Never Mind A New Economic Stimulus Package – Save Yourself!

There’s been a lot of talk in the news about a new economic stimulus package.  Some are talking about a new one being approved this year while others speculate that it won’t happen until President-Elect Obama takes office.  There’s been talk that a new economic stimulus package would be more infrastructure and not checks as the last package was.  And there definitely has been a lot of talk of whether we even need a new economic stimulus package; questioning if it even makes a difference.  Here’s what I say:

Never mind a new economic stimulus package – Save yourself!

Don’t count on the government to come through with legislation to help you make ends meet.   That attitude will never get you ahead.  You need to take matters into your own hands.  If you are in a bad financial situation you need take control and ownership of the problem and fix it yourself.

Here are 12 ways you can take matters in your own hands and save yourself:

  • Make sure you excel at your job.  Unemployment is the highest it’s been in quite a while and I’m sure there will be many more layoffs to come.  Don’t be the robot at work that does just enough to get by.  Get yourself interested and make yourself valuable to your company.  Don’t just get your job done – get it done well!  If layoffs are coming you may be able to save yourself from the chopping block.  Hey, maybe you could even get a promotion?
  • Build networking relationships with friends and co-workers.  Sometimes, as unfair as it seems, it’s not what you know but who you know.  Keep up with co-workers when they move to other jobs.  They can be your foot in the door if you leave your current job.  Stay in contact with friends as well.  Even if they don’t work in your industry they could prove to be a valuable contact.  Network!
  • Pay your bills on time.  Lenders are getting shy about giving out their money these days.  If you pay late you may find your interest skyrocketing.  Universal default allows one credit company to raise your interest rate if you’re late on a different company’s card.  A late payment can make all of your credit cards have high rates.  If you aren’t paying off your balances every month you can find yourself sinking faster into debt.
  • Put money away for emergency savings.  Really you don’t know what the future holds and as the saying goes: “when it rains it pours!”  What happens if you find yourself out of a job?  Then the car breaks?  Then you need a doctor’s appointment?  Hopefully you don’t need your savings but put yourself in good shape by having savings in place.
  • Make sure your credit report is clean.  Errors on your credit report can be costing you in higher interest rates on your credit cards and loans.  Make sure your credit report is accurate.
  • Check you credit score.  Your credit score is like your code of honor among credit agencies.  A low score means higher interest rates and could also mean you won’t get a needed loan or credit.  Credit scores are also used in housing and in job hunting.  Get that score up!
  • Cut costs.  Remember that emergency savings?  A way to help build that up is to cut costs.  Cut a few corners here and there and you can find yourself with significant savings!
  • Analyze your tax withholding.  Are you paying too much?  Pay what you need to and no more.  Many like to get a big tax refund but you’re better off having that money in each of your paychecks instead.  You don’t earn any interest when the government is holding your money!  Adjust your tax withholding so you maximize your paycheck.
  • Re-evaluate your holiday spending.  The holiday spending frenzy is starting.  Don’t get caught up in the current!  You don’t need to spend exorbitant amounts on every person you know this holiday season (here’s a challenge: see if you can keep a $100 holiday).  What really the point in spending so much if it puts you in a bad financial situation?  Budget what you can spend on gifts and don’t go over.  Make sure your budget is within reason of your financial situation (don’t spend more than you have!).
  • Go to school.  Yes, school is an expense.  But taking some extra courses or pursuing/finishing up a degree can help make yourself more marketable to employers.  This can be as simple as taking an advanced Excel course to working on a higher degree.
  • Work on building alternate sources of income.  Try your hand at blogging.  Work on developing a hobby that could earn money such as photography.  Other streams of income are a good thing, especially when money is tight.  And you never know, what you start could develop into something bigger.

It always sounds nice when the government offers to give us money back but we have to remember there’s a price to this.  It could mean less services somewhere else or more taxes down the line.  Remember the money has to come from somewhere!

Don’t hope the government will do something to ease your situation.  Get a hold of your finances and take care of it yourself!

What other ways could we take financial matters in our own hands?

6 Ways Eating Out Less Has Made Our Family Better

As you know we are living off of one income now. It’s been a bit different but I think we’re doing well so far.  One thing we’ve done to help stretch my paycheck is to cut back eating out so often.  I didn’t think we ate out too much before the income switch but now I can see that we had a budget leak that could have been more savings for us.  And we’ve discovered there are more benefits than saving money!

We were already in the habit of making dinner at home and having family time together. It was the weekends when we usually ate out.  Saturdays were probably the worst culprits.  We would get up and go to our favorite diner for breakfast.  Then as we’d go and take care of things during the day we’d find lunch somewhere.  This would also tend to be pretty unhealthy.  I’m talking mall food here.  Afterward we’d be too beat to make dinner so we go out for dinner or order in.  Three meals may not seem like a lot but it would drain my wallet pretty quick!  I would usually go to the bank on Friday to take money out for the weekend and often I’d find that I was broke by Sunday!

And that was just eating out on Saturday! I didn’t even get to eating out on Sunday or during the week.  Sundays would usually be breakfast and lunch out again.  During the week we usually ate in but if we were tired we would easily get food out!

Overall we’re really happy with the fact that we have been eating at home more.

Here are six ways eating out less has made our family better:

  • We have more more family time together. When we eat we eat together at the dinner table.  We have more time for conversation to talk about our days.  Our daughter knows that dinner time is “family dinner.”  “A family that eats together stays together.
  • We are eating healthier. Sometimes we would eat out at a nice restaurant with great food but most of the time it would be at a chain type restaurant.  Yeah, we filled up but the food wasn’t really great for us.  Now the food we eat is prepared by us and we know better what the ingredients are.
  • We’re setting a better example for our children. By eating together at home our kids see that we don’t have to eat out for every meal and they can learn how food is prepared.  This will set them up to take care of themselves later on in life.
  • We’re saving money. This is a big one for us.  This is Free From Broke after all!  It’s tough to put a dollar figure on what we’re saving but I can tell you that I don’t have to go to the ATM twice in one weekend anymore!!  We’re finding that although our food shopping expenses have gone up some we still have extra money at the end of the month that we didn’t have when we ate out more often.
  • We’re being more efficient. Now when we go food shopping we know that everything we buy  on our grocery shopping list will be used.  It used to be we would go out to eat and the food we had would spoil.  Even when we ate out our meals were so big most of it would go uneaten.
  • Our home is a home! It’s hard to explain but our home is more complete now that we eat out less.  We’re using our home to it’s fullest extent.  All those things we got for our wedding like salad spinners and cooking sets are being used rather than sitting up on shelves.  It just feels like this is what it’s supposed to be.

It’s a shame it took our going to one income to take advantage of all of these benefits! Imagine what we could have been saving when we had two incomes?!?  Or how much healthier we would have been eating?

We haven’t completely given up eating out.  We still have the occasional pizza night.  And we’ll get together with friends every now and then at a nice restaurant.  But eating out less has definitely benefited our family in more ways than we would have thought!

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What Are Your Kids Gift Expectations?

The boys were a little puzzled about what to do on their last duck hunt

I hear some people complain that they have to buy expensive things for their kids because it’s what they expect.  Some don’t know what they are going to do this holiday season as times are getting tight.  How are we going to get little Johnny the latest (insert expensive popular toy here)?!?

Here’s what I say – Don’t!!

Where do your kids get their expectations from?  Do they get them from friends?  From television?  Those are influences but not the real source.  Children get their expectations from their parents!!

If you make it a habit to buy your kids expensive gifts for every occasion then you are setting yourself up for financial trouble!  The younger you start the worse it will be.  If you are already buying expensive items when the child is a toddler what are you going to do when they get older?  How about when they are in their teens?

It’s tough to tell kids they won’t be getting all the goodies they are used to. But if your spending is putting you in debt or you don’t have an adequate amount for savings and retirement then you better re-think your holiday spending plans!  Make your kids understand that they won’t be getting as much this year.

But all their friends are getting it!! Hmm.  Are their friends paying your bills?  Are they putting money away for retirement.  Are they making sure the mortgage is on time?  I didn’t think so.  Teach your child to take pride in who they are not what they have.  This lesson will be valuable for their entire life!

And you better practice what you preach!! Your child’s expectations come from watching you as well.  Don’t think you’re getting that new flat-screen TV or expensive cell phone while they don’t get the goods.  Parents must set the example for their kids.  We are not our stuff!!

Say that to yourself – We are not our stuff! It’s important.  Get this into your mind set and teach it to your children, not just by explaining but by setting the example.

I’m not saying don’t buy any gifts. But watch what you buy for your kids.  Yes, they love getting stuff.  I know I did as a kid.  But what is the child really getting out of it?  Are they using and loving the gift?  Not just for a day but for months, maybe years?  Or did they say it was their favorite for a few days then it joined all their other stuff in the corner?  Do your kids really appreciate the gift?  If your always buying them expensive stuff then your kids will start to see you a the person who will get them stuff.  Not for the person you are!  Think about that.

Stop the cycle of consumerism that hurts us in the end. You don’t have to buy your kids everything they want.  Let them love you as the great parent you are rather than the person who gets them stuff.  They won’t hate you if you don’t get them all the hottest toys.  If they say they do then think about the values you are teaching them.  We all want to make our kids happy but we need them to grow up responsible too.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Gaetan Lee

What Is The Dow?

What Is The Dow Jones Industrial Average?

The New York Stock Exchange

We’ve hear a lot about the Dow in the news. It goes up and folks are happy.  It goes down and folks panic.  But what is this mystical Dow that everyone is talking about?

The Dow actually stand for Dow Jones Industrial Average.  It’s made up of the 30 largest and most widely held public companies.  The average is a scaled average which is price weighted to account for stock splits.  Although it only accounts for 30 companies, the Dow has historically been in line with the larger US market.  For this reason it tends to be the most common indicator of the market in general.

The Dow was first published in 1896 and consisted of 12 companies:

  • American Cotton Oil Company
  • American Sugar Company
  • American Tobacco Company
  • Chicago Gas Company
  • Distilling and Cattle Feeding Company
  • General Electric
  • Laclede Gas Light Company
  • National Lead Company
  • North American Company
  • Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Rail company
  • US Leather Company
  • Unites States Rubber Company

Today’s Dow looks very different:

3M
Alcoa
American Express
AT&T
Bank of America
Boeing
Caterpillar
Chevron Corporation
Citigroup
Coca-Cola
DuPont
ExxonMobil
General Electric
General Motors
Hewlett-Packard
Home Depot
Intel
IBM
Johnson & Johnson
JPMorgan Chase
Kraft Foods
McDonald’s
Merck
Microsoft
Pfizer
Procter & Gamble
United Technologies Corporation
Verizon Communications
Walmart
Walt Disney

Update – On June 8, 2009 GM and Citigroup were replaced by The Travelers Companies and Cisco Systems.

When it started the Dow averaged 40.94.  It’s recent high was 14,164.53 on October 9, 2007.

Why is it so important?

Since the Dow represents 30 of the largest US companies, changes in the stock prices of the Dow can be seen to represent the general health of US companies.  Higher averages mean growth and profits while lower averages represent contraction and losses.

Do you follow Dow prices?  Do you think it’s an accurate economic indicator?


Creative Commons License photo credit: epicharmus

Causes Of Poverty – Blog Action Day 2008

Homeless in Sugamo 2

To paraphrase Wikipedia, poverty is the deprivation of common necessities which determine the quality of life.  In our age of Nintendo Wii’s, online banking, flat-screen TV’s, and more, poverty is still a huge problem in our world.  Poverty affects about half of the world’s population.

Here are some of the main causes of poverty:

  • Demographic and social factors: Overpopulation; crime; cultural causes; war; discrimination.

About half of the world population suffers from poverty!

What can we do?

Kiva.org is an organization that provides micro-lending to the working poor.  In impoverished nations it’s very difficult to get loans.  Kiva helps by giving small loans so people can improve their livelihoods.

End Poverty 2015 Millennium Campaign – In 2000 189 world leaders made a promise to meet the eight-point development goals to help end poverty by 2015.  Check out the goals and what you can do to help achieve them.

This post is part of Blog Action Day 2008.  Blogs from all walks of life are getting together to discuss poverty and what can be done to end it.  Go check out the Blog Action Day site and the participating sites.

Poverty can be wiped out if we want it to.  It’s up to us to push that goal!

Creative Commons License photo credit: jamesfischer

I’m Saving By Bringing Lunch To Work

the finished product

So as you know, we’re living off of one income now as my wife took off from her education job to stay home to raise the kids.  We’ve been looking for all sorts of ways to cut expenses to make my salary stretch a little farther.

One thing I’ve started to do is bring lunch to work a few days a week.

I work in NYC.  I don’t tend to go too crazy on lunches in general.  I tend to stay away from the expensive restaurants.  This was a habit before we were on one income.  But the costs of eating in Manhattan do add up anyway.  A sandwich is easily $5 at least if I go to a small deli.  More if I go to a bigger establishment.  Salads cost at least $7.  One thing to note is that I don’t eat at fast food places such as McDonald’s, Subway, or Wendy’s.  I could get cheaper lunched there but I gave up that food long ago.  I try to keep my eating healthy.  It could cost more at times but I think the payoff to my health is much greater in the long run!

So now my wife has been making lunch for me around three times a week. If I would have spent $5 on lunch then that saves me $15/week.  That’s around $60/month or $720/year!  And that’s if I only spent $5.  I’m saving more if my lunches were more expensive on those days.

I also don’t buy any beverages for lunch.  We have a coffee machine and water cooler at work which I use instead.  This also goes back to eating healthy since I wouldn’t buy soda or sugar drinks anyway.

So there’s one way we’re making our money stretch.  I’ll be telling you about others ways in future articles.

How do you stretch your money?

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