Amusement parks can be a great vacation, especially if you like rides that test your ability to hold your lunch.
The more popular amusement parks, like the Disney family of parks, are busy much of the year. And busy can mean long wait times on the rides.
Since time is far more valuable than money, it would make sense that there would be a way to buy less time in line for those who value their time with their family highly enough. And indeed there is: the Disney VIP Tour Services. For between $300 and $400 per hour, a Disney VIP Tour Guide will give your family five-star treatment, which includes “[t]he ability to experience some of your favorite attractions efficiently, even repeatedly.”
Translation: With a Disney VIP Tour Guide, you and your kids will wait less to get onto the rides.
However, some people have found a cheaper way to cut in line, without strong-arming everyone in their path. Some very enterprising people apparently hire their own tour guides for less than half the price, and get some of the same line-cutting benefit as if they had hired a Disney VIP Tour Guide.
These tour guides are bound to a motorized scooter. Because of the nature of their disability, they and up to five members of their party can enter through an auxiliary entrance. From the linked Disneyland Park Guide for Guests with Disabilities:
Auxiliary Entrance Limitations Some attractions have auxiliary entrances for Guests with mobility disabilities or with service animals. These entrances are not intended to bypass waiting lines. Guests with disabilities and up to five members of their party may enter through these entrances. The rest of the party should use the standard queue.
The company that once arranged the tours in question has stopped offering them for the time being. One article from the New York Post’s web site is not complimentary of this practice at all. (Perhaps some of the “inaccurate press” that Dream Tours Florida alleges can be seen in the second paragraph of the NY Post article; the Post alleges that the tour guides “pose[d] as family members” when it’s clear from the Disney text above that they didn’t need to.)
Perhaps the issue is the sentence from the Disneyland Park Guide: “These entrances are not intended to bypass waiting lines.” Indeed they aren’t; their primary purpose is to make it easier for people with disabilities to enter the rides. That these entrances almost always have very few people on them is just a fortunate coincidence. Anyone offering tours can state the rules from the brochure, and promise nothing else, thereby deflecting the notion that they intended to bypass the waiting lines. “They didn’t promise shorter wait times, but, well, it just worked out really well for us anyway.”
At present, this appears to be a loophole which regularly results in shorter wait times. Tour guides do not have to lie that they are family members. It is legal to hire pretty much whoever you want as a tour guide. It’s certainly illegal to say that you cannot hire a disabled tour guide. And $130/hour — or even half of that — isn’t chump change for anybody, so it’s hard to justify even that the disabled tour guides are being exploited.
People with money can buy luxury. Smart people with money can buy luxury for less. I don’t see anything wrong with people spending money pretty much how they choose for what they want, and if they’ve found a way to do it for less, good on them. They’re still paying far more than someone with a standard park pass, who instead pays with more time spent in line. That seems like a fair trade to me, but some people don’t like this, can’t have this, and will work to make sure that no one will have it. This is envy, and there’s no satisfying it until the luxury is eliminated.
UPDATE: Disney is already looking into this matter, and is promising action that will end the practice. Looks like it will be back to paying for a Disney VIP Tour Guide for the shorter lines.
I was chatting with a coworker a few days ago, and the topic of price-check guarantees came up.
A price-check guarantee at a grocery store says something like this: “If an item rings up for more than the price on the shelf, we’ll knock $3 off of the lower price. If the item is less than $3, you get it free.”
I’ve caught errors like this before, and I’ve been more than happy to get the mis-priced items for next to nothing. My line of reasoning was that this was a whip to keep their prices accurate, and to provide a good customer experience if they didn’t. (Not all stores do even this. Some don’t bother to fix errors, even when they’re called on them.)
But my coworker had a different take. He argued that the store was the one who got the bargain.
His take on it was this: “Customers: Hunt for errors in our pricing. If you find something, we’ll throw a little bonus at you. If not, well sorry but you wasted your time and mental energy. In either case, we don’t have to pay employment tax or benefits for your efforts because you’re not our employee. And you’re maintaining our price database either way.”
The store owners wouldn’t say this to their customers in quite this way, of course,, but perhaps there’s a shred of truth somewhere in there?
Asking customers to take their time to do something for free (or almost free) has almost no downside business-wise if it’s done tactfully. Consider links to surveys that come printed out on receipts from grocery stores or restaurants. You might have a small chance at winning a $1,000 gift card, but likely you won’t win, and they get your feedback anyway.
The bottom line is that anything offered by a business to its customers likely is done with the intention of making a lot more from them on the backend.
The post Price-check guarantees are a great bargain … for businesses? appeared first on Mighty Bargain Hunter.
Utilities make up a dependable expense in a family’s budget. Along with grocery expenses, it’s also a place that usually has a bit of slop that can be removed if things get tight.
And if cleanliness is next to godliness, certainly we all take regular showers or baths. The extent to which we do this directly affects our utility bills.
A typical shower or bath consumes on the order of 30 to 40 gallons of water. It’s easy to estimate this:
- Start filling the tub. Note the time.
- Grab a pitcher — we used a gallon pitcher — and measure how long it takes to fill the picther. Ours took 20 seconds to fill. This is three gallons per minute (one gallon divided by one-third of a minute).
- When the tub is done filling for your bath, turn the water off and note the time. It took us 12 minutes to fill the tub to the proper level.
- Running the faucet at three gallons per minute for 12 minutes puts out a total of 36 gallons. Done.
You can figure out the amount of water used in a shower the same way.
This water goes down the drain. Now, of course, it’s greywater (household wastewater), so it has more limited use.
But it’s not useless. If you can tolerate keeping the tub full after taking a bath or shower, this greywater in most cases can be re-used to flush toilets. All you need is a couple of pitchers.
Flushing the toilet with greywater from the bathtub, then, involves repeating these steps:
- Pour about a gallon of water into the bowl quickly. If you can get by with less, great. This will flush the bowl and leave the water level low in the bowl.
- Pour one to two quarts of water slowly into the bowl to refill the bowl.
Note: Don’t fill the toilet holding tank with the greywater. This can be hard on the flushing mechanisms, and might back-siphon into the fresh water supply if the water pressure drops. Pour the water directly into the bowl. (It will take the same path that all greywater would go.)
This might fall into the “more trouble than it’s worth” category, but we’ve already re-used a tub’s worth of water by doing this. We personally haven’t seen any ill effects with the tub water hanging around for a few days, but one to two tablespoons of chlorine bleach per gallon would knock most of the nasties out of the water. It’s an individual judgment of risk and trouble vs. reward. Even a few gallons saved is better than nothing.
If this is indeed more trouble than it’s worth, then what about just capturing the water coming from the shower head as it’s heating up? I get a gallon of water right there, and it’s clean water, not greywater.
Anyone have more elaborate greywater systems (especially installed ones)?
The post Extremely low-tech greywater toilet flushing system appeared first on Mighty Bargain Hunter.
Many stores offer loyalty cards. These plastic cards often come in pairs: one for your wallet, and a smaller one with a hole in it for your keychain. Presenting the loyalty card at checkout entitles you to special prices on particular products, as well as other periodic perks like announcements of special sales, follow-on coupons, etc.
Stores don’t provide loyalty programs out of the goodness of their hearts. Providing the customer loyalty program costs them money, and they want to profit by it. They get their money back either by targeted advertising that others pay for, or by getting you to spend more at their store.
I have a number of loyalty cards. When signing up for them, I usually had to provide some personal information like address, email address, and phone number. This information is now of value to the store immediately — they now know how to contact someone who spends money at their store. I can expect to get fliers in the mail containing special sales announcements. I can also get the same through e-mail.
The purchases also make more valuable to them for targeted third-party offers. If I have a habit of buying one kind of cereal, for example, a competitor might pay the store to get a coupon in front of me at the time of purchase for $1.00 off of their cereal. They can then subsequently track me to see if I used the coupon. Or, just as easily, the company I’m loyal to could give me a coupon for their new cereal.
Overall, I think loyalty programs are a good thing, because you get access to deals that you wouldn’t otherwise. But it always is good to remember the store’s purpose of customer loyalty programs: to extract more money out of you. Here are a few ways to get more than your fair share from a store loyalty program:
- Put coupons in context. If you’re offered a coupon at checkout after you scan your card, see why it was given to you. Also, see if the coupon makes the item a good deal or not.
- Keep your own data on what things cost. A special price through a loyalty program looks special, but is it? Another store may have the same item cheaper without any loyalty discount. (Case in point: Walmart doesn’t have a loyalty program, and they claim the reason for this is because they want to give everyday low prices to everyone, all the time.)
- Realize that any deal-induced urgency is created on purpose. Some stores will offer a coupon, say, for $5 off an order of $50 or more, but the coupon will be good only for a week. Translation: “Come back soon and spend a lot of money with us. But hurry!” The fear of loss is a powerful motivator. Recognize it for what it is.
- Balance the cost of your time with the savings. If you’re offered a special coupon for a particular event, see if it’s worth going in to the store to redeem it. If it takes you too far out of your way, it may not be worth the time.
- Don’t be pressured into buying something you don’t want. This is generally good advice, but since the data you’ve provided to the store through the loyalty program makes the ads served to you more targeted, the ads will be more appealing. Forewarned is forearmed.
What other tips do you have for making best use of loyalty programs? Share them in the comments!
Printers have sure come a long way. I fondly remember by Commodore MPS-801 dot matrix printer with 42 pixels — total — for each letter. It used continuous fanfold paper and only printed in one direction.
Fast forward thirty years. (Yikes!) Now our current printer does full color, two-sided, in pretty much any font I want. The Brother HL-4070CDW printer cost us about the same, in current dollars, as my MPS-801 did back in the mid 1980s.
I still think the cost of ownership for our Brother printer is less, but the toner cartridges are expensive. A full set of high-capacity cartridges set us back over $350 — about as much as the printer itself cost us.
When laser printers attack
To make matters worse, when the “replace toner cartridge” indicator went on for one of the colors, the display would go red and it would refuse to print anything. We had no choice but to replace the cartridge, after which it usually worked.
Except the last time it didn’t work. We put in a fresh yellow toner cartridge, and it smiled at us and told us to replace the yellow toner cartridge. Now, I’m not always the sharpest tack in the box, but I knew that the solution was not to buy another yellow toner cartridge.
So we went to Google and it led us first to Brother’s help page on the subject. We tried everything there. We even had another drum unit on standby because that indicator had been on for about six months, and replaced it when the rest of the steps on the help page didn’t resolve the problem.
At this point, I wondered if the indicator was just based on number of printed pages, rather than some ink sensing mechanism that indicated that the cartridge was empty. If that were the case, then whatever inserting the new cartridge does to reset the counter wasn’t working, and I might just be able to reset the counter manually.
It turns out that was the answer. Someone paid $28 for the answer here, but I took advantage of it for free. We entered service mode with a special incantation, and reset the counter. After that, it worked.
The lesson we learned is this: You don’t necessarily trust the printer when it tells you to replace the toner cartridge, especially if the print quality isn’t horrible. Now, I’m not saying that Brother programmed their printers to tell you to replace the cartridges when they’re 3/4 full, but it would make sense that they program it to tell you to replace them before the print quality went down.
If the replace toner cartridge indicator comes on as a result of page count, it’s just an estimate. It’s not based on how much toner is left in the cartridge.
Try to use up all of the toner before replacing the cartridge! If the printer is telling you to replace it when it’s not empty, figure out how to fool it. It’s just a machine.
The post Don’t believe the “replace toner cartridge” warning appeared first on Mighty Bargain Hunter.
My recent post on running a practice month on a furlough budget had a comment from Dan:
I created a furlough calculator for everyone I work with. It quickly made its way around the globe and many civil service employees are using it to project the near future. It is a simple excel spreadsheet that people can plug their current information in from their LES and it’ll automatically compute their furlough amounts. The calculator is available [here].
I downloaded the calculator. It works not only with Excel, but also with Open Office.
It’s very detailed, clear and easy to use, and has the kinds of deductions that a federal employee would expect on their leave and earnings statement. It prints on a single page.
I recommend running the numbers if you’re looking at a furlough — especially if you’re a Department of Defense or Federal Aviation Administration employee and are looking at a whopping twenty-two furlough days.
Furlough is bad news, but the sooner you internalize the shortfall, the more time you have to prepare, and the less of a shock it will be.
And thanks to Dan, calculating the reduced paycheck amount is free with this furlough pay calculator, and all laid out for you. Take advantage of it!
Time and money aren’t the same thing. Time is much more valuable than money. We only get so much time to prepare our legacy. “They aren’t making any more,” the saying goes.
A person with plenty of money wants to spend less time doing routine tasks, and can afford to pay to spend less time. A person that’s a bit tight on money will be willing to spend time in order to spend less money. In extreme cases, a person may be forced to spend a lot of time.
My wife and daughter went to a secondhand clothing store last week. They both needed some different clothes, because my daughter is growing and my wife is shrinking. They ended up spending $30 for seven pieces of clothing: four pairs of pants for $6 each, and three shirts for $2 each for my daughter.
This was a good deal. One of the pairs of pants that my wife got was in the neighborhood of $30 pair, new. She got all seven pieces of clothing for that price in the secondhand store.
As good as that deal was, though, she might have paid even less for a similar set of clothes. This store had an interesting way to sell some of the clothes that hadn’t moved in a while: one dollar per pound. The clothes she got might have been about $5 at that price.
There was a catch, though. (Isn’t there always a catch?) The clothes-by-the-pound items were strewn all over a table, and jumbled up. There was little order to styling, type of clothing, color, material, or size. It was the clothing version of a Walmart DVD bargain bin.
She took a look at that, and said, “I don’t have time for this.” She was in a hurry to get somewhere else, so that was a true statement.
In the broader sense, though, she likely would be wasting time digging through all of those clothes. First there’s piling through the clothes to find things that *might* fit, and then trying them on. Since the clothes had no order, she’d need to either look at the size on each tag, or guesstimate the size by wrapping the waistband around her jeans as a rough gauge.
She could easily have spent a couple of hours doing that. She might have found a bunch of clothes that worked. She might have found a few. She might have found none. The payoff for the time spent was questionable.
Effective bargain hunting isn’t just about spending as little as possible. There’s always a context, and the time spent finding the bargain is an important context. The more valuable your time, the less time that should be spent saving money. If minimizing the money spent needs to be the goal, expect to spend more time doing it.
Finding the best value for the time spent is what you want to strive for. Don’t let the money value of time get away from you.
The post Watch the money value of time when bargain hunting appeared first on Mighty Bargain Hunter.
I darkened the doorstep of the Personal Finance and Money Stack Exchange for the first time in a while. (If for no other reason than to be a thorn in Little Advisor‘s side. )
My wife uses Square and loves it. She’s used it to sell copies of An Uncivilized Yankee and A Great Wide Nowhere to people through her business. “You take credit cards?!” they ask, mouths agape. The flat pricing model — 2.75% without monthly charges — is a game-changer. Forget $20+ per month, plus a set-up fee of $100 or more, before you make your first charge.
There was a question about using Square in a non-business setting. As in selling something to a buyer responding to a Craigslist ad, or at a yard sale.
Immediately I went into “Whoa, camel!” mode and questioned whether this was within their terms and conditions. It’s a merchant account, after all. I’d never heard of anyone accepting credit cards outside of a registered business setting.
Frankly, I couldn’t figure definitively from the terms and conditions whether accepting credit cards in a personal capacity was allowed or not. People responded that there was nothing in the terms and conditions prohibiting it, but I still felt uneasy because the prohibition could have been buried somewhere.
So after arguing a bit, I finally did what I should have done in the first place: ask Square about it.
Their response surprised me. No, I actually didn’t need to have a business registered to use Square and accept payments for goods and services through credit cards!
That’s a huge paradigm shift. I, Fred Consumer, can sell my old sweaters to someone at my yard sale — and accept his credit card. Crazy!
Accepting credit cards is easy. Staying out of trouble is a bit harder. There are restrictions on the kinds of cards that can be accepted. No gift cards and no prepaid cards. This takes some learning and practice to recognize legitimate cards, along with a lot of other little details on other matters.
Higher-volume credit card transactions are probably still a tad cheaper with a conventional merchant account due to lower transaction fees. There’s also more up-front risk mitigation to justify the lower rate. (It’s not practical for Square or any other merchant account provider to offer a low rate to just anyone who applies.) But for someone just starting out it’s a low-cost way to accept credit cards.
A flat 2.75% is great, but I just see prices getting lower, and deals getting better, as time goes on. There could well be a time that nearly everyone’s a merchant.
Do you use Square or a similar service? How do you like it?
Paying more than the minimum amount due on an installment loan, like an automobile loan or a mortgage, saves on interest expenses in the long run. You owe the money for less time, and hence pay less interest. There are of course lots of ways to pay down loans more quickly. There’s something for everybody who wants to be debt-free. We’re planning to pay down our debts faster after getting a decent emergency fund.
The flip side of paying off debts faster than required by the lender agreement, though, is that the extra money paid toward the debts are then unavailable for other use. The extra money pays down the balance faster, but you can’t take it out after you’ve done that (at least not easily).
However, what if you see leaner times in your future? That’s what many federal employees are looking at now that sequestration has gone into effect. Furloughs are a little over a month away for many. For some of the hardest hit, it could amount to more than two full biweekly paychecks. This is thousands of dollars.
When looking at this loss of income, there is an easy way to save more if you’re already on an accelerated debt repayment plan. That’s simply to go back to paying the minimum on those loans until things get better.
Paying just the minimum on debts does make them stick around longer. That’s the cost. But it does accomplish two things:
- It still keeps creditors happy. In fact, it probably will make them happier! The payments are still coming in, on time. They’re being paid what they require: the minimum. They’re extracting the maximum amount of interest out of you again. Your credit rating will stay where it is, or improve.
- It decreases expenses. Less money going out to debt means more money in the checking account. If you actually have a *need* for the money — as you might during a time of partial layoff — it will be good to have it there.
Now, it certainly is far preferable to cut other areas of consumption first in order to re-normalize the budget — like postponing vacations, eating out less, or doing a targeted no-spend month. If doing these things, and other things, gets you where you need to be with the smaller budget, then there’s no need to pay down debts any slower than you are.
But if the months are just a bit too long for the smaller paychecks, then dialing down the rate at which you’re paying down debt — temporarily — can help. It will reduce the chance that you’ll need to take on more debt during the lean times.
As I’ve mentioned before a couple of times, we live in an area that could likely see a lot of furlough activity. Though there is the possibility of using the furlough days to good benefit, a lot of my friends are looking for good ways to save money as they are looking unlovingly at thousands of dollars in pay cuts into the start of autumn.
Going out to restaurants a lot less, and eating in a lot more, is a great way to save money. You can eat better — and cheaper — by preparing food yourself instead of having someone else prepare (and mark up) the food.
I’ll admit it, though: Going out to eat with friends is fun! And holing up for every meal can be a bit isolating if that’s all you’re paying attention to.
Being anti-spendthrift doesn’t mean being anti-social. Philip Brewer of Wise Bread points out that a frugal change of venue — say, from the coffee shop to the French press in your house — is a good change of pace, even for people who wouldn’t care a lick about being budget-conscious. (Even if they’re not frugal, who wants to argue with “free?”)
We’re fortunate in that most of our friends are already pretty frugal. They’ve already gotten the memo and are practicing now for a few months on a tighter budget.
So when my wife lets me know that there’s chili in the crockpot, we usually can round up some friends to come over to lunch on Sunday after church. (I’ll brag a bit here: My wife doesn’t make chili. My wife doesn’t even make great chili. She makes award-winning chili! She has the ribbon to prove it, even!)
We have a great time with our friends, our kids have fun playing, and it’s far easier on the wallet all the way around. Slow-cooked meals are also easy to prepare: the stuff cooks through the morning and is ready early afternoon.
The extra bonus is that our friends have their mean dishes, and they return the favor.
However, even if your dishes aren’t mean, they’re likely still edible, and your friends will be forgiving of your attempts and/or can bring sides as alternatives.
In any case, they’ll appreciate what you’re sharing: your house, your kitchen, your utensils, your ingredients, and your time. It’s more meaningful and personal than a restaurant lunch.
What favorite budget-friendly meals can you prepare for friends? (Bonus points for slow-cooked dishes!)
The post Be friendly with slow-cooked budget-friendly meals appeared first on Mighty Bargain Hunter.
I’ve been a member of Swagbucks for a bit, and I’ve earned over $300 in Amazon.com gift cards since then. Amazon.com gift cards are one of the best deals that Swagbucks has going on, and they’re almost as good as cash, since you can get just about anything on Amazon.
I recently signed up to tutor someone in business math. The mechanics of getting to the correct answers is well within reach for me, but the terminology was something I didn’t have at my fingertips. And, hopefully after rubbing elbows with personal finance nuts as long as I have, I could pick it up quickly enough to stay ahead of her.
At roughly the same time, my mother-in-law was taking a similar short course. Her textbook for the course was the Basic Business Mathematics Schaum’s outline. These threw me back to my college and grad school days; I had collected about a dozen of them.
These are great for getting up to speed in a subject. Each has concise material, worked-out example questions, and supplementary questions. They’re also cheap. The list price is only $19. It’s far cheaper than a big textbook, and nearly as good.
A used version was available through Amazon for about $2.03 (plus the standard $3.99 flat rate shipping).
But after applying one of the $5 Amazon gift cards I earned from Swagbucks, it was a whopping $1.02, shipped to my door. Even better, since the seller was in a neighboring state, I got it in four days.
The post Earn gift certificates with Swagbucks and get cheap education appeared first on Mighty Bargain Hunter.
Saw this story on MSN Money about a pizza delivery guy who delivered 85 pizzas, costing $1,453.95. He received a $10 tip. A friend of the driver then posts a picture of the receipt on Reddit, and the 15 minutes of fame begins.
The article points out that the tip is less than 1% of the total bill of $1,453.95. (It’s 0.688% of the bill, actually.) Some standards would recommend $2 per pizza, which for this delivery would be $170. Another standard would indicate 10%, or $143 and change.
So another way of putting this guy’s tip in context is to say that he delivered 85 pizzas, but was tipped as if he had delivered five.
Standards are standards, I suppose, but I find it hard to believe that these standards should be applied to such a large order of pizzas. Tipping a pizza delivery guy over a hundred bucks is a little much.
Is it seventeen times more labor-intensive to deliver 85 pizzas than it is to deliver five pizzas? Probably not. A few extra trips from the car, IF the person buying the pizzas (and/or a few of his friends) doesn’t offer to help bring them in. An extra trip from the store if a big truck isn’t available. Another driver if they needed the pizzas fast.
Let’s say maybe three to five times more time- and labor-intensive. So $50, maybe? (I would have rounded the bill up to $1,500 even, for a $46.05 tip. Actually, I probably would have picked them up myself and saved the delivery charges and tips altogether.)
Carrying 85 pizzas might burn a dime’s more worth of gas on the trip. It’s not going to wear the tires down that much faster. It’s more or less like any other delivery (or maybe two deliveries) in that regard.
Yet there’s the expectation that he be paid like a cardiologist because it’s a $1,500 order. Nice work if you can get it, but seriously?
Now, please don’t get me wrong. If you can’t afford a reasonable tip, you can’t afford to eat out (or take delivery). I’m also not arguing that $10 was enough. It wasn’t.
But to ask me to fork over well over $100 for a tip? That’s insane.
There’s a point when you just have to draw the line, and pay someone appropriately for the job they’re doing.
Eating out is a common budget-buster. A meal at a restaurant can cost easily several times what a meal prepared at home would cost. And don’t get me started on the 1,000%-plus markup on sodas!
If dining out is killing your budget, then a simple way to begin bringing the problem under control is to eat out less.
This implies, of course, that you were eating out too much to begin with. What I’m going to suggest to you now is that there are other nice side effects to eating out less besides the fact that you’ll spend less on food, and it will likely be healthier for you if you cook yourself.
When I was in grade school, we were dismissed early on the last day of school. I remember many of those last days of school we would go to McDonald’s for lunch, and I’d get a Filet-O-Fish Happy Meal.
My parents were very frugal (and still are). We didn’t go out to restaurants often at all. We went to McDonald’s a few times a year.
Not a few times a week. A few times a year.
I’m certain that the reason I remember what I got for lunch those times was because we did it so infrequently. Going to McDonald’s was a special occasion.
Fast forward to now. We used to spend a lot of money dining out. I’d be picking up something a few times a week, my wife would stop for something while she was in town with our daughter, and we’d have two, sometimes three or more meals out on the weekends.
It was something we just did. If I were to go through our credit card statement to look at all of the charges for restaurants and fast-food places, they’d all blur together. If it was a really expensive restaurant, I’d be able to say, “Oh yeah, that was our anniversary,” but most of the other stuff? It would take a while to remember even who I was with that time.
Last month, though, we drastically cut down on our eating out. When I went through the charges, a funny thing happened. I knew immediately what the occasion of the meal was for of the charges! We did a few inexpensive things for Valentine’s Day. I grabbed some Chick-Fil-A following an unexpected meeting in town. And so on for a few more of the charges. I remembered the context of all of those meals with no problem.
All of those meals out were memorable. Just like my McDonald’s outings with my mom when I was a lot younger.
If dining out is a special occasion, it will be remembered as such. But you can’t have special occasions every day. If you eat out less, that will help a lot.
At the beginning of this month, sequestration went into effect. This means sweeping cuts of $85 billion from this fiscal year’s budget. To shore up this shortfall, many agencies are furloughing employees during this time, which effectively is a partial layoff.
I live in an area with a lot of federal government employees, many of whom are my friends, and the furlough will affect them if it’s carried out. The effective pay cut is predicted to be about 20% through the end of September if the furlough runs its course.
The good news is that there must be at least thirty days’ notice given to employees prior to a planned federal employee furlough. So, it does come with some warning.
In anticipation of this, one of my friends is having his family do a “furlough practice month” in March. Here’s what they’re doing:
- My friend plugged his paycheck into a calculator that estimated his take-home pay during the furlough.
- And that’s what their budget is going to be for this month, before the furlough is set to kick in during April. The excess goes into savings until the actual cuts occur.
This is a wise thing to do. They’re heeding the warning and taking action to prepare. It’s wise for several reasons:
- The decrease in pay won’t be a shock. They’ve been living on the tighter budget for a bit, by choice. They have a couple of shots to find the least painful places to cut.
- They have time to adjust if they miss the target a bit. Let’s say the month’s pay was going to go down by $800, but they don’t quite make it and end up with net spending only $500 down for the month. That’s fine! They then know to cut an extra $300.
- They’re building up a buffer. What they don’t spend with their tighter budget this month is a buffer: an emergency fund. Extra buffer is a Very Good Thing if times are tougher.
- They’re setting themselves up for frugal living after the furlough. If the furlough runs its course, it will go on for five months. That’s enough time to get used to living on 20% less. Come October, when pay (supposedly) goes back to normal, it will be like getting a 25% raise if they continue with their furlough-times spending habits. Being able to save or invest 25% is a great thing to be able to do!
Whether the federal employee furlough arrives or not is out of the employees’ control. How they handle it is in their control. So planning to live on less before it happens, and having productive furlough days, will be key in arriving safely — and perhaps in better financial shape — on the other end.
The post Prepare for federal employee furlough with a furlough practice budget appeared first on Mighty Bargain Hunter.
We all have spending habits. Some spending habits are more expensive than others, but we have habits nonetheless.
The spending habits we have are often the result of guilty pleasure (choose your favorite; I certainly won’t judge). They can also be related to hobbies, like music.
If you’re looking to save money, though, those spending habits deserve some looking-over, for the very reason that you’re spending without giving it a whole lot of thought.
Challenge: Can you have a no-spend month on your favorite habit?
Bridget from Money After Graduation is considering a hiatus from one of her spending habits. She just tweeted:
“I wonder if I can go a month without downloading anything from iTunes…”
(If she only downloads free stuff, then let’s pretend for the duration of this post that the stuff she downloads costs money.)
This is great to try. Having a no-spend month with just one thing by itself isn’t drastic, but the fact that it’s a favorite habit means that it will be missed, at least for a little while. A few things can come out of this:
- She doesn’t make it the month. Not the end of the world. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to break a habit and haven’t won. Maybe next time.
- She does make it the month, but goes back to downloading music. Perhaps now she has a “less automatic” perspective on downloading, and thinks a little more before downloading, which is a good thing.
- She makes it to the end of the month, and decides that music really wasn’t that important anyway. Maybe she has more music than she knows what to do with already. She enjoys what she has, which is a good thing, too!
In any case, going through the exercise is beneficial.
Have you sworn off buying something for a month (or more)? How did your no-spend month go?
Life can become hectic. The incessant activities of making a living, raising children, and feeding passions can strain the connections associated with married life. One piece of advice that’s often given to married couples experiencing these kinds of strains is to schedule dates — as in put it on the calendar, make reservations, get a babysitter.
What works for “getting the spark back” can also work for dealing with the strain caused by financial problems in marriage: reconnect financially with your spouse by making a “financial date” with them.
My wife and I had such a financial date this afternoon. I was distant with my wife this week, and much of it wasn’t her at all, but me internalizing our upcoming financial pressures and feeling the weight of them.
Following a brief blow-up (completely my fault) and reconciliation, my wife and I took some time to review how we were doing on our personal finance plan. We’ve been working together on executing this plan for a couple of months now; it was a good time to see how we were doing.
By the time we were finishing up with our discussion, we had spent a couple of hours discussing our finances! It went so well, in fact, that my wife suggested that we make a monthly date out of it. Why not do this every first Saturday of the month?
What are some good things to do on such a financial date? Well, here’s what we did:
- We looked at where the money went. For the first time in — ever? — I had categorized pretty much all of our transactions for the past two months. In the process we figured out a few more things about Quicken and learned how to read the reports it generated from our entered transactions.
- We found the hot spots. Our main hot spot was groceries. (Our previous hot spot was eating out, but we’ve gotten that under much better control.) As a result of seeing our grocery total, I’ll go back to categorize last month’s grocery expenses in a more granular manner. This way we can hone in on what needs work on that part.
- We discussed other ways to save money. A big part of what was weighing on me this week was the frustration of finding other ways to earn more. This was out of really not knowing how to manage with less. Fortunately, my wife has had to get by with less, so this kind of thing doesn’t scare her as badly.
- We saw what we were doing well. We ate out much less than we have in the past, and our checking account balance was far less scary than it had been. There was no end-of-the-month panic this time. Also, the fact that we were discussing money in a calm manner was also a good thing by itself!
- We revisited our plan. I went back to our plan and verified that it was still reflecting what we wanted to do. Even a bad plan is better than no plan, because you can fix a bad plan.
- We made plans to do it all again in a month. Making the discussion a regular touch point brings some continuity and solidifies the plan.
Do you have regular financial dates with your spouse to reduce financial problems in marriage? If you do, what do you do on them?
The post Reduce financial problems in marriage with regular financial dates appeared first on Mighty Bargain Hunter.
I give grocery stores a lot of credit. They do seem to come up with new and exciting ways to get you to spend more money while giving you the impressing that you’re saving money.
As I was going through my receipts to enter things in Quicken to track our spending, I ran across what looked like an in-store coupon for Mio Water Enhancers. It was good for $1.00 off two, $2.00 off three, or $3.00 off four or more.
What I missed initially was the “Not A Redeemable Coupon” in light letters at the top of the slip. So when I handed the coupon to the checkout person, she told me it wasn’t a coupon and explained what it actually was. After I paid for the products (full price), I received an in-store coupon good for the specified amount.
On my next visit. Not right then, like I had thought.
The coupon, of course, has an expiration date. (I’ve found that even if a store says that something doesn’t expire, it actually can expire.) The grocery store really would be quite happy if I forgot to redeem the coupon by the expiration date. They likely got some bounty for delivering the coupon to me, so they’ve won already.
So, upon receiving the coupon — finally — I took my groceries out to the car, and went right back in for my next visit. I found two containers of dishwashing soap that cost $3.00, plus $0.15 tax. Cost after applying the coupon: $0.15. (I didn’t use a credit card for that transaction. They could have refused it anyway if they wanted to.)
The best time to redeem an in-store coupon is as soon as possible. Cash the coupon in and get real value from it before it goes away, which it usually does quickly. Don’t give yourself any leeway to forget about it.
My mother-in-law was very happy today. Four popped collars happy. So happy, in fact, she gave me not one, but two high-fives.
Her taxes were finished. Practically signed, sealed, and delivered. Just waiting on one form from an investment firm that was overdue, but otherwise, done and done!
She didn’t have a simple return, either. Let’s just say that her tax situation this year was … complicated. State taxes for three different states was just the start.
Yet the tax return, crazy as it was, only took a meeting of a couple of hours with a tax preparer. How did she do it?
In essence, she had been preparing her taxes from January 1st of last year until now. Her payoff was an easy meeting with the tax preparer.
Through experience, she had learned the kinds of records she needed to keep for tax purposes. She knew the big sources of deductions that pertained to her and my father-in-law’s work, and organized them accordingly. The records were already in one place, categorized and ready to go for the meeting with her tax preparer.
She had a fairly painless tax preparation season. I won’t have such a painless one. It will take more than two hours, for sure, because I still have to assemble a lot of records to get ours done. My records aren’t well-organized. This year is off to a better start, but that’s this year, not last year.
H&R Block At Home has made it easy for me the past three years to get our taxes done, but that assumes that I have my ducks in a row. No program — no tax preparer, really — can make up for disorganization.
Pay now, or pay later. The choice is yours how easily you get your taxes done!
My tax-advantaged retirement account from my employer offers a valuable piece of information on our annual statements.
It’s the amount of monthly retirement income I can expect, given the amount I have in there now.
This amount really was nothing to write home about. (It amounts to about 6% of my gross income.) But I’m forty, so I still have time to bolster this. Whether or not my age group has more saved up or less saved up than I do doesn’t matter, just like it doesn’t matter how much or little debt I have compared to other people. I need to look at myself, and my family’s needs.
This should be a feature of each and every annual statement from a retirement investment account. It’s a very helpful one. It’s not unlike the payoff statements that are now part of every credit card bill. (Credit card companies don’t want you to know how much you’ll pay if you make just the minimum payments, or how long it will take, but thanks to the CARD Act, they have to provide this information now.)
Starting early is the biggest way to get a head start on retirement savings. Starting late makes it virtually impossible to catch up, short of winning the lottery. So the more wake-up calls that urge you to get started early, the better.
May as well do it now. The clock is ticking.
Nothing derails well-laid-out financial plans like a giant expense. The kind of expense that consumes one or more full paychecks.
Big expenses happen to everybody. Some are unplanned, like an emergency room visit, or a trip to the vet after a pet gets bitten by a copperhead. It’s for this reason that building up a decent emergency fund, even before paying down debt, is a good idea.
Many big expenses, however, give themselves plenty of warning. Twenty-year shingles on a roof last, well, about twenty years. Property taxes are due at select, well-publicized times throughout the year. Annual insurance policy renewals show up once a year.
As the facilities manager of our church put it, with regard to planned expenses: “You should have been saving for those.”
Turning on your financial radar for ways to save money
So why don’t we save money more often for these long-range expenses? The reason is that they’re off our financial radar. They’re still there, but we’re concentrating on the expenses that are closer to where we are: monthly credit card bills, groceries, gas, etc.
What’s needed is tuning our financial radar to these larger expenses. First we need to be aware of these expenses. Old age is the biggest. Home maintenance and car replacement are up there too. Secondly, once we know what will need to be replaced, and likely when it will need to be replaced, we can estimate how much we need to save to be ready at the time it’s likely to arrive.
I Pick Up Pennies has already done a bit of this. They’re looking forward to car replacement (as are we in our personal finance plan), double-pane windows for their house, and dental implants. These are each five-figure expenses, and they’re on their financial radar, which is excellent. That’s a lot of the battle right there.
Some tactics for saving money on these big-ticket expenses
Here are a few ways to save money effectively for those big expenses that you know about:
- Just paid off a car? Keep making the payment. Instead of making the payment to the bank, make it to your earmarked savings account. A $300/month payment that is put into a savings account will be five figures in less than three years. This isn’t a bad strategy because you’ve been making the payment anyway, so nothing really feels different if it continues to leave your checking account each month.
- Maintain the item. We have our air conditioning unit looked over each year. We go in to the dentist. We take cars in. We try not to have the things break down before or on schedule. Instead, we try to make them last longer. This eases the financial burden of replacing it by postponing it.
- Try to find replacement cost. What would a comparable unit/car/tooth cost you today?
- Ask an expert about how long an item has left. The dentist will be able to tell you about how long those fillings or crowns will last. An HVAC guy will be able to tell you the life expectancy of your unit because he’s likely seen a lot of them. A good mechanic should be able to give you good advice on how long you have left on your car. The answers to these play into the “final answer.”
- Calculate a per-month amount based on life expectancy. Now that you know about how long you have, and about how much it will cost, take that replacement cost and divide it by twelve times the number of years of life left in it. This will be approximately what you’ll need to save each month to replace the item when it’s expected to need it.
Do you have any success with planning for big expenses? Feel free to share in the comments below.