Redecorating Your Home Without Breaking the Bank

This is a guest post by Mike Collins. Check out his blog at SavingMoneyToday.net and discover many more tips for saving money and dealing with debt.
Do you ever get sick of coming home and seeing the same old rooms day after day?  Wish you could redecorate your home but think you can’t afford it?

Well think again.  There are many easy ways to redecorate your home even if you’re on a tight budget.  Let’s brainstorm a few ideas…

It costs nothing to rearrange the furniture you already have.   Simply moving things around a little can create a whole new look and it won’t even cost you a dime.  And before you decide to ditch your old furniture altogether, try adding some slipcovers and throw pillows to make it look like something new.

Painting is another inexpensive way to update your home.  Most do it yourselfers can handle painting by themselves as long as the walls and ceilings are in good shape, and spackling and sanding can be mastered with a little practice.  Trust me, I’ve done a ton of painting over the last few years and it has saved me thousands of dollars that would have gone to a professional.

Try replacing your boring old lighting fixtures with something new.  Installing a new ceiling fan or chandelier will cost you several hundred dollars if you have an electrician do it.  Or if you’re handy and feel comfortable doing it yourself you’ll only have to pay the price of the new fixture.

If you’re feeling brave, a new floor will really give your place a new look.  It may take some elbow grease, but most do it yourselfers can install hard wood floors or vinyl tiles themselves.  When we bought our house the kitchen floor was an ugly white tile that was all scuffed and looked just rotten.  Every day my wife told me how much she hated it because no matter how much she scrubbed it always looked dirty.  So with my buddy’s help we put down new vinyl kitchen tile ourselves.  It took the better part of a day but it looks fantastic and we only had to pay for the materials.

Of course if that sounds like too much work for you, you can always start out with smaller projects.  Try installing new switch plates or changing the handles on your kitchen cabinets.  Hang new curtains in the window.  Pick up some new candles or a painting at a yard sale.  Even small changes such as these can have a huge impact.

9 Ways to Slash Your Spending Now

This is guest post written by Mindy Claribel.  Mindy runs MyCCFinder, an online coupons blog that updates at least 4-8 deals a day at your favorite retailers both online, as well as offline!
Everyone has monthly bills and unless you’re still living in your parent’s basement, I wanted to give you some killer tips that you can honestly implement today.  I’m going to take the basic bills that most people today use and what you can do in order to cut them in half.
#1 Your cable TV bill – Most of us today have a cable TV bill and if you’re paying more than $50 for your bill, you’re already paying way too much!  Simply call up your cable company and ask for a reduction.  If they refuse, tell them that you’re going to change services.  Call up competitors and see if they can match.  I know it’s a hassle, but it can be done.  You will find that most of the times they will give you a discount just for asking.
#2 Start using coupons for groceries – You grocery shop and I know you do.  Did you know that there are coupon related sites out there that will help you save on your grocery bill?   Websites such as CouponMom and AFullCup can both help you find printable coupons, as well as show you what coupons you can use on top of the sale price to save a ton of money.
#3 Use coupons on everything – Not only do you want to use coupons on groceries, you will also want to use them on everything else.  From shopping at a hardware store, to eating out at a restaurant, to getting your favorite shoes, you can get what you want and keep money in your pocket.
#4 Buy clothing at a cheap rate – You don’t have to go to the mall to get your favorite clothes.  Outlet stores, as well as thrift stores such as Goodwill and others can save you 80% easily when you want to buy clothing.  Yes, you can find a lot of name brands here!
#5 Analyze your health insurance – I switched over to a higher deductible health insurance account.  Since I’m self employed, I used to pay over $500 for my policy with a $250 deductible.  Today, I have a $3,000 deductible and I only pay $64 a month.  If you’re a healthy person, heavily consider this one.
#6 Look at other insurance – Your car, home, and other types of insurance should be checked up on annually.  See what kind of deals that you can get from other places.  If you can find it cheaper, see if your current insurer will match it.  Most places will give you a discount just for combining all of your insurance.  Check into this as well.
#7 Watch your utilities – It’s not too hard to save on your heating / electric bill.  Invest into a programmable thermostat and even set your temperature down to 62 or so at night when you’re sleeping.  By doing this, you can cut your bill back by at least 30%.
#8 Your phone bill – There’s no reason to pay $100 a month for a simple telephone.  If you do a lot of calling from your home, consider services like MagicJack that can save you $100s over the year.  If you don’t use your cell phone that often, you may want to consider a prepaid plan.
#9 Always compare prices – It sounds easy enough but no matter what you do, make it a habit to get at least 3 different responses.  Whether you want to get something painted, or maybe you want to buy a TV.  NEVER buy from the first place.
As you can see, it’s not really that hard to save.  It looks good on paper, but make a promise to implement it yourself.  By doing so, you can save 100s, if not 1000s per month!

Spring To Do List: One Month Check-Up

A month ago, I wrote about a list of things I wanted to get done during the spring months.  I’ve made some progress (and added a few other things to the list) so I thought a one month check-up was in order:

  1. Basement Cleaning and Reorganization – This was already DONE when I wrote the draft, though truthfully I need to do some freshening up.  The painting projects (see below) have created another mess and made it clear that my paint supplies need a going over.
  2. Replace backup sump pump battery – Still IN PROCESS.  I did remove the old battery and know what I need to get to replace it, but I still need to get the actual battery and re-install it.
  3. Repair and repaint bathroom ceiling – Still IN PROCESS though I did make progress.  Most of the ceiling is painted.  I had to do a lot of prep work before painting and had one spot not ‘revealed’ that it wasn’t quite prepped during the middle of painting, I’d be done.  I just need to paint over the trouble spot and this will be done.
  4. Repair and repaint damaged bathroom wallDONE!  I spent a couple of weekends on the painting projects in the bathroom, and fortunately the wall didn’t give me any snags, so I was able to finish this.
  5. Unclog master bath sink drainDONE!  This was a pretty quick process and you can read more about it here if you’ve been having any drains run slow and are looking for a quick how-to.
  6. Clean window blindsIN PROCESS.  I did a couple tests of ways to clean them.  I was hoping to find something that didn’t involve taking down each blind but that would clean it effectively, so I tried a few different things.  I found that rags and a good cleaning mixture seems to do the trick, so my plan is to tackle these a little bit at a time, with the goal to be done by Memorial Day.  I’m about 40% done right now.
  7. Clean inside windows IN PROCESS – I was planning on buying some streak-free cleaner as the Windex we have was leaving streaks, but then I stumbled upon the trick of cleaning with newspaper, and that has done the trick, so I’ve been cleaning the windows along with the blinds.
  8. Re-paint shuttersNOT STARTED – I haven’t gotten to this painting yet, but I’m not convinced that the shutters actually need to be re-painted.
  9. Re-paint front door / garage entry doorNOT STARTED – I haven’t gotten to painting the front door, but that definitely needs it as it’s very faded.
  10. Assemble swing setNOT STARTED – This is still at my in-laws and not a high priority since Baby Beagle is not active enough to get full value out of this.
  11. Clean deck NOT STARTED – I have everything I need but need to wash the deck and bring up the patio furniture.
  12. Clean garageNOT STARTED – I can knock this out in a few hours so no worries here.
  13. Clean out dryer lineNOT STARTED – I kind of forgot about this but it’s definitely a must-do!
  14. Hang clockDONE! – I was able to hang the antique clock passed down to me from my grandmother.  The clock is estimated to be over 100 years old.  It’s working great and I’m hoping that it stays working and in the family for at least another 100 years! 
  15. (NEW) –  Mulch planting beds DONE! – I purchased about four and a half yards of mulch and re-mulched our planting beds.  Mulch provides a barrier to minimize weeding, and keeps moisture around our trees and bushes.  I got the mulch at 50% off during a four-day sale at Home Depot!
  16. (NEW) –  Get trees trimmed DONE! – We have a heavily wooded lot, so we had a tree-trimming company come out and do some clean-up and trimming.
  17. (NEW) –  Get a check-up on the furnace and A/C DONE! – We’ve never had a check-up or tune-up done on the furnace and air conditioning unit done since we moved in during 2007 and I have no idea if anything was ever done before.  We had a recommended company come out and check both units out, as they are both about twelve years old.  Both checked out pretty good, and are now clean, tuned-up and hopefully ready to run for a good long time!

So, all in all:

DONE – 7 of 17 items
IN PROCESS – 4 of 17 items
NOT STARTED – 6 of 17 items.

Could be better but could be a lot worse.  All in all, I’m happy with how things are coming along at the Beagle household this spring.

The Difference Between Men And Women

Guys, I think I’m one step closer to cracking the ‘women’ code that has perplexed us for ages.  It’s apparent that there’s a fundamental difference between men and women.

Want to know what it is?

Men and women both buy things.  That’s not the difference.

However….

Men keep the things they buy.
Women exchange theirs.
Over and over!

Trying to keep track of the shopping purchases for my wife is impossible.  It isn’t because she spends too much.  No, she’s actually really good about staying within budget.  It’s impossible because it seems as if every clothing item she buys ends up going back at some point before it’s actually worn!

I can’t keep track of it all.  When my wife shows me something new that she just bought, I can only muster so much interest, because I know that if it’s the initial purchase, chances are it’s going back to the store!

I have no idea how to use this to ‘crack the code’ but it’s something that should definitely be studied carefully!

Enjoy the day!

The Most Important Shopping Tip To Remember

There are a million tips and tricks that you can remember to keep in mind when you set of shopping.  Don’t forget your coupons.  Shop around.  Offer a lower price.  Wait before purchasing big items to ensure you need it.

These are all great ideas and there are many, many more.  However, I think the most important one to remember is simple:

Don’t be afraid to walk away.

This one sounds simple, but it’s something you should always remember.  Think about this: Until you hand over your money (or sign a contract), you still have the ability to walk away.  Don’t be afraid to!

If there’s something that makes you feel uncomfortable, if you don’t like the terms or conditions, if you’re not convinced you’re getting the value you’re looking for, if you’re not satisfied with the product you’re getting: Don’t be afraid.  Walk away.

I think many times people, myself included, get locked into something.  People who are in the business to sell you things have a knack at picking up on this, and guess what?  They’re going to use this to their advantage, which is often your disadvantage.

Original Image by brocco_lee

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  •  Consider your audience and know when you have leverage. If you have someone behind you willing to buy the product at the price offered, you probably don’t have much leverage.  So, standing in line for your iPad and then trying to talk the salesperson down probably isn’t a good use of anybody’s time.
  • Refine your approach on how to let it be known that you would consider walking away.  Often times, you never even have to utter the words.  It can be as simple as a pause in the right place, or stepping away to ‘make a phone call’.
  • Don’t overplay your hand – In addition to ‘sniffing out blood’, salespeople also will lose interest and detach themselves from you if they don’t feel you’re a serious buyer.  If you bluff when you really do intend to purchase the product, be careful that you don’t let this backfire.
  • Know what you want.  If you don’t have a clear objective, you will probably never feel comfortable with your potential purchase.  Know what is making you uncomfortable and what it would take to get you into your comfort zone.  If it’s price, fine.  Know the price you need and be honest as to whether getting to that price would make you happy.  There’s a fine line between dickering and being wishy-washy.  Stay on the right side of the line.
  • Understand your options – Sometimes a threat to walk away will work and you’ll talk the salesperson into better terms.  However, many times you won’t.  For whatever reason, the salesperson might be willing (or obligated) to let you walk away.  Know beforehand if you really will walk away or if you will then accept the terms of the sale.

Bottom line, don’t ever forget that you are the customer and to use this to your advantage before letting that salesperson close the sale.

How Much Did I Spend On That Again?

Amazon is my favorite site for shopping online.  One of the bigger reasons I like them is for the fact that you can look back in their order history for years and years.  I can see purchases I’ve made from as far back as 2001.  That could have been when I started buying from them, or maybe ten years is all they keep.  I’m pretty sure, though, that I really didn’t start using Amazon until 2001, so I think these are all truly ‘firsts’

I thought it would be fun to go back and take a look at a few purchases and see some ‘firsts’ through the years.

January 1, 2001 – First purchase of the century
My very first Amazon purchase of the 21st century was on January 1, 2001.  It was a gift card for a close family member who has a New Year’s Birthday.

April 12, 2001 – First Book purchase
I purchased three books.  Before that, it was off to the bookstore.  Since then, I’d guess that 80% of my book purchases have come through Amazon.  The book: Dreamcatcher by Stephen King.

April 29, 2001 – First textbook purchase
I was in an MBA program at the time.  Before that, I purchased everything I needed at the bookstore at outrageous prices.  I looked and found books I needed for much cheaper on Amazon.

July 24, 2001 – First CD and First Movie purchase
My first CD purchased from Amazon was Three Chord Opera by Neil Diamond (still a big fan, by the way!) and my first DVD was Singles.

September 12, 2001 – First Charitable Donation
For awhile, you could donate money to charities via Amazon’s website.  They don’t do this anymore because now most sites allow you to donate directly, but this wasn’t the case at the time.  I donated to the Red Cross following the 9/11 attacks.

August 21, 2002 – First Electronics Purchase
These are the ones that will make you sick because you realize how much you paid for technology that gets dated.  I purchased a 3 mega pixel camera for $400.  I purchased a 128MB smart card for $50 to go in the camera.  You can get cameras with three times the megapixels for one-third the price, and the cost for a smart card is at least 95% cheaper per megabyte.  Yikes.

December 4, 2002 – First Purchase I Have No Recollection Of
I purchased a pair of gloves that I don’t remember buying and on an American Express card that I don’t remember ever having.  I think I had one through work, so I must have put these gloves on there for some unknown reason.  Strange.

January 27, 2003 – First Purchase I’ve Never Opened
I bought a wireless card for my desktop computer.  I just organized the basement storage area with my computer stuff and this is still sitting there in the shrink wrap.  $60 down the drain as I’m sure the card is pretty well worthless at this point!

June 16, 2003 – First Hilarious Purchase
Going into the summer, I decided I needed a confidence boost to talk to girls.  I bought a couple of ‘how to get any woman you want’ books.  Even though I went for some of the less tacky ones, can you ever really buy non-tacky books of that variety?  They were fun reads, and hey, wouldn’t you know it, that is the same summer that I happened to meet the future Mrs. Beagle.  Maybe this should have been entitled “Best Purchase I Ever Made”  (editors note: After I established my relationship with the future Mrs. Beagle, I distributed these books out to single friends, but don’t really know if they were of any help)

November 26, 2003 – First Kitchen Purchase
I bought a set of pots and pans.  Nothing fancy, but for a bachelor they did just fine, and they lasted me until our wedding where we got a real, grown-up set.

May 27, 2007 – First Honeymoon Planning Items
We planned our honeymoon in Hawaii and purchased books with tips and tricks for the two islands we decided upon.  This gave us a few months of reading to get all the ins and outs down beforehand as our honeymoon wasn’t until September of that year.  These books, combined with a travel agent who specialized in Hawaii vacations, made for some incredible visits that we never would have otherwise made.

November 27, 2007 – First Christmas Ornament
I purchased a Lenox ‘First Christmas Together’ ornament for my new bride, and the best price was found on, of course, Amazon!

March 26, 2008 – First Gold Box Deal (and Camping Tent) 
Mrs. Beagle had introduced me to camping a couple of years earlier (I’m not the outdoors type), and we were looking our own tent as we’d previously borrowed one owned by her parents.  I found a deal on one through their ‘Gold Box’ section and we gave it a shot.  It was a Columbia tent advertised as waterproof, and I have to say, it definitely was!  The first time we used it, we set up and awaited a predicted ‘passing rain shower’ that turned into a three hour thunderstorm complete with downpour that lasted the entire three hours.  We stayed cozy in our tent the entire time without a drop of water getting in!  Now, I subscribe to their Gold Box deal RSS feed with the hope of finding another tent deal, since that one fit us great but is a little too small to now accommodate Baby Beagle.

September 22, 2008 – First Baby Books
We found out we were expecting on September 7th.  We bought a couple of books: My wife got one for things to expect during pregnancy.  I got one called “My Boys Can Swim!” (editors note: this still makes me *lol*) and we got two copies of “101 Ways To Spoil Your Grandkids” which we later used to ‘announce’ our pregnancy to our parents.

February 26, 2010 – Most Recent Order
Baby Beagle had two identical blankets that became his ‘favorite’.  Well, he learned to drop things out of the cart during grocery shopping, and after one incident where Mommy was looking the other way, he was down to one.  They didn’t sell it in the store any more, so we turned to Amazon and got two more, for a really good price too!  This was our last order to date but certainly there will be more.

I love how Amazon keeps track of what you purchased.  Looking back, I can see gifts that I’ve purchased over the years, I can look at my tastes and how they’ve changed in books and music, I can look at how technology has changed and how stuff I thought was a great deal then looks shocking now.  It may sound silly, but seeing this consolidated list brings back some memories.

Thanks, Amazon!

Transitioning From Earning Frequent Flyer Miles To Cash Rebates

Mr Credit Card is going to guest post today. He is going to tell us about how he switched from earning frequent flier miles to earning cash rebates on his credit card once he stopped traveling. You can find out what he thinks are the best credit cards and best business credit cards on his site.

Recently, Money Beagle mentioned about switching from earning frequent flier miles to earning cash back when he stopped traveling. I myself had a similar experience. When I first entered the job market 16 years ago, my company provided me with a company business credit card. I racked up lots of frequent flier points. But 10 years later, I found myself traveling less and started questioning if I should still be racking up points for frequent flier miles. I eventually switched to earning cash rebates (though I am now switching back again). In this post, I am going to share how story about using frequent flier miles and how I chose the right card when I transitioned to earning cash rebates.

How I used rewards card – The corporate card that I was issued was the American Express Business Charge Card. As an employee, I was allowed to earn Membership Rewards points for myself when I charged any business expenses to myself. I traveled at least once every quarter internationally so I guess I did rack up quite a few reward points. Plus, I got to fly business class.

To earn even more points, I got myself a personal Amex card! I had to pay a fee (think it was about $10 back then to “connect” my membership reward points from both my personal and corporate card. But with this combination, I sure earned lots of points.

Rewards that I earned – Because Membership Rewards points do not expire, I could actually wait until I racked up quite a bit of points. I usually waited until I could redeem two international business class tickets for myself and Mrs Credit Card. And we did earn enough points to do this a few times through out a 10 year period.

Transition – But eventually, there came a time when my job description changed and I had to travel less. I still had the corporate card. And I still used my personal charge card from Amex. But I was accumulating points at a much lesser rate. Eventually, a new job came up that totally did not require any travel at all. That was when I realized that I had to stop accumulating frequent flier points and simply earn cash rebates.

But that required a total reorientation because for my whole life (until then anyway), I was using points for free airline tickets. But due to the fact that I no longer have business travels and my do not have much business expense anymore, it simply made sense to switch to cash back cards.

How I chose my cash back credit card – The first thing on my mind was what card to get. After much research, I concluded that most cards in the market were not worth getting because all they did not was pay a standard 1% rebate. They better cards paid more than 1% on some items. For example, I found out that some cards paid 5% on gasoline and supermarket expenses.

I also found out about things like spending requirements and tiers. Some cards required you to spend a certain amount every year before you could earn their best rebates. Some cap you on how much rebates you could earn a year. Different credit cards also paid you differently.

Amid the confusion, I did the following things

  • I mapped out and categorized my expenses
  • I worked out which card would earn me the most rebates
  • I also decided to go with just one card rather than get a few card (like some do) and nickel and dime their way to lots of rebates
  • I also set the criteria that I wanted my rebates to be automatically credited into my account since I am a very forgetful person

Ultimately, I ended up choosing the Amex Blue Cash and I’ve earned over 2% rebates every year on average. These days things have evolved and we have things such as credit card shopping portals and rotating categories where spending on certain items during certain periods earn you more rebates.

So that’s my journey – So that’s my journey from earning reward points to cash rebates. I think the lesson here is to get a credit card that suits your lifestyle and spending habits. Very often, folks are either lured into a “prestige card” that is costly and does not serve the purpose for the individual or they carry a card that pays no rewards, which is really leaving money on the table (IMO anyway).

Well, that’s my story and I hope it will inspire you to reexamine your credit card and see if it is the best fit for you.

Detroit Wants To Shrink Itself, What Do You Think?

Detroit has been in a population decline for decades and decades.  Simply put, the city is now too big for itself.

The new mayor has proposed shrinking the footprint of Detroit by identifying areas which are currently sparsely populated, and relocating these residents to other areas.  The goal would be to create denser neighborhoods, which could then receive the concentration of services.

Right now, the city just can’t sustain itself.  The city once had about 2,000,000 residents, and now has less than half that.  Still, police must patrol all areas. Roads must be maintained.  Garbage pickup still has to cover all areas.

But with the population decline, the city can’t afford to offer these services across the board.  It is simply unsustainable.

It’s going to be a long road ahead if the city does move forward with this.  I’m not sure that it can actually succeed, but it’s a unique approach to a problem that has been around for decades and doesn’t seem to show any signs of ending soon.

Many of us have looked at our finances and taken measures to simplify them.  We cut out ‘lattes’, we eliminate or reduce debt, we cut spending where we can.  It’s interesting to see a city actually try to do such a thing on such a grand scale.

I know many people across the country see Detroit as a hellhole, and there are areas where this is indeed the case.  Still, the city and the surrounding area are full of good people, hard workers, great landmarks, and as one of the residents of the surrounding area, I continually hope that Detroit can someday right the ship.

It often looks bleak but when I look at the fact that many people and families have turned their own situations around, it gives me hope.

Speedway, Pay Attention To McDonald’s!

This past Saturday, we had a family wedding to go to.  It was a late morning wedding and was about a two and a half hour drive.  As such, I didn’t have time to make my normal morning coffee, so we decided to grab some coffee at the nearby Speedway where we had to gas up anyways.

I rarely buy coffee but I’ve really enjoyed Speedway coffee in the past so I was looking forward to enjoying a cup during the road trip.

However, this was not meant to be today!  My wife got the coffee while I gassed up.  She came out and we set off.  About fifteen minutes into the trip, I decided to take a sip.  I figured after fifteen minutes, it would definitely be cool enough even though it was in a Styrofoam cup.

Wrong!

The coffee was HOT!  Not just a little bit hot but we’re talking tongue burning hot.  So hot that if it had been accidentally spilled, it would have probably burned me, bringing back memories of the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit of the mid-1990’s.   Luckily, I didn’t take but a couple of drops in my mouth as I’m always leery of the temperature of hot drinks, and I didn’t spill, so no lawsuits for me.

Still, I got HOT myself and not from the coffee.  I was fuming mad.

The coffee was so hot that I knew, even if it was able to cool off, that it would most likely be disgusting.  See, I’m not a coffee snob by any means, but my biggest pet peeve is coffee that is warmed up so much that it gets scalded.  I knew that’s exactly what happened here.

It took over an hour of driving before I was able to even sip it.  And, sure enough, it had been scalded.  Yuck!  I managed about half of it just so I could get my caffeine fix, but couldn’t stomach anymore.

I wrote Speedway an e-mail letting them know of my bad experience.  They replied back saying that they’re “looking into it”.  I’m not hoping for anything more than a coupon to replace the cup of coffee that was so bad, and maybe a note to the manager of the store instructing them to dial down the temperature on the coffee pot warmers.

I have no idea if I’ll hear from them but if I do, I’ll keep you posted!

UPDATE: Speedway responded to my complaint in quick fashion and made a great gesture to ensure that they keep me as a happy customer.