Category Archives: Smart money tips

Planning For A Holiday Road Trip

road trip

So, I do some crazy things at times. You can blame it on the fact that I’m young, you can blame it on the fact that I have a bit of a wanderlust in me, you can blame it on a whole lot of things, but I do crazy (and fun) stuff. This year, my crazy thing is going on a month-long road trip for the holidays. It’ll be the first period of time that I’ll have free time for more than a month, so I will be seeing family and friends that I haven’t seen in a long time.

Anyway, I started planning for this trip yesterday, and it’s always a fun experience. I was the one that my friends wanted to plan trips, so it’s definitely something that I enjoy doing. Here are some ways that I keep my costs for trips low.

Look at your gas mileage… and overestimate what you may need. I know this doesn’t sound like a way to save money, but it really is. Why? Because if you overestimate how much gas will be, then you’ll be sure to save too much, which means you’ll have a little extra for a night out on the town or something like that. Gas prices change, too, so it gives you some breathing room in terms of that.

Stay with friends or consider a hostel. My whole trip involves visiting family and friends, which ends up saving me a lot of money in the long run. Make sure to bring some stuff to compensate (like I plan on bringing food and such to the places I’m staying), because that’s just good manners, but overall, it’s a great idea. Hostels are a fairly cheap overnight option too; most run $30-$40 a night and have most of the stuff you’d need. They’re pretty cozy too; I stayed in one on my trip on the Appalachian Trail last September.

Try not to eat on the road. It’s hard. Food is tasty, and fast food is a great option, but don’t eat it all of the time. Not only is it absolutely horrible for you in terms of calorie consumption; it’s going to drive up those costs that you really don’t need. Pack car-friendly snacks and meals, consider using one of those travel coolers that plug into a power source in your car, anything to save on the dent that food on the go can put in your wallet.

Take advantage of Triple A and other discounts. I love Triple A. It’s the best thing ever in my opinion. I’ve saved money on everything from prescriptions to oil changes. If you don’t have an AAA membership, get one. Also, consider finding Groupons for the places you may be going…. you can get some great deals you may not find otherwise!

How do you reduce the cost of your trips? Are you getting ramped up to do some major holiday traveling? Do you have any other thoughts? Share some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week.

Life Insurance Facts

Life insurance is one of those things that no one likes to think about unless they absolutely have to. It’s stressful to think about the end of your life, and a lot of people use the excuse that they are “too young” or “too healthy” to think about such a thing. But, let me tell you, it’s never too early to think about the preparations for the end of your life. My mom passed away about 2 and a half years ago now, and she was in her mid-forties.    So, you can’t use excuses anymore; there are financial and personal reasons to think about life insurance and other end-of-life preparations way ahead of time.

Today, we’re going to look at a few facts about life insurance that people may or may not know.

Singles need it too. I’m single and I have some pretty basic life insurance. It’s not a ton, but I have it. Why? Because even if I don’t end up with any beneficiaries, I still have to be buried and such. No one may be getting my money, but I still have to deal with end-of-life expenses. So, please, even if you’re single, have at least minimal life insurance to make up for those kinds of important costs.

There’s never really too much life insurance. Life insurance really isn’t that expensive if you get it early enough in life and you’re in relatively good health. Some people go by the “twice my yearly salary” rule, but if you have things like a mortgage payment or some other sort of excessive debt, you may want to consider getting more than that. My mom wanted money to leave my brother and I, even though we were likely going to be adults when she passed away (I was, my brother wasn’t). That money doesn’t replace you, but it can ease some strains on your family members if you leave them a little extra than what’s needed. Consider these things when you’re trying to figure out exactly how much life insurance to get.

Make sure your beneficiaries know your information. Please do this. When my grandmother was sick and dying (a year and a half before my mom passed), my mom had to dig around in order to find the information she needed. We didn’t even really know about the life insurance policy until my grandma had enough clarity one day to tell my mom where the stuff was. If you don’t know about insurance policies, the insurance company is not likely to contact you about it. Your loved ones need to reach out to the insurance agencies in order to get your benefits. Do everything you can to make that process as seamless as possible.

Have you thought about life insurance? What are some of your plans for your end-of-life money dealings? Do you struggle with talking about this, or have personal stories about life insurance flub-ups? Share some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Crazy, Crazy Gas Prices

Gas prices. I don’t drive a lot, because I live in a small town where everything I need is within about a 10 mile radius. It’s nice, because I really only have to get gas when I go to class (about an hour and a half or so from where I live, every  other month or so) or when I’ve driven a lot for one reason or another. This lack of distance driving has caused my car insurance to go down, which is nice.

But even the way gas prices are hurts quite a bit for someone like me. This past week, gas prices rose to basically $4 a gallon, a price that I really never, ever wanted to see. I remember it happening when I was in college, but somehow I dodged that bullet, because it topped out at about $4.30 a gallon, and then dropped, quite rapidly, to around $2.75. Now, I haven’t seen gas that low in a really, really long time, and, as you can see… it’s back up to $4 again, and I don’t think it’s going to plummet like it did back in… I think it was 2006? I can’t remember.

Political unrest, a bad economy, and a variety of other things can cause the gas prices to go up and down. This current increase in gas prices is likely due to inflation and the world economy being at an all-time low. Thankfully, I live in one of the states where there aren’t a whole ton of taxes on it (PA) but when I lived in the northern part of the state, I would drive through New York from time to time. And the gas prices? 30 or 40 cents higher. Yeah, you always got your gas in PA if you were expecting to go up to New York for anything.

One of the other things that I’ve done is invest my money in a motorized scooter (not a mo-ped… it doesn’t have pedals). I spent about $450 on it (including the title over to me; I bought it from a friend so it was really cheap), and since I bought it last summer, it totally paid for itself. I have filled my gas tank once since June; I’ve driven the moped more than the car this summer, and to not be filling my tank up? Best thing ever.

Also, I try not to drive when I can walk or carpool. Walking’s just plain good for you, and taking turns with people allows for all of us to save money on gas in the long run. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved in a carpool. Less money on gas? Best scenario.

What do you think about the sudden increase in gas costs? What are you doing in order to have it make less of an impact on your wallet? Or do you just kind of deal with the whole thing and go on with your life as you always have? Share some of your thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Prioritizing Bills

I don’t check my mail every day anymore. I know that sounds silly, but there’s really no need to. I get magazines every once in a while, correspondence from my church, cards around my birthday and Christmas, and a whole lot of junk mail. I don’t really even get my bills in the mail anymore, since I switched most of them to e-bills. So, it’s not necessarily a bill in the mail that drives me crazy anymore, it’s those bills in my email inbox.

There have definitely been some times in my life where it’s been hard to get by, where the bills haunted me instead of merely annoying me. In those times, I’ve had to sit down and figure out exactly what bills to pay first, and deal with the other ones as I was able. But, how do you do that? What bills do you pay and what ones do you hold off on.

Anything regarding shelter comes first. Rent payments, mortgage payments, property taxes, whatever it takes for you to keep your home, just do it. You may have to forgo other things in order to make ends meet, just make sure that you have a roof over your head. You can worry about the rest as you get to that point.

- Should keep your mode of transportation too. This is especially important if you have a job where you have to drive. So, if it involves car insurance, car payments, and even the money you put aside for gas, make sure that this stuff is taken care of right after the roof over your head. I know it seems a bit odd, but make sure that you’ve got a way to get places when you need to.

- Lastly, anything that can murder your credit report.  Car payments and mortgages obviously fall into this category, but there are a few other things that you should worry about when it comes to bill priority. All bills have the potential to hurt your credit score, but credit cards, student loans, and private loans have the most potential for murdering your credit score after one missed payment. So, watch out for those, and try to get them paid. Then worry about the other ones as you can.

If you are struggling with making monthly bills, call the companies that you pay. Many companies are flexible with changing due dates, and certain companies (the electric company, especially) offer programs where you can pay the same amount year round. I’m planning on doing that with my electric company here soon, because my high summer bills are almost silly compared to the rest of the year. Air conditioners kill your electric bill, let me tell you.

Have you ever been in a spot where you had to make a decision about which bills to pay and which to hold off on? Where did your priorities lie? What did you do to make ends meet? Share some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next Tuesday.

Considering Cell Phone Plans

According to today’s standards, I was a little slow on getting a cell phone. I’m in my late twenties, so when I was a teenager, cell phones were just coming into play. My first cell phone looked very similar to the phone in this picture; it was boxy, clunky, and it didn’t fit in my pocket very well. I actually kept the thing in my car, because its only purpose was for emergencies. I had a prepaid plan that you refilled every 30 days with a refill card. I didn’t get my first real cell phone plan until the summer before my sophomore year of college, and that was only because I was moving to the town I went to college in, and I was going to be moving and changing numbers a lot if I didn’t.

Now, I’ve had that same cell phone number and provider for the past 8 years. I’ve gotten new phones, but haven’t changed the provider I started with back in 2004. And I’m fairly happy with them, too. Little to no coverage issues. Good reason to stick with them right?

I didn’t have a lot of choice in my phone plan. But, if you do, here are a few things that you need to think about when choosing a cell phone plan.

Prepaid or Monthly plan? Prepaid plans don’t get you caught in a contract that you can’t get out of for 2 years without paying hefty fees, but monthly plans sometimes give incentives you may not get any other way. Check and see what your phone company offers,

Am I keeping my house phone too? I have a house phone for work purposes, and it’s actually cheaper, through my phone company, to have phone + internet than just internet. So, I ended up doing a low-cost prepaid plan plus my house phone instead of having a high-cost phone and high-cost internet.

How much do I really use a month? Prepaid plans allow you to have lower-cost plans with fewer minutes. Mine even gave me unlimited texts alongside the minutes I get per month. I’m more of a texter than I am a person to make phone calls, so it works out really well for me. If you’re a big talker, you may want to consider a real plan. Also, think about data plans as well.

What kind of phone am I getting? Some smart phones are not conducive to prepaid plans. If you want an everyday, ordinary phone, then a prepaid may be okay for you, but smartphones are better.

Asking these questions will prevent you from getting a cell phone bill that is a ridiculous amount of money that you weren’t expecting. Because, let me tell you, I didn’t ask these questions, and I ended up paying $50 more than I expected to pay; I switched things around and it ended up being much, much cheaper.

Do you have any other advice for choosing a cell phone plan? Have you ever ended up paying an absurd amount of money for your cell phone bill? Share your thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Getting Lots of Things for Free!

Have you ever won anything? I’m not someone who has a lot of luck… I remember the first time I won something. I was… 16, I think? I went with my grandma and mom to play Bingo. And guess what? I won! I ended up winning like $62 or something like that, cause I shared the pot with a couple other people. It was kind of like getting free money, especially cause my mom had paid for me to play. She let me keep the money too! Pretty sweet deal for a 16 year old that just wanted to go and hang out with her grandma and her mom, huh?

 

I like free. Chances are, you probably like free too. Now, the sad thing about “free” is that there are often stipulations that come alongside of them.

If I’m on the go, I’m a fan of free Wi-Fi. There are a lot of ways to get this. The first is local public libraries; some 82% of them have Wi-Fi. Also, look to hit popular hot-spots at places you’ll likely be going anyway: hotels, fast food places, and other businesses that would like you to come and hang out for awhile. Just make sure they’re free; they’ll usually be pretty clear about that in their ads.

What if you want some free books? There are a variety of places where you can get free e-books for your reader, including Amazon and iTunes. This is due to the myriad of books in the public domain. Ever wanted to catch up on reading your classic novels? Look them up and you may be able to snag them for free.

In the same vein as ebooks, you’ve got music. I’m not someone who likes to spend a lot of money on music, so I scour the web in search of free music. Bands that have new music coming out will often offer a track for free on their website. Some music companies will offer sampler sets for free on occasion; if you’re a fan of harder music like me, check out Tooth&Nail Records free Summer Sampler that I just got yesterday. Amazon also offers some free MP3′s as well.

There are lots of websites that legitimately offer free Amazon gift cards. The first of these is Swagbucks, where you can do a variety of tasks in order to earn points. I’ve made a couple hundred dollars in Amazon gift cards to date, and I’ve been a member for a couple of years. Their best deal is the $5 gift card; its more economical to get those instead of saving for the big ones. They offer other cards too, but I’m an Amazon.com fiend, so I use it to save up for Christmas. The other is a survey website called Harris Poll Online. Their lowest Amazon denomination is $20, but I get that about once every 3 months. You get survey invites in your email on occasion; if you qualify, you get to take the whole thing and get points that you can eventually turn in for gift cards.

What kind of free stuff have you snatched up? Do you have any (legit, of course!) websites that you use to get free stuff every once in awhile? Share some of your tips for snatching up free stuff, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next Tuesday!

You Really Can Be Too Frugal

I pride myself in how frugal I am. Seriously; my frugality and ability to live on a minimum budget is something I’ve learned to excel at. Part of it comes from the fact that I’m the eternal college student; I am currently working on my second Master’s degree and, hopefully, well on my way to what will be my ultimate career. But part of it was just watching the financial disaster that my mom lived in; she was over $30,000 in debt when she passed away just over 2 years ago. I didn’t want to be in that situation myself (even though, with college loans, I am), so I’ve become obsessed with living simply. Thankfully, I’m happy this way, and it’s not a huge burden to be the penny pincher that I am.

But, sometimes living simply can backfire on us. Being “too frugal” can result in some unhealthy patterns and practices, and we’re going to look at a few questions we should ask ourselves in order to see whether or not we’re trying to be “too frugal.”

Are you really saving by spending more? Think about this friends. Are we really saving when we “have” to spend $25 on Amazon in order to get free shipping? Are you really saving when you’re buying 2 items in order to get one free? Now, if you were planning to spend that much anyway, then sure, it’s savings. If you’ve got a huge family and it’s stuff that you need, awesome. But if you are starting to stockpile everything under the sun because of sales, that may not end up as well as you want it to. Which leads us to the second question…

Are you running out of space in your house? This is where horror stories like the ones on Hoarders come from. If you’ve got a lot of space or an extra freezer in your home, it’s not a horrible thing. But if you are starting to struggle with space in your pantry or you’re having to jump over stuff in order to get between your kitchen and your living room, you may have a bit of an issue. Don’t overstock yourself because of “good sales.” Shop responsibly and stock up, but within reason, my friend.

Are you breaking things that you’re trying to fix? The Do-it-yourself trend is huge. I do all of my own electronics repair, but only because I know what in the world I’m doing. I would never try to fix my own plumbing or repair the lawn mower. But, people are doing their own home repairs more and more; the issue is, some of those people are making the issue worse. If you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing, it may just be cheaper to hire someone or call a buddy that does know.

Has trying to be frugal ever affected you negatively? Has it become an obsession that may be backfiring on those of us trying to be frugal? Or are the “horror stories” just a fad? I’m really curious to see what you’re thinking! Share some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next Tuesday.

Dollar-Store Deals

A while ago, something started to be built where my town’s Circuit City used to be. And I was fascinated; I had never heard of this store before. What was it?

Five Below.

If you’ve never heard of a Five Below, let me assure you, it is possibly the most amazing thing that has ever been created on the face of this earth. Okay, maybe not, but it’s a giant store, similar to a dollar store, that sells everything for five dollars or less. Some of the stuff that I’ve found there is amazing! It includes:

Candy. Even the type you usually only find in the movie theatre.
- Arts and crafts stuff. For really, really cheap.
- Toys and games. I found a couple of my favorite card games to give away there for 3 bucks.
Snacks. I’ve found the weirdest snacks at Five Below that I’ve ever found in my life. All of them. And they rock.

But that’s not all Five Below and other dollar stores are good for. Especially in this current economic climate. You can get some great deals on stuff you’d never expected to find. Here’s a couple more thoughts about dollar stores.

Did you know you could find name brand stuff at dollar stores? Crayola crayons, Huggies diapers, various name brands of toothpaste, and a variety of other name-brand items can be found at dollar stores. You just have to go to the right ones and look around.

Remember, just because dollar is in the name doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a “dollar” store. Dollar General is the one that comes to my mind, where they have some items in the $20 range, even though a majority of their items are insanely discounted from normal retail costs.

Food is a little harder to find at dollar stores, especially fresh and frozen. Snacks are usually a piece of cake; you can find candy bars for cheaper than the grocery store and usually aisles of chips and other salty snacks. Now, watch these prices; they may not be as good as your grocery store’s, or they may be the same. You just have to keep an eye on it. On the other hand, there may be snacks at the dollar store you can’t find anywhere else.

Lastly, dollar stores are a great place to get little toys for your little ones. Or, well, for yourself. I collect dice, and I’ve found a bunch of dice at the Five Below for mere pennies. They aren’t the best toys in terms of durability, but there’s usually something for everyone at a dollar store.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever found at a dollar store? Do you regularly use dollar stores to save you cash? What will you never buy in a dollar store? Share some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

The Value of Triple A (AAA)

One of the first things that I received the Christmas after getting my driver’s license in 2002 was a Triple A (AAA, American Automobile Association) card. It was a shiny gold card with the words “AAA North Penn” on top of it. Now, of course, like many people, I assumed that this magic card was only in case my car broke down or I needed some help with travel. In the 10 years that I’ve had an AAA card (my family renews my membership yearly for a Christmas gift), I’ve discovered that my car isn’t the only thing blessed by the presence of an AAA card in my wallet. Today, we’re going to look at a few things that a Triple A membership can do for you.

Towing. I had a 1996 Pontiac Grand Am that was notorious for breaking down. Three friends and I drove to Virginia Beach for a week. We got there fine, but getting back was a different story. We were a little over 100 miles away from home, and the car broke down. No lie, we found someone to tow the car that 100-plus miles, and I only had to pay like $30 because AAA paid for the first 100 miles. Sweet!

Travel. The standard things that everyone thinks of when they think of Triple A are towing and travel. You can get a guide book for every region for free once a year by going to an AAA store and asking for one. Just make sure you have your card with you, and you’ll be good to go. I’ve found the best deals in these travel guides, and found gems I wouldn’t have found without it. Even with the internet, AAA helps you find the stuff you may not find online.

Meds. This was a surprise to me. A couple years ago, I found out that you can print out a discount card for medications. When I was still on medicationss, I saved $15-$20 a month on them because of the discount card.

Insurance. It’s the American Automobile Association, it just never occurred to me that they would have car insurance as well. I don’t use theirs (the company I’ve been with for like 5 years is a bit better) but some people I know say that the savings with them are pretty sweet.

Bail. No, I never used this, and I never will. But, if you read the back of the Triple A card, this statement is written: “This card can be accepted as an arrest or bail bond up to $1,000 or $5,000 respectively, for motor vehicle violations with exceptions as detailed in the Guide to Member Services.” Of course, out of curiosity, I looked up the guide. It includes being arrested for auto accidents and that’s pretty much it. Your Triple A card does not cover you if you do something really dumb, like get a DUI.

The longer I have AAA membership, the more I realize it has been totally worth it. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars over the years just by having a membership. Maybe you should consider it too? Have a good week, and we’ll see you here next week.

Three Ways to Help Someone in a Financial Bind?

This economy is a mess. We all have friends who have been in some sort of financial pickle during this time. Whether it’s because of debt, losing a job, unexpected health issues, or whatever else can cause financial pressure, a lot of people are struggling for money. I got in a bind a few months ago and was having a really hard time climbing out of it. Luckily, I had some good friends who were awesome and helped me get through that difficult time in my life.

We all want to be able to help our friends that are struggling financially. But other than flat out giving them money, what can we do to help them out? Here’s three ways that you can help a friend who’s having financial trouble.

1. Get them things they’ll definitely need. During that time, three of my friends chipped in and got me a laundry basket full of stuff that I would need. Dish detergent, laundry detergent, shampoo, body wash, a loofah, washcloths and towels, and even a gas card were included in the basket. Instead of giving someone money, get them stuff that they’ll actually use during the time of financial difficulty.

2. Offer to help with a necessary utility bill. Another one of my friends came to me, looked me in the eye and said “How much is your electric bill?” As awkward of a question as that was, I couldn’t say nothing. It was a hard question to answer, because I knew what his intention was. Luckily, I live alone, don’t have to pay for heat, and never use overhead lights. Literally, the thing in my house that uses the most power is my desktop computer. So, I told him, and he gave me a check to cover three months of my electric bill. Be like him. If you know a friend is struggling for cash, ask them how much an essential utility is and help them pay for a part or even all of it, if you can. If someone’s in a bad situation, every little bit helps.

3. Make a meal or take them out. As simple as this sounds, it’s probably the least intrusive way to help someone out. I was in my financial pickle around my birthday, so during that time, several of my friends took me out to dinner, using my birthday as an excuse to do so. They all told me later that they knew I was struggling and wanted to take me to eat a good meal, because they knew I wasn’t getting it at home. Take advantage of hang-out time, and offer to take your struggling buddy out to dinner or over to your house for a home-cooked meal. They’ll appreciate it.

What other ideas do you have for helping out people who are struggling financially? What can we do, if we’re not struggling ourselves, in order to take that load off someone else? Share your thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you here next week!