Tips for Finding your Dream Home

Tips for Finding Your Dream Home


Make a list of priorities: You'll want to make sure that you have a solid list of priorities in order of what's most important to you and strive to get at least the top things on that list in one place. Unless you are incredibly lucky or have an unlimited budget to build everything to your exact specifications, you'll eventually have to give up something on your list, but you'll want it to be a lower priority item. Are you most concerned about location? Square footage? A private backyard? You may have to forgo one thing to get another, but it's easier to be more focused when you know what's a nonnegotiable. Also, decide which things are preferences vs. needs on your list as well. 


Think ahead: How long do you plan on staying in this house? If you are single or newly married, you may be fine with a smaller starter place that you plan on selling in a few years to get something bigger as life changes, but if you are planning on expanding your family or working from home soon, make sure you factor in the space you'll need so that you won't outgrow the space too quickly. In other words, don't buy for something that has features that you know will only work for a year if you plan on spending 10 years there. Of course, life is unpredictable and you can't plan for everything, but consider the things you know for sure or at least will most likely be the case in your near future.


Decide on your "most lived in" spaces: Where do you spend the most time in your current house? If you are an aspiring amateur chef, then you'll probably care about the kitchen set up a lot more than your friend who orders in most nights. So you should be more focused on loving that spot in a new house. You probably won't be head over heels for every single room in a house, but if you get rooms you love where you spend the most time, then that tiny master bathroom won't seem quite so annoying.


Stick to your budget: Obviously the budget question is totally different for every person looking at a house, so there's really not a magic number for this category. A relatively standard goal is to try to keep your mortgage payment (with taxes and insurance included) at around 25% of your total household monthly income, but if you are living in a bigger city with high housing prices, you'll probably have to raise that number quite a bit. Just make sure that you've looked at your overall monthly budget to see what you really can afford (be honest!), and then only look at houses within your price range. Believe me, it's not a good idea to start looking at houses that are 1-2 price ranges above yours "just to see what's out there" because you will get house fever for something you can't buy and all of a sudden you think all the houses within your budget are totally lame. It's a lose-lose; don't do it. Depending on the market, however, it can be OK to look at houses a little over your budget in case there is a seller you can negotiate down to your range, but that's a lot more likely in a market that favors buyers instead of one where the sellers have control over pricing. 


Decide if you want to renovate or a move-in ready house: Buying a house you plan on completely redoing is pretty different from getting something you can simply move right into, and most people know which category they lean towards (although you may be somewhere in the middle). If you know which path you want to take right off the bat, it helps narrow down your search and you can focus on viewing each house from that point of view. This decision also plays into pricing because if you decide on doing a renovation, then you don't want to look at houses that are already at the top of your budget—you'll have no money to renovate with! It's also good to keep in mind that you can't automatically get a renovation loan for the difference in your house price and your pre-approval amount (as in you can't necessarily get a 50k renovation loan just because you were pre-approved for 200k and only spent 150k on the house). They are separate loans, and sometimes the renovation loan is a lot harder to get. Your loan officer will help walk you through what's possible for your financial situation, but you'll want to be extra sure you can afford the renovations you want before you commit. 


Use X-ray vision to see through the "ugly": I know this is easier for some people than others, but it's really important for finding a diamond in the rough instead of passing on a house for cosmetic reasons. Just think about the bones of the house as you walk through it. Pay attention to the layout. Do you like the flow of the room spacing or is it awkward? Asking questions about the actual set up of the house rather than focusing on paint colors or flooring choices you don't care for will help you decide if you like what really matters about the space. Paint colors can be changed and flooring can be refinished, but it's a much bigger deal to move the kitchen to the opposite end of the house. If your biggest complaint in a space is the easily-changed orange accent wall, then it may actually be a great space for you!


Consider moving a little further out from town if on a budget: This one also can vary from place to place (you may not really live near a "town" to move further from), but those that are closer to a big city know that, generally, the further out you go from town, the more your money will buy for you. In some places, just going another 10 minutes out or moving to a "less trendy" spot can get you the same house for hundreds of thousands less. 


Don’t give up! Especially if it takes a while, there will be a lot of days where you feel like giving up. You think you can't afford anything good, you'll never find the right location, you may as well just quit. Don't! Even if it takes months, it's worth it when you finally get something you love. And, the added benefit of a search that takes a while means that you've gotten a really good feel for that price range and location, so you know what's good, bad, overpriced, and underpriced, which will make you more confident about your choice once you make one. And if you don't get a house that you make an offer on? It's OK, that just means it's not the house for you and yours is still out there somewhere. 


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Post-Winter Exterior Home Maintenance Tasks


Post-winter Exterior Home Maintenance Tasks

There is no better way to welcome spring than with a lovely home as reflected on the outside. So check up on & tidy up your exteriors by going through the following: 

·       Roof. Your roof braved a good beating during the autumn and winter months. Layers of dead leaves and even heavy layers of snow may have settled on your roof. Regardless of material, it is important that you check your roof for cracks and leaks. Repair where you can and if needed, call in your home repair professionals. Check the vents as well. Birds may have nested on these areas and may have left droppings where bacteria breed.

·       Chimneys. A huge part of your winter survival is brought on by your chimney. After the long winter months of service, they need a good clean. Bring a powerful flashlight to shine on nooks and crannies. Inspect the surface carefully if you can. Wear a mask and protective eye gear to avoid any stray cinders. Whether you choose to clean the chimney on your own or hire a certified chimney sweep, make sure you don’t wait until fall or worse the next winter to get your chimney cleaned and fixed.

·       Gutters.  This is the time to check your gutters thoroughly and remove any debris that may have been blown in or gotten stuck. Remove dead leaves and other material to ensure unblocked gutters that drain water to the ground. Take note of any repairs that need to be done. Nothing looks more forlorn on a house than a loose or leaky gutter.

·       Faucets. Check your faucets for any possible leak or damage. Outside faucets are prone to freeze damage. If you suspect possible damage, contact your plumber, and schedule a repair before you’ll need to start watering your garden again. Your garden hose could also have dry rot, and replacement may be needed as well.

·       Decks. There is no better way to check the condition of your deck than to walk over it. Carefully testing for softness or signs of water damage. Take note of loose boards that need nailing down. Discoloration is often a sign that the sealant used on a board has been breached by the elements and resealing is needed.

Spring is when the whole earth is awakened from its slumber. Buds bursting into bloom while branches sway with the weight of birds coming home from their winter journeys. Your house should not be a stranger to this awakening transition. Even so, your lawn and the rest of your home’s exteriors should exude this liveliness. Better get started on the exterior home improvement fixes on our list above and get your home into the lovely vibe of spring. 

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Remodeling On a Budget

Remodeling your home? Here are some quick tips to help cut costs!

1. Buy Unfinished

Unfinished oak cabinets are one of the least expensive options for kitchens. You can paint or stain them in 1000’s of ways with just a bit of research and a few afternoons of labor.

2. Do It Yourself

A large percentage of the costs of home renovations are in the labor. Use You Tube video’s and how to sites.

Craftsy also has 2 free mini classes that you can watch and learn cabinetry tips & techniques as well as flawless wood finishing techniques.

3. Use What You Have

If you have leftover material or paint from a previous project, make sure to repurpose it!

4. Search Yard Sales

You can find bathroom cabinets, tile, hardware and mirrors for next to nothing at yard sales. You can also try Craigslist, or Freecycle if they are active in your area.

5. Don’t Buy it all at Big Box Stores

Don’t just assume the big box stores will always offer the lowest price. Make sure to check liquidators and even for competitive prices.

7. Purchase Discount Gift Cards and if shopping online check to see if you can get cash back.

Discount Gift Cards are available for saving of up to 8% for both Lowes and Home Depot. 8% may not seem like much but when you doing a whole home renovation 8% can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars saved. One sites we use frequently is Cardpool.

If you are buying items for renovations online, you might also want to check for an available cash back from sites like Ebates, or Top Cash Back, and don’t forget point programs that offer cash backs in the form of points that you can cash in for gift cards (often for hardware stores where you are buying materials) such as Swagbucks and Mypoints. Just a few minutes of comparing different cash back sites can save you as much as 8% off your purchase.

8. Be Creative

You can save major bucks by adding a coat of paint to furniture, cabinets and railings. This is a great way to keep costs low while creating a whole new look!

9. Shop Clearance

Even hardware stores have clearance sales.  They often change their displays (twice per year or seasonally) offering steep deals in the process! Items we often find are light fixtures and faucets. We have found that hardware stores change their displays twice a year, once in fall and once in spring and those are the best times to look for clearance.


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Tips for the First Time Renter

Congratulations! When you decide to rent an apartment, you not only get a new home -- you get a flexible lifestyle. Leasing an apartment means you’re not locked into the long-term financial commitment of a house.  There is, however, a lot to think about when renting a new apartment.

The first is to ensure you that you rent from the best apartment community in the neighborhood you’re considering. As a top apartment management company, Home Properties offers quality apartment communities, fair and flexible leases, and high-end amenities. To take that a step further, we also guarantee your satisfaction with the Home Properties Pledge. Whether you’re looking for a studio, 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom or 3 bedroom, Home Properties offers apartments for lease throughout FL, IL, MA, MD, NY, NJ, PA, and VA. As a first time renter, you probably have a few questions.  

Home Properties can help! Here is some advice to help make renting your first apartment a positive experience:

Private Landlord vs. Management Company

Before you begin your search, you may want to decide whether you want your apartment run by a private landlord or a professional apartment management company. There is an important distinction. A private landlord might be hoping to get rich quickly from their rental property. It’s also a bit more difficult to gauge the history and reputation of an individual landlord. An apartment management company such as Home Properties is invested for the long term and has a reputation of high integrity and honest lease agreements.  If you haven’t had a chance to review Our Pledge, you can view it by clicking here. The best apartment lease is the one that is both fair to you and the property management firm. Home Properties has been in business since 1967 and we manage over 36,000 apartments in nine states.

Choosing a Roommate

You may need to consider finding a roommate to share expenses. Think about your friends first. Is there someone you already know with whom you would consider living? This is an important decision and one that shouldn't be made too quickly. Find someone who keeps the same hours, shares your level of cleanliness, and can afford their share of the expenses.

Find your Home!

Compare Apartment Community Amenities

Many Home Properties apartment communities offer various amenities — swimming pools, fitness centers, business centers, outdoor trails, etc. Take the time to compare offerings of several area communities and consider the potential savings if leasing a new apartment means you don’t need that separate gym membership.

Rental Apartment Layout & Selection

Take the time to review different layouts available to you — one- and two-bedroom apartments with one or more bathrooms and other features such as dens, dining rooms, extra storage, etc. Pick a floor plan that fits your lifestyle today, and one you can live with for the next few years. Choose the exact apartment that you would like to live in — there may be several two-bedroom apartments available, each offering different upgrades and amenities, and located in different areas of the apartment community.

Lease your Apartment Online

Once you find the perfect apartment, act quickly. It takes just a few minutes to visit the Home Properties website and apply for your apartment online.

Application Fee

After you place a hold on an apartment, the next step will be a credit screening and a residency application. You can apply online, or download a standard residency application right here on the Home Properties website. Once you submit the application, you will be asked to pay a non-refundable application fee to cover the costs of ordering a credit report, checking references, and processing your application.

Your Apartment Lease Agreement

Once you are ready to make a commitment to a specific apartment and community, and your application has been approved, you will be presented with an apartment lease agreement. The lease is a document that is binding for both the resident and landlord. You can view the standard lease agreement used in your state. Read this document carefully and ask questions about anything you do not fully understand.

Security Deposit

Security deposits for most apartments are roughly equal to one or two months' rent. This will be held by the property manager and applied to the cost of repairing any possible damages to the apartment. After deducting the proper amount to cover damages and repairs, the remainder of the security deposit is refundable when you move out of the apartment. You’ll want to take excellent care of your new home so the deposit will be refunded to you when you leave.

Dog and Cat Friendly Pet Fees and Deposits

Home Properties communities are pet friendly. As one of the top apartment property management companies in the country, we recognize that dogs and cats are part of your family. In some cases, you may be charged a small, upfront fee and/or a monthly charge to cover the extra cleaning and repair costs related to a dog or cat living in the apartment. Terms for holding and refunding the pet deposit are spelled out in the lease agreement.  

Renters' Insurance

Before you move into your new apartment, it is required that you obtain renters' insurance. This is a special insurance policy which is very affordable and protects the contents of your apartment from loss or damage due to fire or theft. Premiums are calculated based upon the value of your furniture and other personal possessions. Remember, any insurance carried by the property owner only insures the buildings. Protecting the contents of your apartment is your responsibility.

Apartment Walk-through

Right before you are scheduled to move in, it is important to walk through the apartment with the leasing consultant. This allows you to confirm that the apartment is prepared to your satisfaction. It is a good idea to take a few "before photos" of each room in the apartment.

Arrange for Utilities

Because utilities such as gas and electric, cable television, Internet service, and telephone service will be placed in your name, it is your responsibility to call and order service before you move in. Depending upon your credit history, these suppliers may request a refundable deposit. This will also help you start building a credit history in your own name.

Furnishing Your New Apartment

Before moving in, you will want to give some thought to furnishing your apartment. The most important piece of furniture in your new apartment is, of course, your bed. After that, consider hunting for furniture and accessories at garage or yard sales, thrift stores, and the attic or basement of close relatives! Don’t forget to stock up on the basics, including a shower curtain, wastebaskets, cleaning supplies, etc.

Arranging the Move

You have found your perfect apartment, completed the paperwork, and have a move-in date in mind — now it's time to locate a moving company. Ask friends and relatives for recommendations. You can choose to pack everything yourself or pay for a packing service. If you are doing it yourself, start collecting boxes, newspapers, bubble wrap, and other supplies to protect your belongings.

Settle In and Enjoy!

Renting an apartment offers a worry-free lifestyle – you can enjoy your free time while the apartment management company mows the lawn, rakes the leaves, and shovels the snow. So settle in to your new lifestyle and enjoy it!








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Great Inexpensive Valentine's Day Gift Ideas

Want to celebrate Valentine’s Day without going into debt? Think fun.

Some of the best gifts involve sharing time, along with a little thoughtfulness. And the memories last far longer than a dozen roses or a box of chocolates. Here are 14 ways to express your love on the 14th — or any other day for that matter.

For a spouse or significant other:

1. Time in a bottle: Give your hardworking spouse a full day to do whatever he or she wants — or just to relax — no interruptions allowed. For him, that means he gets to engage in his hobby, watch the game, play 18 holes or do absolutely nothing. For her, that might means you feed and entertain the kids while she indulges in a good book, a bubble bath or a manicure. Announce your gift — along with your most heartfelt message of love and appreciation — in your best handwriting or play with various fonts on your home computer. Clean up an old wine bottle and insert the rolled-up message tied with a red bow.

2. Dining out: Sure, you can take your loved one out to dinner, but that can get expensive. Instead, eat out — as in outdoors. A picnic in a park or at the beach will fill the bill. In frostier climes, set up a picnic blanket and basket at the dining room table, on the living room floor or in the middle of that king-size bed. Add a rose or two (rather than a dozen) for atmosphere.

3. New adventures: Do something different. Go somewhere you’ve never been before, or “someplace you haven’t been in a while that’s special,” says John Gray, author of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” The site of your first date, for example. When you vary your routine, “that’s what creates the memory,” he says.

4. Surprise, surprise: For guys that don’t normally cook, Gray says, your best attempt at a home-cooked meal can be a huge treat and doesn’t have to cost anything. Or hide a note under her pillow the night before or little notes around the house on the day, telling her what she means to you. Look at the little things. “What men don’t realize about Valentine’s Day is that it doesn’t have to cost a lot,” says Gray. “Little things make the difference. The surprise factor is nice, whenever possible,” Gray says.

5. Culture up: Does your significant other delight in museums, foreign films or rare books? In most metro areas, you can find high-culture, low-dollar activities if you know where to look. (Start with the local paper, check online and you can even call the local library or cultural organizations for suggestions.) Many museums have free days. Movie houses have special times when tickets are heavily discounted. For the book lover, plan a trip to a rare book shop, and splurge for cappuccino and biscotti at a nearby coffee house.

For the parents:

6. Creature comforts: For mom or dad it’s always a good idea to focus on the creature comforts. Let her sleep late and bring her coffee or orange juice and a simple breakfast in bed. “Some of the best stuff is free,” says Melina Bellows, author of “The Fun Book for Moms: 102 Ways to Celebrate Family,” and editor in chief of National Geographic Kids. Give dad or mom — especially if you have a single parent — the gift of an hour of “me-time” when they get home from work just to decompress, says Eric Stromer, author of “Do-It-Yourself Family: Fun and Useful Home Projects the Whole Family Can Make Together,” and host of HGTV’s “Over Your Head” and AOL’s “Do-It-Yourself with Eric Stromer.” “Try it Friday or Monday,” he says. If you know dad will retreat to his man-cave, post some kind of thank you note or affirmation there, just to let him know how much you appreciate his hard work.

7. Get techy wid it: The perfect gift for parents from teens and college kids. “Offer to be mom’s tech concierge,” says Bellows. Teach her to text, or show her how to download music or movies. If she’s wanted to investigate social networking, introduce her to Facebook, and create (with her permission) a page for her, so that she can catch up with her high school and college friends. Or, if you have a few bucks, do the old mixed tape one better and load up her MP3 player with a playlist with of music you know she’ll like.

8. Chores: Sure, you’re busy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend a little time making sure your parents know you love them. Make a book of coupons for your parents filled with jobs you promise to do for the week, month or year: things like shining dad’s shoes, washing mom’s car, watering the plants or even taking out the trash.

For the kids:

9. Cooking up some love: Kids will remember the Valentine’s Day they baked cookies with mom or dad. With little kids, opt for something simple, like heart-shaped cookies. With older children, consider cupcakes with more elaborate Valentine’s Day decorations. Then turn off the TV one night and have family game time or story time. Get out the old favorites or create a few new ones.

10. Treasure of love: Kathy Peel, author of “The Busy Mom’s Guide to a Happy, Organized Home,” suggests hosting a treasure hunt. “Post clues (pictures, rhymes or words) to direct family members from one location to another until they find their treasure: a small Valentine’s Day gift,” she says.

11. Get crafty: Try a family craft project, says Stromer. “Nothing spells love more than a heart made out of balsa wood and hung on the front door,” he says. Balsa is inexpensive, easy to work with (you can often use tools that you already have), and available at local craft stores. Paint it, let it dry and display it prominently, says Stromer.

12. Start the day with love: Celebrate with a Valentine’s Day breakfast, says Bellows. For a lot of families, the morning routine is hectic. So take some time on Saturday for a leisurely breakfast. Go for something traditional with a twist, like their favorite pancakes in heart shapes. Keep with the Valentine’s theme by using lots of strawberry or cherry syrup and whipped cream. And focus on the foods they really love.

13. Work together: Take a few hours on Saturday to work together as a family on a project geared to the abilities of the kids. Build — or even just hang — a bird house. You can find kits in craft stores or if you’re not handy, take the children to pick out a seed ball. Then, together, select a spot where it can be seen from indoors and hang it. Not only do you help foster local wildlife (and help creatures during the cold winter months), you and your family get to enjoy a little bit of nature in your own backyard. Another thought: Make your own kite. A little newspaper (or other heavy paper or light cloth), some balsa wood (available at craft stores), string and poster paints can add up to a pretty fantastic kite. (Check Internet sites or children’s craft books at the library if you need examples or instructions.) See who can design the prettiest, fastest, most colorful or most unusual kite. You can display them in the kids’ rooms or around the house. Then on the first sunny, windy day, try them out.

For any situation:

14. Be a friend: Know someone who’s alone? Set aside some time to share a meal, go on an outing, or swap recipes or gossip. It can cost virtually nothing, and you’ll likely gain a lot more than you give.


Save Money on Heating your Home

Heating your home in the winter can be costly! The strategies below will help you save energy, save money, and stay comfortable during the cool fall and cold winter months. Some of the tips below are free and can be used on a daily basis to increase your savings; others are simple and inexpensive actions you can take to ensure maximum savings through the winter.

If you haven't already, conduct an energy audit to find out where you can save the most, and consider making a larger investment for long-term energy savings.

Also check out no-cost and low-cost tips to save energy during the spring and summer.

Take Advantage of Heat from the Sun

Open curtains on your south-facing windows during the day to allow sunlight to naturally heat your home, and close them at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.

Cover Drafty Windows

Use a heavy-duty, clear plastic sheet on a frame or tape clear plastic film to the inside of your window frames during the cold winter months. Make sure the plastic is sealed tightly to the frame to help reduce infiltration.

Install tight-fitting, insulating drapes or shades on windows that feel drafty after weatherizing.

Find out about other window treatments and coverings that can improve energy efficiency.

Adjust the Temperature

When you are home and awake, set your thermostat as low as is comfortable.

When you are asleep or out of the house, turn your thermostat back 10° to 15° for eight hours and save around 10% a year on your heating and cooling bills. A smart or programmable thermostat can make it easy to set back your temperature. 

If you have a heat pump, maintain a moderate setting or use a programmable thermostat specially designed for use with heat pumps.

Find and Seal Leaks

Seal the air leaks around utility cut-throughs for pipes ("plumbing penetrations"), gaps around chimneys and recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets.

Find out how to detect air leaks.

Learn more about air sealing new and existing homes.

Add caulk or weatherstripping to seal air leaks around leaky doors and windows.

Find out how to select and apply the appropriate caulk and weatherstripping.


Maintain Your Heating Systems

Schedule service for your heating system.

Furnaces and heat pumps: Replace your filter once a month or as needed. Find out more about maintaining furnaces or boilers and heat pumps.

Wood- and Pellet-Burning Heaters: Clean the flue vent regularly and clean the inside of the appliance with a wire brush periodically to ensure that your home is heated efficiently. Find other maintenance recommendations for wood- and pellet-burning appliances.

Reduce Heat Loss from the Fireplace

Keep your fireplace damper closed unless a fire is burning. Keeping the damper open is like keeping a window wide open during the winter; it allows warm air to go right up the chimney.

When you use the fireplace, reduce heat loss by opening dampers in the bottom of the firebox (if provided) or open the nearest window slightly--approximately 1 inch--and close doors leading into the room. Lower the thermostat setting to between 50° and 55°F.

If you never use your fireplace, plug and seal the chimney flue.

If you do use the fireplace, install tempered glass doors and a heat-air exchange system that blows warmed air back into the room.

Check the seal on the fireplace flue damper and make it as snug as possible.

Purchase grates made of C-shaped metal tubes to draw cool room air into the fireplace and circulate warm air back into the room.

Add caulking around the fireplace hearth. Find out more techniques to improve your fireplace or wood-burning appliance's efficiency. Learn tips for safe and efficient fireplace installation and wood burning.

Lower Your Water Heating Costs

Turn down the temperature of your water heater to the warm setting (120°F). You'll not only save energy, you'll avoid scalding your hands.
Find other strategies for energy-efficient water heating.


5 Steps to Help You Save for that New Car


If you're trying to save up a few thousand bucks for a new car — or a used car that is at least new to you — it helps to have a plan that keeps you disciplined and on schedule if unexpected expenses pop up.

If you're looking to purchase a vehicle, here's how to get your finances in order.

Step 1: Calculate your desired car payment.

If you don't want a car loan at all, the answer here is "zero." Skip to Step 2.

But for those who can't pay in full or who don't mind a car payment, start by calculating how much you can afford to pay out each month.

Make sure you leave some wiggle room for maintenance, such as oil changes or new tires, of course, or any change in insurance costs. While a car payment is perhaps the biggest single expense here, it surely isn't the only one.

Step 2: Calculate how much you need down.

Again, if you're paying in full then the answer is "everything." Now skip to Step 3.

For those looking at a monthly car payment, a host of Internet tools can help calculate how much you need down at the time of purchase. For example, a 2014 Chevy Cruze compact sedan starts at $18,345 with shipping.

The Auto Loan Calculator on is a good one, because it allows you to easily customize fields including trade-in value, sales tax and loan terms to get a more accurate estimate. Bank of America also has a nice affordability tool that starts with the monthly payment instead of the sticker price of the car. This allows you to start with your budget instead of guessing on how much vehicle you can afford and working backward.

You can do an Internet search and find a host of others. But spend a few minutes testing different down payments and payment terms, and you'll quickly see how that affects your monthly expenses — and how much car you can ultimately afford.

Step 3: Decide when you want (or need) the car.

Once you know how much you can afford to spend, including down payments and monthly loan installments, the final element is timing.

Just remember that the sooner you want the car — or if your old wheels are unreliable, the sooner you need a car — the faster you'll have to save up the cash.

Don't be unrealistic or impatient here. For instance, if you only take home $4,000 a month but need a $5,000 down payment for the car you want and insist on buying that car next week … well, it isn't going to happen.

The obvious way to find a more affordable car is simply to look for a cheaper one. But delaying your purchase by a few months to build up more savings can also make a difference on your finances.

Step 4: Make savings mandatory.

Now we arrive at the hard part: sticking to the plan and saving what you need, by the time you need it.

The best way to meet a savings goal is to take out the guesswork and make it automatic, rather than debating every single purchase you make. It's not only less temptation this way, but also less stress.

Let's say, for round numbers, you need to save $5,000 in the next five months. If you have a direct-deposit paycheck, simply tell your payroll department that you want $500 sent to your savings account every two weeks, with the rest sent to checking as usual.

That way the savings happens on its own — and best of all, there's no risk you'll accidentally eat into those savings when you write a check for the electric bill or when you swipe your debit card at Chipotle. Some banks may even allow you another separate account free of charge if you even want to keep the car fund separate from your rainy day savings account.

If you don't have direct deposit, then you have to do it the old fashioned way: Either make a trip to the bank yourself or deposit $250 into a "car jar" on the dresser every Thursday after you get paid.

And save it first thing, before some reason to spend it pops up.

Think of this method as a kind of withholding, like the money set aside for health insurance or taxes. If you never know you have it and learn to live on a budget without it, the savings happen on their own.

Step 5: Save, but don't punish yourself.

Even if your savings are building "automatically," keeping your emotions in check across this process is easier said than done.

There's the guilt that comes with spending too much on something when you should be pinching pennies. There's frustration from having to say "no" to other things we want. And, of course, there's the fear that you won't save enough and will always be behind.

It's crucial to be realistic about what you can spend, and make a good plan … but after you have a structure in place, it's also important to relax.

If savings becomes a daily or hourly battle to pinch pennies, you can seriously stress yourself out — not to mention your spouse or children.

So, remember that while cutting out your twice-daily Starbucks run is a great way to save cash, it is perfectly acceptable to treat yourself to an iced mocha every week or two in order to keep your spirits up. Or, if you wind up skipping a beach vacation this year, it's OK to settle for a day trip to a campground with the kids instead.

Giving up luxuries shouldn't mean killing simple pleasures, too.

The bottom line is that saving money shouldn't feel like punishment. If it does, you're less likely to be successful at it.








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How to Stay on Budget with your Interior Home Improvement Project

Busting the budget is everyone's biggest fear when it comes to renovation. And with good reason. Even if you follow the essential advice we've been doling out for years—build in a 20 percent cushion to cover the nasty surprises, get contractor references and check them, banish the words "while you're at it" from your vocabulary—it's hard not to end up shelling out more than you want to, even if you want to pen a check for a million bucks.

But why scale back a project or forgo that Viking range? No, what you need to do is get your dream at a price you can afford. And not by cheaping out, either. With some strategic thinking about design, materials, and timing, you can cut your home renovation costs without cutting corners. On the following pages, we'll show you the ways, from the big (knock down the house and start over) to something as small as choosing a wall sconce over a recessed light. But another universal truth about renovations is that every little thing adds up. So save a little here, save a little there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money.

1. Increase efficiency, not size.
If you can reorganize and equip your kitchen for maximum utility, you may not need to blow out the walls to gain square footage. Start by replacing space–hogging shelves with cabinet–height pullout drawers 8 inches wide, containing racks for canned goods and other items. "You're getting three or more horizontal planes where you might otherwise get only one," says Louis Smith Jr., an architect with Meier Group, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You could easily shell out a few thousand to outfit cabinets with upgrades like dividers, pull–out pot trays, and lazy Susans, but you'll save many times that amount by skipping the addition you thought you needed.
*Cost to expand kitchen by 200 square feet: $48,000 to $95,000
Cost of super–efficient, custom–designed cabinets: $35,000
SAVED: Up to $60,000

2. Bring in natural light without adding windows.
Before cutting a big hole in the side of your house and rearranging the framing, consider less invasive—and less expensive—ways of capturing light. To brighten up a windowless bath or hallway, for instance, you can install a "light tube," which slips between roof rafters and funnels sunshine down into the living space.
Cost to add a double–pane insulated window: $1,500
Cost for a light tube: $500
SAVED: $1,000

3. Hit the recycling center.

Do–it–yourselfers can reap big savings with recycled or lightly used fixtures and building materials. Habitat for Humanity operates about 400 ReStores nationwide, which offer salvaged materials at half off home–center prices. One caveat: Many contractors won't work with salvaged items, or homeowner–supplied materials in general, because they don't want to assume the liability if something goes wrong. That said, if you're doing your own work, you can find anything from prehung doors to acrylic skylights to partial bundles of insulation. (To find a ReStore near you, visit
Price of 4–by5–foot insulated window in a home center: $600
Price at ReStore: $300
SAVED: $300

4. Donate your trash.
Before you begin a remodeling job, invite the local Habitat for Humanity chapter to remove materials and fixtures for later resale. "About 85 percent of a house is reusable," says B.J. Perkins, Habitat's ReUse program manager, in Austin, Texas. "We can do a total takedown, or do a cherry-pick job and take the cabinets, the tub, the sink, and so on." You save space in the landfill, collect a charitable tax credit for the donation, and help a good cause. Visit Habitat's website (see Way to Save #3) to find an affiliate near you.
Cost to trash a suite of bathroom fixtures: $50 to $75
Cost to donate: Nothing, plus you get a tax deduction
SAVED: Space in the landfill (and a little bit of your soul)

5. Do your own demo.
Knocking down may not be as costly as rebuilding, but you can still shave dollars by doing some of the demolition yourself—as long as you proceed with care. "If a homeowner wants to demo a deck, well, I am sure they can handle that," says Michael Winn, owner of Winn Design, in Virginia. "But when it comes to interior spaces, I would dissuade them from doing it unless they have done it before." The reason: A reckless wrecker might unwittingly take out a load–bearing wall or, worse still, plunge a reciprocating saw into live wiring or pressurized plumbing. (For tips on how to do demo right, see our October 2005 feature, "Before You Construct, You Have to Destruct.")
Cost to demo a 200–square–foot deck yourself: $450 (Dumpster rental and parking permit)
Cost for a pro: $1,000
SAVED: $550

6. Consider long–term costs, not just short–term gains.

If your addition calls for clapboard siding, for instance, you can save more in the long run by ponying up now for the preprimed and prepainted variety. It costs an extra 10 to 20 cents per foot, but "you'll wind up paying for half as many paint jobs down the road," says Paul Eldrenkamp, owner of Byggmeister, a design–build remodeling firm in Newton, Massachusetts. The reason? Factory finishes are applied on dry wood under controlled conditions—no rain, no harsh sun. "I used prefinished claps on my house about ten years ago and the only flaw in the finish is the occasional mildew spot, easily washed off," Eldrenkamp says. "The paint looks as if it'll be good for another ten years, easily." Cost of unfinished siding for a 10–by–40–foot addition, plus two paint jobs: $5,000
Cost for prefinished claps and one coat of paint at installation: $3,750 SAVED:$1,250

7. Tap your contractor's sources.
When it comes to things like flooring, ask your subcontractor if he has odds–and–ends stock left over from other jobs. While renovating a Civil War–era bed-and-breakfast in New Jersey some years back, contractor Bill Asdal needed wood flooring. He made a few phone calls and came up with hundreds of square feet of hardwood, in various lengths and widths, that otherwise would have gone into the trash on other job sites. Just by planing it to uniform thickness, then sanding and refinishing it, he saved his client almost $9,000 in materials costs.
Cost of new flooring: $19,200
Cost to use someone else's discards: $10,500
SAVED: $8,700

8. Limit recessed light fixtures.
"The more recessed lights you put in, the more it's going to cost," says Tom Silva, This Old House's general contractor. In addition to the fixtures, there's the labor to cut all the holes and insulate them properly. A wall– or ceiling–mounted light can also deliver more wattage, which means you may be able to get away with fewer fixtures.
Cost to install six can lights: $900
Cost to install one surface–mounted fixture of equal wattage: $300
SAVED: $600

9. Consult an architect.

Depending on the scale of your project, you might not need a full–on architectural commission, which involves extensive meetings, multiple job–site visits, and several sets of construction drawings, to the tune of about 8 percent of a project's construction budget. You might be able to tap an architect's design savvy by having him undertake a one–time design consultation. For example, for a $400 flat fee, Baton Rouge architect Kevin Harris will meet with a homeowner, examine the problem, and sketch out a few solutions that could be as simple as opening up a partition wall or moving a door. The homeowner can then give the sketch to a builder or take it to a drafting service, which will charge about $1 to $1.50 a square foot to crank out formal construction drawings.
Architect's fee to design a 300–square– foot home office: $2,250
Fee for design consultation only and plans: $580
SAVED: $1,670

10. Partner with a contractor.
Though the practice is controversial among the trades, some contractors will offer consulting and mentoring services to skilled do–it–yourselfers on an hourly basis. Chicago–area builder Ted Welch charges $150 per hour for such coaching, with a two–hour minimum commitment. "The most satisfied clients tend to be those who have good manual dexterity, who realize that skills need to be practiced in order to be perfected, and who are willing to risk making a few mistakes and then learn from them," he says.
Cost to drywall one room: $1,000
Cost with DIY consultation: $300 (2 hours of coaching), plus materials
SAVED: $700

11. Make sweat equity count.
Unless you've got loads of time (and expertise) to spend on your project, the best way to add sweat equity is up front, by handling your own demolition, or at the back end, by doing some of the finish work yourself. "If you want to save money, dig in and start helping out," says Tom Silva. "You can insulate, you can paint, you can sand." Or better still, he says, help with cleanup every day. "Instead of paying someone to pick up sawdust off the floor, put your money into the time it takes to trim the window properly," he advises.
Cost for construction crew to handle cleanup: $200 per day
Cost to do it yourself: $0
SAVED: About 3 to 5 percent of the overall job cost

12. Do your own schlepping.

If you're doing your own project, slash your materials–delivery fees by picking up goods yourself. No pickup truck? For about $400, you can purchase a nearly new single–axle utility trailer online, which you can tow behind your SUV. Get one just big enough to carry 4–by–8 sheet goods flat. Use it for a half–dozen trips, and it's paid for itself. Find trailers for sale near you via eBay Motors, or try your local classifieds.
Cost of 10 deliveries: $750
Cost to buy a used trailer: $400
SAVED: $350, plus you get to keep (or sell) the trailer

13. Don't overspend on wall prep.
If your walls are in such rough shape that it would take a painting contractor days of filling and sanding to make them ready for the roller, consider using materials such as Texturglas, from Deerfield Beach, Florida— based company Roos International. A breathable, nontoxic wall covering made of fine glass filaments, Texturglas has a similar look and feel to the fiberglass matting used in auto–body work. It's available in a variety of surface patterns, takes paint readily, and is designed to be installed right on top of existing surfaces, adding strength while covering up dings.
Cost to patch and paint a 15–by–20–foot room with heavily damaged walls: $1,525
Cost to install Texturglas:$1,050
SAVED: $475

14. Consider look-alikes.
Some imitations just make sense: Lumber giant Weyerhaeuser sells a fast-growing natural eucalyptus hybrid under the brand name Lyptus. Sustainably harvested in plantations in Brazil, the clear-grained hardwood looks and feels remarkably like mahogany. It's sold as toungue-and-groove flooring and in planks and sheets for cabinetry and millwork. (Visit to find a distributor near you.)
Cost of 100 board feet of mohogany: $808
Cost of same quantity Lyptus:$395
SAVED: $413

15. Demolish the whole house and start from scratch.

"Most clients don't want to hear those words," says Paul Irwin, design director with Landis Construction, in the Washington, D.C., area, "but it really needs to be considered on major remodels."In one case, for example, plans for a 1,300–square–foot addition revealed that the house's existing foundation wasn't up to code and would have to be replaced—a $30,000 proposition. After crunching the numbers, the owners concluded that it would cost as much to update the house, a former summer cottage, as it would to reproduce it new. "For a relatively small additional cost," says the owner, "we get all the benefits of new construction while preserving the character and feel of our old house."
Cost to remodel: $570,000
Cost to replicate: $588,000
SAVED: For $18,000, the owners gained as much as $60,000 worth of new living space, plus improved safety and energy efficiency.

16. Wait until contractors want your business.
Don't schedule your reno in the height of summer or between September, when the kids go back to school, and Christmas. "That's premium time," explains Lisa Stacholy, owner of LKS Architects, in Atlanta, Georgia. Suppliers tend to be busier, labor scarcer, and deliveries slower. One Virginia–based contractor offers discounts of between 4.5 and 5.5 percent (depending on the overall budget) on projects during his down time, right after the new year.
Cost of a major bathroom remodel in peak season: $25,000
Cost in January: $23,625
SAVED: $1,375

17. Skip the foundation.
If local code allows, you may be able to support a small addition on posts and beams, as you would a deck, explains contractor Dennis Gavin, of Gavin Design–Build, in Media, Pennsylvania.
220–square–foot addition with poured foundation: $40,000
Same–size addition on posts and beams: $35,000
SAVED: $5,000

18. Don't move the kitchen sink.
Or the toilet, if you can avoid it. "That often becomes the biggest part of the plumbing–price increase," says Richard Trethewey, This Old House plumbing and heating expert. If your new layout requires that you move the toilet, use the opportunity to upgrade the pipes at the same time. "That will save you money in the long run," says Richard.
Cost to move toilet more than 3 feet: $500—$1,000
Cost to leave in existing location: $0
SAVED: Up to $1,000

19. Plan with stock sizes in mind.

"Ask yourself, 'Why am I building something 10 feet wide if plywood comes in 4–foot–wide sheets?'" says Lisa Stacholy, of LKS Architects, in Atlanta. The same applies to stock windows and doors: Use manufacturers' off–the–shelf dimensions from the outset and you will save the premiums of custom fabrication. Cost of custom doors: $1,500—$2,500
Cost of standard doors: $500–$800
SAVED: Up to $2,000

20. Buy building supplies at auction.
Brian Peppel, a homeowner in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, attends one building–supply auction each month in nearby Lancaster County. His recent finds include two pallets of concrete block for $10 and a solid–wood prehung exterior door for $65. "Their inventory is everything under the sun, a lot of scratch–and–dent, misordered custom items, or new overstock supplies," reports Peppel. He once watched the auctioneer's gavel fall on a large, custom–made triangular window with an original retail value that he pegs at several thousand dollars. The winning bid? $1.
Cost of solid–cherry wall cabinet at a home center: $300
Cost at building–supply auction: $10

21. Make decisions early.
Start prowling the aisles at the hardware store or home center way before the wrecking crew shows up. Get a good feeling for what you want in fixtures and appliances and what they cost. If you aren't absolutely specific up front about what you want, you'll have to rely on your contractor's estimate, called an allowance, and his notion of what is acceptable may be quite different from yours. "Ninety–eight percent of the time, allowances are too low," says Tom Silva. For instance, you may have had a glass–tile backsplash in mind, but your contractor's bid was for ceramic.
Cost to plan ahead: $0
Cost of change orders midstream: The difference in the item price, but also time lost to project delays and communications glitches.

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Creating Good Savings Habits in 2018

Most Americans are woefully behind in retirement savings and have little money set aside for emergencies. Whether you're one of those Americans with $0 in the bank, or you have a little nest egg, you probably could stand to save a little more.

This five-step guide will show you how to start saving money in 2018. Just follow these steps to end the year with a savings rate to be proud of.


1. Decide what you need to save for

Sixty-four percent of Americans are concerned about not having enough money for retirement. If you aren't saving for retirement already, you're setting yourself up for financial disaster. You'll either have to save a fortune to make up for starting late, or could be left without a nest egg and forced to struggle to live on Social Security.

While saving for retirement is vitally important, it's not the only goal to have.  If you don't have an emergency fund, funding one should be a priority. In one 2015 Pew Survey, 60% of Americans indicated they'd had a financial shock -- with a median cost of $2,000 -- during the past year. More than half hadn't recovered financially six months after the incident.

You also may want to save for a house down payment, college education, or even a vacation fund. Anything you want that you won't be able to pay cash for should go on your list of savings goals.

2. Open the right accounts

When you know what you're saving for, you can open up the right accounts to put your money into. For retirement savers, this means an account that offers a tax break.

Investing in a 401(k) is usually the simplest approach if you have access to one. However, if your 401(k) doesn't offer a good selection of investments, or if the fees are high, it makes sense to invest only enough to receive an employer match and then make IRA contributions. Companies like Ally Invest make it easy to open an IRA online with no minimum balance.

As for your other savings goals, any cash you may need within two years -- including money in your emergency fund -- should be invested in a basic savings account. There are plenty of high-yield savings accounts you can open online. Moving money out of checking into a separate savings account makes it much less likely you'll spend the money.

3. Set a budget that prioritizes savings

Now the hard part: coming up with money to transfer into savings. Your goal should be to save at least 20% of your income, with at least 15% for retirement. If you made the median income of $52,700, you should be saving $10,540. To save anywhere close to this much, you need to avoid wasteful spending -- which means making a budget.

To get started, track your spending for 30 days to ensure you're basing your budget on realistic numbers. If you're spending $1,000 monthly on groceries for your family of four and you budget $200, you're not budgeting -- you're wishcasting and writing down a fantasy instead of a plan.

When you know what you're spending -- and where you're overspending -- you can make a budget that works. When you do, include saving as a non-optional expense, along with the mortgage or rent. After prioritizing required expenditures, allocate the rest of your dollars into spending categories, and give every dollar a job.

Don't forget to build in money for unexpected expenses and irregular expenses like birthdays and holidays.

4. Look for ways to slash your spending

If your budget reveals there's a big mismatch between expenditures -- including savings -- and income, it's time to make big lifestyle changes. This could mean getting a roommate, moving to a lower cost-of-living area, taking on a side gig, or selling your car and getting a cheaper vehicle.

Even if your budget shows you have some cash left over to save, it's worth going through your expenditures to look for ways to save a little bit more. A few options to consider:

·       Reduce the costs of cable: Great streaming services, including Sling TV and Hulu, provide access to local TV, sports, and more -- for a fraction of the cost of cable.

·       Take a close look at your cellphone plan: Are you paying for more data than you use, or texting services you no longer need?

·       Make your home more energy efficient: Turning your thermostat up or down a degree, changing to LED bulbs, and unplugging devices that use phantom power are simple, effective ways to save money without big lifestyle changes.

·       Change your grocery-shopping process: American families throw out food worth around $1,365 to $2,275 every year. If you invested $1,365 every year in a 401(k) instead of using it to buy food you toss, you'd have $154,631 dollars in 30 years, assuming an 8% return. Stop wasting food by planning meals, using a shopping list, and scheduling days to eat leftovers.

·       Cut your credit card costs: If you're in debt, consider taking a 0% interest balance transfer, or a personal loan to make payback cheaper. If you have a credit card with an annual fee, call your creditor and ask to have it waived. This worked for 82% of cardholders whose fees were either waived or reduced, according to a survey by

There are dozens of other ways you're probably wasting money -- just take a critical look at your spending. Even saving $1,000 more per year in a 401(k) -- just $83 per month -- could turn into $113,283 in 30 years.

5. Automate the process

Once you've got your budget in place and know how much you want to save for your savings goals, make the transfer of money automatic. Ask human resources at work for paperwork to set your 401(k) contributions to the desired amount, and set up automated transfers from your paycheck to your savings account and IRA on payday.

If you have to make the decision every month to transfer money, you'll constantly be forced to avoid giving into temptation. If you set up an automated system, you only need to do the right thing once.

Make 2018 your year to stop worrying about money

Eight in 10 American families are living paycheck to paycheck, and 60% can't cover an unexpected $500 expense. Living with no savings is really stressful. If you follow these steps and start building a nest egg, 2018 can become the year when you don't have to worry about money any more.

The $16,122 Social Security bonus most retirees completely overlook
If you're like most Americans, you're a few years (or more) behind on your retirement savings. But a handful of little-known "Social Security secrets" could help ensure a boost in your retirement income. For example: one easy trick could pay you as much as $16,122 more... each year! Once you learn how to maximize your Social Security benefits, we think you could retire confidently with the peace of mind we're all after.

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6 New Years Resolutions for Saving Money

1. Divvy up unexpected income. 

When you have a windfall — a bonus, gift, or extra cash for extra work — use the rule of thirds to determine how to use it:
• One third for the past. Use one third to pay down debt you owe.
• One third for the future. Put a second third immediately into some sort of savings or investment.
• One third for the present. Use the final third to make a home or personal improvement or purchase you want.
If you follow this rule, you'll see your debt shrink and your savings grow, and you won't feel deprived.

2. Keep an emergency fund handy

Something — be it a car repair, an emergency root canal, or a job layoff — always comes up to throw you off your monthly budget. To keep these incidents from running you into debt, you need to have an emergency stash in an easily accessible account, preferably a money market account (they earn a little more interest than regular savings accounts).

How much is enough?
Easy. Track all of your spending for a month (including everything from your mortgage payment to lunch at the deli), and multiply that monthly total by three. That three-month operating budget is a scary number, eh? Well, this is the minimum you should have on hand in case the roof caves in (literally or figuratively) and you need some dough to get you through the rough spots. And don't worry if this money isn't accruing the big interest; it's there for emergencies.

3. Ditch the ATM card

We're always making impulse purchases, from a pack of gum at the supermarket checkout line to that new Van Halen-meets-bluegrass CD. How can you stop your bank account from hemorrhaging? Take a page from the old-timers and shred your ATM card. It's just too easy to take out money at the local 7-Eleven. Instead, figure out how much cash you'll need each week for your regular, cash-based purchases (things like lunch at the cafeteria and your daily cup of coffee), head on over to the bank teller's window, and get your walking-around money for the week. With a finite amount of cash, you'll start to think twice before those spur-of-the-moment spending sprees.

4. Put yourself on your payroll

There comes a time every month when the bills start piling up and you force yourself to sit down and write out all the checks. Well, there's one more check you should be writing — one to yourself.  Every month — or even better, every paycheck — make sure you set an amount aside for investment. A good number would be about 6 percent. Anything more would be great. If you have to, you can even write yourself a check to deposit or send to another account. But just as you pay your mortgage and your electric bill without fail, now you'll be making sure to pay yourself as well.

5. Make and Keep a budget

Budgets are the first steps to gaining some financial order in your home. 

1. Don't attempt to do your entire budget in one sitting. Take a few days, breaking the work down into manageable pieces.

2. Gather up all of your income information, including salaries, interest, and gifts.

3. Next, gather up all of your expense information. Do this thoroughly, even if it takes three days, a week, or a month. Make sure you're not missing anything.

4. Using a budget worksheet add up all of the totals for the income and outflow.

5. Figure out where you can do some fine-tuning, either to pay down your debt or increase your savings goals. However, above all, make sure you're making as much money as you're spending. Stay out of the red.

6. Redo the budget with the new totals, and post it around your house, lest you forget you are now living within the cozy confines of a household budget.

Budget Formula

So you diligently track your income and every expense that you have. But how do you know if you're spending reasonable amounts of money on things like housing, debt, and groceries? Follow these parameters 

•30 percent: Housing and debt (mortgage/rent, credit cards, auto loans, student loans, etc.)
•26 percent: Living expenses (food, clothing, utilities, transportation, medical, entertainment)
•25 percent: Taxes (federal, state, local, and property; FICA and Medicare)

•15 percent: Savings and retirement (401(k), stocks, mutual funds, college savings, etc.)

•4 percent: Insurance (life, health, disability, auto, homeowners, etc.)

6. Follow financial rules of thumb

Concerned about how much you're spending, how much you should be saving, and how much house you can afford? Use these easy equations to determine how financially healthy you are:
• The price of your home should not be more than 2.5 times your annual gross household income.
• Your total monthly debt payments (including mortgage, student loans, car, and credit card payments) should not be more than 35 percent of your monthly gross income. Some mortgage brokers will stretch this ratio up to 40 percent, but that leaves you very little budgetary wiggle room.
• To retire comfortably, your nest egg should be about 20 times what you want your annual income to be. If you anticipate needing about $75,000 a year to live on when you retire, you'll need to save a nest egg of about $1.5 million. Of course, this will vary if you retire early or continue to work longer than usual.

Referenced from Reader's Digest 

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How to Save on Christmas Dinner

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We all want to have the ideal Christmas dinner, one your family and guests will remember for years to come—a dinner with all the entire family together and food covering the table. Sadly, the stress of feeding lots of people and buying tons of food ends up cutting back that amazing dinner. It can even turn the whole event from a perfect day to a perfect nightmare!

There are a lot of ways to save on the meal without your guests ever knowing that you served a frugal Christmas dinner.

It Starts With a Plan

First, you need to plan early. Don’t start planning the week before, start now.Decide what you want to serve, down to every side, sauce and dessert. Start the savings by sharing the list you’ve made and seeing if any relatives or other guests want to handle a particular side or dessert. The more you delegate, the more you save—plus everyone will enjoy getting to help out in some way with the meal.

Shop for a Month

Once everyone else has chosen sides they can make, go ahead and make a list of what items you need to prepare from the dishes that are left. Also, add any paper goods you want and even decor items to your list. You are basically making your shopping list a month in advance. Having this list ready means that over the next month you can start to watch sales and buy the items you need when they are actually on sale. You won’t be running in the week before the big meal and paying full price because you have no other option.

As you watch sales, it’s important to know what a “real” grocery sale is. To save the most money you want to look for sales that are at least 40% off of the regular price. An example: Canned vegetables are normally $1, but you want to grab them when they are on sale for 60¢ or less.

Clip Those Coupons

Buying an item on a “true” sale is a massive savings, but you can save even more by adding in coupons. There will be great baking and food coupons throughout November and December, so keep an eye out. We want to save the coupon and use it when the item is at that great sale price. Pairing the 40%-plus sale and the coupons allows you to grab some items for pennies and some items for free!

To get an idea of the savings, check out the specific item search on Southern Savers. Type in “cranberries” and you’ll see everywhere they are on sale this week, plus any coupons available to use for that item. And yes, there are even coupons for cranberries!

Main Dish Promotions

Lastly, let’s talk about how to save on the main entrée: the turkey or ham. The biggest way to save on meat for a holiday meal is to take advantage of special store promotions. Many stores will match ham or turkey prices, and some stores that run gas savings programs will even give increased gas discounts. We’ve even seen grocery stores offering a free turkey when you transfer any prescription to their pharmacy. Spend a few minutes to decide which promotion or price match works best for you. Don’t forget to look for coupons too. There will be a number available for the major brands.

Quick Tips to Remember

If you are feeling burdened or overwhelmed by the expense of hosting Christmas dinner, keep these simple tips in mind:

  1. Plan the menu early and delegate some dishes
  2. Make a detailed shopping list of everything you need
  3. Stash away coupons for key items and watch for sales
  4. Pair coupons, sales, price matching and rewards programs to maximize savings

Get started on your menu planning now and watch the savings stack up. Following these savings tips will let you achieve a frugal holiday meal, and shopping early will let you concentrate on the thing that really matters: cultivating family memories. In the end, I expect you’ll be eager to share how much you saved with every guest at the table!


10 Ways to Save Energy Costs this Winter

1. Use the sun for free heat. That bright orb in the sky should be the focus of temperature control in your residence throughout the year. Open the curtains on your south-facing windows during winter days to bring free heat into your home. Close your window coverings when the sun goes down to keep the heat inside.

2. Bundle up with warm accessories. This is one of the easiest ways to save on your heating bill. Instead of turning the heat up, put on a cozy winter sweater and warm socks. Keep throw blankets on your couch, and add an area rug to insulate the floor.

3. Use ceiling fans to your advantage. Homes that have better ventilation and airflow can be more energy efficient in the summer and winter months. If you have ceiling fans in your apartment, you have more control over ventilation than you know. Ceiling fans can be used strategically to achieve better airflow: counter-clockwise will push hot air up in the summer and clockwise will trap heat inside to keep your rooms warmer during cooler months. Turn your ceiling fan on a low setting to gently push hot air back down.

4. Adjust the thermostat at night. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save about 10 percent per year on your heating bills by turning your thermostat down 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours. Consider investing in flannel sheets and a warm comforter for your bed and keeping your apartment cooler when you sleep.

5. Only heat the rooms you use. If you have rooms that you never use, like guest rooms or large storage areas, close and seal off the vents in those rooms to be more energy efficient and direct the flow of air to the rooms you use most. Energy bills run, on average, $183 per month. By using a space heater in the rooms where you need it and setting the thermostat to 62 degrees, you can save approximately $200 each year.

6. Keep your furnace clean and unblocked. Keeping your furnace and vents properly maintained will reduce energy consumption and help you save. Check your furnace filter monthly, and replace it when it gets dirty.

7. Get a humidifier to add moisture to the air. The air inside your home can become very dry. Moist air feels warmer and holds heat better, so a humidifier can help you feel comfortable when your thermostat is set at a lower temperature. You can also increase the humidity in your apartment with a collection of house plants.

8. Invest in insulation. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs are lost each year due to escaping heat and cold air in homes without proper insulation. Get some inexpensive insulation from your local home improvement store, and cover up all those areas where heat might escape. Start with foam weather stripping for your doors and windows; it's cheap and is extremely easy to apply.

9. Decorate with LED lights for the holidays. Buy new LED holiday lights, which use at least 75 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than older, incandescent lighting. In addition to consuming less energy, LED lights don't emit as much heat and are more resistant to breakage, making them a safer alternative. Bonus tip: Always unplug your holiday lights before going to bed or leaving the house. As with all appliances and electronics, your holiday lights will continue to draw power even when not in use, which adds unnecessary expense to utility bills.

10. Only use exhaust fans when necessary. Exhaust fans in your kitchen and bathroom pull the hot air that rises to the ceiling out of your apartment. Use exhaust fans sparingly, and shut them off when you are done with them.

Niccole Schreck is the rental experience expert for, a free rental site that helps you find an affordable apartment and gives tips on how to move.

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5 Ways You're Wasting Your Money This Holiday Season

1. You're making financial decisions with your heart, not your head. Amanda Mulfinger, a psychologist who owns a small group practice just outside of Minneapolis, believes this is where many consumers go wrong.

"Part of the reason people spend so much money during the holidays is because they're chasing the idealized picture of the holiday that they have in their heads. It doesn't feel fun to just set a budget and stick to it," she says. "We believe that the more money we spend, the better the chances that we'll be able to purchase the perfect holiday."

Her recommendation? If we focus more on what we love about the holidays, beyond the shopping part, and we make it a point to engage in non-spending activities, whether that's baking Christmas cookies with friends or volunteering at a soup kitchen, then suddenly, "the holidays are both more meaningful and a lot less expensive."

2. Your gift list is too long. Dawn Casey-Rowe, a social studies high school teacher in Providence, Rhode Island, who just finished writing an upcoming book, "A Broke Teacher's Guide to Success," suggests considering whether someone can be cut from your gift list.

Sure, it sounds cruel, but Casey-Rowe points out that "many times, we buy out of guilt or obligation while the other party is doing the same thing. If you can get a no-buy agreement with some people, that will go a long way to helping you reduce holiday costs."

You can always be truthful and explain that it's nothing personal, but you're trying to save money. Most people will likely understand that.

3. You're glued to social media. You may not realize it, but social media can affect buying patterns.

Vassilis Dalakas, a consumer psychology specialist and a professor of marketing at Cal State University–San Marcos, says you might save money by staying away from Facebook. After all, your friends and family may be posting photos of shopping bag after shopping bag or of elaborate holiday parties that they're throwing.

"They essentially establish norms," Dalakas says.

And if their normal is in a higher financial bracket than your normal, you could be in trouble. After all, Dalakas points out, we all have a desire to win.

"So not only are [we] likely to follow those norms established by our peers but we are also likely to try and do better than them, which means spending even more money," he says.

4. You're overdoing gift cards. Arguably, one of the best ways to waste money is to get everyone on your list gift cards. Look at the math. Unless you're getting everyone $10 gift cards, you're probably buying gift cards worth $25, $50 or more, depending who you're buying for. So let's say you're shopping for your brother-in-law. You want to get him something nice, but you want to avoid that tradition of being broke in January.

Now, you can give him a $50 gift card to his favorite restaurant or home improvement store, and he'll probably appreciate the gift (he'd better). But unless you're going to a gift card reselling website, like or, you're almost certainly going to spend $50 on that $50 gift card. But if you shop and look for deals, hypothetically speaking, you might buy him a sweater and slacks on sale for a total of $35. He does well, and you've saved yourself $15.

These numbers add up, and if you plan on buying a lot of gift cards, you will save time, but you will be killing any chance to save money.

5. You wait until the last minute. Starting early means you'll have more time to give a loved one something meaningful and relatively inexpensive, like, say, a handmade scrapbook.

It also means you have more time to look for sales and consider what your friend or family member really needs.

"Do a little detective work to see where they shop, what they were looking to buy, if they have an Amazon wish list," Casey-Rowe suggests, adding that too often, we end up getting the recipient what we would like to receive. And while there's nothing inherently wrong with that, as Casey-Rowe says, if the gift isn't used or is underappreciated, "that creates waste."

And, really, if you're smart about how you buy your gifts, you're really giving yourself at least two presents – less stress and more money.

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5 Easy Ways to Save Money on Holiday Shopping


With core holiday shopping season just around the corner, it can be stressful thinking about all of the money you may have to shell out for presents. Don't worry, we've got you covered with five easy ways to save on your holiday shopping.

Buy Discounted Gift Cards

If you find something you want to buy, check to see if you can score a discounted gift card to get instant savings.

Sites like typically offer gift cards with discounts off of the total cost ranging from 5% to as high as 30%. For example, consumers can currently purchase Nordstrom gift cards for 5% off, Allen Edmonds gift cards for nearly 12% off, and Happy Socks gift cards for 15% off on


Aside from store gift cards, the holidays are also a great time to stock up on discounted restaurant gift cards, for yourself or others. Restaurants usually offer these deals from November through the end of the year.

Many restaurants offer exceptional promotions during the holidays, including several of the major steakhouse chains - such as Capital Grille, Del Frisco's, Morton's, The Palm, and Ruth's Chris - as well as upscale restaurant groups, including Rosa Mexicano, BR Guest Hospitality, and Starr Restaurants. Even casual dining restaurants like Chipotle, Jamba Juice, and Steak n' Shake sometimes offer discounted gift cards.

Use Cash-Back Shopping Sites

Cash-back shopping allows consumers to save money on nearly everything they buy online, regardless of whether a particular store is holding a sale. The savings come from cash-back portals, which have affiliate relationships with all of the stores listed on their sites.

Quite simply, cash-back sites earn a commission when they refer a customer who ends up making a purchase. These sites allow referred consumers to share in the commission generated in the form of cash back, typically in amounts ranging from 1% to 30% of the purchase price. You can take advantage of cash-back shopping through two simple steps.

  1. Sign up for a cash-back site. Some of the most popular options include Ebates, Mr. Rebates, and TopCashBack.
  2. When planning to make a purchase, go directly to the cash-back shopping site instead of the store's website. Once there, search for your store of interest, click its name, and - ta da! - you will be redirected to the store and off to cash in on some savings through cash back.

Most cash-back sites allow you to cash in on these savings through a check or online deposit within a specified time frame, such as one to three months after completing the purchase.

Take Advantage Of Sales

Combining the first two strategies with store sales allows you to save even more money. During the holidays, a sale always seems to be going on, so you have little reason to pay full price. In addition to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, sales also occur for Small Business Saturday, Green Monday, and Free Shipping Day, among other events.

Use A Price Adjustment App

Although sales abound during the holidays, you may still find it difficult to time when you will get the best price for a particular product. That's where a price adjustment app could be helpful. By signing up for an app like Earny, your credit card and email will link to the app. The app will then track whenever you might be eligible for a price adjustment, either through the store or through your credit card, for past purchases.

If you're eligible for a lower price, the app will automatically send an email to the store or card company, detailing the relevant transaction, the price difference, and the refund request. That's it! At the end of each month, Earny will take 25% of the total amount refunded across all transactions.

Look For Free Shipping Both Ways

Some stores offer free shipping to you, but not necessarily free shipping both ways. Certain stores, including Nordstrom, Bonobos, and Zappos offer free shipping both ways year-round. Other stores may offer free shipping both ways only during the holiday season.


Don't despair if a particular store lacks free shipping and free returns as you may still be able to qualify for these benefits. Services like Shoprunner offer free shipping and free returns for a range of participating stores, including Bloomingdales, Express, Kate Spade, Saks Fifth Avenue, Under Armour, and 1-800-Flowers. The service typically costs $79/year or $8.95/month. However, consumers with a personal or small business American Express or World or World Elite MasterCard are eligible for free Shoprunner memberships. If you don't have either of those credit cards, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial of Shoprunner, which you may be able to strategically use for the holidays and then cancel.

Even if a store lacks free shipping and isn't a Shoprunner partner, there is still hope. Check to see if you're able to find a free shipping code for your store of choice.

Putting It All Together

There's no time like the present to start planning to save on your holiday shopping. You can sign up for one or multiple cash-back shopping sites today, to save you time during your actual shopping journey. In addition, you can start scouting out stores that offer free shipping both ways. Remember to continue checking back as many stores offer free shipping promotions around the holidays.

When you find an item that you want to buy (on sale, of course), the remainder of your shopping journey can be as simple as 1-2-3:

  1. Go to a site like to look for discounted gift cards for the applicable store
  2. Go to your cash-back shopping portal, click through to your store of choice, find your item, and proceed to checkout
  3. Sit back and relax while you wait for your item. In the background, your price adjustment app will be monitoring prices for you to see if you are eligible for a refund, should prices decrease.

7 Best Practices for Black Friday & Cyber Monday


1. Black Friday Is Now Black November

With holiday shopping now starting as early as October, it’s not surprising that by the time Black Friday arrived in 2011, 54 percent of shoppers had already completed more than one-quarter of their holiday purchases, according to an eMarketer study.

Affiliate Strategy: If you’ve already been running holiday promotions, create a new campaign specific to Black Friday and boost incentives for publishers during the 24- hour period.

Another good data nugget to keep in mind is that men are more likely to shop on Thanksgiving night as opposed to early morning on Black Friday. This comes from the National Retail Federation and was reported by the New York Times. Depending on your merchandise, you may want to take this into consideration as you customize your online promotions.

2. Consumers Tend To Shop Before & After Work On Cyber Monday

An eMarketer study found that during last year’s Cyber Monday, consumers did their shopping before 9:00 a.m. then picked up it again between the hours of 5:00-9:00 p .m.

Affiliate strategy: Consider running limited-time promotions during the heavy online traffic cycles of Cyber Monday.

3. Daily Deal Sites Continue To Be Popular

Last year, nearly one in four online consumers purchased a gift from a daily deal site.

Affiliate Strategy: Retailers should offer their own daily deals and work with publishers to promote them. Additionally, with so many consumers flocking to daily deal sites, ensure that your business is included in their listings. What many retailers may not realize is that you can still appear on coupon site listings even if you’re not offering a coupon.

4. Value Supersedes Price

A recent study by the E-Tailing Group surveyed 1,136 U.S. consumers about their expected holiday shopping plans. The study found that when it came to selecting a retailer, 87 percent of respondents say the are looking for value while 85 percent say they are looking for price.

Affiliate Strategy: The fact that value and price are neck-in-neck for consumer attention is not a surprise. Yet, retailers should leverage their brand name and emphasize the quality of their goods over the price to attract buying customers.

5. Product Curation/Product Category Focus  

Consumers are making more online purchases from more product categories than ever before. Publishers are becoming better curators of product than the retailers themselves. You will endear yourselves to your shoppers and build loyalty if you have a good eye for selecting and highlighting the best products from your advertiser data feeds.

Affiliate Strategy: Put a strategy in place for finding, sourcing and identifying products that fit the unique tastes of your audience.  It’s easy to focus on price and discounts, but value can also mean finding just the right product with the right features. You can build loyalty among your shoppers if they feel they are continuously discovering unique gifts and other items on your site that they don’t easily find on other sites.

6. Mobile On The Rise But Not Yet The Dominant Sales Platform

Forrester Research finds that smartphones will account for three percent of e-commerce this year, and that number will increase to seven percent by 2016. Meanwhile, tablets are expected to generate more Web traffic than smartphones by early 2013, according to the Adobe Digital index. While it’s clear that m-commerce is on the rise, it’s not yet the dominant e-commerce platform.

Affiliate Strategy: Ensure every path to your website accommodates the needs of the shopper whether they’re on a traditional computer, smartphone or tablet.

For m-commerce shoppers, be sure you go beyond simply m-enabling your current website and are able to fully support both tablets and smartphones. This may require additional adjustments given the different screen sizes of smartphones and rich visuals you’re able to display on tablets, yet is well worth the investment.

For your traditional website, be sure that you call out your holiday deals and promotions to improve search engine results and accommodate the specific interests of shoppers when they come to your site.

7. Promotions & Free Shipping Reign

A survey conducted by after the 2011 holiday season found that the top three marketing tools that drove sales were promotions, free shipping without conditions, and free shipping with conditions such as a minimum purchase requirement.

Affiliate Strategy: While we’ve covered promotions extensively above, let’s take a closer look at free shipping. As you probably guessed, free shipping is becoming table stakes in e-commerce.

To differentiate your business, consider offering free returns as well and extending how much time a customer has to return items after the holidays. Also, be sure to be bold when calling out your shipping policies to entice customers, especially since you know they’re comparing deals on multiple sites.

With some small adjustments, you’ll be able to reap even more from your performance marketing efforts this holiday season.

6 Ways to Host Thanksgiving on a Budget

Have you ever wondered how you can possibly host a Thanksgiving dinner and still afford all your Christmas gifts? If you just answered yes, I'm here to help. It is totally possible to host a generous, palate-pleasing Thanksgiving feast on a budget. Hey, don't be so skeptical! The Pilgrims were on a budget — and they helped inventThanksgiving.

1. Accept help and go potluck

Are you trying to be the holiday hero, tackling the entire menu? Why mess with the spirit of Thanksgiving? This is a potluck-style holiday at heart, so accept help and get everyone involved. My extended family does a potluck style Thanksgiving like this every year and it's a great way to cover all the essentials, start a few of your own traditions (we always have oyster stuffing, thanks to a very distant streak of New England heritage), and share costs.

→ Small Household Budget Tip: If you are only cooking for your immediate family, find a friend in the same situation and split your groceries. You save money by getting only the ingredients you need, and you'll avoid the very American tradition of typing "What do I do with leftover turkey?" into your search engine for three weeks afterwards. It's a win-win!

2. Stick to your shopping list

Write out a menu and budget and stick to them. Take your Thanksgiving list along on your regular shopping trips for the month of November and try to pick up non-perishable items during store sales. Bread, for example, is often on sale and you can freeze it until needed and then make your own breadcrumbs.

3. Make your menu from scratch

Outlaw pre-made items from your shopping list, including special spice packs (if you have spices in your cupboard at home), powdered mashed potatoes, pre-made stuffing, and pre-made pie crusts and pies. You're usually paying for packaging and end up with a lower-quality product. Instead, buy a bag of potatoes and peel, boil, mash, and butter them by hand. Make your own stuffing with leftover sliced bread, onion, celery (cheap, seasonal produce), seasoning, and broth. Slice sweet potatoes and sprinkle them with brown sugar, salt, and pecans, and broil them in the oven.

You probably won't feel like you're saving much with each small choice—but those small choices add up and can really shave dollars off your final bill.


4. Do without the alcohol

There's so much food on Thanksgiving, it can be its own soporific! Or, if you simply must have wine with your turkey (and you're hosting for more than just your immediate family), ask someone else to bring a bottle or two.

5. Prioritize the dishes you love the most

Who needs 15 side dishes? Pick your priority foods (the absolute must-haves to complete your Thanksgiving tradition) and simply make less.

This brings me back to my first point: If you're serving fewer dishes, you'll be less tempted to buy a plethora of cheaper, pre-made options and instead spend more time creating high-quality dishes. And if you're like me, you'll buy a pint of heavy whipping cream, whip it up, and totally smother your homemade pumpkin pie with it. (And with that on hand, who really cares about anything else?)

6. Decorate with what you already have

Buying Thanksgiving-themed decorations can be a slippery slope. Once you start, you just keep going in pursuit of that perfect look. Buy a few quality, versatile pieces that you can bring out each year — avoid the fake leaves, themed napkins, and cheap centerpieces — and use what nature offers (dried grasses, herbs, and decorative gourds). A little goes a long way.


5 Money Saving Tips for your Home this Fall

  1. Schedule a tune-up for your HVAC system. Controlling the temperature of your office building, retail store or warehouse space most likely accounts for the largest portion of your energy bill. That’s why energy efficiency experts are gung-ho for tune-ups and maintenance of HVAC systems before the high-demand months of winter. This includes boilers, stack economizers, furnaces, and rooftop HVAC units (RTUs). Not only will your system run more efficiently, but you may also catch and repair HVAC problems before they leave you cold.
  2. Seal leaks around doors and windows. You pay to heat air, air escapes through leaks and cracks, and then you pay to heat the air again. Waste like this needlessly adds to energy bills, so don’t overlook a simple repair that can save you money.
  3. Resist using space heaters. In cold climates, central heating systems are usually more efficient than electric resistance space heaters because most electricity is produced from sources that convert only about 30% of fuel energy into electricity ( If a space needs supplemental heat, it may also be a red flag that air leaks or insufficient insulation are the underlying cause of the chill.
  4. Say ‘hello’ to your programmable thermostat. Has it been a while since you reviewed the settings and features on your thermostat? Have business hours changed, or are you using the space in a different way? Now’s the time to check your thermostat, and if you wonder how much you might save by changing the settings a few degrees, Energy Smart has people and tools to help you calculate the savings.
  5. Check your lighting photocells and timers for proper operation. The days are getting shorter and the time your lights are on is getting longer. Make sure your automated lighting systems are running properly, for safety as well as energy efficiency. Remember to check exterior lighting—an opportunity for energy savings that is often overlooked.
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5 Fun Fall Projects

5 Fun Fall Home Renovation Projects

For many reasons, fall is the perfect time to bang out home renovation projects. Due to a combination of mild weather and inactivity, autumn months make home improvement particularly easy and productive. If you're looking for a few renovation projects to polish off this fall, the following five upgrades are always a good place to start.

1. Do the Landscaping

As we all know, landscaping plays a big part in the overall aesthetic appeal of any property. When fall rolls around, be sure to mulch your perennials and trim any dead wood that's cluttering the yard. Furthermore, fall is the perfect time to aerate your lawn after you've cleared it of dead leaves to promote robust spring growth.

2. Batten the Hatches

Whether you live in Canada or Mississippi, fall always means colder weather in the near future. Audit your home for draft hot spots using a thermal leak detector and install insulation as needed. Caulk any windows and doors as a stopgap measure if a full hardware replacement isn't necessary. Next up, swap out old window and door trim that shows signs of rot or pest infestation. 

3. Gussy Up the HVAC

Regardless of local climate, most houses have some sort of HVAC system. Have your furnace cleaned and your vents swabbed out thoroughly by a trained professional. In addition, you can take this opportunity to install additional vents in problem areas that are difficult to heat. Installing a classy cast iron wood stove to augment your primary heat source can add value to your home while saving you money on energy bills. 

4. Pull a Few Paint Jobs

Autumn is often the best time to paint the exterior or interior of a home. Seeing as how a new paint job is just good winterizing practice, you might as well use the opportunity to give your home a makeover. Take some time to pick the right shades to achieve the look that you desire. Whenever possible, opt for darker colors to maximize heat retention during the chilly summer months.

5. Smarten Up Your House

Last but not least, there's the little matter of making your home more energy-efficient via technology. A smart house is ultimately a less expensive house, after all. Start off by installing a programmable Nest thermostat that you can control remotely from your smartphone. Another frugal fall home improvement option worthy of serious consideration is a tankless water heater setup. Tankless heaters deliver hot water instantaneously and use less energy than traditional water heaters. 

Most people look at home renovation and maintenance as a chore. If you adopt this attitude, you're more than likely to come up with lackluster results. If you take run-of-the-mill home renovation projects and put a fun spin on them, you'll end up with far more positive returns in the long run. Use the preceding fall renovation ideas as a jump-off point and tailor your plans to meet your own unique needs.

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3 Car Buying Tips To Ensure You Get a Good Deal


Know the incentives and rebates

The first you hear of an incentive should not be from the sales person.

You'll want to do your homework, says Jones. "You want to get a read on what a regular deal is, then go for the holiday sale."

A good way to do this is to track incentives and rebates. Go to an industry source like Edmundsor Kelley Blue Book for their current lists of automaker discounts and sweeteners.

These are the manufacturer's blue-light specials, but they don't compare apples to apples. It may be $2,000 cash back on one model and $300 cash back on another. Some deals may be available only to certain groups of people like recent college graduates, veterans or those who already own a vehicle from the automaker.

Usually the incentives come in the form of cash rebates, a low annual percentage rate on financing or special lease terms. But it could also be a totally unrelated bonus gift, like an iPad or a boat. (Seriously: "Yes! There was a dealership in Texas that was giving away a boat with the car!" says Jones.)

After you look at the automaker's deals, check out any additional specials local dealers have.

"If you see big fat incentives from the automaker, chances are the dealership may have incentives of their own," says Jones.

Choose the right kind of car

Not only do manufacturer and dealer incentives get car buyers' attention by saving them money, they help steer buyers toward particular models that automakers want to move. Those cars may suddenly become much more attractive.

In short, you're not going to get a sweetheart deal on the new Dodge Demon -- that's going to be $90,000 any day of the week. But the current year's Chrysler 300 or Ford Expedition? Now you're talking significant discounts.

When you're deciding which kind of car to buy, look at cars that are being phased out or replaced with new models, says Jones. They're more likely to be discounted.

Most people just want to be sure they're not over-paying, says Jones. "On sale days, if you do a little bit of research, chances are you'll be in good shape."

Get the timing right

There are ways to time your purchase to improve your chances of getting a lower price.

Even if you take advantage of time-sensitive deals, you can still negotiate the price lower.

"If the sticker is $30,000 and there's $5,000 cash back, it doesn't mean $25,000 is your ultimate best deal," says Jones.

But, he said, the timing -- a sale weekend when there are already discounts and the showroom is incredibly busy -- means long, drawn out negotiations may not be necessary or even possible.

"Read the room," says Jones. "If you walk in there and you're the only person there, you may have more time for negotiation." But if it's full of people, you're not going to get an hour for negotiating, "you'll get 20 minutes."

Jones also said that if you can buy a car when there are two years of that model on the lot (often at the end of the summer, but not always) you're likely to get a better deal.

"Those are real, no-smoke-and-mirrors deals."

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9 Money Saving Tips for Families

Last year, CNN reported that the cost of raising a child has skyrocketed nearly 40% in the last 10 years. Parents can now expect to shell out about $227,000 on each child between birth and the age of 18. That’s a huge amount of money – but when you consider the clothing, food, shelter, education, and other aspects of raising a child, it’s easy to see how your bank account is often dry at the end of the month.

Here’s the problem: Lots of money-saving advice requires a complete lifestyle overhaul for you to see a return. Whether it’s switching to a more sustainable lifestyle, or skipping out on family vacations, you simply might not be willing to make the huge sacrifices that frugal living sometimes requires.

This is understandable. I have two children, and I pride myself on providing them with the best I can manage. It would be hard for me to completely overhaul our way of life to save a little cash. That’s why, when my budget became tight recently, I looked for baby steps to savings.

Some of the smallest changes in your lifestyle can reap the biggest benefits when it comes to a floundering budget. When you understand that saving money with your family doesn’t have to be all about extreme couponing or deprivation of quality time, you might be more inclined to make tiny changes and save more – I know I was. If you make saving money a family affair, it can lift some of the burden off your shoulders, and it teaches your kidsimportant lessons about spending and saving.

Money-Saving Tips for Families

The most frugal families know that lavish trips and the latest clothes do not necessarily make a happy family. Reducing bank account strain, however, can help relieve family stress. There are many simple things you can do to ease your monthly finances:

1. Plan Your Meals
One of the greatest downfalls of even the most frugal family is an impromptu trip to McDonald’s in lieu of dinner. Instead of serving up a healthy meal for under $2 a serving, you end up splurging – on calories and money – to feed your family, making it an automatic budget buster.

By taking the time to plan your family’s meals, you remove the excuse of not knowing what’s for dinner. Though you can plan any way you want, I find that it’s easiest to plan a week at a time. When I already know that I’m serving up chicken on Tuesdays, I can get started on supper without staring at the fridge for 20 minutes or resorting to a fast food meal. To help plan your meals, use a free online meal planner, such as Food on the Table.

2. Shop Smart
You don’t have to be a hardcore couponer to save money on groceries. Instead, smart strategies can relieve pressure at the store so you don’t overspend.

It’s imperative that you only shop once and get everything you need in one trip. Heading to the store for a forgotten gallon of milk or an extra loaf of bread can cause you to repeatedly overspend all week long, and plus, it wastes gas. I also like to shop without the kids. When my little ones are with me, it’s harder to stay focused and resist spontaneous purchases – especially when they’re clamoring for them.

3. Arrange for a Staycation
Instead of blowing your budget on a trip to Disneyland, see what fun stuff you can do nearby instead. If you can take a few days off work and school, a “staycation” feels like a vacation even if you’re sleeping in your own bed.

Many nearby towns and cities have tons of stuff to do, whether it’s historical sites, campgrounds and hiking trails, free museums, or cheap daytime admission to the movie theater. When times are tight, it’s fine to nix the yearly vacation for something new. As long as you make it fun for your kids, they’ll hardly miss the trip. Vacations are about spending time and making memories together. Do you really have to go out-of-state for that?

4. Invest in Reusable Items
Disposable goods are usually cheap and super-convenient, but not when you have to buy the same items repeatedly. Your family probably uses a ton of paper products, but why keep spending your cash on them when you can purchase reusable goods instead?

Paper towels can cost around $1 a roll – instead, buy a pack of $1 washable cloths and you’ll save money in the long run. Rather than buying plastic water bottles by the case, purchase a filter and aluminum water bottles for each family member to get your water for cheap. Before you grab a disposable item off store shelves, ask yourself if there’s a reusable solution instead.

5. Buy Secondhand
Buying previously used items can definitely take some getting used to, especially if you’re used to brand new gear. But tons of stuff can be bought used without any difference as to how and when you use it.

For instance, I refuse to buy books from the big box bookstore when I can frequent local used book shops for way cheaper. I can fill my kids’ bookshelves and support local small businesses at the same time. Toys are another item you can save money on by buying used. Outdoor bikes and scooters are big-ticket items, but they’re significantly more affordable when bought from garage sales or thrift stores. You might be surprised at what you can get for a small amount of money without sacrificing your kids’ fun.

6. Shop Around
A couple of years ago, I had the sneaking suspicion that I was paying too much for satellite television. Being the reality TV junkie that I am, I wasn’t willing to get rid of our service (or the Disney Channel) altogether, so I started shopping around. Once I collected various package prices from a couple of other service providers, I contacted my own to negotiate a better rate. After only five minutes on the phone, I had credits for a couple months’ worth of service, a lower price for my package, and six months of premium channels for free.

Shopping around for cell phone plans, insurance, cable or satellite TV, or just about anything else you pay for regularly can net you better deals without drastically changing your lifestyle.

7. Entertain at Home
If the kids are driving you crazy, it can be tempting to head out to the movie theater or bowling alley just to get out of the house. But your day trips can spell disaster for your budget.

Instead of nixing family time altogether, find ways to keep the kids entertained at home. A stash of board games, a run through the sprinkler, or a home movie night complete with popcorn can keep your kids occupied for pennies. If you need to get out of the house, try being park critics: Head out to parks in your area and rate them according to a bunch of different characteristics. It’s fun, and let’s you know which places to come back to later.

8. Head to the Library
One of the best ways that I entertain my kids on the cheap is a trip to the public library. It’s a perfect outing, and allows us to bring home free movies, audiobooks, and books to enjoy throughout the week. It saves a ton of money on rental fees, and is the perfect way to answer the age-old whine, “I’m bored!”

Rental movies cost about a dollar a day, and can be a major problem if not returned on time. As long as you live within your city’s limits, library cards are free and late fees are minimal. You can save more money if you make sure to always get your items back on time.

9. Be Energy Smart
You’ve probably heard it a million times: Save energy and you save money. Of course, not every family has the means or the know-how to install a new low-flow toilet or a tankless water heater. Still, you can make saving simple by conserving energy the old-fashioned way: Turning off lights, timing showers, or taking baths can all help to lower utility bills, while teaching your kids an important lesson about energy conservation. While you might find yourself nagging from time to time, conserving energy eventually becomes habitual for everyone.

Final Word

Saving money with your family doesn’t have to require drastic steps. Instead, small, simple methods can make a big difference for your bottom line. It might take some getting used to, but getting your family on board with your money-saving efforts makes it easier to gain a little wiggle room in your budget or to add more padding to your savings account. The reduced stress is worth the extra effort.



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