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Category — Frugal Living Tip

Frugal Living Tip – Checking Out the Library

How often have you bought a book, started reading, realized it isn’t that good, but stuck with it doggedly anyhow just to ‘get your money’s worth’?

And even if you end up liking a book you buy, how many times do you pull the book down to reread once it’s found a place in your bookshelf?

It may seem like an old-fashioned suggestion, but you could save a good deal of time and money just by checking out the selection at your library.

Since you don’t pay a nickel to borrow a bike from the library, there’s no cost to stopping after 50 pages if you’re just not engaged.

And if you’re the type of person who likes to be surrounded by books at home, well the library could still prove to be a gold mine. Libraries frequently hold used book sales to clear out space for new arrivals. Show up early and you might find a good selection for a small fraction of the cost you’d pay to buy the book online or in a store.

These days, libraries have jumped wholeheartedly into the 21st Century. Many libraries have sophisticated websites that let you browse for books, audiobooks, CDs and movies online, then have your selections delivered to your closest library branch.

Some libraries, like the New York Public Library, are even experimenting with downloadable media – meaning you don’t even have to take a trip to the physical library branch to pick an audiobook or some music. The concept of libraries providing downloadable media may only gain force as e-book readers like the Kindle become more widely available.

Of course, the question of whether or not to use the library will come down to convenience for some people. It’s certainly easier to click a mouse on Amazon or Netflix and have a book or DVD arrive in the mail, but going to the library can be a pleasant experience in itself. While browsing the shelves, you might come across a book or movie you would never have considered. You might run into friends from the community or find out about a lecture or other event that the library is hosting.

If you haven’t been to your local library in a while, stop by or just visit the website to see what’s going on. You might just find the library can fill most of your reading, viewing and listening needs – saving you some substantial cash in the process.

How often do you use your library? Have you borrowed videos, CDs or audiobooks? Have you tried downloading anything online from your library? Has it helped you save money? Share your experiences, rants or raves in the Comments section below!

November 27, 2009   2 Comments

Frugal Living Tip – Discover Where Kids Eat Free

Children may be priceless to their parents, but the cost of raising them can be calculated.

According to the BabyCenter calculator, a baby born in 2010 to a Midwestern middle-income family will cost more than $230,000 to raise and send to a public college.

So moms, dads and other adult caregivers can surely appreciate any Frugal Living tips that help them whittle away at that hefty bill while simultaneously enjoying a dinner out and freedom from cooking and doing the dishes.

Here is where the Internet comes in handy with sites like Kids Eat For (available via app on iPhone and iPod Touch) and KidsMealDeals.com giving you zip code searchable information on restaurants where children eat for free or get dining discounts.

Kids Eat For advertises itself as the largest and most accurate collection of listings where children eat for free or get special meal deals.

Since meal specials can depend on the day of the week, clicking on any Kids Eat For city brings up a calendar with top meal deals for Sunday, Monday, etc. In Philadelphia, for example, there are 27 listed Sunday meal deals. You can click links at the bottom of the calendar to see all the meal deals for any given day. Check back often because deals may be time-sensitive. For example, a Boston Market kids-eat-free deal was shown as expiring three days after we checked the site.

It looks like Kids Eat For may indeed have more listings than some of its competitors. For example, KidsMealDeals.com did have the Boston Market deal listed on its site for Philadelphia, but it lacked listings for some of the local restaurants featured at Kids Eat For. The difference could be attributed to the fact that KidsMealDeals.com returned results only for Philadelphia proper, whereas Kids Eat For showed deals in the greater Philadelphia region. (You can get around this geographical limitation at KidsMealDeals.com by searching within the radius of a particular zip code.)

Of course, Internet sites are constantly changing. No doubt both these players will seek to improve their offerings and new competitors will enter the market. For example, a different site called Kids Eat Free (searchable only by state) seems to rely more on user-submitted content.

Want some more choices? You can also try searching the listings at My Kids Eat Free or Coupon Divas’ list of places where Kids Eat Free. Another good idea is to look at online forums such as the one at Mommy Savers where site visitors contribute suggestions for places where kids eat for free.  (Be sure to check the dates on some of the forum contributions though because certain deals are for a limited time only…)

It’s also important to look at the specific rules for each restaurant since kids’ dining deals may be limited to a specific time or a specific day.

Do you regularly seek out special dining deals for your children? What’s the best free or discounted kids meal deal you’ve ever encountered? Do you know another website or app that has good information on discounted/free meal deals for children? Share your tips in the Comments section below!

November 20, 2009   No Comments

Frugal Living Tip – How to Get Rid of Credit Card Debt

Living beyond your means is always a bad idea — eventually the bills will get out of control and you’ll find yourself facing a mountain of debt.

Credit card debt can be especially destructive. Miss a payment and your interest rate could skyrocket. But even if you make all your payments, making just the minimum necessary payment could stretch out your debt for years and pile up heavy interest charges.

(One blogger for The Paycheck Chronicles recently calculated that it would take more than 25 years to pay off $5,710 in credit card debt while making only minimum payments!)

So the best Frugal Living advice is simply to avoid credit card debt altogether. Don’t buy something on credit unless you have the resources to pay the whole credit card bill when it arrives.

Of course, that’s easier said than done — especially if you already have credit card debt. Then the big question is how to get out of debt fast – paying off your outstanding balances and reducing interest costs.

That’s where a recent article on Cash Money Life comes in handy. Blogger Patrick boils down a get-out-of-credit-card-debt strategy into a series of easy steps including:

- Stop using your cards while you pay off the debt. You won’t save your financial ship from sinking by bailing unless you plug the holes that are letting more water flow into the boat.

- Transfer balance to a 0% interest card. If you can a zero percent promotional rate from a new credit card, make the switch. You’ll pay down your debt much faster if you can put a brake on interest charges for a little while. Just be sure to try to pay down as much as possible before the promotional period ends and interest rates kick in again on whatever debt you haven’t managed to pay off.

Patrick’s other ideas including getting organized, setting a budget and making multiple payments each period to pay off the debt just a little faster.

Of these suggestions, the budgeting one is especially important. If you don’t have a budget, it’s unlikely that you’ll stay out of debt for long simply because you won’t have a good handle on cash inflows and expenses. So take the time to map out how much you can afford to spend each month and then stick to living within your means.

Have any of these strategies worked for you? What approaches have you used to get out of credit card debt and stay debt-free? Share your ideas in the Comments section below!

November 13, 2009   1 Comment

Frugal Living Tip – Use ‘utility fruit’ to save money

Supermarkets have conditioned us to believe that all fruits and vegetables should look perfect and pristine, shiny and round.

But in the real world (a.k.a. Nature), anyone who has a garden or a fruit tree know that fruits and veggies get bumped and bruised like the rest of us.

Often times, these slightly battered apples and tomatoes taste just as good as their prettier counterparts, but they can cost much less.

According to the savvy folks at All You, the key is to ask your grocer or local farm stand proprietor for any ‘utility fruit’ that may be hidden out of sight to keep up appearances.

Provided you’re not too fussy and are willing to take out the paring knife to trim away any truly inedible bits, you just might be able to bring home your weekly portion of fruits and veggies for far less than you’d otherwise pay.

The ‘utility fruit’ plan may not be the best idea if you’re putting together a fruit platter for a party or special occasion, but it could make especially good sense if you like to make fruit smoothies. After all, if you’re blending up cut fruit with yogurt, ice and other goodies, who would know if the original strawberry or banana wasn’t ready for its closeup?

How about some other ideas for using fruit that isn’t quite ready for its closeup? If life gives you bruised apples, you can always make applesauce! Here’s a recipe with appetizing visual instructions from Eating Cleveland.

And you don’t need cosmetically perfect fruit to make banana bread, pear butter or peach jam! As the author of the Food in Jars blog points out, with a good paring knife, you can quickly cut around the bruised parts (as long as the fruit isn’t too far gone) and make something delicious from ugly-duckling produce.

Of course, there are limits even in the pursuit of frugality. Work with a grocer you trust so that you can learn to tell the difference between harmless bruises and serious spoilage. Even frugal shoppers should put safety first. Remember that truly rotten fruit and veggies belong in the trash (or compost pile), not in your kitchen.

Have you ever tried the ‘utility fruit’ strategy? What other tactics do you use to keep the monthly food budget under control while still stocking up on nutritious and healthy choices? Share your ideas and experiences in the Comments section below!

October 30, 2009   1 Comment

Frugal Living Tip – Ditch the Disposables

Rumor has it that some rock stars only wear their clothes once before throwing them away.

Throwing out clothes after a single use sounds ridiculous. It isn’t just tough on the environment, it’s also a massive waste of money.

And yet this article at SavingAdvice.com makes the case that many of us practice the same economically foolish habits on a much smaller scale when we buy disposable paper towels, pack our lunch in paper bags or toss ordinary batteries into the trash.

Instead, we could use a washable cloth to clean up kitchen messes, carry our lunches in reusable tote bags and choose rechargeable batteries.

You may have to spend a little more up front, but choosing reusable over disposables (at least some of the time) can definitely save you money in the long term.

In fact, you can apply the same logic to other areas of your life and your business. Too often, we only look at the price tag when making a purchase decision. But sometimes the cheapest piece of furniture or equipment turns out to be much more expensive in the long run if it breaks easily or requires constant maintenance to keep running.

If you’re looking for hard dollar figures, check out this article at Green Research showing that a company using 200 cups a day could save more than $2500 per year by switching from disposable to reusable cups. The more cups the company uses, the greater the annual savings it can realize by moving away from disposables, according to the Green Research article.

Of course, reusable products also have some environmental advantages over their disposable counterparts. The sidebar at the Green Starbucks blog quotes an internal Starbucks document to make the point that if 50 customers in every Starbucks store bought coffee for their own refillable mugs, Starbucks would save paper equivalent to 300,000 trees per year (using 2007′s worldwide store count).

If you want to get really clever – and save money in the process – keep an eye out for ways to reuse products that were designed to be disposable. Rather that throwing out plastic bags after you’ve carried your purchases home from the store, try reusing those bags to line your trash cans. If you’re crafty, you can even turn a plastic water bottle into a miniature greenhouse for plant seedlings, as shown on the blog Pop Cloche.

Once you start rethinking the disposable mindset, you just might find opportunities to reuse almost everything – saving money and reducing waste at the same time!

What do you think? Have you found ways to save money with reusable products? Or do you prefer the convenience (and lower up-front costs) of disposable products?

October 23, 2009   No Comments

Frugal Living Tip – Shop Less, Save More

sales tagSome money-saving ideas are complicated or require an obvious sacrifice.

Others have the advantage of making your life simpler by saving you time while they save you cash.

According to a recent story on CNNMoney.com, you can save nearly $200 per month (on average) simply by limiting the frequency of your grocery shopping trips to once per week.

The reasoning here is that up to 2/3 of grocery purchases are unplanned impulse buys – things you don’t really need but caught your eye. Cut down on grocery trips and you’ll cut down on the number of times you’re exposed to these unnecessary temptations.

Presumably you’ll also save even more money if you shop less frequently by using less gasoline on trips to the store and reducing wear-and-tear on your car – plus saving time, which lowers your opportunity costs.

Lifehacker.com endorses the idea of reducing impulse buys and saving money by shopping for groceries less often – suggesting that the ideal frequency may be twice per month, or even monthly grocery trips.

But this seems a little extreme. After all, you’ll probably need to make a grocery run at least once per week to replenish your supply of the most healthy kinds of foods (fruit, vegetables, milk) with brief shelf lives.

Besides, if you only go shopping occasionally, you may find yourself ready to make dinner and faced with a bare pantry or missing a few essential ingredients. In that case, you may decide it’s easier to just go out to dinner or order a delivery, which could end up costing much more in the long run than if you stocked up regularly on weekly trips to the store.

Whether you shop once per week or prefer to pick up some fresh groceries a few times per week, another way to limit impulse buys is to use the old-fashioned grocery list, checking off items as you make your way through the store. With a little discipline, you’ll make sure to bring home the things you need – saving cash and calories.

If you prefer a more high-tech approach, you won’t be surprised to learn that there are several grocery list apps available for the iPhone.

How often do you like to shop for groceries? Do you think you could save money by shopping less frequently? Do you have a strategy in the grocery store for avoiding frivolous impulse buys and bringing home the necessities? Share your strategies and experiences below in the Comments section!

October 16, 2009   No Comments

Frugal Living Tip – Can You Lose Money by Being Social?

There’s a lot of pressure these days to join popular social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Classmates.com.

Social networking sites promise the thrill of reconnecting with old friends and the excitement of possibly making new ones. You may get messages from contacts who have already joined one of these sites urging you to sign up and participate. Even if you’re not into chatting online, you might be tempted with the thought of forging valuable new business connections with a bit of virtual networking.

social media bandwagonBut could participating in social networks actually end up being a costly financial decision? In a recent article on SavingAdvice.com, Jennifer Derrick argues that participating in social networks can be an expensive proposition.

Derrick makes some interesting arguments, such that revealing detailed information about yourself in an online profile might leave you vulnerable to identity theft or provide opposing attorneys with plenty of ammunition if you ever get taken to court.

But her most persuasive point concerns the opportunity costs of social networking. The point here is not just that you probably won’t make any money by participating in social networking, but that you’ll most likely end up losing money as a consequence of wasting countless hours trying to track down the boy/girl who sat next to you in Social Studies class back in the 6th grade.

Your time is valuable. Use it wisely. Participating in a social network (or playing an online game, surfing news sites, watching YouTube videos, etc.) may be technically free, but there is a cost to all of these time-wasting activities.

Would Mozart have composed as many symphonies if he had gotten sidetracked downloading the latest tunes from Amazon.com? Would Einstein have figured out the Theory of Relativity if he had been checking out the profiles of other scientists on Wikipedia? Would Thomas Edison have invented the phonograph and commercialized the light bulb if he had been focused on building his Friendster profile?

The lesson – Consider the opportunity cost of your time. Don’t be so focused on saving money that you spend hours perusing coupon sites to save $10 if you could have made $100 by creating or selling products or services during that time. Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t participate in social networking as a source of amusement, fun and relaxation. You might even be able to glean some business benefits if you use the sites smartly for networking purposes.

But recognize that all the social networking sites can become time-wasters and stop at least a couple of times per month to ask yourself whether your opportunity costs of social networking justify whatever personal or professional benefit you derive from the sites.

October 9, 2009   2 Comments

Frugal Living Tip – AirfareWatchdog’s Baggage Fare Chart

If you’re going on a trip, it makes sense to research the lowest airfares. But nowadays, you can pick a low fare and still end up paying a bundle in extra charges, especially when it comes to the extra fees for checked luggage.

luggageThanks to this handy Airline baggage fees chart over at AirfareWatchdog.com, you can make sure that you don’t pay more for your baggage than your seat. (For instance, according to the chart, you could pay as much as $200 per bag if you’re checking more than four bags on Delta Airlines!)

Of course, lots of people are trying to avoid baggage fees altogether by packing lighter or choosing quick-drying garments that can be washed in a hotel sink.

And if you really need to move a lot of luggage from Point A to Point B, you might even consider using a shipping company like FedEx or UPS. Not only will you save the hassle of getting all your bags to and from the airports, but you might even save some dough.

Do you have stories about getting soaked with luggage fees or have you discovered some clever ways to travel light and skip baggage charges? Let us know in the Comments section below.

October 2, 2009   1 Comment

Frugal Living Tip – What’s Your Financial Forecast?

Every businessperson should have some method of keeping track of spending to make sure that expenses don’t outstrip income.

pocketsmithBut a new web tool called PocketSmith highlighted over at Wise Bread goes beyond tracking past expenditures to actually predict future spending and savings with its forecasting capabilities.

So let’s say you’re hoping to save up for some a big business expansion or remodeling project? PocketSmith will look at your past spending patterns to give you an idea of how long it might take for you to save up the money you need for your big expense.

If you’re not happy with how long PocketSmith predicts it will take you to reach your financial goals, the program lets you see the pact you’d get from tinkering with your current spending patterns.

Do you think a program like this might be helpful for your business? How have you gone about accumulating the cash for major capital expenses? We’d love to hear your stories in our Comments section below.

September 25, 2009   1 Comment