Another DIY Project

Posted on Wednesday 25 February 2009

Pillow
Creative Commons License photo credit: quinn.anya

I like to sleep on satin pillowcases. Though for some strange reason, the washing/drying process seems to tear them up. I’m tired of paying $20 for something rendered useless after several washes.  So I’ve decided to make my own.

I already have a sewing machine (which sits in the basement, unused) and I just bought enough fabric for two pillowcases for $7.11 online.  I may already have thread at home but if not, it shouldn’t be more than $2.  Hopefully these will fare better than the previous ones.

What DIY projects have you undertaken to save money?

savvy @ 8:00 AM
Filed under: Frugality
Repost – Fabulous, Yet Frugal, Travel

Posted on Monday 23 February 2009


Creative Commons License photo credit: PhotoDu.de

I just returned from two back to back trips – one for business, and one for pleasure.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I love to travel.  Therefore, here’s a re-post of some of my favorite travel tips.  What do YOU do to save money on travel?

People often ask how can they save/reduce spending while still enjoying life. The goal is not to deprive yourself but rather find ways to do the same things cheaper. Here are some ideas for saving money on travel.

DESTINATION

Be flexible – Unless there’s a specific reason for going to a certain location, check out alternates. Hubby and I love the beach but we rarely have our heart set on one particular place. We like to make a list of all the places we’d be willing to go then choose the place that has the best airfare and/or lodging prices.

Know the seasons – Hubby and I decided we wanted to spend Christmas week of 2005 in Hawaii. That time of year is high season for Hawaii and we knew that. We decided in 2004 (a whole year in advance) that we’d go to Hawaii that week. Airlines release seats 331 days in advance so when the clock struck midnight (literally), we were on the phone booking our tickets.

AIRFARE

Loyalty has its benefits – Consider joining a frequent flyer program, especially if you live in a hub city. You will earn free flights as well as get perks (and sales) that other people don’t get. Even if you can’t fly that airline all the time, most airlines have partner airlines that you can earn miles with as well. I fly Delta almost exclusively and it has paid off for me.

Be flexible on your dates – If you have your heart set on Orlando, keep your eye out for deals. An airfare sale may pop up and you’re able to take advantage if you’re not fixed on a certain date to travel. Also, be aware that weekends are the most popular (and most expensive) travel days. If you’re willing to travel Saturday – Monday (vs Friday – Sunday like everyone else), you can save money on your flight.

LODGING

Once again, loyalty has its benefits – I primarily stay at Hilton properties and I get many perks in addition to free stays. Most hotel chains own a number of chains of varying prices so it generally isn’t hard to find a hotel in your chain. For example, with Hilton, I can stay at a Hilton, Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites or Hampton Inn and earn points for my stays.

Think outside the box – Hotels aren’t the only place you can stay. Condos or private villas are often lower priced and more spacious. In the past, I’ve used sites such as www.vrbo.com to find deals. Consider renting a timeshare unit from a site such as www.redweek.com.

Be direct – Booking your lodging online or through an 800 number doesn’t always get you the best price. If you’re interested in a particular property, call them directly and ask for their best rate. There are often specials that aren’t listed online or with the nationwide reservations number.

DINING

Coupons are your friends – If you’re going to a major city in the US, consider purchasing an Entertainment Book ahead of time. These can be had for about $15 and will save you money on dining out. Sites such as www.restaurant.com often sell gift certificates for less than face value.

Kitchenettes are your friends – If you have a kitchen in your condo or even just a microwave and fridge in your hotel room, you can save money on dining. Make a grocery run once you get to town or bring non-perishables such as oatmeal packets with you. That will let you have breakfast in the room once or twice and save yourself some money.

ENTERTAINMENT

Plan ahead – Look for discounts before you go. Some employers offer discounts to major attractions. The internet can also be a source of information. Do a little research about your destination before you leave. Also, consider picking up a guide book (I prefer the Lonely Planet books) for suggestions.

Befriend the locals – Local residents can be your best source of information and are usually more than happy make suggestions. Of course, they know where all the inexpensive or free things are as well.

Of course this post isn’t comprehensive but merely an overview. What are some of YOUR best travel tips?

savvy @ 5:25 PM
Filed under: Frugality andTravel
DIY Savings

Posted on Friday 13 February 2009

pay here
Creative Commons License photo credit: TheTruthAbout…

This Old House published an article on 50 Nifty Tricks for Big DIY Savings.  A lot of them are simple and low-cost.  Here are some of the ones I might try at home.

  • Shorten your dryer-vent hose. First, disconnect it and vacuum it out. Then trim the hose length so that it’s just long enough for you to pull the dryer a few feet out from the wall. A short and unobstructed line makes your dryer run more efficiently.
    Cost: Free.
    Savings: $25 a year on electric, gas, or propane.
    Bonus: Your clothes will dry about 20 percent faster.
  •  Replace central-air-conditioning filters every month during the summer to keep air flowing freely through the ducts and reduce strain on the blower motor.
    Cost: About $11 for three filters.
    Savings: $40 or more on cooling costs.
    Bonus: New filters keep dust and mold from collecting on condenser coils, extending the equipment’s life.
  • Insulate hot-water lines. Preformed foam tubes fit right around the pipes, thanks to a slit along their length.
    Cost: 29 cents to 35 cents per foot of insulation, depending on pipe dimensions, at Energy Federation.
    Savings: $50 per year on energy.
    Bonus: Halving the wait for hot water to reach upstairs faucets.
  • Plug in a SmartStrip. Three-quarters of the energy that electronics burn is consumed when the equipment is turned off. Rather than unplug items after every use, hook them up to a SmartStrip surge protector, which automatically kills power to electronics when you turn them off and returns it when you switch them back on.
    Cost: $31 for a seven-outlet strip at SmartHomeUSA.com.
    Savings: As much as $240 per year in energy costs.
    Bonus: Two always-hot outlets ensure that slow-to-reboot devices like your digital cable box can be left on all the time.

What are your favorite DIY tips for saving money around the house?

savvy @ 8:00 AM
Filed under: Uncategorized
Recovery Rebate Credit

Posted on Wednesday 11 February 2009

IRS Notice 54
Creative Commons License photo credit: mjmalone

New for 2008, there is a Recovery Rebate Credit.  Most taxpayers who received the economic stimulus payment last year will not be able to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on their 2008 federal income tax returns. A small number of taxpayers who did not receive the full economic stimulus payment last year may be eligible to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on their 2008 federal income tax return.  Here are four important tips from the IRS in regard to this credit.

    • You do not have to pay back your Stimulus Payment and the payment is not taxable.
    • Less than an estimated 3 percent of taxpayers are eligible. The vast majority of taxpayers are not eligible to receive the Recovery Rebate Credit.
    • Did you have a major life change? If so, you may be eligible to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit. Some of the major factors that could qualify you for the Recovery Rebate Credit include:

    – Your financial situation changed dramatically from 2007 to 2008.

    – You did not file a 2007 tax return.

    – Your family gained an additional qualifying child in 2008.

    – You were claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return in 2007, but cannot be claimed  in 2008.

      • Any Recovery Rebate Credit amount will be included in your refund. The IRS will figure the credit for you and include it in your refund or put it toward any taxes owed.

      For more information, go to the IRS Recovery Rebate Information Center.

      savvy @ 8:00 AM
      Filed under: Taxes
      Ten Tips for Better Money Management

      Posted on Monday 9 February 2009

      I love credit unions and have been a member of a number over the years, starting when I was a teenager.  In addition to personalized service, credit unions often have better loan rates.  My very first car loan (when I was fresh out of school) was from a credit union.  That said, here are some tips from the National Association of Federal Credit Unions (www.nafcu.org) to help get your finances in shape.

      1. Create a budget – Know how much money you bring home and how much you spend. If you are unfamiliar with how to create a budget, many credit unions offer free financial literacy classes.
      2. Vow to spend less than you make – Nothing makes more sense than living within your means. If you are constantly overspending, you will never have enough money to save or invest.
      3. Watch every penny – Dropping unnecessary services and avoiding ATM fees are just a few of the ways you can find some extra savings. Many credit unions offer free access to thousands of ATMs through participating networks.
      4. Review your credit record/financial statements regularly – Request a free copy of your credit report once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com. Scrutinize your financial/credit card statements regularly to ensure that identity thieves are not running up charges in your name. Report any questionable charges immediately.
      5. Reduce your debt – Assess your outstanding debt and make a plan to reduce your balances. You might also consider consolidating your debt. With consistent payments above the minimum, you can reduce your debt significantly.
      6. Plan ahead – In everything from vacations to holiday shopping, it pays to plan ahead. How about starting a vacation or holiday account to fund those big purchases? At many credit unions, you can open an account with as little as $5.
      7. Start an emergency fund – Unexpected events like an illness and an auto or appliance repair often require big money. Most financial advisors recommend saving three-six months’ expenses to fund these items.
      8. Make your money work for you – Credit unions offer competitive rates and great service in a broad range of products including savings and checking accounts. Many credit unions also offer online services. Go to www.culookup.com to find a credit union you may be eligible to join.
      9. Use credit cards smartly – Get a credit card with a low annual fee or with rewards that suit your interests and remember to pay your bills on time. Consumer Reports recently found that credit unions offer some of the best credit card rates. For example, credit cards and all loans issued by federal credit unions cannot exceed 18 percent. In fact, the average interest rate was about 11 percent on credit cards from federal credit unions in December.
      10. Protect your family and your assets – Make sure you have enough insurance coverage for your property as well as yourself and your family. Make a will if you don’t already have one. Shred financial documents and/or credit card offers before throwing them out to avoid revealing personal information unnecessarily.

      Are you a member of a credit union?  If not, I would suggest looking into it.

      savvy @ 8:00 AM
      Filed under: Budgeting andCredit Cards andGeneral Finances
      Guest Post – Interview With a Financial Planner

      Posted on Friday 6 February 2009

      I’m on vacation this week.  Thanks so much to Cathy Curtis, of Curtis Financial Planning, for allowing me to interview her.

      Tell us a little about yourself

      I am a Fee-Only independent financial advisor, a Certified Financial Planner practitioner (CFP) and a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) registered with the State of California. I own a firm based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Curtis Financial Planning, and I have been in business for 8 years. I specialize in the finances of women, their families and their businesses.

      Why did you become a financial planner?

       My previous career was in sales and marketing management in the food industry.  I gained valuable business experience and made a good, stable living but I didn’t feel like I was making much of a difference in people’s lives. I wanted to be of service as well as enjoy what I was doing.   Financial planning fits the bill for me perfectly.

      What advice would you give someone interested in a career in financial planning?

      When I left my old career, I was seeking freedom from corporate structure, so I decided to start out on my own.  This is probably the hardest way to build a financial planning practice – not only because you can’t share expenses with anyone, but it can be isolating.  I would recommend starting off with a partner or partners or an established firm  I would also decide what kind of planner you want to be – fee-only, fee-based or commission-based.  I am biased towards the fee-only model because I feel it has the least conflicts of interest and serves my clients well, but investigating the pros and cons of all three is a good idea.  If you do start your own firm, decide early one what how much and what type of fees you will charge for which services, and then decide which tasks you will do yourself and which tasks you want to outsource.  The key to success is not getting bogged down doing everything yourself. Identify your strengths and the let someone else do the rest.

      For those who prefer the services of a professional, how do you suggest someone choose a financial planner?

      As I mentioned earlier, I am biased toward the fee-only model, which means that the advisor does not earn their fees from commissions on product sales.  The best place to learn more about fee-only advisors is on the NAPFA (National Association of Personal Financial Advisors) website www.napfa.org. On this website, you can also search for a planner in your area.   There are a few steps I recommend in choosing a planner:

      • Ask how they are paid
      • Find out how they are licensed and if their licenses are current
      • Don’t hire someone that asks you to write a check to them.  Find an advisor that uses a custodian where your money is deposited in your name.
      • Check out references.
      • Interview at least three planners and see if you have personal chemistry and if they listen to you.  

      What are series 65 and 66? Is this something that matters when choosing a planner?

       

      Series 65 and 66 are minimum competency examinations given to professionals with the investment industry.  Both exams are assembled by FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Agency).  In my opinion, it is more important that you check whether your advisor is registered with the state they live and practice in, or with the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission).  Also, choosing a planner who has achieved the Certified Financial Planner designation is a wise idea.  Fee-only NAPFA registered advisors and Certified Financial Planners are held to the highest fiduciary standards – meaning they are expected to put the clients interest first at all times in order to maintain their designation and membership.

       

      I’ve been seeing mention of t-bills and muni bonds in the news of late, due to all the fearfulness of being in the stock market right now.   What are these and do you suggest for readers?

      I can explain what T-bills and muni bonds are, but I would not presume to recommend to anyone unless I knew what their personal risk tolerance, age and financial objectives were.  But these explanations may help.

      T-Bills or Treasury Bills are short term (maturities up to one year) government securities. They are very safe as they are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States Government.  Because of this federal backing, they are considered to have a risk-free rate of return.    But the returns are not high, so not always suitable for particular investors.

      Muni bonds or Municipal Bonds are debt obligations of a state or local government. The funds raised may support general government needs or special projects.    They are most suitable for investors who have large tax burdens as the interest is generally exempt from federal tax.  In the case that the bond is bought by a resident of the state that issued the bond, the interest payments are also exempt from state tax. Interest payments are further exempt from local tax if they are bought by residents of the locality that issued the bond.  Depending on the issuer and project muni bonds are considered fairly safe investments and can have good returns.

       

      What financial advice do you have for the self-employed among us?

      • Separate your personal and business expenses – have a separate checking account and credit card for business and for personal.  Keep a good record of all your business expenses during the year so you are not scrambling and wasting time finding things at tax time.    
      • Develop a business plan, even a simple one, and update it every year.  Make sure it includes cash flow projections so you know if you business will generate the cash you need to keep it going and pay you an income.
      • Develop a support network of other self-employed people so that you don’t feel isolated and you get the support that you need. 

      Last but not least, what is your favorite pf book?

      Right now I am reading the updated version of Your Money Or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.  It is a book that attempts to teach people how to develop a healthy relationship with money in order to live more deliberately and meaningfully.    It will make you stop and think whenever you pull your wallet out of your pocket or your purse to buy something new.

      Once again, thanks so much to Cathy for a wonderful interview!

      savvy @ 8:00 AM
      Filed under: General Finances andInvesting andRetirement andSelf-Employed andUncategorized
      Saving for retirement on $20 a week

      Posted on Wednesday 4 February 2009

      401K - Perfect Solution !?
      Creative Commons License photo credit: mujitra (´???)

      This is a guest post from A, a pf blogger at I Pick Up Pennies. Thanks to A for guest blogging while I’m on vacation!

      My husband and I turned 30 in 2008, and I decided it was time to start planning for retirement.

      Neither of us have worked for companies with 401(k) matching programs, so no one was going to hold our hands (or match our funds). We were on our own.


      Do it yourself (whether you want to or not)

      Plenty of jobs out there offer 401(k) matching programs, although these may be in jeopardy as the economy dwindles. Even these people probably shouldn’t rest on their laurels when it comes to IRAs, but at least they have an excuse.


      There are, however, plenty of people who don’t have access to a matching-funds program, or even a company-chosen bank to invest with. Whether they’re stay-at-home parents, self-employed or simply with a company that doesn’t provide retirement help, these folks are the ones who need to get going on an IRA.


      Maybe they put it off because they think they don’t have enough money to bother. The fact is, there is no magic number when it comes to retirement contributions. Each day you procrastinate, however, can have long-term effects on your future.


      In “Deal With Your Debt,” Liz Pulliam Westin gives the perfect example:

      There is a pair of twins. One contributes $3,000 every year, from age 22-32. Then she stops and never puts in another nickel. The second contributes $3,000 from 32-62. The early saver will save nearly $100,000 more than her sister: $437,320 vs $339,860. (This assumes an average return of 8%, since this example was written in far more optimistic times.)


      Take the first step – however small


      The moral of the above story is that the sooner you act, the more benefits you reap. Still, some people think that they couldn’t put enough in the plan to make it worthwhile. And this is where they’re wrong.


      Of course, each of you must decide for yourselves what you are comfortable contributing. It will depend greatly on your income, your assets, your debt and basic costs of living. For the two of us, that amount was $20 a week. (Which you probably knew from the title.)


      My husband and I have an income of just under $3,150 a month. From that we pay: $700 for rent, $502 for my husband’s health insurance, and about $100 for a medication not covered by Medicare. Beyond food and utilities, most of the rest gets thrown at our debt: $8,600 to the credit card companies and $5,000 to relatives.


      Despite this tight budget, we both agreed that we could budget around $20. That amount probably wouldn’t be missed. Anything more than that, though, might hinder our ability to pay down debt as quickly as possible.


      Some of you may wonder why we even bother contributing such a small amount. The thing to remember is that those little amounts add up. At $20 per week, we accrue $1040 in a year (minus a $20 bank fee). Maybe that’s still not very impressive for most people. But it’s a step in the right direction – and the first step is usually the hardest.


      I look at the IRA as a symbol of our commitment to creating a secure future for ourselves. And it reminds us that, even in this low-income situation, we can start our plans for a better future – just in a slightly smaller way than we might like.


      Still not convinced? Okay, then let’s look at the math:

      Let’s say our contributions never get beyond $1020 a year (52 weeks x $20/week and minus $20 bank fees). But we contribute for 30 years and get a 3 percent return. (Given the current markets, I think it’s best to be conservative.)  At the end of that 30 years, we would have $49,934, completely tax free (which we’ll address later).  And if in 5 years, my husband is able to start his own IRA, he’d have $42,769 at the end of 25 years. That would make for a total of $92,703.


      From $20 a week, we can grow over $90,000. Imagine what we can do when we get out debts paid off.

      savvy @ 8:00 AM
      Filed under: 401(k) andRetirement
      Fear The Gym? Get A Great Free Home Workout

      Posted on Monday 2 February 2009

      This is a guest post by Craig Kessler from http://blog.budgetpulse.com/

      New Year’s has come and gone but that doesn’t change the fact that the number one resolution is to lose weight and to be healthier. Have you already fled from your resolution? The winter tends to be the time of year that brings the dull, lazy mentality in us out. The bottom line is not to let it happen. Concentrate on your goal to achieving a healthier lifestyle, because before you know it, summer will be here and the beach will be calling your name.

      Half the battle is actually getting to the gym. Once you reach the gym, the workout part becomes very easy. A lot of people have trouble actually making it to the gym for several reasons. For starters, the gym can be intimidating if you are new to working out. Another reason is gym memberships fees tend to be very high costing hundreds of dollars a year. A lot of people who are new don’t feel the value in spending all that money and will not workout because of it. Guess what? You can still get a great workout right at home for free! Fancy machines and weights can be helpful, but for the average person, basic exercises are more than enough to help someone stay active. Here are a few exercises that will keep you staying active and keep your wallet full. All of these can be performed right in your home for free.

      • Push-Ups: Try sets of 10 and increase if you feel comfortable
      • Sit-ups: Develop a routine you are comfortable with and try for 10 minutes
      • Wall-Sits: Stand against a wall and pretend to sit as there was a chair there. Try 3 sets of 30 seconds, increase to a minute if you feel comfortable.
      • Jumping Jacks: A great warm up to get the heart pumping
      • Resistant Bands: Great for general strength and conditioning

      A great way to have a home trainer for free is to utilize youtube.com. There are so many workout videos that show routines that can be done for free right in your home.

      These are just a few of the many videos out there that can help you out. Utilize these techniques and workout to feel great and then take that extra money saved on memberships to buy yourself a new bathing suit and some sun tan lotion.

      savvy @ 8:00 AM
      Filed under: Frugality andGeneral Finances andHealthcare