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.