Merry Christmas Eve to all my friends and readers of Associate Money. Hope you guys enjoy the turkeys, chocolate puddings, gift exchange and a great holiday ahead.
As 2011 beckons, I am disappointed that the economy is not out of the doldrums, despite whatever benefits Ben Bernanke has been telling us about Quantitative Easing. The nascent recovery is not in the employment market and money is still in short order for most Americans.
Our family is still saving for a rainy day and the austerity mood will likely prevail in the new year.
I believe inflation will come up strongly in the next couple of years. Without salary hikes to catch up with inflation, is it possible to stretch our food budget and buy the same stuff for less money or rather lesser purchasing power?
I’ve found some great ways of stretching our groceries so that I can make the next shopping trip go a little bit further. Here are some useful food shopping tips to try:
1. Eat less.
Yes, I know this sounds really obvious. But it is true, we can afford to cut down on our portion sizes by around a third without feeling hungry. Already, Americans are struggling with obesity issues because we love to upsize our food.
Going for smaller portions save money and is more healthy. You shed extra pounds without signing up for gym or diet pills.
2. Avoid Junk food.
This is probably old advice. Nutritionists have been talking the ills of junk food for a long time, and I am not here to debate with the experts. Junk food (burgers, potato chips, cookies, etc) can be quite expensive and burst your food budget easily if you have a habit of snacking while you are working or watching television.
Avoiding junk food and snacks(processed food) will save you money.
3. Add extra ingredients to your meals.
This may sound contrary to our objective of maximizing the food budget. After all, adding extra ingredients cost money. But it is possible that with extra ingredients, your meals actually go further.
For example, if you add pasta and leftover food to soup, a snack can become a full meal with nutritional value for the family. Pasta is cheap and leftover meat and vegetables don't add to your shopping bill.
4. Dress up your leftovers.
There are always leftovers in our family. We don't go out of our way to portion the food for each member. And we also find it more economical to cook in bulk, ie. not only for a single meal.
I know some people have an aversion to leftovers thinking it is unhealthy. But that is a waste of money and not environmentally friendly.
Leftovers can be dressed up to look like freshly made food if you are creative enough. The rice from yesterday meal can be transformed into fried rice by throwing in a few eggs for today's dinner. The chicken fillet can also be made into a pie for the weekend.
5. Use up everything.
There could be a use for everything. Hence, don't throw away any food, unless they have turned rotten. Many meals can also be bulked up by serving them with a bread roll and the remaining food can be placed in the freezer. Just defrost them as needed during the week.
After trying these tips, check to see how long is it before you make another trip to the grocery store and make purchases again. I am sure you can stretch your food budget and head to the store a lot less often.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Merry Christmas Eve to all my friends and readers of Associate Money. Hope you guys enjoy the turkeys, chocolate puddings, gift exchange and a great holiday ahead.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Saving money is by no means glamorous but don't be put off by the coupon clipping or money pinching just to save a buck.
You have to sacrifice a luxurious lifestyle to reach your financial goals but when you see a balanced household budget and observe that you are making headway in setting up a retirement nest, you will feel all the sweat is worth it.
I am not a very motivated person by nature. My wife has called me lazy at times. So when it comes to saving money, it is a wonder I persevered for so long.
Here are some effortless saving money tips which any lazy person can implement before going for tougher measures. These methods are set-and-forget and you can keep more cash in your pocket without depriving yourself:
1. Get dining and shopping rewards
If you use credit and debit cards regularly, remember to get cash back or rebates for eating at participating restaurants. No coupons or gift certificates necessary.
When you go shopping, use a rewards card that pays you back, preferably in cash. Then shop and reap the rewards. You can compare cards online at such sites as CardRatings.com and LowCards.com.
2. Join a credit union
Yes, you love to spend beyond your means but that doesn't mean you must pay exorbitant interest rates. Almost everybody qualifies for a credit union, and they usually have lower fees and loan rates than traditional banks.
3. Use retail loyalty cards
Sign up for a card at frequently visited supermarkets and retailers. Then shop as usual and watch the savings and goodies pile up. Often you don't need to carry the card. Cashiers can usually look it up by phone number.
Or, combine loyalty-card bar codes with such tools as CardStar, mycardstar.com, which has smart phone apps and a wallet-size card via a partnership with KeyRing Thing.com.
4. Buy store brands
Reach for the house brands. They're so much better than they used to be; no coupons or comparison-shopping needed. Or peruse the weekly supermarket specials.
5. Get browser add-ons
Several Web browser toolbars and plug-ins can help you save money shopping online. An example is GetInvisibleHand.com. Its toolbar is hidden until you visit a product page. Then it appears and tells you whether this is the best price or where you can get it cheaper. It doesn't include shipping, but it's passive price comparison for the truly lazy.
6. Pay online and automatically
Online and auto-pay options can save money, especially by preventing late fees. Buy fewer stamps and envelopes, which is a hassle and expense. You might get a discount through online payment or automatic bank withdrawals.
7. Raise your retirement contribution when you get payraise.
You won't notice the difference. And if you do it online, it might take one minute. Repeat every time you get a raise.
8. Raise your thermostat 1 degree
Up in the summer, down in the winter. You won't notice the difference, but over time your wallet will.
9. Use energy saving bulbs
Replace your five most-used nondimmable lights with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and save 75 percent in energy costs. Lazy people will appreciate CFLs as you won't have to replace them as often as incandescent bulbs due to 10 times longer lifespan.
10. Shrink your spending
Billshrink.com is a good comparison site for wireless phone service, credit cards and savings account rates, but it's also convenient for tracking gas prices. It will send you an e-mail alerting you to the lowest-price gas on your commute.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
The holiday season is round the corner and this is usually a time when we let our hair loose and loosen our purse strings too. However, when the credit card bills come in, the music stops and we are brought back to reality.
To eliminate festive season hangover, why not create a household budget? Keeping track of your expenses can reduce household conflicts and stressful nights. Creating a household budget is easier than you think and can provide quick insights into your financial position.
As we are all about saving money, I don't encourage the use of expensive applications. My favorite application is Excel spreadsheet (or Google Docs which is free). You can create expense and income columns in a matter of minutes and updating is a breeze.
Here is how you can create a quick and easy 4-step household budget.
STEP 1: List Down Monthly Expenses
a. The basic necessities, such as mortgage or rent, utilities (gas, electric, water/sewer), transport, medical expenses and groceries.
As the expenses may fluctuate, you can estimate how much you will be paying over 12 months, and get a cost average for each item per month.
b. Security And Insurance. This will include items which provide security and peace of mind like health insurance, life insurance, auto insurance, and home insurance.
c. Non-necessities. This list includes things that you want, but don’t need, like internet access, cable television, phone, entertainment, etc.
Step 2: Create a List of Income Sources
You should list only take-home income here. Don’t include things like tax credits or bonuses for a more conservative outlook. For the self-employed, consider averaging what you make over the year and starting out with extra savings for those lean months.
Step 3: Evaluate your Net Income or Loss
Take your income and subtract your expenses. If you are in the black, that puts your financial position ahead of many of your peers. You can put the extra money into a Roth IRA. If you max out a Roth IRA, invest the rest in mutual funds, stocks and bonds.
If you’re in the red, you have much catching up to do. Move on to the next step of prioritizing your expenses.
Step 4: Prioritize and Re-balance
A personal budget allows you to cut back in areas to free up more cash.
Do you need the ultimate cable, cell phone or internet package? Do you need 2 cars in the garage? Do you really need a car when you could bike to work? Do you need 7-8 credit cards in your wallet? Do you need to stay in such a big house?
You should also shop around for the best deals to save money. For your insurance, request for at least 3 quotes on each of your insurances per year to evaluate if you could save money by switching insurers.
There are so many items to look at when you want to priortize your household budget. The only thing is to put in effort and start looking.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
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.
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.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
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.
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.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
My kid loves to visit the amusement parks during the summer holidays. This is part of a reward which we promise for his achieving of good grades and no doubt, it is an enjoyable family outing.
However, amusement parks can wreck havoc on the household budget, especially when your kid insists on return trips. Due to my wife's indulgence of our kid's petulance, I have to learn the hard way on saving money at amusement parks, from discounts on admissions to minimizing food expenses.
I will start off by researching Internet specials and coupons in newspapers. I may even call the amusement park to ask about special deals if I don't see any on its web site.
Alternatively, you can also check with your employer to see if they have a corporate discount rate for local parks. My former company has such a tie up which turns out to be extremely popular for employees with kids.
There are also special deals at gas stations, fast food chains and products which offer discounts to amusement parks. If you plan to visit more than once, a season pass pays for itself in less than two visits.
I usually avoid the big theme parks, for good reason. Regional amusement parks are cheaper, have much shorter queue lines and more discounts for locals. Some amusement parks forgo gate receipts and allow us to buy tickets for individual rides, unlimited-ride wristbands or discount packages.
The day and time you visit can also affects ticket prices. If you arrive in the late afternoon, you could pay less (or maybe get the next day free for some attractions). If you want to avoid the crowds and the sun, visiting the amusement park in the evening may be a good idea. Most are open on weekends until 10 p.m. or later.
Our family don't like to stay overnight but if you have a good time at the amusement parks and plan to explore further, you should find out if the attractions offer discounts for multi-day visits or when you packaged your accommodations and admission tickets together.
As for saving on food, I must say this is one of the biggest bugbear for a trip to the amusement parks. If the park allows picnicking, bring your own drinks and sandwiches, else it will cost a bomb to eat at the cafes.
Otherwise, you should stake out the amusement park for special food deals like all-day, all-you-can-eat buffets, discount meal plans or perks for an extended stay.
It's also cheaper to purchase a big $10 souvenir plastic cup with unlimited refills (more than 1 person can drink out of it) than to buy $5 sodas for each thirsty kid four times on a hot day. You can bring the souvenir cups back for refills on your next visit, too. Alternatively, just carry a water bottle to refill from drinking fountains, which is what we do.
Individually priced games and attractions inside the park add up. If you're on a tight budget, be firm with the kids: No souvenirs, no games or arcades, no add-on experiences like the $10 Bungee jump.
Tell your kids beforehand that you want to splurge on a day at the park, but you can only afford it if they promise not to ask for extras. This will cut down on whining as well as expenses.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
It is a simple business fact that wholesalers profit from buying in bulk and the bigger the purchase, the stronger their bargaining power. Well, normal shoppers can also save a hefty chunk of change from buying in bulk too, but of course, our discounts are not in the same league.
To save money from our grocery shopping, we have to first get disciplined. A trip to the grocery store is anything but simple. An impulse trip can quickly add up to a huge bill, even more so if you go grocery shopping when you are feeling hungry.
Don't go to the grocery just hours before you cook your dinner. You could end up bursting your budget when you cannot resist all the delicious gourmet food decked before your eyes.
A single purposeful trip can save you time, gas, and of course, money. But before you embark on your bulk shopping, make a list of all items, from your routine toothpaste to vegetables and chicken fillets.
Go to the store and take notes of how much you normally pay for each item and the current price per unit. Once you have your shopping list and prices written out, it is time to compare costs. Often, buying in bulk should give you a discount but there could be exceptions. So, having an understanding of market prices prevent any rip-off.
The best places to sniff out are your neighborhood warehouse clubs. Sam's and Costco are great bulk shopping stores. If there are no nearby warehouse shopping clubs, you can still enjoy savings from buying in bulk at grocery stores.
Meat is one item which my family pick up in large amounts, usually at a savings of a few cents per pound. Though that sounds little, those savings add up when buying ten pound packages several times during the year.
Besides the conventional brick and mortar stores, you can also do some bulk shopping online now. Stores such as Amazon are offering a grocery section where you can buy bulk groceries and have them shipped to your home.
Amazon even offers free shipping on orders of $25 or more for eligible products and has an option to set your selections to be delivered on a schedule of your choosing. However, you must still check out the price per unit of each item to ensure that you are really saving money.
Shopping in bulk is a really great way to reduce our grocery expenses and save money. The hardest part is to form the habit of preparing a list, after that, finding the best buy becomes very simple.
Knowing where to shop and buying in bulk has reduced our grocery expenses by about 40% as compared to those days when we just bungled into grocery stores and make impulse purchases.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Much wealth has been destroyed and earning money is difficult in this recession. Just reading this CNN report that the job loss figure is the worst since 1945 has left us shell-shocked. Let's face it, the days of easy credit is over, thanks to the financial crisis sparked by Wall Street.
In its aftermath, I believe many Americans have started paying more attention to their money, including loose change. In the past, I was one of those people who do not give a second thought to pocket change and just leave them strewn around the house. If they are misplaced, so be it.
But since my family devised our first household budget, there is more organization to our money habits. We keep a little jar on top of our kitchen fridge where we dump our pocket change from whatever transactions of the day.
The amount of money in the change jar accumulate over time and come in handy when we suddenly need cash and the banks are closed. I’ve tapped the change jar more than once when my wallet was empty to pay for parking at the subway or our monthly newspaper subscriptions.
The idea of a change jar is very simple but it can be powerful in saving money if you keep up with it. Instead of dumping excess pocket change into a vending machine or spending on mindless items, I keep it in my pocket.
In fact, I have gone as far as to keep a lookout on the ground. If I see money lying around, even if it is just a penny, I instinctively pick it up and toss it in my pocket. On some days, it can be pretty rewarding.
Some of the best places to look are at drive-through windows and coin return slots in vending machines and pay phones. If you happen to be near one, check and see if there’s any change and if there is, keep it snugly in your pocket to drop in the jar later.
Don't worry about feeling embarrassed. Just think of it as clearing the street of some litter. Every little bit helps and it takes almost no effort at all. When I arrive home, the change are all placed into the jar, where it remains at least till the week or month.
On average days, I have about 50-75 cents in my pocket but sometimes, when I get lucky, I get about $2 of change to contribute. This means that I usually have around 15-25 dollars in the jar at the end of each month, which feels like “free money.” It’s a simple and effortless way to build up our personal savings.
If I find no particular use for the money in that month, I just drive to the bank and deposit the jar contents into our joint account. From there, I usually deposit it into a high yield savings account that will earn interest on my accumulated change.
Try out this method and when it becomes a habit, you will notice that your savings just grow without you thinking much of it.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
We are trying to cope and in our monthly review of the family budget, we are tackling electricity bills aggressively as it occupies a substantial percentage of our expenses.
For two months now, we put in place certain measures and though there are lots of uneasy adjustments to make, we are comforted by the declining utility bills each month. In fact, I will say that the more effort we put in, the greater the sense of satisfaction.
Besides saving money, we are also doing our part to conserve our environment. Much of our electricity is created by coal burned at power plants. Each time we use electricity, we emit pollutants, and leave behind a ravaged environment for our children.
If you want to reduce expenses on electricity, here are a few tips for you to consider.
1. Electric Heater
Instead of running your electric heating system during winter, you could use space heaters to warm only the rooms you are using instead of the entire house. A space heater costs less than $100 and will save you over $1,000 per year.
Another way to turn down your heater is to seal up your windows, doors, and any other place where heat is escaping.
Windows can be sealed with weatherstripping, or with shrink wrap kits that you can purchase inexpensively from the home improvement store. The "plastic shield" around the window traps the warm air and keep out the cold air.
You can also turn your ceiling fans on low, or aim a small fan at the ceiling to circulate the air and prevent the room from becoming too stuffy. Fans do not require much electricity to run.
2. Washing Machines
The main cost of a washing machine is not so much the actual operating power but the amount of money you spend heating the water. Wash your laundry with cold water instead of hot, and save $180 a year or more.
Fluorescent lighting is the way to go. The new energy efficient light bulbs allow you to save 30 or more watts per light bulb, and around $90 a year in electricity costs.
They will also last longer than traditional incandescent bulbs, so for situations such as emergency lights where having the light on at all times is critical, go florescent.
Don’t forget the visually impaired either, in addition to traditional emergency lights, you’ll also want a good set of braille exit signs to cater to the blind and to meet state and federal regulations.
When you’re not using your computer, put it in “hibernation mode” and you’ll save around $60 a year on electricity. Also, if you still have the old style monitors, upgrade to an LCD as they use less electricity.
There are many ways we can all do our part to cut down on electricity costs. Not only will our bank accounts thank us for it, but the environment will, too.
Friday, January 2, 2009
Once in a while, I take my family out for dinners at restaurants. My wife can take a well deserved break, and we spend some quality time together without thinking too hard about our finances.
And no, we don't go for Michelin restaurants where they serve exquisite dishes like foie gras or Kobe beef.
But it has been nearly a year since I stepped into any restaurant. This recession has really tightened our belts and cooking at home has proven to be an effective way to save money. If nothing else, you are already spared from all the tips and expensive drinks.
A lot of people don't realize that the secret to solving money woes lies in the kitchen. While value meal deals costing $2 and cheap upsizes in fast food restaurants make prepared food look expensive, the truth is that eating in is always better for your budget and health.
An Indian curry meal with ingredients and rice may cost $20, but don't forget that we can easily extract four portions from that $20, with extra ingredients left over in the cupboard. The next time I cook an Indian dish, it will be "free," so purchasing ingredients are definitely better investments than eating out.
And on days with special sales, we can even squeeze in fruits or fruit juice from the $20 food budget, which makes the meal more nutritious.
If you are ready to step into the kitchen, here are some tips to prepare you for your home cooking:
1. Focus on healthy dishes for mealsTry to avoid popping cakes or cookies into the ovens every day. To eat in a healthy and frugal manner, we should first take care of our core nutritional needs for breakfasts, lunches and suppers.
If the fridge is already stocked with a few days of food, then celebrate by cooking something special, brownies or muffins, say.
2. Never Do Without EggsEggs are the "great equalizer" for those who are pinching their pennies. While eggs are way up in price, they're still great value for money. Eggs contain high level of proteins but go easy on the egg yolk which contains chlorestorol.
Try to fit in eggs for one night a week eggs. It could be supper or breakfast. Trade off making omelettes, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, frittatas, more. We keep our kitchen well-stocked with eggs as they are just so many ways of cooking it and they blend well with any ingredients.
3. Don't Get Confused By Long Lists of IngredientsGetting a recipe book will be cheaper than ordering pizzas, provided you don't cook gourmet meals.
Choose a basic cookbook to begin — for example, Australian Women’s Weekly range, or you could even try this bestseller: 4 Ingredients by Kim McCosker and Rachael Bermingham.
There are more than 340 recipes using four or less ingredients. This is now our kitchen bible, just imagine how much money and time we save by focusing only on four ingredients?
4. Extract all the valueWhenever we cook, there will always be leftovers or by-products. Say, when we cook bacon, we save the fat in a jar in the fridge - it adds great flavor to stews and eggs. Another example is leeks. After whipping up a delicious plate of leeks with braised meat, we save the unused green parts to make our soup of the day.
On another day, we may have roasted chicken for dinner, and for supper, we just dump the carcass into a pot with sliced onion, celery, carrots or potatoes to make chicken stock. If everybody is feeling full, then just save the carcass for another day. Place it in a freezer bag and freeze for cooking on the weekend.
5. Eat for freeGet one more meal from what's on hand. It might well be an odd meal, it might even not be that tasty. But it's 'free' because if we shop and refill the fridge before all those odd bits are gone, chances are, they'll go to waste.
There are more money management tips but for now, take the first step and try out home cooking for a week and see if your family finances improve.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
She is a die-hard fan of Oprah Winfrey (who isn't?), hence the regular subscription to Oprah Magazine. For your information, the half-inch, monthly "booklet" for women does not come cheaply but as I mentioned before, we do allow some indulgences in our household budget.
But ever since my wife is retrenched, she is slowly coming over to the idea that magazine subscriptions are non-essential items which should not exist on a smaller household budget.
I am actually less concerned about the magazine subscription fees than the content. It is alright if you just read and chuck the magazine aside but what if you are enticed to buy from all the ads inside. That will surely burst any household budget.
And Oprah Magazine has a nice chunk of ads that tells you what to buy if you want to look good, rejuvenate, or stay healthy. I waded through 50 pages of advertisements before I got to the text of the actual magazine.
The text is not devoid of temptations either. It recommends stuff (thanks to the helpful editors), that is cool or must-own for a family... heart shaped pillows, classic necklaces, interior design accessories, etc.
My wife is also told what kind of fashion items that are "in" this season. The satin dresses looks stylish in every wardrobe and those in our closet are a disgrace (by the article's standard).
The price for the satin dress is a cool $1800. If ever a dress like that is bought, I could be having only plain sandwiches and water for lunch every day of the month.
Thus, I have always told my wife that we need to cut ourselves off from all these magazines. In this way, we resist strong pressures to purchase, all in the name of following current fashion trends or looking cool and youthful. What for??
It requires immense self-discipline to balance a household budget when all the temptations are laid before your eyes. Remember, we humans are impulsive animals. Fortunately, my wife has self-restraint. Sure, she give into the pressure once in a while, but mostly on low-priced items, and never on a $1000 evening dress.
But now that she is willing to forgo her subscription, I am more than happy. Our household budget is safe from "adverse influences" and guess what, our house can finally look more tidy without all these magazines lying around.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Are you often short of funds soon after collecting your pay? Does it feel like you pay and pay but yet you are nowhere near clearing your credit card debt?
Most likely, you do not have a household budget.
Ok, so what is a household budget and how does one make a budget?To put it simply, a household budget is a money plan for you to organize and achieve your financial goals. If you are constantly out of the money and your household debts are mounting, you need to pen down a budget right away.
As parents, we have the responsibility of allocating the family’s funds and making sure there is enough to go around. If we cannot exhibit financial discipline, then it is almost impossible to impart the right money values to our children.
Below are some steps which you can adopt in formulating a practical household budget.
1. Sit down with your spouse and plan a household budget together. List down what your joint financial goals are…long term and short term.If you want to get organized, there are many online budget forms available. Just use any search engine and type in “free budget forms.”
2. Cut family overhead to the bare minimum. Do you really need the $500 romantic dinner every week and expensive coffee at Starbucks? "Keeping up with the Joneses" is not cool if the quality lifestyle is built on debts.
3. Make reasonable allocations for food, clothing, shelter, utilities and insurance. A household budget is not a financial starvation diet where you deprive yourself of basic needs.
4. Allow yourself some pampering in the household budget. This will be for your entertainment, relaxation, recreation, vacations and gifts.
Working hard all year round and not taking appropriate breaks to re-energize or buying gifts to reward yourself is too taxing. Frankly, not the kind of household family budget which I will adopt and I try hard to preach what I do.
5. If you have spare cash for investments, allocate them according to short term and retirement needs.
I use a simple Excel spreadsheet and then check monthly how and what I did as compared to my plan. For a more detailed budget, you may want to try MS Money which can even give you your personal financial statement and analysis.
On a final note, remember that any successful household budget will require you to consider savings first before any spending. Remember “Pay now, enjoy later.” Even a small amount saved will edge you closer to your long term financial goals.
There are two major ways to increase savings. One is to actually save and scrimp on available funds, and the other is to increase your income.
Which method do you think is easier to save money?
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Are you entrenched in debts or surviving on payday loans? You should start on a household budget soon, if you don't want creditors banging down your door. For that budget to work, your household members have to be in total agreement.
Money conflicts happen when you are a frugalisit while your spouse loves shopping and racking up credit card debts. Creating a household budget is meaningless as it won't work, instead there will only be nasty quarrels and fights.
Before you get a household budget going, here are some steps which you can implement.
1. Discuss Money Management Objectives
Take a seat at the kitchen table and get a piece of paper ready. Make a list of long-term money management objectives that both of you agree upon.
It can be getting out of debt, contributing to a college fund for the kids, or bulking up on a retirement fund. Alternatively, you may want to save up for seminars, courses, training which could raise your earnings power.
2. Start Working On The Household Budget
Once you tabled the objectives, start working on the household budget. Decide how much you need to save monthly to meet your objectives. Then, subtract this from your monthly income to see how much you have left over to spend.
Next, subtract your “secured” debt. Typically, this would be your mortgage payments, car payments, or any loans secured by an asset such as your house or vehicle.
The last part is to analyze your other expenses and unsecured debts. For example, your clothing, transportation, food, membership fees, spa treatments, credit card debts -- as these are the usual areas where you can make cuts.
Once again, reach a consensus on where those reductions can be made. If your spouse loves fashion; clothing and shoes are her lifeblood. You know the rest of the story when she is not happy with the way you broach this sensitive topic.
3. Find A Compromise
Compromise on the household budget as it is unlikely that you achieve your objectives straightaway. Arrive at a spending limit which your spouse agrees is fair, even if it is some way off your desired figure. Then, look for another category where you can make cuts to get your final household budget number down to where it needs to be.
4. Make Fortnightly Reviews
Sit down with your spouse twice a month to review your household budget to see if the goals are achievable. You will find that you're under in some categories and over in others. Don't worry about making adjustments at this time. Just make notes as to where you need to buck up.
5. Be Flexible And Make Adjustments
After the first two months, you should know where you've been spending more than you budgeted and where you've spent less. The two of you can then discuss what adjustments you need to make. There should not much arguments since the objectives are agreed and the household budget created together.
The important thing is to keep the discussions from becoming accusatory. If one of you has been the “household budget breaker,” it's better to ask “it looks like we've got a problem here, what to you think we can we do to fix it?” then to say, “you really screwed up this time.”
What can you do if you or your spouse just can't control his or her spending and keeps busting the household budget, month after month? Unfortunately that's an issue that probably needs the work of a good marriage counselor.