Saturday, July 4, 2015

Live Better for Less: Saving Summer Vacation Dollars

Live Better for Less: Saving Summer Vacation Dollars: Summer is here and everyone wants to go on vacation. A recent article in USA Today highlighted how credit cards finance many vacations....

Saving Summer Vacation Dollars



Summer is here and everyone wants to go on vacation. A recent article in USA Today highlighted how credit cards finance many vacations. The younger the adult, the more likely he or she will charge the trip unaware it will take over two years to pay off a two-week vacation. My first thought was who takes a two-week vacation.

It helps if you save for a vacation even if it is only twenty dollars a week. Twenty dollars each week for a year adds up to $1040 plus interest. It’s better to have a budget before you plan your vacation so you don’t overspend. A co-worker confided she spent $10,000 on a Disneyworld Vacation.

When my daughter was five, she had a primo Disneyworld vacation because we had relatives who worked there then, but we did not spend $10,000 dollars, I doubt if we even spent $2,000 for a family of five. We booked a travel package that included airfare, hotel, and car rental. Years later, I asked my daughter if she remember the vacation, she didn't. Sigh. 

Ironically, she did remember the low budget mini golf, kayaking, and even Girl Scout camp. Keep this in mind, when planning your trip. Standing in long lines on hot pavements in massive crowds doesn't always result in magical memories.


How do you get around the high price of vacation? Here are a few things I learned the hard way.

*Contact airlines and hotels directly. You usually get the same or better price than through a third party such as a discount travel site. The travel sites can mess up your room and don’t come through when your flight is changed or canceled.

*Take advantage of discounts such as booking through the week, flying at off times, vacationing off- season.

*Driving to a popular tourist destination, then book slightly out of the area. Prices will be lower and it be a calmer atmosphere too.

* There is no rule you have to stay two weeks or even a week. Cut down your vacation time into chunks of 3, 4, or 5 days. Consider your travel time too.

* Take advantage of hotels that offer free breakfast.

*Eat two meals a day with an evening snack. We always have a late lunch to beat dinner price upswing, but indulge in appetizers or snacks for the evening.

*Transportation may be your most expensive item. Try to be flexible with your travel time when flying, which can result in a better price. Big cities offer reliable public transit. Never underestimate walking when possible.

*Car rental can be a gamble because they hike prices for events, holidays, and weekends. Sign up for a loyalty program. Take advantage of AAA or AARP discounts. Book during a weekday and lock in prices. Flying in, check to make sure your rental car agency is at the airport.

*Read travel reviews. Often people feel tricked because they didn’t know their hotel was located next to a strip club. People do complain in reviews, but consider if what they’re complaining about is an issue for you. The woman who complained that the hotel ran out of wheat toast one morning was not a problem for me.

*Plan ahead & pack appropriately. Having to buy toothbrush, socks, even a swimsuit is an unexpected expense.

*Make time to relax. Our hotel had outside tables and chairs. Often sitting outside and discussing what we did provided us with a much-needed break. Families with young children might consider camping because the YogiBear campgrounds have constant activities for the children.

*Allow for some impulsive decisions. While walking on Pier 39 in San Francisco, we took a short cruise around the bay for $10 per person.

*Google free things to do in wherever you are going. You’d be surprised there are dozens of free things. Some will depend on the season.

If you can’t afford a vacation, consider a staycation. There is plenty to do in your local area. Don’t think so? Check out your state’s local festivals or go on Groupon. You’ll be surprised. Never discount the county 4-H fair either.

The best thing about taking a vacation you can afford is that you’ll only pay for it once, but you’ll remember it forever unless you're my daughter.




Tuesday, March 31, 2015

FOOD LIFE HACKS




Life Hacks

We all wanted to know how to save money. Here’s a few I’ve learned over the years.

Food
·         Check out the bargain bakery bin. Most of the bread and bakery good are ready to expire, but can be frozen.

·         Orphan or bargain fruit rack. The majority of the items broke off from the bunch or spilled out of a bag and or much less than normal.

·         Sample items. Because they usually come with a $1 coupon and are on sale that week. Don’t get them if they’re still very expensive or you don’t like the product.

·         In-store coupon dispensers. Often it could be dispensing a coupon for something you were going to buy anyhow.

·         Rotate your groceries. Use what is going to go bad first. Over forty percent of food gets thrown away in the US. Some because it de-evolved into something nasty while waiting to be used.

·         Browse the deli for the sale stickers. It’s hard to go wrong with a rotisserie chicken.

·         Always check out seasonal items the week after a season passes. I used to load up on seasonal candy for my students. They didn’t care it if had reindeer, eggs, or hearts on it.

·         At home, make sure you include a paper towel in your salad kits to soak up the excess moisture. Try to use it within a week too.

·         Spinach limp? It can be sautéed, go into soup, or form the base of a green smoothie.

·         Sale on cheese? It can be frozen too, except for cream cheese.

·         Meat is usually cheaper in the huge family packs. Can’t afford it, then split it with a friend. 

·         Crackers, chips, cookies can be refreshed in the oven on a high rack, around 225 for 5-8 minutes. The object is to make them crisp, not cook them.

·         Slow foods are less expensive, instead of minute rice, use long grain rice. You can use a rice cooker, which you can pick up at your local thrift shop. Several couple received one as a wedding present and don’t have a clue what it is.

·         Too much salad? It will last another day if you don’t put cut tomatoes or dressing on it. Grape or cherry tomatoes are your better choice.

·         Don’t overlook The Dollar Tree when shopping for food items. I picked up name brand premade turkey gravy for a dollar, which was less than the grocery. They have a large assortment of spices too.

·         Applesauce, apple butter, and other fruit sauces can be turned over after securely fasten the lid to make an air vacuum. This prevents mold.

·         Storing dry pasta in a plastic container prevents weevils.

·         Putting bread on top of the fridge dries it out and promotes house pests.

·         Freeze bacon, especially turkey, it goes slimy in about two weeks.

·         Feeling ambitious, pre-cook a large meal and freeze half of it. Then helps on those rushed days. It also uses less electricity.


Those are my food tips for the week. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Seasonal Bargains



I’m wishing I bought the greatly reduced patio furniture back in October. It’s full price now. What should you buy in late March & April?

·         Television and other electronics made in Japan because the Japanese fiscal years ends in March. They are now last year’s models.

·         Houses. Yeah, houses. Those who plan to sell are putting their houses on the market. A crowded market makes for a motivated seller. It’s easy to point out that the house down the street is going for $30,000 less.

·         Cookware and kitchen essentials are on sale, probably because all the big cooking holidays and it is time to fire up the grill. (Grills are not on sale.)

·         Digital cameras, which would be perfect for your vacation. Digital cameras aren’t the must have item they used to be with smart phones, but still better as far as photo quality and getting your photo off the camera.

·         Thrift Items because people are spring-cleaning. Check weekly. Monday is the best day since people tend to drop off items on the weekend.

·         Home Improvement Items. There are sales on everything from blinds to paint.

·         Sneakers. There are several winter shoe clearances going on right now. Get boots for ridiculously low prices now.

·         Vacations. Not the spring break kind, but those after all the college kids leave, especially cruises.


·         Seasonal clothes- most stores already have summer clothes in stock, which means major clearance on winter and even spring clothes. I noticed J.C. Penney’s is already on their 80% off on clothing.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Where Are the Holiday Discounts?




Black Friday Let Down

Did you go out on Black Friday or did you stay home, tucked in bed, with your laptop? Statistics show that it wasn’t the blow-out Black Fridays of the past.  My daughter reported that she went into Target, got what she came for and was out in ten minutes. A friend went to Walmart for the advertised television and found out they were out and he was the fifth person in line. That’s part of the issue with Black Friday is very limited stock. Sometimes, you wonder how limited the stock is. They count on people buying the desired item when the price goes up the next day and they have, surprise, stock. The frustrated shopper also might buy a similar item, which isn’t deeply discounted.

Stores are trying to maximize their profit margin while shoppers try to stretch their shopping dollars. 

Where are the discounts?
1.       The Waiting Game. Hats off to Menards who readily announces in their ads how much of a discount they’ll take off on trees & décor depending on the week. If you’re willing to decorate the week of Christmas. You could save 50%. If you plan ahead, buy after the holidays for next year and save even more.

2.       Year round savings- This happens when you pick up items on clearance year around that would be good gifts. This doesn’t work for kids since their interests change. Items like wine, toiletries, collectibles, even candles work well. (Seal the candles in plastic bags to keep the scent.)

3.       Corporate Buying Sites- sometimes your company gets a better price than you would as an individual. I used my daughter’s corporate member buyer’s card to save 10% on her gift. Yes, this is legal.

4.       Coupons and discounts- We are now in the 2nd week of December and stores lure people in the store with discounts and coupons. Google where you’re going first, there may be an online promo you can print. Yankee Candles has a buy two; get two free offer right now.  My coupon came in the paper, but you can still get a discount online.

5.       Friends and Family Day- this is decent discount usually 20-25%  on certain days. Comes up more often the closer you get to the 25th. Know your prices because sometimes the prices are jacked up to cover the discount.

6.       Flash Sales- these happen online while you’re browsing a site and usually last a few hours in duration. Amazon will give you alerts on particular items you want to buy.

7.       Unusual items in unusual places. I grabbed a great deal on lawn chairs at Walgreens during the summer because they don’t normally carry them, which means they won’t go back into stock. I also had to insist on my holiday discount on Christmas decorations that I received an email about. Not all employees are aware of the emails that go out to Walgreens shoppers.

8.       Read the sales ads. Your Dollar stores often have the same product cheaper than your bigger box stores.

9.       Check out your TJ Maxx, Marshalls & Home Goods clearance. Often you can make a gift basket for the price you’d have paid for one item at one of the box stores.


10.   Shopping after Christmas. Attending a party after Christmas, seeing friends or family after the day, feel free to shop on the 26th and rack up the discounts. Inventory might be slim though.

11.   The Snow Guarantee- several jewelers offer to refund your money if it snows on Christmas. Check out the specifics on this. They aren’t just talking flurries. Remember jewelry has a 1000% markup. Less than 40% of the people who bought jewelry will cash in on the snow guarantee. (I followed last year’s snow promises in the news and noticed not everyone made good on them.) Don’t use this as an excuse to spend wildly.


 It might be a year you want to cut back on gifts. If you do, announce this now, before friends, or co-workers started handing you shiny gift sacks. They can give that bottle of wine or box of fruit to someone else.

Bonus: Big Lots has Hickory Farms gift sets in stock.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Tis the Season to Return


Are you one of those people who never returns anything no matter what? You reason it’s too much trouble. My husband is one of those too. Me, not so much. There is an art to returning.

·         Make sure you know what store it came from

·         Have the receipt with you if possible

·         Return on weekday mornings, possible Tuesday or Wednesday if possible.

·         Know the return policies. Some prohibit returns after 30 days, others as little as seven.

·         If it was a gift. Say so. Gifts are usually only exchanged for store credit.

·         Have an excuse. Didn’t fit. Allergic to wool. Unflattering color.

·         Some items break after initial use or shortly after. The product may have a guarantee that allows you to return it. I returned a gardening tool three times that had a lifetime warranty.

·         Items with warranties should have the warranty and receipt stapled together and kept in an accordion file. Warranty does you no good when you do not have proof of purchase.

·         If there is a possibility of someone returning your gift item, shop at a store with a good return policy such as Kohls.

·         Be realistic. Most stores will not accept anything worn or missing tags. There’s no way to resale it or identify it as theirs.

·         If you cut off the tags, you can bring them.

             
 Some items you can't return because it is past time. Anything bought with rewards, coupons, or other discount method can't be used for a cash refund, only store credit.

·         Regifting is always an option. Make sure to bestow it upon someone not related or wait a year before Regifting. This way your regifting is less obvious. My grandmother used to put notes on her various gifts who they came from to avoid regifting them back to the same social circle.

·      Donate them. Why allow the unused gift to take up space in your closet? You can also write it off a tax deduction.

·         Recycle it. A velvet smoking jacket isn’t something you always want, but it can make a nice throw pillow or tiny jacket for your dog.

In the end, it’s the thought that counts. Most people forget what they gave you a month later. Instead of storing the item, only to bring it out whenever the friend or relative visits, do something useful with it. In the end, a gift should make the person happy even if they have to exchange it for something they do want.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Stretching Your Meat Dollar


Did you read about the woman who ate dog food for a week? If not, here’s the link. Her objective was to save money because of the expense of maintaining her Paleo Diet, which is protein heavy. As an Atkins Life Style Change person, I’ve watched meat spike in price. How can a person deal with the rising cost of meat without consuming dog food?
·         Rethink your shopping and cooking habits.

·         Invest in a freezer. I picked mine up at a yard sale.

·      Watch for bargains at your local stores. This is where the freezer comes in handy. Turkeys after Thanksgiving showed up at Deals for $5 each. They take up a lot of room in the grocery stores and if they aren’t moving, they’re gone.

·         Seasonal meats often go on sale just like candy. Corned beef will be on sale during and after St. Patrick’s Day. Hams are usually a good bet during and after Christmas.

·         Sales. When chicken breasts are .99 a lb., stock up.

·    Coupons. Occasionally, buying a brand specific meat is beneficial when you have a coupon and it is on sale.

·     Kosher. Normally, kosher meat costs more, but it gets clearance too. Surprisingly, it is better quality.

·      Sales have a limit of what you can buy. You can put your purchases in the car and buy more.

·       Buy a ¼ of a cow, pig, or even lamb. Prices vary from region, but you could be at $3 a pound for both steak and hamburger. It also gives you control over the amount of fat in your hamburger too. Ask a friend or relative to go in with you.

·    Consider non-traditional meats such as bison, lamb, veal, ostrich, duck, even rabbit. Normally, these meats are higher, but when they don’t sell, they’re clearance. Krogers does the better clearance marking everything 50% off as opposed to Meijer’s’ 20% off.

·         Remember eggs, nuts, tuna, and even peanut butter are good inexpensive protein sources. Peanut Pan Peanut Butter has only 4 carbs per serving less than expensive natural PB.

·         Examine your portions. Often people eat more than a serving. Thinking somehow if one hamburger was good than three would be better. Overeating is still overeating. Your metabolism can only use so much food a day. Not losing weight, portions may be a factor.

·         Store your meat properly in freezer containers or freezer bags. Freezer burn wastes meat.

·         The cheaper, tougher cuts are great for the slow cooker. You can help tenderize by using a meat mallet first, then adding a cup of wine, which breaks down the tissue as it cooks.

·      Those who like to hunt and fish can add to their diet this way. Although hunting on the whole is not a bargain sport. Sometimes, it just helps to be friendly with a hunter.

·         Change the way you use meat too. Consider stews, soups, stir-fry, and salads. Instead of loading up on starches, use vegetables keeping the carb count down.

·      After the holidays, all those leftover meat sticks tend to go on sale too. There will be plenty of sales on cured meat during the holidays too. Know your prices. A one-pound summer sausage will between 2.50-3.99 at the grocery (Aldi’s, Kroger’s, and Meijer’s.) If it is on sale for 6.99, it isn’t on sale.

·         Jerky  and cheese are mobile proteins.  Jerky can be bought in bulk on Amazon for lower prices per pound.There is usually some type of sale on cheese and it can be frozen. The exception is cream cheese, which is edible after freezing, but crumbly.


The good news is you won’t have to resort to you and your dog eating the same thing. The woman who sampled dog food found most of it bland. The best dog food came refrigerated in a roll, but it cost more than buying hamburger when it wasn’t on sale. In the end, she returned a human diet with required less vigorous chewing.