Better Ways to Save

How I do it, and what I do. I combine online shopping portals and a few other methods. In the process, I earn $1,600 a year. Are you?

How Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover Reshaped My Financial Life

I might not be much of a self-help reader, but this book is a must read!

You STILL Aren't Using Ebates?

E-bates is an amazing money saving website. Read this and you'll find out why.

If you are looking for extra income without any investment, I love (and use) this website for just that.

Bigger, Better Grocery Savings

If you aren't saving $100 a month on your grocery bill, start now!

Bad Habits that Cost Me...Big



Habits. Everyone has them. Some habits are good, and other habits are, well, not so good. For instance, good money management is a terrific habit and overspending is such a bad habit for most folks that they won't even talk about it. However, as part of my never-ending quest to build stellar money habits into my daily repertoire, I cast myself in the role of guinea pig for the science project I like to call "my money". And this round of experimentation showed me some bad habits I needed to break in favor of building some better ones.

Step one in my quest was researching everything I could about habit building. In my research, I came across an article that reiterated the long-standing conventional wisdom that it typically takes the average human being between 21 to 28 days to build a new habit. For the sake of my experiment, I figured: Why not just go ahead and make it a full 30-days? So, I did.

Fast Food
I don't need to go into the plethora of reasons that fast food is bad for your body -- and mine -- however, I was less concerned with what these fatty indulgences and sweet treats were doing to my waistline as much as what they were doing to my wallet.

My family of five was dining out at local fast food spots two times a week, to the tune of about $27 to $30 each visit, an average of $57 per week.

I nixed the dining out for 30-days. Instead of fast food on busy nights, I prepared our meals in advance. I found that paying $60 twice a week for the "convenience" of fast food, suddenly dropped to $10 each meal -- and the food was better for us too.

30-Day Cost Difference: $160
 
Girl's Night Out
I was whooping it up with my gal pals a few times a month, and would typically rack up a $40 to $60 bar tab when I did. Instead of going out, we fashionable frugalista's had girls nights in for 30 days. We rolled our own sushi, we brought our own adult beverages, we watched movies, and howled at the moon. Thorough it all, we saved money and still wound up having a great time.

30-Day Cost Difference: $160
 
Not Buying Off the List
No doubt you've been there: a victim to the dreaded impulse buy. For me, my impulsive buy demon came in the form of my offspring (of which I have three) asking me for a treat at the register every time I ventured to the market. I figured, at $0.74 to $1.00 (again, times three) a pop, these tiny indulgences couldn't possibly blow my budget.

However, what I wasn't thinking about were the other goodies the kids would load in the basket en mass, and how often I have to go to the store for fresh produce and bread (about three times a week) only to leave with a cart full of add-ons. When I said "no" on a regular basis to my impulse buying demons, my savings were nothing short of extraordinary.

30-Day Cost Difference: $196
 
Paying for the ATM (And Other Bank Fees)
I am a big fan of the envelope budgeting system. However, living my cash only lifestyle was hurting me when I was away from my bank.

I make at least four cash withdrawals per week. On average, I make two of those at an ATM that isn't owned by my bank (due to location constraints). The surcharge from that bank is $1.25, and the surcharge from my bank is $3.25.

In addition, my bank started charging a fee any time my checking account dipped below the $5,000 mark. This came out to an additional $7.00 a month, plus a $5.00 "maintenance" fee for my savings account.

Enough was enough. It was time for me to switch banks. I went with USAA. They rebate me all ATM fees charged by other banks, and do not charge me to use other bank's ATM's. They also don't tack on checking account or savings account fees. I can deal with that.

30-Day Cost Difference: $66
 
Over just 30 days, making just a few tiny changes to my lifestyle, and building better habits in the process, I was able to pocket $582 in cold, hard cash.
It pays to pay attention to where your money is going, because it gives you a unique opportunity to correct the course by giving up your old, bad habits in favor of more financially savvy ones. At least, it did for me.




More from this contributor:
5 Ways to Give Your Credit a Facelift
How I saved $18,000 a year (and my sanity) by living frugally
 

How I saved $18,000 a year (and my sanity) by living frugally

How I saved $18,000 a year (and my sanity) by living frugally


I equate making a commitment to saving money and frugal living the same way I would tell someone to look at a fitness plan: no pain, no gain. It's hard work to go from fabulous to frugal. Well, at least it was for me.

When I first started the journey to living a frugal life, it wasn't without a few self-centered, Oscar-worthy temper tantrums. However, over time, not only did living a frugal life become easier, it became more rewarding. Over the past three years I learned how to save money, how to spend smarter and how to enrich my life in three unique ways.

No. 1: I Ditched the Second Car
Several years ago, we had two cars and two car payments. My husband's Honda, which came with a $400 a month payment and my Dodge Durango, which was costing us an additional $500 a month. I ditched my Dodge and began carpooling with my husband back and forth to work. Not only did this save me $6,000 a year in car payments (and even more in interest payments), but it slashed our car maintenance bills, gas bills and insurance bills to boot.
And while only having one car can be a little inconvenient at times, I can say that by having to taxi the kids around or being forced to travel with my husband for an hour or two each day has led to some great chats and additional quality time that we were missing out on before.
Savings: $9,200 a year
Personal benefit: Improved family time and communication.
 
No. 2: I Changed How I Used Credit
Instead of making minimum payments on a variety of cards, I paid off my debt and downsized my wallet to only two credit cards. We have MasterCard with a $10,000 limit, and a VISA with a $20,000 limit.

The MasterCard is a cash back rewards card. I use this card to pay my monthly bills and receive 1 percent cash back on all of my purchases. I pay this car off on the 21st of each month with a cash back rewards debit card -- for which I earn an additional 1 percent cash back.

I keep the Visa in a fireproof safe and only use it for emergencies. This method of paying my bills with one card and paying that card off each month keeps feeding my credit report positive items while helping me earn money just for paying my bills. I don't know about you, but I call that a win/win.

In addition to downsizing my wallet, I also downsized my life. I only buy what I need, and what we have enough cash in the bank to buy outright. I don't use credit on a whim anymore. I'm not "finance happy". My minimalistic, penny-pinching lifestyle has saved us a lot of money over the last few years.

How much money, you ask?

Savings: $4,500 a year
Cash back earnings: $1,800
Personal Benefit: Less stress, no fights and less clutter.
 
No. 3: I Became a Couponing Freak
I am no extreme couponer --by any stretch of the imagination --, but I started using coupons in a not-so-extreme-but-still-powerful way about a year ago. Each week, I download grocery coupons from E-bates and Coupons.com that I can print and cut with ease. I match these coupons to the sale items at my local market via flyer and a handy dandy iPhone app. From here, I make my meal plan and then my list. This alone saves me a bunch of money.

From here, I combine my manufacturer coupons with my in store coupons and double my savings, giving me an opportunity to double dip or "stack" my coupons for even bigger savings.
Savings: $2,600 a year
Personal benefit: Money I can use to buy things for my family.
 
Was it difficult to make these large cuts to my budget and change up my lifestyle? At first, it felt impossible. In all honesty, I think I would have preferred a root canal. However, once I made the commitment and stuck with it, my family has been rewarded with more money to spend on vacations, extra quality time and have money for more things we need -- like college for my twins. Today, if you were to ask me whether or not my savings was worth the pain, I'd say, "No question. I gained far more than I was pained." Because $18,000 of extra cash a year and a happy family is more than even I could have hoped for.

How have you transitioned into a frugal lifestyle?
 
More:
5 Emotional Pitfalls for Home Buyers
5 Tips for a Successful Short Sale

3 Tips for Traveling With Credit Cards

First Person: 3 Tips for Traveling With Credit Cards

Yahoo! Finance Portfolio
This summer, my family and I will be making our annual jaunt to the beach for a few days of relaxation and fun in the sun. However, even during playtime, I always make sure that my credit card data is secure and protected -- especially when we are on the go -- and I anticipate a variety of traveling scenarios ahead of time. Over the years (and over several vacation mishaps of adventures past), I have learned a few helpful tips that help me avoid the hassles of traveling with plastic in tow today.

Put Restrictions in Place
To avoid the bane of identity theft, I implemented an all-encompassing range of restrictions on my credit cards. I self-imposed a daily limit on how much I can spend. I programmed my card to send alerts via phone (and text) if a transaction is over a certain amount. In addition, if my card is used outside of my city, I get a courtesy call from my bank to make sure that I am the culprit behind the spending spree.

If I want to make a larger than normal purchase, or if I am outside my local spending area, I call my bank to let them know. They make a note on my account, and I am free to use my card at will. Then, once that day is up, the restrictions go back into place (just in case the worst happens).

Check for Fees
A few years ago, I had a credit card that charged me a foreign transaction fee when using it abroad. I learned the hard way when I was socked with a hefty bill upon returning from a cruise to the Caribbean. Since then, I have learned to read the fine print with my credit cards, and I avoid that pesky 3 percent transaction fee as if it were the black plague. If your credit card has this type of fee, and you are traveling abroad, you might want to opt in for cash or traveler's checks.

Have a Back Up
You never know what is going to happen when you are on the road. Once, when my children were little, they accidentally flushed their dad's wallet down an industrial strength toilet at a Holiday Inn in Iowa. This excursion left us stranded with no credit cards and no cash -- he had it all in his wallet.
Since then, I have learned to carry a few back up payment methods.

I carry a few credit cards, a little cash and a few traveler's checks on my person. Then, once we get to our destination, I lock half of my money, one credit card and all of my traveler's checks in the hotel safe, to be used in case of emergencies.

I also keep a file of our credit card companies' numbers, a direct line to the bank for our debit card and my account numbers on a protected file in my phone, a backup on my laptop and I keep them written down on a sheet of paper -- which also goes into the hotel safe upon arrival.

This summer, I made sure that I am traveling safe and with optimum financial peace of mind. Are you?



More:
5 Emotional Pitfalls for Home Buyers
5 Tips for a Successful Short Sale
4 Emotional Mistakes Home Sellers Make

Common Scents Sell Homes

First Person: Common Scents Sell Homes

Shauna Zamarripa

Common scents help sell houses. It's amazing how just a little bit of the right scent can make buyers feel more comfortable, at ease and make your house the one they want to make themselves at home in. I have seen buyer after buyer fall in love (and remember) a house because it brought the "right stuff" in the scent department.

On the flip side, just like certain scents cause feelings of calm and euphoria, other scents are a total turn off to potential homebuyers. I have smelled scents with buyers that earned houses names like the "pet house" or the "curry house" or even the "turtle house". This isn't a category you want your house to be in. So without further ado, it's time to smell what your house is cooking.

Odors to Kill
Pet odors - Febreeze is your friend. However, only after you go through your house with a fresh nose and do a lot of cleaning. Out of all odors, this is the one I have seen kill a deal more often than not.
Hire a professional to steam clean your carpets, drapes and upholstery, or rent a pro grade carpet extractor to help get rid of the pet smell in your house.

Invest in some pet fresh carpet cleaner and vacuum before showings. Clean and hide litter boxes and pets, taking them with you and leaving the house, when possible.

Musty odors - If your house smells musty or moldy, take it off the market and have it inspected immediately. Musty odors are a sign of a serious plumbing problem, mold infestation or pest problem. Left unaddressed, I have seen this stall (and even cancel) transactions.

Spicy foods - If you cook with a lot of curry or other potent spices, don't do it before a showing. Cook with your windows open, so that you can air out the house in the event of a last minute Friday night showing request -- I have seen it happen. You might love the smell. Buyers, however, by and large, don't.

Odors to Use
Sage - Sage invokes feelings of euphoria and happiness. If you can find sage scented candles, light them before a showing. If not, mix some water and essential oils and spray it around the house -- this works much better than commercial air fresheners.

Chamomile and lavender - These scents have a calming effect. Like sage, if you can find some candles, that's a bonus. If not, go the essential oil route.

Baked goods - Any wafting scents associated with baked goods is a plus. Apple pie, cookies, brownies or cake --it doesn't matter. I would often recommend a seller bake some cookies before a showing and leave them out to share with potential buyers -- it makes a difference. If not, there are always baked goods scented candles as a last resort.

Vanilla - This standalone scent is a great catchall. If you aren't a candle person -- or if you don't want to leave lit candles while you leave the house for a showing - sprinkle some vanilla extract on some aluminum foil, put it on a cookie sheet and leave it on 250 degrees in the oven. This will fill your house with a warm, welcoming scent, sans fire hazard.

Capitalize on the science of scent, and you just might smell a sale in your future.

More from this Contributor:
5 Contingencies That Need to Be in Every Home Offer
I'll Never Dip Into My Home Equity
Are You Really Ready to Buy a Home?

6 Ways to Monetize Your Life


I look for ways to monetize (and have recurring income) my life 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. If you haven’t figured out your million dollar idea just yet, here are some things that can carry you through.

No. 1: Cash back credit card
Get a cash back reward credit card. Use this card to pay all of your monthly bills, buy your gas, get your groceries and charge up whatever else you need. Then, pay that card off at the end of each month to avoid interest.

Example: If your bills total $3,000 a month and you have a cash back rewards card that pays you 2% on the dollar, you just earned $60.

No. 2: Cash back debit cards
I take my cash back earnings a step further. I pay off my cash back rewards credit card each month with my Perkstreet cash back rewards debit card -- which pays me 2% on the dollar.

Example: $3,000 a month in bills, gives me another $60.

Adding my cash back credit card and cash back debit card together means I earn at least $120 a month, just for paying my bills.

No. 3: Use shopping portals…religiously
I do a lot of my shopping online. And by “a lot” I mean almost all.

When I buy new tech? I do it online. When I buy appliances or home improvement items? I do it online. Christmas shopping, birthday gifts, back to school shopping? All of it is done online.

And I monetize my shopping using an online portal: E-bates. I log on, choose my merchant and earn 2 to 12 percent of the total on everything I buy. I use this portal to buy my toiletries, household cleaners, pet food, clothes, shoes and gifts.

Example: When I do back to school shopping for all three of my kids, and spend $300, I get $15 cash back, plus free shipping. In addition to that, I triple my cash back by ordering my toiletries and household products each month -- to the tune of another $300 a month. From this I earn $30 or more each month, plus the 2% I earn from my cash back credit card that I use to pay for my purchase and the other 2% I earn from my cash back debit card when I pay that off -- another $24.

My combined savings from cash back rewards cards and my shopping portal? At least another $54 per month. Add that to my $120 and I’m cashing in on $174 a month, all for buying what I need to buy anyway.

No. 4: Make pennies count
I am a firm believer in to do lists, and on my list each day is a reminder for me to visit paid to click ads sites. As I go through my Facebook news feed in the morning, I visit the following sites, (in order) and click on ads, earning several pennies each day in the process:

Admimsy

From these handful of sites, I earn a dollar or two per day, and I earn even more when I promote them on my Facebook, Twitter or blog -- because they pay referral fees.

From these sites, I earn at least $40 a month.
Running total? $214

No. 5: Earn on the go!
I downloaded a few money earning apps for my iPhone too. These help me earn points for check ins and in store purchases, which I can then convert to cash. What do I use?


I earn about $20 a month from these.
Running total? $234

No. 6: Like something? Ask if you can get a referral fee
Affiliate marketing? It’s a big industry that you should tap into if you can. If you can help advertisers get sales when you love what they sell, why not capitalize on that? I do it all the time! I joined sites like Click Bank and Commission Junction to promote the things I’m passionate about. I mean…if I’m going to do it anyway, why not get paid for it?

Everything in your life can be monetized, and turned into a money making machine around the clock. All it takes is a little creative thinking and a little time on Google and you can monetize just about every single area of your life, with no problems.

If you have some tips we missed, we’d love to hear them! Leave a comment below.

How well do you stick to your budget?

A budget. I’m sure you have one. Most people do -- or at least say they do -- but how well do you stick to it?

In the spirit of honesty, it’s hard for most folks to update their budget like they should, because they simply don’t have the time.

I count myself among these folks.

What do I use to help me?

I use Mint.com for my budgeting and budget tracking needs. It keeps track of all of my monthly expenses, tells me if I exceed expenses in a category and sends me weekly email updates that keep me completely on top of my budget. It’s so easy, my 11-year-old can use it -- and she does.

If you haven’t tried it, I don’t know what you’re waiting for. It’s free and it only takes a few minutes to set up.

Try it out and let me know what you think in the comments section below!

What’s Your ‘Big Idea’?


If you think you can’t be an entrepreneur, think again. Whenever I am counseling people about money or business, I always tell them to watch the popular ABC show, “Shark Tank”. Why? Because instead of just paying attention to the numbers, it gives people a basic understanding of how to get their “big idea” off the ground.

I mean, we have all had “that moment”. That “ah ha” epiphany. The moment where you see something and think to ourselves, “That would be better if…” So what’s your hang up? Why not build your own better mousetrap? Figure out how to make something better and run with it.

Are you good at making jewelry? A 14-year-old turned her jewelry making business into a multi-million dollar gig.

Can you make some great chocolate covered pretzels? A stay at home mom is now a CEO.

Do you have a device to keep people’s eyeglasses in place? A broke fella who was gluing magnets in his basement is now a millionaire.

What’s stopping you from making your “big idea” into the next multi-billion dollar empire?

Write it down. Brainstorm. Do some research. Then, make it happen.

Questions? Ask or leave a comment below.

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