Saturday, December 31, 2005

A smart programmable thermostat can pay for itself in a year

A thermostat is a simple device—it’s just a temperature-controlled on/off switch for your heating and cooling system. However, a thermostat can have a major impact on your annual heating and cooling costs; during cold weather set it as low as possible, and during warm weather set it as high as possible—without sacrificing comfort. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, setting back your thermostat by 10 to 15 percent for eight hours a day can reduce your annual heating and cooling bill by as much as ten percent.

Set it and forget it
A programmable thermostat—a thermostat combined with a clock—can handle daily system temperature changes for you automatically, all year long. Once you set a programmable thermo-stat, you can forget it—unless you want to change its program. In fact, some programmable thermostats come preprogrammed from the factory, so you can use the standard program or easily modify it to meet your family’s needs.

For example, during cold-weather months, the thermostat program will cycle the heating system so your home is a comfortable 70° when you get up in the morning—and then allow the temperature to go to 60° during the day while you’re at work. Later, when you arrive home from work, the system will have cooled your home back to 70° again. After you go to bed, the thermostat can lower the temperature a few degrees to save even more energy before repeating the cycle the next day.

Look for these features
The least-expensive (under $40) ENERGY STAR® qualified programmable thermostats are pretty basic and offer a single program with four settings—wake, leave (day), return (night) and sleep—for weekdays and a second program with four settings for the weekend. Some also include a few other features such as battery backup for the program, a monitor that indicates when to change the furnace filter and a temporary program override to use, for example, if you stay home from work.

However, if your budget allows, spend $50-$100 (or more) for a smart programmable thermostat. A “7-day” smart thermostat, for instance, will let you set a separate program for each day of the week. Some upscale thermostats offer six programs per day, automatic switching between heating and cooling modes and one-button hold temperature and vacation settings.

In addition, several thermostats include a separate program for the blower fan, as well as offering control of a whole-house humidifier (for winter), a variable-speed fan blower (for humidity control during summer) or a fresh-air ventilator (year-round). You even can remove most programmable thermostats from the wall to program them—and a couple come with remote controls, so you can change thermostat settings from anywhere in your home.

Finally, look for a thermostat with an advanced recovery or “ramping” feature that helps your heating and cooling system deliver the correct temperature at the right time, in the most economical way possible. This feature monitors indoor and outdoor temperatures and humidity and gradually brings your home to the requested temperature (usually over a period of hours), so the system doesn’t have to deal with a large temperature shift all at once.

Install it yourself
Many thermostats—from the simplest, inexpensive ones to the high-end, programmable units—are designed for do-it-yourself installation. Just turn off the power to your heating and cooling system, remove the old thermostat and attach the existing system wires to the correct terminals on the new thermostat. However, if the wires aren’t color-coded or the new thermostat requires additional wires, call a professional installer for help.

Get more information
The material in this article was adapted from a new book, Home Heating and Cooling, just released by the Iowa Energy Center. Besides offering much more detail on the topics discussed here, this book also covers making the most of your heating and air-conditioning system, discusses landscaping your yard for year-round comfort and lists many sources of additional information on energy-saving topics.

The first book in the series, Home Tightening, Insulation and Ventilation, was released last summer and is still available. To get your free copy of one or both of these books:

• Call your utility company to see if you can stop by the office and pick up a copy;
• Download a PDF copy at the Iowa Energy Center Web site:;
• Request a copy by e-mailing the Iowa Energy Center at; or
• Call the Iowa Energy Center at 515-294-8819 to ask for a copy by mail.


Amy Swenson, Iowa Energy Center, (515) 294-4391,

An angel of a fundraiser

Let's see this year so far for school, scout and soceer we have sold wrapping paper, popcorn, bath towels and candles. My ears perked up when I heard this on the radio Church sells Angel Soft toilet paper for a fundraiser. Hey everyone uses it and it is practical. Much better than the candy bars that magically end up on my hips.

What is a mutual fund?

Back to Basic Mutual Funds

A mutual fund is a company that pools money from many investors and invests the money in stocks, bonds, short-term money-market instruments, or other securities. Legally known as an "open-end company," a mutual fund is one of three basic types of investment company. The two other basic types are closed-end funds and Unit Investment Trusts (UITs).

Here are some of the traditional and distinguishing characteristics of mutual funds:

* Investors purchase mutual fund shares from the fund itself (or through a broker for the fund), but are not able to purchase the shares from other investors on a secondary market, such as the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq Stock Market. The price investors pay for mutual fund shares is the fund’s per share net asset value (NAV) plus any shareholder fees that the fund imposes at purchase (such as sales loads).

* Mutual fund shares are "redeemable." This means that when mutual fund investors want to sell their fund shares, they sell them back to the fund (or to a broker acting for the fund) at their approximate NAV, minus any fees the fund imposes at that time (such as deferred sales loads or redemption fees).

* Mutual funds generally sell their shares on a continuous basis, although some funds will stop selling when, for example, they become too large.

* The investment portfolios of mutual funds typically are managed by separate entities known as "investment advisers" that are registered with the SEC.

Mutual funds come in many varieties. For example, there are index funds, stock funds, bond funds, money market funds, and more. Each of these may have a different investment objective and strategy and a different investment portfolio. Different mutual funds may also be subject to different risks, volatility, and fees and expenses.

All funds charge management fees for operating the fund. Some also charge for their distribution and service costs, commonly referred to as "12b-1" fees. Some funds may also impose sales charge or loads when you purchase or sell fund shares. In this regard, a fund may offer different "classes" of shares in the same portfolio, with each class having different fees and expenses.

To figure out how the costs of a mutual fund add up over time and to compare the costs of different mutual funds, you should use the SEC’s Mutual Fund Cost Calculator. Some funds may reduce their sales charges depending on the amount you invest in the fund. At certain thresholds, known as breakpoints, you may receive increasingly lower sales charges as your investment increases.

Keep in mind that just because a fund had excellent performance last year does not necessarily mean that it will duplicate that performance. For example, market conditions can change and this year’s winning fund might be next year’s loser. That is why the SEC requires funds to tell investors that a fund’s past performance does not necessarily predict future results. To understand the factors you should consider before investing in a mutual fund, read Mutual Fund Investing: Look at More Than a Mutual Fund's Past Performance. In addition, you should carefully read all of a fund’s available information, including its prospectus, or profile if it has one, and most recent shareholder report.

There are some investment companies, known as exchange-traded funds or ETFs, which are legally classified as open-end companies or UITs. ETFs differ from traditional open-end companies and UITs, because, pursuant to SEC exemptive orders, shares issued by ETFs trade on a secondary market and are only redeemable in very large blocks (blocks of 50,000 shares for example). ETFs are not considered to be, and are not permitted to call themselves, mutual funds.

Mutual funds are subject to SEC registration and regulation, and are subject to numerous requirements imposed for the protection of investors. Mutual funds are regulated primarily under the Investment Company Act of 1940 and the rules and registration forms adopted under that Act. Mutual funds are also subject to the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. You can find the definition of "open-end company" in Section 5 of the Investment Company Act of 1940.

For information about the basics of mutual funds, read from a list of publications by a variety of organizations.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Resolutions, stamps and pawn shops

I love reading the financial frugal living blogs around.

Here are some of the good posts that that I have seen this week..

All Things Financial has suggestions for making financial resolutions for 2006.

5 cent nickel gives a reminder that stamp prices are increasing soon. Also a good reminder of how chea p it costs to mail something!

Mighty Bargain Hunter
shares his shopping experience at a pawn shop. I need to find out wheres some of local ones are.

Looking back 2005 financial resolutions

I posted this at the saving advice forums last year and wanted to do a check in here

We have two big purchases planned for 2005 year.

1) a new mini van. My mini van is now 9 years old. We had to put money into it. We will be buying a van several years old I have been putting some money aside for a downpayment on the car. I need to keep on adding to that each week. I hate to have a car payment but we probably will have to. I don't want anything over $200 a month

We did this!! We bought a 2001 Chrylser Town and Country for $13,995 and our monthly payment is $240 a month for 3 years.

2) New windows The house has been needing them the last 2 years.
Windows should be able to pay in cash from our tax return. My father who is a general carpenter and hubby will do that so it will just the product and some home cooked dinners for my Dad.

It didn't happen. I wasn't able to save enough extra money towards the car. So I am waiting doing the windows this year. More of a want vs a need and I do not do credit.
Continuing to contribute money into hubby's 401k of atleast 10%. Add my contribution of $3k to a Roth IRA.

Done and done! We upped Dh contribution to 11% over the summer. I have $300 each month taken out from our checking to go to a Roth..
Other smaller goals is to use what is in the house, declutter a lot. Get rid of the baby stuff either by donating to my twin group, freecycle or a yard sale.

I did this! Lots of stuff got donated via my twin group or freecycle plus I got some good freebies back.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

2006 financial goals

I am trying to figure out my 2006 financial goals:

  1. Up DH 401k contribution to 15%. He is currently at 11%
  2. Continue to deposit $350 a month into a Roth IRA for me. This is done through automatic deducation
  3. $50 each, each month into kids 529 plans-automatic deduction
  4. Home improvement-use tax returns for new windows
  5. Pay extra on the car
  6. Open an extra saving account to deposit $250-$400 each month for Disney World trip in 2007.

Best CD rates

Best CD certificate of deposit rates

What is a Certificate of Deposit?

Investors searching for relatively low-risk investments that can easily be converted into cash often turn to certificates of deposit (CDs). A CD is a special type of deposit account with a bank or thrift institution that typically offers a higher rate of interest than a regular savings account. Unlike other investments, CDs feature federal deposit insurance up to $100,000.

Here’s how CDs work: When you purchase a CD, you invest a fixed sum of money for fixed period of time – six months, one year, five years, or more – and, in exchange, the issuing bank pays you interest, typically at regular intervals. When you cash in or redeem your CD, you receive the money you originally invested plus any accrued interest. But if you redeem your CD before it matures, you may have to pay an "early withdrawal" penalty or forfeit a portion of the interest you earned.

Although most investors have traditionally purchased CDs through local banks, many brokerage firms and independent salespeople now offer CDs. These individuals and entities – known as "deposit brokers" – can sometimes negotiate a higher rate of interest for a CD by promising to bring a certain amount of deposits to the institution. The deposit broker can then offer these "brokered CDs" to their customers.

At one time, most CDs paid a fixed interest rate until they reached maturity. But, like many other products in today’s markets, CDs have become more complicated. Investors may now choose among variable rate CDs, long-term CDs, and CDs with other special features.

Some long-term, high-yield CDs have "call" features, meaning that the issuing bank may choose to terminate – or call – the CD after only one year or some other fixed period of time. Only the issuing bank may call a CD, not the investor. For example, a bank might decide to call its high-yield CDs if interest rates fall. But if you’ve invested in a long-term CD and interest rates subsequently rise, you’ll be locked in at the lower rate.

Before you consider purchasing a CD from your bank or brokerage firm, make sure you fully understand all of its terms. Carefully read the disclosure statements, including any fine print. And don’t be dazzled by high yields. Ask questions – and demand answers – before you invest. These tips can help you assess what features make sense for you:

Find Out When the CD Matures – As simple as this sounds, many investors fail to confirm the maturity dates for their CDs and are later shocked to learn that they’ve tied up their money for five, ten, or even twenty years. Before you purchase a CD, ask to see the maturity date in writing.

Investigate Any Call Features – Callable CDs give the issuing bank the right to terminate-or "call"-the CD after a set period of time. But they do not give you that same right. If interest rates fall, the issuing bank might call the CD. In that case, you should receive the full amount of your original deposit plus any unpaid accrued interest. But you'll have to shop for a new one with a lower rate of return. Unlike the bank, you can never "call" the CD and get your principal back. So if interest rates rise, you'll be stuck in a long-term CD paying below-market rates. In that case, if you want to cash out, you will lose some of your principal. That's because your broker will have to sell your CD at a discount to attract a buyer. Few buyers would be willing to pay full price for a CD with a below-market interest rate.

Understand the Difference Between Call Features and Maturity – Don’t assume that a "federally insured one-year non-callable" CD matures in one year. It doesn't. These words mean the bank cannot redeem the CD during the first year, but they have nothing to do with the CD's maturity date. A "one-year non-callable" CD may still have a maturity date 15 or 20 years in the future. If you have any doubt, ask the sales representative at your bank or brokerage firm to explain the CD’s call features and to confirm when it matures.

For Brokered CDs, Identify the Issuer – Because federal deposit insurance is limited to a total aggregate amount of $100,000 for each depositor in each bank or thrift institution, it is very important that you know which bank or thrift issued your CD. Your broker may plan to put your money in a bank or thrift where you already have other CDs or deposits. You risk not being fully insured if the brokered CD would push your total deposits at the institution over the $100,000 insurance limit. (If you think that might happen, contact the institution to explore potential options for remaining fully insured, or call the FDIC.) For more information about federal deposit insurance, visit the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s web site and read its publication Your Insured Deposit or call the FDIC's Consumer Information Center at 1-877-275-3342. The phone numbers for the hearing impaired are 1-800-925-4618 or (202) 942-3147

Find Out How the CD Is Held – Unlike traditional bank CDs, brokered CDs are sometimes held by a group of unrelated investors. Instead of owning the entire CD, each investor owns a piece. Confirm with your broker how your CD is held, and be sure to ask for a copy of the exact title of the CD. If several investors own the CD, the deposit broker will probably not list each person's name in the title. But you should make sure that the account records reflect that the broker is merely acting as an agent for you and the other owners (for example, "XYZ Brokerage as Custodian for Customers"). This will ensure that your portion of the CD qualifies for up to $100,000 of FDIC coverage.

Research Any Penalties for Early Withdrawal – Deposit brokers often tout the fact that their CDs have no penalty for early withdrawal. While technically true, these claims can be misleading. Be sure to find out how much you'll have to pay if you cash in your CD before maturity and whether you risk losing any portion of your principal. If you are the sole owner of a brokered CD, you may be able to pay an early withdrawal penalty to the bank that issued the CD to get your money back. But if you share the CD with other customers, your broker will have to find a buyer for your portion. If interest rates have fallen since you purchased your CD and the bank hasn't called it, your broker may be able to sell your portion for a profit. But if interest rates have risen, there may be less demand for your lower-yielding CD. That means you would have to sell the CD at a discount and lose some of your original deposit –despite no "penalty" for early withdrawal.

Thoroughly Check Out the Broker – Deposit brokers do not have to go through any licensing or certification procedures, and no state or federal agency licenses, examines, or approves them. Since anyone can claim to be a deposit broker, you should always check whether your broker or the company he or she works for has a history of complaints or fraud. You can do this by calling your state securities regulator or by checking with the National Association of Securities Dealers' "Central Registration Depository" at 1-800-289-9999.

Confirm the Interest Rate You’ll Receive and How You’ll Be Paid – You should receive a disclosure document that tells you the interest rate on your CD and whether the rate is fixed or variable. Be sure to ask how often the bank pays interest – for example, monthly or semi-annually. And confirm how you’ll be paid – for example, by check or by an electronic transfer of funds.

Ask Whether the Interest Rate Ever Changes – If you’re considering investing in a variable-rate CD, make sure you understand when and how the rate can change. Some variable-rate CDs feature a "multi-step" or "bonus rate" structure in which interest rates increase or decrease over time according to a pre-set schedule. Other variable-rate CDs pay interest rates that track the performance of a specified market index, such as the S&P 500 or the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The bottom-line question you should always ask yourself is: Does this investment make sense for me? A high-yield, long-term CD with a maturity date of 15 to 20 years may make sense for many younger investors who want to diversify their financial holdings. But it might not make sense for elderly investors.

Don't be embarrassed if you invested in a long-term, brokered CD in the mistaken belief that it was a shorter-term instrument-you are not alone. Instead, you should complain promptly to the broker who sold you the CD. By complaining early you may improve your chances of getting your money back. Here are the steps you should take:

Talk to the broker who sold you the CD, and explain the problem fully, especially if you misunderstood any of the CD's terms. Tell your broker how you want the problem resolved.

If your broker can't resolve your problem, then talk to his or her branch manager.

If that doesn't work, then write a letter to the compliance department at the firm's main office. The branch manager should be able to provide with contact information for that department. Explain your problem clearly, and tell the firm how you want it resolved. Ask the compliance office to respond to you in writing within 30 days.

If you're still not satisfied, then send us your complaint using our online complaint form. Be sure to attach copies of any letters you've sent already to the firm. If you don't have access to the Internet, please write to us at the address below:

Office of Investor Education and Assistance
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
100 F Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20549-0213
We will forward your complaint to the firm's compliance department and ask that they look into the problem and respond to you in writing.

Please note that sometimes a complaint can be successfully resolved. But in many cases, the firm denies wrongdoing, and it comes down to one person's word against another's. In that case, we cannot do anything more to help resolve the complaint. We cannot act as a judge or an arbitrator to establish wrongdoing and force the firm to satisfy your claim. And we cannot act as your lawyer.

You should also contact the banking regulator that oversees the bank that issued the CD:

The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System oversees state-chartered banks and trust companies that belong to the Federal Reserve System.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation regulates state-chartered banks that do not belong to the Federal Reserve System.

The Office of the Controller of the Currency regulates banks that have the word "National" in or the letters "N.A." after their names.

The National Credit Union Administration regulates federally charted credit unions.

The Office of Thrift Supervision oversees federal savings and loans and federal savings banks.


Monday, December 26, 2005

Tips for returning holiday gifts

On Monday, the stores will be packed with people returning presents and redeeming gift cards. About 6 percent of all purchases, including 40 percent of all apparel buys, are returned, statistics show.
It will be a nirvana for bargain hunters this year. Retailers, faced with a ho-hum selling season, began making dramatic markdowns before Christmas.
Now they just want to get the merchandise off their floors. You'll see half-price sales at clothing retailers who want to make room for incoming resort and spring lines.
But no matter your mission -- to return or cash in -- make sure you understand store policies.
• Ohio merchants are allowed to set any return policy they wish, but it must be posted prominently, according to the state attorney general's office. If you don't see it posted, complain first to the manager, then to the attorney general.
• Some retailers have special return policies for the holidays, so don't think you know what they are just because you've dealt with that merchant in the past. Also, return deadlines may vary from product to product. For instance, computers usually have shorter return cycles than televisions.
• A receipt is a requirement at most stores. Even if it's not, it makes the process a lot faster and easier.
• Don't be surprised if you don't get cash back; many retailers offer only merchandise credit, even with a receipt. If a return is allowed without a receipt, it's almost certain you won't get cash.
• Some retailers, including KB Toys, Staples, Limited and Express, have begun using software to track customers' returnhabits. If you exhibit abnormal return patterns, the system may deny your return. Don't be surprised if you're asked for your driver's license.
• If you plan on cashing in a gift card, watch yourself. Two-thirds of giftcard users spend 15 percent to 40 percent more than the card's face value, even when they don't plan on it, studies show.
• Don't let a giftcard sit around for too long. Nearly 15 percent of recipients don't use the full value of their gift cards, and 40 percent of those leave more than $5, according to retail experts.
• Check the details of a card's expiration. Most cards are good for a year or more. However, some have what issuers call ``an inactivity fee.'' That means that if a card isn't used for a period of time, the issuer begins charging a fee every month until the card is used.
• Cards issued by banks usually carry the MasterCard or Visa logo. The banks make their money on upfront fees, paid by the purchaser, that range from $2.95 to $9.95.
• You can get cash from most ATMs with a bank-issued giftcard, but remember the bank with the ATM most often charges a fee and the bank issuing the card itself usually takes a couple of bucks for an ATM transaction.
• And if you decide to head to the stores, be prepared for crowds. Retailers now do more than 10 percent of their holiday sales after Christmas Day, according to industry experts.


Beacon Journal

Frugal meal planning week of Dec 25th

Merry Christmas

Sun Christmas at my sisters

Mon Hot dogs, and french fries

Tues Chicken Stragnoff in the crockpot

Wed Hamburger and spinach cassoerole

Thurs Leftover Chicken Stranoff

Fri Soup and sandwiches

Sat Chinese food :)

Tips for after Christmas shopping

With Christmas now over, it's worthwhile to take a few minutes and go through the areas that caused problems or extra spending this holiday season while they are still fresh in your mind. By doing so you can greatly reduce the cost of Christmas 2006.

Once you know where you spent extra money this year, you can hit the after Christmas sales to stock up and save money. Retail stores usually have limited storage space and therefore they want to sell out their Christmas stock as quickly as possible. This means they have to discount it which results in great deals for you. Here are some after Christmas preparations tips that can help save money:

- Stock up on Christmas wrapping paper, bows and ribbons - most can be picked up for 50% - 80% off the retail price they were selling for the week before - and simply save them until next season. Also look for “generic” holiday paper that can be used at other times of the year besides Christmas.

- While switching all your holiday greetings to electronic cards would be the ultimate goal for card savings, there are still probably a few people on your list to whom you will want or need to send a real holiday greeting. After Christmas you can find boxed holiday cards at deep discounts which will save you significantly over individual cards.

- Take an inventory of Christmas lights to see if any of the strings needs to be replaced. When replacing them, opt for LED lights (they cost a bit more, but use significantly less energy and last much longer than standard holiday lights). These lights should be heavily discounted after Christmas.

- If any Christmas themed decorations need to be replaced, this is also a good time to get them at 50% or more off retail. This includes candles, small display items, etc.

- After Christmas is also a good time to pick up ornaments for the tree at great discounts.

- If you find something that a store has a large supply of and you don't feel will sell out quickly, you may want to wait an extra few days. Stores will often further reduce the price of goods not selling and discounts of 80% to 90% off retail can be found in the early days of the New Year on Christmas items not sold.

A little preparation now can save you quite a bit of money and frustration next Christmas


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Home improvement spending up

The home will be the gift recipient that comes away with the most this season, according to a recent survey from Deloitte & Touche, the consulting firm.

U.S. consumers plan to spend an average of $628 on improving their house this holiday season, up 84 percent from the $341 they said they'd spend in 2003 at this time.

That means, of the total $2,348 consumers say they'll spend this holiday, the biggest portion will go to the home, with 27 percent going to home improvement, while 26 percent will go to gifts, 17 percent to socializing, 12 percent to charity, 9 percent to entertaining at home, 7 percent to nongift clothing, and 2 percent to holiday-specific furnishings, according to the 20th annual Deloitte survey of 17,440 consumers, taken in October.

The survey didn't define "home improvement," so consumers could be counting everything from buying new furniture to remodeling.

While a big portion of holiday dollars is going to home improvement, that simply reflects pricier items, said Richard Giss, a partner in Deloitte's consumer business practice.

"If I buy a china hutch or a dining-room table, the outlay in dollars is enormous relative to other gifts I might give," he said.

It's likely consumers' drive to beautify their homes is connected to rising house values in recent years, he said. "There's a belief that 'I can spend on my home and get the money back,'" Giss said.

Even buying furniture appears, to some consumers, to add to the home's value, he said. Furniture is a depreciating asset, "but no one thinks of it that way, and if you do any repairs to your home, people think that adds to the value of the house," Giss said.

Plus, "there's more entertainment done at the holidays," he said. "It's a natural time to assess your home."

But if you look solely at the kind of home improvement that involves construction, activity tends to be highest during the spring and summer months, said Kermit Baker, director of the remodeling futures program at Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Homeowners spent more than $139 billion on home improvement in the third quarter, up 4.4 percent from a year ago. But that growth rate appears to be easing slightly, Baker said.


Billings Gazzette

Friday, December 23, 2005

Saving on your grocery bill

CNN has a good article Shave $150 off your grocey bill each week They are preaching to the choir here. It is really geared towards folks who are spending hundreds on food and going out to eat each week. Glad to think the experts believe what I believe!

Here is some of their advice.

Use what you have
This for me is called the pantry challenge! I try not to hit the grocery store more than once a week. Making a menu plan really helps with that.

Make lists
Making a list checking is twice is what keeps my grocery bill low. I make food plans and then make a list of what I want at the grocery store. Also I use a pricebook to make sure I stock up and get the best deals. I am not picky about my supermarket either-Shaws, Stop and Shop or Johnny's-who is having the best deals on what I need is goign to get my business. Plus we have been getting coupons for saving X amount off of X dollars spent.

They also talking about shopping online and use the grocery game-neither one of them which I do.

If you are spending alot, the article gives you something to think about but overall nothing too new.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Stopping the urge to shop more

Just a few more days before Christmas and I am just about all wrapped and keep thinking to myself... my kids need more gifts. They don't-they are going to get plently from my side of the family that we exchange gifts with on Christmas eve. DH parents make sure they open their presents Christmas morning with gifts from Santa. So there is plenty.. but I go through this each year.

Here is to buying no more Christmas gifts this year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Disney on a budget

We are planning on going to Disney World in 2007. I haven't been in 20 years and DH and the children never have. So we want it to be magical, yet not cost us an arm and a leg plus I refuse to put this on credit.

I figure that it will cost us about $5,000 for the trip including airfare. That is about $1000 per person. I need to save about $400 a month plus I would plan to use my 2006 tax returns for it as well (usually that for some house stuff).

Must haves:
7 day/6 night trip
On stay property-value is fine
Must fly we are from Boston

Other than that, I don't much must haves.

Rental car

I am excited and am going to put a chart in my office of how much money that I have saved for this trip.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

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Frugal dinner planning week of Dec 18th

Ahhh the last week before the holidays

Sun Crockpot pizza

Mon White Chicken chili new recipe for us

Tues Leftover crockpot pizza

Wed Hamburger goo (aka hamburger and noodles) I make 2 large batches of this-great feed the freezer recipe.

Thurs Homemade chicken nuggets, roasted potatos

Fri Leftover hamburger goo

Sat Christmas eve at my mom's house :)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Average Joe and Retirement

I am an average Jane, hubby is an average Joe and often wonder how we are doing with retirement. We are trying to sock away as much money in in our younger years (mid 30s)and wish we did more in even our younger younger years.

Putnan created the "average joe" basically the bottom line is The more money you save, the more money you will have.

Picking the right mutual fund, stock or bonds will not make that much of difference.
Continue reading

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Keep the change update

I signed up for Keep the change program by Bank of America in October and I have "saved" over $50. This is money that I would have never saved! It is not alot but it is better $50 that I wouldn't have saved myself.

American Express has a similar program with their one card program. I do not like credit card so this one will not be for me. The American Express One® Card offers an altogether different way to save for your future. Your Card comes linked to a competitive FDIC-insured High-Yield Savings Account. And with the Savings Accelerator Plan, a full 1% of virtually all your eligible purchases will be deposited into this Savings Account at American Express Bank, FSB. It's automatically set up for you when you activate your Card. Plus you'll get $25 to jump – start your savings after your first purchase.

Nest Egg Savings Index? Are you on the list!

A.G. Edwards Nest Egg Index Overview
What Is the Nest Egg Index?
The A.G. Edwards Nest Egg Index assesses and compares the relative strength of the nation's states and major metropolitan areas in building and nurturing their "nest eggs" of financial and retirement assets. Our goal is to show Americans the importance of saving and encourage them to take at least one simple step toward building a nest egg that will meet their future financial needs, such as retirement, college, homeownership and emergencies.

How Well Are You Saving?
Following are some compelling reasons why you should take time every year to check the state of your personal savings:
America's average personal savings rate plummeted to negative 0.7% in October 2005, which is down from 12.5% in 1981 and one of the lowest personal savings rates since the Great Depression.1
Our negative 0.7% savings rate is the lowest in the industrialized world.2
Only 53% of Americans have a retirement plan in place,3 and half of American households nearing retirement have $10,000 or less in an employment-based 401(k)-type plan or IRA.4
While the average personal savings rate is falling, costs are skyrocketing for things people typically need to save for, such as college tuition and medical expenses.

Highest-Scoring Communities in the 2005 A.G. Edwards Nest Egg Index
This year San Jose in California's Silicon Valley topped the A.G. Edwards Nest Egg Index with a score of 128.37, barely edging out Long Island's Nassau-Suffolk counties in New York, which had a 128.17 reading. (Results are indexed to a national average score of 100.)
Rounding out the top 10 highest-scoring communities are:
Middlesex-Somerset-Hunterdon, N.J. (125.67)
San Francisco (122.13)
Bergen-Passaic, N.J. (119.81)
Minneapolis-St. Paul (119.59)
Monmouth-Ocean, N.J. (118.62)
Barnstable-Yarmouth, Mass., in the Cape Cod area (117.33)
Ann Arbor, Mich. (116.76)
Rochester, Minn. (116.69)

Large cities lagged medium-sized communities for savings. New York, Miami, Los Angeles and San Antonio did not register in the top 200

Is your city area on this list?

The county next to me Barnstable-Yarmouth MA on the list.

Year end tax planning

Hello and Welcome!

In this week's issue Living on a Budget in a Non Budget World
oney Saving Tips
Featured Article Year end tax planning
Money Blog Spotlight
Top Conversations on the Money Saving Forums
Freebie and Contest Alerts
The Frugal Five
Cheap but Good Food Christmas Cookies

Read this issue at:

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

5 tips for apply for auto loans

5 Things You Should Know Before Applying For Auto Loan

Applying for an auto loan? We’ll sooner or later we will. So I wrote this short guide as basic must know guide to arm ourselves when the time for an auto loan comes.

1) Shop Online – Shopping for auto loan online is a great time saver. By comparing from different sites you can get the best deals. Applying also is easy and even some sites will give you information you need within minutes.

2) Know Thyself! - You must know the basic criteria for applying for an auto loan. Basic criteria includes that you must be above 18 years of age. Best if you earn at least $2000 a month. Also needed is residence and employment history.

3) Get Approved First – Don’t have make the mistake of looking for a car before being approved. Get approved first then they will give you a voucher of how much you are allowable to loan. Doing this will save you future frustration and disappointments.

4) Down Payments – This varies from lender to lender, and some don’t even require. But typically its about 10% of the price or $1000 whichever is the lower number.

5) Interest Rate – Interest rate is not fixed as most people think, and yes it can be negotiated. If you have a good credit score and good negotiating skills you can have a lower interest rate. But some factors are way out of you’re control such as the state of the economy.

There you have it. We’ll that’s not all, there’s lot of other things you need to know. But what I’ve enumerated are the vital essentials before applying for that auto loan. One thing also is ask advice from an authorized dealer or loan official. They’re there to help you. If there’s something you don’t understand, ask them now or you’ll might face lots of headaches later.

About the Author: Jed Baguio. Please visit my site for more auto loan advice.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Payday loan and Christmas shopping

Avoid Predatory Check Cashers and Payday Lenders During the Holidays
Wednesday December 7, 3:25 pm ET

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 7 /PRNewswire/ -- One of the best gifts people can give their families this holiday season is the gift of financial security.
Many people who can't afford to buy Christmas presents tend to frequent predatory lending establishments, and end up having to pay for holiday debt long after the season is over. Teresa Campbell warns against this. She got trapped in a cycle of debt at a very young age. She started borrowing money from a payday lender when she was in college in South Carolina, and said she quickly became addicted.

"I started going there literally every week," said Ms. Campbell, now a 32-year-old teacher at Performing Arts Studio West. "Eventually I had to stop because I was completely broke. Then I moved to California, and my lord, they are on every corner."

Check cashers and payday lenders crowd the streets of California's lower-income neighborhoods seeking to lure consumers through their doors with charming customer service, while they dramatically overcharge them. They and other financial predators have become one of the greatest obstacles to wealth establishment for many low-income families. And during the holidays, they are even more dangerous. People who need quick cash for holiday shopping end up becoming regular customers.

Payday lenders make it easy for people to keep borrowing money, Ms. Campbell said. All a person needs is a bank account and a pay stub to get cash from one of these lenders. They do not do credit checks, and although they say you can only borrow from one payday lender at a time, this rule is not enforced.

Ms. Campbell said that at one point, she had payday loans from up to five different establishments at the same time, and she ended up spending thousands of dollars trying to pay them off.

"The interest rates and fees that they charge you to take out that money is robbery," Ms. Campbell said.

For $255 in cash, Ms. Campbell would write a post-dated check for $300, paying a fee of $45 for the money. If she didn't have the $300 in her bank account on the date the check was to be cashed, she would go back to the payday lender and pay another $45 to extend her loan. If her check bounced when the payday lender cashed it, which she said would happen often, Ms. Campbell's bank would charge her $28. For this one payday loan, Ms. Campbell ended up paying $118 in fees -- almost 50 percent of what she borrowed.

"When you have those kinds of loans, you are just thinking about a quick fix," she said. "I can't put all the blame on them, but it's the same thing if you have crack cocaine in your area, and the crack dealer blames you for buying it. But the crack dealer's dangling it in my face, making it readily available."

An estimated 1.5 million California households use a payday lender 11 times annually for a $300 advance at a $45 fee ($15 per $100) each time at a cost of $513 million annually. This means that at least $2.9 billion comes out of lower-income Californians' pockets annually just due to the high charges of check cashers and payday lenders.

"Traditional mainstream banks have abandoned lower-income communities and communities of color while their role is being filled by predatory check cashers and payday lenders," said Alan Fisher, executive director of the California Reinvestment Coalition. "Millions of dollars are being taken out of the pockets of the working poor in predatory fees."

The lack of bank and savings & loan branches in lower income communities and communities of color has created a price-gouging opportunity for rapidly-expanding check cashers, payday lenders and finance companies that prey on consumers with few financial alternatives. The lack of competition from mainstream finance and huge profit opportunities have meant that the number of check cashers and payday lenders has increased nationally from 2,000 in 1996 to 22,000 in 2003, and is still growing.

"They don't have check cashing places in Beverly Hills, they have check cashing places in low income areas, on every single corner," Ms. Campbell said. "They prey on minorities or low income individuals because they are the ones already living check to check, and if anything happens, they don't have any other place to go for extra money."

Ms. Campbell said that when she was frequenting payday lenders, she didn't have financial literacy, and didn't know that there were better ways to use her money.

"When I look at the things I was buying with that money, I have nothing to show for it now," she said. "I wasn't buying a car; it wasn't a down payment on a house. I could have learned how to build my credit to borrow for those things."

Check cashers charge two percent or more to cash payroll checks that could have been deposited for free into a mainstream checking or savings account. And payday lenders charge a 500 or more annual percent rate (APR), when even an expensive credit card charges an APR of only 25 percent or less.

"There are other ways of doing things, if you are just smarter with the money that you do have," Ms. Campbell said. "It is all about discipline and setting priorities."

Victoria Leon Guerrero
California Reinvestment Coalition
474 Valencia Street, Suite 110
San Francisco, CA 94103

Holiday Cost Control

From the Chicago Tribune

My wife, Georgina, gets all the credit for this: As presents for our two grandchildren, she creates little picture books just for them.

For the stories in these books, she writes about things we've done or are about to do. For the pictures, she cuts out and pastes photos from magazines and newspaper advertising inserts (she is on the lookout for pictures of Santa Claus and a Christmas tree now).

You don't need to be a professional writer to do this. All you need is imagination and love. These gifts have been priceless, delighting the children and nurturing their love for reading. But the cost in dollars and cents has been minimal, just for paper, pen, scissors, coloring crayons, staples and paste.

As for holiday gifts I have received, one I always remember fondly is a set of postcards from my daughter, Veronica. I play correspondence chess, a form of the game in which you write your move and mail it to your opponent. I use the cards all year long; every time I mail one, I think of Veronica and smile.

Again, that's a gift that keeps on giving and shows thoughtfulness and love without a need to overspend. In the midst of another holiday season, it's time to think of how we want to celebrate it--by yielding to crass materialism or remembering what love and sharing are all about.

My intention, let me emphasize, is not to throw cold water on merchants' holiday sales. In fact, I've found better bargains this year than last, both in stores and online. I just want to inject some sanity into the process.

So I've put together a series of common-sense suggestions gathered from recommendations from financial advisers, consumer and industry groups, credit counseling agencies and personal experience.

- The first suggestion--it may be too late this year--is to save in advance for the holiday season. Georgina and I start saving every January, putting a set number of dollars aside every month.

Some advisers suggest opening a separate savings account just for holiday spending. (We have one multipurpose savings account for holiday, travel and hobby expenses). That way you know how much you will have when the season starts, you will have what you want if you save faithfully, and you will be less tempted to spend more.

- The second suggestion is to decide, again in advance, how much you are going to spend for the holidays. Include everything, from greeting cards and decorations to travel, parties and gifts. Then make a list and stick to it.

"This may seem to be a fairly basic thing to do, but think of the times you've gone grocery shopping and found yourself buying things that weren't on your grocery list. Holiday displays are even more enticing. Avoid impulse buying," recommends the government-run Federal Citizens Information Center, which lists excellent ideas for consumers on its Web site, (go to the site and do a search for holiday spending).

My recommendation, if you lack the discipline to control credit card spending, is to leave the card home when you go shopping and take only the cash you set aside to spend.

If you do buy with a credit card, I recommend you immediately deduct the amount of the charge from the balance of the checking account you will use to pay the credit card bill. Doing so will give you a true picture of where you stand.

- Another suggestion: Discuss putting a limit on gift spending with relatives and friends, or even whether to exchange gifts at all (they may appreciate your candor). Instead of exchanging gifts, for example, consider pooling your money to make a donation to a charity in all of your names.

Also, use this time of year as an opportunity to educate your children on responsible spending and credit habits, which of course means you need to act responsibly yourself.

"You can do this by helping your children develop a savings plan for holiday gifts, and work with them to design and stick to a reasonable budget for their holiday spending," said Daniel Drummond, a spokesman for Your Credit Card Companies, a consortium of leading credit card issuers.

"Use credit--and specifically credit cards--only within your ability to repay," Drummond said. For more good tips on handling credit, check out the Web site


Humberto Cruz is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. E-mail him at

Frugal Menu Planning wk of Dec 11th

Baby it cold outside... I have that commerical running through my head. I made a huge batch of the WW veggie soup to eat with dinner. That seems to take the edge off for me.

Sun I was home alone! Just had some soup and toast

Mon Nacho stuff shells

Tues Ham and scalopp potatos

Wed Spaghetti and meatballs

Thurs Soup and sandwiches

Fri Clean out the fridge night... aka leftovers

Sat Pizza

I am really trying to do a pantry challenge week since some of my grocery money is going towards Christmas gifts.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Free 411 information for your phone

I am terrible about pulling out my yellow pages and looking up phone numbers. Sometimes I will search the web... but more likely I dial 411. I think I have 5 or 6 times I can do this and then there is a charge. Or try calling info from your cell phone... might as well take out a mortgage.

Try calling 1-800-FREE-411 if you need to look up a phone number. They play an advertisement for you but you CAN get your phone number for free. I did hear some cell phone carriers did block them.

Enjoy your savings!

Holiday Tipping Who and How much

the time of year to recognize those who helped to make our lives a little easier and who delivered reliable and exceptional service all year long.

Yes. That means tips. The Early Show personal financial adviser Ray Martin has information that might help you.

Most people will give holiday tips to people who provide services such as child care, housecleaning and newspaper delivery. According to a recent Consumer Reports Survey, only 42 percent surveyed say they will refrain from giving any holiday gifts or tips to commonly used service providers. With holiday spending forecasted to be up by 6 percent, the bet is that most people will also increase their holiday tipping.

So if you do plan to give tips, you’ll want to do so tactfully.

Don't Always Give Cash. With tips, cash is king. However, it's probably not appropriate to give cash to everyone on your list. Salaried professionals may take offense to cash tips.

Plus, what are you saying when you slip your child's teacher $25? It may look like a bribe for better grades for your child. In such cases, a gift card for classroom supplies or for use at a bookstore may be more appropriate. Also, keep in mind that postal employees and other civil servants are not allowed to accept cash or anything worth more than $20.

Don't Be Too Personal. If you choose to give a gift instead of cash, make sure it's appropriate for the environment. Anything too personal might send the wrong message and make the person receiving your gift feel uncomfortable.

Don't Tip Everyone. Business owners who employ the people who provide a service for you don't expect tips, and receiving one could even be awkward for them. Remember that they are rewarded all year with your patronage. Instead, direct your tips to the owner's most deserving employees.

Don't Expect Special Treatment. Giving a tip is meant to be a show of appreciation, not a request for preferential treatment or service. On the other end of the scale, tipping does not make up for being a rude customer.

Don't Go into Debt. You should never feel pressured into giving a holiday tip. Also, don't feel that you have to increase your debt to make tips. If your budget doesn't allow for tips, send a personal note of thanks to the person or their employer instead.

Think your budget doesn't have room for tipping? According to the National Retail Federation, holiday shoppers plan to spend at least $90 on themselves. Cutting back here can help allow for making some well-deserved tips.

Holiday tipping etiquette updated for 2005 by the Emily Post Institute:

Baby sitter: a night's pay and a gift

Day-care provider: $25 to $70 and a gift

Au pair/nanny: a week's pay and a small gift from the children

Housecleaner: a day's pay

Building staff: $20 to $100

Trash collector: $10 to $30

Paper deliverer: $10 to $30

Hairdresser: $10 to $60, or price of one treatment

Fitness trainer: cost of one session
Tipping And Taxes
Remember: generally, tips are not tax deductible. However, there is a possible exception. Donating school supplies may qualify as a charitable deduction.

You can only deduct the amount/value of your contribution if it's more than the value of the benefit that you or your dependents receive. In other words, if you give supplies that will benefit your child, you can only deduct the value of the supplies that do not benefit your child.

Another possible tax-deductible charitable donation can be given to the neighborhood police or fire department by donating to their widows' and orphans' fund.

If you receive tips, keep a daily tip record. Do not report service charges that your employer adds to the bill. These are W-2 wages. You should report tips you receive to your employer. Your employer can then withhold taxes and report the proper amount to Social Security, which affects the benefits you will receive when you retire.

You may be exempt from reporting tips if it's not customary to tip for the service you provide. The IRS may be willing to concede that additional payments received for normal services may not be tips and may be tax-free gifts from the customer.

Source: CBS early show

7 ways to save on taxes next year

Nobody likes paying taxes, so the procrastination factor when preparing them tends to be high. But the good news is that there are some things you can do now that will help you prepare for next years taxes. Here are seven great tax saving tips so that you can keep more of your hard earned dough!

1. Pay your January 1st mortgage payment a day early. If you mail out your mortgage check on December 31st, the interest deduction for that month will be good for the current year. This is true even if the check doesn’t get cashed until after the new year.

2. Make a last minute donation. Under that same philosophy, consider putting any last-minute charitable donations on your credit card (for those that will allow it) on or before December 31st.

3. Defer that income one more day. This works with investments as well as earned income. If you get a year end bonus, request that it come in January rather than in December. If you are self employed, you can do all your billing at the end of the month so that the payments will come in after the first of the year. In regards to investments, some will allow you to postpone paying taxes until a later year even if the income is earned this year.

4. Look for every available credit and deduction. This tax saving tip seems obvious, but people miss deductions and credits that apply to them all the time. A credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in any amount you might owe, so the effects of having one or two of them on your return can be dramatic.

5. Donate your old clothes and furniture to your favorite charity. Cleaning out the attic, the closets, that spare room, and the garage is not only purifying but will help to decrease your taxes. Put everything together and then take the load to your favorite charity or charities. Make sure to get a receipt for your records. The wholesale fair market value of the items you donated is allowed as a charitable deduction.

6. Give your kids a job, in other words, put them on the payroll. If you have kids, and they are over fourteen, you can have them do some work for you around the house and pay them on a part time basis. That will allow you to shift some of your income that would be taxed at a higher tax bracket to their lower tax bracket. However there is one warning; watch their earnings because they will be considered when they get ready to go to college and their financial aide could be affected.

7. Invest in your children’s names. Your kids can each earn up to $700 in investment income without paying any taxes if they are over fourteen.

As painful as taxes and any related thoughts of them can be, by following these great tax saving tips, you will save money this year—and the next. One final tip; don’t procrastinate until the last minute! Preparing for your taxes year round will force you to keep your eyes open for saving possibilities, and will likely reduce your tax bill even more!

If you would like to get more credit information you can visit our website which contains many credit resources.

How to increase your studentt's financial aide

As your child labors over college submissions forms, you might be wondering how you'll be paying for all those years of schooling. “Today” financial editor Jean Chatzky shares some tips on applying for financial aid, including negotiating with the colleges.

Unless your child has applied early decision, you're probably still sweating through the college application process. And yet, though you can't even submit the FAFSA (that would be the Free Application for Financial Student Aid) until the beginning of next year, you'd be smart to start thinking about financial aid as well. Why? Because experts say there are things you can do now — including selecting particular schools to apply to — that can help not only maximize the amount of aid your child is offered, but increase the amount that comes in grants (which don't have to be paid back) versus loans (which do). Here's the lowdown: Continue reading

Additionl resoures
College degree direct

Direct Scholar

Enjoy your savings!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

30 years and student loan debt

I am 35 years old, went to a state college and my husband also went to state college. Luckily neither of us had student loans. That is not typical of 30 year old folks.

MSN has a good article about the typical college graduate who is now 30 years old and probably will have to pay thier student loans until they are 50 years. College debt and broken dreams many of these college graduates have to put off buying a house and starting a family because they can't afford to pay for them plus their student loans.

Monday, December 05, 2005

What's for dinner wk of Dec 4th

I need to get in the habit of making a meal plan. DH has been working lots of late nights and I have just been plan lazy on making dinner.

Sun We went out to dinner. Only cost us $4.00 as we had a gift certificate plus a coupon for $5.00 off! Plus there are leftovers for lunch for Monday

Mon Lipton Noodle shells and turkey, will add some peas as well

Tues Pork Roast in the crockpot

Wed Turkey Enchildas

Thurs Soup and sandwichs/fend for your self night

Fri Leftover turkey enchildas

Sat Party

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Americans pay off their credit card debt each month ! NOT

This was posted at Credit Collections on November 7, 2005

Individuals did not pay off debts last month like that they had hoped to, according to the Cambridge Consumer Credit Index, a monthly economic gauge that looks at consumer spending and debt.

The Index's "Reality Gap" fell five percentage points from October to 16 points. The "Reality Gap" measures the difference between the amount of debt consumers say they will pay off in the next month versus the amount of debt they actually did pay off a month later. A months ago, 83% of Americans planned to pay off debt, while a month later only 67% actually did so.

Chris Viale, president and chief executive of Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp says, "This month's index continues to show that many low-and-moderate income households are relying on credit to get by. As difficult as it may be, it is vital that consumers in this situation find ways to reduce not only their reliance on credit, but to also pay down their debts."

Viale believes that while some people may need to find a second job, others simply need to do better at sticking to a budget and controlling spending. Still others might need to consider credit counseling. "If they continue to treat credit as a source of income, eventually their debts will become overwhelming and affect their financial lives for a very long time," Viale says.

The Index is released on the fifth business day of every month to coincide with the Federal Reserve Board's G19 release of consumer credit outstanding data. The findings are the result of a monthly nationwide telephone poll of 800+ adults conducted by ICR/International Communications Research in the past week.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

401k vs Roth IRA

I saw this and I know that this is a common question on those savings for retirement

Q: Should I max out my Roth IRA and put the remaining money in my 401(k) or max out my 401(k), leaving little if any for the Roth IRA?

My husband and I do this a little different than most. He saves in 401k, 11% and since I don't have access to a 401k, I save as much as I can in a Roth IRA. It kind of balances us off.

See what the professional say at USA Today

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Reverse Mortgages predator-type loans?

I often see Robert Wagner (of Hart to Hart TV series and Austin Powers) hawking Reverse Mortgages. They seem great... if you are over 62 years old, have your house start paying you through a reverse mortgage. Interesting concept but what are the cons. There is a good discussion (and banter) of the pitfalls of a reverse mortgage.

Reverse Mortgage forums

I don't think we would ever do a reverse mortgage and I think I would tell my parents the same.

Potential Budget Busters

This week could have been a total budget buster.

Tuesday our heater doesn't turn on at all. Nothing, zippo... Called the heating company that we deal with. They get a guy out there to fix it. It had something to do with our controller. Luckily we have the annual service agreement- no cost to us.

Today Hubby brings the car in for inspection. It fails. :( Tire Rod is not right. Hubby was a mechanic in a past life so he spent the day fixing that. Could have cost $200 or so if we had to bring it in to a repair shop. Brought it back to get inspected and it passed. He needs to bring it in for an alignment soon.

Two things that could have messed up my budget!!

Enjoy your savings.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Gift Card Certificate Tips

Gift Card Tips
For many gift givers, buying and giving a gift card is a no-brainer, but before you purchase a gift card for someone this holiday season – or if you receive one - there are things you should know.

Depending on where you buy a gift card, there will be different rules for where and how it can be used, and what fees apply.

For example, some stores' gift cards expire after a period of time, and other gift cards have a monthly fee that eats away at the gift card value if not used by a certain date.

Here are some of the most important terms and conditions of gift cards that you should check:

Expiration Dates: Some gift cards can expire after 12 to 24 months if not used, which means the gift card is worthless if not used by that date. About 18 states have passed laws banning or limiting expiration dates on gift cards, but even so, nationwide, the value of unredeemed gift cards totaled over $2 billion last year alone. Gift cards sold in some states cannot expire sooner than seven years, some states require full consumer disclosure by any retailer selling a gift card that expires and in other states, unredeemed gift cards are considered abandoned assets after three years and are turned over to the states unclaimed property departments.

Purchase or Issuance Fee: Some gift cards come with add-on fees that are charged when the gift card is issued. A fee of $5 to $10 can be added to the amount of the cost for the card's gift value. When a gift card includes a $10 issuance fee, then the fee is 20 percent of the actual gift value of a $50 gift card! Needless to say, gifts cards with issuance fees should be avoided.

Maintenance or Inactivity Fees: Some gift cards also charge a maintenance fee; for example, $2.50 per month is lopped off the card's value if the gift card is not redeemed after six months. Some gift cards even charge these monthly fees retroactively back to the date of purchase, which can quickly eat up all or most of the gift card's value if recipients do not redeem the card soon after they receive it. This is also one trick gift card providers use to get around laws in some states that prohibit expiration of gift cards.

Replacement Fee: Many gift cards will now allow you to register the card on their Web sites, allowing you to check the remaining balance and to request a new card to replace one that is lost or stolen. Other gift cards provide toll-free phone numbers to call to report a missing or stolen card.

When replacing a lost or stolen gift card, you will need to provide the tracking number and a copy of the original receipt, so record and keep the original receipt in a safe place. For some cards, the value will not be replaced if lost or stolen. Other gift cards may charge $10 to replace a lost or stolen gift card.

Other fees on gift cards can include transaction fees charged for a high number of smaller transactions and fees for balance inquiries.

Usage Limitations: Some gift cards can be used at any store location; others can be used only at stores that are affiliated with the merchant from whom the card was purchased.

You'll also want to know if the card has other limitations. Some may not be used for purchases in a catalogue or on the merchant’s Web site. Other limitations on gift cards might mean that you can't sell your card to another individual, apply the value as a payment to a store credit card account, or redeem the card for cash.

Bank Gift Cards Still Have High Fees. Bank-issued gift cards, unlike gift cards issued by retailers, can be redeemed at any store that accepts credit or debit cards. But the advantages of bank-issued gift cards end there. Consumer Reports states that, unlike gift cards issued by retailers which have become more consumer friendly, bank-issued gift cards typically charge hefty fees and remain a bad deal overall.

According to Consumer Reports, most bank-issued gift cards charge issuance fees, monthly maintenance fees and replacement fees. Expect to see some bank-issued gift cards getting better over time, particularly as they face legal action by states where their fees are in conflict with a state's gift-card law.

The bottom line: Check gift card fees before you buy. Those fees usually are posted on the gift card sleeve or on the Web site. Buy gift cards with no issuance fees, expiration dates or maintenance fees, which can easily be found with gift cards issued directly by retailers. And if you receive a gift card, use it promptly - not only to avoid possible maintenance fees and expiration, but also to take advantage of post-holiday discounts.

Source: CBS Early Show

My shop nothing day!

Aaah a peaceful Friday-The kids are home from school. They are still in PJs and we are getting into our annual watch Christmas special afternoon marathons. I have a turkey in the oven, I cook it because I love have turkey leftoves. I will make some mashed potatos, squash, green bean casserole and stuffing for sides.

I almost headed out to Walmart at 5am because my internet was down and I sort of wanted to spy on the world and do a social experiment. But my common sense got the better of me.

Today will be my buy nothing day. It is cold outside, I have an extra layer on me and the kids will have blankets around them as well.

Of course hot cocoa will be around too.

Enjoy your day...

Happy belated Thanksgiving!

Why it pays to live within my means

I was browsing the yahoo finance section and came across a good article Why it pays to live within your means. Laura Rowley provided her reasons but she touch based on a lot of my reason as well.

We are a 1.5 income family. I make decent money working on my websites and affiliate marketing but it in reality it couldn't support us. My husband's income is decent but we got 3 kids and are close to paycheck to paycheck. We don't use credit cards even though people outside my little online frugal world think we are weird.

My husband was talking to some co-workers what would happen if they got laid off. (It is a possibility in the near future) Most of them were in a total panic-one just finanaced a new motorcycle to help with his mid-life crisis, another one said he didn't have any room on his credit cards to charge life's expenses. Neither one had any savings outside of retirement.

My husband who isn't too involved with our day to day finances knows the big picture said he would probably panic but then come home and realize that I probably had it under control since we don't have any credit card debit and a small but ok emergency fund that probably would be fine with unemployment insurance. While not an ideal situation, it would not be the end of the world.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Your wallet and holiday spending

The best way to prepare for the holiday shopping onslaught: don't get swept up in the hype, despite the seasonal pressure to overspend.

"Think, what am I trying to accomplish by spending this money?" said James Kibler, certified financial planner at Eldridge Financial Planning, adding that your loved ones would rather get fewer gifts than see you in bankruptcy court.

Continue Reading

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The cost of a Thanksgiving Dinner

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in 2005 which includes turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and all the trimmings costs slightly more than in 2004. The AFBF's 20th annual informal survey of the price of basic Thanksgiving food items for ten people and found this year's the average cost is $36.78. That is a $1.10 price increase over last year's average of $35.68.

The shopping list for the survey includes enough turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and beverages of coffee and milk, to feed a family of 10 people.

According to the survey, the cost of a 16-pound turkey is $15.11 or approximately $0.94 a pound. This is an increase of $0.05 per pound, or a total of $0.88 per turkey compared to 2004.

“To the extent there was a small increase in the nominal cost of the Thanksgiving dinner, up 3 percent from 2004, most of it can be attributed to higher energy prices which affect processing, packaging, refrigeration and shipping costs,” said AFBF Senior Economist Terry Francl. “Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers are asked to look for the best possible prices, without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals, such as spend $50 and receive a free turkey. The average price of turkey remains less than a dollar per pound again this year, an amazing value any way you slice it,” said Francl.

Data available from the Agriculture Department on last year's whole, frozen turkey indicates that four out of every five turkeys sold were discounted as a "holiday special." Based on those advertised specials, USDA found that the prices paid for whole, frozen turkeys in November 2004 were two-thirds the price of what consumers paid for the same turkeys during the other 11 months of the year. That means many consumers probably purchase Thanksgiving turkeys for far less than the AFBF survey's average.

Other Thanksgiving table items showing a slight price increase this year included: a gallon of whole milk at $3.09; a 30-oz. can of pumpkin pie mix at $1.86; a 16-oz. package of frozen green peas at $1.38; a 12-oz. package of cubed stuffing at $2.27; two 9-inch pie shells at $1.89; and a 12-oz. package of brown-n-serve rolls at $1.64. The price of a combined pound of celery and carrots, used for a relish tray, increased to $0.59.

Thanksgiving table items that decreased slightly in price this year were: sweet potatoes at $2.56 for three pounds; fresh cranberries at $1.84 for a 12-oz. package; and a half-pint of whipping cream at $1.51.

A combined group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk and butter), increased by 14 cents to $3.04.

Francl said throughout the years, Americans have enjoyed very stable food costs. “The inflation-adjusted cost of a Thanksgiving dinner has hovered within a few cents of $20 for the past 15 years. This is indicative of the continued ability of American farmers to provide safe and wholesome food products in a very efficient and cost-effective manner,” he said.

The AFBF survey was first conducted in 1986 when the average cost of a Thanksgiving meal for a family of 10 was $28.74. This year’s actual cost of $36.78 is $19.04 in 1986 inflation-adjusted dollars. A total of 108 volunteer shoppers from 30 states participated in this year's survey. Farm Bureau's survey menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.


Monday, November 21, 2005

Woo hoo free bread

I got an email from an women in my mom group who gets the leftovers in bread from Pannera bread that there were a ton of extras this week. I got a ton of bagels, and some other funky bread. She gets it every Sunday, I don't know if I will go over Monday to get but every few weeks might be okay.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Frugal Dinner Planning Week of Nov 20th

I had been so bad about planning dinners for the last few weeks. DH was out of town and has been working until 8 or 9pm nights at the office and they usually bring something in there.
So lots of sandwiches for the kids. And yes take out a few as well.

Sun Probably out We are going to see Harry Potter today with all the kids. An expensive day but we are a huge Harry Potter family. We have been watching the movies all weekend to get into the grove. DH and my oldest have been reading the 4th book together for the past few months.

Mon Chicken Stragnoff in the crock pot

Tues Mini Pork Sirlon

Wed Leftover chicken stragnoff

Thurs Turkey dinner at my sister in laws

Fri Turkey dinner with all the fixings at home. I got two 11lb birds in the freezer. Got a good deal for 38 cents at the supermarket. Will freeze the leftovers-make some of the different turkey leftsovers I have been posting.

Sat Turkey leftovers

Enjoy your savings!

Monday, November 14, 2005

How to cook a Turkey

As Thanksgiving approaches and you begin to prepare for your Thanksgiving turkey dinner you may be having questions about how much turkey you need per person. Or how long does it take to thaw a frozen turkey? Finally is the all important how long do I need to roast my turkey. Here are three guides to follow to help you achieve your perfect Thanksgiving turkey.

Turkey Serving Guide - How much turkey to serve per person

When planning your Thanksgiving turkey dinner it can be overwhelming wondering how much to serve per person. You will want to have enough for each person to have at least two servings and enough for turkey leftovers.

Up to 12lbs. = 1lb. per person
Over 12lbs. = 3/4lb. per person
Bone in breast = 1/2lb. per person
Boneless breast or role = 1/3lb. per person

Turkey Thawing Guide

Refrigerator thawing is the recommended method for thawing turkey. It used to be comon practice to thaw turkey in the sink with cold water. The problem with this method is that bacteria can grow on the turkey while it is thawing. This is the reason that refigerator thawing is recommended.

6 to 8lbs. = 1 to 1 ¾ days
8 to 12lbs. = 1 to 2 days
12 to 16lbs. = 2 to 3 days
16 to 20lbs. = 3 to 4 days
Bone and breast = 1 to 2 days
Boneless breast roll = 1 ½ to 2 days

Turkey Roasting Guide

Pre-heated 325° oven.
6 to 8lbs. = 2 ¼ to 3 ¼ hours
8 to 12lbs. = 3 to 4 hours
12 to 16lbs. = 3 ½ to 4 ½ hours
16 to 20lbs. = 4 to 5 hours
Bone and breast = 1 ½ to 2 ¼ hours
Boneless breast roll = 1 ¾ to 2 ½ hours

Shauna Hanus is a gourmet cook who specializes in creating gourmet recipes. She has extensive experience cooking with easy to find grocery items to create delightful gourmet meals. She has put together a special Thanksgiving report that gives you 73 recipes to use with your leftover turkey as well as a special holiday ice cream cookbook that includes favorites like pumpkin pie ice cream and pecan pie ice cream. She has also put together a holiday planning guide to help you have the most enjoyable Thanksgiving ever. You can find all of these at

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Freezing Thanksgiving Leftover

When Thanksgiving is over and all your company has gone home what do you do with all those turkey leftovers? Why not try freezing them. By freezing your turkey leftovers you will be able to enjoy fresh roasted turkey months from now when Thanksgiving and turkey leftovers are a thing of the past.

Freezing turkey leftovers is an easy and inexpensive way you can extend the life of your turkey leftovers by a few months. Turkey leftovers can be frozen up to three months with great results. Here are a few quick tips to make your freezing a success.

• Freeze turkey in portions your family will use.
• Slice, cube and chop the turkey meat for easy packaging.
• Use zipper freezer bags for ease of storage.
• Freeze turkey with stock and vegetables for making quick stew.
• Stir fry turkey with vegetables and freeze then when ready to use thaw and serve over cooked rice.
• Freeze pre-made turkey sandwiches, turkey quiche and turkey casseroles.
• Frozen turkey sandwiches can be sent in lunches for work or school.

If you only have a small amount of turkey leftover, freeze in bite size pieces. Then the next time you have leftovers you can pull out the frozen turkey leftovers and add it to casseroles or pot pie.

Shauna Hanus is a gourmet cook who specializes in creating gourmet recipes. She has extensive experience cooking with easy to find grocery items to create delightful gourmet meals. She has put together a special Thanksgiving report that gives you 73 recipes to use with your leftover turkey as well as a special holiday ice cream cookbook that includes favorites like pumpkin pie ice cream and pecan pie ice cream. She has also put together a holiday planning guide to help you have the most enjoyable Thanksgiving ever. You can find all of these at

Friday, November 11, 2005

Crockpot recipes for Turkey leftovers

The age-old question of ‘what to do with this left-over turkey’ lives on today, but with the revival of the slow cooker, we now have more options for stretching our food dollars by creating some delicious crock pot turkey recipes.

Today’s turkey crock pot recipes are creative and fun to cook, and should be taken advantage of throughout the year, not just during the holiday season. Gather your ingredients, plop em’ in your crock pot in the morning before you leave for work, and when you arrive home in the evening your meal is waiting, and your home smells fantastic! Using leftover frozen turkey makes meal prep even easier. Here are some Turkey Crock Pot Recipes that your family will love.

Crock Pot Turkey Stew

1 large bag of frozen mixed veggies
2 lbs boneless, skinless turkey, cut into bite size pieces
2 tbl flour
1 cup chicken broth
1-1/2 tbl tomato paste
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Place veggies and turkey into crock pot. Mix flour, broth, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper in a bowl and then add to crock pot. Cover and cook on LOW setting for approximately 8 hours. During the last hour, stir once or twice, breaking apart any turkey that has stuck together. Be careful not to remove the lid for more than a minute or so. Stir in parsley just before serving.

Crock Pot Turkey Sandwiches

6 c. shredded turkey
3 c. shredded cheese
1/2 c. Miracle Whip
1 onion, chopped
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup

Mix everything together and cook in crock pot for 4 hours. Stir twice during cooking, remembering not to have the top off very long. If the mixture is really thick, add some hot water at end of cooking. Serve on hoagie buns.

About the author: Sherry Frewerd publishes ‘Family Crock Pot Recipes’. Visit today for delicious crock pot recipes that your family will love – Sherry’s blog, ‘Recipes to Live By’ is the place to go for great recipes of all kinds, cooking tips and interesting articles on food and nutrition.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Save money on your phone bill

One of people's largest utility bills is their phone bill. Between taxes, long distance calls etc bills end up about $60 to $80 a month.

If you have high speed internet access, you get VoIP for $19.99 a month. There are many companies out that do voip now- but Packet 8 and Vonage are two of the most favored one.

They do have enchanced 911, you can use your own home phone with an adapter.

Check it out!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Frugal Christmas Ideas

Here are some great resources and articles on how to saving money and not occur any more debt during the Holiday season.

25 festive gift wrapping ideas

Recycling Christmas cards

Quick tips to save money at Christmas

Homemade Leather Wallet

Homemade Candle

Frugal Christmas Gifts

Free Silver Jewelry Great deals and it is pretty nice stuff!

Christmas Gifts in a Jar Mixes Breads, cookies

Gift Basket ideas Different themes for all walk of life.

Restaurant gift cards 50% off

How to avoid Christmas card debt

Homemade Christmas Ornaments

Frugal Holiday decorating

How to save money by buying discount gift cards

Enjoy your savings!

How to avoid Christmas Debt

In this week's issue Living on a Budget in a Non Budget World
Money Saving Tips
Featured Article How to avoid Christmas Debt
Money Blog Spotlight
Top Conversations on the Money Saving Forums
Freebie and Contest Alerts
The Frugal Five
Cheap but Good Food Nacho Stuffed Shells

Read this issue at:

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Frugal Meal Planning week of Oct 30th

Sunday We went out...

Monday Sandwiches easy night due to halloween

Tuesday Chicken Stragnoff in the crockpot

Wednesday Taco pie Some ortega soft tacos mixed with ground beef, onions, salsa

Thurs Leftover chicken stragnoff

Friday CORN (Clean out the fridge night

Saturday Homemade pizza

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

What you make vs what you save?

I was checking out Dave Bach's
new article 
on yahoo fianance site. He was getting critcized on the yahoo finance message boards that his previous article wasn't realistic.

Can you become a millionaire by what you save?
If you don't earn alot of money, will you ever become a millionare if you are living paycheck to paycheck.

David your ideas are good in theory, but they don't have anything to do with reality," she said.
When I asked her what she meant, she explained that I talked about saving $5 to $10 a day like it was no big deal. Well, for her, she said, it was impossible, because she was living paycheck to paycheck.
We then went through her expenses for a typical day. What did we find? Well, her double non-fat latte was $3.50, non-fat muffin $1.50, juice $3.95, juice boost $.50, PowerBar $1.75 -- that was $11.20 already by 11:00 a.m., not including lunch or anything else for the rest of the day

What you do spend each day that you maybe able to cut out? For example my husband was buying a sausage sandwich and a coffee at work each day for like $5.00. I told him I could make my mom mcmuffins each day for him for probably $5.00 a week.

According to Dave if we said that $5.00 a day
$5 would become $150 a month, nearly $2,000 a year. Figuring a 10 percent return, the stock market average over the last 50 years, I asked her how much she, being 23, might save by the time she was 65? She guessed $100,000, then $200,000, then $500,000. She was shocked when I told her it was almost $1.2 million.

I don't know if 10% is realistic these days but really a hopeful return.

If you have more income for the most part you have more disposable income and can save more giving you a more realstic chance to be a millionaire.

DH and I do save for retirement. He saves in his 401k 11%. I save in a Roth IRA since I don't work a job-just my home business. I put in $300 a month into a Roth. Are we close to being millionaires-no way. Could we find more ways to save? Absolutely,we could. Do we want to? Not necessarily. There is a balance between now and in the future.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Home heating myths

Try having a night away from home each week or on a saturday--go enjoy someone elses heat, such as the library or community center. But, if you are away from home less than 4 hours, you spend more energy reheating your house if you turn your heat down and back up again. Don't turn your heat too low when you are gone. your furnace will have to work harder to catch back up

Well this is false according to AC doctor
A common misconception associated with thermostats is that a furnace works harder than normal to warm the space back to a comfortable temperature after the thermostat has been set back, resulting in little or no savings. This misconception has been dispelled by years of research and numerous studies. The fuel required to reheat a building to a comfortable temperature is roughly equal to the fuel saved as the building drops to the lower temperature. You save fuel between the time that the temperature stabilizes at the lower level and the next time heat is needed. So, the longer your house remains at the lower temperature, the more energy you save.

What is the recommendation a programmable thermostat. We have one! Since I am home usually 24 hrs a day (remember I am a work at home mom) I keep the heat at 66 degrees a day.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Frugal Christmas ideas Restaurant Gift Certificates 50%

I found out about this last year but never used it. I had a friend who gave me the gift certificate for a local resturant for a gift a few weeks ago. It was $25 gift certificate that she paid $10. It worked easily.

So check it out yourself! Nice way to give a good gift at a discount. Gift Certificates: Save 50% on your next meal!

I plan on using it to give for some gifts for Christmas!

Cheap Meal Planing Week of Oct 23rd

Nothing exciting this week... pretty boring.

Sunday We are going to a progressive dinner party.

Mon Lasagna

Tues Crockpot Chicken Salsa

Wed Leftover lasagna

Thurs Lefover crockport chicken salsa

Fri Clean out the fridge night or soup/sandwiches

Sat Homemade pizza

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Fuel Assistance for Low income

I am trying to find as many resources as possible for fuel assistance for low income families.

Eligibility is based on household size and the gross annual income of every household member, 18 years of age or older. Household income cannot exceed 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.

US Department of Energy Weatherization Program

State Assistance programs

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

State Websites for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

National Fuel Funds

Friday, October 21, 2005

No heat until November 1st

It is a little cold here this morning but I am refusing to put the heat on until November 1st. It won't be too bad as temps during the daytime have been reaching 50 and 60s. Nighttime, we have had our first freeze yet. I have sleepers on the twins and an extra comfortor on the other beds just in case anyone gets cold.

I haven't kept track in past years the first date when I turned on the heat. I like a little challenge even if is even for me. I doubt I'll even tell my husband.

Enjoy your savings!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

How to pay for the car repair

While DH and I don't always see eye to eye on money or our personal finance goals, we do compromise. We had blowout this week on how to pay for our car repairs- $1100. He wanted to whip out the credit card (we keep just in case) and use that because he didn't want dig into the emergency fund. It would bring our efund to levels lower than it needed to be. So we compromised.

1. We used our emergency fund cash
2. We made a plan to add back to the efund at $200 per month for 6 months
3. We were making extra payments on our current car loan so this stops it for awhile.

Spicy Black Bean Soup

It is a little chilly here this morning and I am thinking of warm soups.  I love Black beans and soup so I wanted to make my favorite soup.

I like Spicy Black bean soup- really easy to make.
2 cans of black beans, (you could use beans in a bag but I am never good with doing that)
2 can of chicken broth,(use low sodium)
1 can diced tomatos (used fresh if you have it)
diced onion
2 can of water.
Add spices like garlic, chili spice

If you want a southwestern flair add chipolte and corn!

Pour everything in the a large  pot except for 1 can of beans. Put those beans into the food processor and make mush.  Add the those bean in and let simmer on the stove. .

Very good, filling and healthy!Since I work at home this is the perfect lunchtime food for me. I love to be able to make a large batch on a Monday and then eat it through  out the week.