Easy Ways To Save This Fall

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Below you will find some little things that you can do today that will add up to big savings for you and your budget! On Saving Dollars and Sense I want to convey the message that we are Changing the Way you Save, and the most important part of the equation is change.

Take a look at the list below and see what areas in your life you can change today.

Get Rid of Cable - One thing we did a while back was finally let go of cable service.  Gasp!  I know. It was the hardest thing to let go of for my family, especially my husband.  But we replaced it with Netflix which everyone LOVES! Find out how you can get 30 days FREE. Plus we found out something by accident.  My husband decided to reorder cable to watch the Superbowl last year, while on the phone with our internet service provider (who also supplies cable) he let him know that since we already had a cable line for internet and an HDTV we would get basic cable free.  It turned out to be true.  So I encourage you to reconsider paying a cable bill at all.

Change Your Bedding – As soon as the chill is in the air at night, switch out your regular sheets for flannel sheets.  We also make sure to have an extra blanket or two underneath our quilts at night to trap our body heat in. Night time is a good time to turn down the thermostat and save some money on heating since everyone should be snug in their toasty warm beds.

Wear appropriate clothing - This might seem silly to have on the list.  But there are some in my family who would love to wear shorts and short sleeved clothes all year long if they could.  Unfortunately, it can get pretty chilly here in the north which makes that clothing combination a bit uncomfortable.  I actually look forward to the time of year when I can pull out my sweater and wool socks!  I have learned that if I am wearing cold weather clothing then I can stand for the house to be a little chillier.  We’ve been known to keep our thermostat at 62 degrees, and when dresses appropriately with a fire burning in the fireplace this is very comfortable on us and our wallet.

Weatherproof - Now is the time to weatherproof your home. Check all of your windows and doors for drafts and seal with caulk to keep the heat in and your bill under control.  We also use weatherproofing kits and put plastic over our windows which helps a lot, and when done properly you can hardly tell it is there.  You could also add insulation to your attic to keep the heat in.  The less heat you lose, the less your heating bill will cost.

Save on Dinner - I would love to say that we eat every dinner at home to save since I know this is best for the budget and your heath.  But the reality is that we eat out about once a week.  So I put together this post 5 Ways to Save on your Restaurant Bill that highlights all the things we do to make going out a little easier on our pocket. Plus I post all the Printable Restaurant Coupons each week to help you save even more.

Menu Plan - I have found over the years that when I am actively menu planning each week I save so much more on my grocery bill.  It never fails, if I don’t have a plan I walk around the store trying to come up with 5-7 meals on the spot.  I add more and more to my cart because I haven’t taken the time to prepare and can’t remember what I have at home in the cupboard.  My bill always reflects if I have taken time to menu plan. Check out How to Begin Menu Planning for tips to get started.

Use coupons – Those tiny little slips of paper that I used to think were a waste of my time, are actually CASH! You can search for all the coupons available for anything you need in the coupons database. You can read this post Extreme Couponing 101 to learn more about how to coupon.

Online Shopping - More and more I am convinced that I get the very best deals when I shop online!  Not only do I have a plethora of stores at my fingertips that I can search for the best price, but I can almost always find a coupon code to add to a sale.  I find that now that I know how to search for deals online I can get brand new, name brand clothes for my family for the same price I used to spend visiting thrift stores and garage sales! Check the Online Coupon Code Database for a coupon to save even more.

Join Loyalty Clubs – Most of the stores, gas stations, and restaurants that you visit regularly have a customer loyalty program that you can earn rewards for visiting them which you are already going to do anyway.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a cashier ask someone if they would like to sign up for a store card and the person declines.  Maybe they are tapped for time?  But it takes less than 5 minutes to sign up, and you’ll earn rewards from free dinners, gas, and even cash!  If you are planning to spend at that establishment anyway, why wouldn’t you want to get the most for your money?

Avoid late fees - It seems like no big deal.  You are a little late on a bill and have to pay a couple extra dollars, you return movies late and the late fees get added to your account.  A couple dollars here and there can add up quickly until you find yourself making an extra bill payment each month just in late fees or overdraft charges.  Be mindful of those dates, and get rid of the thinking that it’s just a couple extra dollars.

Reassess everything – Every couple months my husband and I sit down and look over all of our bills together.  We are looking for areas that have gotten fat and could use a little trimming.  Specifically cable, internet, and cell phone bills.  Take some time to call each of their competitors and see what is the best price they can give you for the service you need.  Then take the amount they give you and call your service provider to see if they can beat it.  We have never had our provider not try to beat the competitors price to keep us, but sometimes they just couldn’t do it and we had to make the switch to a competitor.  This is a great way to scale back on your utility bills and put that money back into your pocket!

Do you have any other tips that you think deserve to be added to the list?  Feel free to include them in the comments below so we can all learn to change the way we save!

How to Extend the Life of a Carved Pumpkin

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Anytime that we have carved pumpkins we have had to wait until the night before in order to assure that the pumpkins would last.

This year I decided to do a little research to see if there was anything we could to do protect our pumpkins from rotting so quickly. Because I am scheduled for surgery on October 29th, I wanted to carve our pumpkins a bit sooner than normal.

If you want to keep your carved pumpkins from rotting you need to do something to preserve them.

The moment that you cut the pumpkin with a knife you destroy their natural protection, making room for bacteria and fungi to grow, and thus begins the decay process.

But there are some things that you can do to extend the life of you carved pumpkins this year.

Wash your pumpkins. Make sure you wash the outside of the pumpkin before carving to get rid of any dirt that could carry microscopic organism that will begin attacking the pumpkin once it has been cut.

Spray your pumpkins. Make a bleach spray using this 1 tablespoon of this Homemade Bleach and 1 quart of water. Spray the entire inside and all exposed cut areas liberally with your Bleach Solution and allow to dry for about 30 minutes.

Protect your pumpkin. Rub petroleum jelly over all the areas that you previously sprayed.  This will create a protective barrier that will help keep new bacteria or fungi from growing and extend the life of you carved treasure.

Keep in mind that sunlight and heat are enemies of the carved pumpkin and help bacteria to grow. When choosing a place to display your pumpkin, look for a spot that is out of direct sunlight.

Now the only thing you have to protect your pumpkins from are neighborhood critters!

The squirrels LOVE to eat them ;)

If you need Pumpkin carving Ideas, check out these FREE Pumpkin Carving Patterns.

There are SO many to choose from!

And you can’t forget to make sure you have all the Pumpkin Carving Tools you’ll need.

How To Begin Menu Planning

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Begin Menu Planning
Make sure you have read all of the other Grocery Challenge Lessons here.

I want you to learn to become a menu planner!  Now this may not be much of a big deal for some of you naturally organized people, but if you are like me I understand if you are feeling a bit of hesitancy at the thought of planning out every single meal.

I remember before I started a few years back, I thought the idea of menu planning seemed so rigid.  I am the kind of person that likes to be a bit spontaneous so I tend to feel rebellious whenever the idea of a schedule comes along.

But I was desperate back then to get our out of control spending under control so I was willing to try just about anything.  I had read somewhere that menu planning could help me not spend as much in the grocery store so I thought I would give it a try figuring it wouldn’t really save me that much and I could say I tried it and move on complaining about how much our bill was each week.

But after sitting at the kitchen table for about 15 minutes I not only had a menu plan, but I had a grocery list too!

Having a plan makes it so much easier to make a grocery list of only the things you need.  I took my list to the store that week and saved almost half of what I was used to spending!

After that very first week I was hooked.  Not only has menu planning helped me keep a $200 a month grocery budget, but knowing what’s for dinner each morning and not having the chore of deciding makes life so much less stressful around here especially on our super busy days!

Tips to make menu planning easier and less intimidating:

If you ever check out any of my menu plans you’ll see that we have the same basic foods for breakfast and lunch.  Also I leave Sunday open because I know my family and we rarely stick to a schedule on that day for anything.  This has made menu planning so much less stressful because I only need to come up with six dinners each week.

The first thing I do when I sit down to make out the weeks menu is look through the freezer to see which meats I happen to already have available.  I try to build my weeks menu around what I already have on hand. This also helps when I grocery shop for the week because I usually only need one or two ingredients for each meal.

I should also add that as I am writing out my menu plan I am also writing out my grocery list at the same time.

Betty Crocker cookbook

One thing that is very important to successful menu planning is a great cookbook!

I have my Betty Crocker Cookbook and it has been a huge help to me.  I can always find something great and super easy to make and that keeps me from giving up on menu planning.  It has all kinds of great cooking information too!

We love variety and so I also send for every FREE cookbook offer I can find.  Don’t worry I share every free one I find here too!

Maybe you are so overwhelmed by the idea of menu planning, but that is no reason not to do it.  In fact it is very tempting to just overlook it, but I can tell you from personal experience that my life runs smoother when I know what’s for dinner each day and my grocery budget thanks me each week I take the 10 minutes to write out a plan and a list.

Lastly I want to say that menu planning works for me and I am confident that it can work for you too!

I challenge you to grab a piece of paper or print a menu planning sheet here, and jot down just 6 dinners and see how long it takes you.

You can use this FREE Grocery List Planning Printable to help plan out your list as you are preparing your menu plan.

Also you might like to read this post on How to Create a 30 Day Menu Plan.

Next week I’ll start sharing more about coupons and the special lingo that every Expert Couponer should know.

Top Tips for Staying Focused While Shopping

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top tips for staying focused

To be perfectly honest, I am easily distracted whenever I walk into a grocery or drug store.

All it takes is one little rabbit trail and before I know it, I have been wandering the aisles for an hour clueless on why I ever walked into the store in the first place.  Okay so maybe I am exaggerating a little, but you get the gist.

If it weren’t for these few simple steps I am sure to buy things I don’t need, forget the things I do need, and walk away feeling pretty much defeated.

This is why I say it is such a good idea to have a Grocery Plan of Action.

I realize that I might be the only one, but just in case any of you suffer from this distraction problem like I do, I am sharing my top tips for staying focused.

Make a list and stick to it.

I mean walking into a grocery store without a list is a sure way to sabotage yourself from the start.

Read how to get started making and sticking to a grocery list and get a FREE Grocery List Printable to help you plan your shopping trip.

Review your list often.

Take some time while you are in the parking lot before you get out of the car to go over your list.

This will help give you a running start when you enter the store and already know which items you are planning to pick up.

I review my list often throughout the store because frankly the easily distracted thing is no joke when it comes to me.  One aisle in, and I am already drifting away to “Oh, where was I, what am I supposed to get”.

Shop alone whenever possible, and when it is not play a game.

If you have younger kids that you must bring with you, it can help to turn the whole shopping excursion into a fun game by getting your kids involved. Before you leave the house make sure your kids have their own lists to follow.

Maybe just add a few things to their lists that they are “responsible” for remembering.  This could be a good time to practice writing skills.  If they can’t write yet, have them draw a picture of what they are supposed to remember when you get to the store.

Remind them that you are only getting the things on the list.  This is also good training for when they get older not to become impulse buyers.

When you finish shopping, offer your kids a treat if they were helpful and made sure to remember everything on their lists while mom worked on her own list.

A few extra tips for you:

A good pen is your task friendly BFF! Make sure you have a pen to mark off your list as you go.  It is SO much easier for me to visually see when I am almost done shopping if I am able to cross things off as I go along.  I don’t know how it works, but having a pen in hand somehow keeps me more focused and on task as I am navigating the stores aisles.

Never shop hungry.  Because no matter how great your plan, your list will inevitably get thrown out the window the moment you spot the first clearance rack filled with bakery goods.

NEVER ever shop with your husband ;)

I ALWAYS go over budget and find myself distracted the whole time.  It’s a bad combination, and as many times as I have been through this I always think it will be fun if he joins me.  It is fun, and the kids always LOVE what we end up bringing home, but we never stay focused and buy all kinds of unnecessary things.  Which is probably why mu kids love when dad goes shopping lol.

Home Depot Security Breach and Free Credit Monitoring

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The-Home-Depot

A couple weeks ago, Home Depot became the latest retailer to fall victim to hackers.

The retailer confirmed that they had a security breach like the Target Security Breach that many of us were involved in over the holiday shopping season last year.

Below you can read the official email from Home Depot announcing that they will offer complimentary credit monitoring for a year to all customers that used a card of any kind to pay for their purchases any time since April.

As you may have heard, on September 8, 2014, we confirmed that our payment data systems have been breached, which could potentially impact customers using payment cards at our U.S. and Canadian stores. On September 18, 2014, we confirmed that the malware used in the breach has been eliminated from our U.S. and Canadian stores and that we have completed a major payment security project that provides enhanced encryption of payment data at point of sale throughout our U.S. stores, offering significant new protection for customers. There is no evidence that debit PIN numbers were compromised or that checks were impacted. Additionally, there is no evidence that the breach has impacted stores in Mexico or customers who shopped online at HomeDepot.com.

We are offering customers who used a payment card at a Home Depot store in 2014, from April on, 12 months of free identity protection services, including credit monitoring, beginning on September 19, 2014. We apologize for the frustration and anxiety this may cause you and we thank you for your patience during this time.

For more information, please visit our website where you’ll find frequently asked questions, helpful tips, our Important Customer Notice, and information about how to take advantage of the free identity protection services, including credit monitoring. Should you have questions regarding the authenticity of this email or any additional questions over the coming days and weeks, please call 1-800-HOMEDEPOT.

We hope this information is useful and we appreciate your continued support.

You can find out more about the Free Home Depot Credit Monitoring and sign up today.

I hope that no one is hurt by this latest breach. You might want to educate yourself as to the Steps Identity Theft Victims Need to Take in case you ever need to know in the future.

10 Things to Do to Avoid Holiday Debt Later

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Stock Photo

Kmart made headlines recently as the first retailer to advertise for holiday shopping. While it may seem ludicrous to think about the holidays before the summer season officially ends, it’s actually smart to get started now. In fact, the National Retail Federation found that 40 percent of consumers started holiday shopping before Halloween in 2013.

I know that most of us would rather not think about the holiday shopping season just yet, however taking some time to educate yourself now will help you have a successful holiday without going into debt.

Here are 10 Things to Do Now to Avoid Holiday Debt Later.

1. Sell your stuff.
While spring may be synonymous with cleaning, fall is also a good time to declutter and sell anything you no longer want especially since you can stash the earning away for gift shopping. Large items like furniture is best sold through Craigslist or via local Facebook buy-sell-trade groups. Clothing can be sold at local consignment shops or online atRecycleYourFashions.com or thredUp.com. Finally, you can sell old gadgets for cash through Gazelle.com or NextWorth.com.

2. Track flights.
If you’re flying over the holidays, it’s wise to start looking into flights now. Typically, the sweet spot for the best airfare deals is six to four weeks before your desired departure date, but the holidays are another animal. As you begin researching, use the “flexible date” feature to compare rates among departure and return dates. This will help you pinpoint the cheapest dates to fly and lock in your time-off request early. Don’t forget to track prices using Yapta.com; this way, if you notice the flight price drop after you book, you can request a credit from the airline.

3. Buy discount gift cards.
In addition to being the most highly-requested gift for seven years in a row, gift cards can actually save you money when you buy them at a discount. Websites like GiftCardGranny.com have thousands of gift cards to popular retailers, with savings like 25-percent off Starbucks gift cards. You can also sell any unwanted gift cards for cash, and get up to 92 percent of the card’s value back to put toward your holiday shopping budget.

4. Eliminate excess spending.
Whether it’s weekly takeout, weekend spa appointments or too many morning lattes, there is always room in your budget to cut back and boost your holiday savings. Review your spending over the past several months and identify areas where you can cut back. Keep in mind, some of the excess purchases you eliminate now doesn’t have to be forever.

5. Stash your savings.
Whenever you skip a spending opportunity, put what you would have paid into a savings account specifically for your holiday shopping budget. You can open a Christmas Club-type account at your bank or local credit union, or go online to SmartyPig.com, a free service that helps you stash away cash for any purpose. Ultimately, putting your savings in a place where it’s not easily accessed will help you avoid dipping into it for unrelated purposes.

6. Anticipate hidden costs.
Budgeting for gifts and travel is a no-brainer, but often we forget about the hidden costs of the holidays. Things like postage for holiday greetings, White Elephant gifts for corporate parties, or tips for all the helpers in your life. It’s these expenses that send our budgets in the red, so prepare for them now to avoid surprises. Holiday packaging can be purchased on the cheap from dollar stores, while White Elephant gifts can be a re-gift from something you already own. For advice on tipping etiquette, check out these guidelines from Emily Post.

7. Consider side hustles.
Now is a great time to look into earning extra cash. This will help you avoid living on Ramen Noodles until after the holidays, plus it might expand into a legitimate gig beyond the holiday season. Sites like eLance help you find companies in need of freelancers, while TaskRabbit connects you with people who need assistance with small tasks like grocery shopping, dog walking or handy work. If you have the flexibility, a part-time retail job not only offers extra cash but also an employee discount for gifts.

8. Round up your rewards.
Between social events, back to school shopping and family getaways, you likely racked up quite a few points on your credit card over the summer. Use those points to offset your holiday spending by turning them into gift cards. You can give these cards as gifts or use them to pay for gifts at specific stores. Sometimes, credit card companies will offer these reward gift cards at a discount, so keep your eyes peeled for these deals.

9. Start scouting and collecting gifts.
Now is a good time to start scouting for gifts and note their selling price. If you find a really good deal right now, buy it! Picking up a few gifts over the course of two to three months will limit the financial strain you may experience when buying multiple presents during the peak shopping season. If you’re researching online, be sure to look for coupon codes to score discounts or free shipping.

10. Research layaway thoroughly.
The main reason for early holiday shopping ads is to promote retailer layaway programs. While putting coveted items on hold and paying them off over time seems like a good strategy, you need to be careful about the program’s fees. Startup and service fees can range from $5 to $10, and if you need to cancel for any reason, there’s a fee for that, too. Stores like Walmart do not offer layaway for online items, nor do they price match in-store items with their online prices, meaning you could pay more for a gift than you need to.

This guest post has been provided courtesy of Andrea Woroch, is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc., who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.