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8 Things You Should Avoid Paying Money For

26 Jun

Photo by Ryan Harvey via Flickr

Photo by Ryan Harvey via Flickr

 

The economy is recovering, but probably not at the rate you’d like. If you’ve got outstanding debts, anemic investments, and difficulties getting your monthly bills paid, your personal finances could likely benefit from a few freebies. We all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch – unless it’s your birthday, of course – but there are definitely more than a few ways to get the things you need without having to pay for them.

1. Printer Paper
Office supply retailers with rewards programs sometimes run specials on computer paper. If you pay the full purchase price up front, you can get that money back in the form of a rewards certificate. Much of the time these deals only apply to a pack of paper, but occasionally you can get an entire case for free. Just be sure to use your certificate before it expires.

2. Batteries
If you have kids, you probably spend a lot on batteries, especially around the holidays. The same retailers mentioned above also offer batteries for free at select times throughout the year. Keep your eye out for specials and stock up – just note that the majority of programs limit you to two packs of either AA or AAA batteries per promotion.

3. Back to School and Office Supplies
Right around back-to-school time, office supply retailers also offer a wide variety of free supplies under the same program – just purchase the items you need and get that amount back (minus sales tax) in the form of a rewards certificate. Last fall, I got over $600 worth of school supplies for free, including Scotch tape, staplers, file folders, address labels, storage boxes, pens, pencils, and Post-it Notes during that promotion. And if there’s an item featured for free that you already have, snag it and store it for future use.

4. Select Computer Software Titles
Computer software can be pricey. If you need some programs but don’t want to pay out the nose to get them, check out the websites FileHippo and FreewareFiles and look for free computer software downloads. Generally, you can find programs for anti-virus protection, video conversion, and CD and DVD creation.

5. House Cleaning
Still paying for a housekeeping service? Keep that money in your wallet and clean your house yourself instead. If you don’t think you have the time, try cutting back on your social media surfing and clicking off the TV once a week. You’d be surprised how much you can get done.

Editor’s note: A friend of mine taught me a trick to keeping the house clean — do one thing every night. Whether it’s cleaning the bathrooms, straightening your bedroom or dusting the community living areas, doing one task a night is more manageable than doing it all at once.

6. Minor Car Maintenance
You can complete plenty of minor car maintenance tasks on your own, even if you’re not mechanically inclined. For things like spark plug replacement, installing a new air filter, or replacing windshield wipers, visit the professionals at your local auto parts store and pick up some free how-to tips. Or, check out YouTube videos – just about every car maintenance task you can think of is covered.

7. Food On Your Birthday
Tons of restaurants offer free food on your birthday. Investigate the websites of your favorite eateries for more information – if you sign up for email newsletters you generally get a coupon for free grub when your birthday rolls around. Subway, Moe’s Southwest Grill, and Perkin’s all have these programs.

Editor’s note: I love birthday freebies! My personal favorite is the Starbucks drink freebie, but I’ve also received free dessert at restaurants and discounts of $5 to $15 off items at my favorite stores. For a comprehensive list of birthday freebies, as well as links to sign up for newsletters and e-clubs, check out Coupon Sherpa’s birthday coupons page.

8. eBooks
Got an e-reader? There are plenty of websites out there offering free ebook downloads, including Project Gutenberg and KoboBooks. Take advantage of them. Also, if you’re an Amazon Prime member you can rent many ebooks for free.

For anything else you might need in life – whether it’s a computer printer, sofa, refrigerator, or any other item – check out Craigslist and the Freecycle website. Freecycle offers just about anything under the sun and Craigslist has a “Free” tab that can lead you to great finds, as well. You have to make arrangements to pick up these items yourself, but it’s well worth the effort.

What items do you know of that you shouldn’t be paying money for?

This is a guest post from MoneyCrashers written by Jason Moran, a frugal saver who shares his tips for saving more and getting the most value out of everyday purchases.  

How to Get Fit Like Fido

3 Jun

According to the nice folks at DogVacay, this week is Pet Appreciation Week. DogVacay helps you find other pet owners willing to care for your dog(s) in their home while you’re away, representing a great alternative to kenneling. My parents are built-in dog sitters but I’ve always been a big fan of DogVacay, both from the user and the sitter perspective! It’s hugely comforting to know your dog is in good hands, plus what better way to make extra cash than hanging out with a cool canine for a few days?

In addition to alerting me to this week’s significance, DogVacay shared this infographic offering ways to mix up your workout routine with moves inspired by your dog. As an avid yoga practitioner, I’m familiar with my dogs’ intrinsic ability to rock upward and downward dog postures. They like to help me do yoga in the mornings by sitting on my legs, obstructing my mat, licking my face and otherwise distracting the zen out of me. But I love it!

Check out this fun routine created by Julia Chan, a Certified Fitness Trainer and Registered Yoga Instructor.

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Disclaimer: DogVacay did not compensate me for this post. They just gave me some writing inspiration!

How To Shop Organic Without Breaking The Bank

7 Aug

The following is a guest post from Virginia Cunningham, a health writer for Northwest. The topic of buying organic on a budget is of interest to me and I hope you find her tips as helpful as I do!

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Why is it that the healthiest foods also seem to be the most expensive? Fast food is terrible for your health, yet you can feed a family of four for less than twenty dollars. If you’re on a strict budget, like me, you may feel that eating unhealthy food is necessary because you can’t afford anything else; however, if you know where to look and are willing to put in some extra time, you can shop for the best organic food while sticking to your budget.

Here are some tips I’ve picked up on the way to shopping for organic foods:

Coupons Are King

Some people are embarrassed by using coupons, but that’s a silly fear. Nobody will judge you for getting the best discounts on amazing organic products. In order to find coupons for healthy food, you’ll have to do a little digging. Local newspapers and flyers for organic shops are probably your best bet. Sometimes stores put their coupons online, so a little research might be in order.

Subscribe to Email Listings

I personally get really bummed when I go shopping for organic products only to discover that I missed the sale by just one day. Avoid letting this ever happen to you by keeping up on the news from your favorite local organic companies. Sign up for their email listings if they have them. You can get the lowdown on when their next sale is coming up. Also, sometimes these companies will offer discounts and coupons to email subscribers only.

Buy In Bulk

Buying in bulk may be the best way to save in the long run, especially if you have a huge family like mine. Many grocery stores offer major discounts when you buy large amounts of an organic product. So, if you see that carrots are on sale for an all-time low price, you can buy a few months supply and freeze them. That way, you’ll be able to have carrots all year long without having to worry about fluctuating prices. If you have the storage space, you can stock up on healthy food from the local price club.

Keep To A Strict Shopping List

When I go shopping at the market for food, it’s incredibly easy to stray away from my list, and I ultimately buy much more than I originally intended. The truth is, the shelves are stocked with tantalizing deals and products that I’ve always wanted to try and before I know it, I’ve spent way more than I wanted (upwards of $100). If you’re on a strict budget and find it difficult to restrain yourself from getting more than you need, keep a shopping list on hand with everything you need to buy. Don’t deviate from the list. It will keep you from impulse shopping and hurting your bank account.

Shop A Farmers Market

For the freshest organic produce in any city, the local farmers market is always your best bet. Produce growers from around the city will show up with their top products at the lowest prices. Since they are in competition with grocery stores and other local shops, they might be more willing to haggle with you. Plus, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you supported a small business.

Don’t Buy Pre-Chopped

Sure, those plastic containers of pre-cut fruits and vegetables look delicious. They’re time-savers because they’re already washed and cut; however, they can cost up to twice the amount of money if you bought the produce fresh. If you can find the time to cut and wash those fruits and veggies yourself, you can end up saving big bucks.

If you’re willing to put the work in, you can get great-tasting, fresh and healthy organic food for the entire family for a major discount. Never again will you have to worry about choosing a budget over your family’s nutrition.

Virginia is a mom of three who always puts her family’s health first. By shopping smartly for organic produce, she is able to save money and still provide her family with the nutrition they need.

How do you save on organic foods and produce?

Paying for College Without Loans

22 May

image001-5I’m pleased to feature this guest post from Bill Fay, a writer for Debt.org who is focused on news stories about the spending habits of families and government.

Student loans? Sigh.

Parents of college students know exactly what the sentence above means.

Over the last decade, college tuition, including room and board, increased 67 percent. The cost of a college education is rising so fast that few families can cover it without taking out a student loan.

Sixty percent of this year’s college graduates borrowed money to get a diploma. The average student owes $27,253 after graduation — that’s a monthly payment of $313.63 over the next 10 years. Double sigh.

I know this story well. I have two sons in college. The oldest graduated Summa Cum Laude; the other just finished his freshman year Tappa Nutha Keg. Neither of them took out a dollar in student loans. They paid about 75 percent of their school costs and my wife and I handled the other 25 percent.

The reason: Student loans have been a dinner-table topic at my house for the last six or seven years. The boys understand what debt-for-a-diploma means and neither shows the slightest interest in borrowing to get a degree.

That was critical. We all agreed the goal was to finish college without taking any loans and we stuck to that. The only options discussed were grants, best defined as money that you don’t have to pay back. The boys scrounged up enough of those to get by and, though it took a little effort, it paid off.

There are some pretty grants every student wants and a surprising number, nearly 40 percent, receive at some level. The Pell Grant, a $41.2 billion federal program based strictly on financial need, is the most generous. Private sources provide another $35 billion in merit grants that require straight-A’s, high SAT scores, and great essays to win these, if you apply. For some reason, lots of people don’t, making it easier for those who do.

Then there are the not-so-pretty grants – called work – that not every student wants, but do keep you out of the loan repayment business. The federal government budgets $1.2 billion a year for work-study programs at universities. The work is usually basic office stuff in an on-campus building, which makes it convenient and rewarding, if you apply. Most people don’t.

Other not-so-pretty grants involve a lot more effort, sometimes with a lot more reward.

For example, enrolling in a ROTC program could mean receiving tuition or room and board (one or the other, usually not both), books and a monthly stipend that ranges from $250 to $400. In return, students typically must maintain a certain level of academic achievement, participate in weekly physical workouts and give up a weekend every month for training purposes.

The good news is that a guaranteed job awaits after graduation. The not-so-good news is that you are obligated to serve anywhere from four-to-eight years after graduation.

At many universities, there are less taxing positions for students willing to work as managers for athletic teams. The most prominent sports, football or basketball, demand a huge time commitment, but the reward could be as much as a full scholarship or at least a tuition waiver. At some schools, members of the band, cheerleading and dance team can receive far less compensation for their effort.

Of course, there are always plenty of part-time jobs in every college town. They usually don’t pay much, but a study released last year says that students who contributed something to the cost of their education had higher grades than those whose parents paid the whole tab.

That alone should encourage parents wondering if they should push their kids to contribute. Even if the students cover only one piece of the financial puzzle – Tuition? Rent? Food? – it’s that much less they will have to borrow.

My oldest is moving on to graduate school and his brother is going back for his sophomore year, so I’m sure this topic is coming up at the dinner table again this summer.

Sigh.

If you paid for college without student loans, how did you pull it off? For those who did take out student loans, what steps are you taking to pay them off?

Bill Fay spent 21 years in the newspaper business and eight more in television and radio, dealing with college and professional sports, then seven forgettable years writing speeches and marketing materials for a government agency. 

Cut the Cord on Cable…Forever

14 May

I’m pleased to have Sean Bryant from OneSmartDollar.com offer the following guest post for my site. Sean is the founder of One Smart Dollar where he helps his readers increase their net worth one dollar at a time.

Photo by Alyssa & Colin via Flickr

Photo by Alyssa & Colin via Flickr

 

There was a time when I thought I could never live without cable. Now I’m starting to rethink that idea each time I open up my bill and my stomach drops. Cable prices have become outrageously high over the past few years. It is not unheard of to spend $80 or more per month just to watch television. Most of us would say that is a pretty absurd amount, but why is it so hard to actually cut the cord and drop our cable service?

For me there is one main obstacle standing in my way, and that is my love for sports.  If I were to drop cable then I would lose my access to watch all of my favorites on ESPN. For those of you who are a little less reliant on your sports fix, here are some great alternatives to cable.

Watch Network Shows Online

No matter if you are looking for the latest episode of Real World or you want to see Ashton Kutcher on Two and a Half Men, you can find it online.  Most television networks now stream their shows online, so there is no need for cable if you can find your favorites.

To make things better you can even hook your laptop up to your television using VGA cables. Your laptop will need to have a decent video card or else the picture will be a little hazy. You also won’t have the ability to watch in HD.

Sign up for Hulu Plus or Netflix

If you want to have access to both your favorite television shows and also movies, then you can sign up for Hulu Plus and Netflix at a fraction of the cost of cable. There is a free version of Hulu, however, the television episodes are a little limited. With Hulu plus you pay just $7.99 per month and you have access to the entire current season plus prior seasons.

Netflix allows you to watch television shows and movies instantly at home for just $7.99. You can also get DVD’s by mail for an additional $7.99 per month. It also allows you to add Blu-rays for an additional $2.00 each month.

Use Apple TV, Roku or a Gaming System

Watching TV online is great if you are by yourself, but it can be a little bit of a pain if you are watching with the whole family or a group of friends. That is where items like Apple TV or Roku come into play.

For just $99 you can purchase an Apple TV box and you will have wireless access to all of the content on your iPod, iPad or iPhone right there on your television. This is a much better option compared to using a VGA cable to connect your laptop. If you want to watch a show that is not available for free online, you will still need to purchase it through iTunes.

If the $99 price take of the Apple TV is a little out of your budget, you could look into a Roku which does virtually the same thing for only $50.

I don’t play a lot of video games anymore, but I am thankful that I have a Playstation 3. Not only does it serve as my Blu-ray player but it also gives me access to online content.

Use Redbox

If your family is more into watching movies than television, Redbox is the perfect alternative for you.  You can rent DVD’s for a little over $1.00 per night and there are often Redbox coupon codes that will allow you to save $0.50 or even get movies for free.

Final Thought

Just because the cost of cable continues to go up, it doesn’t mean you need to give into the cable companies.  If you have tried other ways to save money on your cable bill and its failed, then it might be time to cut the cord altogether.  You will be pleasantly surprised by how much extra money you will have at the end of the month.

Have you cut the cord on cable recently?