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Simple Savings
05/07/2010
IconIt's About Time The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com Does anyone think that $20,000 will buy a new car forty years from today? Maybe it's time for an article on the time value of money, accounting for inflation in long term investment plans, and related issues. Lester Lester was referring to an article that I had written saying that when you buy something today, you're agreeing not to buy something more expensive later. And, he's right. You can't simply take today's prices and expect them to be valid for future purchases. Especially if you're look more than a few years into the future. The concept of rising prices is only one component of an economic theory called 'the time value of money'. It's a theory that we see every day but don't typically give any thought. The basic statement of the time value of money is very simple. A dollar today is worth more than having one tomorrow (or next year). Having money over a period of time is valuable. Money can earn more money. Suppose that you had $100 today and could earn 10% on it. A year from now you'd have $110. In two years $121. So having that $100 is valuable. Also, I'd rather have $100 today than wait and get it tomorrow. I won't earn much interest in one day, but it should be worth a little more tomorrow. It's also safer getting it today. There's always that possibility, however small, that you won't get the money tomorrow. By getting it today you've eliminated that risk. Lester points out another area where the time value of money applies. That's in the area of retirement planning. Suppose that you expect to retire in 20 years. You know that prices will rise before then. But can you estimate by how much? A quick and easy way to answer that question is to use the rule of 72. The formula is easy. The number of years in the future times the interest rate you expect equals 72. That's how long it will take for prices to double. Let's do an example. You want to know how long it will take prices to double if inflation is 6%. A little algebra tells us that you divide 72 by 6. Prices will double in 12 years. So if you expect to retire in 20 years and inflation is 6%, prices will be nearly 4 times higher when you retire. ($1 x 2 = $2 in 12 years. That $2 x 2 = $4 the next 12 years. Or 4 times in 24 years). If you play with the formula you'll find that the rate of interest you choose makes a big difference in the results. For instance 3% inflation would mean that prices would double every 24 years. Quite a difference compared to going up 4 times in the same amount of time. You can also use the same formula to calculate how long it will take your money to double in an investment account. For instance, if you're earning 9% it will take 8 years (9 x 8 = 72). You may want to get more precise than our little formula will allow. For that you'll need something called a financial function calculator. It will do a lot more than time value of money, but it's easy enough to learn how to use it for time value questions. And, they're not expensive. Some people will subtract the inflation rate from their investment return to get a 'real' rate of return on their retirement savings. For instance, if you earned 8% on the money and inflation was 3%, you've really gained 5% in buying power. Another application for time value of money is when you're trying to decide which payment plan you'd prefer. What happens if you were told that you could buy a car for $20,000 cash today. Or you could make $400 payments for 60 months. Or you could put $4,000 down and make $375 payments for 48 months. You could add up all the checks you would write. And that would be a good rough estimate. But you'd get a more precise answer by using a calculator to bring everything back to today's dollars so that you'd have a fairer comparison. Don't be intimidated by the concept. Just remember that having $1 today is more valuable that having one a year from now. And the same holds true is you're paying. A dollar that you pay today is more valuable than one that you'll pay next year. With an understanding of the time value of money and the ability to use the rule of 72 you can help yourself in a variety of common money situations. Thanks to Lester for suggesting it. Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher newsletter and website TheDollarStretcher.com You'll find hundreds of articles to help stretch your day and your dollar. Visit Today! Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconGrocery Savings Made Easy By Tawra Kellam www.livingonadime.com For many people, making the decision to switch from two incomes to one can be a scary experience. They know they're spending too much, but don't know where to begin to cut back. Most people don't think they can live the frugal life and still be comfortable. I feed my family of 5 on $175 month. In 5 years my husband earned an average of $22,000 per year. In those 5years we paid off $20,000 debt. There are countless ways you can cut, but if you are a frugal beginner, try these simple suggestions from Not Just Beans for saving on your food bill first. Before you shop, take a tour through your pantry and your refrigerator. Be organized! Don't buy what's already hiding in your kitchen.If you're a fan of coupons, remember this: It#146;s not what you save, it#146;s what you spend. If you save 30 cents on something you wouldn#146;t ordinarily buy anyway, you haven#146;t really saved anything. A typical fruit item is significantly larger than one serving. Most people would be just ashappy eating a small apple as eating a large one so buy smaller fruits! This month, try two meatless meals a week (or one, if you're a diehard meat fan). Use meat as an ingredient instead of a main dish. A good recipe for this is Green Chile. It uses only frac12;-1 pound of pork. Cut back on the juice and milk. Use the money you've saved from eating less meat and drinking less juice and buy something that's on sale. Those sale items will help you cut back even further next month. In staying at home, it's the little things that add up so start small! Green Chile frac12; 1 lb. pork roast, or chops cubed into small pieces 10 frac12; oz. chicken broth 1 onion, finely chopped frac14; #150; frac12; tsp. garlic powder 1 can (7 oz.) green chiles, diced frac14; jalapeno, finely chopped 1 tsp. salt 2 Tbsp. flour, dissolved in water white flour tortillas Toppings cheddar cheese, gratedlettuce, shreddedtomato, sour cream Simmer pork in broth on low for 10 minutes. Add all other ingredients except flour and simmer 45 minutes. Thicken with flour so it is like a thick soup. Spoon about 1/4 cup into the center of a flour tortilla. Roll up tortilla and top with more green chile. Sprinkle with cheese, lettuce and tomato. Top with sour cream if desired. This green chile freezes really well. Steak and Mushroom Gravy 1 Tbsp. margarine frac12; onion, chopped 5 Tbsp. flour salt and pepper (to taste) 5 Tbsp. dry milk 2 cups water 1 2 cups leftover beef 1 small can mushroom pieces 1 tsp. beef bouillon powder Melt margarine in a large skillet and sauteacute; onion. Mix flour, salt and pepper and dry milk in a jar. Add water and shake. Stir into onions until simmering and thickened. Add beef, bouillon powder and drained mushrooms. Reduce the heat. Simmer, stirring constantly, until heated through. Serve over noodles, rice or mashed potatoes or toast. Serves 4. Tawra Kellam is the author of the frugal cookbook " Not Just Beans: 50 Years of Frugal Family Favorites ." "Not Just Beans" is a frugal cookbook which has over 540 recipes and 400 tips. For more free tips and recipes visit her web site at www.LivingOnADime.com . In 5 years, Tawra and her husband paid off $20,000 personal debt on an average income of $22,000 per year. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconHow To Avoid "Cell Phone Slavery" By Cliff Ennico It really is amazing when you think how far #147;personal technology#148; has come in the last 15 years. Back in 1990, we had just mastered #147;word processing machines,#148; such as the now-defunct Wang terminals, and were just getting accustomed to a personal computer on every desktop. Today, we have gone a long way toward losing the desktop. We can talk on the cell phone anywhere, anytime, and check our e-mails on a Blackberryreg; while we#146;re doing it. Throw in a wireless Internet connection and a #147;pocket PC#148;, and you are wired up to the world every minute, every day, wherever you are. But here#146;s my question: have these gizmos made us any happier, or more free? Please don#146;t think me backwards if I suggest that these gadgets are the biggest threat to our personal freedom since Communism. Don#146;t blame the technology #150; the fault is yours. Without some personal discipline, you run the risk of becoming a slave to your technology, instead of the other way around. The cell phone, especially, can get you in a lot of trouble, as anyone who wants to yank your chain and interrupt your life can do so by pressing a few buttons and hitting #147;send#148;. Case history # 1 : yesterday on my way to the supermarket a bright red SUV cut in front of me and nearly drove me off the road. Far from acknowledging how close we came to a collision, the driver remained oblivious, focusing on an animated cell phone conversation he was having (judging by his facial expression, he was either chewing out a subordinate at the office or arguing with his spouse). Case history # 2 : when I got to the supermarket another man was standing in line with a parcel to be shipped, and was talking to someone on a cell phone with a wireless headset, so from the back he looked like he was talking to himself. I stood in line behind him, and eavesdropping on the conversation (hey, I couldn#146;t help it, the whole store could hear him), realized that he was talking to a client of mine about a business transaction. I had a sheet of my stationery in my hand, so I scribbled on it #147;watch what you say, I am Mr. So-and-So#146;s attorney#148;, tapped him on the shoulder, and handed him the note. You should have seen his face change colors . . . Case history # 3 : a prospective new client called me the other day to ask for legal help. She was delighted with my fee quote, but became upset when I politely refused to give her my cell phone number. She told me flat out that in her opinion it #147;wasn#146;t professional#148; of me not to give out my cell phone number to all clients, and hung up. Far from being angry at these folks (extreme examples, I admit), you#146;ve got to feel a little sorry for them. The technology that was supposed to give them more control over their lives has instead made them more stressed out, harried and frazzled. Here are some very strict rules I follow when it comes to using my cell phone. I won#146;t claim they are perfect, or even fair, but so far they#146;ve kept me sane, and in control of my life. Keep Your Cell Phone Off as Much as Possible. Personally, I use my cell phone only for outgoing phone calls. The idea is that the phone is there for my convenience, not anyone else#146;s. When I do not wish to be disturbed, the cell phone is turned off. In fact, I turn it on only when I want to make a call. Give Your Cell Phone Number Only to Essential People. Your spouse and (if your work for someone else) your boss should, of course, have access to your cell phone number. If you are working on an intense project for a client who is furnishing you with more than 50 percent of your income, you should give the client#146;s key personnel your number as well. That#146;s it #150; cell phone access should be a special privilege you afford to only your best customers. Others can leave their messages on your land line. Discourage Cell Phone VoiceMail Messages. With #147;Caller ID#148; and other tools people can find out your cell phone number even if you don#146;t give it to them, so consider putting the following message on your cell phone VoiceMail: #147;hi, you#146;ve reached the cell phone of _________. I don#146;t normally take calls on my cellphone, and check this VoiceMail box only once or twice a week, so please be patient if I don#146;t respond to your message promptly. If your message is urgent, please call my office at [number]. I check my messages there at least every few hours when I#146;m on the road, and will be more likely to respond quickly. Thanks!#148; Do Not Use Your Cell Phone In a Crowd. You never know who is around you when you are in a public place. If anyone can overhear your conversation, do not say anything on your cell phone that you would expect to be kept confidential. Never, Ever Use Your Cell Phone While Driving. A number of municipalities have banned cell phone use while a car is in motion. Frankly, they should make that a federal law for all 50 states. If you need to talk to someone while you are driving, pull off the road to a safe place and make your call while the car is idling. And if you do get into an accident while talking on your cell phone, have the decency to give the other person your insurance information. It was your fault, after all. Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com ) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series 'Money Hunt'. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com . COPYRIGHT 2004 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconInvesting for Children The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman We have 4 grand children that we have been purchasing stock for at Christmas for the last 10 years. The stocks are valued from $500 to $3,000. The brokerage house fees were running too high even though we had them under our account. We have just liquidated the accounts and our goal is to look for the best place to invest this money and continuing our yearly $150 contribution for each. Rich Rich is right. Investment expenses matter. The Securities and Exchange Commission calculates that a 1% difference in expenses on a $10,000 investment earning 10% annually would mean a difference of $11,133 in 20 years. Rich isn't investing that much, but clearly the difference is dramatic. And Rich is also right that beginning a savings program for children is a great idea. For instance, a public college that costs $12,841 per year today would cost $36,652 in 18 years if costs rise 6% per year. There are two things for Rich to consider. First, how will he invest. And, second, how will the investment be legally owned. Owning individual stocks is very hard unless you're going to be investing more than $150 at a time. Even a minimal $8 commission reduces your $150 investment by more than 5%. So it takes 6 months or so to earn enough to make up for the commission paid. Generally, mutual funds offer more flexibility for the small investor. The average expense for a mutual fund that invests in domestic stocks is 1.4% per year. That's a whole lot better than the cost of buying individual stocks. Owning a mutual fund allows you to reinvest dividends. Something that's almost impossible with an individual stock unless a DRIP (dividend reinvestment plan) is available. If a DRIP is available for your stocks in this situation it would be wise to use it. Rich will want to consider something called an 'index' fund. Those are funds where management does not try to pick stocks that will beat the market. The fund is managed so that it reflects the make up of an index. For instance an SP 500 fund would have shares in the same proportion that they were in the SP 500 index. Shares would be bought and sold to maintain that proportion. There are two main attractions to index funds. One is that their expenses can be lower. For instance, the Vanguard SP 500 fund has an expense ratio of about 0.18%. But check the expenses on any fund. Some index funds have ratios as high as 1.5%. The index funds also generally perform better than the average managed mutual fund. As it turns out, most managers don't earn more than they charge the fund. And that means that the average fund does not perform as well as the market. If you are going to consider a managed fund, look for one that has a good 10 year track record. A great one or five year track record could have been caused by some unique factors that had nothing to do with the fund's managers. And, that could actually work against the fund once you've bought it. How should the investment be owned? Ideally, Rich would set up a UGMA (uniform gifts to minors account) for each child. He (or any legal adult) could act as custodian until the child became an adult. Because legally the child owns the money, Rich would not be liable for any taxes on dividends or capital gains. The one disadvantage is that the child can use the money however they choose when they reach the age of adulthood. Using a UGMA account has another advantage. As they become old enough to understand, you can review the quarterly statements with them. It's a perfect opportunity to teach them the basic facts about money. There's another, non-financial benefit of talking to your kids about their investment account. Often children strive to achieve our expectations for them. Knowing that you're saving for their college could encourage them to strive for the grades that they'll need. Rich might also encourage his grandchildren to add to the fund themselves. Kids often receive cash gifts. If they take just a small portion of each gift and add it to their investment account they'll take a keener interest in the account. And, they'll learn how to be investors. Finally, one of the most valuable gifts that you can give a child is an understanding of how compound interest works. There's a huge gulf between people who are paying interest on credit cards and those who are collecting interest on investment accounts. Getting on the right side of that gulf is important. Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website: www.thedollarstretcher.com . The site has hundreds of ways to help you stretch your day and your dollar. Visit today! Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconMother vs. Girlfriend The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com I am a 33-year-old man who recently moved in with my girlfriend. I am also the holder of an auto lease on a 4 year-old Ford Taurus, which has approximately 20 payments left on at $314 each. I leased this auto for my mother to drive, as I was living with her at the time and she suggested my paying for the lease in lieu of paying rent, utilities, etc. I have borrowed money to pay on a car for myself. My girlfriend and I feel that the money spent on the lease should be going toward our own rent and our own future. Besides, the lease is no longer affordable at the current payment, especially when I am no longer staying in my mother's home. She is unable to afford to pay the lease herself. I still want her to have a car to drive, but I don't want to be responsible for this lease any longer. What are my best options in this case? Curt in OH They say that loaning money to a friend is a good way to lose both the money and the friend. I doubt that you can lose your mother, but Curt sure is in a sticky situation. First let's see how he got into this mess. Then we'll look at what options he has to solve it. Curt made a couple mistakes. First, it's a good idea to keep financial transactions simple. He should have paid his mother rent and let her lease a car on her own. Now both deals are tied together. And that's a problem. Second, by leasing the car he made a long term commitment without thinking about how he'd fulfill it. It's a common problem. Curt isn't the first person to sign a car loan or lease agreement without making sure that the money to make payments would be available throughout the life of the loan or lease. Taken together it is almost as if Curt signed a five year apartment lease with his mother!So what can Curt do to keep avoid an un-civil war? He can begin by looking at what he hopes to accomplish and what resources he has available. He wants to do three things. One, he wants to have money to contribute to his current living expenses. Two, he wants to continue to make payments on his car. Three, he doesn't want his mother to give up her car. Apparently, he had enough money for both car payments, but that doesn't leave anything for sharing living expenses. So the solution is either going to have to increase the amount of available money or it's going to require sacrificing one or more of the three goals to some extent. One way to increase the amount of income available would be for mom to take in a border or Curt to take a part-time job until the lease payments are completed. It's possible that Curt and his mom won't want to try either solution. But then Curt must recognize that he probably can't meet all three goals. At least not without some adjustment. Curt might have to tell mom that he can't continue the lease payments and leave her the choice of taking over the payments or giving up the car. If mom chooses to give up the car Curt will need to close the lease early. He'll probably have to pay a penalty. He can't just quit making lease payments. That would damage his credit rating. If the termination penalty is too great, Curt might decide to sell his car and keep the Taurus for himself. Of course that means when the lease is up he'll be looking for a car again. It's possible that a lower lease payment might help. One way to do that is to refinance the lease. That would provide lower lease payments, but would extend the term of the lease. Still another option would be for Curt to sell his car and buy something that wouldn't require a car payment or would require a lower payment. It's also possible that Curt could pay part of his mother's lease and still have something to help his girlfriend pay rent. One thing for every one involved to remember is that in 20 months the lease will be up. Curt won't be responsible for paying it at that point. And mom will be without the Taurus. So what should Curt do? Only he can decide what option will keep mother and girlfriend on speaking terms. It's likely that there is no answer that will please everyone. Perhaps the best Curt can do is to be more knowledgeable next time he faces a similar situation. Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website where you'll find hundreds of ways to stretch your day and your dollar. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconHigh Definition TV The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com My husband and I are considering purchasing a new television set. We know there are some changes in the way the programs will be broadcast and viewed in the near future. We think we are right to wait another year or two to replace our existing TV, but we are getting some confusing information about what this new technology will bring. There are some great bargains now, but it seems like purchases today will be seriously outdated soon. Could you explain what consumers have in store for them with the new high definition TV and what they need to know prior to making new TV purchases. Susan In the beginning was analog TV. And we watched it happily for 50 years. But new digital TV technology will make analog obsolete. There are two main advantages of digital TV. It provides a clearer, sharper picture and it has a wider display much like a theatre. High definition television (HDTV) monitors can produce up to 6 times more picture detail because they receive and display much more data. Susan's right. Analog TV will be phased out. Originally planned for 2006, probably somewhat later. But, even when analog programming is no longer being broadcast, you'll be able to buy a set-top box that will make your old set usable. There are three things involved in getting true HDTV. First, you need a HD digital signal source. That could come from a DVD, your cable company or even an antennae. Next, you'll need a digital tuner. It can be a separate set-top box or be built into the receiver. Finally, you'll need a HD digital monitor. What you see will only be as good as the weakest component. If Susan buys a set now, she'll need to choose between an analog and digital model. Her decision will depend on how she plans on using the TV. If it is the home's main set and will be used for movies, she'll want to consider the more expensive digital sets. But if it's a second set that's only used to watch the news before drifting off to sleep, then an analog set should do the job. Susan might save some money by considering an EDTV (extended definition TV). It's less expensive than the HDTV and provides a picture that's similar to HDTV. She'll have a number of other choices to make. She can purchase an HD monitor and a separate receiver box or an integrated unit that includes both. An 'HD ready' monitor will not include a digital tuner. Next is the set's format. Some are made to the 720p standard and will only produce 720 lines of resolution. Others are designed on the 1080i standard and display 1080 lines. More lines means a better picture. Especially on the larger monitors. There are a number of technologies being used in displays. And, more are on the drawing boards. Unless you're a real videophile probably the best way to compare sets is with your own eyes in the store. There's no sense paying for a difference that you can't see. Even if you buy an HDTV monitor you will still have compatibility issues. For some time to come, the monitor will need to be able to produce a picture from an analog signal, for instance your VCR or video game. That means you'll need composite, S-video and component video jack inputs. Susan also needs to consider what type of sound she wants. If she's using a separate sound system, all she needs to buy is a monitor or monitor/tuner combination. Otherwise an HDTV receiver will include a stereo amp and speakers. Something non-technical to consider is how much and how long you'll use your TV. Many families have their main set on most of the day. And, they'll keep a TV for many years. So, unlike an item that you use infrequently, this might be the time to go for a little better quality. What about extended warranties? Ask about the warranty that comes with the set. Most are for one year. The newest technologies usually mean more problems until the design and manufacturing problems are worked out. That means extended warranties are more valuable. What about waiting? There are a couple of advantages. The trend is towards thinner displays. So, if space is an issue for you, waiting could produce better choices. Also, reliability is likely to improve. Especially on the newest technologies. Not to mention that prices are dropping. But those are hard to predict. Whatever Susan decides, we hope that she gets the maximum viewing pleasure per dollar spent! Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher newsletters and website TheDollarStretcher.com You'll find thousands of ways to stretch your day and your dollar! Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconHow To Get Your Family To Save by Jonni McCoy www.miserlymoms.com How do you get your family committed to a budget? This proves to be one of the harder parts of the miserly lifestyle. If you are pinching the copperfrom each penny, but your family eats out for lunch or buys designer jeans, you have a hole inthe budget bag. Spouses and children need to be handled a bit differently, so I will address them separately. In order to get my spouse to agree to the spending changes that I wanted to try, I needed to convince him that those changes would be easy and profitable. The best thing I did to convince my husband was to annualize the savings that we could achieve. By reducing expenses and applying my guidelines to ourgroceries, I showed him that I could save $6,800 per year from our current budget. By quitting myjob, I could reduce other hidden expenses by another $8,600 per year. By doing both (quitting andapplying miserly ways), I was saving our family over $15,000 per year. Ask what they could do with an extra $15,000. Another thing that impressed my husband was the first major purchase made with the savings I had accumulated. After 2 months of miserly shopping and cooking, I had set aside enough money to buy 6 oak dining room chairs. That spoke to him. The icing on the cake was when I explained that it doesn't take me that much time, and is wellworth the trouble (it takes me about 7 hours per week). Many of us tend to have certain weak spots in which we spend freely. Be creative with anytrouble spots that your family has with money. If the problem is with buying books, learn to use the inter-library loan system to read any book in print for free. Do the same for music or videos.If it's the "gotta have a new outfit every day" attitude that is eating up the budget, learn wherethe best rerun and consignment shops are located. If computer software is the weakness, explore some shareware catalogs for cheaper fare. If eating out is the problem, make tasty lunches for them to take. The last tip that helped my husband "see the light" was to write down everything that we spentfor one month. Categorize what you spent entertainment, food, subscriptions, clothes,household, hobbies, bank fees for overdraft charges, etc.) and figure the total for each category. See how much was wasted on trivia. Show your spouse the damage. He/she might become a convert then. Convincing the kids to save can be equally as challenging as the spouse. The younger kidsseem to need a different approach than the hormonal teenagers, so I will add some tips for theolder kids separately. While shopping, it is very easy to give in to a child's persistent whining about a toy or specialfood treat, especially when you are holding a toddler, a shopping list, and your diaper bag. It'seasier to just grab what is convenient or familiar and get out of the store as fast as possible. These are the times where your miserly skills are tested severely. The best way to solve this battle is to get your kids on your side. Get them to see the finances your way. If junior understands that there is a limited amount of money to be spent at thestore, then he will say, "Oh, yeah" when you remind him that you can't afford that impulse item or more expensive brand of cereal. With this in mind, I have made some tips that have helped get my kids involved: While at the store, explain the total amount that you plan to spend at this store. Give them a calculator and have them keep a running total for you ofwhat you have spent. It helps them see what it costs, and helps keep them busy. Control your own impulse shopping. If they are used to seeing you buy whatever you want when you go shopping, then they won't understand why they can't dothe same. Let them see you put some of your things back when you realize you have gonebeyond the budget. Use the opportunity to help them learn to make choices. Explain that if we buy this brand of cereal that we won't have enough money to do something else. Ask them if they want to use their allowance to buy it. They then realize the value of money. For the very persistent (and young), let them pick only one item that isn't budgeted for. Allother wants have to be traded for that one, so that when you get to the cash register, they only have one item. Teenagers are another story, with their own unique challenges. Here are some tips that have helped us: When shopping for clothes and the "name brand" bug bites the kids, give them their portion of the budgeted clothes money. This amount should beno more than what would pay for good off-brand clothes on sale or at a rerun store. Let them make up the difference for designer label clothes by using their allowance and job money. Show them how to shop for their name brand items at good resale, consignment and thrift shops. For food, try these kitchen tested ideas: Watch what is being snacked on. Snack foods and teenagers can be a costly combination. Make your own muffins, breads, pizza, drinks, etc. If you can't make something very well (such as potato chips), stock up on them when they go on sale. Also, since bulk eating is usually an issue, practice bulk cooking (cooking once a month,etc.) Happy Frugality! Jonni McCoy and her family live in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She is the author of Miserly Moms, Frugal Families - Making the Most of Your Hard-Earned Money, and Miserly Meals. You can visit her website at www.miserlymoms.com . Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconInheriting Debts The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com My children's real father is an alcoholic. He has some very old medical bills that he has only been paying like $10 a month - just to keep them off his back. If he dies are the children responsible for the leftover? He doesn't have any assets and doesn't even have insurance to pay for his funeral. He is in very bad health and my daughter has taken over his checkbook and pays his bills out of his disability check. She asked me and I told her that I didn't think they would be responsible but I would try to find out. Margaret Someone once said that you should try to spend your last dollar the minute before you die. Although it's an interesting idea, I'm not sure that it makes for a good financial plan! For most of us the best plan is one that provides enough money for our life and leaves something to our children as a legacy. Unfortunately, there are some who are not able to reach that goal. Sometimes through misfortune and other times through decisions that didn't work out. It would appear that Margaret's ex was one of those people. The good news for Margaret's children is that you cannot 'inherit' a debt unless you were a party to it prior to the debtor's death. You must accept responsibility for a debt. Here's a simplified version of what happens. When a person dies someone is assigned to handle their estate. Usually that person is mentioned as the 'executor' or 'personal representative' in the will. If none is designated the state will assign someone. The estate is used to close out all financial transactions of the dearly departed. First, all final bills are paid. If there are any assets left after that, then the remaining assets are divided according to a will, trust or state law. Be sure to check for life insurance policies. People often have policies that they bought decades ago that are still valid. If the debts are greater than the assets, then the assets are sold and used to pay as many debts as possible. Secured debts (i.e. mortgage or car payments) come first. Unsecured debts (i.e. credit cards) after. Old medical bills would be unsecured. Any debts that are left after the money runs out would not be repaid and the creditor takes the loss. Sometimes people try to give away their assets before dying in an attempt to avoid leaving the money to pay debts. Creditors have the right to try to reverse those gifts even after death. Although Margaret's children are probably in the clear, they need to make sure that they don't accept responsibility unintentionally. That can happen in a number of ways. If you put money into a joint account the money is available for either joint member. A common situation is where an elderly parent adds an adult child to their checking account to allow them to write checks to pay bills for the parent. Any money that either of them has put into the account can be used to pay the bills of parent or child. Joint credit cards are another potential danger. As far as the credit card company is concerned they can collect the entire account from either person on the account. So if Margaret's daughter has a joint credit card with her Dad she will be responsible for any balance after he dies. Even if she never used the card. And, if she doesn't make timely payments her credit rating will be effected. You don't need a joint account to be allowed to write checks or make credit card purchases. A signed request by Dad will get check writing authorization or a second credit card. If there's currently a joint credit card she should try to get it closed as soon as possible. If the account has a balance, try to transfer it to a new account in only Dad's name. Margaret's daughter also needs to be careful on how they pay her father's bills. She should not write checks from her account. It's unlikely, but there's no sense giving anyone the idea that she's accepting responsibility for his debts. If she wants to help him financially, she should write a check to him and deposit it into his account. It's probably a good thing for all of us that parents can't put their children in debt. A lot of us who survive raising teenagers wouldn't be opposed to a little 'post-mortem payback' for those troublesome years! Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher newsletters and website TheDollarStretcher.com You'll find thousands of ways to stretch your day and your dollar! Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconWatch Your Receipts By Cheryl Gochnauer Since my ability to stay home hinges on my financial status, I guard my money when I shop. I'm not talking about watching out for muggers, though that's a wise idea, too. It simply means I watch cash register totals carefully and point out discrepancies when I see them. You would be amazed how many times the totals are wrong, whether you are at the grocery store, the gas pumps or your favorite discount center. Here are some common shopping pitfalls to watch for: Sale items ringing up at regular price. "New and improved" packaging that charges the same price for lessproduct. Clerks forgetting to subtract coupons. Items being rung up twice. "We just ran out" excuses, when you're shopping on the first day ofthe sale. Perishables being sold past their expiration date. Substitutions that don't match the quality of the advertisedproduct. Damaged product (dented cans, slit boxes, broken seals, etc.) soldat full price. It's also important for the customer to understand the requirements of any special deals being offered. For instance, I may have to buy more than one of the advertised item to get the discount. Perhaps I have to make a minimum purchase or submit a special coupon before the savings kick in. Or maybe the markdown is only valid on certain days. Another thing to keep in mind? These hard-saved dollars are too precious to be spent at stores that don't respond positively to customers' requests and concerns. Smart managers understand they attract a lot more Momma Bears with honey than vinegar. So watch those receipts, and let both price and service be your guides as you shop for your family. Comments? Email Cheryl@homebodies.org or visit the active messageboards at www.homebodies.org . Pernmission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconA Lot of Debt, Some Cash and a New Car The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com I need some advice. We are buying a new car and have a lot of credit card debt. Should we pay cash for the car and own it free and clear? Or pay down some of the debt and finance half of the car purchase? Carrie Carrie asks a good question. And, she has plenty of company. Studies show that the average family now has over $18,000 in debts (excluding their mortgage). At the same time millions of those families will be car shopping this year. What should Carrie do? Let's start by comparing the cost of the two loans. We're going to have to make some assumptions about Carrie's credit rating and the interest rates charged. To get more precise she can do the calculations using her actual rates. For illustration, we're going to assume that she has $10,000 available. If she uses the money to pay for the car she'll have $10,000 more in credit card debt. At a rate of 14%, it will cost $1,400 per year in interest payments. A car loan will be a lower cost loan. About 8% lower than the credit card rate. It will run about 6%. That means she'll pay $600 per year in interest payments. So using the money to pay off credit card debt will save her $800 per year. Why is that? The auto loan is a 'secured' loan. In other words, the car guarantees the loan. If Carrie doesn't make her car payment the lender can repossess the car. That's not true with a credit card. They can't repossess yesterday's pizza. There's another advantage to using the money to pay down credit card debt. It could improve Carrie's credit score. The amount of money that you owe makes up 30% of your credit score. The only thing more important (35%) is how good you are about paying your bills on time. And, it's not just how much Carrie owes. How close she is to the account maximum is considered, too. So, by paying down the accounts that are the closest to being maxed out, she'll not only be spending less each month on interest, but she could lower the rate that she'll pay on the auto loan. While she's thinking of her credit score, Carrie should also check for errors in her report. Studies have shown that about one in four have an error large enough to affect the rate you pay to borrow money. When she's car shopping Carrie shouldn't let every dealer access her credit file. Too many queries over a short period of time will actually reduce her credit score. In fact, if Carrie is going to make car payments, she'd be wise to line up her financing before she goes car shopping. Her bank or credit union is likely to give her a better rate than a dealer. It's hard to be sure whether Carrie really means to buy a 'new' car or simply a 'newer' car. Hopefully she'll consider the newer car. The reason is simple. A new car loses it's value much quicker than a used car does. For instance, according to KelleyBlueBook.com , a new Ford Taurus will lose approximately 50% of it's value in the first three years. Depending on options, that's roughly $10,000. But, that same Taurus will lose a little less than $4,000 from years four through six. Sure Carrie would be driving a little older car. But she'll save $2,000 per year for the sacrifice. Another option would be for Carrie to consider delaying the car purchase for a year. Let's look at how much cash that could mean to her. By applying $10,000 to reducing credit card debt she'll save $1,400 in interest during the year assuming a rate of 14%. Sure she might need to put a little of that money into repairs. But, she'll still be richer when she does go car shopping a year from now. As a general rule, if you have 'a lot' of credit card debt the best thing you can do is to pay it off first. It's usually the most expensive debt. And carrying large card balances can come back to haunt you in a variety of ways. Especially after an auto purchase has taken most of your cash reserves. Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website: www.TheDollarStretcher.com You'll find thousands of articles to help you stretch your day and your dollar. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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