For most of us, summer is the perfect time to get away from it all. As we all work to tighten our belts, vacation doesn’t have to be on the chopping block, at least not entirely. Vacations can be expensive, but remember that hypertension and burn-out are even more so. You don’t have to cut out your vacation entirely, but you can vacation a little smarter and save yourself hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
*First, plan ahead. Winter is the best time to start thinking about your summer getaway. This allows for the best budget decisions and helps ensure that your expectations are realistic. Not only is it wise to be prepared, it can really liven your mood in the mid-winter doldrums to make concrete plans for fun in the sun in the months ahead.
*Take advantage of off-peak times. If you’re planning to fly or stay in a hotel, you’ll find that it can be well worth it to stay away from the holiday weekends and weekends in general. The early weekdays of Monday and Tuesday are great days to fly or book a hotel at the best price.
*Do your homework.The Internet is a great resource for low rates on everything from dining to accommodations, complete with user reviews and precise map locations. Don’t be afraid, however, to get away from the computer. Your family and friends can be excellent resources on good places to go, the best deals, and ways to vacation for less. All you’ve got to do is ask.
*Be fearless in asking for discounts. There are a whole variety of ways to get travel deals for less on every basis imaginable. AAA, AARP, and a whole host of organizations offer a variety of travel discounts. Be sure to ask about any discounts, coupons, or other deals that might apply when you do your booking. Overcoming your pride could save you plenty. After all, the worst thing they can say is “no”.
*Budget for everything, even little things, and stick to it like glue. A great way to do this is to leave the debit card and credit cards at home and bring cash instead. It’s wise to wear a money pouch to evade pickpockets, but having cash helps you keep better track of how much you spend, and on what. Paying cash is so much more fun than using credit because you’re free of worry over the size of your statement the following month, allowing you to fully enjoy yourself.
*Start buying things now. You know you’ll need things like camera batteries, sunscreen, maybe even a new swimsuit. When you plan ahead you can defray the costs over time and be well-prepared when the time comes.
*Avoid the crowds. Try something different than your usual, popular destinations. These are often cheaper options and add an element of adventure to your vacation.
What have you done to save money on your vacation?
March 19, 2010 No Comments
Whether you want to get rich quick, get rich slow, or something else entirely, there’s a simple process that applies to successfully reaching any financial goal. Saving money is great, but that saving should have a purpose.
Wal Mart’s recent I’m saving for ad campaign points this out well. As consumers, we tend to mindlessly chase bargains for the sake of it, not considering why we’re putting ourselves through it. Sure, some of us just love the thrill of the hunt and landing a great deal, but most of us are just trying to be wiser with our resources.
What are you “saving” for?
Declaring your goal is key. Good goals govern your daily choices, all of which add up to big differences in your financial situation and lifestyle over time. Making little choices day by day can get tiring and test your persistence. Just ask anyone who’s ever tried going on a diet. But if you follow a few tried-and-true problem solving principles, reaching for your financial goals can be a rewarding and succesful challenge.
1. Declare a specific goal within a precise time frame. Goals like “get out of debt” aren’t nearly specific enough and may even be counter-productive. A better example might be “cut household expenses 20% by January 1st next year”. You need a goal as specific as possible with a time frame you could practically set your watch by.
2. Observe your current circumstances. Pay attention to what ever might get in the way of meeting your goal: current spending habits, lifestyle, employment , debts, etc.
3. Make a plan. Take into account all the obstacles you can foresee, and try to anticipate things that may come up. Suppose you’re saving to buy a car with cash. What will you do if your current vehicle dies before you have the chance to replace it? Being as prepared as possible will keep frustration and discouragement at bay.
4. Check your progress. Your goal should be specific enough that you can set intermediate goals and check your progress. If you’re not going according to plan, correct yourself. If your plan doesn’t seem to be working, go right to step 5.
5. Observe again. Make a new plan if you must. Did your plan work? If so, great! If not, now is not the time to get down in the dumps. Now is the time to use 20/20 hindsight to your advantage, figuring out just what went wrong and how. Using what you’ve learned, make a new plan. Try again.
One final, unofficial step: have fun! There’s nothing like the feeling of taking charge of your own destiny.
Repeat this process as many times as you have to, but always remember that you are in charge of your financial destiny. What keeps you inspired, moving forward persistently towards your goals?
March 12, 2010 No Comments
Winter’s on its way out, which makes this a great time to start stocking up for next year.
RIGHT NOW is the perfect time to stock up on all of next years winter gear: jackets, wool socks, and Fleece Blankets. “Why?” you ask. Because everything is amazingly cheap.
Today and Tomorrow only, for example, Dollar Days is selling Mark Gold brand Winter fleece blankets at a huge discount. Buy 12 at $3.99 each and get 12 free.
March 9, 2010 No Comments
Jon Strimling is President, CEO & Founder of the American Biomass Corporation
Please briefly describe your company.
American Biomass Corporation is the parent company of a family of logistics enterprises which, collectively, form the nation’s most efficient, most extensive network for biomass fuel distribution. AB works with hearth shops in unique, customized ways, from offering wholesale pricing on the highest quality wood pellets, to finding contract delivery solutions in often sparsely seeded markets. WoodPellets.com, our retail arm, provides a convenient online platform for consumers to order fuel for home delivery, as well as an educational portal that offers the latest information on fuel testing data, home heating technologies, and renewable energy legislation. We also have a subsidiary dedicated to the development of the bulk wood pellet market: Revolution Pellet Systems was inspired by the overwhelming successes of widespread bulk pellet adoption in the European market, and employs a team of engineers and some of the brightest minds in the biomass industry to develop domestic solutions for bulk-fed wood pellet heating systems.
Who are your competitors?
We’re the only company that does what we do, focused on home delivery of the highest quality wood pellets direct to consumers. There are certainly other ways for consumers to obtain pellets, but it’s often through an ancillary part of a different business. On the other hand, pellets are our business, and we pride ourselves on our world-class customer service and our knowledge of all things relating to pellets.
How did you become the leading provider of wood pellet fuels to residences?
In one word: efficiency. We use patented logistics software to streamline the entire distribution process, and, even more importantly, we hold all our producers to strict quality standards. By independently testing all of our products and working with manufacturers to ensure consistent quality, we’re helping to make pellet heat even easier for consumers.
Talk a little bit about the intersection of social, political, and environmental values with best business practices.
Our goal is to make heating with wood pellets a viable option for consumers, and we make sure to look out for our customers in pending and upcoming legislation. American Biomass is heavily involved with some of the most effective, most respected nonprofit organizations and environmental advocates in the industry, including the Pellet Fuels Institute (PFI), the Biomass Thermal Energy Council (BTEC) and the Alliance for Green Heat (AFGH). We also have an internal team devoted to promoting biomass thermal to local, state, and federal legislators.
Could you tell me a little bit about how you approach marketing.
We try to reach customers both online and offline through traditional outreach and Web advertising. But we’ve found that, far and away, the most effective marketing strategy revolves around positive word of mouth. There’s no better advertisement than a satisfied customer recommending your business to a friend. So we make sure encourage those referrals through our PelletBucks rewards program.
Explain how you revolutionized the distribution of wood pellets to residential consumers?
We maintain strict quality standards for all of our fuel, and are the independently test all of the fuel we sell through a third-party lab. Nobody else in our industry does that. We make those results transparent via WoodPellets.com, so customers know exactly what they’re purchasing.
Please describe any other innovative aspects to your business.
We’re working to help develop bulk wood pellet adoption, distribution, and storage, along with designing and maintaining automated biomass heating systems. We’re building off of the European model, innovating on the techniques used by countries such as Austria and Italy in achieving massive reductions in carbon emissions and astounding self-sufficiency in fuel sourcing. We’ve created customized central heating systems for clients across New England; and we’re working on some very exciting new technologies that will make automated pellet systems viable for a much broader market.
You recently changed your Web site from PelletSales.com to WoodPellets.com. Talk about the benefits of strategic re-branding.
The name change has been phenomenal. WoodPellets.com is a much more intuitive name, and we’ve found it’s easier for customers to find us on the Web.
What challenges does your business currently face?
Our main goal, the challenge we’ve taken on, is educating consumers and legislators alike about the advantages of wood pellet heating. Pellet heat is sustainable, cost-effective, and domestically produced, and it’s vitally important – to invigorate the American economy and to reduce our carbon emissions – that wood pellet heat is given its due place in public policy and the green energy sector. We strive to make sure the consumers and policy makers have access to the most current information about testing data, new technologies, and all the benefits of pellet heat.
How is the recession affecting your business?
The recession has affected our business because it has forced consumers to alter their buying habits. Many simply could not afford to buy an entire heating season’s worth of fuel all at once and, instead, purchased smaller quantities of fuel throughout the year. We had many customers looking to finance their fuel, to work within budget plans over the course of the year. This presented an opportunity for us to offer new and exciting benefits to our customers – we now provide a wide variety of payment options, including RevolutionCard, a credit card simple application process, progressive security measures, and instant approval, allowing customers to manage their fuel payments easily and securely.
As a small business owner what lessons have you learned since founding your company? What advice do you have for other small businesses?
The most important thing for any business owner is to keep the customers in mind: quality matters in everything, from the product or service you’re providing to the customer service you offer.
March 1, 2010 No Comments
Your television could be a huge source of wasteful spending in your budget, but it really depends on what you value. This is where making a budget can become a soul-searching experience.
Think about your television. Sure, it provides hours of entertainment, and great content. But did you know that the average American spends about 28 hours a week in front of the TV according to AC Nielson? That adds up to almost 10 years in a lifetime of non-stop TV watching.
If you work full time that’s at least 40 hours a week; enough time to earn your entire year’s salary. Consider how much you could accomplish if you shaved off even 4 or 5 television hours each week. You’d at least get a few of those years of your life back and maybe even increase your income.
On the other hand, it can be a good deal depending on your values. In 2005 the average American cable bill was about $40. That comes to about $0.36 per hour of entertainment. Compare this with movies that cost about $3.20 per hour.
Of course, more and more of those television hours are taken up not with content, but with commercials. Ask yourself if, on the balance, it’s really the way you want to spend your time and, more importantly, your money.
Before you decide, consider all the options. Maybe you could catch up on the yard work or home repairs. You could finally write that novel you’ve been procrastinating or finally fix up that old hotrod.
Recent developments in Internet technology are changing the landscape of home entertainment and those looking to live more simply would do well to sit up and take notice.
For instance, Wii just signed a deal with Netflix to provide streaming Netflix content to your television through the Wii game console. Streaming online content is now cheaper and easier than ever. Sites like Hulu and viewmy.tv allow you view all the same content online with far less commercial time.
Getting this streaming content to appear on your tv screen instead of your computer monitor is a simple matter of buying an adapter from an electronics supply store.
Consider trading in your ever-rising cable bill for a much cheaper Netflix membership. At only $8 a month, it’s a much better value.
Mind you, these solution have their drawbacks. Sports fans have far fewer choices, but ESPN does offer streaming sports content for a reasonable monthly fee. Also, the whole household has to carefully plan what they want to watch and when, setting up a queue that’s fair to everyone’s taste.
This process, however, means there’s much less tendency to just plop down on the sofa by default and flip on the TV. There’s nothing wrong with watching TV or movies, but be fair to yourself about how much time you’re giving to it.
February 26, 2010 No Comments
When you are running low on cash and payday is still on the distant horizon, it can be tempting to take advantage of the services of a payday loan store or website. By signing up with one of them, you can receive an advance on your usual paycheck and have cash in your hand when you desperately need it. Sounds great, right? The fact is, payday loan services can actually trap you in an steadily worsening spiral of debt and can make you fall even further behind with your finances.
Don’t Rob Peter To Pay Paul
What did people do before there was such a thing as payday loan services or cash advance stores? They scrimped and saved their money in order to get through tight financial times. As unpleasant as it may sound, sometimes you really do have to bite the bullet and tighten your belt in order to survive until your next payday. Sure, using a payday loan service will put money in your hands right away – but what happens when your actual payday rolls around? Therein lies the rub.
Get Your Paycheck Early – But Pay Dearly For It
One of the biggest problems with payday loan services is that they charge truly exorbitant interest rates for their small loans. Typically, receiving a $100 advance will cost you anywhere from $15 to $25. When payday rolls around, the lender then takes out the $100 that you borrowed, along with the interest fee. Now you’re out that extra money, and receive a smaller paycheck than you normally would have.
Don’t Get Trapped In A Vicious Cycle
Since your next paycheck will be reduced by the fees that you’ll be paying to the payday loan service, you’re likelier to fall even deeper into debt. That’s why so many people turn around and take out yet another payday advance loan – and the cycle gets worse. In no time flat, you’re receiving smaller and smaller paychecks and scrambling to keep up with the interest fees that you owe your various lenders – and you’re more in debt than ever.
Be Smart With Your Money
Instead of taking out payday loans and paying the ridiculously high interest rates that go along with them, you should try to squirrel away at least a couple of hundred dollars that you can use for those times when cash flow is tight. Sit tight and wait for your next payday to arrive. In the long run, you’ll be better off for doing so.
February 19, 2010 1 Comment
If you’re itching to get great deals, then there has never been a better day to buy.
February 16, 2010 No Comments
If you’re like most people, then you probably use a check card or a debit card to make the majority of your day-to-day purchases. These days, most banks and credit unions offer these cards to their customers for the sake of convenience; because these cards often have Visa or MasterCard logos on them, they can be used anywhere that such credit cards are accepted. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for people to use their check cards for virtually every purchase they make. In doing so, it’s easy to overspend – or to end up with a negative bank balance and a lot of overdraft fees.
The Problem With Plastic
Swiping a check or debit card when making a purchase can take a bit of the reality of out spending money. Even if you know you’re low on cash – or that the purchase you’re about to make isn’t all that necessary – it’s easy to push those concerns aside and whip out your check card. In the space of a single day, you can use your check card several times, slowly whittling away your checking account balance all the while. When your bank statement arrives, unpleasant surprises often do, too.
Cash In Hand Keeps You Accountable
If you find yourself getting into financial trouble because of overly enthusiastic check card usage, there is a way to mitigate the problem: carrying cash. As old fashioned as it may sound, having to count out twenties, tens, fives and singles to pay for something brings home the reality of just how much you’re actually spending. As you watch your stack of cash slowly wither away, you’re getting a clear reminder about how much money you’re flying through.
Divvy Up Your Cash On Payday
A great way to stay within your budget is by carefully divvying up your cash on payday. Pay your usual bills, then determine a reasonable amount for various daily expenses. For example, you might set aside $100 for your lunches for the month, or $50 for incidentals. Take that money and put it in separate envelopes; label each one with its intended purpose. Each morning, take the cash that you intend to spend out of the relevant envelope. When it’s gone, it’s gone – don’t cheat! You’ll be amazed by how much less money you spend by using this method.
Put Leftover Cash In A Savings Account
Although it won’t always happen, there’s a very real chance that you’ll end up with extra cash in those envelopes at the end of certain months. Instead of running out and spending it on frivolous things, make a habit of putting it right into a savings account or a “rainy day” jar – or use it to save up for something special, like an HDTV or a new computer. Once you reach your goal, you can spend that saved money with a clear conscious, knowing that you’ve been sticking to your budget. Reigning in your check card use is a really great way to live more frugally.
February 12, 2010 No Comments
This has been one of the coldest years on record. Which is how we know that no matter where you are, 2009/2010 has probably been the year of the winter chills.
Luckily for you, DollarDays has the prescription to end your suffering. Marc Gold brand Fleece Blankets are on sale right now at DollarDays. For the next two days, when you use the code 12MGFL (or click on the button below while you’re logged into the site), you will get 12 Marc Gold fleece blankets for free with every 12 that you purchase at $3.99.
So don’t delay, get your marc Gold brand Fleece Blanket right away.
February 9, 2010 No Comments
When it’s time to cut the budget, fast food is often one of the first things to go, and rightly so. If you’re in this position, you’re not alone. The Wendy’s/Arby’s group recently posted a loss of $393.2 million .
Eating in is almost always a much cheaper and healthier option. In fact, a tighter budget can be a good opportunity to try your hand at a little fine cooking. You may find that you eat a lot better anyway.
It’s hard, however, to deny yourself a treat every now and then. Also, modern life is busy. Sometimes it’s difficult or even impossible to face the big job of cooking followed by the bigger job of cleaning up and putting away leftovers.
When planning your budget it’s always wise not to be too draconian about what gets cut. Be realistic about your decisions, especially when it comes to little extras like fast food. Making some small allowances for dinner out helps family morale and encourages moderation.
Beyond just cutting back, there are ways fast food lovers can have their burger and eat it too. As consumers we usually reserve our critical thought and healthy skepticism for bigger ticket items like cars or home electronics, but living more simply means questioning even the small purchases. As many credit card holders have found over the last few years, those little choices can lead to significant financial consequences.
Looking at your eating out habits with a more critical eye can save you serious money
First, scale down. Maybe you don’t really need the portions they’re offering. Ever try a kid’s meal? They’re much cheaper, often just as satisfying, and you might even find yourself getting nostalgic. Dairy Queen even throws in some ice cream.
Coupons are a great way to go and printable coupons are becoming more common online.
Also, remember that these are businesses that are trying to maximize their profits while trying to deliver more to the customer. Many chains even hire expensive consultants to work the alchemy of cutting costs while increasing sales revenue.
One way many restaurants do this is by pushing their cheapest products to the forefront. An example of this is found at Panda Express. Every plate comes with 1-4 entrees and your choice of chow mein or fried rice. These sides are easy to make in large quantities, have little or no meat, and are made from the cheapest ingredients.
This is good, but the entrees are the main attraction. So why waste money on the sideshow? If two people simply buy one 4-entree plate and share the side dish the meal is just as satisfying as buying a couple of 2-entree plates and costs less by nearly half.
By no means are these tips exhaustive. There are plenty of great ways to find good deals and save less on eating out. What you know, others may not. Take moment and give us all the low-down.
February 5, 2010 No Comments