Tuesday, October 31, 2006

ER Tips for Fiscal & Physical Health

I once had a horrible reaction to a sulfur-based drug that was prescribed for me during an emergency room visit.

Why was I in ER?: A pounding headache that became unbearably painful over a weekend and outside the realm of normal doctor's hours.

Diagnosis: Bad sinus infection.
Costs: Don't ask. I was tested and X-rayed for several ailments. I was grateful for the attention, but can you say: Ka-ching!!!
Lesson: I should have gone to my primary care doctor before the headache became so awful.

But without health insurance many people use Hospital Emergency Rooms for basic medical care. And even those with insurance often make unfortunate trips to ER.

Parade magazine recently printed a series of informative ER Tips for better mental, physical and financial health. Here's my summary with a few helpful links.

1. Preventive care. Avoid ER by taking care of chronic conditions or minor aches before problems become serious or life-threatning.

2. Timing: If you're using ER in place of a primary doctor, pick the best times for ER visits for sore throats, flus and other low-grade health problems. Avoid Monday mornings...too busy; too many germs. But other mornings are best for getting in and getting out quickly.

3. Call an ambulance for life-threatening or possibly serious emergencies. Ambulance arrivals have 2 benefits over walk-ins or personal car arrivals: 1) Immediate care from professionals during transporation time; 2) Ambulance cases usually receive faster ER care upon arrival.

4. Tell All: Don't hold back; give the triage staff the complete rundown on your ailments, accident/illness details and medical history.

5. Get names & complete IDs of staff: Stay informed about who is providing you with ER care. Don't be shy about asking for the attending physician or the chief resident.

6. Bring a friend: Bring your own advocate to help you take notes, ask questions, provide information and to stay calm.

7. Be Vocal; Be Polite: Respectfully request prompt care, attention and explanations if you feel neglected or overlooked.

8. Bring data: Come prepared with all digits and documents that you need: including the name of your doctor, health plan number, past history and a record of allergies to different medicines.

Personal note: My mother, I later learned, has the same sulfur-drug allergy and I now mention that allergy in every medical siutation.

--source of Tips: Parade Magazine Oct. 29, 2006 issue

And finally: check your records and bill. My parents have spotted major errors on their medical bills and I wrote about it here. Likewise Five Cent Nickel has also written a series on billing and medical costs.

Tuesday Tip: Strange Uses for Butter

From removing glue to coating pills, there are many unusual uses for butter. As part of my regular Tuesday Tip series, I found the following alternative uses for butter in two sources: Woman's World and Reader's Digest:

*Glue Removal: To take glue from your hands, rub them with butter before washing them down with soap and water.

* Gum from hair: Apply softened butter to the locks. Bubble gum will glide off without a tug-of-war.

*Easy Swallow: Cover pills with butter to help the medicine go down.

*The Cutting Edge: Coat a knife with butter before slicing through sticky items such as dried fruit of a gooey pies.

*Tree Sap Removal: Shaded Parking disaster? Dislodge sticky sap by rubbing on a pat of butter with a micro-fiber cloth or other soft material. Wipe until the butter and the sap are gone. No scratches.

--Source: Woman's World

What about a butter-based dry hair treatment, an anti-mold cheese recipe, emergency shaving cream, or fishy smell removal? Reader's Digest has these alternative butter uses.

My Favorite Tip:

Soothe aching feet
To soothe tired feet, massage them with butter, wrap in a damp, hot towel, and sit for 10 minutes. Your feet will feel revitalized … and they'll smell like popcorn too. -- Reader's Digest

Monday, October 30, 2006

Super Shopper Finds $1,200 in Free Stuff & Gets Banned from Stores

Many stores have policies about granting free-bates for mispriced items. Here's the deal: Shopper finds mispriced item & shopper gets item for free. On one very productive and profitable day, Alana Lipkin, a shopper from the Boston area, found at least $1,200 in mispriced merchandise that she scored for free.

Her usual shopping trip yields about $200 in free stuff. Now a few of the grocery stores in her local region have banned Lipkin from their aisles. Lipkin, age 45, is a single mom with two kids.

Alana Lipkin walked out of the Shaw's Supermarket here last week with 12 items -- everything from a Kodak disposable camera to Neutrogena hand cream -- all for free. -- Bruce Mohl, Globe Staff reporter

At a Shaw's in Ashland recently, Lipkin said she snared products worth more than $1,200. Her car is filled to the roof with shopping bags full of cups, sponges, toys, candles, and hand creams -- all obtained for free.

Meanwhile, here is a rundown of her strategey, which offers pointers for all of us:

* She shares the wealth with friends, and uses the barter system. She trades for things she needs.
*Lipkin searches and hunts for mispriced items.
*She stockpiles products.
*Lipkin does her homeworks and knows her prices.

Banned and Called a Shoplifter

The stores have retaliated by 1) calling Lipkin a shoplifter and 2) accusing her of switching labels on products.

Stop & Shop Supermarkets three years ago notified Lipkin she would be arrested for trespassing if she entered any of its stores. Shaw's sent Lipkin a similar letter Aug. 10, which she received shortly after the Globe accompanied her on one of her shopping trips.

``We do that with any customer who becomes disruptive in our stores," said Judy Chong , a spokeswoman for Shaw's. --Boston Globe report

I read about the story in a recent issue of People magazine. I received a batch of recent issues for free over the weekend. A good friend has a subscription and when she's finished reading, she passes the copies on to me.

Another blogger Cheap Chica (thecheapchica.blogspot.com) read and blogged about the story also. And here is the link to the Boston Globe Profile.

****Edited Update & : repair. I have fixed the link to the Boston Globe. Thanks Amy!

Finding a Home for Found Money

Found money -- unexpected cash -- arrives in many forms. From a forgotten $20 bill recovered from a pocket to a surprise year-end merit raise, our budgets are periodically fattened with cash from unusual sources.

But not everyone uses found money prudently. Stories about rags-to-riches-to-rags lottery winners are common. Like air conditioning blowing through a top-down convertible, our funds often disappear.

About 41 percent of Americans use their spare cash to pay off debt, including credit cards and loans, according to a recent ACNielsen survey. Thirty-eight percent stash spare cash in savings accounts, followed by entertainment (28 percent), home improvement (27 percent), new clothes (26 percent) and vacations (25 percent). Survey participants were allowed to select more than one option, but only 14 percent placed spare cash in investments (stocks and mutual funds), or retirement accounts (13 percent).

What is the best use for spare cash and found money, I asked Ellen Siegel, a Miami-based financial planner. Her answers surprised me. Bottom line: Your use of spare cash depends on the size of the bonus and the health of your financial and emotional accounts.

''So much of this conversation is about emotions,'' Siegel said.

An honest audit of your spending habits will determine if surprise cash should be used to pay off credit card debt or boost retirement or savings accounts. For instance, if you are a compulsive shopper or an ''emotional spender,'' seeking an instant feel-good lift from new merchandise, you should think twice about applying windfalls to pay down credit card debt, Siegel says.

If you plan to maintain a low or zero balance, then the money is wisely applied to your outstanding credit card balance. This strategy works well for consumers who face a credit crunch due to one-time events such as a job loss or family illness. In those situations, paying down credit card debt, especially high-interest cards, will liberate a large portion of the monthly budget.

But for undisciplined spenders, a maxed out credit card balance effectively closes one shopping avenue, whereas a newly liberated balance may create a new license to spend. Siegel recommends that compulsive shoppers divide windfalls between long-term savings and retirement accounts, while making monthly credit card payments.

Meanwhile, a small bonus -- such as a $25 birthday check from a relative -- may fit best in your memory account, Siegel suggests. She recommends a dinner out or some other treat.

''If it's small and can't make a difference, just enjoy it and create a memory,'' Siegel says, adding: ``Or give it away.''

Here's more advice on handling windfalls from Your Hard- Earned Money and Get Rich Slowly.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Weekly Round-up Post-its

From milestone goals to a spirited debate about Starbucks, there's a lot of good reading in the personal finance/frugal world. Here are a few of my favorite posts:

Consumerism Commentary has an insightful piece about the dangers of being penny-wise and pound foolish. Flexo makes good points about preventive medicine, using an accountant and wasting time.

Frugal Girl provided a thoughtful piece about setting goals for her 30th birthday, early retirement and building $2 million in savings. There are also very interesting comments from other bloggers and readers.

No Limits Ladies has a super post on losing $1 million on a company contract, but how lessons from that mistake saved the company lots more in the long run. It's a great read that applies to us all. I've had painful lessons that have yielded long-term dividends.

Starbucks is expanding in China. Mighty Bargain Hunter has an interesting piece about the ongoing expansion of Starbucks. Last week, I also wrote a piece about robust Starbuck earnings and I received some insightful comments about why Starbucks is so popular. Who knew sipping coffee at Starbucks could be a frugal choice?

Mapgirl has a good post about lessons we can pull out of work. She includes a link to Madam X who also posted commentarty about the work vs life balance.

Melisa Neuman -- my best frugal friend forever --has a terrific post about strategies for handling bait-and-switch sales.

And as always, I'm a big fan of Dumb Little Man, who offered this cute post on de-stinking your home. I love his daily tips in the sidebar, which are constantly updated with financial, household and general living info.

Friday, October 27, 2006

CPA Survey: Gen Y Crushed by Debt

Net worth is down, savings have dipped, and debt has spiked. It's not a pretty picture, but that's the snapshot of Gen Y consumers (ages 25-34) captured by a recent survey from a non-profit accounting trade group.

The average credit card debt balance:$4,088; the student loan average: $20,000, with an average of 24 percent of income going to overall debt payments.

Here is a quick overview of survey results.

· The median net worth of Americans in the 25 – 34 age group is significantly lower than it was 20 years ago, despite increases in income: In 1985, it was $6,788; in 2004, it was $3,746.

· The number of people in this demographic maintaining an interest-bearing savings account is declining, from 61 percent in 1985 to 47 percent in 2004.

· There is an increased willingness among Americans in this age group to acquire unsecured debt: The average level of debt in 1985 was $3,118, whereas in 2004, it climbed to $4,733.

Saving money on a small budget is possible. I like the money savings tips from MP Dunleavey of MSN Money.

Her tips include adopt a veggie diet, stash away found money, do-it-yourself dry cleaning, increase your insurance deductible and never pay full price.

I also like the money savings tips from Meme, 93-year-old woman, who passed down a savings legacy to her granddaughter.

Survey credit:
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants www.aicpa.org commissioned two economists from Beacon Economics of Los Angeles to conduct the survey the personal finance habits of Gen Y consumers.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Lots of Lattes: Sipping Starbucks & the China Expansion

Cutting our addiction to expensive take-out coffees, (lattes, frappes & moccas) is the flavor of the month in many frugal circles, including mine. The rationale: save $600 to $1,000 a year, (before compound interest) by reducing our intake of expensive caffeine treats at Starbucks and the other frothy caffeine shops.

Are we really cutting back? Honestly, I don't think so. Somebody out there is sipping lots of lattes. Just look at the recent financial reports percolating from Starbucks, a publicly traded company on Nasdaq (SBUX is the ticker symbol).

Revenue (sales of coffee and other Starbucks merchandise) is up big time, according to company report.

For the 52 weeks ended October 1, 2006, consolidated net revenues were $7.8 billion, an increase of 22 percent from consolidated net revenues of $6.4 billion for the same period in fiscal 2005. Comparable store sales increased seven percent for the 52 weeks ended October 1, 2006, compared to the same period ended October 2, 2005, marking the Company’s 15th consecutive year of five percent or greater comparable store sales growth.--Starbucks company report

Translation: Somewhere, somehow lots of somebodies are buying lots of take-out or sip-in-store coffee.

The robust flavor of the global coffee business has prompted Starbucks to increase its operations in China through a major buyout.

"We are now poised to expand rapidly in this important region two years before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.” said Jinlong Wang, president, Starbucks Greater China.

Personally, I think Starbucks is a quality company, with an admirable community service program and decent benefits packages for its employees. I even hang out at Starbucks cafes as an occasional treat and I’m a fan of their new music & coffee high-tech stores.

But every-now-and-then treats are one thing; I don’t need to be a regular contributor to the Starbucks bean-counting grind of $7.8 billion in revenue over the latest 12-month period.

I’ve got my own bottom-line issues to worry about. I’ll brew my own coffee, with a few weekend lattes for good behavior. Or maybe a shot of espresso after work as a little bonus or when I'm stressed out and need a fix. Or maybe, I'll just stop grinding my money.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Seeking Help with Print Article: Convenience vs. Cost Debate

I'm writing a print article about the tug-of-war over potential savings and convenience.

Where do you draw the line? When is it worth it to go the extra mile to save money? At what point do you decide that your time is worth more than the potential savings?

Please leave a comment addressing those issues or email me at Sharonhr@bellsouth.net. Please also answer the survey featured below.

My deadline is tomorrow morning. I will give credit with full attribution, including your site/blog address if I use your ideas or quotes.

The article will appear in the newspaper during November.

How do you balance cost vs convenience?
Saving money matters most in nearly all of my transactions
Convenience matters most
When pressured for time, I don't care about price tags
I'd walk a mile to save a few dollars
I try to strike a balance between cost and time
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Selling the Clothes from Your Back to Make Ends Meet

Sometimes, it takes additional income to bridge the gaps in the family budget. Surprisingly, consignment stores represent a viable source of revenue for many families.

Children’s clothes, castoff suits, furniture and other items represent a potential source of funds, according to local and national experts in the consignment industry. With a prudent eye and a little time, your closets, garage and deep storage areas could yield valuable merchandise for resale at consignment stores.

Cash from Castoffs

“It’s almost like a second source of income,” said Lynn Rachel Garber, owner of Rachel’s Rare Finds in Cooper City.

To stock her store with a wide variety of merchandise that ranges from $10 garments to a $6,000 sable coat, Garber shops at estate sales. But most of the garments on display — about 90 percent — are consignment items placed in the store by families looking to earn extra dollars from designer suits (for men and women), diamonds, shirts and every-day garments.

Splitting the Profits

In most cases, Garber evenly splits the proceeds of the sale with the seller. However, for more expensive items, she offers sellers a higher cut on a case-by-case basis. Nationwide, consignment stores typically pays the consignee 40 percent to 60 percent of the selling price. Other stores—called “resale shop”—will buy furniture and clothing directly from owners and then place those items for sale.

“It certainly is a wonderful way for people to turn their clutter into cash,” said Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Association of Resale & Thrifts Shops (NARTS), an industry trade group that educates and assists consumers and retailers involved in the resale industry. “Resale is the ultimate in recycling.”

It’s a high-growth market for vendors and consumers. Nationally, there are over 20,000 second-hand shops—consignment, resale and thrift stores—in the nation and the number of outlets expands about 5 percent a year and the resale industry has become a multi-billion annual business, according to data from NARTS. Through consignment sales, mom-and-pop consumers can directly participate in that trend and clean house.

Hot Sellers

Furniture sales represent one of highest-growth segments of that market. That trend is driven by college students, young families and empty nesters(as buyers and sellers of second-hand furniture.) Other popular segments of the resale market include clothing for teens and men.

If you’re looking to cash into this market, here are a few NARTS suggestions for reselling merchandise through consignment and resale stores:

Selling Tips

1) Carefully evaluate consignment/resale stores. Ask about stores policies, commissions, payment schedules and customer base.

2) Become familiar with seasonal trends in merchandise.

3) Make your look appealing. Clothing should look and smell clean. Furniture should be polished and dusted. Make small repairs to enhance the value of the item.

4) Stay in contact with the shop and keep a list of items that have been placed for consignment.

Tips & Money from Dead Celebs: Cobain tops Presley in Forbes Ranking

Passive income, prudent sales of business stakes and estate planning take on new meaning in the recently released Forbes ranking of top earning deceased celebrities. Those are a few of the lessons, I've gained from the annual Forbes Ranking of Life-After-Death Income.

For the first time in the six-year history of Forbes Dead Celeb Income ranking, Nirvana's deceased lead Singer, Kurt Cobain, topped Elvis Presley from the No. 1 spot of the Forbes chart. The estate of Cobain -- who committed suicide 12 years ago -- pulled in $50 million over the last year.

Forbes attributes the growth in Cobain's estate to the recent sale of 25 percent of Nirvan's catolog of songs by rocker Courtney Love, Cobain's widow.

What I've learned from the Cobain/Love Transactions

1) Passive income is important for the living and the dead.
2) It's important to leave a legacy and property for heirs.

Love's sale of the rights came even though Cobain himself was famously anti-commercial, once wearing a T-shirt on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine that read ``Corporate Magazines Still Suck.''-- Bloomberg.com report on Forbes article.

Frugal Duchess Lesson:
1) Stay flexible
2) Sell shares prudently
3) Read corporate magazines

Meanwhile, the estate of Elvis Presley, pulled in $42 million, down from $45 million in the 2005 Forbes ranking. The source of the drop in revenue: fewer projects.

Frugal Duchess Lesson:
1) Maintain a steady supply of projects
2) Second-place is OK.

Other Money-after-Death Forbes ranking:

Charles Shulz (Peanuts creator) $35 million

John Lennon, (former Beatle) $24 million.

Estate of Ray Charles, $10 million,

Other estates of dead celebrities that earned more than $7 million according to Forbes were physicist Albert Einstein, artist Andy Warhol, children's-book author Dr. Seuss, actress Marilyn Monroe, singer Johnny Cash, author JRR Tolkien, Beatle George Harrison and Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley.--Bloomberg.com

Link to Bloomberg story about Money after Death story

Frugal Celeb Wheels: Keith Richards bikes; Rachel McAdams takes bus

Biking is a frugal way to get around. Keith Richards bikes around London, albeit without a helmet. (A no-no, especially after his head injury.)

I'm not a biker and I'm not a celebrity. But several times a week, I'm driven around town in a long stretch veheicle operated by a uniformed driver, who politely opens the door for me. Apparently, actress Rachel McAdams, uses the same frugal limo service.

Hello Bus Driver! I support public transportation and I applaud this photo (from US magazine) of actress Rachel McAdams waiting for a bus. Public transportation is cheap, green and time-savvy.

For $1.50 a ride, I catch buses in Miami. During bus rides, I read, organize and relax. Of course, in South Florida -- a car-crazy, sub-tropical stretch of highway -- my bus riding habits are often viewed with humor, pity and bemusement.

As a former resident of Manhattan -- where public transporation is widely used and widely accepted -- I'm puzzled by the class divisions over public transportation in South Florida and other areas of the country.

Relative to public transportation, driving is an expensive form of commuting. This cost of driving calculator (from the Seattle Monorail Project) is a great tool for tallying driving costs.

Meanwhile, I view my bus commute as a luxury. I let other drivers spin expensive wheels.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Why I Don't Order Pasta; Why I Don't Pay Full Price

This is the wholesale vs. retail price story that I wrote for the The Budget Fashionista's excellent series called: Being Broke Ain’t Cute. Public thanks to BF for including me in the mix.

Don't Overpay for Luxuries

Eating out is a pleasure and I enjoy being served. But I have trouble ordering
pasta in restaurants.

I don't suffer from wheat allergies and I'm not pasta phobic. I just know
better. You see, as a young professional in New York, I worked in a few
Manhattan restaurants and I know the cost of a pasta dish. Dressed up in
sauce, cheese and Portobello mushrooms, noodle entrees cost less than 50
cents to make, but were sold to diners for $8 to $12 a serving. (My boss
loved to brag about his pasta profits!)

Armed with that knowledge, I am a cautious diner and I eat for value. What's
more, I try to apply that same logic to my clothing budget. If pasta sells
for hundreds and hundreds of percentage points higher than costs, what's the
real deal with clothes?

For answers, I checked into an employee complaint blog of a major discount
retailer. The inside story: Most clothes on a rack are sold at markups of
at least 100 percent over the wholesale price, according to the cyber-chat
of two retail employees. What's more, they estimated that the retail markup
at high-end stores was as much as 500 percent to 1000 percent. Ouch!
Suddenly, I have a new view of end-of-season clearance sales. Bottom line:
Even with sharp discounts (60 percent off), most stores pull in tidy

While window-shopping through wholesale catalogues, I found trendy tops for
$5 and $6.50 each and hot, hot jeans for as low as $10 a pair. Of course,
you have to buy in huge bulks, with credit checks and shipping charges for
wholesale buyers.

And that's on a wholesale level. How much does it actually cost to make
shirts, purses and other body trinkets? Not surprisingly, most of those
items are produced in low-wage labor markets in developing countries,
according to textile industry reports.

Production costs were recently analyzed in an economic study from the
University of Massachusetts-Amherst and University of Cape Town. Those
findings and other industry data were featured in a labor report from the
Workers Right Consortium, a labor group:

Casual Shirt (for men) made in Mexico
Labor costs: 50 cents;
Overall factory costs: $4.45
U.S. retail price: $32

Knit Shirt made in the Philippines
Labor costs: 69 cents,
Overall production costs: $8.00
Wholesale price: $20
Retail price: $44

Embroidered Sweatshirt made in the Dominican Republic
Labor costs: 45 cents,
Overall production costs: $6.34
Wholesale price: $15.78
Retail price: $35

Now consider prices from TheCost of Living Extremely Well Index from Forbes. How much does luxury cost? Here are a few answers:

$190,000 for fur coat: "Natural Russian sable, Maximilian at
$1,875 silk dress from Bill Blass
$410 Gucci loafers

The production costs for many high-end items are often within the same range
as lower-priced goods -albeit with significantly higher marketing and
advertising costs and budgets.

As for my budget, overpaying for luxury is like eating noodles in
restaurants or sipping a steady diet of gourmet coffee. Why spend $4 every
day for a latte that would cost you less than 50 cents to make at home? I
plan to choose my luxuries carefully.

Tues. Tip: Unusual Uses for Dish Soap

Liquid dish soap does more than just clean plates. I’ve scrubbed down pet stains from carpets, washed off pesticides and laundered fine garments in solutions made from dishwashing liquid.

Here are a few of my favorite uses, with links to sites with recipes.

Fruit wash: Expensive fruit/veggie washes and produce cleansing systems range from about $4 (for a liquid wash) to $200 (for an elaborate system), but Consumer's Reports recommends a mix of dishwashing liquid and soap to remove pesticides and other junk from fruits and veggies.

Likewise, many organic gardeners endorse dish soap solutions as a healthier option for insect control.Gardening Eden has many organic solutions.

Carpet Stain removal: I spent about $5 for a stain removal mixture for carpets. I should have done my homework first. I found several recipes using dish soap and water.Oregon Toxics Alliance also has great formulas for carpet stains & dish soap

Mrs. Fixit has recipes for using dish soap for window cleaner, microwave stain removal and garden protection.

And in a pinch, I've added water to standard dish soap and used it as liquid hand soap in the bathroom dispenser. It smells great and works fine

Monday, October 23, 2006

Matching Wits with Sharper Image: Frugal Options for Pricey Products

The November Sharper Image Catalogue is fun to read, but way out of my budget. And besides, I have a few no-tech/no(low)-cost alternatives to the high-tech, big-ticket items in the Sharper Image catalogue

For instance:

Store product: $19.95 buys you two antibacterial, air-tight milk and juice containers. Milk is less likely to go bad in those Tupper-ware like jugs.

Frugal alternative: Keep your milk in the original grocery store containers. At $2.50 a gallon, I’d have to spill out 4 gallons of milk before the “Fresher Longer Miracle Food Storage” milk/juice containers paid for themselves. Milk and juice evaporate far too quickly in my house for that product to be worth it for me.

Store product: $200 pesticide “sanitizing system.” Designed to clean harmful chemicals from fruits and vegetables.

Frugal alternative: Soap and water. A new shopping publication from Consumers Report recommends a home-made solution of diluted dish soap and water over the more expensive fruit washes on sale at grocery stores for under $5. I'm curious about Consumers Report's take on a $200 system.

Store product: $149.95 for “Desktop Weather station with MSN direct”
Frugal alternative: Basic Internet. During hurricane season in Miami, I go straight to the National Weather Service's site or I tap into weather.com. It’s free with my DSL bill.

Store product: $69.95 Motorized Power Tie Rack
Frugal alternative: Spin the hanger.

Store product: “$99.95 Fast Sort Digital Coin Sorter'
Frugal alternative: Customer service freebies. A few of our local stores and banks offer free coin-cointing services.

Store product: Wrinkle-Free Garment steamer $39.95
Frugal alternative: Take a hot shower, bring your clothes (on a hanger) into the steamed up room with you. Wrinkles fall away while you shower.

I would, however, buy the organization “For Dummies” system from Sharper Image.At $19.85 a unit, the low-tech storage unit (for closets and drawers) would work well for me. Or maybe, I'll get some cardboard boxes.

Eating Out with A Coupon: Mixed Savings

It was a modest meal to celebrate a small family occasion. To defray costs, my husband and I tapped into www.restaurant.com -- an online vendor of restaurant coupons -- to check out local discounts.

My test run provided insights about how we often mindlessly spend money when using gift certificates, coupons and other promotions. We saved plenty, but we also overspent during our recent dining trip. I plan to apply those lessons to other areas of spending.

On the positive side, I was quite pleased with the savings and dining options offered by restaurant.com. Our order was specific: My husband and I sought a kosher, vegetarian restaurant in South Beach and we found an excellent choice. For a fee of $10, we purchased a $25-off gift certificate, based on a minimum food purchase of $35.

Net savings: $15.

The online registration and purchase procedures were painless. The service accepts standard credit and debit cards or PayPal, a secure online financial service affiliated with eBay. Our gift certificate, with a coded confirmation number, arrived within minutes via e-mail.

The restaurant graciously accepted the coupon. Another diner -- who received a $25 dining certificate as a birthday gift -- also had a pleasant bill-paying experience.

The food was great; the service was fine. But we would have saved more if we had followed our usual dining-out procedures: Order sensibly and avoid expensive beverages. (At $2 to $3 per serving, a round of drinks can easily exceed the cost of an entree or salad).

Lured by the prospect of free dollars, we deviated from our habits and followed the advice touted on the gift certificate: ''Try a new entree! Order dessert!'' (Translation: Spend! Spend! Spend!). As a result, we ordered extra food because we mistakenly viewed every dollar as a gift.

Excluding the tip, our dining total was roughly $50, or just $25 after applying the coupon.

But a little voice in my head argues that if we had not ordered so many extra items, we could have eaten our cake and saved roughly $15 to $20.

But it's not the money, it's the process. Lavish spending often leads to more extravagance. I packed that lesson into the doggy bag that we carried home.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

My Favorite Post-its: A Blog Roundup

Here are some of my favorite posts from this week.

Enough Wealth offered a thoughtful rebuttal to my humorous piece about six ways to trick yourself into saving money.

Blueprint for Financial Prosperity has a great post about how to operate a successful personal finance blog.

Single Mom has a wonderful piece debunking popular anti-savings myths.

I like the post from Free Money Finance about how millionaires keep a tight control on their spending habits.

The Budget Fashionista had an insightful series on Being Broke Ain’t Cute.

Friday, October 20, 2006

6 Ways I Scam Myself into Saving

I'm not a natural saver. I have trouble passing up sales, restaurants and manicures. But after a few reality checks bounced me on my designer-clad derriere, I started to get my act together.

It's a process, but I've developed a few tricks designed to increase my savings account.

1. Hide-don't-Seek: I literally hide money from myself. Therefore, doing laundry is like payday when I pull out twenties and fives from my pockets. I also have coins stashed away in little jars and drawers.

Bottom Line: If you don't see it, you can't spend it. This strategy works especially well for automatic payroll deductions, electronic transfers into savings accounts and 401k plan contributions.

2. Break the Bill: I use all of my big bills as much as possible. My purse is stuffed with lots of quarters and small bills.

Bottom Line: When I go shopping, I see all of that lose change and small bills and then think twice about buying anything.

3. The Break-the-Bank trick: Annoying banks and farflung, inconvenient credit unions are great for tucking away money. I especially love mean customer service reps, who treat me like fingerprints on a white wall.

I give them my money and then I'm too intimidated to go back for it.

Bottom line: It's great to save money at horrible institutions. The rates may be lousy and the service is poor. But my account grows because it's too much trouble to take the money out.

4. Duck-the-Flyer: How can I spend money if I avoid the weeky flyer of so-called savings? One week I saved over $30 at CVS and Walgreens on advertised specials. But I would have saved $50 if I had just stayed home. How many bottles of two-for-one hair goo do I really need?

Bottom Line: The best sales are the ones I don't see.

5. Cart-the-Check Around or Keep the Check in the Mail: I don't cash birthday checks or invoice payment checks right away. I hold the paper in my jewelry box or purse and then one day, I deposit the assorted checks into my savings account.

I know I'm losing interest on the money while the checks sit at the bottom of my purse. But if it's not liquid, it doesn't count. Lost interest vs reckless spending?

I'll take the uncashed check.

And my favorite trick:

Eat gourmet ice cream.

After spluring on high-end gourmet ice cream at my favorite sorbet shop on Lincoln Road ( The Frieze), I feel so decadent, so rich. Stuffed and chilled, I feel so over-indulged and I spend lots less.

Bottom Line: By fattening my waist, I fatten my bank account.

Spotlight: 93-year-old Saved String & Money

Is it really possible to save when you have very little? Yes! That's the lesson, I learned a few years ago from "Meme," an older woman who made feasts from leftovers. She used the syrup from canned fruit to sweeten baked goods. She even recycled birthday cards. But even on a very limited budget, Meme always saved money and shared her finances with others.

Here's her story as told to me by her grandaughter, Leah - a twenty-something mother from Miami. Leah lives by the frugal advice from her 93-year-old grandmother, Felisa Tzvia Linder, also known as Meme. Born in Argentina, Meme died a few years ago. Leah shared her story with me.

"She taught me that nothing needs to be wasted and everything can be
used," Leah said. "It doesn't mean that you're serving leftovers every
night. If you do it properly you can make beautiful dishes from odds and ends."

Recycling Canned Liquids

Her grandmother, for instance, used small leftover servings of fresh
vegetable salad to enhance a quiche or to spice up a soup. Likewise,
after opening canned fruit or vegetables, Linder would freeze and save the
clear juice from those cans. The liquid contents from the vegetables
doubled as a base for homemade soups and sweet juice/syrups were used to spice up cakes or compote recipes.

New Uses for Tea Remains and Bread Ends

With such sparks of creativity and frugality, Meme found uses for
leftover bread (bread pudding) and even, the remains of loose tea, which were
mixed with plant soil in the garden.

Saving String and Birthday Cards

And she never signed birthday or greeting cards, instead she placed her signature and private messages on pieces of paper that were slipped into blank cards. In that fashion, a single card could be used repeatedly and the personalized birthday message could be stocked away for safe-keeping. She saved string and threads (for small sewing jobs) and other odds and ends.

Shopped for Quality

Despite her thrifty ways, Meme believed in quality and buying the
best for her family.

"When she bought something she would always buys the best so that it
would last," her granddaughter said.

Generosity & Shoestrings

And above all, Meme was generous with her money. Whatever she saved
on juice and string, she offered to her children, grandchildren and great

"She taught me so much. When I'm making a recipe that she taught me, I
feel her working the dough," Leah said. "It's a real blessing."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Google Revenues Spike 92%; What About Payout to Adsense Partners?

With revenue of $2.69 billion, Google -- parent company of Blogger, Adsense and (proposed buyouot candidate) YouTube -- posted a 92 percent quarterly gain in profits and revenue on Oct. 19. A key source of revenue: growth in Adsense Program.

But is Google paying out as much as it's raking in?

Revenue from Adsense gained 54 percent according to a report from Reuters:

Google Network Revenues - Google's partner sites generated revenues, through AdSense programs, of $1.04 billion, or 39% of total revenues, in the third quarter of 2006. This is a 54% increase over network revenues of $675 million generated in the third quarter of 2005 and a 4% increase over second quarter 2006 revenues of $997 million.--quote from Google Press Release

But payments to ad partners did not grow at the same rate:

TAC - Traffic Acquisition Costs, the portion of revenues shared with Google's partners, increased to $825 million in the third quarter of 2006. This compares to TAC of $785 million in the second quarter. TAC as a percentage of advertising revenues decreased to 31% in the third quarter from 32% in the second quarter.
--Google 8K company filing.

Wall Street insights.

Google's growth rate is two to three times faster than its Internet peers: eBay Inc. at 31 percent and Yahoo Inc. at 19 percent and major software rival Microsoft Corp., which has revenues growing at about 10 percent.

"They are stealing share, which was expected for Google versus Yahoo, in paid search," Global Crown Capital analyst Martin Pyykkonen said. "Google's on full throttle." -Reuters report

Links about on Google Earnings
Reuters on Google Earnings
Google Earnings Press Release

Here's the actual news releaser from Google:

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - October 19, 2006 - Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) today announced financial results for the quarter ended September 30, 2006.

"Our third quarter results are a testament to the strength of our network of advertisers and partners, as well as our continuing focus on users," said Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google.

"We were particularly pleased with the contributions of our international business in a seasonally weaker quarter. In addition, we continued to forge significant partnerships with companies such as eBay, Fox Interactive Media, and Intuit that will be of great value to all involved."

Q3 Financial Summary

Google reported revenues of $2.69 billion for the quarter ended September 30, 2006, an increase of 70% compared to the third quarter of 2005 and an increase of 10% compared to the second quarter of 2006.

3rd Quarter Financial Highlights

Revenues – Google reported revenues of $2.69 billion for the quarter ended September 30, 2006, representing a 70% increase over third quarter 2005 revenues of $1.58 billion and a 10% increase over second quarter 2006 revenues of $2.46 billion. Google reports its revenues, consistent with GAAP, on a gross basis without deducting traffic acquisition costs, or TAC.

Google Sites Revenues - Google-owned sites generated revenues of $1.63 billion, or 60% of total revenues, in the third quarter of 2006. This represents an 84% increase over third quarter 2005 revenues of $885 million and a 14% increase over second quarter 2006 revenues of $1.43 billion.

Google Network Revenues - Google's partner sites generated revenues, through AdSense programs, of $1.04 billion, or 39% of total revenues, in the third quarter of 2006. This is a 54% increase over network revenues of $675 million generated in the third quarter of 2005 and a 4% increase over second quarter 2006 revenues of $997 million.

International Revenues - Revenues from outside of the United States contributed 44% of total revenues in the third quarter of 2006, compared to 42% in the second quarter of 2006 and 39% in the third quarter of 2005. Had foreign exchange rates remained constant from the second quarter through the third quarter of 2006, our revenues in the third quarter of 2006 would have been $19 million lower. Had foreign exchange rates remained constant from the third quarter of 2005 through the third quarter of 2006, our revenues in the third quarter of 2006 would have been $35 million lower.

TAC - Traffic Acquisition Costs, the portion of revenues shared with Google's partners, increased to $825 million in the third quarter of 2006. This compares to TAC of $785 million in the second quarter. TAC as a percentage of advertising revenues decreased to 31% in the third quarter from 32% in the second quarter.

The majority of TAC expense is related to amounts ultimately paid to our AdSense partners, which totaled $780 million in the third quarter of 2006. TAC is also related to amounts ultimately paid to certain distribution partners and others who direct traffic to our website, which totaled $45 million in the third quarter of 2006.

Net Income – GAAP net income for the third quarter of 2006 was $733 million as compared to $721 million in the second quarter. Non-GAAP net income was $812 million in the third quarter, compared to $772 million in the second quarter. GAAP EPS for the third quarter was $2.36 on 311 million diluted shares outstanding, compared to $2.33 for the second quarter, on 310 million diluted shares outstanding. Non-GAAP EPS for the third quarter was $2.62, compared to $2.49 in the second quarter.

My X-treme Money Tips from a Millionaire Teen Skateboarder

I think I'm hip, but my antics on skateboards and scooters really embarrass my kids. "Mommy, please don't ride the scooter to school," they politely plead. So now my agenda includes X-treme lessons -- financial lessons --from Ryan Sheckler, a 16-year-old millionaire skateboarding champ.

How lucrative is his business? During the second weekend of October alone, he made $75,000 over a two-day period.

Here are the money-making tips that I've pulled out of the sports pages: (a Miami Herald profile of Sheckler)

1) Keep the profit centers in the family or with trustworthy business ties.

Sheckler's father: handles Sheckler's website, which gets over 20 million hits a year. It's a very slick site.
His mom: his manager.
His grandmother: takes care of fan mail.

(He also has a hard-working agent)

My personal application: Carefully vet every business opportunity. Operate with people you trust. Keep the family in the loop.

2. Cover your trails with documentation

A personal camerman documents Skeckler's life, thereby creating a video trail that will be used for a reality TV show.

Application: Track finances. Stay up to date with paperwork, receipts, invoices and other documents (my main area of slacking). Take lots of pictures of the kids!

3. Cultivate sponsors; create your own brand

Sheckler represents several corporate sponsors and has his own line of jeans, sneakers and eyewear.

Application: There's nothing wrong with selling out as long as you're getting paid to have extreme fun.

4. Start your business plan early and stay committed

at 18 months: Sheckler tried skateboarding
age 4: acquired his own skateboard
age 7: began competing
age 13: turned pro

"I'm always training, always thinking about skateboarding."
--Ryan Heckler in the Miami Herald.

Application: Get up early. Stay up late and keep current on industry trends. But have fun. Work is an X-treme sport!

5. Network with other professionals: Reach out and reach high for mentors.

As a 6-year-old, Sheckler was successful in getting X-Games sports legend Tony Hawk to come to his birthday party.

Application: Constantly network with other bloggers and financial experts. Contact industry superstars and high-profile names. Hello Oprah! Hello Dave! Hello Ben Stein!

6. Apply good manners

At a recent X-treme sports event, one athlete used foul language, one athlete was missing and another had trouble speaking at all.

Sheckler, however, stood out according to a published report in the Herald:

"He answered questions the way he so obviously knows how: politely, smiling and showing humility," according to the article.

Application: Send out overdue thank you notes. Answer emails promptly and leave thoughtful comments on other blogs. Learn how to trackback (someone please tutor me on that art) and don't forget to link and roll.

Five Signs of Retirement Postponement Syndrome

Are you banking on selling your home or your business? Are you ensared in the financial T.R.A.P of "Tuition, Retirement And (related) Problems? Could you be the featured disaster in a reality TV show? Then you may be suffering from RPS, known as the "Retirement Postponement Syndrome."

Are you a victim of RPS? This syndrome is outlined in this piece that I received in my e-mail box.

Millions of Americans in their 40s and 50s may be suffering from "retirement postponement syndrome" (RPS) shortcomings that could end up robbing their golden years unless they take strong corrective action, according to a warning issued today during a national news event held by the Zero Alpha Group (ZAG) and featuring three financial experts.


What are the symptoms of retirement postponement syndrome? Which conditions put you at greatest risk of suffering this financial malady? Based on their experience in dealing with hundreds and hundreds of clients, the experts at the financial advisory firms that make up the Zero Alpha Group have identified the following five key warning signs of RPS:


If you are counting on the sale of your home or small business to bail out underfunded retirement savings and investments, think again. As recent months have illustrated, home prices can be mercurial. In addition, a home may sit on the market for months or even longer before being sold, often at a reduced price. Small business owners who rely heavily on selling their firm at a handsome profit or making a smooth transition via a family succession take a big chance on coming up short on their retirement nest egg.

That approach is just as risky as the executive who works for someone else and has too much tied up in the stock of the company that employs him or her. You should have a diversified investment portfolio that spreads out the risk by avoiding overconcentration of your wealth in the single "basket" of your small business.


Many Baby Boomers had children later in life than their parents did ... and others started a second family in their 40s or even early 50s. Both of these parenting circumstances can put even the most diligent saver and investor in the T.R.A.P.: Tuition, Retirement and (Related) Problems.

Boomers in their 50s and early 60s with children heading off to college risk seeing their retirement savings substantially depleted at the worst possible time. With some private colleges costing $25,000-$30,000 a year or more for tuition, room and board, many parents who have failed to allow for such costs are forced to put off their retirement dates.


If your retirement plan is predicated on the notion that your living expenses will go way down, you could be making a classic mistake. Financial advisors know that spending by retirees (particularly Baby Boomers) often does not go down. In fact, such spending often surges as people realize they finally can travel and engage in the hobbies they never had the time to do while working.

Unless you are the rare person who could be content reading library books and watching basic cable TV reruns for 20 years, don't base what you save and invest for retirement on the assumption that your golden years will be your penny-pinching years.


More and more Baby Boomers are finding themselves saddled with medical and housing expenses for aging parents. Investors in such a situation are said to be in the "sandwich generation," particularly when they are also confronted with paying for college or other expenses of one or more children.

In 2005, 71 percent of Baby Boomers aged 41-59 had at least one living parent, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. That was up considerably from 1989, when only 60 percent of Boomers had a living parent. The good news is that you can look down the road and anticipate well in advance if you are at risk of getting "sandwiched" in this fashion . and then plan your saving and investing accordingly.


All too many parents with children returning to live at home after college - or never leaving home in the first place! - end up saddled with their own "reality show"-like headaches.

Irresponsible adult children can mean such major savings-draining expenses as lavish second or third weddings, gambling debts and the cost of dealing with drug problems. Today more than 25 percent of Americans ages 18-34 live at home with their parents, according to U.S. Census figures. For 18 to 24-year-olds, 56 percent of men and 43 percent of women live with one or both parents. These numbers may be heading even higher: One job search Web site found that fully 62 percent of college students say they expect to live at home after graduation. Those parents who impose firm deadlines and require so-called "boomerang" children to share all or most costs are the ones most likely to emerge from the experience with their nest eggs intact.


Founded in 1995, the Zero Alpha Group (http://www.zeroalphagroup.com) is an international network of independent investment advisory firms that manage a total of more than $7 billion in assets.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Blueprint for Financial Prosperity featured in TBF's Broke Ain't Cute Series

Blueprint for Financial Prosperity is the featured blogger today in the Budget Fashionista's Being Broke Ain't Cute series. Blueprint for Financial Prosperity,(www.bargaineering.com/articles) has a great piece about how to start investing with $100:

Here's a sample:

How to Invest $100 by Bargaineering (Blueprint for Financial Prosperity)

October 18, 2006 07:09 AM
A few weeks ago, I wrote a relatively popular piece about inventive and effective (risk-less) ways to "invest" a hundred dollars and today I'll expand on that a bit and add on a few more ideas.

How To Invest $100

The gist of the article was to take advantage of promotional offers from banks and brokerages to take a $100 deposit and turn it into a much larger sum through free money offers. The offerors included Bank of America, Sharebuilder, Virtual Bank, and ING Direct. Bank of America offered cash to new account holders who initiated a direct deposit, Sharebuilder has several promotional codes good for free money, Virtual Bank and ING Direct have deposit bonuses where if you deposit a minimum amount you would automatically receive free money.

On Tuesday, Free Money Finance was the featured blogger in the Budget Fashionista's Being Broke Ain't Cute series. FMF had a great piece about how to start an emergency fund.

On Monday, I was the featured guest with a post about pasta, production costs vs. retail costs.

On Sunday, No Limits Ladies, www.nolimitsladies.com, offered two super posts on Holiday shopping.

Frugal Woman Lives to 100 & Leaves $35.6 Million to Charity

Eugenia Dodson, a frugal saver in the Miami area, recently died at the age of 100 and left $35.6 million to charity. That's the word from the front page of today's Miami Herald.

By living frugally and investing smartly, a Coral Gables woman who died at 100 amassed $35.6 million earmarked for diabetes and cancer research. --Miami Herald

The former beautician worked hard and married well, but remembered her humble roots, the article states.

'She denied herself the trappings of wealth; she was dead-set on doing good for humankind,'' said Donald Kubit, co-trustee of her trust at Northern Trust Bank. ``She had a big heart.''

The secret to her wealth:

1. Smart, informed investments.

"She invested everything very carefully,'' Kubit said. ``She liked blue-chip stocks. She read all the proxy statements.''

2. Lived below her means:

Childless, Dodson lived in a modest two-bedroom condo, declining friends' urgings to move to better quarters.

3. Cared about other: "Always, she saved the money for diabetes research to honor her brothers," according to the Herald piece.

Here's the link to the complete frugal saver leaves huge gift article by reporter Fred Tasker.

Updated Celeb Shopping Cart: Halle Berry, Sharon Stone & Eva Longoria

Not every star dines out for every meal. Homecooking is a frugal option for Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubry (her model beau.) People magazine featured this photo of the Halle Berry and Boyfriend pushing a cart of groceries on Monday near Berry's home in West Hollywood.

I estimate that it costs about 50 cents to $2.50 per person to make a meal at home versus $10 to $40 (and up) in a restaurant. Plus pushing a cart in a store is free exercise.

Meanwhile: Forget the high-priced personal shoppers! Sharon Stone was out on a frugal home-fashion mission. Photographers have snapped photos of Stone shopping for wholesale cloths and rugs at F&S Fabrics in LA according to several published reports. A large glossy photo in the Oct. 23 issue of Ok Weekly shows Stone smiling and chatting in front of large, unglamorous bolts of fabric.

Likewise, In the Zone features this closeup photo of Stone shopping for fabric.

Here's a quote from In the Zone:

Stone was spotted shopping for rugs and other home furnishings at F&S Fabrics in Los Angeles on Tuesday sporting every actresses worst nightmare -- no makeup!

I disagree with the snarky comment about the makeup. I think she looks fine and besides, it seems like a waste of product and time to go fabric shopping in full, camera-ready makeup. By the way, the photo in OK Weekly is much more flattering and has great fabric samples in the background.

I'm still hunting for the OK Weekly link of Eva Longoria shopping in Target, but the print version of OK Weekly features a snapshot of the Desperate Housewife in the frozen food section of the big box retailer.

Oh wait...here's a link featuring Eva Longoria in Target from a fan website called I'm not Obsessed. It's similar to the photo in the magazine--different angle--but Longoria is wearing the same outfit and pushing the same red Target cart.

Why am I featuring Celebrity news? Simple: With snobby attitudes, frugal haters and thrifty-bashers often put down frugal shoppers and wannabe savers. As a newspaper columnist, I have met readers who view my column as humor. I'm funny!?!

"Of course," one woman smiled. "I don't try any of those ideas. Not my thing, but your column is a good read. Entertaining."

Translation: Girrrrl, You are so weird, but I like you anyway.

I appreciate the honesty and the good humor, but the truth is that even high-maintenance stars with deep pockets shop at thrift stores, warehouses and big box discount retailers.

Oh, and honestly: I write about celebrities to justify my huge addiciton to fan and fashion magazines. They are so entertaining.

Caught on Film: Sharon Stone at Rug Warehouse; Eva Longoria Pushing a Target Cart

Forget the high-priced personal shoppers! Sharon Stone was out on a frugal home-fashion mission. Photographers have snapped photos of Stone shopping for wholesale cloths and rugs at F&S Fabrics in LA according to several published reports. A large glossy photo in the Oct. 23 issue of Ok Weekly shows Stone smiling and chatting in front of large, unglamorous bolts of fabric.

Likewise, In the Zone features this closeup photo of Stone shopping for fabric.

Here's a quote from In the Zone:

Stone was spotted shopping for rugs and other home furnishings at F&S Fabrics in Los Angeles on Tuesday sporting every actresses worst nightmare -- no makeup!

I disagree with the snarky comment about the makeup. I think she looks fine and besides, it seems like a waste of product and time to go fabric shopping in full, camera-ready makeup. By the way, the photo in OK Weekly is much more flattering and has great fabric samples in the background.

I'm still hunting for the OK Weekly link of Eva Longoria shopping in Target, but the print version of OK Weekly features a snapshot of the Desperate Housewife in the frozen food section of the big box retailer.

Oh wait...here's a link featuring Eva Longoria in Target from a fan website called I'm not Obsessed. It's similar to the photo in the magazine--different angle--but Longoria is wearing the same outfit and pushing the same red Target cart.

Why am I featuring Celebrity news? Simple: With snobby attitudes, frugal haters and thrifty-bashers often put down frugal shoppers and wannabe savers. As a newspaper columnist, I have met readers who view my column as humor. I'm funny!?!

"Of course," one woman smiled. "I don't try any of those ideas. Not my thing, but your column is a good read. Entertaining."

Translation: Girrrrl, You are so weird, but I like you anyway.

I appreciate the honesty and the good humor, but the truth is that even high-maintenance stars with deep pockets shop at thrift stores, warehouses and big box discount retailers.

Oh, and honestly: I write about celebrities to justify my huge addiciton to fan and fashion magazines. They are so entertaining.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Free Money Finance featured in Broke Ain't Cute Series

Free Money Finance is the featured blogger today in the Budget Fashionista's Being Broke Ain't Cute series. FMF has a great piece about how to start an emergency fund.

Here's a sample from Free Money Finance (www.freemoneyfinance.com)

Your son has just backed the car into the garage รข€“ literally! Your company is downsizing and giving you an unpaid sabbatical. You painfully remember why Dad told you to hire out roof repair. Unfortunately, financial emergencies are a fact of life. And they're the reason most financial planners recommend establishing an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses or loss of income.

An emergency fund is enough savings to cover three to six months of living expenses such as rent, food, car, and utilities.

On Monday, I was the featured guest with a post about production costs vs. retail costs.

On Sunday, No Limits Ladies, www.nolimitsladies.com, offered two super posts on Holiday shopping.

Below the Pockets of Wealth? Rant or Change, Stein says

About 1% of the workforce pulls in about 20% of the total income in America, according to a recent Ben Stein article in the New York Times. What's more, 5% percent of the population holds about 50% of the assets in the country.

Sounds unfair? Here are your options as offered by Ben Stein: 1) Complain about the unfair distribution of wealth or 2) Follow the trail of profits by preparing for a new career in one of the high-income professions.

How good is the upper tier? High-income employees are even paid well (7 digits and up) for their mistakes, Ben Stein reports.

"...[U]sually education in finance, medicine, law, accounting, electrical engineering --something in which you learn to add value instead of having fun in school -- is the key," Stein wrote in his "Everybody's Business" column.

Here's a list of well-paid professions:

*Financial services (wealth managers, brokers, planners)
*Self-improvement/life coaches/consultants

Here's the list of low-paying positions:

*Most civil service posts

Those career paths (high pay vs. low pay) are two of the three options laid out by Stein. Personally, I prefer his third option: "If you feel better making pottery or teaching school or policing the streets, you can have a fabulous life, too," Stein said.

Stein's Botttom-line Solution: Stop obsessing about that upper tier and just be happy as is.

On my balance sheet, I equate wealth -- financial and emotional -- with tasks, assignments, professions and hobbies performed with real passion.

That's the wisdom also touted in personal wealth books like Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Truly, "thought are things" and powerful things at that, when they are mixed with definiteness of purpose, persistence and a burning desire for their translation into riches, or other material objects.

--Napoleon Hill p. 19 pf Think and Grow Rich.

Tuesday Tip: Unusual Uses for Baby Wipes

Give me a baby wipe and a surface and I'll give you a shine. I call it the "12 second tidy." I get extra mileage from the cloths by splitting them in halves or quarters, which is more than enough for most cleanup jobs.

I've used baby wipes to peel off makeup, wipe down countertops and remove stains. "And it stops pimples," says my daughter Yael. "And guess what? It works very well," Yael adds.

This baby wipe link includes 14 uses ranging from crayon removal to shower scum banishments.

Likewise, the Do-it-Yourself Network has a helpful piece about baby wipe uses, including: how to clean up leather shoes. carpets and sequined gowns with baby wipes.

From Real Simple Magazine:

What’s the one timesaving product you can't live without?
Baby wipes are so useful. I have them all over — in my car, in the garage, in the den. I use them to spot-clean — wipe a smear off a computer monitor, kill pesky bugs. They're quick and disposable.

This tip comes from Real Simple reader B. SUTTON, Washington, D.C

Other Tuesday Tip stories:

Baking Soda uses

Lemonade Mix uses

Monday, October 16, 2006

College Savings Report Card: "D" for Denial

College financial aid pros give parents poor grades for college prep. Bad cases of denials are causing more families to lag behind in college savings, according to a new poll of college financial aid administrators from AllianceBernstein Investments.

How bad is it? About 50 percent of families spend more on summer vacations than college savings accounts, according to the survey, which includes a poll of 1,358 parents.

Keep in mind that the survey was commissioned by a financial service company, which may benefit if parents are spooked about a perceived lack of financial planning. But nevertheless, the survey includes some thoughtful insights about the role of denial and long-term planning. We all have our bouts of denial and this survey was a wake-up call for me.

Here's a short summary:

Parents have high hopes for financial aid:

· 87% of parents believe scholarships and/or grants will cover a portion of their children's undergraduate education expenses;
· 72% think their children are likely to have "special or unique" talents deserving of scholarships.

But, according to financial aid administrators, many parents will be in for a rude awakening:

· Nearly all aid administrators surveyed (97%) believe parents have a false sense of security that colleges will help them take care of the costs;
· 92% of financial aid administrators say parents overestimate the amount of scholarship money their children will receive.

Parents' misconceptions relative to financial aid are exacerbated by poor savings and investing habits and a cavalier attitude toward debt:

Of those who intend to fund at least some of their children’s higher education, most have spent more money on entertainment and/or discretionary purchases in the past year than they have saved for their children’s college costs. Specifically:
• 58% have spent more on eating out or ordering take-out;
• 49% have spent more on vacations;
• 38% have spent more on consumer electronics.

Here's an edited version of the release:

"Many families’ college savings efforts are coming up short, as parents spend freely, significantly overestimate the amount of financial aid their family will receive, and count on debt to finance their children’s undergraduate educations, according to the first-ever bilateral survey of parents and student financial aid administrators released today by AllianceBernstein Investments, Inc.

“Most parents are about as prepared to meet college costs as freshmen are to do their own laundry,” said Jennifer DeLong, Director, College Savings Plans, AllianceBernstein Investments, the retail asset management arm of AllianceBernstein L.P. “Parents’ poor college savings and investing habits have been exacerbated by grossly unrealistic expectations for financial aid. It is the Perfect Storm of planning – and if they’re not careful, for many families, the result will be a financial shipwreck.”

The Savings - Costs Gap

Parents with children ages 14 to 17 plan to have an average of $12,000 saved when their child reaches college age. The projected cost of a 17-year-old’s college education is $54,882 for a public university and $131,361 for a private college.

The gap between planned savings and projected college costs widens further for parents of younger children. On average, surveyed parents with children ages five or under plan to have $25,000 saved for their child’s college education.5 The projected cost of a five-year-old’s undergraduate education is $98,561 for a public university and $235,905 for a private college.

Even more troubling than parents’ low savings goals is the fact that many are not confident in their ability to achieve them. Only one in four parents (27%) thinks that it is “very likely” they will reach their college savings goal.

Three-quarters of parents are concerned about saving enough for their children’s college education, with more than a third (35%) saying that they are “very concerned.” About one-third (31%) of those who plan to help fund their children’s undergraduate education haven’t started saving yet.

Parents Are from Mars, Financial Aid Administrators Are from Earth

Parents’ modest savings goals and less-than-stellar track records may reflect their expectations for receiving significant merit and need-based financial aid.

Nearly all financial aid administrators (97%) agree that families have become more reliant on financial aid in recent years. Even wealthier families are looking for ways to reduce or avoid college costs, according to 99% of aid administrators surveyed.

Many parents have encouraged their children to excel in academics (72%), sports (47%) and/or artistic or musical pursuits (38%) in hopes of earning merit scholarships, and a startling number think their efforts will be successful. Almost three-quarters (72%) believe their children have “special or unique talents” that will earn them scholarship funds.

Eighty-seven percent of parents are counting on their children receiving scholarship and/or grant money, and more than two-thirds (68%) believe colleges will design an aid package that they can reasonably afford. On average, families planning to contribute to their children’s college costs anticipate scholarships and/or grants will cover about a quarter (24%) of their expenses.

But the aid administrators’ survey indicates that many parents will be in for a rude awakening.

Ninety-seven percent of aid administrators think parents have a false sense of security that colleges will help them cover costs. Two-thirds of financial aid administrators surveyed believe scholarship and grant dollars are less available for the average family today than they have been in the past, and 92% say parents overestimate the amount of scholarship and grant money their children will receive.

“The discouraging reality is that college costs have skyrocketed and federal financial aid has eroded,” said Dallas Martin, President, National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA). “The result is that the doors of educational opportunity have closed for many of our nation’s youth because they cannot afford to attend college.”

Two-thirds of aid administrators (68%) believe the current financial aid system does not meet the needs of many students and their families. Nearly three-quarters (73%) say that less than half of those who apply for aid are financially able to meet their expected family contribution, and 61% think it would be a major financial hardship for the average family applying for aid to do so.

“It’s important to remember that financial aid is meant to be a last resort, not a way to mitigate college costs,” Martin said. “It’s critical for parents to have more realistic expectations for financial aid and adjust their savings efforts accordingly.”

Paying for College: A Joint Venture

Nearly all parents surveyed (95%) intend to help their kids pay for college, and 41% plan to cover all of their children’s college expenses. The vast majority, 94%, believe a college education is the best investment they can make in their children’s future.

That said, most parents feel it is important to set limits on college spending (84%) and expect their children to take responsibility for at least a portion of the costs.

Fifty-eight percent of surveyed parents will hold their children accountable for at least some of their undergraduate tuition and expenses. On average, parents who plan to share expenses with their kids say they feel responsible for footing slightly more than half (56%) of their children’s college bill.

“With college costs at an all-time high, parents are more likely to limit how much they are willing to spend on higher education expenses,” Martin said. “As a result, many young adults are picking up more of the tab for their undergraduate educations, and accumulating heavy debt burdens in the process.”

Thirty-one percent of parents who plan to contribute to their children’s education have put more money toward their children’s allowance in the past year than they have put in their college savings fund.

Almost three-quarters of parents (74%) admit they could be saving significantly more for their children’s education if they limited money spent on traveling, entertainment, electronics and impulse purchases. Two-thirds acknowledge that by reducing their discretionary spending on items such as toys, clothes and entertainment for their children, they would be able to save much more for their college educations.

“Many parents are spending today, and planning to worry about saving tomorrow,” DeLong said. “But when it comes to saving for college, it’s critical for families to start early and keep their eyes on the prize.”

Not surprisingly, when asked to grade themselves on being financially prepared for their children’s college expenses, a third of parents (34%) gave themselves a “D” or “F.”

In Debt We Trust

To fill the gap between their families’ accumulated college savings and college costs, students are relying more heavily on loans than ever before. The parents’ survey suggests that this trend will not slow down anytime soon.

Two-thirds of parents think their children will leave college with debt, and, on average, they anticipate their kids will owe about $27,500.

While most parents believe that graduating without debt is a big advantage in life, many (63%) see debt as “just a part of life.” Some even look for the silver lining, believing debt makes students focus on their studies, value their education and become more financially responsible.

Long-Term Impact of Debt

But college debt can have a profound and long-lasting effect on graduates’ financial security and life choices. In a survey of college graduates ages 21 to 35 conducted by AllianceBernstein earlier this year, 42% of those with college debt said the phrase “living paycheck-to-paycheck” describes them very well, and more than one-third (34%) had sold personal possessions to make ends meet.

Among respondents still paying off education-related debt individually and/or for a spouse, 44% have delayed buying a house, 28% have delayed having children and 32% had to move back in with a parent or guardian or live at home longer than expected.

“The road to debt is paved with good intentions,” said Michael Conrath, Vice President, College Savings Plans, AllianceBernstein Investments. “But large amounts of college debt put graduates in a hole that can take years, even decades from which to emerge. When you saddle young adults with debt, they’re not just borrowing their college tuition; they’re borrowing from their future.”

Parents’ seemingly lackadaisical attitude toward debt has financial aid administrators concerned. Many feel that parents and students alike do not fully comprehend the significant, long-term implications of education-related debt until it’s too late. Ninety-four percent of aid administrators surveyed express concern about the amount of debt students have been taking on to fund their educations, and more than half (57%) say they would not let their child borrow the average amount of loans taken out by students at their respective schools.

According to aid administrators, the problem will get worse before it gets better. Over the next 10 years, almost all of those surveyed anticipate both the percentage of students who graduate from college with loans and the amount they borrow will grow.

The Effects of a College Savings Shortfall Span Generations

A failure to plan adequately for college expenses can hurt parents down the road and result in a cycle of debt that spans generations.

Close to two-thirds (62%) of parents say paying for college will significantly affect their retirement fund.
Sixty-two percent of those who will contribute to their children’s education say they plan to dip into money they have saved outside of their college savings funds, and more than half (53%) plan to take out loans of their own to help cover the costs.

Moreover, more than half of parents of children ages 14 to 17 (56%) say it is very or somewhat likely that they will end up helping their children pay back their education-related loans after they graduate.

A college savings shortfall not only affects parents and their children, but, ultimately, it can also put their grandchildren at a disadvantage. As the earlier AllianceBernstein survey of college graduates revealed, when the time comes to start saving for their own children’s college educations, those who graduated from college with debt are less likely to be able to do so than their peers who graduated debt-free.

Parents Face Formidable Challenge; Financial Advice and 529 College Savings Plans Are Key

The fact that many families lack a comprehensive plan, don’t seek professional financial advice and are not aware or taking advantage of tax-efficient savings vehicles is a strong contributor to the problem.

Seventy percent of parents surveyed don’t have a financial plan that takes into account all of their goals, including college savings, and many (42%) have not even had a serious conversation with their children’s other parent about how they will finance their kids’ college educations. Aid administrators cite not having a plan as the number one reason parents aren’t able to save more for college.

“College financing is a fundamental life planning issue,” Conrath said. “Parents face a formidable challenge. In order to rise to the occasion they must be dedicated, diligent and ready to take advantage of all of the resources they have available to them. We believe professional financial advice and a tax-advantaged product like a 529 college savings plans have a critical role to play in any family’s college savings effort.”

The parents’ survey shows that those who work with a financial advisor are more likely to be saving for their children’s college education (79% vs. 57%) and to be confident in their efforts. About half (49%) of those with an advisor give themselves an “A” or “B” for their college savings efforts; only about a quarter (26%) of those without an advisor give themselves such high marks.

Even among the 56% of parents who have specific accounts dedicated to saving for their children’s education, the majority (61%) are not using a tax-advantaged 529 college savings plan as their primary savings vehicle. In fact, 16% of this group have all of their college savings funds in checking and savings accounts.

Nine in 10 financial aid administrators (91%) believe parents don't utilize tax-advantaged savings vehicles, such as 529 plans, as much as they should.

“When it comes to paying for college, the good news is that you have 18 years to plan, there are tax-advantaged solutions, and you don’t have to go it alone,” DeLong said.

The survey of 1,358 parents was conducted via the Internet between August 2 and August 20, 2006 by the national polling firm of Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc. Parents participating in the poll had at least one child under the age of 18 who they identified as likely to attend college and household incomes of $50,000 or more.

The survey of financial aid administrators was conducted over the Internet by Mathew Greenwald & Associates between August 2 and September 6, 2006. Two hundred student financial aid administrators at four-year undergraduate public or private colleges with at least three years of experience were surveyed. All respondents were either responsible or oversaw individuals responsible for awarding financial aid.

Woman Unleashed: 5 Fiscal Lessons from My Dog

I've covered Wall Street for years, but I'm getting new financial lessons from my puppy Scruffy, a rescue mutt. From the importance of tight control to 3-D, five-sense lessons on the value of cleaning up my credit rating, I am being trained by my puppy.

5 Lessons on Fiscal Management

5. Get a Grip

Scenario: As I walk my dog, I am pulled in different directions because I have yet to develop a firm command. It's not a pretty picture. Scruffy has even escaped from the leash when I've totally lost control.

Lesson: Hold on tightly to my money, the checkbook and the debit card. Track the charges on my statement for mistakes, gaps and leaks. Without control, I'll be chasing tails and running into unfriendly traffic.

4. Prepare for rains & storms.

Scenario: My dog does not like going outside to do "his business" in the rain and thunder.

Lesson: Learn to operate under difficult conditions. Always, always have a Plan B. Our alternate route: There is a covered outdoor path under our apartment building. It's near the trash room, protected and perfect for our exit strategy.

3. Clean up the Mess

Scenario: As a dog owner, I deal with a lot of crap (on sidewalks and lawns) and general mess, especially when my dog rips up newspapers around the house. To maintain order, we have to constantly clean and tidy.

Lesson: Fiscal and physical tidiness are constant efforts. It's just a fact of life. Stay armed with a pooper scooper.

2. Create Long-Term Plans

Scenario: Vacations, visits and basic travel are a challenge with a new puppy. It's difficult to find hotels and friends that are hospitable to puppies. It's expensive to find doggy daycare.

Lesson: Failure to plan ahead creates unnecessay expenses and anxiety. Remember: My failure to plan is not someone else's emergency.

1. Get Educated

Scenario: My puppy -- so adorable --jumps on the dining room table and jumps on guests. It's time for more puppy training.

Lesson: Ignorance and lack of training are not excuses. The Humane Society and various animal shelters have affordable puppy training classes. There are online resources and books in the library. Likewise, for my fiscal education, there are many free and affordable resources.

Greetings to Being Broke Ain't Cute Readers!

A special Welcome to Budget Fashionista readers from the Broke Ain't Cute series.

I highly recommend the series. There are different voices from various bloggers about finance, frugal living and style. All this week, I'll include a different link to the featured blogger.

Today, I am in the spotlight with a piece about pasta and wholesale clothing prices. Thanks Budget Fashionista for including me in the series.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Cheap Tricks; Cheap Treats: Frugal Halloween Ideas

Every year Americans spend billions on Halloween, including $1.16 billion in candy, $1.15 billion in costumes and $840 million in decorations, according to the National Retail Federation.

But you don't have to spend a lot to have fun. That's the word from Jill Cooper, a thrifty grandmother, and Tawra Kellam, her daughter. For the last eight years, the mother-and-daughter team have operated a website ,www.livingonadime.com, based on their book of that same title.

Jill Cooper has fond memories of fun, but frugal, Halloween parties and costumes. Her 33-year-old son created an unusual Superman costume from his own wardrobe. Instead of buying or renting an expensive red-and-blue caped outfit, he attended a previous Halloween party as Clark Kent.

His attire: a standard business suit with a Superman T-shirt underneath.

''It didn't cost him anything, but we were laughing at him the whole evening,'' Jill Cooper said.

She's also created her own standout costumes. She went to one party dressed in red cardboard lips, a red mask and a Hershey Kiss apron. With bold lipstick imprints all over her face, Cooper introduced herself as the ``Kissing Monster.''

''I handed out Hershey Kisses all evening,'' she said, adding that everyone was impressed.

Cooper buys Halloween decorations at post-holiday clearance sales. She has found fake cobwebs to drape all over the party room for 25 cents a bag and orange electric lights for $1 a strand in November.

Here are some fun, inexpensive party treats:

• Orange slime: Take orange gelatin mix and dump it onto a tray before the mix completely jells. Refrigerate and serve the slime at the party.

• Floating eyeballs: Put grapes in the punch to create the illusion of floating eyes.

• Bloody eyeballs: Boil cherry or grape tomatoes for half a minute. Let the tomatoes cool, then peel and serve.

Among other clever ideas from www.livingonadime.com are recipes for frugal face paint and ``toxic juice.''