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Frugal Shopping

Coupon sites – great way to save money on a regular basis, but only if it’s something you need.

Shop sales and shop for deals – Plan your purchases so you can keep an eye out for sales. We are often limited when we have to buy something at the spur of the moment.

Rebates – don’t miss these, but remember to send them in on time – the companies bank on the fact that such a high percentage of people never send in their rebates.

Gift Certificates – Many of us get gift certificates for gifts. This is a great way to have the receiver choose just what they want, while also saving on shipping costs across the country. Again to the company it is money in the bank if you don’t use them in time or at all.

Online outlet and clearance sites:

Clothes & Accessories

  • Eddie Bauer
  • LL Bean
  • Roadrunner Sports

Electronics

  • Amazon
  • U Bid

Personal Care

  • Drugstore.com
  • Beauty.com

Online discount codes – There are many sites on the internet that provide current discount codes that can be used online for great savings. It’s always a good idea to look at a few of these sites before making an online purchase.

  • eDealinfo.com
  • BradsDeals.com
  • Retailmenot.com
  • currentcodes.com
  • thedailygreen.com
  • couponcabin.com

Product Review Sites – Sites that offer product reviews will assist in the best purchasing choices. These reviews often provide the extra added information that only someone who has already used the item can offer. Most reviews are straight forward and truthful. Also pay attention to the number of reviewers with the same opinion. If only one person reviewed the item (either good or bad), they may have experienced a unique situation.

 

Frugal Gardening

Victoria Gardens at Epcot

A home garden is one of the oldest and most cost effective way to save on the grocery budget. Even one prolific tomato plant will save on that grocery bill. By choosing to grow our own vegetables, fruits, nuts, or herbs in our own gardens, balconies, or in community gardens (in some cities), we can eat fresh food at the peak of flavor for minimal cost. Squash, spinach, and tomatoes often do well in containers. Learn about more plants that can thrive in alternative spaces, such as roofs, balconies, and windowsills, at (containergardeningtips.com). If you don’t have the space for a garden, community gardens in your area can be found at (communitygarden.org).

Most of us can have some type of home garden. Depending on your space available, you can choose which of the following fits your needs and resources the best:

  • Container Garden
  • Row Garden
  • Raised Beds
  • Square Foot Garden
  • Hydroponic (Including an AeroGarden)

 

Photo Credit: Patti Winters

Increase Savings

I have saved the best financial topic for last. Saving money is one of my favorite hobbies. It is so much fun watching the amount of interest increase each month. It doesn’t matter if it is a few cents, $1, $100, or more, this is income that I don’t have to work for, just keep my paws off the principle and it grows. You can’t ask more than that. And seeing that balance increase each month (or whenever I want to peek at it) gives me such a feeling of accomplishment and security.

Levels of Savings:

Emergency Savings: Our first goal is to save enough for emergencies that may come up unexpectedly. This is savings to take care of you and your family for unexpected emergencies, such as: if you are laid off from your job, not able to work for some reason, a victim of a natural disaster, or any other like emergency. The goal for this category is 6 months of expenses minimum (1 year preferred). You will be able to figure out this goal by our earlier analysis. This is often an overwhelming amount to think of for most people, so just remember each little bit adds up and gets you closer to the goal.

Short Term Savings: Next we will define Short Term Savings as setting aside funds for something we will need in less than a year. These are needs we know about and are planning for. This could include saving for a new sofa, vacation, or even Christmas gifts. If you can set aside money over time for these items, you will be saving greatly over high interest rate credit cards. It really pays to plan ahead.

Long Term Savings: This will include large items we are saving for which are more than a year in the future. This would include saving for items such as a down payment on your first home, your children’s college education, and your retirement. The more you are able to set aside for these future expenses now the easier it will be in the future. If your company offers a matching 401K, do your best to max it out (at least to ensure you get the highest amount in the match). This is like getting a raise immediately.

Vehicles of Savings:

Savings Account: Along with your local savings account, online savings accounts are a great option for your savings needs. These rates are higher than the national average for standard saving accounts, but at this time still a very low interest rate. You will need to allow about 3 days to transfer money back and forth from the online savings to your checking or local savings accounts, when or if this money is needed. Ensure this is from an FDIC insured bank to reduce risk (see below).

Certificates of Deposit (CD): CDs often have higher interest rates than your typical savings account, since you are tying up your money for a set amount of time (6 months, 1 year, 5 years, etc). Additionally, if you feel the interest rates as a whole are either going up or down you can use this interest rate for a set amount of time for your benefit. Ensure this is obtained from an FDIC insured bank (see below).

Stocks, Bonds, and Mutual Funds: These are investment vehicles that are more risky than the first two I have listed. These are not FDIC insured and there is a possibility that you could lose the principle you invested. Since past performance is not always a reflection of future performance, I would recommend you obtain professional advise on these options. Additionally, this investment is above your emergency and short term savings, since there is a great possibility of loss if it’s needed in the short term.

FDIC:

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was developed in 1933 to insure your savings in a FDIC insured bank if it does fail. Your savings will be protected up to the insured amount in this case.

FDIC basics:

• The FDIC insures all deposits at insured banks, including checking, NOW and savings accounts, money market deposit accounts, and certificates of deposit (CDs), up to the insurance limit.

• The FDIC does not insure the money you invest in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, life insurance policies, annuities, or municipal securities, even if you purchased these products from an insured bank.

• The basic insurance amount is $100,000 per depositor per insured bank. Certain retirement accounts, such as Individual Retirement Accounts, are insured up to $250,000 per depositor per insured bank.

In this time of a difficult economy, banks are actually failing. This is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. We need to ensure we are aware of the rules and limitations of this insurance, so we are protected. Basically, if you have over $100,000 at any insured bank, consider transferring some of your savings to another insured institution. Also, check to ensure that your bank is FDIC insured. Further details on the FDIC are available at their web site.

Current Rates:

If you are in the market for a new Checking Account, Savings Account, CD, Credit Card, Mortgage, etc. the current interest rates and plan comparisons are available at bankrate.com. They also offer many financial calculators and additional financial information. This is a great resource and always a good place to check before you make financial decisions.

 

Eliminate Debt

To ease your mind and take that heavy weight off your shoulders, striving to eliminate all debts is an impressive goal. Most American’s have huge amounts of credit card debt. Even paying off large debts like paying off the mortgage or paying off the cars early may seem impossible. If you work at it a little at a time, it’s surely possible.

Credit Cards:

Credit card interest rates are among the highest of any debt, and typically the first debt to focus on eliminating. The first thing to do is identify which credit cards have the highest interest rates and highest balances (if there is more than one). Next, contact the credit card companies to negotiate lower interest rates. Check bankrate.com for a lower interest rate credit card if you are not successful with your negotiations or to find a better deal for you.

Once your cards are paid off, strive to use them carefully and to your benefit. Credit cards can be a great way to track your spending, safely shop online, and also offer many beneficial points programs. I pay off my cards at the end of each month. By knowing how much I expect to spend on my cards monthly (by the budget we set earlier) and keep that amount in an interest paying saving’s account. If some financial emergency comes up such as a lay off, I have the money set aside to pay off the card. I’m also able to enjoy the benefit of gift certificates I receive from my card’s points programs.

Loans:

Depending on the type of loan, varying amounts of your payment will be allocated to interest and loan principle. For instance on a mortgage, in the first years you will be paying only interest and nothing toward your principle. You will need to contact your loan provider for your mortgage, car, or other loan to see if they have special instructions on how to pay additional principle payments above your monthly payment. In some cases you will need to write a separate check to make sure the additional payment goes to principle. By ensuring that your extra payment goes only to the loan principle, you will make your payment go farther.

 

Increase Income

If your finances are to the point where it is painful to balance your budget, either due to your income not being where you want it to be or your debt is quite large, you may want to find a way to increase your income. Some ideas may take some time and be large changes in your life, like going back to school. Others are small ideas that will bring in a little extra here and there. Just remember the little bits do add up.

Invest in your future:

In your current occupation, is there additional training or a certification you can pursue to increase you income? Is there training you need to change careers?

Get a part time job:

Getting a weekend or part-time job may be the way you need to pick up that extra cash to pay off some debt or increase your savings. Consider something that has to do with a hobby or something you enjoy. Consider retail positions that offer a discount on products you and your family frequently use, or could be great gift ideas. I know of one lady that wanted some expensive furniture from Restoration Hardware. She was able to get a part time job and at the time they offered 50% off from day one of employment. What a great deal!

Secret Shopping:

Being a secret shopper can be fun and rewarding. You’ll be helping out the business by offering a fair and unbiased opinion on what they are interested in. They may want to know if you are greeted with the correct phrase, if the store appears clean, the condition of the restrooms, how the food tastes in a restaurant, or a number of other things. Some questioners are longer than others, but you will be paid more (either cash or reimbursement for a product or service) if more is expected. When you sign up for a job you will be told exactly what is expected of you and what the compensation will be. I have enjoyed free theme park tickets, lunches, and dinners, in addition to payments from $10 to $50 for certain jobs. Some jobs can even be completed over the phone.

Please don’t buy into any of the Secret Shopping scams out there. There are many scams out there. Be very leery if you are asked to pay to work in this field. I have seen many ads that want you to pay even a monthly fee for a list of jobs or companies you can apply to. These lists are available for free at the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) web site. MSPA regulates, provides certifications and training, and is a great resource for Secret Shopping information. If you are interested they offer two levels of certifications. The first level, Silver Certification, can be completed online in about 2 hours for a cost of $15. I have read that some companies will offer you better jobs if you have one or both of these certifications, but they are certainly not required. I recommend signing up for as many companies that you have the time for.

MSPA Resources:

Sell unwanted items:

There are many options to selling those items that you no longer need or use, but are taking up space in your home.

  • Garage sales are a great way to get rid of many items in a weekend, but you may not be able to get the highest price for your items.
  • eBay.com and Half.com – For items that are easy to describe and ship eBay and Half may be good options for you. These are both good ways to get rid of those unneeded books, DVDs, designer clothes and accessories, etc. If you have a doubt if something is selling, search for the item and see if there are bids on current items of that type.