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The leaves are beginning to turn and the temperatures are begining to drop. We are all on the heels of a very busy time for us all. The holiday season is almost here and it's never too early to start getting prepared now. It starts with Halloween and concludes with the big one; Christmas.

We all need to budget for the holidays and for those who also have to account for other events like birthdays and anniversarys you need to show extra effort in planning for this time of year so you donÕt find yourself struggling to pay the bills.

We have some quick tips throughout this issue which can help you save for the major holidays.

 
 
 

Thanksgiving will be here shortly and it's a good idea to start planning now so you can spend wisely. If you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year there are plenty of things you can plan now to better prepare yourself for next month.

You are going to be able to put together the best plan as soon as you know how many people will be attending dinner. This obviously prevents you from buying too much or too little.

The time to start shopping for Thanksgiving are in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, you'll be seeing sales and coupons for many traditional Thanksgiving foods. Clip those coupons and match them with sales to get the best deals.

When it comes to buying a Turkey, plan to buy it when you do your weekly grocery shopping. Most grocery stores run specials where you can get an inexpensive turkey, if you spend $50 or more. It's a great deal, if you're already doing your weekly shopping. It's not a great deal, if you buy $50 worth of stuff you don't need, just to get the deal on the turkey.

By spending a little bit of money each week leading up to Thanksgiving, you won't be hit with the huge Thanksgiving grocery bill at the end of the month.

Here is an idea that will save you some precious time on Thanksgiving allowing you to spend more time with family and less time in the kitchen. There are plenty of dishes you can make the night before and store in the refrigerator until the next day. That way you can focus on the turkey, which is a lot easier to prepare than all the side dishes.

You can then put the dishes in the over to re-heat before dinner. Chances are most people will not be able to tell the difference between something that was cooked the same day or warmed up from the night before.

Another way to save you money is to have a potluck type dinner where guests prepare dishes and bring them over. You can still cook the turkey but others can prepare the sides and bring them when they arrive. This saves you time and money and most family members are more than happy to lend a hand.

Decorations help set the atmosphere and there are plenty of frugal ways to decorate for the season.

A hollowed-out baked pumpkin makes a serving bowl for salad. Remove the top of the pumpkin, scoop out the inside and place the top back on the pumpkin. Bake the pumpkin for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees. When baked, let the pumpkin cool, and when ready to set the salad on the table, toss the salad into the pumpkin and add serving forks to the pumpkin.

Venture out into the backyard or a local park for pinecones and leaves. Scatter the leaves on the table. For homemade name cards lay the pinecones on their sides and rest a piece of cardboard paper with the guests' names on it. This will make for a festive and free seating arrangement and table decor.

Traditions can help make the holiday memorable and usually don't cost much, if anything at all.

Start a Thanksgiving journal. Have a notebook to write what everyone is thankful for at that time. Then, each year you can add to the things you are thankful for and reflect what you had written in the past.

Other frugal, yet meaningful traditions are going around the table and telling everyone what you're thankful for or having everyone sign the Thanksgiving tablecloth in permanent ink. These traditions will provide memories that last far beyond Thanksgiving leftovers.

 

 

 

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Black Friday has become a new tradition for many savvy shoppers. The day after Thanksgiving can provide you with great deals that you would other wise not find. It can also be very hectic, so it's important to have a game plan to best take advantage of the sales.

First things first, just because something is on sale doesn't mean you should buy it. Start with figuring out your budget for everyone you have to buy gifts for. Then you can find the gifts for everyone as long as it falls under your budget. This means even if you find a great deal on something, you can't buy it if it causes you to go over budget. The stores are banking on the fact that you will spend more than you intended.

You'll feel more in control and focused if you head out with a list of the people you're shopping for, the gift ideas you have in mind for them and the target price range for each item. Otherwise, a shopping day like this one could be so overwhelming that you might fail to accomplish as much as you had hoped.

Start your research on the internet. There are many websites that "leak" the store specials early. This way you will know where to get the deals you want and how much it will cost. In other cases, you may not even have to go to the store, as some retailers will have some great deals if you purchase online.

Make sure the products that are listed as the Òbig ticketÓ items are quality products. A bad product is a bad deal no matter how cheap it costs. Being knowledgeable about the products you want to buy will help you avoid being sucker-punched with loud advertising for poor products. There are plenty of review sites online that review products.

The internet can also help you make sure that the deals that are advertised are actually deals. By price comparing items you may be able to find a sale item cheaper somewhere else. Utilize price-comparison Internet shopping sites such as PriceGrabber.com to assist you in comparing product prices. Compare the "options" included with the product. Some retailers will low-ball the advertised price on a stripped down product, and then you will be charged extra for the necessary parts that will make the product perform as expected. A good example of this is often seen with super low-priced computer printers that come without the cable (cord) or printer ink.

Make sure you bring a shopping buddy. A friend or family member that will prevent you from straying from your list. This will also help you keep your sanity in the face of plenty of hectic bargain hunters. This is a good time to remind you to also be as polite and cordial as possible. No bargain is worth getting into a public fracas where at best you risk embarrassment and at worst an injury or other disciplinary actions.

The Early Bird Shopper will be the real winner on Black Friday. Stores offering early-day shopper specials usually run the deals from 5 a.m. until 11 a.m. and with no "rain checks," which means once they run out of the products, you are out of luck. Scanning the ads and routing your trip based on your buying priorities will be important with the time-sensitive deals that will be offered.

Internet shoppers can beat the early birds by shopping online in the pre-dawn hours of Black Friday. Many retailers will be posting their Black Friday specials, which can be ordered online and picked-up at your local store. Special "Web only" deals will also be available starting as early as Thanksgiving eve. Many of the the aggressive outlet malls and factory stores will be opening Thursday at midnight, with early bird promotions in hopes of capturing your dollars before the competition has opened.

Bring the ads along with you as it can help you keep organized and may help you get a better deal. Many stores offer a "lowest-price" guarantee; however you may be required to produce a copy of the exact product being advertised for less. Most local retailers will not meet Internet prices even when the product is advertised on the same company's website, but it cannot hurt to try. Print the Web page that details the product and shows the advertised price. It may give you additional bargaining power and push the sales person into waiving other charges such as assembly fees.

Knowing the store policies on returns can help you determine where to buy. A previous trend of extending "return days" during the holidays is being seen less this year. Many retailers are including restocking fees and shorter return deadlines. Almost all of the major retail chains have clamped down on requiring receipts for returns and exchanges, and many keep a database of individuals who tend to abuse return policies. If you get onto an "abuse" list, prepare yourself to be turned down.

Black Friday is not the busiest shopping day of the year. It is usually the last Friday or Saturday before Christmas.

2008 Black Friday Stats:

172 Million Shoppers

$10.6 Billion in Sales

Shoppers spend on average $373

There was a 7% overall increase from 2007

 

 

 

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Childcare can be a large expense to your budget. There are some ways you can make it more affordable for you.

See if a trusted family member can watch them. While you probably wouldn't want them to keep your child every day, a family member works out nicely for special occasions. Perhaps one of them would like additional income and if need be, watch them while you work. A family member would most likely offer more affordable childcare.

If you have a job that is flexible and allows you to stay home, then you can do most of your work while your child is sleeping. Maybe hire someone to come in one day a week to care for the kids so you can get a huge chunk done and meet deadlines.

Trade childcare with a friend. Setting up a childcare exchange system can work out well if you have kids around the same age. Take turns watching each other's children and it won't cost you a dime.

Work opposite shifts than your partner so one of you will always be around to watch the kids. In tough times, this can be a great solution but be sure to find time to spend alone with your partner.

Universities will sometimes have a daycare affiliated with it. They usually offer open spots to faculty and students but if there are any left over, you may be able to have your child placed there. Typically, child development students are caring for the children and it's a very affordable childcare option.

Don't be too proud to seek financial assistance for childcare if you qualify. The U.S. Government has state listings for childcare information available. It's definitely an option to explore if you've exhausted all others.

If you paid someone to care for a child, spouse, or dependent, you may be able to reduce your tax by claiming the Child and Dependent Care Credit on your federal income tax return. Below are the top ten things you need to know about claiming a credit for child and dependent care expenses.

1. The care must have been provided for one or more qualifying persons. A qualifying person is your dependent child under age 13. Additionally, your spouse and certain other individuals who are physically or mentally incapable of self-care may also be qualifying persons. You must identify each qualifying person on your tax return.

2. The care must have been provided so you - and your spouse if you are married - could work or look for work.

3. You - and your spouse if you are married - must have earned income from wages, salaries, tips, other taxable employee compensation or net earnings from self-employment. One spouse may be considered as having earned income if they were a full-time student or they were physically or mentally unable to care for themselves.

4. The payments for care cannot be paid to your spouse, to someone you can claim as your dependent on your return, or to your child who is under age 19, even if he or she is not your dependent. You must identify the care provider on your tax return.

5. Your filing status must be single, married filing jointly, head of household or qualifying widow(er) with a dependent child.

6. The qualifying person must have lived with you for more than half of 2008.

7. The credit can be up to 35 percent of your qualifying expenses, depending upon your income.

8. For 2008, you may use up to $3,000 of the expenses paid in a year for one qualifying individual or $6,000 for two or more qualifying individuals.

9. The qualifying expenses must be reduced by the amount of any dependent care benefits provided by your employer that you exclude from your income.

10. If you pay someone to come to your home and care for your dependent or spouse, you may be a household employer. If you are a household employer, you may have to withhold and pay social security and Medicare tax and pay federal unemployment tax. For information, see Publication 926, Household Employer's Tax Guide.

 

 

 

 

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Saving money is more important than ever. It's important that we don't over-spend for the holidays. You can have a memorable and special Christmas without spending loads of money on presents and decorations.

The Christmas holiday season is an expensive one in many households. Some families even go into debt to buy gifts. Planning ahead for a frugal holiday can save money and keep you debt free this Christmas.

Garage Sales
While the warmer weather is still here, the perfect time to start Christmas shopping is garage sale season. Toys for young children are great finds at garage sales. Children younger than four or five are not going to know the difference between a brand new toy and a nearly new toy purchased from a garage sale. A side benefit of garage sale Christmas shopping is that someone else has already thrown away the packaging, thus reducing the clutter of your Christmas morning.

Shop in Your Attic
For parents whose children are spaced more than a few years apart, baby and toddler toys that were stored in the attic after the first child outgrew them can be wrapped and placed under the tree for the new baby or young toddler. Chances are the oldest has long since forgotten about the toys and they will be new and exciting to the young child.

Search Sales Fliers
For the child whose taste in toys is consistent, search sales fliers early for deals on toy favorites. This is the best way to purchase new Lego kits, Barbie dolls, gaming equipment and other toys for older children. Many stores, such as Toys R Us, will have a Christmas shopping sales flier as early as September or October.

Set a Budget
Setting a Christmas shopping budget for each child ahead of time and forcing yourself to stick to it will save money. If a child is asking for a particular, expensive gift, then buy a few smaller, less expensive gifts to go with it. Dollar stores and discount department stores stock toys and other items that can be used to supplement a more expensive gift and keep you within your holiday budget.

Focus on Non-Gift Traditions
A frugal Christmas isn't about an excess of toys. Children will appreciate the holiday season more when the focus is on family. Create special memories with your children by donating outgrown toys to a shelter, baking cookies, caroling or making Christmas crafts.

The Christmas shopping season doesn't have to leave you with credit card debt. Setting a modest budget, shopping garage sales and shopping early for sale prices will help you have a frugal Christmas.

It is no secret that even the most budget minded people tend to spend more money in the months leading up to Christmas. The expense doesn't stop with just gifts, there is extra food to be purchased for various get togethers, family photos, purchasing and mailing out Christmas cards and new outfits for holiday parties. Added together, you may find yourself paying for these things long after the holiday season ends. Luckily there are steps that you can do to trim your holiday budget throughout the year to save on Christmas.

Make a list.
Write down everyone on your Christmas list along with their likes and dislikes and keep it in your purse or wallet. You never know when you will find that perfect gift for someone at a great price.

Shop early. This may seem like such obvious advice but shopping early not only helps you budget your holiday cash throughout the year but it also gives you more time to find great deals. In fact, you may find the best deals on gifts just days after Christmas. You can also use this opportunity to stock up on holiday gift wrap, decorations, Christmas cards and more for next year.

You can even shop early on some of your food items. Non perishables with a long shelf life can be purchased several months in advance so take advantage of these items and stock up when on sale (check expiration dates). If you are planning turkey with all the trimmings for Christmas then take advantage of the sales on turkeys offered around Thanksgiving and purchase an extra to stash in your freezer.

Start a Christmas club. Even if you plan to shop throughout the year it is a good idea to start a Christmas club so that you have extra cash in December for those last minute items such as perishables food for your dinner menu, gift cards and those last other last minute items.

 

 

$616
The amount the average American is expected to spend this Christmas according to a Gallup poll.

 

 

 

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We survived through the end of summer and are excited for the fall. It was a little dicey there for a while with so many events to attend. I guess we underestimated the costs of all these events on top of having a newborn. It's definitely time to sit down and re-assess the budget and spending habits.

This is definitely not the time of year to try and figure out where the holes in the budget are coming from. With the holiday season approaching (as well as an anniversary and spouse birthday) we need to find a way to not only fix the holes but to plan for extra expenses the holidays bring.

It can be easy to get into a comfortable habit and think you will be fine without taking the time to look at your budget. I think that is the pattern we fell into before are son was born earlier this year. We had a comfortable amount left over after paying bills and setting some money aside in savings. So we assumed that the financial impact of having a second child would not affect us as much as we thought.

The child expenses haven't been too much of a surprise for us, but it just so happened during what I have been calling a Òperfect stormÓ. All the extra childcare expenses came at the same time where we have been very busy. We had a scheduled event just about every weekend this summer. When you have all these extra things to go to the costs can quickly add up. A few weddings a couple reunions and a couple trips to see family. With the birth of our son my wife didn't have any summer work that usually helps us get through the summer months.

I was irresponsible in not planning better. We could have watched our grocery budget a little better to account for the extra expenses. I could have done a better job of keeping the house cool and not having to run the air conditioner so much. There are plenty of things I could have probably done better if given the time to sit down and analyze it.

The good thing is I have full confidence we will rebound and get back on track. It may take a little trial and error, but that's nothing new to us, or probably most of you.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited for the cool temperatures and quieter weekends without so much to do. When we speak again, we will be on the verge of closer out the year and looking forward to the new one. It's amazing how fast the time goes. I hope you find some great tips in this month's edition. Remember, we all stumble at times but it's important to not get discouraged and rebound with a better game plan. Until next time, good luck and have fun.

There are plenty of people who are still in the market to buy their first home. Nowadays it's as important as ever to be better prepared when buying a home. There's no reason to feel intimidated or overwhelmed by the home buying process. There are classes and counseling available for people who want to educate themselves in the process of home buying.

A homebuyer's education class is a great way for you to learn about the home buying process. The more you know about the process, the better decisions you will make when you buy a home.

Many classes include information provided by experts in the field. You may have the chance to have your questions answered by realtors, mortgage lenders, insurers, and home appraisers just to name a few.

Pre-Purchase counseling can be provided individually and can be a continuation of what you might have learned in a homebuyer's education class. While meeting with a counselor you can go through your financial budget along with your debts and assets.

This consultation will help you determine if it is the right time for you to start looking for a house. A counselor may pull a credit report to look at your credit score and look for any red flags that lenders might worry about. If there are some discrepancies on your credit report you may be provided tips on how to improve your credit report, which involves paying off debts or resolving any errors.

You will have a lot more leverage when you start looking for a house with a specific price range in mind and by educating yourself about the homebuying you can be confident finding a home that you like, is reliable, and most important; one you can afford.

For more information on Housing Education provided by Pioneer Credit Counseling click here.

 

 

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In the latest spin on debt collection deception, scammers pretending to be lawyers are calling consumers across the country, threatening imminent arrest unless their victims immediately pay up to $1,000 to settle a payday loan-a short-term loan based on the value of an upcoming paycheck or other expected income.

Although that threat is certainly frightening-and illegal-what's even more worrisome is how the phone-dialing phonies make their bogus claims look legitimate.

"These scammers have an incredible amount of personal information about the people they are calling. They have Social Security numbers; cell, work and home numbers; personal references, and even contact information of family members of the intended victims," notes Alison Southwick of the national Council of Better Business Bureaus, which issued a warning about this ruse.

"We don't know how they could have gotten that level of personal information unless it was obtained illegally, so we think these scammers may be behind some sort of security breach-possibly having stolen records from a payday lender or another company," Southwick says. In some cases, the BBB reports, the scammers even have their intended victims' bank account and driver's license numbers, as well as their employers' names.

Phony companies
Southwick tells Scam Alert that she personally has been receiving several inquiries a day from consumers who received these threatening phone calls. "Many say they have had payday loans in the past, but most tell me that they either repaid them in full or are in the process of doing so," she says. However, others tell BBB offices across the country that they have never taken out a payday loan.

In their phone calls, the scammers say they're calling on behalf of the "Financial Accountability Association" or the "Federal Legislation of Unsecured Loans Association"-two phony companies whose names suggest a government connection. They instruct consumers to either wire money or provide their bank account or credit card numbers to pay off the supposed loan or they will be "arrested and extradited to California within the hour to stand trial."

What to do if you're called
If you receive calls about an outstanding debt of any kind:

Do not provide or confirm any personal information over the phone, especially bank and credit card accounts or Social Security numbers.

Without giving your address, ask any person claiming to be a debt collector to mail you official documentation of the debt. Although scammers may have your address and might send you phony paperwork, authentic paperwork will list the original debtor and amount.

Pay especially close attention to your credit report for several months after receiving a debt collection phone call to ensure that no fraudulent charges have been made in your name. You can obtain a free credit report.

If you suspect potential problems, request that a fraud alert or credit freeze be placed on your credit history file.

Report any abusive or harassing phone calls from self-described debt collectors or other businesses to the BBB and Federal Trade Commission.

 

 
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Halloween Decorations
Stuff old clothing with leaves to make scary dudes for the front porch. Add a little hay and this is a great way to make a scarecrow.

Use old thread and yarn or stretched out cotton balls for cobwebs and hang it around the house and porch.

Decorate windows by putting plastic wrap on them and then paint scary ghosts and critters until your heart is content. When Halloween is over you can just peel it and throw it away.

Shop at the .99 Cent store for inexpensive window decals and Halloween decor. Let the kids each pick out something new each year.

Halloween Activities
If you do go to a harvest farm, find one that letÕs you pay only for the activities the kids want to do. Let them pick out 2 or 3 they really want to do like the corn maze, pony ride, or hay ride, and call it good!

Buy a handful of the mini pumpkins from the grocery store and let the kids decorate them with markers or paint. We did this last weekend and my son and I actually were able to carve one into a Jack-O-Lantern, we had a lot of fun doing it!

Make Caramel Apples, this is a fun and cheap activity that kids love.

Halloween Costumes
Homemade costumes can be really cool and save you a lot of money. You can raid your closet or the next time the kids visit the grandparents find out what they have for vintage clothing.

Homemade facepaint can go a long ways in creating a bunch of characters. There is always the popular classic ghost, which requires nothing more than a white sheet or pillow case. Halloween may be the best holiday to allow you to use your frugal imagination.

 
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