Category Archive: Tips

Get Rid Of The Stuff You Do Not Use

Several years ago, I decided to take control and rid myself of the stuff that I did not use.  I gathered some cardboard boxes, and went to work, removing the clutter from our home.  I went through our closets, cabinets, dressers, and drawers.  I separated our unused stuff in to four boxes.

Box 1 – Give It  – I encourage everyone to consider donating a portion (or all) of any unneeded items to a local clothing bank or homeless shelter.  Many of the folks who live in shelters need office-appropriate attire, for when they go to job interviews.  We also try to find good homes for our kids’ used toys.  We only donate items that are in usable, wearable, or working condition.

Box 2 – Trash It – I am amazed by how much stuff we have – stuff that no longer works or no longer fits.  We recycle and reuse what we can, and get rid of the rest.

Box 3 – Sell It – We have two garage / yard sales per year.  We sell baby clothes (and other items) on eBay.  We have even listed items on our Facebook pages.  Check online and in the local paper for free classifieds.  The main purpose of selling our unnecessary stuff is to get rid of it – but it’s cool to make an extra buck-or-two, too.

Box 4 – Store It – We have stuff in our house that we don’t need, right now, but we might need it at some time in the future.  So, we’ll store it in the shed or in the kids’ playhouse – up high and out of sight.  Once a year, I’ll go through our stored stuff, see what we have, and purge what is broken or unnecessary.

Now is a great time of year to get rid of unnecessary clutter.  Plus, if you make a few extra bucks – that’s more money for your debt reduction or savings!

I have found that there are several advantages to a life with less stuff:

1 – With less stuff, organization is rather easy.  We do not have to invest in elaborate shelving, giant plastic tubs, or thousands of labels.  Instead, we have removed the clutter – and what is left can be place neatly in our cabinets and closets.  In other words, we’re not just moving piles of stuff around.  We actually got rid of some stuff.

2.  Our kids are organized.  I have three kids, ranging from ages 3 to 12 – and all three of them keep their rooms neat and tidy.

3.  Evenings are relaxing.  Straightening up our entire house takes less than 15 minutes.  Cleaning the house (with vacuuming, dusting, etc.) takes, oh, maybe an hour – thirty minutes if the kids pitch in.  So, each evening, we cook a meal, clean that up, wash a couple loads of clothing, make lunches for the kids, and then we can relax.

You might be asking – What does removing the excess clutter from my home have to do with personal finance?  Well, it’s hard to communicate, exactly – but there’s something… liberating… about a clutter-free home.  It just feels better – and when we feel better, I think we make better decisions.  We have more energy and enthusiasm to devote to more important tasks – like the management of our personal finances.  So, the relationship isn’t direct, but it is indirect, and it is real.

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Save Money On Lawn Care

When I was a kid, I never thought I would type the following sentence:

I really enjoy yard work.

Seriously.  I look forward to mowing the lawn, planting plants, raking leaves, and just spending time around the house, sprucing things up.

I also like sharing money saving tips, and here are a few of mine, for saving money on lawn care.  These are things I actually do (or have done) to save money and time.

Use Leaves and Pine Straw as Mulch

I live in the South, and have pine trees and oak trees in my backyard.  We use fallen leaves and pine straw as mulch.  The pine straw looks nice in flower beds and around shrubbery, while the leaves are reserved for a shady area underneath the kids’ swing set.

Leave a Portion of the Yard Alone

As our house sits, we basically have three sections of lawn – the front lawn, the back lawn, and a side lawn.  The front lawn and back lawn are mostly centipede grass, and are well-maintained, but we keep the side lawn, for the most part, alone.  Our kids’ swing set sits underneath a small stand of shade trees, grass doesn’t grow very well in this section of the yard, so we just let the leaves fall, pick up a few tree limbs from time to time, and that’s about it.  It’s cool to have the pretty manicured lawns – and a small part of the property that feels a bit more natural.

Build and Use a Compost Pile / Bin

I just finished building my compost bin instead of burning yard waste – or throwing vegetable and fruit kitchen scraps into the trash – I’m using them to create awesome compost.  This saves money, and bit of landfill space.

Plant Shade / Fruit Trees

I have already planted two trees in our backyard and in just a few years, they will provide shade for both our house and our kids’ playhouse.  I also plan to plant apple and pear trees next year.  Free fruit, more shade, and less yard to mow.  Win, win, win.

Keep Things Tidy

I have an electric, battery-powered leaf blower that I love.  I use it two or three times a week to keep our carport, sidewalk, and back porch clean.  It’s much easier to keep things clean – and keep them from getting dirty – when I spend a few minutes each day working in the yard.

Buy Plants in the Fall

Again, I live in the South, so our summer growing season is a bit longer than some places in the country.  As such, there are great deals on shrubbery, trees, and even flowers to be found at the local nursery.  Seriously.  A few weeks ago, I purchased some shrubs, regularly priced at $12 per, for just $4 per.  Shop around – and think local.  A local nursery owner will know exactly which plants are appropriate for where you live.

Share Tools

I have a pressure washer, but I don’t own a tiller.  My neighbor recently borrowed my pressure washer, and next spring, I’ll borrow his tiller.  If you can’t find folks to share, you might look into renting tools, especially if you are only going to use them once or twice.

Build a Rain Barrel to Catch Rain Water

As I mentioned a few days ago, I recently built and installed a rain barrel.  I am very happy to report that the rain barrel is working perfectly – and my new shrubs are strong and healthy.

Leave The Leaves?

When we moved into our house in February, there were leaves all over our yard.  The previous owner had chosen, like lots of folks do, to simply allow the leaves to pile up, and was planning to rake them up in the spring.  Me, personally?  While it might save me a few bucks or a few hours, I’m against letting the leaves pile up.  I have a mulching-blade on my lawn mower and I plan to mow the yard, three or four times this winter.  I’m not sure if this is a money-saver, but it helps me feel better about how the yard looks.

Increase the Size of Flower Beds

In the front yard, there is a small flower bed.  When we moved in, I just planted a half-dozen shrubs in the bed, added a bit of pine straw, and called it a day.  After several months of looking out the window and seeing the bed, I’m unimpressed with its layout.  In a few weeks, I’m going double the size of the bed.  This will decrease the area of lawn to-be-mowed and watered – and increase visual interest.

Buy Your Kids a Pair of Work Gloves

This is for those who have kids, and are looking for a way to spend more time with them.  Recently, I went to the home improvement store, and purchased a new pair of work gloves.  My son, six, was there with me – and asked for a pair of his own.  I think they cost me 3 bucks, but have more than paid for themselves.  Now, instead of being afraid to get his hands dirty, or pick up worms, or pull weeds, he puts on his gloves and feels like a yard working super-hero.  A couple of Saturdays ago, he helped me trim the shrubbery in the front yard.  He learned how to use the shears and the rake – and we had a blast.

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5 Simple Debt Reduction Tips

I like to write about an array of personal finance topics, but my true passion is debt reduction.

Tip 1 -

Send in credit card payments as soon as is possible.  This reduces your average daily balance and total interest charges.

Tip 2 -

Be both analytical and emotional. Debt reduction requires three things – money, a solid plan, and firm dedication.  Create a plan to reduce your debt – and then get a little angry.

Tip 3 -

Stop adding to total debt. Reducing one credit card balance by $500, only to charge $600 on another card doesn’t make sense.

Tip 4 -

Focus on reducing principal.  I know we get fascinated by interest rates – and rightly so – but the quickest way to eliminate debt is to reduce principal.  I like to make my regular payment, early in the payment cycle, and then make an extra payment (or two) throughout the month.  I have checked with my creditors to ensure that I understand how they handle extra payments.

Tip 5 -

Get one month ahead.  This is a new one for me.  In the past, all I had to deal with was consumer debt.  Now, I have a mortgage.  My payment is due on the first of each month.  Instead of scheduling my June 1st payment to be deducted from my checking account on June 1st, I schedule it for May 1st.  In effect, I’ve not only made my payment early, I’ve also given myself a (nearly) two-month cushion.  I have until July 1st to both make the July 1st payment AND make extra payments towards principal.  Now, I will not wait until July 1st to make my next full payment, but I have the cushion, built in, just in case.

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10 Ways To Save 10 Bucks Each Month

We’re all looking for ways – big and small – to save a few bucks.

Here are 10 (relatively) painless ways to save 10 dollars (or more) each month!

1.  Eliminate premium cable / satellite channels – or just select a lower-tier channels package.  With my current satellite provider, we moved down from 250 channels to 150 channels, barely noticed the difference, and saved $10 per month.

2.  Reduce the number of paper towels and paper napkins that you use (and purchase).  With a family of 5, it’s pretty easy for us to go through a roll of paper towels rather quickly.  For tasks that don’t specifically call for paper towels, we now use a trusty dish towel.  Works just as well – and can be washed and reused.

3.  Install a power-strip (or two or three) for your entertainment center devices.  We have a satellite receiver, a DVD player, a surround-sound system, and a video game console in our living room.  These items are “on” even when they are “off”, so I attached all of them to a surge protector / power-strip.  Now, when we leave the house or we’re not using the entertainment center, I flip the power-strip off – and save some cash.  According to the Department of Energy, up to 75% of the energy used by such devices is used when the devices are (technically) “turned off”, but are still using phantom power.  Anecdotal evidence, meaning I’ve looked over recent power bills, suggest that we are saving between $15 and $30 a month, because we are both using the power strips AND we are more conscientious of our overall energy usage.

4.  Consolidate trips to and around town.  For us, a round-trip to the nearest shopping center is roughly 30 miles.  Combine that with actual driving in town, an average trip to the grocery store and gas station might total 40 or 50 miles.  With gas near $3 a gallon, each trip costs between $6 and $10.  Eliminating one or two (or more) of these trips, per month, with better planning and time management, can really add up to some big savings.

5.  Take your lunch to work just once (or twice, or three times) per week.  What’s the difference between $10 for lunch at a restaurant and a $2 lunch prepared at home?  $8 a week, or $32 a month!  When you do the math, a small change can make a huge difference!

6.  Replace x with y.  For me, x = soda, which is costly, not very filling, and bad for my health, and y = water, which is free, very filling, and great for my health.  Find something in your life, your x, that’s not very good for you, and replace it with a y, something that is good for you.

7.  Learn how to better manage cash and avoid ATM fees.  I love the convenience of the ATM, but I hate the associated fees.  Find a bank that refunds said fees, or avoid them all together, by using a better cash management system.  The last thing you want to do is be “strapped for cash’ and have to pay a fee to get to your own money.

8.  Cancel unnecessary monthly subscriptions.  Are you a member of a gym that you no longer go to?  Did you once sign up for a monthly service, but you never actually use it?  Cancel it!  (Always be aware of any fees or penalties associated with such cancellations and make your decision accordingly.)  Back when I was getting out of debt, I canceled my subscription to satellite radio.  I really liked the satellite radio – but I loved getting out of debt!

9.  Be smart when buying fresh and perishable food items.  There’s nothing worse than watching good food go to waste.  A good, organized meal plan, made out at the beginning of each month or week, will go a long way to eliminating this problem.

10.  Wash your own car.  This one is simple.  Instead of zooming through a car wash, take thirty minutes, go outside, and wash your own car.  You’ll get some air, take in a little sunshine, and save some cash.  If you don’t have a car – replace this tip with any other “service-related” task that you can easily do for yourself.

Once you get the hang of it, you’ll soon start looking more and more and more ways to save cash.  When we save cash – it goes towards building cash reserves or eliminating debt.

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