Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Money Quote: Money Never Made A Man Happy

Money Quote: Money Never Made A Man Happy

“Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.”

- Benjamin Franklin

This is the first of many money quotes which I will be discussing. Benjamin Franklin, a man of many talents (statesman, scientist, writer, philosopher and Inventor) made the above statement, which I absolutely agree.

Indeed, the more money you have, the object of interest becomes meaingless. Making money becomes merely a game to accumulate more zeros in your bank account.

At any one time, a man can only clothe himself with a shirt and pants and sleep on one bed. He needs only three meals a day for sustenance and a roof over his head to protect against the elements.

Everything else is a want and not a necessity. I am sure you are going to tire of having delicacies like abalone, lobster, caviar, wagyu beef every day of the week.

Having too much money, say from a lottery, can turn your life upside down and before long, you will be begging for the tranquility and privacy when they were average Joes.

Troubles start knocking on your door in the form of dubious friends, investment scams, vices, decadent lifestyle, breakup in marriage, fighting among your children for inheritance, etc. Many people end up poorer, financially and emotionally, after the circus came to an end.

I am contended with having just enough money to be self sufficient and not super rich.

What do you guys think of money? Do you really need more money than you can ever spend in this lifetime?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Learn To Survive On A $100 Grocery Budget

My family shops frugally and sticks to a grocery budget of $100/week. For a week of food supply, it is a comfortable budget and we usually spend less than that.

However, I am surprised to know that many people often exceed this amount when they grocery shop. I guess they end up with a cart full of random items while walking down the aisles but they don't amount to much in terms of nutritious and filling meals.

Learn To Survive On A $100 Grocery Budget
You can always buy that caviar but you won't have much left for other food. Even offered at half-price, delicacies are out of our league. Unless it is Christmas or Thanksgiving, or you won't see any delicacies in our grocery bags.

Here is a list of essential tips which have enabled us to stick rigorously to the $100 grocery budget.

1. Never leave home without coupons.

We never head to the grocery stores without bringing along coupons - they can really make or break our grocery budget. Though we are coupons addict, we are not swayed easily by temptations from coupons to buy more expensive branded items.

Use coupons wisely by doing online research, checking out grocery fliers, and matching coupons with items you need. Most stores will accept coupons even if the items are on clearance.

2. Research recipes to get healthy and cheap ingredients.

I know healthy and cheap may sound like strange bedfellows. How can we have the best of both worlds?

It is true that a lot of the cheap food is unhealthy. For example, meat sold for less than $1 a pound is often fattier, or not fresh. But that doesn't mean healthy food is always expensive.

These food are always on our grocery shopping list: in-season fruit, beancurds, dried beans, eggs, salmon, chicken fillets and ground beef.

3. Write down a list.

Web sites like CookingLight, and SparkPeople are wonderful resources for healthy free recipes and snack suggestions.

You can identify suitable recipes and stock up the ingredients in your freezer. Write out a list of these items you want for your weekly menu before grocery shopping. You can breakdown the list into categories including fresh, packaged and frozen to keep you from running all over the store.

Lists are essential to keep us focused during grocery shopping and also prevent wastage as we have planned for all ingredients to be used up.

4. Buy in bulk.

Before you go and grab whatever you see under the pretext of buying in bulk just to save time (making the trip, waiting in line) at the grocery shop, I have to remind you not to buy more than you can eat fresh in a week or so.

My neighbors buy a lot of food during his grocery shopping and stuff his fridge choke-full but the problem is they don't know what they have after a while. They end up cleaning out the fridge and dumping food which have gone bad every week. This is a pure waste of money.

However, learning how and what to buy in bulk can help you save lots of money while keeping your fridge stocked with veggies and fruit.

Buying items in bulk lowers the price you spend per unit drastically compared to supermarkets. The following items are great staples to keep in your pantry and fridge so that you always have food in your house.

* Frozen meat and fish - most retailers offer plenty of bagged options for meats and fish like chicken breasts, tilapia, salmon etc.

* Frozen vegetables - broccoli, mixed veggies, corn, spinach and potatoes don’t go bad for a while and are always a healthy snack or side dish in a meal.

* Fresh fruit - strawberries, apples, oranges - you can easily freeze the strawberries if you are worried about them going bad, and they make great additions to smoothies that won’t water them down.

* Fresh Vegetables - mushrooms, spinach and asparagus.

* Bread - usually offered in packs of two, freeze one loaf until you use the other. Just place in your fridge overnight to thaw or pop in your toaster.

* Canned goods - soups, vegetables, fruit, sauces are easy to keep, last forever and when mixed with the right condiments or recipe, can be delicious.

* Packaged Goods - cereal, snack bars, minced garlic, chips, trail mix, nuts, yogurt and even sandwich meat and cheese (usually in packs of two, freeze one till you use the other)

5. Keep a price book.

All the smart frugal shoppers keep price books, where they note down the best price they can get for any given item. That is what we have been doing since we started balancing our household budget.

We examine our receipts at the end of the week and get a rough estimate of the prices for the things we buy the most: cereal, milk, eggs, chicken and produce.

This goes beyond comparing prices in that store and on that day. Instead of buying the cheapest meat available, I may not buy any meat on that day if the price exceeds what we have in mind.

Try out the following tips and let me know if you can survive on a $100 grocery budget. You can slowly whittle it down if you are starting off from a high level like $200 or $300 weekly budget.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

How To Save Money On Phone Bills?

Whether it's a cell phone or a landline, we have grown so accustomed to them that we fail to notice if we are paying too much every month.

Most people are paying about 16 or 17 dollars more every month than is necessary. In fact, the CUB says last year, Illinois callers overpayed their phone bills by more than a billion dollars.

That figure certainly caught my attention. No wonder phone operators love their cash cow and are reaping in profits regardless of recessionary times. But I am not keen to sponsor the fat bonuses of these executives.

How To Save Money On Phone Bills?
Since we are already struggling to get by on our income, why not save money on phone bills? It is easy to accomplish because unlike other utilities, phone customers have many choices available.

If you have a cell phone and hardly receive calls at your home line, then the latter is surplus to requirement, especially when the only time it rings is due to cold calls from advertisers. However, handphone batteries do run out and you don't want that in an emergency.

The less drastic approach is to keep the land line but terminate other services like "Number Portability" or "Universal Service." Also, don't bother wasting money on Caller ID or call waiting if your handphone is the main mode of communication.

Now that you have cut out the frills, zoom in further into protection services. Check if "Equipment Maintenance Protection" is on your bill. Phone companies will like you to use this service as people tend to forget about its presence. But the EMP's cost is not justifiable since retail prices for phones are so cheap these days.

Next, you can eliminate "Inside Line Protection" from your account. Line Maintenance may be a good idea if you are going to move in to a new place, but if there are no problems after a month, go ahead and axe that item. You'll save over the long run without it, even if you do have to pay for a service call.

For those who use their landline regularly, cutting out the frills may instead inconvenience you. Hence, I recommend that you sign up for a suitable package of features. But before committing, you should ask your sales rep to give a dollar for dollar comparison.

Sometimes, best value doesn't always mean cheaper and may not be appropriate in your case. For example, you don't need a long distance carrier but the best value package gives you free LD minutes. Even if there is a dollar value of $5 to $10, it is sitting idly in your account every month.

I will rather go for pre-paid LD cards to make a call on the go. The rates on those cards can range from 0.03 to 0.05 cents a minute if purchased in a $20 increment. When you get low on minutes, just recharge the minutes on the card.

There is no need to buy phone equipment from the phone company. Installment billing options may be attractive, but in general the phones they offer are overpriced. In my case, I get phones for my family at Wal-Mart.

Finally, read over your bills every month. I guarantee you will find surprises from time to time (hidden charges, unknown overseas call, etc) and you must immediately clarify with your phone company.

By implementing the above steps, you should be able to save as much as 15-30 dollars a month, or around 200-300 dollars a year by cancelling some services.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tips To Pay Your Bills On Time

I have a friend who told me he is stressed out whenever he opens the mail box because it is swarmed with bills all the time.

I was quite surprised that this guy who gets his andrenaline rush from car racing and bungee jumping is freaked out by the monthly bills. From what I know, he is single, has a steady job and doesn't spend lavishly, so his finances should not be a concern.

The main reason turns out to be his disorganized lifestyle. He told me he is already tired after a hard day's work and has no energy to attend to the bills.

So whenever he brings his bills home, they are strewn around the house (some on the kitchen table, floor, dining room, bedroom, etc) and they get buried under subsequent newspapers and letters.

Not surprisingly, even when he remembers his bills, locating them is a chore and eat up more of his time and energy. Clearly, treasure hunting is not his favorite past-time so he ends up paying up the late bills, after being issued reminders and penalties.

I guess my friend isn't alone in this situation. There are many people who get antsy from their stack of bills and cannot motivate themselves to dig in and tackle them.

Tips To Pay Your Bills On Time
Well, avoidance is not going to help matters and you end up paying more money. Here are some tips to make bill-paying easier:

1. Process Bills Immediately

Don’t let your mail sit for more than a day. Go through all the mail and have a rubbish bin ready. Keep the letters from friends or relatives, if you want. As for junk mail, credit card offers, magazine subscriptions, the bin is there or you could recycle them. Finally, the bills - pay them right away.

2. Place Your Bills In A Designated Place

Sometimes, we have pressing matters to handle and do not have time to process the mails. That is ok. Just have a designated place for all your bills.

For me, it is on a shelf in the kitchen (easier to take out whenever I have family discussions on the budget). You have to ensure all the bills are kept properly for your future reference. A lost bill runs the risk of late fees and I don't like paying more than is necessary.

3. Designate A Time To Pay Bills

For the procastinating types, expecting them to process bills right away is a fantasy. But at the very least, you have to pay your bills once each week.

Just designate a time, weekend will be good. You can choose a Sunday night before sleeping, flip open the check book, write the checks, review your bank balance and pay the bills.

4. Prepay your bills

Since you are going to take effort and time to pay a bill, why not do it for two or three months in one shot?

The cost is about the same as paying month by month but if you are the forgetful type, you avoid the chances of missing a payment. When you prepay bills, I do assume you have the spare cash though and not living from paycheck to paycheck.

5. Set Up Automatic Payments and Pay Bills Online

Set up automatic payments and consoliate your bills whenever possible. Also, nearly every major utility and bank now offers the ability to pay your bills via the web. Some even offer small discounts for using this service! Online payment is more convenient too as it saves you the trouble of walking to the post office.

6. Reduce Unnecessary Bills

Do yourself a favor by terminating services or subscriptions you no longer desire. It is not only a waste of money. You don't have to deal with the bills.

7. Ask For Lower Rates

If you haven't done this for credit cards, now will be a good time to start. You can save a huge chunk of money simply by calling and asking for a better deal.

8. Paying Bills Immediately Is Fun

When I pay my bills right away, I get such a kick it is kind of fun. The main thing is that it is a load off my shoulder as I am paying off a debt and not beholden to anybody.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Compilation of EzineArticles #1

I really have to apologize for not having enough time to update this blog as frequently as I will have liked.

Here is a compilation of my articles which I have submitted to EzineArticles. If you have some spare reading time over the weekend, just take a look and leave some comments.

1. How to Save Money on College Education and Get Free Tuition?

2. A Practical Survival Guide to the Recession

3. Five Tips to Achieve Debt Elimination

4. Writing a Financial Plan on Your Own

5. Online Coupons Turning Tide Against Traditional Couponsc

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Save Money By Reducing Waste

President Obama is poised to rally Americans to act on global warming by highlighting life-altering consequences in a long-awaited scientific report on climate change.

The report, produced by scientists at 13 government agencies provides the most detailed picture to date of the worst case scenarios of rising sea levels and extreme weather events.

Just imagine floods in lower Manhattan; quadrupling of heat waves deaths in Chicago; withering of California vineyards; disappearance of wildflowers from the Rockies; and extinction of Alaska's polar bears.

Global warming is indeed a very serious issue. For years, environmentalists have promoted the benefits of protecting our environment through creating less waste and recycling.

In addition to preventing land dumps from being filled quickly, another important benefit to reducing waste is, of course, to save money.

Save Money By Reducing Waste
Here are some methods which we can implement to protect Mother Earth:

Use Paper Towels

I know paper towels are convenient - just use and toss them aside. But to protect the environment, it is time we replace disposable paper towels for reuseable rags and washcloths.

Place some rags in the kitchen for messy spills and to wipe up the mess after cooking. A clean washcloth will also come in handy for wiping the children’s hands and face after their meals. You will definitely save a lot of trees in the process.


Reduce your water bills by filling up buckets with rain water to wash your car and watering plants in the garden.

You can also fill up the cold water from your shower faucet in a bucket for washing the toilet while you wait for the water to heat up to the proper temperature.

Laundry Detergent

Detergents require far less soap than you think, so keep a close eye on the measuring lines in the cap of your detergent.

The manufacturers will, of course, prefer you to use more detergent but it makes little difference to having clean clothes.

My wife use a quarter cap of detergent for a normal load of laundry, instead of the usual half cup or more. We have extended the lifespan of a bottle of detergent but still get clean and nice-smelling clothes.


Stop handing money to utilites company money for phantom electricity usage. Unplug your electronics when not in use. So long as they have a digital clock or lights, electricity is still being drawn. If taking out the plugs is too troublesome, at least hit the on/off switch.

You can replace lightbulbs with the energy-efficient version, and use task lighting rather than overhead lights to reduce energy consumption. Finally, a no-brainer: turn off the lights when leaving a room.


Many people heat up their homes more than is necessary. Actually, you won't notice the difference by turning the heat down a couple of degrees but you save on your electrical bills.

You can wear warmer clothes like a sweatshirt to reduce the heating in your house. If you’re still cold after wearing warmer clothing, then raise the temperature higher until you find the perfect temperature.

Remember that the money you save while reducing waste can be used to start or add to your existing savings account or investment plan. So do not procastinate and implement the above tips today.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Saving Money at the Pump

Saving Money at the Pump
Price Chopper and Sunoco have announced a new program aimed at helping you save money at the gas pump.

You will only be able to get the discount at certain Sunoco stations.

The points can be accumulated for the groceries you buy over a 90 day period and cash in your discount for up to 20 gallons of gas.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Save Money By Cleaning Our Air-Conditioners

Oh my, this summer is sweltering hot and I won't be surprised if people are turning on their air-conditioners full blast. Unfortunately, there is a price to pay in seeking a reprieve from the unforgiving heat.

Save Money By Cleaning Our Air-Conditioners

If you are not careful, the monthly electrical bills can jump up by at least 15-30% during summer. To save on energy costs, it is important that we inspect and clean the central air conditioning system regularly.

The basic concept behind air conditioners is to push warm air past chilled coils. If those coils are dirty or clogged with dust/debris, it means greater energy is needed to get the air through and your system has to run longer to reach your thermostat settings.

This reduction in air flow also inhibits dehumidification, which decreases your comfort level.

A clean central air system will improve air flow and heat transfer, making your air conditioning more efficient. We can then save money on energy bills while extending the lifespan of the air conditioning system.

I try to visually inspect and maintain my air-conditioning system at least once a year and I recommend that you do it yourself to save money. However, if you are really busy (or lazy) to clear dust and debris from your ducts, then engage a professional.

Here is a video to help you out.

How to Clean Your Air Conditioner -- powered by ExpertVillage.com

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Throwing Your Kid's Party On A Budget

There are several parties which we throw in our house each year, ranging from Christmas, Thanksgiving, our wedding anniversary to our child's birthday.

We take pride in making our child's birthday party a truly joyous and enjoyable event but parties for young children do not come cheaply, as we realized much to our dismay when our child had his first birthday. There were several screw-ups but the worst mistake was the cost management.

Throwing Your Kid's Party On A Budget
I have read horror stories of parents spending $10,000 to $25,000 for their child's birthday party and though our expenses came nowhere near, it was still an eyebrow raising $5000 for our first foray.

We have learned from the experience and can now throw parties for our child without breaking the bank. All it takes is some creativity and effective planning to get a fun and memorable party going.

The main purpose is not to compete with other parents in having the "perfect" party. If you are interested in showmanship and spend lavishly without thinking about what your child really likes, then you only end up with a hole in your pocket and an unappreciative kid.

Here are some tips to put you on the right track to organizing a successful party:

Set A Budget For The Kid's Party

The first step is to determine how much money you can afford to spend on the party. Once you arrive at a number, stick to it. If you have a shoestring family budget, consider cutting other discretionary items or “entertainment” for the month and channel that money into organizing the party.

I know when it comes to a party, the more people the merrier. However, I am generally not in favor of inviting too many people.

I tend to limit the invitations to close friends and relatives, not just because of the cost of food catering but rather, "crowd control" is challenging with many kids running around. An unpleasant event like fighting or injury can ruin your happy mood.

Use dollar decorations

I don't mean to decorate your house with dollars or to achieve the decorations with a single dollar.

Instead, you should shop for party decorations at your local thrift or dollar stores. There are great deals on paper plates, silverware, games as well as decorations like balloons and cards that will make your party look great and fun without costing a bomb.

Don't neglect the library too. It is a useful resource with plenty of free treasures. You can find recipes for birthday cake and finger foods (which you can then prepare together with your child and save a major expense) or rent DVDs and play them during the party.

Party food for the kids

Many people blow their budgets on food. Actually, that is not so important in a kid's party. They will be more interested in games and their friends. Instead, it is the parents who are more worried about the type and quantity of food that is available.

Hence, spending on abalones, lobsters or caviar is unnecessary. Some simple kid-friendly foods that you can consider are hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, pizza, cookies, fruit punch and of course the birthday cake.

Plan Multiple Entertainment

With food out of the way, you can now focus on the entertainment. This will be important to keep the kids occupied and knowing that they have very short attention span, you will require a bit of creativity here.

It is important to have multiple things going on at one time: board games, a face painting station, a movie playing in the background. Kids get bored easily, so when you offer more than one activity, you are likely to keep all of them happy and entertained.

Remember most kids just want to have a good time with their friends and loved ones. Going over the top and maxing out your credit cards for a day of celebration is foolhardy.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Extreme Frugality: Meet the Carters

You've read W. Hodding Carters Extreme Frugality series; now get to know the author and his family in this video.

Find out what they like and dislike about their new frugal lifestyle, and learn the authors grand ambitions for the family's garden.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Tips To Set Up Children Savings Accounts

The savings rate in America is deplorable. Needless to say, it is difficult to teach children the importance of money management when adults themselves don't see the merit of saving money regularly.

Tips To Set Up Children Savings AccountsMy steadfast belief is that saving habits inculcated early makes a world of difference when it comes to managing money. Good money management (saving money regularly, balancing the budget, and not having excessive debts) don't come naturally to most people but practicing from a young age helps.

You can start a modest, old-fashioned piggy bank or a savings account for your kids to train their discipline in saving a portion of everything they “earn”, as well as show them the rewards of careful money management.

Children savings accounts do not differ much from adults. One popular savings option for children is easy access accounts which enable you to withdraw money instantly without penalty.

If you desire higher interest rates and have no immediate need for the money, you should choose fixed term or bond accounts where the money is locked up for a period of time, say for one to five years; or until the child reaches a certain age.

There is no minimum age restrictions for children savings accounts. Right from their birth, you can open a savings accounts in your child's name. In fact, some local banks view baby announcements in newspapers and send congratulatory messages with information on children savings accounts.

Most parents will manage the savings account until the child reaches a certain age. When your kid is 18 years old, the account will usually be converted to an adult savings account, or a student checking account.

Just as with adult accounts, banks will offer special gifts or incentives for opening a child savings with them. However, you should not open an account just because the gift is attractive. A child's savings account is a long term decision, so examine the interest rates and other benefits before making the decision.

My child is already well drilled in the importance of good money management. He enjoys saving a portion of his pocket money and seeing his piggy bank get heavier and his savings account "balloon" every month.

It makes our work so much easier when he doesn't find the idea of saving money repulsive. Instead he is motivated to track his own money.

I believe this money management skill will help him negotiate the financial pitfalls in life. Hopefully, he will be able to avoid many of the debts situations that people are facing in today's easy credit environment.