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Quick Ideas

The long days of summer are almost near, which means trying to find fun and affordable things for the family to do.

A Block Party
Having a block party is a great way to make your own summer entertainment and get to know your neighbors at the same time. A block party can be very frugal, have each neighbor bring something. Try and find local businesses to be sponsors that can donate "door prizes," food, music and more.

Hike Or Bike
Hiking and biking, whether it is through a neighborhood or along a trail are wonderful summertime activities that the whole family can enjoy. You will get the fresh air and some free exercise, too. Bored with your own trails? A short drive to another town is still very frugal.

Free Summer Music
I am a big fan of summer music. There is nothing like going to a concert in a park or at the beach and enjoying some great music. While some summer music concerts do charge an admission, many are absolutely free to the public. To find out more about free summer music and where to find concerts in your area contact a local arts museum or area chamber of commerce.

Movie Night
Take advantage of discount movies this summer. Librarys and movie theaters in your area may feature nights where they offer a family oriented movie.

Teach Your Child Gardening
Take advantage of your child's need to explore and try new things. Have your child get involved in the magic of caring for and tending to the needs of nature. What a wonderful opportunity to teach your child to respect Mother Nature

Camps
There are many different camps that may suit the tastes of your children. Everything from music to art to sports and beyond, look at your library and keep your eyes and ears peeled for information on summer camps. There are camps that last weeks or there are some that are day camps. Get your child involved in the searching. Camps that cost money may have scholarships or payment plans to accommodate all children.

These are only a few of the endless activities that you can find to help you pass the wonderful summer days and nights.

    

 


 

   
 
 

Smart grocery shopping is one of the best ways to squeeze more money out of your budget, but seems to be one of the hardest things to actually practice. Hopefully some of these tips can be used to help you cut back on your grocery bill and help you reduce a little of your grocery budget.

First and foremost make a list; it's the best way to ensure you are not buying things that you don't need and not forgetting anything. Make an ongoing list were you can add things you need as you run out of them or think of them. This way you can avoid making multiple trips to the grocery store to buy one or two items. Often times a quick run to the store for one item can lead to you coming back with more than you planned. A dry-erase board on the fridge or mounted to a wall in the kitchen is a quick and easy way to write down stuff as you think of them.

Try shopping by yourself. By leaving the kids at home you will save yourself from having to say no constantly before finally giving in to demands. If you feel you may be prone to impulse buying then you may want to shop with a spouse or friend who can deter you from any extra temptations.

Leftovers are a good idea only if you actually intend to eat them. If you find yourself throwing leftovers out after some time you may want to use recipes that are intended for smaller serving sizes. You can also take a recipe and divide the ingredients to cook smaller portions. However, not all recipes will work with dividing ingredients so be sure to read the recipe thoroughly.

Avoid buying frozen dinners. They cost more for less food and eliminate the potential of having leftovers. Besides, they are usually not as healthy as a meal you prepare with fresh ingredients.

Carry a calculator with you to the supermarket. That way to you can keep track of your running total and not go over your intended budget. To help ensure that you are covered you can always round up to the nearest dollar to keep it an even number and give you a cushion.

Reduce the amount of meat that you buy. Making more vegetarian type meals will help you cut your costs on one of the more expensive grocery items. You don't have to cut meat out completely just a meal here or there will help. There are plenty of meals that you can make that don't require meat. It just may take a little research.

If time permits you may want to delegate your shopping to more than one store. Different stores will have deals on different items that you may need and be able to save money on.

Make sure you are asking for rain checks on any sale item you planned on buying that the store ran out on. Make sure you pay attention to the expiration date on the rain check and use it as soon as they are re-stocked.


     

 

 

 

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Travel Lightly

Summer will be here before we know it and many families will be loading up and heading out on a yearly excursion. With the rates of gas skyrocketing and a sluggish economy, some may forgo a vacation this year. Before you scrap your plans completely look into some of these money saving tips and alternatives.

Start off by taking a good look at your budget. Figure out how much you would be able to spend if you decide to take a vacation. You can then figure out a plan based on your target price. Once you have a price in mind it's then time to start doing your research with a couple of destinations in mind.

Compile a list of accommodations and activities for the place you intend to visit and compare. You may find that one place has more to do and for a more affordable price than your other options.

The best way to compile a lot of information is by using the Internet. You can quickly find lodging prices and availability, along with local attractions. Many places have family oriented attractions that are affordable or sometimes even free.

There are many travel websites where you can book both your travel and accommodations. You can save some money by booking both at the same time but make sure you get prices from the actual airlines and hotels. Many times you will find the same price or special deal by going through the original company as compared to booking through an online agent.

Take advantage of any discounts or club memberships you are a member of. There is of course AAA (American Automobile Association), which has many discounts for travelers across the US. Many places also offer discounts to the elderly or member of the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons). There may also be discounts offered to teachers or members of other working unions. The only way you will find out is by asking, and the worse they could say is no.

Food is a big expense when traveling and a family of four could easily save forty dollars by skipping on a roadside meal, or frequent gas-station pit stops. Pack your own food and drinks beforehand to prevent you from spending too much on food. You can bake a batch of goodies, or make a bag of homemade Chex mix to munch on throughout the trip. Pull over at a rest station and unpack the sandwiches and thermos full of your favorite drink.

Even when you get to your destination, run to the store and pick up some ingredients for sandwiches or buy food from their deli. By not eating out for every meal on your vacation, it will help you save a bundle.

Many resort destination vacations are all inclusive. This is where you pay for most of your costs up front and then all the amenities are free to use. This can also include food and drinks. The resorts also feature many activities and shows so there is little reason to leave. By shopping around you can find great deals and have your vacation paid for up front and not have to worry about over spending during your time off.

When you actually go on vacation use cash and only cash. That way you have a set amount that you have already budgeted. Here's the catch. Cash can be uncomfortable and dangerous to carry around, so you will want to get traveler's checks. They work the same because they are a predetermined amount but they are safe from theft.

By preparing ahead of time and planning out your entire trip you can prevent yourself from having to use credit cards or more money than you budgeted. Some of the fun about vacations is being spontaneous. Set aside some extra money to use for some activities that you did not originally plan for.

Hopefully some of these tips will encourage you to take a well needed break from the grind of daily life and save you some money along the way.

Resources:

www.aaa.com - AAA’s website that features tips and services for your travel accommodations.


 

 

 

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Spending Your Rebate

The government's 2008 Stimulus Tax Rebate checks will start rolling out this month, which is leading many Americans to ask; How should I spend my rebate check? The government wants you to dump it back into the economy and buy any array of goods and services, while you may decide to help replenish your personal economy. Here are some options to consider while you mull over your government check.

Take a look at your bills, if there are any that you need to catch up on this extra money is a good opportunity to do that. If you have some credit card bills or hospital bills you may be able to pay them off or get close to paying them off. You may even consider making an extra payment or two on a few of your bills to help save you some interest in the long run.

Another option that you have that may help you more than the economy is by padding your savings or emergency fund. If you do not have a healthy savings account or emergency fund now is a good time to take your rebate check and stick it in the bank. Ideally, you want a money cushion of 6 months expenses saved but you want at least 3 months worth. Your emergency fund is there for you if you encounter a financial hardship such as a job loss or divorce. Even though the economy is struggling and the rebate is intended to be pumped back into the retail world, you are not doing anyone any favors if your own financial situation is drained.

For those who are investment savvy, now may be a good time to take this rebate and invest it to watch it grow. You may also want to contribute more towards your retirement plan or start an educational fund for your children.

If you own financial situation is intact then you may want to think of some ways to spend the money wisely. No matter how much you convince yourself, buying a new flat panel plasma television is not considered a home improvement project. Real home improvement can update the look of your home and help build equity in the property, which will pay for itself if you ever choose to sell.

Look for projects that you can do around the house that costs about as much as you are expected to get back for your rebate. There are quite a few projects that you can accomplish for under $1000 that could add twice that much value to your home. A small bathroom or kitchen upgrade can add lots of value to your home.

Some projects can be done without hiring professional help, which will save you a lot of money in labor costs. You can always sign up for a class at a hardware store that will teach the skills that you will need. Even if it's just a new coat of paint for a few of the rooms in your house, it can go a long way.

Landscaping projects can also add value to your home and be completed in a weekend. Doing research and asking the experts at a harware store will help you decide on what projects would suit your home and fits within your budget.

If you are in need of some new appliances this may be a good time to shop. New appliances with the Energy Star label will help you save money in the long run due to the fact that they operate more efficiently.

You can also use the money to make some other “green” improvements. You can replace all the incandescent light bulbs in your house with compact fluorescent light bulbs that use less energy and last much longer.

Invest the money into your vehicle. If it has been awhile since you had a full car inspection take it in to see what things could use a replacement or fix. It's better to do this when you have money instead of having it break down a while later and having to use your emergency fund. Maintaining your vehicle will help it last longer and save you from having to buy a new car or make more serious repairs.

Take advantage of this rebate and use it for something that will benefit you the most. You may regret it when it’s gone if you splurged it on an impulse buy.

Resources:

http://www.irs.gov/irs/article/0,,id=180250,00.html
This link will take you to the estimated payment schedule and you can figure out when to expect your Stimulus Rebate check.

 

 

 
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Man, do you ever feel like luck is just not on your side sometimes, when it comes to saving money. You do your homework and compare prices and avoid impulse shopping and feel confident you made a wise transaction only to find out later that you could have got it cheaper.

That actually happened a couple of times to us this month. I believe I mentioned previously that we were going to take a portion of our tax return to install some laminate wood flooring in our home. We looked at a variety of brands and styles along with the quality. We wanted to get something that would hold up but not break the bank. We found a brand that was both high quality and affordable. We had a representative from the store come to the house and precisely measure our room and find out what we needed for transition pieces. This was a free service and helped us avoid buying more or less than we needed.

We waited to purchase the flooring until the following week when the store we bought it from was having a big sale and the floor that we bought would be cheaper. We had also been pricing floor similar to ours to make sure the store's price was comparable to their competitors. We got everything squared away and were thrilled with our choice and purchase.

The very next day I was enjoy my morning coffee and browsing through the ads when I saw that there is a special for the same brand of flooring we just bought for about half the price that we bought ours for from a different store. I nearly spilled my coffee on my lap and if it weren't for the presence of my 18-month old daughter I'm sure a few expletives would have spilled out of my mouth as well. I flipped the ad to my wife and we were determined to take our newly purchased floor back and get the better price.

One problem though, we were totally in love with the style choice we had made and found out the discounted flooring only came in two choices that we were not very fond of. The discount flooring was also a grade lower than the kind that we purchased, so we decided that we would be happier with our original choice even though it was more expensive. Since the flooring was going to be a permanent change we felt we would be happier to spend the extra instead of buying the cheaper floor and not being 100% satisfied with it.

It's funny though; if we would have waited one more day and saw the cheaper price would we still like our choice more than the cheaper one.

A similar occurrence happened only a short time later while shopping for running shoes. After much shopping and deliberation I finally picked a shoe that I felt was comfortable and a good price. The next weeks' ad featured the shoe I had just purchased as part of their clearance sale. Foiled again.

Speaking of running, this is a hobby that I was very involved in during my high school years and one that my wife and I have started up again and have become passionate about.

Like many hobbies however, there are some costs that we have to consider. The first one was the aforementioned running shoes. This was frustrating to say the least, and not just because of the price jump I was talking about but there are many choices and it's hard to know if a certain shoe is going to work for you beforehand. I suggest when buying running shoes make sure they have a good return policy because you don't want to spend all that money on a pair of shoes only to find out they give you terrible blisters or won't hold up to the miles you put on them. If you're really lucky, you may have to buy shoes AND insoles to ensure the best comfort. It's like buying 2 pairs of shoes for one set of feet.

You don't have to be as picky with running attire, just something comfortable to run in is fine. Not that there isn't plenty of clothing choices that range in price. It's also hard to not be tempted by all the other gadgets and gizmos that comes with a running hobby. Heart-rate monitors, mp3 players, stopwatches, sunglasses, and hydrating gum are just a few of the extra things I keep insisting I need in order to perform at my best, even though I'm well aware they are not necessary.

We have been running a few races and the entrance fees to these races add up very quickly. Granted, the fees collected usually go to a very good cause and there's customarily a t-shirt to commemorate the race, but without consciously adjusting our budget to accommodate race fees we would feel it by the end of the month.

On that note, I gotta run so until next month, good luck and have fun.

 

 

 
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Summer Energy Conservation Tips

Before the high temperatures and summer storms join us with their presence, it's important that we do as much as we can to conserve energy and save money.

During the winter months many of us check for leaks near windows or doors to make sure that warm air is not escaping. The same works for the summer months to make sure that cool indoor air is not being wasted through any leaks. Go through and caulk any holes in the foundation or along any spaces in the window or doorframes. Weather-stripping is also very effective in preventing lost air through gaps in the doors.

When running an air conditioner it is important that you make sure that all the windows are securely shut and avoid opening doors as much as possible. If you have not yet considered a programmable thermostat they are a great investment that will save you money and energy and most of them can be easily installed. You can then program it to run while you are at home and be off while you are gone and do not need the cool air.

Open windows if the temperature drops at night or there is a cool breeze. There's no need to run the air conditioner if you can get the same result by opening a window. During the heat of the day make sure that you have blinds closed to keep heat out and cool air in. This will make your air conditioner have to work a lot less and save you money each month.

You should always keep your lights off when you are not using them, but in the summer time the extra heat radiating from the bulbs can cause your air conditioner to stay on longer than needed.

You can always call your utility company and see if they can come out and give you an energy audit. For a small fee or even free, they will come out and do an inspection of your home and give you suggestions on where you can save money by being more conservative. They may also provide a service where they will clean out your air ducts for you. You can then make changes a little at a time and start seeing reductions in your utility bills.

In time of extreme heat, water can be a short commodity. Droughts cause many communities to put restrictions and limitations on water use. These actions need to make us think of ways to best conserve our water supply.

Start in the bathroom. Take shorter showers. The normal shower lasts between 8-10 minutes and uses roughly 18 gallons. A shower that lasts 3-4 minutes will use 7.5 gallons of water. Instead of standing out of the flow of water while soaping and shampooing simply turn the water off.

Older toilets (installed prior to 1994) use more water than newer ones. Replacing an old toilet with a new model can save a typical household 7,900 to 21,700 gallons of water per year. If you can't replace your toilet, conserve water with an older toilet by filling a 1-gallon milk jug with water and placing it in the tank to displace the tank water.

In the laundry room you can use your washing machine more effectively. Operate the washer with full loads; it is the most efficient way to wash clothes. Set your water volume setting to the minimum amount required per load. Check the washer hose for cracks that could cause costly leaks. Wash loads in cold water to save energy and lower your energy utility bill. On nice days you can avoid using the dryer by hanging your clothes outside on a clothesline.

Use these tips when water restrictions are taking a toll on your lawn and garden. Maintain a lawn height of 2.5 to 3 inches. This protects the roots from heat stress and loss of moisture through evaporation. Collect rain in a large container and use it to irrigate your garden. You could also collect unused water during a shower. Choose plants that grow strong roots and can tolerate the heat.

Doing this will save you money in your pocket plus you will be earth conscious which benefits everyone.



 
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