Thursday, January 18, 2018

Should You Get a Costco Membership?

We made a run to Costco today so I could use up a gift card before it expired.  We usually only shop at Costco to buy a few favorites in bulk butfor most things, however, the product sizes are just too big for the two of us to use before they go bad or lose their appeal. 

We used to buy a Costco membership each year and buy in bulk because we had a houseful of people to shop for.  For some years, one of my clients would give me an annual membership (a $60 value) but lately we just don't buy enough there to justify buying a membership.  Lately, my SIL has graciously given us Costco gift cards for various holidays (Christmas and birthdays) which is really nice of her and it also allows us to shop at Costco without a membership card (this is only one way people can shop at Costco without a membership card).  For those who have a big family to buy for or who like the good prices on the higher quality items Costco sells, a membership may be a great deal.  For us, there are only a few items we like to get there...

...I love the really cheap bulk oatmeal which I use for cereal, to make granola, to make energy bars, to make oatmeal cookies, and to make oat flour.

...and I LOVE their toilet paper--this stuff is the best!

...we also like to buy dried beans in bulk (per serving this is a great price!), large size spices, 50 pound bags of rice, etc.

...I took a picture of this giant bag of popcorn which was the size of a toddler.  We didn't buy it, I was just surprised at how huge it was!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Eating on the Go

It seems like we are much busier now that we are retired than we ever were when we had regular jobs.  On most days, we leave the house in the morning and don't get back until after dinner time.  In order to save money (and save our health--eating out all the time is not good for you!) we usually pack up food and drinks at home each morning and bring them with us.  On some days this might include breakfast, lunch AND dinner!

I can't recommend highly enough a small cooler (we freeze water bottles of ice to use in the cooler), some containers from the $1 Store (sandwich size, salad size), and Contigo insulated bottles (these will literally keep ice solid for 24 hours and coffee hot for about the same amount of time--we've tested it!).

We usually take hot drinks or cold drinks, sometimes bottled water, and sandwiches, wraps, leftovers, salads, etc.  This is a great way to save money plus eat healthier than we would be able to if we had to eat out a couple times a day.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Some Interesting Reads...All Money-Related

From the favorites file:

Monday, January 15, 2018

100 Ways to Cut Your Monthly Spending

There are soooo many ways people can cut their monthly spending.  Some are so simple you will wonder why you didn't do these things before, others are so extreme most people will think yeah, no way.  Here they are:
  1. Call around and compare car insurance prices; some companies are much cheaper than others.
  2. Call around and compare home owner/renter insurance prices.  Again, some companies can save you a lot of money.
  3. Increase your insurance deductibles (be sure to put the amount of the deductible aside in a savings account should you need it).
  4. Be sure about what your insurance does and does not cover.  You don't want to be in a flood or hurricane and later find out your insurance doesn't cover floods or hurricanes.  If you need additional insurance, get it.
  5. Conserve electricity.  If you are billed by the kilowatt you can save a lot of money this way.
  6. Conserve water.  Again, if you are billed for actual usage you can save a lot this way.
  7. Conserve gas.  Ditto.
  8. See what freebies your utility companies offer.  So far we have received free shower heads and kitchen faucets, free insulation tape to put around doors, and a rebate on our new washer and dryer.
  9. Check out the fees for trash removal, some companies have lower rates for smaller cans.
  10. Refinance your mortgage if you can get a lower interest rate.
  11. If you are no longer required to have private mortgage insurance, cancel it.
  12. See if your city/county offers property tax rebates you qualify for (senior, veteran, etc).
  13. Drive an older car (usually saves on both insurance and registration fees).
  14. Consider if your family can go from two cars to one or from one car to none.
  15. Try walking or bicycling instead of driving.
  16. Drive less by car pooling and/or grouping your errands.
  17. Consider getting a monthly bus pass and using public transit (this can save a lot of money if you usually drive yourself and need to pay tolls/parking to get to work).
  18. See if your job would allow you to work from home either full or part time.
  19. See if it makes financial sense for one parent to stay home instead of work (the price for daycare is astronomical these days!).
  20. Let your kids walk or take the bus to school everyday instead of driving them.
  21. Look for ways to cut costs if you have an infant (cloth instead of disposable diapers, breast feeding instead of formula, not buying every baby item you see at the department store, etc).
  22. Look for free entertainment options in your community.
  23. Cook breakfast and dinner at home; brown-bag it for lunch at school or work.
  24. Consider becoming a vegan.  While that is pretty extreme, it is better for your health and much cheaper than keeping a freezer full of meat and animal products.
  25. Also, never be without a bottle of water and snacks--this keeps you from hitting up the vending machine or fast food drive thru if you have a craving for food.
  26. Save eating out for special occasions and skip unhealthy fast food all together.
  27. When we do eat out we always buy one meal and split is, even then we often end up with a doggie bag because restaurant meals are so huge.
  28. Make your own treats at home.  If you have a sweet tooth you can easily make cookies, pie, milkshakes, even candy for a fraction of the cost of buying treats at the store.
  29. Do as many home maintenance tasks as you can yourself; there are literally YouTube videos for everything from cleaning out gutters to fixing appliances to how to mow your own lawn.
  30. Take advantage of 0% credit card transfer promos (but only if you are certain you will pay off the debt AND not use the card until it has a $0 balance).
  31. Do everything possible to avoid student loan debt (apply for scholarships, start at a community college instead of a university, buy used books, etc).
  32. If you do have student loan debt, look into options for lowering the interest on these loans and see if you qualify for any forgiveness programs as well.
  33. Do small home maintenance tasks that will save money: fix toilet leaks, turn down the water heater, fix leaking faucets, etc.
  34. Use an OTA (over the air) antenna and cancel cable TV.
  35. Check out movies from the library instead of subscribing to cable or Netflix.
  36. Check out books and music from the library instead of buying them or having a subscription-based plan for these.
  37. Cancel the gym membership and do calisthenics/walking in your home/neighborhood.
  38. Cancel any unnecessary recurring payments (newspaper subscription, website subscription, etc).
  39. If you must travel, do it as cheaply as possible (find the cheapest fares on Google flights, books discounted last minute hotel rooms or better yet, stay with friends and family).
  40. Do a staycation instead of a vacation this year.
  41. Go all ninja on your food shopping bill (shop loss leaders, buy in bulk if it's cheaper, use coupons, shop at ethnic stores for cheaper staples, ask for discounts on day old baked goods and produce, etc).
  42. Consider store brands for both food and toiletries like shampoo.  Some are wonderful some are awful, you kind of need to make a list of what you like and don't like.
  43. Compare cell phone plans (these tend to change often so always be on the lookout for the best plan deals).
  44. Reduce the speed of your internet if possible (do you really need screaming fast internet when moderately fast will work?).
  45. Shop at thrift stores for clothing instead of department stores.
  46. Get free clothing (ask friends and family for hand-me-downs, set up a clothing swap, etc).
  47. Mend/repair your own clothes to make them last longer.
  48. Get rid of clothes that require dry cleaning (if you must have dry-clean-only clothes look into cheaper ways to clean them with products in your dryer).
  49. Cut your own hair or have a friend do it instead of going to a salon.  You can easily do your own color too.
  50. Consider doing your own manicures, pedicures, facials, and waxing at home too...these are easy things to learn and can save a lot of money.
  51. Buy your makeup at Target/Walmart instead of at high end department stores.
  52. See if you can cut back on the number of personal products you need (a couple friends use dozens of skin and hair products a day!  eekkk).
  53. Chose inexpensive hobbies (like walking or throwing horse shoes instead of golf and SCUBA diving).
  54. Limit the amount of extracurricular activities/sports your kids do.
  55. Consider volunteering at places you would want to spend time at anyway.  Some people like the theater so they volunteer as ushers and get free theater passes.  Others volunteer at running events then get free race entries for their efforts.
  56. Get rid of your time share even if you have to pay to do this; it will save you money in the long run.
  57. Drink water with all meals (this is much cheaper and healthier than drinking milk, juice, or soda with meals).
  58. Stop the bad habits: quit drinking alcohol, quit smoking, quit the daily run to Starbucks, etc.
  59. Cut back on gift giving (give fewer gifts to immediate family members for birthdays and holidays; stop buying gifts for your dozens of extended family members).
  60. Pay more towards your debts (mortgage, car payment, loans and credit cards) than required to save money on interest.  The "debt snowball" works really well for this.
  61. Look for ways to cut costs for your pets (groom them yourself, make homemade treats, see if cheaper food will work, etc).
  62. Aside from regular bills which you pay online, use cash for all of your other expenditures instead of a credit or debit card.
  63. Buy a thermos and make your own coffee at home to take with you.
  64. Fix any personal issues that are costing you money (addiction issues, legal issues, outstanding warrants, etc).
  65. Be a technology late adapter instead of an early adapter--this will give tech companies time to work the bugs out and the cost of new tech like computers and TVs usually drop precipitously after being out for a while.
  66. Shop around for health insurance plans every year.  Plans and costs change annually so you want to find the best deal.
  67. If you ever need a prescription, ask you doctor for samples also ask if there is a cheaper, generic version of your prescription available.
  68. See if you qualify for any programs in your community (there are so many depending on where you live; free or reduced school lunch, senior discounts, military discounts, reduced transit passes for low income or disabled people, etc).
  69. Negotiate prices if possible (this works on everything from buying clothes at the store that are a bit damaged to settling hospital bills to buying a house).
  70. Look around for the best deal on your bank accounts.  Usually credit unions have inexpensive or no-fee accounts and offer other services such as notary for free.
  71. Always Google for the best discounts you can find (from TruCar when buying a car to promo codes for online orders to forums that tell you it is cheaper for even non-members to get their glasses or prescriptions at Costco...the internet is full of useful, money-saving information).
  72. Figure out if joining a warehouse club like Costco or Sams Club will save you money.  This used to save us money when we had a houseful of kids and bought in bulk, these days we get a Costco gift card from a friend who is a member which allows us to shop there without a membership.
  73. Wait on big purchases.  There is seldom a time when you absolutely need to make a big purchase this very minute (a busted hot water tank not withstanding).  Waiting to make a big purchase allows you to determine if you really need the item, allows you to look for alternatives, and you can also wait for sales, etc.
  74. Consider if you have services that you really don't use any more but never got around to cancelling (a friend just cancelled his land line after not using it for a couple of years!  Another friend finally cancelled her housekeeper which she really needed when all of the kids lived at home and she was working but now that she is retired and by herself she doesn't need that kind of service anymore).
  75. Pull your free credit report annually and make any corrections/improvements necessary.  Your credit score can make a price difference on your insurance, for example, and can even be used by employers to determine if they will hire you!
  76. Learn your investment options inside and out.  Retirement plans, investment plans, 401Ks, 403Bs...there are a lot of ways to invest your money and there are A LOT of rules and options and tax consequences that go along with this so seek out a knowledgeable adviser to help you make the best decisions about these plans.
  77. Always always try to use only your bank's no-fee ATM instead of just any random ATM which will charge you each time you use it.  In a pinch you can often withdraw cash when you purchase groceries with your bank's debit card which is another option.
  78. Never never write a check or use your bank card when there aren't enough funds in your account; overdraft fees are outrageous these day!
  79. Keep any gift cards you get in your wallet with a running total of how much is on the card.  Try to use these cards as soon as possible so you won't forget you have them.
  80. Make it a habit to review all bills you receive--from phone and utility bills to credit card statements and other loan documents--to be sure there are no problems such as unusual usage on the utility accounts to purchases you didn't make on your credit card bills.
  81. Keep a calendar of your bills and their due dates.  You never want to pay late and incur late fees.
  82. Make it a habit to write down every penny you spend for a couple of months.  This will give you a good idea of where you are spending money and help you patch holes in your spending plan; my Starbucks spending alone is enough to make me woozy some months :(
  83. Look for cheaper ways to purchase items you don't want to scrimp on.  For example we buy bottled water but it is cheaper to buy it in the 5 gallon size than in the smaller bottles.  I also won't scrimp on shoes so I buy my favorite brands as heavily discounted a possible.
  84. Consider the associated costs that come with your purchases.  My friend just bought a house with a pool thinking it would be nice to have a pool.  What she didn't bargain for was the increased property insurance cost, the huge power bill to heat the thing, and the repair fees when some part of the motor went toes up.  Everything you buy usually has some sort of associated cost but this was a very expensive learning experience. 
  85. Avoid potential financial disasters like the plague.  These include payday loans, rent to own places, cosigning for anyone, vehicle leases, time shares, gym memberships you can't get out of, etc.
  86. Try bartering.  It takes courage and nerve the first time you try this but once you get the hang of it (and find other barterers in your community) it can be fun, money saving, and profitable.
  87. There are so many items marketed as "have to haves" which you really don't need.  Air fresheners can be toxic, flushable wipes often mess up your plumbing, expensive cleaners are often less effective than vinegar and lemon juice, etc.
  88. Make regular trips to the dentist for cleanings and xrays.  While this is an expense, it can save you a ton of money on expensive crowns and root canals.
  89. Consider medical tourism.  While this isn't for the faint of heart, if you need a lot of expensive repairs to your body or teeth, getting the work done in a foreign country can save many thousands of dollars.
  90. Save postage.  I pay all of my bills online, also, instead of sending bulky gifts which are expensive to mail we usually send cash (in check form) or gift cards now.
  91. Get personal recommendations for services that will cost you money.  Whether you are looking for a car repair shop or a new dentist, personal recommendations are usually better than anonymous online reviews (although I do check these too).  
  92. Have a professional do your taxes (or an online service; I use H & R Block online).  Since tax laws change so often you can often save money by having a pro tell you about deductions you may be missing by doing your taxes on your own with a pencil and calculator.
  93. Be sure your tax withholding is accurate.  You don't want to give Uncle Sam a giant, interest-free loan each year.
  94. For extreme savers, moving to a smaller house or even moving to a lower cost of living area may be a great way to save money.  In the extreme extreme category are students who live in their cars while going to college and workers who live in their vans at remote work sites instead of staying at a long-term hotel.
  95. Use your interpersonal skills to save money.  Whether it is charming your new date into a picnic instead of a high end restaurant or challenging friends to a no-spend month or negotiating with the spouse to make drastic spending cuts, how you approach financial issues is often as important as the outcome of those financial issues.
  96. As your kids get older, cut back on how much you spend on them and have them earn some of their own money.  This is great for teaching them life skills as well as financial skills.
  97. Never loan money to anyone and expect it back.  If we can't give money as a gift, we don't give it at all.  Personal loans often lead to hurt feelings, broken friendships, and small claims court!
  98. Sign up for birthday freebies for you and everyone in the family.  There are so many places that offer birthday freebies--from restaurants to ice cream places and more--that this is a great way to augment birthday celebrations.
  99. Shop Dollar Stores but buy reasonably,  It isn't reasonable to expect great things when you pay $1 for a tool but spending $1 on gift wrap, calendars, etc. is worth the money.  Food can be hit or miss there (I would never buy meat or food products from China there but dry beans and name brand food items are OK).
  100. Google for even more ways to save money on your spending.  This is a hot topic and there are thousands of pages on how to do this.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Staying Busy--On the Cheap--In Retirement

The hubby and I have been retired for about six years now.  There are three things I've learned about retirement that many people don't consider when they are in the pre-retirement planning stages: #1 you will basically be living on a fixed income for the rest of your life, #2 you will have A LOT of time to fill, and #3 it takes money to stay busy so you don't die of boredom.  Let's look at these things a bit closer:

#1 you will basically be living on a fixed income for the rest of your life.  Most people have a few sources of retirement income and those sources don't vary much over the years.  There is social security which comes with a small cost of living adjustment each year which in no real way keeps up with the actual cost of living.  There is your pension (if you have one) that may or may not come with an annual cost of living adjustment but it isn't going to jump like your income does when you are fully employed and changing jobs to increase your income, it stays pretty steady.  There is investment income which may or may not increase over the years.  And occasionally there is part time job income (you need to be careful that this income doesn't mess up your social security).

#2 you will have A LOT of time to fill.  Most people love the idea of retirement where they don't have to go to work, they can sleep in, they can binge-watch Netflix, they don't have to work for an idiot boss in a toxic work environment, and they can do whatever they want.  What they don't usually realize is that work (and preparing for work, getting to and from work, etc) can rack up 10 to 12 hours a day of their time!  When you are retired that is quite a bit of time to fill as binge-watching Netflix and sleeping in rarely fills all of your day which leaves you sitting at home bored silly eventually.

#3 it takes money to stay busy so you don't die of boredom.  If you were to spend your retirement days doing activities that cost money (mani/pedi in the morning, lunch with the ladies at noon, a matinee movie, dinner out with the hubby, the theater after dinner) you would probably end up broke in short order.  Here are the things we do to fill our days during retirement (most of which cost little to nothing):

  • volunteer (I've volunteered with several organizations in Las Vegas, it's a fun, interesting way to keep busy and help other people at the same time)
  • work temp jobs (I do some freelance work for my old clients and also work at the WSOP for six weeks each summer)
  • bowling (hubby is on a couple of bowling leagues; fortunately the weekly fees are very inexpensive as they are senior leagues and also fortunately he usually wins enough in side pots and league winnings to completely pay for all of his bowling each season)
  • enjoy free and inexpensive things in the community (luckily there are always free things to do around Las Vegas nearly every single day.  In my other blog I highlight the things we do which range from free rodeo events to walking around the city to checking out free community events).
  • do those time consuming things that people always think about doing in retirement (I wrote a book (meh), tried gardening (failure, except for the lemons which grow like crazy), worked on my genealogy research (fascinating!), and I'm learning to knit and play the piano via YouTube).
  • my inexpensive hobby is walking and hiking (gear is cheap, guided hikes are free, my walking club is very inexpensive, and I can basically walk anywhere, anytime in Las Vegas).
  • I love to read (fortunately our library allows me to download thousands of free e-books)
  • Hubby loves to watch movies (thank goodness for Netflix)
  • and we do a bit of socializing (we have family and friends here who often plan parties and lunches out plus we have oodles of friends and relatives who like to visit Las Vegas).
Overall we stay quite busy!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Free Educational Opportunities

There are so many opportunities for free education online.  While you probably won't get a free college degree, with many skills, especially tech skills, what you know is often as important or even more important, than how you know it.