9 Ways To Save On Baby Costs

Baby Feet

So you’re expecting?  Congratulations! A new baby is an exciting event in one’s life (how’s that for understatement of the year!).  In preparing for the little one’s arrival you’ll start to think of all of the things you are going to need for the baby as well as the costs!  But it doesn’t have to always be expensive.

Here are 9 ways to save on baby costs:

1) Shop at wholesale stores

Places like BJ’s, Costco, and Sam’s Club will be your friend when it comes to shopping for your baby.  We love the big boxes of diapers and wipes that we get at BJ’s.  They also have great deals on car seats and strollers from time to time.  Do your homework on what you expect prices to be of course, but we find that things like diapers are always worth getting at a wholesale store.

2) Reach out to friends, family, and co-workers

If you know anyone else who had a baby before you then talk to them about what they have.  Not only can they give you some practical advice on what they bought but odds are they have a ton of stuff that’s relatively new that they would be happy to give you!  Baby stuff takes up space and parents love to clear out the clutter.  We’ve gotten tons of clothes (it’s great when you can be clothing kids close to free), toys, bassinet, high chair, swing, and much more from friends and family.  Sometimes it was to keep while others said just give it back when we’re done.  Understand that many items will be used for a baby for a few weeks or months and will still be like new!  Heck, there was a time when we had to rush to put our little guy in clothes before he outgrew them.  Seriously, reach out to friends, family, and co-workers!

3) Check Craigslist and local Mommy forums for toys and furniture

Remember my point above about parents wanting to get rid of clutter?  Same idea here.  A parent buys X for their baby, uses it for a couple of months, and now it sits in the garage practically new.  We picked up a huge toy chest for $25 that originally cost about $75.  It looked like new and the Mom was more than happy to have us take it off her hands.  Bargains like that are all over the place!  You want to be careful with something like a crib or anything that the baby would be supported in to make sure it’s fully intact and has all the parts.  Safety first!  Bargains second! (Car seats may not be a good idea to get used as they wear out over time).

4) Breastfeed

This one is a personal choice for sure.  But by breastfeeding you don’t have to buy formula!  Plus it’s natural and better for your baby.  But what about a pump?  First, you may not need one, it depends on your situation.  Second, you could rent them out if needed or possibly you may have a friend that doesn’t need theirs anymore.  My wife bought her pump when her daughter was born.  It was well worth the money as it was used for our son and will be used for the little one on the way.

5) Set Up a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account

If your employer has this option you can set up flexible spending money to be taken out of your paycheck pre-tax for child care expenses.  If you already have a plan but re having an additional child you can make flexible spending account changes to account for costs on the additional child.  You then apply with a receipt to get the money back.  The benefit here is this money isn’t taxed!  The limit is $5000/year when I last checked.  That’s a lot to not be taxed.

6) Set up Health Care Flexible Spending Account

Same idea as dependent care but this can be used for things such as prescription medication and doctor’s visit co-pays.  Check with your employer for the contribution limit.

7) Set up a 529 plan for the little one

A 529 plan doesn’t only save for college in the future.  Many states offer tax benefits now for money you contribute to a 529 plan.

8 ) Sign up for a baby registry

I’ve heard parents-to-be say that they don’t want a baby shower; that they don’t like the idea of a registry.  But the truth is this is one even in your life that people genuinely want to help you start off on the right foot and want to contribute to your child’s well-being!  You don’t know who may be planning a surprise shower for you or who wants to send you a gift.  One thing they’ll ask about is a registry to get you something you need.  You don’t have to get a baby registry.  But it could also leave with a TON of onesies, bibs, and clothes as gifts rather than items you really need (nothing wrong with onesies, bibs, and clothes, but there comes a point where it too much).  Maybe your aunts and uncles will chip in to get you a crib?  Perhaps your college roommates will get together to buy you a car seat?  You don’t know!  Give them the option.  Also, most places that have a registry make it very easy to return gifts.  You’re going to find that you have extras you don’t need or items you thought you needed but don’t use.  We had a registry and were still fortunate to get two car seats!  We returned many a bib that we never used too.

9) Check product forums and sites like Amazon for reviews

If I’m making a big purchase I scour the web for product reviews!  I want to know what everyone is saying.  I’ll try to get as much information as I can.  I want to know the pros and cons of an item from people who are not salespeople in the store.  There are a ton of choices out there for expecting parents and it can be a daunting task trying to figure out what is best.  Do your research!  You may find that for some items spending a little more will save you in the long run.  I’m thinking about products like strollers which take a lot of abuse.  Amazon Bonus: They now have a program called Amazon Mom that offers discounts and free Amazon Prime for a time.

There you have it! 9 ways to save on your baby costs.  Can you think of any more?

Creative Commons License photo credit: lepiaf.geo

No Job Is Below You

Northland Foods '70s Interior
When I was a teen I worked at a supermarket (I actually worked there a loong time).  One day I ran into a friend’s dad woo had his own butcher business.  We chatted and he asked me if I worked.  I sheepishly told him I worked at a supermarket like maybe I was a little ashamed.  With all seriousness he no, it’s not what you do but how you do it!  As long as you put your all into your job then that’s all that mattered.  This took me back.  One, because I didn’t expect such a serious answer from a casual acquaintance; and two, because it really struck a note with me.  He was right.  So long as I knew I was doing my best and putting everything into my work then I had no reason to be ashamed of what I did and every reason to be proud of myself.  I would go on to get many promotions at that supermarket and became a jack of all trades in the store.  I worked as cashier, stock, unloading the truck, head cashier, bookkeeper for the store to bookkeeper for the chain writing out expenses and doing payroll (told ya I worked there a long time).  I learned a lot from that supermarket job!  From time to time I have to remind myself of that conversation but I still try to take the point to heart and do what I do to the best of my ability.

On the other hand, I’ve seen people look down on some jobs as though they aren’t good enough for them.  Granted, if you have the skills and knowledge to do one thing then do it.  But I’m talking about folks who are hurting financially and continually complain that they hate what they do and can’t make ends meet.  They don’t have overly technical jobs that require a specific specialization.  But they talk like doing something “common” is no good for them.

If you recall my wife has been working a few hours on the weekend doing test prep at a private school.  She doesn’t get paid nearly what her qualifications should demand but the reality is we can use any extra cash we can get and she’s good at test prep.  Some years ago I used to help out with a friend’s entertainment business where I learned to DJ.  Many days were fun but many weekends were full of work!  A four hour party could easily turn into 6-8 hours of work with travel and carrying and setting up the equipment.  It was very different from the desk job I have but it was good money for weekend work (I might even try to jump back into it).

Know what? Those jobs until the wee hours of the morning paid off over time as they helped me afford my first car.  My wife’s test prep work helps with some extra cash to pay for groceries and such.  Some weeks we don’t have to dip into the ATM.

Point is, if you need the money no job is beneath you.  Hard work is hard work no matter what you do.  If it helps you make ends meet or put some extra cash in the bank that’s great!  Sitting back and complaining about how hard things are will not help you.  You need to go out there and do something about it.  Life isn’t always ideal and sometimes you have to eat some humble pie and do something you don’t want to.

So if you need some extra dough go out and do something about it. Don’t worry about what others might say about you, just concern yourself with whether you are doing your best!

What do you think?

Creative Commons License photo credit: afiler

What Is A Ponzi Scheme – In Simple Terms

With all of the talk about Bernie Madoff heading off to jail for a few years (a century or so) the thought on a lot of people’s minds is How did he do it? and What is a Ponzi scheme?

I came across the post Explaining the Ponzi Scheme to a Fifth Grader recently.  I think the explanation pretty much nails it! Here it is:

Say you went to your sister and told her, if she gives you a dollar to invest today, you will give it back to her on Tuesday next week and she will get $1.25. Then you go to your other sister and tell her the same thing only you will give her $1.25 Wednesday. Then you go on to your dad and every person you know and tell them the same thing. As you’re going around asking for money from other people you know, you give your first sister her $1.25 and she’s happy to have twenty five cents extra just for letting you invest her $1. So she says, why don’t you keep my dollar and invest it some more? So you say, OK.

But the thing is, you weren’t really investing it were you? You were just using other people’s money to make it look like you are earning money for them. Do you see how you will eventually run out of money especially if they all ask for their money at the same time?

So she answers, Yeah, but can’t I just ask more money from more people? Yeah, you can do that but what if you ran out of people to ask and also ran out of time? That’s what happened to Bernie Maddox and that’s why he’s going to jail.

She then said, but they said he still has millions of dollars and he’s not really in jail. True.

About $68 billion lost summed up pretty nice!

The are a couple of lessons in this:

Know what you are investing in AND There’s no such thing as a free lunch!

You have to know where your money is going.  If not then you are asking for trouble.  From what I’ve been hearing people were throwing their money at Madoff so he could invest it.  They didn’t care how he did it so long as they got back huge returns.  I feel horrible for those people who lost their retirements and for all of the charitable organizations that were hurt.  But you have to ask the big questions and in this case the questions is Where is the money going to get those returns?!?

It may not be fun learning about personal finance and investing but a little knowledge goes a long way.  Sure it’s fun to say you’re getting 15% every year on your investment but you have to questions how!

Am I being too harsh?

I don’t mean to be.  These people were swindled and hurt!  The whole situation bothers me.  It seems there’s no real accountability with Wall Street any more.  There were warnings going back a decade about Madoff’s “investments” that went ignored.

Here’s a little lighter side that I also picked up from AMoores (where I saw the simple Ponzi explanation):

How do you feel about it all?

 

Is Saving 8 to 12 Months Expenses Even Possible Or Practical?

savings bank

I recently brought up the question of whether we now need 8-12 months expenses saved rather than the old three to six months that used to be convention. I think in these economic times, where we are seeing unemployment hitting rates we haven’t seen in decades, that three to six months isn’t enough.

I received a lot of great comments on the article.  Many agreed that 8-12 months  expense savings is a good idea while others agreed that we need to re-evaluate how much we have saved but that 8-12 may be reaching.  Some questioned if it was even possible or practical.

A big question that comes up: How does a person save up 8-12 months of expenses?!?

Let me first say I know it’s tough saving even 3-6 months of expenses.  I wouldn’t be surprised if most families don’t have even 3 months expenses saved no less 8-12 (please prove me wrong!).  But with unemployment rising it’s something we all have to think about.

I think it can be done!

The sooner you can put together your expense savings the better.  But that doesn’t mean you have to do it right this minute.  Don’t stress out completely because you can’t cover a year’s worth of expenses right now.  But at the same time look at what you do have socked away and ask yourself if you could save more, even if it’s only a little bit.  Work your way up.  Do you have three months expenses saved up?  No?  Set that as your goal.  If you do have three months work your way to six months expenses.  Squirrel away until you reach your goal.  If you never need it then great but should you have to use it you will be happy for everything you could save.

But does it have to be 8-12 months saved?

You need to look at your own situation.  Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What will happen if I lose my job?
  • Realistically how long would it take to find a new job at the same salary?
  • How much more will I need if I have to take a pay-cut?
  • How long can I support myself while looking for work?
  • How has my industry been affected by the economy?  Are whole companies going out of business or is it growing?
  • How is your company doing?  Are they hiring or letting people go?
  • What is the likelihood that I could get laid off (tough one to answer but be honest with this one.  Most people think a company can’t do without them but in most cases they are probably wrong).
  • What savings do I already have?
  • What would I get in unemployment benefits?
  • Are there any other money sources you could tap if needed (Stocks, bonds)?
  • Would or could you work part-time until you find full-time work?

And here are some items to think about when figuring out your expenses:

  • What must get paid every month (mortgage, car payment, electricity, phone bill, water)?
  • What do you spend on food every month?
  • What will health care cost?
  • What costs will there be in finding a new job (transportation, resumes, dry cleaning, clothes, fax, phone calls).
  • What other expenses will you have (car maintenance, home maintenance)?
  • What do you actually spend every month?
  • What can you cut back should you lose your job (cable, eating out, vacations, etc…)?
  • How many mouths does your income support?

Be honest with yourself. You may find that you don’t need 8-12 expenses.  But you’ll be better served to save a bit more than a bit less.

What do you think?

Creative Commons License photo credit: TheTruthAbout…

Frugal Ideas To Help Your Home Sell

Robie House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright 1909

We recently put our home on the market to sell. Man, do we have a lot to do to get the place in ship shape!  We have been busy for the past couple of weeks doing what we could to make the place look more appealing to a potential buyer.  Living there for so long we didn’t realize how much stuff we had and how many little things could be fixed.  I’d be lying to say we weren’t concerned about getting a good price in today’s market!

Our goal is to make our home look as clean, big, and attractive as possible without breaking the bank!  Fortunately there are many things we can do to help achieve this.

These are inexpensive ideas to help sell your home:

  • Paint (@MoneyMatters) – We hired someone to paint most of the place for us.  It wasn’t that expensive and it’s made the place look so much bigger and brighter!  We used light, neutral colors that would be appealing to most (our prior colors were great but too dark for most people’s tastes).  This could be done yourself to save more.  We just didn’t have the time to do it ourselves (and we got a great deal on a local painter).
  • Replace Light Fixtures – We replaced our dining room, bathroom, and the bedroom’s light fixtures.  We bought them at Home Depot and they weren’t that expensive.  Combined with the new paint job, the apartment looks much bigger than before.  Add to that we used fluorescent lights so we can tell prospective buyers that the light costs will be lower.
  • Remove Clutter (@nomorespending)- We’ve already removed all of our CD’s and their shelves as well as our books and bookshelf.  It’s really opened up the place (I have a LOT of CD’s).  Remove, give away, put in storage whatever you can.  Get down to the bare minimums to make the place look as big as possible and let a buyer step in and imagine it as theirs.  This will also help you when you move as you will have less to box and bring with you.
  • Clean Carpets/Wax Floors (@thepassivedad) – Renting a machine for the day to clean your carpets can be inexpensive.  Same is true for a floor buffer.  There’s also less expensive cleaners you can use that may require more elbow grease but can be as effective.  If you’re able add no base board molding.  Basically give a buyer the thought that they don’t have to do any work on the floors if they don’t want to!
  • Landscaping (@misformoney)- If you have a garden or lawn space do what you can to spruce it up and make it lively!  New plants don’t have to be expensive and can make the front of your home look much more inviting!
  • Take Great Pictures (@pffirewall) – Your home will most likely be online somewhere for sale and you will need photos of it.  Make sure the photos are good quality taken at the time of the day the light is the best.  Wait until you have everything ready and use a good camera.  If you have a friend who’s a photography buff ask him to come over and take a few shots for you.  You want big and clean!  I’ve seen people post photos of cluttered rooms that make me instantly go to the next listing on the site.
  • Re-Grout Wall and Floor Tiles - This sounds like more work than it really is.  I’ve discovered it takes some elbow grease but doesn’t cost too much.  And new grout will make your tiles look almost new again.  Go ahead and take a close look at how dingy they may be…  I’ve been slowly re-working the tiles in our bathroom!
  • Replace Old Sinks, Cabinets, Faucets – You can go crazy replacing these items and spend thousands for sure.  But sometimes if yours are beat up and old an inexpensive replacement will look much better than what you have.  New usually equals clean and that helps a buyer!
  • Replace Outlet Covers and Light Switch Covers – Over the years these can get beat up and dirty.  But they cost little to replace.  Put these in after you have painted to keep them clean.
  • De-Personalize Your Home – Put away all of your photos and pictures.  You can leave a few up to display but you want a buyer to walk in and imagine the place as theirs.  Seeing your face all over doesn’t help that.  It also helps remove the clutter too!
  • Read Magazines/Watch TV (@nodebtplan)- No, I’m not saying you should sit around and be lazy.  What you can do is look at what homes look like in advertisements and shows.  There are also plenty of home shows on TV these days to give you ideas as well.  You can get a good idea of what a model home should look like.
  • We Need More Light! – When you are showing the home turn on the lights to make the place look bigger even if it’s during the day!
  • Bake Before a Showing – This one is a bit cliche but you would be amazed how well it works!  We had friends over and one was helping me install a new dining room light.  At the same time my wife happened to be baking a cake.  It smelled amazing and really made the place feel “home”-ey. (And really how much do those instant bake cookies cost?)
  • Build a Website – A friend mentioned that when he was selling his Manahttan apartment he put up a quick website with some pictures and contact forms. Six months hosting isn’t very expensive and a lot of hosting companies will give you a free domain name and web site kit.  He ended up selling the place himself!  You can also list your home on Craiglist.
  • Clean, Scrub, Sweep, Repeat – Clean like a madman.  Then go do it again.  Then ask a neighbor or friend to point out what still seems dingy and hit the cleaners again.  Make the place sparkle!  The cleaner the better.  A clean place tells a buyer that you take care of the home (and it makes it look great).
  • Empty Those Closets - As best you can clean out the closets.  Again, live with the bare minimum that you need and get those closets looking as big as possible.  Buyers will want to see how much of their stuff they can put in them not how much of yours!
  • Visit Other Homes In Your Area – Take an afernoon and go visit the open houses in your area.  See what their homes look like and what they offer and the price they ask.  If you see a similar place as yours take note; this is your competition and you want your place to look better!  Is it cleaner? Newer?  You may be surprised to find out it won’t take much to make your place look nicer.
  • Replace the Toilet Seat – Seriously!  People will notice that it’s sparkling clean which will get you big points.  Either they don’t need to get a new one themselves or they believe you keep things super-clean, you win.

Yes, it takes some work on your part to do these things. But if it will help you sell then it will more than pay off!!  A couple of years ago you might have had a bidding war for a home that wasn’t all done up.  But in today’s economy you have to put your best foot forward just to get the sale!  Don’t let something small keep a buyer from wanting your place.

Any other ideas?


Creative Commons License photo credit: mach3

Using Google Calendar To Pay Bills On Time

click-on-day

Have you ever realized you had a bill sitting around that was due today? Or worse, yesterday?  If you are lucky you can pay the bill online but that’s not always an option (I’ve found that some companies have a cut-off time).

There was a time when I had a lot of credit card debt.  Digging out of it was tough but what made it harder was paying late fees because I would miss the credit card due date by a few days or so.  There was just about nothing more frustrating than looking through your bills and realizing one was already past due!

I definitely needed a bill/pay calendar system that would work for me!

So how can we avoid paying bills late?

You can pay the bill immediately.  But if you are like me you would rather keep the money in savings for as along as possible or you budget in such a way that certain bills get paid with different paychecks.

You can write the date you need to pay the bill on the envelope.  I do this.  Usually this works great.  Problems occur when you don’t notice the date or forget to keep up with the bill.  That happens to me too!

So what’s another fail safe you can use?

I’ve been experimenting with Google Calendar to set up reminders to pay my bills on time!

When I get a bill I open it up and check out the due date.  I then determine when I have to actually pay the bill to make sure I meet the due date.  For example: If I have to mail a bill I give myself about a week.  For online bills I pad a few days before the due date.  If I need to transfer money I give myself about a week too to make sure the money gets transferred over (I keep my savings in my Capital One 360 Savings account).

Next I write that date on the bill.  That’s one fail safe.

The real useful fail safe is Google Calendar.

I take my bill and log onto my account, go to the day I need to pay the bill by, and write in a reminder that gets emailed to me when it comes up.  Since my cell gets email it’s like an extra reminder since it’s on my phone and my computer!

Let me show you how I set up Google Calendar as my Bill/Pay Calendar:

Log onto your Google Calendar and open up the month for your bill due date:

google-calendar

Click on the day you need to pay your bill on, enter the bill name, and hit “edit event details”:

click-on-day

Enter the details (date; what the bill is; whatever you need):

enter-details

Click on Options:

click-on-options

Here’s an important part – Click Add a Reminder.  Set the reminder to Email (this will send you an email reminder):

go-to-reminder

voila-bill-due-calendar-entry

Viola!  You’ve now setup a reminder in Google Calendar to remind you when to pay your bill!

Update: You can also set up Google Calendar to send you a text message as well.

So far this has worked really great for me. The key to this is to make sure your enter you bill in GCal when you get the bill.  I’ve used this to remind me about car payments as well as credit card due dates.

How do you keep track of your bill’s due dates?

Additional resources to help with your budget and pay bills:

Many online checking accounts offer free online bill pay as part of their banking and you can find similar services through your credit card.

How The American Recovery And Reinvesment Act Of 2009 Can Help You

Money Money

Last week President Obama signed into law the American Recovery And Reinvestment Bill, otherwise known as the 2009 Economic Stimulus. A big question in the minds of the average American is How can it help me?!?

Here are some ways the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 can help you:

  • Unemployment – In 2009 you will not have to pay pay taxes on the first $2400 in benefits you receive.
  • Social Security – Some social security recipients will receive a $250 refundable tax credit mailed to them within 120 days of the bill’s signing.
  • Pell Grant – The maximum benefit for Pell Grants will rise to $5,350 in 2009 and $5,550 in 2010.
  • More Liberal 529 Plan – In 2009 and 2010 students can withdraw money or computers and related technology such as educational software or internet service for students living at home.
  • Transportation Accounts – Your employers are able to increase transportation spending accounts up to $230 a month.  This is money you can have set aside from your paycheck tax free. (Check with your employer to see if they participate and raised their limits.)
  • New Car Buyer Tax Deduction – In 2009 you, if you purchase a new car you can deduct the state, local, and excise taxes off of your federal return.
  • Higher Tax Credit For Education – A credit of up to $2500 of college tuition and related expenses in 2009 and 2010.  You need to spend at least $4000 in the year for the credit and 40% is refundable (which means you can qualify for 40% if you don’t have taxable income).
  • First Time Home Buyer Credit - A first-time home buyer credit of 10% of the purchase price of the home up to $8,000 for homes bought in 2009.
  • Health Insurance Help for Laid Off Workers – If you were laid off between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009 the government will subsidize 65% of your COBRA premiums.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is going to be expensive for the country but at least people get to see some of it.

What do you think?  Is it enough for the average person?

Source: NY Times

Creative Commons License photo credit: pfala

Free Newsletter to Keep you Free From Broke!Name: Email: We respect your email privacyPowered by AWeber email marketing