Car Allowance Rebate System – Cash For Clunkers

What's your clunker worth?

In late June President Obama signed into law the the Car Allowance Rebate System or as it’s also known: Cash for Clunkers. This is a program that encourages people to trade in their cars for more efficient models.  It also helps to stimulate the economy (similar to the first time home buyer tax credit) at a time when car sales are lagging.

The program runs from July 1st through November 1st 2009.  Cars traded in during that time could be eligible for a credit of either $3500 or $4500 depending on the car and the increase in mileage the new vehicle provides.

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AAA Is Good For More Than Automotive Assistance

Pennies Add Up

Are you a member of AAA (American Automobile Association)?

They provide benefits such as roadside assistance, towing service, flat-tire service, battery service, and more for a registered driver. But did you know that AAA provides tons of great discounts as well?

We’ve had AAA now for years. I had heard that AAA offered discounts and every now and then I’d check the site out.  Not sure why but I kept forgetting about their discounts.  Well no more!  I’ve been checking their discount page often recently.  Every time we plan to take the family to an attraction I’ll check the AAA discount page (this brings you to the NY page) first to see what discounts they offer.  Recently we’ve saved on Bronx Zoo and Intrepid tickets and we’re looking into Sesame Place discounts too!

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Confessions Of A Recovering Spendaholic

shopping

There was a time I spent a little too freely. I’d buy things when I wanted and worry about paying for it later on. For lunch I’d go out with the intention of window shopping to waste some time but come back with a sweater and new pants instead.  It felt good when I’d buy something but the feeling would wear off especially when I’d get my credit cards bills which were slowly adding up in the thousands.

I’ve since curbed my spending ways (somewhat). But every now and then the itch returns and I get the urge to splurge. The frugal/saving side of my wants to let go. It’s like you see on a TV show when the devil and angel both appear on one of my shoulders and they argue it out. The angel usually wins out but sometimes the devil makes a good case!

So here are some confessions of a recovering spendaholic. These are things I sometimes think about and get the urge to spend on. I usually hold myself back but other times…

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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

Frugal Alternative to Microsoft Office

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So I got a new computer recently. The last one went back to the turn of the century and the screen finally died (the battery had already gone).  Anyway for all of the great programs on my new computer I didn’t have a good spreadsheet or writing program.  Of course the industry standard is Microsoft Office.  Office 2008 for the Mac on Amazon is going for a little over $100.  Pretty good but still expensive after already buying a computer!  I found out I could get a pretty good discount through work but a discount still means I’m paying for it.  That’s when I remembered an article 9 Tips to Save Money on your Next Computer which mentioned OpenOffice.org!

I was a little skeptical of OpenOffice.org at first. I mean, it’s touted as a free alternative to MS Office.  Could it really be as good if it’s free? I’ve used another alternative, Google Docs, a bunch of times.  Google Docs is also free and is nice in that you can access your docs on any computer where you can get Google.  It’s got good programs but falls behind in what MS Office offers.

OpenOffice.org , on the other hand functions almost exactly like MS Office!! So here’s our story: Last week my daughter had a science project due.  In true fashion we all waited to just about the last minute.  I hadn’t bought MS Office and didn’t use OpenOffice.org yet.  We needed to print out her project, titles, and a graph of her research.  Uh-oh!  So I went to the OpenOffice site and downloaded thier suite which includes Writer (Word), Calc (Excell), Impress, Draw, and Base.  I gotta tell you. I was surprised to see that it looked and operated just like MS Office would!  I am sold!  On top of the great programs you can also download templates and extensions to help you further.

Here’s the welcome page when you first open it:

openofficeorg-welcome-page

Here’s what a spreadsheet looks like:

openofficecalc-spreadsheet

Looks an awful lot like Excel, no?

Here’s what Writer looks like:

openofficewriter

Very similar to Word!

And here’s the templates and extensions screen:

openoffice-templates-docs

There are a ton of great templates to chose from!

I mean, whats more frugal than free?!?  And with the functionality of MS Office products it’s really a no-brainer!  Although I haven’t gotten to use it too much yet I’m really liking it so far!

If you are looking for a spreadsheet, document, or presentation program I really think you should give OpenOffice.org a shot before you go out and buy anything!

Have you used it?  What do you think?

Personal Finance Books For The Holidays

Rich Dad Poor Dad

More old books...

The economy isn’t so hot these days is it? But at the same time you’re looking for some great gifts.  Why not give a gift that could help someone achieve their financial freedom?  There are plenty of great books out there you can give.

Here are some great personal finance books that would make great gifts:

The Intelligent Investor – Great book on investing from a respected master in the field (he was Buffett’s teacher).  I have to re-read this one myself as there’s too much to learn in one read!

The Intelligent Investor

Your Money or Your Life – YMYL takes a full life approach to your finances and shows you what your true hourly wage is.  This is really a fantastic read!

Your Money Or Your Life

The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing – This book provides you with sounds investing advice.  Invest in mutual funds with low or no fees is the running theme here.  Fun read too.

Boglehead's Guide to Investing

The Millionaire Next Door – You may be surprised about the lifestyle of the average millionaire!  Very enlightening book.

The Millionaire Next Door

Accounting For Dummies -I’m actually reading this now.   I want a better understanding of financials which will help me at work and with my own finances.

Accounting for Dummies

Rich Dad, Poor Dad – People seem to love this book or hate it.  When I look back on it I don’t see many concrete ways to fix my personal finances but it did open my eyes to taking control of my finances and thinking of ways to eliminate my debt.

Rich Dad Poor Dad

Not so personal finance but great reads:

Liar’s Poker – Not personal finance but a great look into Wall Street greed in the 80’s which is still very similar today.

Liar's Poker

Moneyball -Baseball fan?  Check!  A book about thinking outside of the given norm to look for value in order to get ahead?  Check!  Same author as Liar’s Poker and also a fun read!

Moneyball

The World Is Flat 3.0 – We are in a world economy now.  This book show you the extent to which this is true and how technology and made it possible not only for anyone to start a business but for businesses to operate the world over.

The World is Flat

The Tipping Point – What makes a product or idea go viral?

Tipping Point

Naked Economics – A look at economics in a language we all can understand.

Naked Economics

How to Win Friends & Influence People – People skills. You need them. Read this book then read it again!

How to Win Friends and Influence People

The 4-Hour Workweek – I can’t say everything in this book works but it is eye-opening to how a business can be run.

4 Hour Workweek

By no means is this a definitive list.  But I can tell you that I’ve personally read each of these books and they are all worth the read!

What do you think?  Know any other books?  I’ll add them to the list!

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photo credit: guldfisken

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