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Volume 3 Issue 4_______________________________________________________________________________________April 2006

Easter Fun

April is just the beginning of the spring blossom and Easter holiday. Easter brings another time of year for kids to be spoiled with candy and goodies. There are many ways you can celebrate and not over indulge in store bought plastic toys that won’t make it through the weekend.

Dying eggs the night before Easter is a popular tradition. Why spend more money on a dye coloring kit when you can use things that are already around your house. Mix 2/3 cup of water and 2 tsp. of distilled vinegar to each cup for every color you want to use. Add food coloring to each cup until you have your desired color. Experiment with a combination of colors to get an array of more colors. Use wax crayons and rubber bands to draw and decorate the eggs. Use a spoon or bend a paper clip to dip the eggs in the dye. Let the eggs dry in the original egg carton.

Easter baskets are fun gifts for children on Easter morning. Again you can make your own and save yourself some money. A popular choice for baskets is using the small plastic baskets that strawberries sometime come in. These are always a fun use for crafts so the next time you buy some it may be worth it to save the container. You may want to ask the produce person at your local grocery store if they have any extra that you can use. Instead of buying messy Easter grass that sticks to everything, consider using construction paper and cutting it into strips. If you have a paper shredder than your work is a lot easier.

Don’t forget to recycle your Easter eggs. As long as they are not too damaged from the Easter egg hunt you can still eat them. They will make a nice afternoon egg salad sandwich, or are good by themselves. You can even use the eggshells as compost to help start your summer garden.

To save on candy you can use some leftover candy from the after Valentine’s Day sales or even make your own hard candy. There are many recipes online and in magazines. If you have the extra time then making hard candy and suckers will save you money as most recipes are made with sugar, water, and some flavoring. Use fruit and vegetables in Easter baskets as well, tell your kids that the Easter Bunny eats carrots and has shared some of his carrots with them. Don’t forget books, they make great guilt-free Easter gifts.

No matter how you celebrate the Easter holiday it is important to not get carried away with excessive toys and candies. Time spent with family and enjoying the upcoming summer season are just as important than stuffed animals and plastic cars that will be lucky to make it until next year’s crop of Easter eggs.

 


 

   
 
 

We continue from last month with more ideas on how to save money when planning a wedding.

Flowers:

Buy flowers that are in season as they will be cheaper. Consider a smaller amount of flowers for bouquets and boutonnieres. A bridesmaid carrying a single flower can look just as wonderful as a full bouquet.

Consider using silk flowers. They are considerably cheaper and they will never die. If you have an abundance of wildflowers that grow in your area you can use those in bouquets.

Reception:

If you are looking for a place to save money then food is usually a good idea. Most guests hardly remember what the meal for the reception was and would be happy with an array of meat and cheeses. Comparison shop and negotiate. Use competitor’s prices against each other to get the best deal.

Be aware of extra charges and set limits. If the coffee or juice runs out towards the end of the night they may fill it back up and charge you for it, even if nobody drinks anymore of it. So agree ahead of time to set the limit of how many times to fill beverages.

You can save a lot of money by doing the work yourself. You can buy meat, cheese, and buns in bulk, and if you find a good price on it you can freeze it for a few months before the wedding. Have a few family members prepare an array of salads or side dishes. You may be able to purchase large party-style sandwiches from a bakery or restaurant that will be cheaper than hiring a caterer.

Attire:

If you are fortunate enough to know a seamstress, take advantage and ask for their help in lieu of a gift. You can make a dress from scratch, update, or add-on to older or department store dresses. There are many discount gown stores that feature many gorgeous gowns at reasonable prices.

Decide how important formal wear is for the groom and his groomsmen. You can save by having groomsmen wear a suit and tie, instead of renting spendy tuxes. Ushers and ring bearers will still look nice in a polo shirt in wedding colors and nice khakis.

Invitations:

Invitations are another expense that deserves a lot of attention for finding ways to save. With home computer software, you can create professional invitations in a few simple steps. Many office supply stores have wedding-invitation kits that include all the envelopes and papers that you need. It is important to itemize how much home kits will cost (including ink for your printer), and compare them with professional invitations. There are many online stores where you can find great looking invitations for a reasonable price. If professional invitations are in the same price range or even a little more than what it would cost to do yourself, it may be worth it to buy the professional ones to save you time and hassle. Another way to save is to have a postcard invitation. You send out a nice postcard and setup a website or message line where people can RSVP. This saves you with expensive invitations and you only have to pay the postcard postage rate.

 

 

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Where's My Rebate

It's a way for you to save money on a fancy appliance or new cell phone. Rebates are not only a hassle but they are now under heavy scrutiny. You may need to hire Indiana Jones to track down where your mysterious rebate check has gone. It takes a lot of grunt-work to fill out rebate forms and make sure you have everything required to get your savings. Many companies are accused of intentionally making it hard for you to get your rebate back.

We will discuss some of the problems that come with rebates and what potential changes are coming to make rebates easier to collect.

It is hard to find an electronic item or new cell phone that doesn’t have a rebate attached to it. When shopping for an item and you find that it has a great rebate, ask yourself, “Why don’t they just put it on sale for the rebated price?” Because companies are betting that you are not going to take advantage of the rebate or make a mistake when filling out the rebate so they do not have to honor it.

When purchasing an item with a rebate it is important to thoroughly examine all the details so you send all the right information the first time. This way it is not sent back to you and you miss the deadline and don’t get the savings on top of a lot of wasted time.

In defense of many companies, the obstacles that comes with mailing in a rebate are to protect them from fraud. By making you send in tons of proof they can justify the rebate and know that it’s not someone who wants to claim free money for an item that they did not purchase. Unfortunately, it makes it very frustrating for honest consumers who are looking to save money on the items they legitimately purchased.

Rebates can be misleading when it comes to advertising. You may see an ad that reads save $200 and in little print at the bottom of the ad is the asterisk that reads “after mail-in rebate.” There have been cases where companies have advertised the price after the rebate, which can mislead people into coming in to purchase the item only to find out that the price only applies after the rebate.

Ways to avoid this headache is to avoid rebated items all together. Let’s say that you are looking to buy a new digital camera. You find one that you like for $199 and there is a $75 dollar mail-in rebate. Instead of diving right into the purchase and turning in the rebate to get your $75 dollars back in a couple of months, take some extra time to shop around. You may find the same camera or a similar one for the price of the rebate already accounted for. Wait a week or two, if they are offering that big of a discount then they might drop the price of the camera all together and you will still take advantage of the savings faster than if you had to wait for the rebate. You can even use the rebate to help you negotiate prices with a competitor.

With rebate complaints rising every year, some companies are changing their policies to make it easier to claim rebates or are even eliminating them all together. Companies are using online forms to redeem rebates that may help eliminate the extra time that mailed in rebates take. They can also track their rebates online. Instead of a customer service representative trying to find out where your paperwork is, they can just put in a confirmation number and receive an update on your rebate.

If you have not received a rebate or feel like you have had to jump through too many hoops in order to redeem a rebate, you may want to file a complaint. If you have not received a satisfied answer from the company you may want to contact the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to file a formal complaint.

When looking to purchase an item that has a rebate attached, make sure that you can afford the price listed without the rebate. Don’t pay what you can’t afford because you are counting on the rebate. You may not see the rebate for a couple of months and it is not worth screwing up your budget. Rebates are a way for you to save money and you shouldn’t disregard them completely, just make sure you explore all of your options and be thorough to ensure the best results.

Resources:
www.ftc.gov - Federal Trade Commission
www.bbb.org - Better Business Bureau, features reports on company efficiency and customer service.
www.RebatesHQ.com - Find and track rebates online for a quicker and easier return.
www.RipoffReport.com - Lists some rebate complaints that consumers have had.

 

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Attack!

You all have probably read somewhere that making minimum payments on your high interest debt will take forever to pay off. Unfortunately, this is very true, as interest rates will eat up most of your payment. In some cases it may benefit you to aggressively attack your high interest debt and eliminate it as fast as you can. This may take away from some of your savings but in the long run is going to save you more. So roll up your sleeves, get out your budget, and get ready to pay down that debt.

The very first thing you will want to do is to not add any more debt to your existing balances. The goal is to eliminate your debt quicker and completely so you can start to commit more money to savings.

You may need to take a look at your budget to find ways to apply extra money to your debt. Take a look at your savings, you may want to take some out of savings and apply it to the debt. It is still important to have money in savings for emergencies, but the money you are saving now will just be used up on the interest from other debt. The quicker you eliminate your high interest debt the more you can put into savings in the future.

*For example, you put $200 into savings each month and have a minimum credit card payment of $57.50 a month with a balance of $2300. With an interest rate of 18% it would take you 236 months (just under 20 years!) to pay off, and you would have paid $3,065.37 in interest. By taking an extra $100 from savings and applying it to the credit card payment (totaling $157.50) you will pay it off in 17 months instead of 236 and cost you $315.73 in interest. Now you can see why paying only the minimum is a waste of money. Even if you can only afford an extra $10 a month you will be saving yourself money. You can then use that extra amount to pay down other balances.

It is recommended that you attack the smaller balances first and then apply those savings to the next highest amount and so on.

There are many ways you can begin to attack your debt. You can make a one time lump payment that will shorten the repayment timeline. You can use savings from one part of your budget and apply the extra amount to a debt payment until it is paid off.

Those in a debt management plan can also make extra payments or apply more to their payments. By doing so you are shortening the period it will take to completely eliminate your balances.

Why not start with your tax return. In 2005 about half of everyone that received a tax return used it to pay down some form of debt. Instead of using it on convenient sales (that fall around the same time that many people receive their tax returns), use it to pay down your debt. You can spread it out among various debts or maybe even eliminate a specific debt. Even if your tax return won’t eliminate all of your debt it can pay a good amount down which is going to help you pay it off faster and save you money in interest. It is important to find out if the debt has any penalties for paying extra, and in some cases you may need to specifically ask for the extra amount to go towards your principal amount.

Did you recently get a raise? Why not apply that extra amount to a debt payment. It’s extra money that you have been getting by without previously and by using it to pay down your debt you will have that much more once the debt is paid off.

You may even want to consider an extra job or ways to earn extra income. A weekend or weeknight job can help eliminate debt fast. Even if it is only a couple of hours a week you can still add that to your payments and cut the time it takes to pay them off.

Summer is just around the corner. Why not take some of that unused stuff that has been sitting in your basement and have a yard sale. Team up with neighbors or a friend and try and make some extra money.

Trade in your vehicle for one with a smaller monthly payment. Now take the difference between the old and new payment and add it to high interest debt or apply it to the new car payment and pay it off faster.

Some of these tactics may seem overwhelming or extreme. These are suggestions that will eliminate your debt faster and improve your financial condition by improving your credit score and leaving you with more of your income to commit to savings.

 

*I used a calculator tool at bankrate.com to determine the numbers for the example.

 
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As I have previously mentioned I have been quite busy the last couple of months. After awhile you really wonder where the time has gone. It’s usually not until around 9 pm that I sit down and take a breather. Not that I am complaining. I’m sure there are many of you out there who have less time than I do. Besides I am going to need the practice with a baby on the way. My point is that I have been trying to find ways to improve my time management, especially with our finances.

Your bill’s due dates can sneak up on you when you find yourself busy and ignoring the days of the week. The last thing we want to do is make late payments on our house and utilities. Here are a couple of ways we have found that has saved us time and has kept us from exceeding our due dates. We pay many of our bills online or over the telephone. Online payments are usually free and take a few quick clicks as your account information is saved. We also receive email reminders, which help us to not forget our due dates.

Be careful when choosing to pay over the phone because there could be extra charges. Many companies use 3rd parties to process phone payments. We write the confirmation number on the bill and store it for record keeping. If there are any discrepancies we can refer to the confirmation number.

Another popular choice has been to set up automatic withdrawals from your account. It saves a lot of time and worry. This is a good idea if you know that you will have that amount in your account on the same day every month. However, if your account is not consistent from month to month you may not want to do this to avoid overdraft fees.

We then had to find time to do everyone’s favorite yearly chore. On a quiet Thursday I planned that I would concentrate all of my time and energy to doing our taxes. Like most everyone, I dread doing my taxes even though it’s always been fairly easy. This year though, I had to figure out how to file jointly, account for multiple employment, factor in education and loans, and make sure box 15 didn’t exceed the total from boxes 4 and 12 and so on and so forth. That was until I discovered that there was software out there that could help me. And did it ever. Answer the questions and copy the numbers, very easy and very fast. This saved us a bundle of time and we got our return in just over a week.

Another thing that I have found that helps me manage my time is a good old fashion list. If I have time to sit down and eat breakfast in the morning, I write down my day’s events. I add to my list things that I have forgot or that have popped up.

You can prioritize by importance or time it will take or whatever else helps you accomplish the task. This helps map out my day and prevents me from driving to one side of town to the other more than once. When I get something done, I mark a big satisfying X over the task and move on to the next.

A list may not eliminate your tasks but it will help you remember everything and ease the stress of forgetting something or driving in circles.

As luck would have it I am almost out of time and space this month. So, until next month, Good luck and spend wisely, and don’t forget taxes are due by the 17th!

 

 
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Get an Early Start

Just a reminder that this would be a great time to start to explore the opportunities for a summer job. Summer will be here fast and by starting now you will have a few more choices and you can get your foot in the door for some of the more popular summer jobs.

If you are returning to a previous summer employer it may be a good idea to contact them and tell them that you are excited for the upcoming summer and will start as soon as possible.

If you are going on a vacation this summer make sure you get the days to your boss as soon as you can so they can plan accordingly. It is a good idea to do it as soon as you can, in case there are other people requesting the same time off.

Remember to always be professional and work hard. There is no better feeling than a hard-day work and the paycheck that comes with it to help you achieve some financial freedom.


 
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Auto Insurance

Most likely if you own a car you have car insurance. If you do drive without insurance you are gambling with your finances and breaking the law. Auto insurance does more than just protect your vehicle in the case of an accident. It covers the costs of bodily injury to others, lost wages due to injury, any lawsuits resulting from an accident, vehicle repairs to your car or other vehicles involved in an accident, and benefits to survivors if there was a death as a result of an accident.

There are many considerations when shopping around for auto insurance. There are certain factors that will affect the price of your insurance rates.

They can include:
Gender - Rates are less for younger women than for younger men.
Age – Rates are higher for drivers under 25 years old.
Type of Vehicle – New and nicer vehicle models will carry higher rates.
Driving Record – A cleaner driving record will result in lower rates.
Where you live – Rates are higher for urban areas than in rural areas.
How much you drive – The more miles you drive, the higher the chance you could be in an accident, which will leave you with a higher insurance rate.
Your Credit – Many insurers will use credit information to start an insurance risk score. They use this score to figure out the likelihood of you filing a claim.

If you decide to change insurers make sure that you cancel your current policy. Send the company a letter requesting the termination of your policy with the date that you want the coverage to end. Then follow up with them to make sure that they received it and it has been applied. Do not terminate your coverage by discontinuing to pay the bill. The insurance company will drop you, but it will be reported on your credit as a nonpayment. You may have to provide your former insurer with proof of the new insurance coverage. You will also want to double check when your new policy starts so there isn’t a lapse that could leave you uninsured.

There are a few types of coverage that you can choose depending on your individual circumstances.

Required:
Liability – This is the minimal amount of coverage you need and it is required by every state. This is coverage for any damages or injuries that are caused by you while driving.

Optional:
Full Coverage/Comprehensive – Covers your vehicle, up to book value, for damage you cause. If you have an older vehicle, you may not want to have full coverage, as the monthly premiums are probably not worth the value of the vehicle. Comprehensive also applies to other damage to your vehicle like natural disasters or vandalism.

Medical – Covers medical treatment for you and your passengers if you are in an accident.

Uninsured/underinsured drivers – This applies if you are in an accident with someone who does not have insurance or enough to cover all damage and injuries. This may be an easier way to collect money when an event like this happens. If not, it can cost you a lot more to try and take it to court to collect from the uninsured driver.

Here are a few other ways that you can save on your insurance. Contact your insurer to see if these or other discounts apply. You may be able to save if you drive a vehicle with better safety standards. Some examples may be automatic seat belts or air bags.

There are a few savings for teen drivers as well. Reporting good grades can save you on your insurance. If your child has taken and passed a driver training course they may qualify for lower rates. The best way to save money is to have a clean driving record. Avoid speeding, running stop signs, tailgating, and be a defensive driver. Always be aware of the drivers around you. You may consider yourself a great driver but there are plenty who are not and you can get caught up in their mistakes.

Even if you have had infractions in the past, if it has been a few years since your last incident you should ask if there are any discounts.

When finances are tight it may be easy to choose not to be insured, but the amount you pay monthly is easily justified if you are ever involved in an accident. So make sure that you have a good policy and don’t be afraid to shop around to make sure that you are getting the best deals possible.

 
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There are a few things that you can do to prepare for summer that will help save you some money.

If you have central air or a window air conditioner now would be a good time to inspect them. Your local utility company will send someone out for maintenance for a fee. Even though there is a charge it will help your unit run more efficiently and they can also catch any potential problems it may have.

To make sure your deck makes it through another summer you may need to put a coat of water seal on it. If there are any boards that are in really bad shape you may need to replace them to prevent an injury.

These same tasks can apply to your fences. Apply weather protection and replace any broken boards to insure the life of the fence.

Your grill can be the centerpiece for a successful summer. Make sure you inspect it thoroughly and give it a good scrub down. If using propane, check all hoses for any leaks and make sure you have a full tank. Sand off any rust and clean the outside of your grill. You can even use a heat tolerant spray paint to give your grill a new look. Replacing the lava rocks and grease trap will help avoid flare-ups that could lead to burnt food.

If you didn’t do so before winter than there are a few things that you need to do to maintain your lawn mower. Replace any gas that was still in the tank. You may want to sharpen your blade, you can take it in to a hardware store and they can do it for you. Dull blades tear your grass, which could lead to diseased grass and a whole lot more expensive problems.

The spring and summer rains can bring problems if you don’t have adequate drainage. It’s a good time to check your sump-pump or even replace one that is not working properly.

These are just a few steps that can be taken now to prevent you from having to spend more later.

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