wiped out by the dotcom bubble, I would be set today.  Unfortunately, I’m not in the position to boost my savings while being a blog writer.  Google’s immense de-emphasis of my several blogs has seen to that.  However, I am on the lookout for a real job that I can use to pay the bills.  Then, my blogging business can be my ‘burst’.

So what do you think?  Have you been able to burst save?  Please share your thoughts?


How To Find The Best Budgeting Tool For You

There are lots of great budget tools out there.  Some are free budget tools and are available as online tools.  Some will cost you a monthly or one-time fee and are downloadable. Here is some advice on how to find the right one for you.

Finding the Best Budgeting Tool

Search the Internet, a lot

There are millions of different budgeting tools out there. There are so many that do different things, in fact, that it can be difficult to determine which is the best and will work the most effectively for you and your budget. In finding which tool works best for you, decide what you hope to gain from a budgeting tool. Start by reading online reviews of different budgeting tools. A simple Google search will yield millions of results that can help you make an informed decision.

Read Reviews, and often

In your search for the best tool, read customer reviews as much as you read the product descriptions. It is very common that a product will seem great until you read that everyone who has bought it says that it doesn’t do what it claims to. Customer reviews may also lead you to realize what you actually want in a budgeting tool; from reading other’s complaints or praises of products, you may realize that a certain feature is necessary for you. This will only streamline your search. Also, be mindful of what ratings customer’s have given different products. For example, if a product doesn’t have a lot of reviews but has an overall high rating (say, 4.5 out of 5 starts) it is probably still a pretty safe investment. If a product doesn’t have a very good rating, but it has some good individual reviews, you are still better off avoiding it.

Remember that you get what you pay for

how to find a good budget toolDecide how much money you are willing to spend on a budgeting tool right away, and stick to your limit. There are a lot of different options out there that range from free Internet downloads to more costly software to hiring a legitimate financial advisor. Determine what you are willing to spend, if anything before beginning to search and remember that you will most likely get what you pay for. If you decide to use a free online application, it may not work so well or it will solely depend on the amount of effort you put in.

Use what you pay for!

In selecting a budgeting tool, what it comes down to is this; how much will you actually use the tool? If you find a product that you think is really cool and could potentially help you a lot, but it seems confusing and complicated, don’t get it. It makes absolutely no sense to put the effort and money into purchasing and setting up a product if you aren’t going to use it. In products that are overcomplicated, this happens often; people put out the money for all of the bells and whistles but then don’t use them. It would be much smarter to use a simpler, cheaper product that makes sense to you than one that does a million things that you don’t understand.


Step one: locate your spouse. Methods include yelling their name, calling their cell phone, ringing the cattle bell for dinner (be ready for their disappointment when there is no food), or gently tugging on their shirt to get their full attention.

Step two: locate two chairs, or other sitting devices that comply with two people, such as a couch or bench. These can be found grouped around tables, in living rooms, or outside with canvas backs and cup holders. Where you find a sitting device and what it is doesn’t really matter, just make sure it’s one that you can stay in for a while but isn’t so comfortable that you will fall asleep.

Step three: Lower your rear and bend your knees over the sitting device until it is holding you up. Your legs will be baring no weight and your knees will be at a roughly ninety-degree angle. Instruct your spouse to do the same, either next to you, in front of you or on another sitting device close by.

Step four: Now that you are sitting, BEAT OUT THAT BUDGET. This calls for an entirely new list of steps that are much more complicated and less fun. Be calm and do not fight if you can help it. No good ever came out of two people arguing about money while sitting simultaneously in chairs facing each other. Fighting usually leads to standing which usually leads to walking which is the opposite of writing a budget.

The unfortunate truth about writing budgets is that it is an activity that is interesting and/ or fun to very few people, but it is also an activity that has to be done to be fiscally responsible. When you and your partner decide that you have- or want- to sit down and write a budget for yourself, you must come to terms with the fact that it’s not going to be all that fun (although you can make it fun if you try) and that you will most likely start to pull your hair out.

budgeting with your spouseWhat you also have to come to terms with, however, is that it has to be done and the quicker you get it done correctly, the sooner you can do something else that doesn’t make you want to cringe.

Before you even begin to think about money or numbers, allot a manageable amount of time to household budgeting, and stick to your schedule. If you want to get everything done at once, set an amount of time that you can work hard for and when that’s done, take a break and do something you like for at least fifteen minutes before going back. So, budget like it’s your job (because it really kind of is) for forty-five minutes, then take a fifteen-minute break. If you have more time, budget for thirty minutes every night for a week or so. Whatever your schedule is, make sure you work hard for the entire time you’ve allotted yourself. Be extremely productive when you’re working and do something you really enjoy doing when you’re not. Things get done surprisingly well when balance is used.  If you are new to budgeting, check out our advice on how to budget for beginners.

When you have your schedule planned out and you are ready to begin with the actual budget writing, look carefully at your income versus outcome for every month you have records or for which you can obtain records. Are you in debt? Are you making money to save? Maybe you are just breaking even. Whatever the case may be, you must know the actual factual numbers of what you make and what you spend each month before you can effectively budget.

Next, determine your priorities. What do you absolutely need to spend money on every month? Bills will (probably, hopefully) be the first thing on your list followed by groceries and other necessary living expenses (shampoo? Toilet paper? Don’t forget about the little things.) Keep track of receipts or look at your bank account if you use a debit/credit card and get spending statements and calculate how much these things cost. Then, make sure that at least that much money (and probably a little extra for cushioning just in case) goes into your checking account each month.

A side note; once you know your spending and have determined your priorities, you will most likely be able to find ways to save on everyday items. Maybe you find that you can buy generic brands, or that you end up throwing away a lot of food because it goes bad before you have time to eat it. Who knows what you may find; there is probably some way to cut down on your monthly spending, which is why making a budget isn’t just a one-time deal. It’s a constant, usually monthly, task to review and plan for the next month.

After the necessities are accounted for, if you have extra income, make some financial goals. Maybe you would like to pay off your house or car in five years, or you want to take a vacation at the end of the year. Even if you just want to get out of debt and start saving for a ‘rainy day,’ you must discuss these goals and write them into your budget. Having them be even as tangible as written down makes them a lot easier to stick to long term.

Next, go to the bank, or call the bank, or find your bank on the Internet. Use all the cool bank things that your bank does to your advantage. Separate your checking and savings account so your savings account is high interest. Get a debit/atm card and get rid of your credit cards. Open a ‘rainy day’ account if you want. Have your paychecks directly deposited to your bank and in your accounts in the correct amounts. Once you have all of this set up, the rest of your budget is a breeze given the fact most banks have budgetary systems in place specifically for you!

The final step is to launch your budget. Once you have figured out where all your money is going, stick to your spending plan. If you don’t over spend, you will start to see your goals take shape as you save money.


Party Favors On a Budget

Want to throw a party to impress your friends without denting your savings? Try making your own party favors for guests. Many homemade favors are simple, inexpensive and unique. You’ll leave your friends guessing how you learned to be so crafty!

Using recycled materials means you don’t have to make a special trip to the store to buy supplies, in addition to keeping the cost low. If you have an infant, you probably have recycled many small glass jars. These are a great basic supply with many uses. They can be easily decorated with paper, ribbons, sequins and other art supplies to match any occasion and filled with candy or nuts. You can wrap them in fabric remnants or glue colored tissue paper to the outside to create tea light candle holders. When decorated with a winter theme, they also work well for individual servings of hot chocolate or instant coffee. The options are endless if you get creative, use a variety of materials and match the decoration to the occasion. You may even want to personalize favors with each guest’s name using letters cut out from magazines.

how to make party favors on a budgetIn most American households, waste paper abounds. The Japanese art of paper folding, origami, gives thousands of ways to use paper to make almost any shape imaginable, even fold into tiny gift boxes. Newspaper is easy to fold and makes an elegant black-and-white palette, while magazine pages make each piece colorful and unique.

For a truly eco-friendly party, give the gift of plant life. Giving seeds is an inexpensive and practical party favor that will grow and remind guests of the good time long after the party is over. You’ll need about a teaspoon of seeds if packaged in a small paper envelope, or more if wrapping seeds in fabric and tying with ribbon. Consider the climate of your area and the time of year, and be sure to include identification and instructions for the best way to grow the plant. Wildflowers like daisies, poppies and baby’s breath grow well in most climates. If you have a green thumb yourself, you can plant seeds in small glass jars in advance and have starter plants to use as party favors and give away after the party.

For a memorable birthday party for kids, there are favors they can make with an adult’s help. Too-small crayon stubs can be melted down and mixed to create multicolored, swirled crayons in fun shapes. Simply place crayon stubs in a cookie cutter on wax paper, heat until wax melts and use toothpicks to swirl colors. Candy or soap molds can also be used. Another easy favor begins with cardboard tubes from toilet paper or paper towels. Fill with candy, cover in wrapping paper extending a few inches beyond the ends, twist ends and tie with ribbons. Simple, festive and filled with candy: what’s not to love?

When it comes to saving on party favors, the more creative you are, the more you save.