How To Budget When You Are Broke

creating-a-budget

Budgeting for anyone takes time and a lot of energy. However, in a society where everything is going up and wages are staying the same, you need to know how to budget even when there isn’t much there. Are you ready to take a look at your budget and start inserting some new tips?

:: Look Again

There is always some wiggle room in a budget. How is this? Well, each time you take a closer look at your budget, you might find some available money. Can you call and get another discount on your cell phone? Are you willing to get rid of some channels on your television? In all honesty, if you’re that broke, it may be time to cut the cable bill completely. Are you stopping to get coffee on your way to work because it is “only” $1 (when you can make it cheaper at home).  Hitting the vending machine at work for a $0.75 soda?

Every time you take a second look at your budget, you become a little less broke.

:: Pay Necessities First

A lot of people who are on a tight budget are faced with what they should pay first. If your family is going to be suffering financially for a while, you need to pay your main bills first. What constitutes as a main bill? Paying your mortgage or rent first would be an example of paying your necessities first. Of course your heat, water, and electricity can also be considered your main bills.

If you can’t make major credit card payments, loans, and other debts, then it’s time to start calling your creditors.  This is a time to look at every bill you have and to take an even closer look at where all of your money is going!

:: Get Creative

Okay, no one likes eating macaroni or ramen noodles for an extended period of time, but if you’re broke, it’s time to swallow your pride. There is no shame in putting yourself on a tight food budget. After all, cutting a food budget is one of the easiest ways to stretch a budget. It’s a little scary to reduce this part of your budget, but you may not have a choice.

Buying just the necessities like milk, chicken, beans, and bread is something you may have to partake in for a while. Don’t get discouraged though because there are a lot of different recipes you can try out thanks to Pinterest and the Internet. (Have to cut the Internet out? No problem, take exclusive advantage of free WIFI in various places in your town.)

Are there other places you can get creative in your budget? Sure! Maybe now is the time to learn how to sew and patch your own clothing. When you are broke, there is never a wrong idea for getting creative with your budget, as long as it’s legal.

:: Increase Your Income

It’s understandable that for some families, increasing the revenue coming in is simply not doable. However, if you can get a part time job, then now is the time to do so. Even if you only have the job for a short period of time, any extra money coming in will help pay down debt and balance out your budget.

Most people have experienced being broke in their lifetime and there is no shame in it. Sometimes being broke is our fault and sometimes it’s not. That’s why you have to reevaluate where your money is going and double evaluate what you can cut. Use these tips to create a lasting budget while you’re broke. Things will get better, but until they do, it’s time to cut back and create a new budgeting plan.

What are your best budgeting tips?

8 Tips To Make Affording a Cruise Possible

8 Tips To Make Affording a Cruise Possible

Would you love to take a cruise but are afraid it’s just out of reach financially? Cruises are in reality one of the most inexpensive vacations people can take. They are also a ton of fun. We took the family on a Disney Cruise last year and we all still consider it the best vacation that they have ever had!

With a little bit of planning and research you can be on your way to an amazing getaway!  Here are some tips on affording a cruise:

Plan Ahead – You’ve seen lots of lists online stating when the best time is to book airfare or a hotel room to see the best prices. When it comes to cruises, booking far in advance can yield the best savings, especially if you have a family. Even 12-18 months out is not too far in advance to make reservations. Start planning your vacation and doing your research now and you can save a bundle!

Subscribe to Newsletters – Sign up to receive newsletters from cruise lines or travel websites that interest you. They regularly send out specials like “kids sail free” or free onboard credit. If they have any last minute specials you’ll find out about them first through these newsletters. You can also like their Facebook pages to discover promotions.

Pay as you Go – One of the best features of paying for a cruise is that you don’t have to pay the entire balance at once. When you make a reservation you can pay a deposit and then pay as you go. Most final payments are due by 60 days before sailing. This is a great way to space out payments without putting the trip on a credit card and having to pay interest. If you can pay the total at once, you may be able to get a discount as well. Call the cruise line to find out what’s available.

Book an Interior Room – The least expensive rooms on a ship are the interior rooms. The downside is you won’t have a window but if all you plan to do is sleep in the room you won’t really miss out. Before sailing or when you check in ask if there are any complimentary upgrades available. If rooms haven’t sold you may be able to move into a better room for no additional cost!

Be Flexible – You’ll get the best price on a cruise if you can be flexible. Cruising around holidays and school vacations will be the most expensive. Caribbean cruises in the spring will be expensive, but if you can go in summer you’ll likely find better deals. European cruises in the winter will also net a big savings. It may not be ideal but it can save a lot of money.  We went on a cruise to the Bahamas in August and I can honestly say that the only “bad” day that we had was when we were in port at Nassau. We chose not to do a shore excursion (see below for why) and instead spent some time walking around doing some shopping and taking a quick carriage ride, then we went back to the ship to enjoy the pool.  It was HOT (but not miserable).

Seek Alternative Departure Ports – There are numerous ports in the United States to depart from however most cruises leave from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. Instead consider leaving from Galveston, Texas, New Orleans, or even Puerto Rico. Not only can you save on the cruise but you also may save on airfare to get there.

Limit Shore Excursions – A big cost in cruising is the port activities. When we went on our cruise, most of port excursions were about $150 – $200 per person! With a family of 5, that could have added up to $1000 to our trip for just a single day! Instead of choosing an activity at every port, pick just one or two activities, and spend the other days and time exploring on your own! Check to see if your cruise still has a full itinerary on port days as this is often a great way to do some of the activities on the ship that are often more crowded!

Stick With What’s Included There are lots of ways that cruise lines can add to the cost of your vacation. It’s easy to rack up a bill before you know it. Instead of buying lots of fancy drinks or eating in the specialty restaurants stick to the food and drink choices that are included. You’ll save a lot of money this way. If you know that you will want to have beer or wine on your cruise, check to see if your cruise line will allow you to bring your own (to enjoy in your room or for a corking fee in the restaurants).

With a little bit of planning and enough lead time you can have a wonderful cruise experience without breaking the bank!

Do you have any other tips on affording a cruise to add?

Ways To Save Money On Your Cell Phone Bill

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Save Money on Cellphones

Want to find a way to cut your expenses in your budget but you aren’t sure which part to look at? Maybe it’s time to take a good look at that cell phone bill.

Don’t just look at the amount, look at what you are spending money on; the breakdown of the bill. Do you pay for a data package? Do you pay for texting? Do you pay for extras like games and other apps?

Did you know that if you pay $30 per month in “extras” on your smartphone or cellphone including a data package or any of the above, that’s costing you an extra $360 per year! Do you really use that data package that much to be needing to spend that much per year on it?

Consider Your Extras

Take a good hard look at those extras on your bill. Do you need to download 3 new games a month? Are you really using that data package? Let’s look at the numbers…if you download 3 apps a month for $3 each, spend $30 a month on a data package, and spend $15 a month on a texting package, that adds up to $648 a year! Look over all of these things and decide what you could possibly cut out.

Look at a Different Plan

You may have a commitment to your cell phone provider until your contract is up but after that, all other plans are free game. Straight Talk offers a monthly plan as low as $30 (including texting and data!), Verizon offers a pay as you go plan that starts at $45 per month and also includes data and texting. Would something like that be something you could get by on?

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you are getting the best deal for your dollar and you are getting all the things you actually need!

Which cell phone provider do you use? How much do you spend on your cell phone bill in a month?

How To Eat Organic Food On A Budget

How To Eat Organic Foods On A Budget

Choosing to improve your overall health by increasing the organic foods in your diet can be tough, mostly because of the increase costs in your budget (and I will admit, some foods take some getting used to when you switch to the organic version. It actually took me a while until I found organic cereals that my kids would eat!).

If you know how to eat organic food on a budget, you can begin reaping the benefits of healthier foods in your diet without seeing the strain on your grocery budget. While some items will be higher cost, you can plan accordingly and still remain in budget most of the time.

How to Eat Organic Food on a Budget

Menu Plan: Just like any grocery budget is impacted by random grocery visits, it is even more important to plan when you are shopping for organic foods. Organic foods don’t usually have as many preservatives in them, making them go bad quicker. Because of this, the cost of wasted food is much higher. By efficiently planning your weekly meals you can make the most of your budget with minimal waste.

Buy In-Season Organic Produce: Plan your meals around seasonally abundant produce. In summer months items like lettuce, tomatoes, squash and peppers are cheaper even in the organic world because they are in-season and abundant. Shop sales for the best deals on the seasonal items and plan meals around them.

Shop Farmers Markets: Make sure to verify the produce you are purchasing is indeed organically grown, but when you find great vendors in your local farmers market you will find huge savings.

Skip the Meat: Since free range, cage free and grass fed meats are typically much more expensive to purchase, serve smaller portions or create more vegetarian dishes to offset the costs. Make taco salads with seasoned beans instead of meat for a cheaper and hearty meal alternative the whole family will love.

Buy a Side of Beef: This has long been an effective way of purchasing meat (read about my purchasing a half a cow), but in the grass fed beef market it is even more savvy for the consumer. If you can’t afford an entire side of beef locate another local family who will go in halves with you on the cost and you can divide the portions of meat equally, store in well labeled freezer safe packaging for future use.

Contact the Company for Coupons: More and more organic processed foods are being found on shelves. This has resulted in many of these companies offering coupons to their consumers. Call, email or snail mail the information found on your favorite brand packaging and request coupons to help offset the costs. If you are shopping at Whole Foods, check with their customer care area for coupons. Most Whole Foods stores will routinely have extra coupons for customers to go through, pick out and use toward purchases. They also have an in store booklet including good coupons for future purchases.

Check For Store Rewards Programs: Stores like Kroger have shoppers cards that allow you to receive discounts. You can also contact their 1-800 number and request to be added to their coupon mailing list. They will track your purchases for 2-3 months and then you will begin receiving great free product coupons and regular product coupons. This is great for your organic product purchases. Sprouts also has a “double sale” day where the sale ad begins and ends on the same day. This means there are twice as many items you can save on.

Grow or Raise Your Own: If you have the space and desire, you can easily start your own vegetable garden that will help save costs and give you the knowledge first hand of what was used to grow the produce. In many areas, you can also raise chickens for eggs in your own back yard. Make sure to check your city and county regulations on raising barnyard animals to protect yourself and them.

Eliminate Processed Foods, Even Organic Ones: Instead of buying the meal kits, chips, treats and other items that are processed, make your own from scratch. Not only can it save money, but you will be able to control portions, preservatives and easily find yourself no longer wanting or needing them.

Changing your eating habits can be scary on many counts, but hopefully these tips on how to eat organic foods on a budget can help take away the monetary fears from your family. As you continue to add more healthier foods into your diet and eliminate the over processed and non organic foods, your health and your budget will improve.

Do you have any tips to add on how to save money on organic foods?

2014 Dirty Dozen And Clean Fifteen List For Produce

2014 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen List For Produce

If you have been reading this site for a while, you know that I take the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen very seriously.

What are the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen?

  • The “Dirty Dozen”: if you have to make choices in what organic produce you are going to buy, these are the ones that you should spend the extra money to buy organic as they are the ones with the highest amount of pesticides.  Where possible, you might want to also consider growing these fruits and vegetables yourself!
  • The “Clean Fifteen”: these are the ones that have the lowest level of pesticides. You are generally fine buying the “regular version” of these items!

The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen is all about helping you to make better choices in your produce purchases. While most of us would probably like to buy only locally-sourced organic produce, the reality is that isn’t financially possible for most people. Choices often need to be made and that is where the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen guidelines will help you make those choices! For several years I have relied on the “Dirty Dozen & Clean 15? list put out by the Environmental Working Group. The list gets updated each year based on current trends in farming practices and they recently updated it for 2014!

Once again, the lists go beyond their numbers with a few “bonus items”. The Dirty Dozen has 2 additions to the list. Per the EWG:

For the third year, we have expanded the Dirty Dozen™ with a Plus category to highlight two foods that contain trace levels of highly hazardous pesticides. Leafy greens – kale and collard greens – and hot peppers do not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ ranking criteria but were frequently contaminated with insecticides that are toxic to the human nervous system. EWG recommends that people who eat a lot of these foods buy organic instead.

Some other interesting tidbits from the report:

  • Every sample of imported nectarines and 99 percent of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
  • The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food.
  • A single grape sample contained 15 pesticides. Single samples of celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides each.

Nice! (not)

Anyway – without further ado, here are the 2014 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists:

The Dirty Dozen:  these are the fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides (and the ones that you should buy organic as much as possible):

  1. Apples
  2. Strawberries
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach
  7. Sweet bell peppers
  8. Nectarines (imported)
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry tomatoes
  11. Snap peas (imported)
  12. Potatoes

The “Dirty Dozen Plus” items are:

  1. Hot peppers
  2. Kale and collard greens

The Clean Fifteen: these are the fruits and vegetables with the least amount of pesticides

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbage
  5. Sweet peas (frozen)
  6. Onions
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangos
  9. Papayas
  10. Kiwi
  11. Eggplant
  12. Grapefruit
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Sweet potatoes

Do you buy organic produce? Will these lists change your buying habits?

Teaching Children About Money

Thanks to Nicole for today’s guest post

One thing my parents were really good at was teaching me about money. I grew up knowing that money was not to be wasted and that I couldn’t have everything I wanted. I am so grateful for this lesson.

In college when my roommates were calling their parents to bail them out, I had plenty. I had already figured out how to budget. I took one crisp $20.00 bill out of my checking account each week. This covered my food, entertainment and any extras I would need. As you can imagine, there were not a lot of extras in a $20.00 a week budget.

Teaching my kids about money is something that is really important to me. I have friends who didn’t learn about how to handle money when they were growing up and it has been really hard for them to transition into adulthood.

I am not perfect at this yet, but I feel like I have gotten a pretty good start. Here are my best tips. My oldest child is seven, so this is definitely a work in progress.

Give them an allowance. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money. My seven year old gets $2.00 a week and my five year old gets $1.00 a week. In my house, getting an allowance is dependent on doing chores, so that they learn that money is earned. Giving kids an allowance teaches them respect for money. It ends the “can we buy. . .?” question and changes it to, “how much more money do I need until I can buy. . .?”

Give them freedom with their allowance. My five year old never has any money, she spends her $1.00 each week. That is her choice and she is often disappointed when she sees something she really wants and she doesn’t have the money. But she will get it eventually.

Encourage them to start a savings account. My seven year old has already started her savings account. She had about $10.00 that she had saved, the minimum at our bank is $25.00. I told her that if she raised another $10.00 I would give her the last $5.00. She went back and forth for a while. She wanted the extra $5.00, but she also wanted the junk that she buys regularly at the $1.00 store. Finally she had the whole $20.00 saved and we went to the bank. She thought it was a really awesome experience with the banker offering her something to drink and asking her questions.

Our bank, Wells Fargo, offers a special kid’s savings account. There are no fees and each time you make a deposit, you are given special Wells Bucks that you can save up and redeem for prizes. It gives kids an extra incentive to save up their money.

Teach your children to work. When I was about fourteen, my parents told me that they would pay for my college tuition, but that if I wanted to go away to school I would be in charge of my own room and board. I definitely wanted to go to college anywhere buy my home town. I started working when I was sixteen and I put away enough money to pay for three semesters of living expenses.

I was only able to save up this much money because I knew how to work. Chores were a daily part of my life growing up, and I am grateful for that. I have tried to instill these values of hard work in my children as well. Each of my kids are responsible for keeping their own room clean and my older two daughters have additional chores like unloading the dishwasher, giving the dog food and water, cleaning the bathroom counter, and emptying the garbage. It takes my five year old about an hour to unload the dishwasher, and she is usually complaining the entire time, but she is learning and important lesson about responsibility.

Be a good example. My seven year old asked the other day if I had any coupons for cottage cheese because we hadn’t had any in a while. My three year old got really excited the other day because she saw a coupon for Life Savers, she couldn’t wait until we bought them. She doesn’t totally get it yet, but she is understanding the correlation between buying things and coupons.

Nothing you teach them will teach them more than what you do. Kids absorb more than we ever know. I don’t know how I knew that my parents didn’t believe in car loans. I don’t remember having any important discussions about it, but I just knew.

I am so grateful that my parents passed these values onto me and I hope that my husband and I can be just as successful in teaching our children.

What are your tips for teaching your children about money? Have you done this successfully? Let us all know in the comments section, I would love to hear from you!

The Importance of An Emergency Fund

(originally posted in December 2008)

If you are trying to get out of debt, you may be following Dave Ramsey and his Total Money Makeover or some variation of his advice.

When I first bought the Total Money Makeover 6 months ago, I read it in two days and told Brad “This is what we are going to do!”.  He was on board with everything except Baby Step 1 – Building a Baby Emergency Fund of $1000.  He didn’t see a need for it and he wanted to skip straight to Baby Step 2 – The Debt Snowball.  After much discussion and me telling him that this is what I needed to feel secure, he agreed.

And our $1000 has sat in the bank since that day.  A few times he has mentioned using it for something (like Christmas Shopping or even just putting it toward the one credit card to speed up our Debt Snowball) because “nothing has happened” to us, but I held firm.

Events in the last 2 weeks have shown me how important that fund is!

As you may remember, we now operate on a cash system in our house and as part of our Total Money Makeover, we have every single dollar that comes in to our house budgeted, with every extra dime going to paying off our credit card & cars (which will be complete with our tax return this year).  We DO live paycheck to paycheck, but that is because I have budgeted us as such in order to pay off our debt.  Of course, if something is coming up we can (and do) rework the budget, but my husband gets paid every other Friday, I go to the bank and cash a check for our expenses for 2 weeks, pay bills on Saturday and then the cash that I took out of the bank on Friday is all we have until the next paycheck.  This has worked fine for us (although my sister thought I was a bit odd when we were in Indiana and I only spent $40 at Hobby Lobby…we LOVE that store and it has always been a several hundred dollar shopping spree for both of us when we go to Indiana and are able to go to Hobby Lobby).

But in the past two weeks Murphy has hit our household.

Two weeks ago, I found out that my identity thief had hit my bank accounts again.  Once again, I got all my money back, and the minute Brad’s check had been Direct Deposited, I closed all of my accounts and opened new ones.  I took out the cash we needed for 2 weeks, paid my bills and thought everything would be fine.

The next day (after all the money was taken out for our cash or used to pay bills), my grandfather died and I found myself needing $300 to drive back & forth to Indiana as well as pay for a hotel, meals, etc. In the past, the solution would have been to simply put those expenses on the credit card.  But because I now had that Emergency Savings Fund, I took the cash out of there (and the Debt Snowball gets put on hiatus until that $300 is replaced)

Yesterday was payday again.  When I went to my online banking, I found that someone who shall remain unnamed (but rhymes with “my Nusband Trad”) forgot to change his Direct Deposit for the new accounts and our bank refused the attempted deposit in to the old account.  We have no money except for the $40 left over from the last paycheck that I didn’t spend.

We got the paycheck situation figured out and we will have his check by Wednesday or Thursday, but by having the Emergency Savings Fund, it doesn’t have to affect our daily living (except I am supposed to pay bills today and now won’t be able to until we get that money…and being borderline-OCD, I don’t like my “schedule” interrupted….but then again, I’m a lunatic).  I simply took the cash for our expenses for 2 weeks out of the Emergency Savings Fund and will replace that money as soon as we get his check.

My purpose for telling you this story?

Because I know the temptation to skip Baby Step 1 – Creating a Baby Emergency Fund.  If you are trying to get out of debt, you want to just GET OUT OF DEBT.  But please don’t skip this important step of creating a “backup”.   Once you have that “backup”, resist the temptation to just grab that money to speed up your Debt Snowball or for any other non-emergencies.

Our fund sat there for 6 months unused.  If we hadn’t had that money in savings, we would have been pretty much screwed with the Direct Deposit mix-up.  I can’t tell you how glad I am that it was there when we needed it!

Ways To Save Money In College

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Ways to Save Money in College

Pretty soon it will be time to hit the books and head off to college. You already have to worry about the expenses of paying for your books and paying for the classes and the rest of the school year, you don’t need to worry about your other expenses emptying your pocketbook as well!

Start a Simple Budget

If you are going to need to buy clothes, foods, and school supplies throughout the year, make sure you set up a simple budget at the beginning of the year. Know how much income you are bringing in (if you have a job or if you are dipping out of your savings account) and how much you will be able to spend on each category per month. Make sure to stick to this budget and don’t overspend!

Use Your Student Discount Everywhere

If you go out to eat or go shopping, make sure you ask if the store or restaurant offers a discount for students! You can also grab other cool freebies like a free subscription to Amazon Prime for Students to get free tv and movies to watch and free shipping on Amazon.

Save on Textbooks

Make sure to try and buy your textbooks used at the beginning of the year (just make sure they are the correct edition). If you bookstore doesn’t have a used copy, a quick Google search will bring up dozens of websites that sell textbooks. Also make sure to sell your books back to the store (or even the online store) that you bought them from at the end of the semester to make a little of your money back.

Don’t Spend Money on What You Don’t Need

You don’t really need that cup of gourmet coffee from the coffee shop, fill up your thermos at the cafeteria after breakfast instead. Buy snacks but stick with generic brands (or just ask your mom to send you some!). Not spending money on unnecessary things will end up saving you the most out of all the tips in the long run.

What are some tips you have for other college students on a budget?

12 Items That Will Be Less Expensive in 2012


After the bad news about the 11 Items that will be more expensive in 2012, there IS some good news! From TVs to laptops, cash-strapped shoppers should keep an eye on prices for these items; even wine might see notable discounts next year!

Apple iPad 2

The iPad 3 will not feature a significant price drop (if any at all), but one thing is guaranteed — Cupertino’s forthcoming tablet will most certainly bring down the price of refurbished iPad 2s. (As the iPad 2 did for its predecessor.) The iPad 3 may even cause resellers to offer more deals on new iPad 2 models as they try to move yesterday’s tech to make room for Apple’s latest and greatest.

Android Tablets

The Kindle Fire has been Amazon‘s most successful product ever launched. The release of this groundbreaking tablet has, a-hem, ignited a fire among tablet manufacturers as they scramble to match Amazon‘s $199 price tag. For consumers, the competition translates to better tablet bargains in 2012.

Wine

Wine connoisseur extraordinaire, Robert Parker, predicts the coming year to be the “Age of the Buyer” — a prolonged period of time with stable or declining wine prices. With less disposable income, folks have left wines priced at $30 and above untouched on store shelves. So to move stock, retailers are expected to offer more sales and even flash deals on wines. Price is also affected by industry competition, as consumers note the quality-to-price ratio from wines originating in countries like Australia, Argentina, South Africa, and Chile. Aficionados should check out sites like Lot 18 for their boozy offerings.

Home Prices

Despite record-low mortgage interest rates, United States home prices are expected to limp their way into the coming year. In 2011, average home prices across the country were down 3.4% (compared to the same period of August to October, 2010). And with unemployment expected to remain high, 2012 is looking like it will remain a buyer’s market.

Standalone GPS Units with Lifetime Maps

The smarter our phones get, the greater the number of gadgets they’re capable of replacing. And no gadget is as close to extinction as the GPS unit. So it comes as no surprise to see manufacturers slash prices on standalone GPS units with lifetime / live maps. dealnews data shows that in 2011, units that were once fetching around $160 reached price-lows of just $70.

You can find the complete list here.

11 Items That Will Be More Expensive in 2012

Prices rise all the time…it’s just an unfortunate fact of life. I just read an article about the things that are almost guaranteed to go up in price this year.

The worst thing? We aren’t talking about items like fur coats, trips to Bermuda and diamonds. We are talking about basics, such as food water and gas! From the article:

Food for Home Preparation

If your grocery bill seemed higher in 2011, you weren’t imagining things. Most retailers have reported that food prices are rising and those increases are being passed along to shoppers. Food costs rose 6% last year and will likely go up at least 2% more in 2012. Increases are likely to affect food eaten at home, rather than restaurants where those costs are easier to absorb when combined with sales of liquor, says Harry Balzer, Chief Industry Analyst for the NPD Group.

Water

Most communities in the United States will face water rate hikes this year, even places that are rich with the natural resource. Water rates in the greater Chicago area will increase by as much as 25% next year, while the parched high desert Denver market is set to rise an additional 5.5%. Like the above-mentioned fees, this increase is mostly a result of cities needing to increase revenue to balance their budgets.

Gas

Fuel prices began inching up just before the holidays, and 2012 is looking to be another budget-breaking year at the pump, with prices once again topping $4 per gallon.

Domestic and International Airfare

Greater demand and fewer available airline seats will likely lead to higher ticket prices for flights next year. American Express predicts prices within North America will increase up to 5% for economy seating, depending on the length of the flight, and up to 7% in business class. Things look more bleak for European travel. A new “green tax” implemented by the EU is aimed at reducing emissions, and it will levy a fee of roughly $15 per passenger, each way, for flights to the U.S. Fees on shorter flights within the EU will be taxed slightly less.

Shipping

Unfortunately for avid online shoppers, the U.S. Postal Service will raise rates by an average of 4.6% next year, while both FedEx and UPS are hiking small package rates by 4.9%. Personal shipping will certainly cost more and it’s anybody’s guess how long retailers can continue the ubiquitous free shipping offers as rates rise.

Mobile Device Data Plans

Data plans in the past have had a tendency to decline, but as carriers build out 4G services, and move away from unlimited plans, data is set to become more expensive in 2012, according to Ross Rubin, Executive Director of Connected Intelligence at the NPD Group.

You can find the complete list here.

Free Budgeting Software

So it seems that I am a little “late to the party” on this one, because I have been hearing about Mint.com for a while and just now tried it!

What can you do with Mint?

  • Include all of your accounts in one place (Savings, Investments, Checking Account, Credit Card, etc)
  • Create & manage budgets online
  • Manage your finances from your phone with iPhone and Android apps

I use Quickbooks to track my business finances, but we have yet to really get serious about tracking our personal finances beyond our cash envelope system.  I love accounting (I’m geeky like that), so this software will be a great way to get a better picture of our finances!

Have you tried Mint.com?  What do you think?

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I’m Dreaming of a Frugal Christmas, Part III

christmas scene

As of today, you have 141 days until Christmas

I’ll wait while you hurl your summer drink of choice at me for even mentioning Christmas before Labor Day

Done?  ‘kay!

When this post popped up in my feedreader this morning, I got to thinking:  “Christmas?  It’s blasphemous to even think about Christmas shopping before Halloween” (despite what the department store decorating schedule may be).  That’s the way we always did it…we waited until the day after Thanksgiving to start our shopping, put everything on the credit card and then paid off the credit card with our tax return!

Then I remembered what happened last year….. 

Last year we managed to get through all of our Christmas shopping without putting a single gift on the credit cards (and we didn’t even really cut back on the amount that we spent).  We did it by following the “rules” that I laid out for ourselves in this post.  Many of those rules still apply, one doesn’t (I gave up my jewelry business the 1st of this year and won’t be at as many craft shows) and some new ones have popped up.

So at the risk of being killed for mentioning Christmas when many of us are still thinking about summer vacations and Back To School, here is our updated list of how we are preparing for Christmas this year:

1.  Set a budget for each person and STICK TO IT:  this was one of the hardest things for us to do last year.  However, since last Christmas we are debt-free (except for our house) and this site is providing more wiggle room in our budget.  On the other hand, creating a per-person budget is really the smartest thing to do and eliminates the urge to “impulse buy” just because you found “the perfect gift”.  The Perfect Gift can be found in almost any price range if you take your time and keep looking! 

2.  Stockpile Amazon.com gift cards through Swagbucks:  I have written about Swagbucks a few times beforeand I am still in love with them.  Whenever I have enough Swagbucks for a $5 Amazon.com gift card (which, because of the amount of searching I do in maintaining this site, is fairly often), I just take the gift card code from Swagbucks and apply it as a credit to my Amazon.com account.  I’m just pretending that money isn’t there , so by the time I am ready to shop for Christmas, I should be able to get several gifts for little-to-no out-of-pocket costs!

3.  Shop at craft fairs.  I will be on the lookout for unique gifts for much less than I can get at Nordstroms, etc. By the same token, I’ll also be scouring Etsy for some unique gifts (and helping to support independent crafters in the process)

4.  Shop online:  I am now a huge fan of shopping online.  I’ve never been one of those people who can go out and get all their gifts in one day, so by the time that I make multiple trips to the stores, any shipping costs will be cancelled out by the price of the gas I would use going back & forth to the mall.  Not only that, in many cases I end up saving another 6% by not having to pay sales tax.

5.  Shop now:  It’s much easier to find an extra $40 in the budget one week for a gift than to try to buy everything at once and find an extra $2000.  By spreading it out, we can relieve the strain on the budget. If you can’t bring yourself to do any actual shopping now, put that extra $40 that you find away in an envelope labeled “Christmas Shopping” and hold on to it (hide it from yourself, if need be) until you are psychologically ready to go Holiday shopping.

6.  Remembering the immortal words of Dr. Seuss:  “Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more”.  We are still trying to teach our children that Christmas is not just about a jolly fat guy and spending ginormous amounts of money.  This lesson is getting to be both easier and harder to teach our children as they get older (you can reason with them more, but they are more aware of what their friends have and want the same…a pox upon the person who taught my children about Webkinz!), but it continues to be a major goal in our lives.

Are you ready to start preparing for Christmas?  How are you going to do it?