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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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

The American Dream Is An Illusion

part of our living room

What is the American Dream to you?

I used to think of it as owning a home, having a good job, and raising a family.  I don’t think I’m far off by thinking that’s what many of us think it is.  Perhaps the conventional thought is the house has a white picket fence with a 2-car garage as well?

But is that what we are actually aiming at these days?

My big issue here is owning a home.  We’re all hearing about financial institutions doing bad because of mortgages.  So what is happening to the people who buy homes?  Foreclosures!

Why foreclosures?  Could be that people bought too much house than they could afford with too little down?

The way I see it, when you’re buying a house with say zero down or even 5% down when will you actually own your home?  This has become a major problem for people.

In my opinion it’s no longer the American dream to own a home.  That’s an illusion.

Today’s American dream is to appear like you own a home.  It’s become more important to look like you have a great big home.  Who really owns these homes?  The banks!

If there’s anything to learn from all of the recent financial bruhaha it’s that most people have to re-think what owning a home really means!

  • An interest only loan or an adjustable APR will not help you own a home.  You’ll get to move into one but you won’t own it.
  • A modest home is OK.  You don’t need a McMansion!
  • Put down as much as you can when you buy a home (remember when you really needed 20%, aim for that).  This way you start off owning a good piece of it.
  • Homes are to live in!  Perhaps flipping a house is profitable for some.  But for most people a home should be where you live not where you speculate.
  • Just because you make enough to cover the cost of the mortgage it doesn’t mean you can actually afford the home!  So many other things have to be considered from taxes to losing a job to how much savings you have to home repairs, and so much more.

I’m ranting a bit so I apologize.

It just seems that there’s so much talk about how banks and such are so greedy that we might be forgetting that it’s people who are living in these homes.  They had a bit to do with all of this as well.  Some people probably got genuinely swindled and some came on hard times.  I understand this.  But many people were just greedy and wanted as big a home as they could get without considering if they could afford it.

I’m going to go a bit further.

The American Dream has turned into consuming as much as you can.  At least that’s what corporate America wants.

One of the biggest measures of the economy is GDP, Gross National Product.  This is driven by us buying more stuff.  When we buy less stuff then the economy stagnantes.  But is it really a fair point to judge the economy by how much stuff we buy?  What’s the end goal?

We can only buy so much stuff without going into debt and I dare say we’re in enough debt already.  How much more debt can we handle without bursting?

We need a new measure.  Maybe we need to look at quality of life instead of a dollar figure put on our economy.  Think of it.  How many times can we upgrade our personal technology?  We can only get so many computers and flat-screen TVs.  How quickly can we really upgrade or cell phones?  But when we don’t do these things, even if we’re already saturated, then Chicken Little runs around saying the economy isn’t doing well.

But how happy are we?  What is our life like?  If we have to work 2 jobs or put in overtime in order to afford all this stuff and their upgrades then is that a good life?  Is that a dream to aspire to?

What do you think?  What is the American dream these days?  Is it attainable?  Is the American Dream an illusion?

Creative Commons License photo credit: hans s

What Is Raising A Child Worth – We’re Going To One Income

island hopping

What is it worth to raise your child? Is it worth giving up an income?  For us the answer will be yes.  First the first time in a long while my wife will not be heading back to work this September (she works in education).  Instead she will be staying home to raise our little guy and our princess (19 months and 8 yrs old respectively).  This wasn’t an easy decision for us.  Giving up her income will require us to be a lot more frugal and we’ll really have to watch our spending now.  Our future savings will also decrease as we won’t have as much to put away.  We have  a nice cushion already and I think we can do this; it just requires us to change our lifestyle.

Here is why we’re moving to one income:

  • Child Care Cost – We were paying a LOT in child care.  And yet for all we were paying our son was getting sick way too often, catching bugs from the other kids at day care.  Not that the day care was bad; it’s just inevitable that a child gets sick and spreads it around.
  • Sick Days – My wife took a lot of sick days during the last school year.  As I mentioned the little guy was getting sick a lot.  Day care is supposed to help us go to work but it was causing a lot of stress instead.  Let’s face it, it’s painful seeing your child sick and not be able to do much about it.  And my wife was getting to a point where her sick days were going to start costing her.
  • Stress of getting around and making arrangements – Mornings were hectic to say the least in our home.  Getting two kids ready and getting to work on time s a big deal.  The evening before we had to make sure everything was prepared and laid out for the next day.  Then there’s actually dropping the little guy off and picking him up (sitting in traffic, finding a spot, etc…).  Ever leave you child with someone else and have him cry for you?  It will break your heart!  We also had to find arrangements for our daughter after school for a good part of the year.  And because I was dropping her off in the morning I was getting to work and leaving later.
  • Enjoying raising our children – Last on this list but first in our hearts, the main reason for my wife staying home to raise the kids is because we feel it’s the right thing to do.  We feel strongly about being there for our children in their formative years.  My wife originally intended to take more time out when the little guy was born but she ended up going back anyway.  Now she will take the time off to be there for them.

It’s a shame that in today’s economy having a parent stay at home to raise the kids has to be a difficult decision.  When did it switch from a second income being gravy to it being just about necessary?

Stay tuned to see what we have done so far to adjust to one income!

Have you moved from two incomes to one?  How is it working for you?

Creative Commons License photo credit: quarxdmz

Not Having The Police At A Car Accident Can Cost You

Car crash

As I mentioned in an earlier article, our new car got into an accident on our vacation driving down to Virginia. The weather had recently turned to rain.  We were driving along the highway below the speed limit making sure to keep a safe distance from the car in front.  Suddenly traffic slowed down so we did as well.  Then I saw it coming in the rear-view mirror – BAMM!!  We just got hit from behind. The force was enough to throw us forward.  I moved to avoid the car in front but ended up clipping his fender.  All three cars pulled off to the side of the road.  Thank goodness no one was hurt!  The kids were shaken up (heck, we were all shaken up) but we were OK.  I got out and assessed the damage.  Man I didn’t realize how bad we were hit.  Back door was crunched inward.  At first I couldn’t even open it.  Our front has a small dent as well.  The other two cars – scratches at best.  It was an SUV Oreo and our poor mini van was the creamy middle.

Still a bit frazzled from the accident the other two drivers and I began to exchange automobile insurance information.  The person who hit me was in a rush to leave.  He didn’t think we needed to call the police since no one was hurt and we were exchanging info already.  Something didn’t feel right about this to me.  Thankfully, I listened to my Spidey sense and called the police.  A few minutes later an officer arrived and took all of our information.

What A Police Officer Does At The Accident

  • The officer took all of our pertinent information and heard separate descriptions of what happened from each of us. This was good because the officer gave us each a Driver Information Exchange Report which listed car insurance information, driver’s license #, address, phone number, car description VIN, and more.  After an accident it’s easy for a driver to forget to get a piece of information or write something down incorrectly.  Getting this from a police officer helps to prevent that.
  • I didn’t know it at the time but you could be given a ticket for driving too close and causing an accident (at least where I was). This may have been one of the key reasons the driver who hit me wanted to leave.  It ends up the officer gave him a written warning.  This is very important in that it gives official evidence that the officer felt it was the driver’s fault for causing the accident!  This will help in determining the fault for the insurance companies which will lead to me getting back my car insurance deductible from repairs on my accident claims (my deductible is $1000).
  • The officer filed a police report for the accident. The insurance companies will use this as well in determining the fault.  Without getting a police report you run the risk of a driver changing his story after the fact and it becomes an issue of his word against yours.  Again this will help in getting my deductible back.
  • Having an officer there helps keep everyone’s heads level. Things can get heated when there’s an accident.  I’d rather have the officer do the peace keeping than worry about it myself.  Also, I want to believe in the best in people but I don’t know the person who hit me from Adam.  An officer can confirm that this isn’t a criminal.  A little paranoid?  Yes.  Does it give me additional peace of mind at a stressful moment?  Heck yeah!

As you can see calling the police was important. With the written warning and the police report the automobile insurance company should see that the fault was on the other driver.  This will save me my insurance deductible of $1000.  Had I not called it could possibly cost me that $1000!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Mr Wabu

Our Vacation To Virginia Beach And Such

We got back a few days ago from our trip to Virginia Beach. According to Google Maps this was around 380 miles and should take about 7 and 1/2 hours to get there (more on that later).  We drove down on Sunday morning and came back Friday evening.

I was originally going to call this our “staycation” but it seems that staycation really means that you stay home and go to local attractions.  Still, this was our first driving vacation.  In previous years we would fly to our destinations.  Since we just bought a new mini-van we figured it would be a great time to drive and save money on plane fare too!  Virginia Beach seemed close enough to drive to from NYC and we heard a lot of great things about it.

So we packed up our stuff and put the kids in the car and left Sunday morning.  Many, many hours and rest stops later we finally made it to Virginia Beach (we had a major delay at one point but more on that later).  It was basically an all day drive for us, what with stops and all.  One exciting about the drive was going over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel which spans 20 miles (on the way back we saw what might have been a a Navy Destroyer passing through the channel section).  It was also interesting to see all of the different towns and landscapes in the different states (four total: New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia).

Virginia Beach is beautiful! Our hotel really was just two quick blocks to the beach!  There was a beautiful boardwalk on the beach to walk along with a separate trail for bikes (we wanted to rent a bike for all of us but we didn’t get a chance).  Within two from the beach are places to eat (the four main  food sources seem to be seafood, ice cream, waffle/pancakes, and pizza), shops, a fun house, a haunted house, lots of ice cream shops, outdoor performance areas, miniature golf, and more!  It was really fun to walk around at night and take in the scenery.  In fact one of the performances we saw was the Edgar Winter Group at a bandstand right off the beach (we caught Frankenstein and Free Ride)!

An interesting thing we discovered was that Virginia Beach is close to a Naval base.  As a result there are military jets flying routes overhead all day.  Living near two airports in Queens, NY I’m used to hearing planes overhead but seeing military jets is different.  The last time I saw a military jet flying was on September 11th over the Empire State Building so it brought back some somber memories.  Once I got used to that though it was pretty awesome seeing the jets flying.  At times we would see three together flying in close formation.  If we ever go back we’ll have to tour the Naval base!

Funny story…One day my daughter wanted to go to the pool rather than go to the beach.  She couldn’t quite grasp that we didn’t drive 400 miles to go to a small hotel pool!  Well the beach won out.  As I was playing with her, jumping waves I saw a fin a little ways off.  I noticed it was a curved fin.  I told I thought I saw a dolphon but wasn’t sure.  She got worried thinking it could be a shark!  A few minutes later I saw for sure two dolphins swim to the surface.  Other people noticed it too.  In all there were about four dolphins swimming around and playing a little ways off from us.  We saw a couple jump out of the water and twist.  We must have watched them swim around on and off for the next hour!  At one point, holding my daughter up to see the dolphins, I asked her if she would have rather stayed at the pool.  Begrudgingly she said no, that it was much more fun at the beach.  Ha!  On a similar note, I had seen dolphin watching boat rides advertised for about $20 a person.  We saved a bundle by just going to the beach instead!

As well as the beach and the local scenery we also went to the Virginia Beach Aquarium and spent a day in Colonial Williamsburg.  The little princess loved seeing all of the old time building and costumes.

Remember how I said Google Maps said the trip should be 7-8 hours?  I’ve discovered that with two kids we have to add at least 30% to the time listed!  Coming home took much longer with stops and traffic entering NYC.

The trip was a lot of fun and I would definitely consider going back to Virginia Beach but it seems for us every silver cloud has a lead lining.  While driving down there we got into a car accident.  We got rear ended on the highway.  Our brand new car now has a dent in the front and a smashed in rear door.  No one was hurt and the car runs but it really hurts to have a new car get beat up like that.  The accident was the other person’s fault and insurance should cover the repairs but it did put an ill feeling over the trip.  We even considered going back home after the accident but we’re glad we went through with the trip.

In all I think we saved money by not flying off someplace.  We certainly spent money but it was less than we would have flying to a Caribbean locale.

Accident aside, we had fun and I think we have more driving trips in our future. As you can see from the Frugal Things To Do series there’s so much to see and do in this country!  Even a couple of days before the big trip we went out to Sesame Place and a couple of weeks earlier we went to the Bronx Zoo.