Sunday, December 3, 2017

6 Useful Money Links

In no particular order...

  1. Refinery29 takes an interesting look at how people spend their money in their Money Diaries section.  Very interesting!
  2. The deadline for open enrollment for the healthcare marketplace is December 15th!
  3. Most of my shopping is done at either the Goodwill (clothes) and everything else (online).  A great way to find bargains online is at DealNews.
  4. The cost of our internet recently went up.  The best deal they could give me was by adding basic cable TV which cost $60 per month for both (as opposed to $61 for internet only).  After not having cable for years, I was really disappointed in basic cable--it gave us about 15 stations total(!?!) plus HBO.  After a week of this, we switched back to our regular over-the-air antenna for TV which gives us 50+ stations and lots of great programming.  I stopped by our local cable office and told the guy how disappointed I was and he found be a better deal on internet only ($50).  The cable box goes back tomorrow.
  5. Even though December is super busy, here are a bunch of financial moves you might want to take advantage of before the end of the year.
  6. Reddit is a goldmine of information (and a huge time suck but I digress...).  One of my favorite sub reddits is personal finance.  Be sure to check the sidebar for related sub reddits to help you save even more money.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Hubby and I agreed that this year was our best Thanksgiving ever and I think that is because we bowed out from cooking for the masses and shared the holiday at home, just the two of us.  We have NEVER done this before.  For the 30+ years we have been together it is always a big holiday occasion and we usually end up cooking, even after moving to Las Vegas where the few cousins who live here multiply by the dozens around the holiday.  While we enjoy cooking, this year it was really enjoyable to watch the Macy's parade and make a quiet (and minimal) dinner.

And since this is a money blog, I'll just point out that the entire dinner cost around $10, the secret being that we didn't need a huge turkey and in fact, I hardly eat meat at all and hubby isn't a fan of leftovers so we went to the grocery store deli and bought a few slices of 'carving board turkey' and this (cheaply) took care of the turkey part of the meal.

Of course we finished up with pumpkin pie!

Friday, October 27, 2017

20 (Cheap) Travel Tips

We just got back from a beautiful week in New England.  The leaves were beautiful (see above), the weather was beautiful (until the last day when it rained like crazy), and the food was beautiful (soooo much Italian food!!).  Here are some of the ways we stretch our travel dollars...

  1. I always find our air tickets through Google Flights.  This search engine allows me to search by price and by day so I can find the cheapest tickets for our (very flexible) vacation days.  Note that Southwest Air doesn't come up on this search engine so I usually search SW Air separately.
  2. I also look for alternate ways to get to where we are going.  If we can save $200 flying into New York instead of Providence, we will do this then take the subway/Metro North to our destination in Connecticut.
  3. We have also traveled by: Amtrak (OK), Greyhound (ick), Megabus (pretty good and cheap!), Bolt Bus (ditto), cruise ship, ferry, tourists bus, chicken bus, jeepney, tuk tuk, local Southeast Asian airline (the plane dated from WW2!)...basically we look at every travel option for cost, destination, ease of use, travel time, etc. and figure out what will best meet our needs.
  4. We don't check luggage because of the extra baggage fee.  We have refined the art of one-bag packing so everything we need fits into a carry-on sized backpack.  This greatly reduces travel hassle when you can easily carry everything you need with you.
  5. Some one-bagging tips: pack clothing that is dark and coordinates (this makes it easier to use fewer clothes to put together multiple outfits), plan on doing laundry once a week (either at a friend's house or local laundromat), bring less than you think you will need (you don't need seven pairs of pants for a seven day trip when three will work fine).  If worse comes to worst, you can always buy things you need at your destination!
  6. We bring our own food and snacks when we travel.  It's simple to run by a store wherever we are and pick up granola bars and other snacks to bring with us when we fly (and it's much cheaper than buying food on your flight or at the hotel gift shop--when I looked in the hotel gift shop and saw that two small candy bars cost $5 I nearly fainted!).
  7. We also bring our own water bottles on our flights.  Instead of going through security then paying top dollar for a bottle of water at the airport we just bring empty water bottles (I like Aquafina bottles because they are so sturdy) and fill them up at a water fountain after we pass the security check (I see many people doing this so it isn't a secret that this is a great way to save money).
  8. We usually stay with friends and family when we travel.  This is a great way to save on the sky-rocketing cost of hotels, visit with people we haven't seen in a while, and get a locals view of our travel destination.  Of course we always welcome friends and family to stay with us when they visit Las Vegas.
  9. We do take advantage of serendipitous lodging though.  During this past vacation my wonderful niece asked if we would like to stay in a casino hotel suite for five days.  For free.  We jumped on this opportunity and ended up in a $2300 a night suite which was amazing!
  10. People also use AirBnB to cut lodging costs and while we know several people who list their rooms/condos/houses on AirBnB, we haven't tried this yet (hubby is a bit creeped out about staying in a stranger's house).
  11. We look at ground transportation costs and decide which is most cost effective.  If it is just the two of us, we usually use public transit (city buses and subways).  We also use Uber if there is no nearby bus.  Cabs are a last (and expensive) resort.  On this vacation, since we were meeting up with other relatives, we all decided to split the cost of a rental car which was the cheapest, and most convenient, option overall.  Since we got into the rental place a bit late, instead of our cheap econo-rental car, the only cars they had left were Audi SUVs so we got a free upgrade!
  12. I always Google local sites and things to do then make a list of the things we want to experience while we are on vacation.  Many places have a lot of free and low cost things to do that many tourists overlook.  Chicago has a free zoo which is wonderful, Pike Place Market is free to wander around in Seattle, and I once hiked a short section of the Appalachian Trail which was also free!
  13. We do splurge occasionally.  What's the fun of travel and new experiences if you don't pay up for unique experiences that you can't get anywhere else?  I'd never had a lobster roll before and I wanted to try one this trip so off we went to one of the most famous lobster roll places in the state which happened to be nearby.  Now spending $18 for a lobster roll was IMHO ridiculous, but spend $18 we did because it was a new and unique experience for us.  tldr; I now know I can make these myself for a fraction of the cost!
  14. Free wifi is wonderful.  Our cell plan is really amazing--we get unlimited data plus free data and texting anywhere in the world which has worked great on previous international vacations (thanks TMobile) but sometimes I need faster internet so I always look for free wifi spots.  Fortunately they seem to be ubiquitous these days, unfortunately you need to take extra steps to protect yourself when using these free services.
  15. Have a budget and stick to it.  It's easy to splurge since you are "on vacation" but most of the things you find on vacation you either don't need (tourist tchotckes), can find cheaper at home (outlet malls draw millions of tourists but their prices are so high!), or will give you buyer's remorse almost immediately (cruise ship jewelry and art for starters).
  16. We generally carry cash (hidden) with us which keeps us on budget, as well as lots of small bills for tipping and spending on small purchases.
  17. Splurging on lobster rolls aside, we usually go local for our meals which saves a lot of money.  In tourists destinations famous steakhouses will separate you from your money quicker than nearly anything else but we can get steaks anywhere.  So we usually hit up a grocery store for breakfast items, then look for hole-in-the-wall places for lunch and dinner.  If the price is great and the restaurant is full of locals, that's where we eat.  Note we almost always split a meal which cuts a usual restaurant meal price in half as we both can't eat as much as we used to.
  18. For entertainment, aside from looking for free and cheap tourists activities, there are lots of free hobbies that I enjoy when we travel such as photographing graveyards, doing genealogy research, walking with local volksmarch groups, hiking and checking out local parks, etc.
  19. Speaking of hobbies, I've met many travelers who have free or relatively inexpensive travel hobbies like county collecting, national park stamp collecting (be sure to get an annual pass), MTP place collecting, walking, etc.
  20. And some random tips: use a fanny pack, it's uncool but super useful and secure; be nice to everyone even if you are having a crappy travel day as they are more likely to help nice people than mean people; put some acidophilous in your first aid kit, it fixes all kinds of stomach problems; don't be an Ugly American, try to fit in with the locals.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

20 (Free) Ways to Prepare for a Disaster

There have been so many disasters lately!  From hurricanes to mass shootings to seems as if we have had a decade's worth of disasters all in the course of a year or so.  Here are some free ways to prepare for a disaster:

  1. Take advantage of any free classes offered in your community.  Many community organizations (fire departments, hospitals, Red Cross, etc) offer free classes in the community to teach skills that would be useful during a disaster such as first aid, AED, CPR, earthquake preparedness, hurricane preparedness, and other similar classes.  
  2. Take advantage of free disaster preparedness item giveaways in your community.  Again, community organizations often offer free things to help avert a disaster like the fire department giving away free smoke detectors, the hospital giving free child car seats to new parents, the county offering free home earthquake preparedness evaluations for your home, etc.
  3. Develop a communication plan with your family.  If you are separated from your family during a disaster, it is a good idea to pre-plan a couple of friends or family members everyone can call to report that they are OK.  Sometimes phone calls and texts don't go through in the immediate area of a disaster so it is useful to call a family contact who lives outside of the disaster area to check in and relay messages to family members.
  4. Back up all of your important documents and pictures onto your computer and from your computer to a thumb drive.  Instead of evacuating with boxes and boxes of pictures and documents, you can ensure you have all of these important items on one small thumb drive.  If you don't have a scanner, libraries often have free scanners you can use to do this.
  5. Make an evacuation plan.  In case you are given a few hours to grab what you can and go, you need to have an evacuation plan already in place so you will know the best routes to leave your area.  Check out Google maps or other map programs on your computer and determine the best ways to leave your area.  Then drive these routes and check out anything that may make these routes inaccessible during a disaster (like overpasses that could crumble onto the roadway during and earthquake).  Part of your evacuation plan should also be also be a checklist of items you need to toss in the car at the last minute so you don't forget anything important when you leave.
  6. Utilize the free resources of the internet to prepare for a disaster.  Find out what kinds of disasters are most likely in your area.  Read various websites to determine the best way to prepare for these likely disasters.  Google around and see if there are any preparedness classes in your area.  Read news articles about how people who have already went through such a disaster prepared and survived and take notes.
  7. Attend community events that focus on preparedness.  Our city often has free vaccination clinics, preparedness fairs, fire department tours, and other events to show community members what types of resources are available in the city and provide disaster preparedness resources to help citizens prepare for a disaster.
  8. Carry things in your car that could be used during a disaster.  We always have a spare blanket in our car, a case of bottled water, some granola bars, a basic first aid kit, some spare tools from our workshop, etc.  All of which would be useful during a disaster.
  9. Download apps to your cell phone which would be useful during a disaster.  From Facebook to reddit to local news apps to weather apps to emergency alert apps to a Waze app...there are dozens and dozens of free apps that can help you during an emergency.
  10. Use social media to your advantage during an emergency.  If you need help or information during an emergency, you can follow various social media accounts on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc that you can use to ask questions, ask for help, and receive important information (during the shooting in Las Vegas I got a lot of information from the police Facebook and Twitter accounts, I asked questions from our local Emergency Incident Facebook page, and messages for donations of food and water for the first responders and shooting victims were sent far and wide over social media).
  11. Know what to expect (and what to do) during a disaster by reading your work's disaster plan as well as your kid's school's disaster plan.  For further reading you can also read your community's official disaster and mass casualty incident plans.
  12. Learn how to handle basic disasters in your home.  Everyone should know how and when to turn off the natural gas line to your home as well as the main electricity breaker and the water main coming into your home.  Everyone should know how to evacuate your home from each room, both upstairs and down, what to do if there is a fire, what to do if there is a medical emergency, and how to prevent break ins and thefts from your home.
  13. Be physically fit.  This can be as simple as good food choices and some daily exercise and stretching.  If a disaster happens where you need to haul yourself out of an upstairs window, run from an attacker, or duck and cover during an earthquake, all of these things are easier and safer to do if you are in good physical condition.
  14. Determine ahead of time where you can evacuate to if needed.  Ideally you will have friends or family you can stay with across town, across the state, and across the country depending on how wide-spread the disaster is.  Of course you would offer the same shelter to your friends and relatives in return as part of their evacuation plan.
  15. Always carry a useful EDC (everyday carry) bag.  For ladies it's our purses for men it might be a backpack or messenger bag.  There are a lot of things you can carry with you on a daily basis that would be useful during a disaster such as a tampon (for its usual purpose as well as stopping bleeding from a gun shot), a condom (for its usual purpose as well as for a make-shift tourniquet), bottle of water, matches, bandanna, etc.
  16. Make a bug out bag.  A bug out bag is a backpack full of useful items that you can grab and take with you during an emergency.  It should include a change of clothes, toiletries, emergency supplies (tarp, para cord, matches, etc), some cash, a couple bottles of water, some food...basically everything you would need if you had to evacuate and go stay at a hotel for a few days.  With the bag already packed and ready to go, you don't need to put such a bag together when you are only given minutes to evacuate.
  17. Volunteer in your community.  There are many community organizations that provide free training (and often free food and snacks!) to volunteers who help out by becoming a volunteer EMT, volunteer with the Red Cross or Search and Rescue, volunteer with the fire department or hospital, etc.
  18. Know what services are available in your community during and after a disaster.  Where are your local disaster shelters?  What services will FEMA offer after a disaster?  Did you know the FBI, as well as many communities, have a crime victims assistance center which offers a range of services and help to victims of crime?
  19. Do some things to earn money to help bulk up your emergency fund.  Have a garage sale, take in some recycling, sell some unneeded stuff on ebay, apply for class action refunds...any extra money you can earn can go into your emergency fund for use during a disaster.
  20. Decide ahead of time how to help special needs family members during a disaster.  If anyone in your family needs prescription meds, see if they can get 90-day refills instead of 30-day refills so they always have extra medication on hand.  If you have pets, pack a bug out bag for them with extra pet food, a water dish, a blanket, etc.  Same with babies and toddlers; pack their bug out bags with any special items they may need (extra diapers, toys, etc).  For family members with serious medical issues, talk to their doctor about what they should do to prepare for a disaster (ie: people who need regular dialysis, people who are bed-ridden, etc).

Monday, September 25, 2017

Some Upcoming Free Things

I love free things!  Whether it is a community event give-away like free pens or mouse pads, free meals for a holiday event, or birthday freebies, count me in!  Here are some upcoming free things you might enjoy...

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Need Gear? Check Out the Goodwill

Last month I needed some new stuff for walking (stretchy athletic pants and a cute top to go with it) so I went to a local department store and got some "sale" items.  I spent $30 for a pair of Nike athletic pants and a store brand top.  I hadn't shopped for clothes at a regular store in years but I was in a hurry and the store was on the way and, long story short, never again.  The pants are already wearing as is the shirt and I am NOT HAPPY about it.  So it was back to the Goodwill I went this week.

While I always buy my shoes, socks, underwear, and backpacks brand new (but still on clearance, always), I have no problem buying clothes--pants and tops--at thrift stores.  I know exactly how they will fit as they have already been washed several times, I know exactly how they will wear because if they haven't unraveled after someone else wore them they should last for me as well, and, most importantly, people get rid of really good brands and the thrift stores sell them for a fraction of the price of new (the pants I bought at the regular store for $24 would have been less than $8!).

Here's some great deals I found a couple of days ago at the REI rain jacket, a fluorescent yellow shirt for an upcoming fun run, and an Eddie Bauer vest, all for under $5 each with a senior discount.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Volksmarching...A Fun and Inexpensive Hobby

I've probably posted here before about one of my favorite hobbies but it has been so long I figured I would post about it again.  I love to walk.  Short walks, long walks, winter walks, summer walks...all are fun.  Anyway, today I headed out for another volksmarch (I'm trying to finish 100 volksmarches by the end of the year to win an award).  It was a great day for walking and there were so many people out in the early AM walking this morning!  If you haven't heard of it, volksmarching in a German-inspired walking club in the US and in many other parts of the world.  The annual cost to join a local club is around $15 and you pay $3 for each walk which supports the club and pays for small awards like patches and pins.  You earn awards for both the number of events you walk as well as achieving walking distances (I met one guy who has walked more than 50,000 km over the years and he is still going!).

As hobbies go, this is a pretty good one as it is both inexpensive and good for your health (each walk is a 5k or 10k with some as long as 42k).  The only thing you really need is a good pair of shoes but of course people who really get into walking can make it a much more expensive hobby by traveling to various walking events.  One couple I met walks more than 300 volksmarches a year, driving around the country to do this; they spend about 270 days on the road each year to hit A LOT of volksmarches.  A related walking club hosts a dozen walking weekend events all over the world which can get spendy if you are hopping from country to country each month to walk in these events.

Most cities and towns in the US have volksmarch events (either group walks or boxes where you can sign up and walk on your own).  My city has ten organized walks as well as a couple of special events each year.  The people who put these walks together really do a great job highlighting the best things to see in the area along your walk (some of our local walks go through the casinos along the Las Vegas Strip, other go out to Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam).

So if you are looking for a fun, enjoyable, and no so expensive hobby, check out volksmarching.  The US Club can be found here, the Canadian Club here, and an international club here.