12/31/2010

New Year Financial Resolution

The New Year gives us all pause to consider where we have been and where we are going.  2010 has been a hard year for many economically.  In Virginia many jobs have been lost and many more families struggle with reduced salaries. Others have stable income, but their finances have spiralled out of control.  At Virginia Saves we encourage you to put the past behind you and take control of your financial future.  You can find lots of help on our website http://www.virginiasaves.org/.

As you resolve to make 2011 a better year for yourself, look for updates to our website and blog to help you get started.  Here are some actions you can take today to get started on your new course toward financial freedom:

1.  Get organized: put important papers in their proper place so that you can locate them when you need them.  You will soon be receiving tax statements, so you will want to have a file for those.  Monthly bills should have a place to reside as they arrive in the mail (or email).  As they are paid, they can be filed away for future reference if needed.  Look for a future blog post on organizing paper.

2.  Financial Checkup:  Now is a great time to do a financial assessment.  You can get one for free by contacting Virginiasaves@gmail.com.  A financial assessment will help you to document your income and expenses as well as establish a net worth statement so you can have a clear picture of what resources you have available.  Many people don't know.  Now is the time to change that for yourself.

3.  Make a plan:  Virginia Saves operates in partnership with the Financial Planning Association.  FPA  has pro bono financial planners who can help you get started on a financial plan for yourself.  Also, FPA has a free online financial planning tool at http://www.boulevardr.com/.  There is no better time to establish your financial goals than the new year.  FPA can help you create a plan that will allow you to achieve those dreams.

4.  Measure Success:  It isn't enough to make a plan, you need to take those positive actions that lead to success and measure your progress along the way.  Get the tools you need to evaluate your progress using the planning tools available at http://www.fpaforfinancialplanning.org/.  There is a free budgeting and planning tool that can help you measure success at http://www.mint.com/.  Can't beat free to start the New Year off right!

5.  Begin Saving:  Your future financial success will depend on having a savings reserve to cover the unexpected expenses of the year and to provide for those additional costs through the year like vacations, new purchases etc.  You can become a saver today at http://www.virginiasaves.org/.  There is no cost and no catch, just great resources to help you begin saving.  By the way, resolve to make that saving automatic this year so that it doesn't become the last priority but the first!

There you go!  As you start to implement your financial plans for 2011, make sure to take advantage of all the free resources available at http://www.virginiasaves.org/.  We are here to help you acheive your dreams.  Tell us about them by writing to us!

12/08/2010

Saftey Tips to Remember Through the Holidays

We all know the the holidays are a fun and festive time. However, it is important to keep your family happy, healthy, and safe. The best way to avoid having to use an emergency fund and save money is to prevent accidents from happening. Here are brief safety tips to keep you all safe around the home, while shopping, and traveling this season.


Home:


General Decorating:
  • Be sure to inspect all tools and materials before starting with the installation process.
  • If using a ladder, check the condition of rails, rungs, and brackets before positioning or climbing it. Be sure to have a spotter to steady the ladder and to pass materials and tools.
  • Holiday decorations should not block exits.
  • When setting up a tree, keep it away from fireplaces and space heaters. Be sure not to block any exits and keep the tree out of the way of traffic.
  • Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the US. Be sure to keep an eye on the holiday cooking while attending to your guests.  
Lighting:
  • Take the time to unroll/untangle and inspect each set of lights new or old for  bare/frayed wires, broken or cracked sockets and loose connections. If you find them, don't try to repair them. Throw them away or return them to the store. They are an electrical and fire hazard.
  • Be careful not to overload electrical sockets
  • Turn off or unplug your indoor holiday lighting whenever the decorated area of the house is unattended -- not just when going to bed or leaving the house.
  • Never use electric lights on metallic trees. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and the person touching it could be electrocuted.
Children's Safety:
  • Keep young children out of areas where decorations are being installed.
  • Avoid ornaments that resemble candy or food that may tempt a small child to eat them.
  • Make sure to read the labels for age appropriate toys. Look for toys that have parts which cannot be removed easily
  • Beware of balloons! Small children can choke or suffocate from the balloons being inhaled.
  • Watch children and pets around space heaters or the fireplace. Do not leave a child or pet unattended.
Shopping:


General Shopping:
  • Shop during daylight hours whenever possible. If you must shop at night, go with a friend or family member. Stay in well populated areas. If you have a cell phone make sure that it is charged and carry with you in case of emergency.
  • Dress casually and comfortably and avoid wearing expensive jewelry. Not only will you feel more comfortable shopping, but you will be less of a tempting target for thieves. Leave the bulky purse at home.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings.  Flustered, angry, tired, or people who are rushing don't have an eye on what's going on around them. Your packages or the next big thing on your list may be important, but pay attention! Avoid overloading yourself with packages so that you have free range of motion and visibility.
Shopping Online:  


  • Shop at secure sites-




  • Research the websites before you order




  • Read the websites privacy and security polices




  • Be aware of cookies and behavioral marketing




  • NEVER give out your social security number




  • Disclose only the bare facts when you order




  • Check the website address




  • ALWAYS print copies of your orders




  • Learn the merchants cancellation, complaint, and return polices




  • Use shopper's intuition




  • Be wary of identity theft




  • Travel:


    General Travel:


    • Make sure to plan ahead before you travel anywhere. A good thing to have in your car is an emergency kit. A few are pre-made and on the market, but you can easily make your own. Include: 
    1.  Fire extinguisher
    2.  First aid kit,
    3. Jack and lug wrench
    4. Jumper cables
    5. Disposable flash camera
    6. $10-15 dollars in small bills and change
    7. Gloves
    8. Pen and paper
    9. Food and water
    10. Rain poncho and blankets
    • Matain at least half a tank of fuel when traveling. It may seem like a lot, however if you can't stop for gas it's a lifesaver.
    • Develop the habit of scanning while driving and being aware of potential problems.
    • If involved in a property-damage collision in an unfamiliar or potentially unsafe location, do not open or exit your vehicle. If you have a cellphone, call the police. If not, acknowledge the accident by hand signal, and motion the other driver to proceed with you to a safe location (where there are other people and light) to exchange information.

    12/06/2010

    11 Tips for Saving on Travel

    It is important to visit friends and family during the winter season. However traveling can get very expensive, especially around the peak time of the holidays. Add the expense of getting there with the temptation of visiting all of the attractions with your family and friends and suddenly the cost doesn't make traveling so appealing. Even so, traveling can be done on a budget if you know where to go, and how to save. Here are eleven tips to help you save a little cash as you travel.

    1. Manage your money and understand how your debit and credit cards work from area to area ahead of time. Some ATMs charge a fee in order for you to withdraw your money. Other places may charge you a fee for using your card inside of their store rather than paying with cash. Review your account policies before making the trip.

    2. Driving isn't bad. You might have to do some calculations but weigh out the pros and cons when it comes t how you travel. A bus trip to the NY round trip may cost $60 instead of a plane ticket for $250. Plan in advance when purchasing airline tickets. You might find that it is a pain to book a connecting flight, but connecting flights are often cheaper.

    3. Travel light. Most airlines charge for those extra bags. That doesn't mean to be using an oversized one. Remember, you will have to haul it around once you get to where you are going. Try to keep most of your items in one or two. Save money by pre-paying your baggage costs online.  According to AOL Travel, checking your bags in advance online can save between $3.00 - $5.00 per bag.  Check to see if your airline offers this service.

    4. Try cooking for yourself. Not many people do this, but it's very cost effective to think about cooking some of your own meals. Most rooms come with a microwave and a small refrigerator. Even if it is just making a few sandwiches for lunch, you're making those lunches for about $3 a person instead of $10. Lunches often cost less than dinners do.

    5. Plan your meals when going out. Figure out where you are going to go and eat before you and your family feel like you are starving. Most restaurants offer their menus and pricing online. When your not starving, you can make better choices about the prices, find local favorites, and also not have to deal with the pressure of the bill.

    6. When renting a car think about what size, model, and where you are going to be located. It pays to be specific. One way car rentals (when the pickup and drop off locations are different) are sometimes more than twice the price of standard rentals, especially if the two locations are in different states (or country). Also look for coupon codes, many which can be found online.

    7. Ask questions. Sometimes smaller hotel chains are willing to give you free upgrades if you switch to them. Hotels compete with each other, but you have to ask for what deals they are willing to provide. If you already have a reservation booked elsewhere, see if they will be willing to give you a free night for switching.

    8. Carry a guidebook. These are worth their weight in gold. Travel guides can cost about $20-$30 dollars, however, they will end up saving you cash by offering tips on places to eat, attractions, local customs, and cheap places to eat and sleep. They often have metro routes, bus routes, and detailed maps located inside of them as well.

    9. Tourist spots might not be that hot. Sometimes visiting the local areas may bring more spice to the trip than visiting the tourist traps. Sampling small local restaurants, walking or using public transport (like the metro), and traveling around home can save you a ton of money.

    10. Be flexible with travel days. Many prices are based on supply and demand. Look around the dates of your travel plans and see if spending an extra day is worth it. This makes a difference especially around major holidays.

    11. Don't give up looking for deals. Reservations can often be canceled with a full refund. If you find a last minute deal that fits into your plans, take advantage of it. Also, age, membership, and student discounts are offered nearly everywhere. If you're traveling remember totake your ID cards along. Also team up with a few friends to get group discounts

    12/01/2010

    Information on Savings, Bonds, and CDs


    A savings account is a banking account used to hold money. When you have your money in a savings account, that money earns interest. Your bank savings account pays a rate of return on all the money in the account (your APY). That means that you get "paid" for keeping your money in the account. Savings accounts also offer a safe place to keep money. Your bank is responsible for safeguarding that money. Sometimes, but not always, banks charge fees for having a savings account. The fee may be or it may be higher, or it could even be based on your balance. For this reason, you should always shop around and compare what different banks are offering.
    When you open your account you’ll get a small booklet called a register for tracking your savings.
    Remember:
    • Don’t forget to write down withdrawals and deposits.
    • Each month, your bank will send you a statement via mail, or e-mail. Make sure to go through these on your statement and make sure that the transactions match up. If not, review your register.
    Bonds are essentially loans. When you buy a bond you lend money to a company and the company in return pays a certain amount of interest on your bond called the coupon. When the bond reaches maturity the company pays the original amount on the loan. Bonds often have a fixed interest rate, but there are also floating-rate bonds which interest changes with the market.
    Bonds fall mostly into three categories:
    • Government
    • Municipal (issued by states, cities, counties, and districts)
    • Corporate
    CDs (Certificates of Deposit) are a great step after some savings have been established and offer higher interest rates than savings accounts. However, there is a drawback—you can look but can’t touch these savings, at least not without an early withdrawal fee. These savings are long term, some lasting three months, and others for a period of years.
    This is a good step if you are saving for retirement or any other long term goal. Also like savings accounts, CDs earn compound interest. Remember to shop around when considering depositing your money into a CD. If that seems too long to wait, or you want more access, money marketing accounts are also offered by some banks and credit unions. They work like regular savings accounts and have higher interest rates. However, the minimum balance also is higher, and this account only allows a few withdrawals per month.
     A bond differs from a stock because it is a loan. Instead stocks represent partial ownership in a company and the profits that a company has made. 

    The“Balancing” Act: Keeping Track of Your Spending


    Balancing your checkbook is one of the most basic skills for good money management. And yet millions of people don’t do it. Balancing your checkbook is a good way to cover the W's when figuring out your expenses: The Who, what, when, where, and how.
    Balancing your checkbook is important for:
    • verifying that your records match the numbers on your bank statement
    •  correcting mistakes before the end of the 60 day correction period
    •  avoiding bouncing checks.
    Remember that balancing your checkbook also applies to ATM transactions. Make sure that you are also tracking when you are taking out cash or using your debit card on purchases. Also, pending items for cash or debit may not always show up on a banking statement and may still need to be processed. Remember to track them! The fees for a bounced check or overdraft can be $25 dollars or more.
    Here's how to ballance your checkbook:
    Track your progress. By enrolling as a Virginia Saver, you can utilize the Virginia Saves Savings Tracker for free to record deposits and monitor your progress.

    For more free budgeting tracking softwear, click here for a Minty way to get started. Mint has worksheets, tips, and tricks and signing up is free.
    • Keep a check register and write down all transactions not just checks. Make sure to include deposits, ATM withdrawals, and debit card purchases.
    • Remember that there may be checks or electronic debits that may not have cleared with the bank, so recording every purchase is important.
    • Make sure to check your balance often. Read your statement carefully to determine any transactions that you might have missed such as ATM charges.
    •  Record everything, as well as bills paid online. If your service gives you a confirmation code, write that down next to the payee information. Remember to regularly recalculate your balance in your account and correct your mistakes.
    • Record where you have spent your money. If you spend it at the grocery store-- write it down, if you spend it at the mall-- write it down.
    • Check your math and look for missing transactions, and bring errors to the attention of your bank. Be wary of misplaced decimals while calulating
    • Last, remember to finish balancing.

    11/29/2010

    Cyber Monday

    Just because Black Friday has ended, that doesn't mean that good savings are completely gone. Cyber Monday, the  marketing term for the Monday immediately following Black Friday, the Friday following Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Cyber Monday sales last for about eight days, typically from the last Monday in November to the first Monday in December. Online retailers will be ready for the surge in sales, and many are offering extra incentives to encourage people to shop online. Deals will range from free shipping to gifts with purchase to percentages off.

    According to the article, Cyber Monday Shopping Ramps Up  by CNNMoney.com, "The NRF reported 212 million shoppers went to stores and websites over the weekend, up from 195 million shoppers during the same period last year. The average shopper spent $365.34 during Black Friday weekend 2010, compared to $343.31 during the same weekend last year, the NRF said. Total spending for the weekend was $45 billion."

    Some tips to protect your rights and your privacy are as follows:
    • Shop at secure sites-
    • Research the websites before you order
    • Read the websites privacy and security polices
    • Be aware of cookies and behavioral marketing
    • NEVER give out your social security number
    • Disclose only the bare facts when you order
    • Check the website address
    • ALWAYS print copies of your orders
    • Learn the merchants cancellation, complaint, and return polices
    • Use shopper's intuition
    • Be wary of identity theft
    For more detailed information on what to look for and how to protect yourself on Cyber Monday visit Online Shopping Tips: E-Commerce and You

    Beware of scammers. Scammers can pretend to be selling a product, often very cheaply, in order to steal your information. They may take your money and give you a worthless item, or nothing at all. Most online auction sites put a lot of effort into spotting scammers, which is why scammers will often try to get people to make a deal outside the auction site.

    Here are some warning signs to protect yourself from being scammed http://tinyurl.com/28aafg
    • A product is advertised at a very low price.
    • The seller and any initial bidders have a very poor rating on an auction site.
    • The other party wants to complete the sale outside of the auction site (if you do this, you lose any protections that the site operator offer to their users).
    • The other party insists on immediate payment, or payment by electronic funds transfer or a wire service.
    • The online shopping website does not provide adequate information about privacy, terms and conditions of use, dispute resolution or contact details.
    Other Resources to Save You Money:

    New vs. Used: Where to Spend and Where to Save- What popluar items should we spend money on? Which one's should we buy used? This artical explains the details.

    5 Items Worth Waiting For- What to Buy After the Holidays- With so many of us returning gifts after the holiday season, here are a few items to wait on giving to your family and to yourself. The best deals are often found after the holiday season and into the new year.
    Gift Giving Ideas for the Holidays: Gifts From the Heart- Holidays can be even more complicated when finances (especially credit cards) become overwhelming. Focus on alternative gifts to your family and friends without spending a fortune.

    P.R.E.S.E.N.T.S More Tips On How to Save

    Click Here For More Gift Giving Ideas

    11/24/2010

    Five Stress Busters for the Hoilday Season

    Holidays can be stressful with family, friends, and co-workers. Planning ahead can help reduce stress, and give you peace of mind for the season. Here are some other tips to help make the holidays more manageable this season.

    1. Plan, plan, plan. Don't wait until the last second. Be realistic about the holidays. Understand that you can't do everything, so choose the things that you can accomplish and enjoy.

    2. Create a budget, stick to it, and limit the number of guests attending your holiday parties. Ask each person to RSVP ahead of time, a day or two before the party, so that you are aware of the number of guests that are attending.

    3. Simplify. You don't need to have 20 pies sitting on the table or 10 different appetizers. Remember that the main course is the star of your show. Set your menu in advance and remember to say NO.  If family members or friends want additional items on the table consider hosting a potluck.

    With each guest responsible for a side-dish and their own beverage, you can enjoy the weather and company without sacrificing your pocketbook. Track your progress towards a savings goal by becoming a Virginia Saver, you can utilize the My Savings Tracker for free to record deposits and monitor your progress.

    4. Set a schedule. There's a lot to do, and the best way to get it all done—and keep your cool—is to make a plan. Instead of keeping a to-do list in your head, write all your tasks down and then create a schedule so you can finish everything. Be tolerant of disappointment and changes in plans and remain flexible.

    5. Remember: take a meditative moment at least once a day to breathe deeply, clear your mind of all the clutter. Also get good sleep. Six to eight hours of sleep is recommended to help rejuvenate your body, maintain proper immune function and aid indigestion.

    11/19/2010

    The Holiday Party Blues: How to Have a Great Party on a Budget

    As we try to keep the holidays frugal and festive, there comes the question holiday parties. The idea is to have a great time with family and friends, but it is very hard not to overspend. The easiest ways to save is to create a budget, stick to it, and limit the number of guests attending the party. Ask each person to RSVP ahead of time, a day or two before the party, so that you are aware of the number of guests that are attending.

    If you want to minimize the food costs, have a gathering at a time of the day when people have already eaten, such as mid afternoon and you will only need to provide snacks. How about an appetizer or dessert party? These ideas keep your food requirements to a minimum. Plan on making most of the food yourself to cut costs on catering. Or better yet have a potluck and have each person bring an item to the party!

    You can also send your invitations via email. There is a great website, http://www.evite.com/, where you can create an online invite and email everyone on your list for free.

    Kids ADORE the goodie bag, but there is no reason for sending out or bringing home a plastic bag full of items that broken or forgotte, in in seconds--and having to pay for it! It is  100x more worthwhile to give out one nice, memorable item. However, this item does not have to be expensive.

    Doubling a craft as a favor is a great idea. Photographs make great party favors. Snap shots while at the party and have each child make and decorate their frames. Here are how-to links for popsicle stick crafts, which are inexpensive and fun to make- Craft Stick Picture Frames, Santa Ornaments, and Penguin Pals Ornaments.

    11/17/2010

    5 Items Worth Waiting For: What to Buy After the Holidays

    With so many of us returning gifts after the holiday season, here are a few items to wait on giving to your family and to yourself. The best deals are often found after the holiday season and into the new year.

    1. Baking Ingredients-During the holidays stores stock up on baking ingredients to meet customer needs. After the holidays have passed, they mark these prices down out of necessity. The same goes for red and green candy. You can sprinkle broken candy pieces, of melt them into cookie or brownie batter for unique creations.

    2.Wine- Bottles go on sale around the holidays and the prices get slashed even further the weeks that follow.

    3. Electronics- Open box, and clearance models of computers and other electronics usually pop up around January. The stores are trying to clear away older inventory in order to make room for the latest and greatest models.

    4. Refurbished Goods- Expect stores’ “refurbished” bins - where returned appliances and gadgets get a 10 to 20% discount - to be well-stocked after the holidays, as people return unwanted gifts. A note of caution however, make sure that these items are coming from dealers that offer a manufacturer’s warranty. That way you are guaranteed that the protect works before you purchase it, as some items may have a no-return policy.

    5. Holiday Cards- These items are usually marked down 50% after the holidays have passed, but if you wait until January, holiday cards and wrapping paper are often offered up to 75% off. This is a great time to stock up on bags, tissue paper, and accessories, if you have the extra storage space. Holiday lights also fall into this category.

    11/12/2010

    Building Your Emergency Fund

    The success of any long-range savings plan depends on consistently putting money away and leaving it there.People who are living on a lean-and-mean budget will have the toughest time setting aside money for emergencies. For beginning and more advanced savers, nothing is more important than the emergency fund. As the cornerstone of your savings plan, an emergency fund is your protection against unexpected, but inevitable, expenses.


    Figure out your goal & a place to save. Having an emergency savings fund may be the most important difference between those who manage to stay afloat and those who are sinking financially. That's because maintaining emergency savings of $500 to $1,000 allows you to easily meet unexpected financial challenges such as a car repair or medical bill and avoid high interest, short-term loans.
     
    Treat the emergency fund as a bill, and make sure to pay yourself first. If you don’t have much to save, it doesn’t matter — the important thing is just to start. Even if it’s only $25 per paycheck, just start. The savings will build. If you have discipline problems, there are accounts where you can have the amount deducted directly from your paycheck, before it’s deposited into your checking account.Individuals who save automatically are more than six times more likely to be successful long-term.
     
    Quite often, people who don’t have an emergency fund see the idea of having to save up money as some form of punishment – Wrong. Having an emergency fund gives you more room to breathe if something does happen, instead of having to squeeze the expense onto a credit card, or beg a friend for extra cash.
     
    If you want to have a savings account for big splurges, that’s great – start a “splurge fund,” too, if it makes sense for you. Many people see the emergency savings as being too tempting. They see that extra $500 dollars in savings as a trip, or a TV... and that's exactly what they spend it on.  It’s important, though, to just leave the emergency fund completely alone until you need it. Don’t even look at the balance until an actual emergency occurs.
     
    Track your progress. By enrolling as a Virginia Saver, you can utilize the Virginia Saves Savings Tracker for free to record deposits and monitor your progress. If you’re not sure where to find the money to start saving, cutting down expenses can be easier than you think. Institute a “no-spend day” and for each dollar you don’t spend, add to your emergency fun. Stay tuned for next week for even more ways to save on everyday expenditures!
     
    Some Tips to Help You Start:
    • Start Small- Build High: one great way to start is to set a goal that’s more reasonable. Make it your initial goal to have an emergency fund of just $250 or $500.
    • Focus on the Little Changes: Small ways to save money are everywhere. Packing your lunch, carpooling to work with friends, and transfering one monthly spluge like dining out to your savings by staying home can result in big savings.
    • Set Reasonable Milestones: Once you reach your smaller goals, set larger ones. You can build wealth!

    New vs. Used: Where to Spend and Where to Save

    We could do a lot of saving of the environment and our pocketbooks by becoming the second owner of a few items. There are some things like laptops that you should not buy used. However, lots of other stuff depreciates quickly while still having plenty of usable life left. Here are some of the dos and the don’ts…


    Books: USED: the reality is that most books don't get read more than once, if that, and they're astonishingly easy to find used at steep discounts -- if not absolutely free. Your local library, for example, may allow you to reserve titles online. This is the same for DVDs and CDs. The used versions of movies and CD's are  lot cheaper. Amazon, Barns & Noble , and Half.com offer deals on used items. An exception to this rule are reference books that you will use over and over again. However, you can usually find them used as well. Also, there are websites for textbook rentals for students. chegg.com is one of the websites that will allow you to rent textbooks, but also offers free shipping for sending them back to their store.


    Sports Equipment: USED: Happy hunting grounds: yard sales, newspaper and online ads, resale stores like Play It Again Sports. We buy many different types of equipment with the full intention of using it, but more often than not, they end up sitting gathering dust. However, an exceptions to this rule are shoes, and anything else that molds to the wearer's body.


    Helmets: NEW: A crash typically crushes the foam inside the helmet casing, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, so the damage may not be visible. Since, you cannot tell if a helmet has been involved in an accident, it is much smarter to buy new. Kid's sports and bike helmets retail for about $20; you'll pay $30 to $40 for the adult size. Motorcycle helmets usually start around $100. Spend the money. It is far less costly than a funeral for a loved one.


    Car Seats: NEW: A car seat that's been in one accident may not protect your child in another. And damaged car seats aren't uncommon. Brand-new car seats can often be purchased for as little as $50, and safety technology tends to improve with each year. If you do decide to use one from a family member or someone that you trust check with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make sure the model you're getting hasn't been recalled. Also, here is a National Highway Traffic Administration link to the Children's Safety Seat Inspection Station Locator. These services are often free of charge.


    Hand Tools: USED: If you're not going to use a tool frequently, you may be able to rent it or borrow from a friend or neighbor rather than buying. Well made tools can last for years. If you're looking at power tools, and are a busy do-it-yourselfer, you may want to buy new because power tools have a limited lifespan.


    Formal Wear: USED: Sometimes you'll need to buy formal clothing for special occasions, such as weddings or prom. Most people will take good care of formal clothing but will only wear it once or twice. Thrift stores, yard sales, online sellers and even some dress shops offer fantastic buys on used formal wear. Also many students donate their dresses. donatemydress.org offers information on where to donate and receive dresses.


    DVD Players, Laptops, and Camera Equipment: NEW: If you're going to spend the money on these high end items, you might as well buy new. While it’s smart to buy used DVDs, this doesn’t apply to DVD players. DVD players have lasers that will eventually wear out. The cost to repair or replace may cost more than the player is worth. Because of their portability, laptops are prone to all abuse and problems. Unless it has been refurbished, you don’t get the warranties and tech support that come with buying new.


    Vaccum Cleaners: NEW: Vacuums are among the heavy-duty household items that  get a lot of use and abuse. They can also cost more to fix than if you bought them new right from the start.

    Feasting for Less

    First the larger turkeys are cheaper than the smaller ones, so buy the largest one that you can. If you don't want tons of leftovers, the local national chain grocery store butcher will cut the turkey in half for you. Just freeze the other half for a later date. Without so many leftovers the family may be more willing to have turkey again. Also, that's one less thing to purchase for a later date when family and friends are gathering.

    Frozen turkey is the least expensive kind to purchase since they have a longer shelf life than fresh turkeys. However frozen turkeys require more preparation time since the bird needs to be defrosted ahead of time which can take up to several days. You need to consider how busy you anticipate being on Thanksgiving Day to weigh if a fresh or pre-seasoned turkey's cost is worth the time it saves you in preparation.

    Go potluck this year. Contact your guests to let them know the planned meal. If some of them offer to help, have them bring a portion of that meal. Not only is this a frugal time and money saver for you, your guests will more than likely be happy that they were able to contribute.

    If you are open to considering a vegetarian holiday, it is a great way to save because rice, beans, and vegetables are a lot cheaper than meat and healthier for you too! Also, selecting recipes based on the ingredients already in your pantry, spice rack or refrigerator is a smart way to save. Balance "expensive" and "cheap" dishes. Limit the number of dishes requiring expensive ingredients. Choose your family's favorites and serve inexpensive dishes to complement them.

    Boxed wine is dramatically cheaper than bottled wine. On average, one box of wine is equivalent to four bottles. Most boxed wine is $20 or less, which equates to $5 per bottle. Water, coffee (.03¢ per 8oz serving), tea (.04¢ per serving) and Kool-Aid (.05¢ per serving) are about the least expensive beverages available.

    Shop smart, buy non-perishable items months in advance when they are on sale. Be a savvy shopper. Take advantage of each store's specials without falling into the extra spending trap. Watch those "giveaways". Don't let the idea of getting something free entice you to buy extras you wouldn't normally purchase.

    Other Resources:

    •  

    11/09/2010

    How to Create Your Budget

    The first thing that anyone who wants to make a budget must do is to compare their income versus their expenses. The good thing is that it is easy to do. It's as simple as that expenses that are greater than income are bad, and income that is greater than total expenses.

    There are two rules to a simple budget. 
    1. You can’t spend more than you earn – carrying a balance on a credit card is not allowed.
    2. Money must go to the budget categories as soon you get paid
    Remember: 
    • Track where your money is going: Look at where your money is going over the course of a week or a month.
    • You also need to make a list of expenses that, while not regular monthly bills, occur periodically and must be accounted for. 

    Make choices and consider the structure of your budget. Most pre-designed systems are designed on a monthly budget cycle.

    Rather than having twenty or thirty different categories, focus on the main ones. A sample of this would be as follows:

    Monthly Budget:
    $3000 per month
    Net income (income after withholding) $2160

    Housing: $800
    Utilities: $300
    Groceries $500
    Emergency: 120
    Medical Insurance and transportation: $100 
    Other Credit: $100
    Misc. Expenses: $50
    Entertainment: $20
    Savings: $20

    More Resources:

    The 25 Days of Holiday Savings: Decorating Ideas on a Budget

    Decorating for the Holidays can be stressful, not to mention expensive. The tinsel, trappings, and thingamabobs start to add up. However, there are lots of other ways to decorate your home. Here are 25 easy ways to redecorate for the season.

    1. Decorate with holiday ribbon. The ribbon can be tied to curtains, banisters, windows, and placed on mantles with a few unlit candles.
    2. Bring the outdoors indoors. Don't be afraid to use pine cones and needles for decorations. The cones can also be painted or dipped in glitter for unique ornaments.
    3.Want a unique table runner? Use an old holiday scarf instead!
    4.Wrap your doors in Christmas wrapping paper and attach large bows make from fabric or purchased at your local craft store.
    5. Use a holiday pop-up book as a centerpiece. Just open the book up to a desirable picture and place the open book in the center of your table.
    6.Trim door frames, window frames and the edges of mirrors with Christmas garland.
    7. Create an red and green display in your kitchen using a collection standard food items. Jars of olives, sun dried tomatoes, pickles, red peppers, cans with red or green labels.
    8. For convincing "snow" on your tree  lay lengths of rolled cotton, available at drugstores, on the branches.
    9. Stuffing potpourri in bowls or baskets is another great idea to make a beautiful centerpiece.
    10. Tie cinnamon sticks with ribbons and hang them from the mantle, Christmas tree, etc.
    11.Hang old greeting cards from the Christmas tree. You can also make a collage of the cards and decorate the wall behind the fireplace with it.
    12. Make your own garlands with the help of popcorn, buttons, beads, cranberries, charms, candies, etc. Use these garlands for decorating the house.
    13. Decorate with a candy canes. Place in a clear tall vase and tie with a ribbon for a festive centerpiece.
    14.  Hang mistletoe everywhere.
    15. Many of us have collected small treasures over the years: knick-knacks that embody the memories of past Christmas festivities. One approach is to place them sparsely, one or two per room. This can turn the whole home into a memory lane.

    16.Take your throw pillows and tie them with holiday colored ribbons either once around the middle or like a holiday gift.
    17. Take soup, vegetable or peanut cans and create new places for gift stuffing. Decorate with holiday wrapping paper or children's drawings.
    18. Take household bottles and spray paint them in holiday colors. Place flowers, candles, or twigs inside for an inexpensive accent piece.
    19.Put metal cookie cutters into a bowl with a pretty Christmas ribbon.
    20.Put a teddy bear on a stack of holiday books
    21.Food is a large part of Christmas and you can use fruits and nuts as a natural way to decorate.Use apples, oranges, and nuts.
    22.Use helium balloons with fancy ribbons tied to little decorative sandbags. They are very inexpensive and look great.
    23.Make a gingerbread house for a beautiful centerpiece.
    24.Have a lot of scrap Christmas fabric from years past? Use it to make a simple square patchwork quilt as a throw for the couch, and add a lot of holiday spirit to the room!
    25.Take down your pictures and wrap them then hang them back on the wall for great holiday cheer!

    Remember:
    Garage sales are a treasure trove of Christmas decorations. Summer and fall is the peak of garage sale season and is a good time to stock up on holiday decorations. Thrift stores also have interesting items, that may be used for very little cost.  As an extra resource, here are 101 Decorating Ideas for around the house.  

    11/07/2010

    The Cost of Holiday Credit

    With holiday sales beginning for the 2010 season, you will likely see offers for discounts if you use your store credit cards.  Retailers are very aware of studies that indicate that if you are swiping plastic for your purchases, you are likely to spend on average 10% more than if you paid with cash.  Credit cards can provide convenience for shoppers, but buyer beware: unless you are disciplined in repayment, these card purchases can cost you more in the long run than any discount you may have received.

    Using a cool calculator we found on bankrate.com http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/managing-debt/minimum-payment-calculator.aspx  that calculates both the interest paid and the total length of credit card debt, we found that by inputting the average family holiday credit of $500, that if I make the minimum payment on these purchases, I will be in debt for over four years and pay as much as $450 in interest.  That increases the total cost of my holiday from $500 to up to $950!

    Because of the new credit card laws that were inacted in 2010, you can easily see the cost of making minimum payments.  One way you can avoid the debt trap during the holiday season is to check out Virginia Saves new Holiday Treasure Kit.  This is a compilation of great ideas for saving on food, decorations and giving during the holidays.  Also, there are great tools for getting greater financial control into 2011.  You can get your Holiday Treasure Kit by visiting http://www.virginiasaves.org/.  While there, sign up to become a saver for great savings and debt reduction strategies throughout the year. 

    Don't be a victim, but be a victor as you establish solid financial strategies that will sustain you all year long.

    11/01/2010

    Four Golden Rings! The Four Kinds of Savings

    Financial advisors recommend four different kinds of savings:



    1. Savings for irregular expenses: vacations, weddings, birthdays and holidays don't happen every month, but we know they are coming. Here are some ideas for saving for those special events: a. know how much you are going to spend in advance. Many times these expenses can throw our budget into a death spiral because we didn't plan in advance. For example: earmark savings for vacation to be say $500. That seems like a lot of money, but if you save throughouth the year it translates into $41.67 per month. Some banks and credit unions offer special accounts like Christmas clubs and special savings accounts to keep you on track with your savings plan. These can also be used to be collateral for a small loan as you are building your credit (another topic).

    2. Savings for unexpected costs: this is what is known as an emergency fund or a contingency fund. On average every family experiences about $2,000 in unexpected costs each year whether it is an appliance failure, car repair, acts of God like weather, or an accident we all have unexpected expenses...expect them. If we save an extra $166 per month for those expenses, you will never have to go to the credit card or the bank to borrow money. You will borrow from yourself and feel all the more secure knowing you were able to meet those unexpected expenses on your own.

    3.Savings for large purchases: lets face it, if you drive a car eventually it will need to be replaced. Children will hopefully pursue education to secure better income potential like college or trade school. Furniture, appliances and maybe even some recreational items can be costly. The biggest purchase of all we will likely make is purchase of a home. Savings can be all important to allow you to get the things you need and want without jeopardizing the monthly budget and going into debt.

    4. Savings for retirement: Your retirement cash flow will likely come from three potential sources: a. Social Security (if you read your Social Security statement you receive each year you will see a special disclaimer: "In 2016 we will begin paying more in benefits than we collect in taxes. Without changes, by 2037 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted* and there will be enough money to pay only about 76 cents for each dollar of scheduled benefits." At best Social Security will likely replace less than 40% of your current income b. Employer Pension: some employers still offer a pension or a regular monthly annuity after retirement. The size of the annuity varies, but is usually significantly less than your current paycheck. c. Your Savings: your savings is going to be the best provision you have to enjoy retirement years without having to continue working to subsidize the costs of living. Your savings will be the funds you will use to take trips, spoil grandchildren and to provide for any additional expenses related to declining health (I hope you never experience).

    Big savings is great, but every little bit counts, so start small and think big. Penny pinching can yield tremendous future benefits. Don't be ashamed to be a pincher, pinch and watch your savings grow!

    If you haven't become a saver, stop by our website at www.virginiasaves.org and enroll today. This may be the day you begin to achieve your dreams!

    Temptations: How to Have Fun While Saving this Winter

    As the temperature cools down, the temptation to spend heats up. Between family visits and nights out with friends, winter can be fraught with expenses. Saving money and enjoying the snow can be synonymous. Take advantage of the following savings tips to inexpensively enjoy your holiday season:


    Temptation 1. – What am I going to wear?


    Rather than purchase a new winter wardrobe, host a clothing swap with your friends, family, and neighbors. Everyone can get “new to them” accessories and clothing without having to spend a dime.

    Temptation # 2 – What am I going to do for fun this winter?


    Don’t spend your savings to go to the movies. Consider hitting cheaper matinees or borrowing recent flicks for free from the library. Look for free festivals or indoor concerts in your area. Grab a few board games and a few healthy snacks. Also a few hours before dinner head over to your local ice skating ring and rent a pair of skates. It usually only cost around $6 a person for a few hours of skating.

    Temptation # 3 – What are we going to eat?

    Host a potluck rather than go out to eat. With each guest responsible for a side-dish and their own beverage, you can enjoy the weather and company without sacrificing your pocketbook.
    Make sure to bank your savings! Track your progress towards a savings goal by becoming a Virginia Saver, you can utilize the My Savings Tracker for free to record deposits and monitor your progress.

    More Resources:


    Make More Money Before the Holiday Season

    Here are some quick and easy tips to make more money before the holidays:

    • Apply for a seasonal position: A lot of retailers hire on new members to their teams during the holiday season. Not only is it a way to build cash over the season, but also can be an easy way to establish contacts, build your resume, and learn important new job skills. Be persistent and dedicated in your search. A online application may be quick and easy, but coming and showing face time the old fashioned way looks more impressive.  If acceptable, remember to bring a small portfolio or sample of your work along with you. Also dress well and prepare yourself by gathering information about the company. They will appreciate your interest!
    • Get rid of things you don't need: Sell unwanted items like DVDs, video games, or comic books to specialty stores which generally give you a better deal. For collector’s items or items of higher value, list online through auction websites. Hold a garage or yard sale to get rid of your remaining items or things of lower value. If you don’t have much to sell, consider hosting a joint or neighborhood sale to increase traffic
    • Use your hobbies to your advantage :If you are a gifted crafter, consider selling your crafts at local fairs or online. Got a way with words? Make money through blogging by charging for ad space. The larger your number of readers, the more you can charge for ad space. Additionally, freelance writing or editing opportunities can be found online.
    • Create an odd jobs service: Take advantage of opportunities around the neighborhood. Do you have an elderly neighbor who might need help putting up holiday lights? What about babysitting? Look around and ask questions. Mow laws for $20 to $30 dollars a yard, depending on size. Dog walking is another odd job that pays well, the normal charge being about $10- $15 dollars per dog. Remember to advertise yourself, and your services!
    For more tips and information:

    Decking the Halls: Decorating on a Budget

    A lot of extra money is wasted over the holiday season. Reusable items such as gift bags, strings of holiday lights, and extra wrapping paper, is thrown away. Also conveniences such as professional gift wrapping and novelty attachments can really add up. By creating your own holiday spending plan, you can organize your inventory of items for each person on your list. Also, it becomes easy to see how much you are actually spending verses the estimated cost.

    Decorating For the Holidays:
    • Consider inexpensive decorating strategies, such as children's artwork and crafts
    • Inspect and inventory holiday decorations and only purchase items to enhance current decorations
    • Check light strands for cracked or broken bulbs and replace bulbs. The bulbs are less expensive.

    Some Other Resources:

    Budget Decorating for the Holidays


    10 Great Decorating Ideas on a Budget

    We’ve also included a chart to help you keep an inventory of items. By keeping a detailed inventory, you will know exactly what you have and where it is located. Don’t waste money on replacement items if you don’t have to!

    Worksheet:


    Your Holiday Decorating Chart

    How to Use the Holiday Decorating Chart:

    • Write the year the item was bought
    • Write the decoration name and description
    • Write the storage area of the item
    • Write how many of that item will need to be repurchased.
    • Keep the list handy for next year, and write down your shopping list according to the chart

    10/29/2010

    Gift Giving Ideas for the Holidays: Gifts from the Heart

    The holidays should be a time for happiness and celebration. Most families look forward to gift-giving, holiday activities, and visits with families. However, it can also be stressful with hectic shopping trips, budget planning, and the holiday “hustle and bustle”. Holidays can be even more complicated when finances (especially credit cards) become overwhelming. Focus on alternative gifts to your family and friends without spending a fortune. Some suggestions are as follows:

    • Take advantage of sales throughout the year
    • Create your own gift baskets
    • Baked goods make excellent gifts using your favorite recipes.
    • Fill a basket with ingredients for your favorite dish and include the recipe.
    • Consider a gift subscription to a favorite magazine or newsletter.
    • Construct a personalized picture by framing a holiday card.
    • Take some of your favorite homemade jellies and jams and gift as gifts.


    P.R.E.S.E.N.T.S More Tips On How to Save

    Click Here For More Gift Giving Ideas

    Next, consiter making your own wrapping paper with stamps or fingerpaint, and reuse bags from last year. Make your own wrapping paper using fabric. The fabric can be used later for other projects. There is no right or wrong way to wrap with fabric. Be creative. Personalize a sweatshirt or t-shirt with fabric paints for interesting gifts. Fabric paints can be found in most discount and hobby/craft stores. Follow paint directions carefully.

    Also making a personal coupon book is another inexpensive gift for the holidays. Offer services that reflect your interests and your talents. A night of babysitting for a couple with a new baby, cleaning out a quarter or a half of car grange space, or a free back rub after a hard day are much appreciated gifts of time. The coupon books are easy to make, and we’ve included an example template that can be found here: Gift Coupons

    Also spend time not money. Going out and doing things together can mean a lot more to family members than expensive gifts. Don’t be afraid to be creative.

    Creating Your Holiday Savings Plan

    Sale doesn't always mean savings. That's why it is important to create your savings plan for the holiday season. Holidays -- once a time for family, food and gifts -- are now prime seasons of financial peril. When using credit cards to purchase items, it's easy to forget how much has been actually spent. Here we've written some guidelines to help make the holidays manageable.

    It’s easy to overspend during the holidays. An American Express survey found its customers plan to spend approximately $1,500 this year on gifts alone. If you are concerned about staying within your limits, create a plan:


    • Decide on how much you can afford to spend
    • Budget in hand, write down your shopping lists for the year
    • Look at the list and see where you can cut back
    • Don’t forget to include the extras when you create your budget
    • Plan your gift buying shopping trips
    • Use store’s convenient lay-a-way plan, if unable to pay for full item
    • Make gifts at home: baked goods, picture collages, or arts and crafts

    1. Tally up your day-to-day expenses. List your monthly living costs, including essentials like house or rent payments, food, transportation to work and utilities. Once you know how much you are spending on the “need-to-have” items for your family, the easier it is to create a budget.
    2. Prioritize what needs need to be attended to first. Once you know your priorities, create a gift list of who you want to give gifts and what you plan to purchase. Cut back on gifts for "social" friends; give a card or better yet, be creative – buy supplies in bulk and make homemade individualized gifts.

    3. Create a Chart: Using the worksheet at the end of the post create a chart of who you are going to be buying items for, how much you estimate to spend on the items, and how much they actually cost. The chart provides an easy way to see where your money is going. Does your money go towards the little extras like gift wrapping, does it go towards traveling, or does it go towards family phone calls? By figuring out how much you estimate on spending, you can “cut the fat” from other areas.

    4. Focus on alternative gifts to your family and friends without spending a fortune. Reduce holiday expenses and make gifts that will be treasured by your family and friends for years to come.

    5. Use a planner: Use a planner to help organize when you are going to buy gifts. Some stores offer huge sales in accordance with the holiday, or during certain times of the day for a few hours. Go there early in order to bag the best deals on items. Combine money saving coupons with sales for extra savings. A lot of stores now offer their coupons online for extra convenience.

    6. Remember How Much is Spent on Little Extras: Little items that are nice to have, like stocking stuffers, can really add up over time. They are small items. It's easy to forget how much they cost over time. between the candy, Dollar Tree items, and little gifts. Record those stocking stuffers! Click here for an easy to use chart.

    Shopping tips:
    • Don’t wait until the day before the big event to shop
    • Leave the credit cards at home
    • Charge carefully
    • Get organized
    •Remember that online items will cost more due to shipping charges

    Also spend time not money. Going out and doing things together can mean a lot more to family members than expensive gifts. Don’t be afraid to be creative. Consider a secret Santa gift giving event where each person pulls out a name out of a hat, and buys only for that person. Each person only gets one gift, but each person spends less.


    Worksheets:

    Savings Plan Worksheet

    Savings Planner

    10 Tips to Bag a Bargain

    1. Read the Ads: Read the local newspaper, or store brochures to find out what is on sale and when. Combine money saving coupons with sales for extra savings. A lot of stores now offer their coupons online for extra convenience.

    2. Evaluate the Deals: Ready-Set-Shop… but with an open mind. If you find a better deal on an item go ahead and substitute. Compare the deals in the store.

    3. Research the Right Product: An off brand furniture polish might work just as well as another more expensive name brand cleaner. Also, you can save money on grocery items by comparing unit price or price by ounce. To find unit price, divide the total cost of the item by the number of ounces: a pound package of pasta that costs $1.60 carries a unit price of 10 cents. However, for those of us who are on a tight time frame, many areas require the stores to post the unit prices on the tags. The type is tiny, but the information is located in the small print! Continuing, you’ll also want to make sense of multiple pricing. Offering products at prices like "2 for $7" or "3 for $5" are designed to do two things: obscure the true price of a single item, and pressure shoppers into buying more than one.

    4. Save with “Triple Plays” Many grocery stores double coupons, but some will even triple them from time to time. Increase your savings by combining a manufacturer coupon with a store coupon for the same item; or take it to the savings extreme by combining a manufacturer coupon with a store coupon, a sale and a rebate.

    5. Be an Early Bird: Wake up early and get those savings! Some stores offer huge sales in accordance with the holiday, or during certain times of the day for a few hours. Go there early in order to bag the best deals on items. Success comes to those who prepare and put in the extra effort. So roll up your sleeves, read the papers, and find those coupons

    6. Beat the Early Birds: Beat the early birds by stocking up on items that you use frequently when they are on sale! Deals change frequently. Pick up papers as you travel as coupons and sales usually vary from region to region, combine BOGO (by one get one) sales with buy one get one free coupons, and coupon the clearance racks for more savings.

    7. Check the Return Policy: Just how long do you have to return an item? Are all sales final after purchase? These are important questions. Some stores require you to have the proof of purchase (receipt) for the item that you have bought in order for it to be returned. Other stores will accept the item, but take it for the lowest sales value. Often stores have a certain time period in order for an item to be returned, so make sure you know how long you have to return an item before you buy it.

    8. Get a Gift Receipt: As much as we try to get the perfect gift for everyone, each year a large number of individuals get a gift that is the wrong size, something they already have, or something that they do not want. For that reason, a large number of gift recipients end up taking their gifts back. Give a gift receipt along with the gifts that you give, and ask for gift receipts. There’s no sense in keeping an item that you cannot use, or don’t want.

    9. Use the Right Credit Card: Buyer Beware! It is easy to buy, and keep on buying during the holiday season. Compare the interest rates on your credit cards. Carry just one, and make sure to think who you are buying the item for, what it is, how long it will take to pay it off and why you are buying the item. A lot of retail store credit cards have higher interest rates, so be sure to understand and compare them. Use our Credit Card Cozy, and remember to think before you spend.

    10. Save more with Price Guarantees: low-price guarantees have the potential to offer a good value; but, they require research, personal advocacy, patience, and lots of follow-up. No two guarantees are exactly alike, and what gets you a refund at one store may not hold any weight with another. Read up and research for the best guarantees.

    For an Easy Reminder:

    10 Tips to Bag a Bargain Memory Sheet

    10/27/2010

    Holiday Grocery Shopping: How to Bring Home the Bacon without Breaking the Pig

    Believe it or not, the average family of four spends more than $500 on groceries and food each month.
    You can easily add another $50 or $100 to your monthly savings by making simple changes. Using the easy menu chart is like writing a grocery list. By using the chart you can track exactly what you buy. Also, we have included some easy tips to help you save more and spend less over the holiday season.

    Holiday Meal Planning: Why plan out your meals? Planning meals may seem strange when most of us are hustling to get the job done. A planned menu saves time, money, and reduces stress. Reducing trips to the supermarket, a menu plan reduces impulse spending. Also, a meal plan improves good nutrition allowing more time for healthy sidedishes and salads to be prepared, complementing your meal.
    How to Use:

    • Write the date of when you purchased the item Take advantage of plentiful coupons and rebates in advance, by buying non-perishable items when they are on sale. If you buy certain items regularly, stock up for additional savings.

    • Write the occasion.

    • Write down the food item. This helps you create an inventory.

    • Finally write down who is bringing a certain item. By having each family member be responsible for one or two items on the menu, you not only save money, but create new family traditions!

    Write a Grocery List: Writing up a grocery list that is efficient, time saving and accurate takes a little planning. However, it can save you big money saved in extra items, and trips to the store. You may want to look at the in store sales and coupons you have before you make your menu up. Bulk buy whenever practical and save on cost per ounce or pound.

    How to Use:


    • Write what items you need and the quantity on the chart

    • Organize according to the layout of the store to save yourself time and money.

    • Know what you need. Then you won’t be tempted to spend on extra items.

    • Check store ads and flyers for on sale money saving specials

    Worksheets:

    Holiday Meal Planner:

    Grocery List:

    Also, to help you here are 20 ways to spend less on groceries.

    10/25/2010

    Fall into Saving Money Around the House

    We all like to save money, but who says a thrifty nest can look like a designer one? Here are some ways to save money around the house and give your home a fresh new look for fall.

    In the Bedroom:

    Giving the bedroom a fresh new look does not have to be expensive. A fresh coat of paint, or focusing on the main centerpieces of the room, such as the bed, can completely change it. Finding a comforter you like will help determine the color scheme for the rest of the room. Reversible, solid colored comforters are a good choice, because they offer twice as many design options. There's no better way to add a quick splash of color and comfort to your drab room. You can spend a fortune on designer throw pillows, but don't. Cheap ones are available just about anywhere. A big comfortable reading pillow will come in handy as well. If you're crafty create a photo and postcard mural, and turn it into a unique poster.

    In the Bathroom:

    Check the thrift stores for small hanging photographs. Depending on the picture and the size of the frame, you may hang it directly, or decide to frame a poster of your own. Towels are another way to add a bright splash of color without having to spend too much money-- about $30 dollars for a six piece set. Small, inexpensive baskets, can also turn into cute storage spaces. Also, when it comes to cleaning instead of buying paper towels over and over again, re purpose old t-shirts as dusting and dishrags cutting down on waste.

    In the Kitchen:

    Brighten up the kitchen by using mirrors to reflect incoming light, small ones, such as mirrors that would be placed in a locker, can be decorated in all sorts of ways. Bring the outdoors inside too, and don't be afraid to accessorize with small discount or thrift store items. Choose a theme and you could give your kitchen a whole new look just by replacing some key accessories like, dish towels, salt and pepper shakers and pot holders.

    Also inside the kitchen, save money on food by freezing it. Buy shredded cheese in bulk when you see a deal. Sprinkle in cornstarch to prevent sticking, then freeze. Milk and bread, and nuts can also be frozen for later use. Also save on energy costs by hand washing dishes after small snack. After the dishwasher's final rinse, open the door and pull out the racks. Let the dishes air-dry to save electricity.

    10/22/2010

    Money Saving Ideas for Halloween

    Halloween is fast approaching. Here are some easy and inexpensive party ideas for you and your little goblins to have a good time, but without the financial monster in the closet.


    1. Consider filling a homemade piƱata with treats and goodies, instead of buying numerous party favors. They are easily made from old newspaper and Elmer’s glue. This project is extremely creative, not just limited to painting a face! Cutting out ears from old plastic bottles, using brightly colored old magazines for wild hair, or the insides of a toilet paper tube for a nose, are just a few ideas using what would be thrown away around the house. Here is a link to show you how to make your own http://www.chevroncars.com/learn/fun-games/how-to-make-pinata.


    2. Don't use an expensive table cloth for the party. Instead buy a cheap plastic table cloth and decorate it with permeate markers-- everyone gets to sign and doodle all over it, and afterwards the table cloth can be hung up for both children and parents to admire. Another easy way to do this is with construction paper, and letting each child create his or her own placemat.

    3. Consider visiting thrift shops and using in house items for costumes. Old hats, dresses, and coats can be used to create a variety of personalities. A zombie costume, for example, can be made from ripping up an old t-shirt and jeans and applying a little eyeliner or dark eye shadow. Make sure to test your product before applying to your eyes as some products can cause allergic reactions. For more ideas visit
    http://www.robinsfyi.com/holidays/halloween/costumes.htm

    4. Skip the usual orange and black color scheme this Halloween and opt for something a bit different. Red is a bold choice that not only packs a big visual punch, but also allows you to recycle staple decorations from Christmas, Valentine's Day or Fourth of July to keep costs down.

    5. Take a Halloween trust walk. Place a few random items on the table such as a water balloon, noodles, candy corn, the top of the feather duster, or a small piece of crumpled tin foil. What are these items? Blindfolded, the squishy water balloon becomes a monsters nose, the noodles worms, and the candy corn vampire teeth and so on. Encourage group members to lead each other. The stories can get really wild!

    6. Consider each person bringing a small snack or drink for the party. Not only do you save money as you do not have to buy all of the food items, but it also opens up the floor for some really creative recipes. For more ideas visit. http://familyfun.go.com/halloween/halloween-recipes/halloween-snacks/

    9/30/2010

    Myths about Debt and Marriage

    Credit Cards.com is a great website to learn about all the little gotcha's of credit.  Recently we found this Q&A from one of their blogs "To Her Credit".  She provides the truth about four myths of marriage and credit:

    Myth No. 1: As long as credit cards are in your spouse's name, you're safe.

    Myth No. 2: If you move out, for purposes of community property laws, the marriage is over.

    Myth No. 3: In divorce, he'll have to pay for things he bought.

    Myth No. 4: If a divorce court says one spouse has to pay off a debt, the other spouse can stop worrying about it.

    Check out the article and know the truth about how your spouses credit can impact you!  Visit To Her Credit and tell us what you think!

    Cash Cushion How to Guide from the Fool's School

    Motley Fool, a website dedicated to investor education, has developed a great "how-to" on developing your own cash cushion for yourself.  Since the unexpected expenses happen in everyone's life, we might as well plan for them.  It soften's the blow in the long run. 

    If you are like most people, there is more month than money and so the preparations get thwarted from the get-go.  We need the extra help to get started.  Motley Fool makes getting started easy by presenting a four step plan.  Check out the article here.

    Let us know what you think.  Have you gotten started building your cushion?  What strategies did you use?

    Understanding Financial Reforms

    In the news we hear lots of talk about Financial Reform with politicians and political pundits coming out either in favor or against for one reason or another.  It is great to know opinions particulary from our leadership about the reform, but what are the true facts and how can we know what Financial Reform means to us?  To help us, Consumer Action has prepared a Financial Reform Fact Sheet containing a summary of the federal legislation recently signed into law. Financial Reform Summary

    This link provides a PDF document written in easy to read language on the major provisions of financial reform and what they mean for you. This reform was passed as to strengthen consumer protection of
    financial products and services, limit taxpayer liability for financially risky banks, and prevent or stop the spread of unfair and deceptive practices. Major provisions include:
    • Creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
    • Mortgage reform with greater protection and disclosures for consumers
    • Assistance for foreclosure prevention
    • Access to free credit scores in certain circumstances
    • Permanent protection of up to $250,000 of bank deposits
    • and many others
    This summary can help you to develop your own opinion on financial reform and whether it is good for you.  Read it for yourself and let us know what you think.

    More People Liquidate in a Tough Economy

    The U.S. Courts reported that as of June 30, 2010 that Chapter 7 filings are up 25% for the 12 month period over the same period ending June 30, 2009.  This is compared with Chapter 13 filings up 10% for the same periods.  The total number of bankrupcy filings both personal and business were over 1.5 million filings the largest since bankruptcy abuse provisions went into effect. So what does this mean?

    It would seem that more people are not able to demonstrate an ability to repay their debts in bankruptcy and are opting for a liquidation of assets in order to get out from under the burden of their debt.  No one wants to relinquish their possessions, but this filing is usually used only as a last resort.  The impact of a bankruptcy filing can hinder your ability to obtain credit and even to get a job or insurance. 

    It is no wonder with the number of unemployed individuals even though Virginia is among the states with better prospects for employments still unemployment figures for the state are higher this year than last.
    Most families build a budget based on the presumption that employment will continue uninterrupted.  Making plans for job loss and/or disability (even while you hope it never happens) helps you to be able to continue meeting your obligations even when the unexpected occurs.  Let's face it, who hasn't had an unexpected expense occur this year alone?

    Planning ahead while you are still employed can save you the long-term devastating impact of lost or reduced wages.  Financial Planners recommend between three to six months of savings at a minimum to carry you through an emergency.  If we are honest, most of us would have to admit we don't have that kind of savings, but here is the secret - start small and build your savings over time and don't touch it until a true emergency arises.  Because true emergencies are rare, your savings will build over the years to be a cushion of security when you need it most.

    The best way to start that nest egg is to make savings automatic.  Have a portion of your paycheck directed to your savings account even before your net pay is deposited to your checking for bill payment.  You will never see the deposit and you can build your spending plan on the rest once the savings plan is addressed.  Contact your payroll department today and start saving for your future.