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Don't Break the Bank: Tips for the Household Budget

Most of us always appreaciate new ways to be a bit smarter with our money. If it wasn't your New Year's resolution this year, you can always make a late start and implement a few new approaches to making your money last. Finishing taxes on one year and looking at the lengthy year ahead, a little time taken to reflect on spending habits can help lead to better financial security during the slow economic recovery. Although the majority of us do not have direct influence on the big companies and banks, we do control how we run our individual households, and as the economy improves slowly, many of us will be tightening our spending budgets and looking for ways to save. Below we have provided some online resources for everything from keeping a balanced budget to finding ways to shop a bit smarter.

Know your budget:
Before you can adjust your household budget to save, pay off debt or get ahead in your payments, you have to have a realistic look at what you owe and what you earn.

  • Bankrate: This site offers numerous online calculators from home budgets to which saving options will give the best returns. You can also begin to look at whether a home equity line of credit would be a good way to get rid of your debts or if now would be a good time to refinance under a lower mortgage rate.
  • BBB Develop a Working Budget: A printable worksheet that comes with other details to consider when calculating and understanding your budget.
  • Kiplinger.com Budget: Online budget calculators that will help you get started figuring out where you stand for the current month or retirement.
  • Microsoft Budget Templates: If you already use Microsoft Office, consider downloading one of their free budget templates. One of these can help you keep track of your monthly expenses and be altered to fit your specific needs.

Revisit your grocery list:
Reconsider how you buy groceries and what you buy.

  • Money Tip- Set yourself an allowance of $20 per week for coffee, lunches or other extras or save it up for a movie or night on the town.Always shop with a list - Some suggest a list for any shopping trip you take. Always have a clear idea of what you need. This will help you find the best deals and not get distracted by impulse buys.
  • Buy generic brands - When you compare ingredient labels you may be surprised how similar or exact the name brands are with the generic. Try a couple taste tests, not everything generic will be ideal for your pallet, but some may surprise you, and savings could sweeten their flavor all the more!
  • Buy in bulk - Many stores now offer you the option to save by buying in bulk. Never use enough of it in time? Consider teaming up with family or neighbors and splitting your purchases. Maybe you don't need 10lbs of chicken, but 5lbs at $2 less per pound is savings to the bank.
  • Pack more snacks - When shopping, look for items you can easily put in the car, at the office or anywhere you might get the munchies. This way you can curb you hunger before you decide to hit the fast food on the way home.
  • Home Ec 101: Bake and Cook - Take on the personal challenge to become a better chef. Don't have the time? The internet is full of quick and easy casseroles, muffins, and other recipes that can help you get through your day. You will save money in the 15 minutes it takes to make these meals and you may find them more satisfying than microwave dinners.
  • Home brewed coffee - If you are addicted to your caffeine, then it is time to invest in a coffee pot with a clock and timer. You can still grab the coffee on the way out the door without being slowed down. Need it at work? Consider a French press where you can brew coffee conveniently at your desk without any machines, filters or mess.
  • Find your green thumb - If you have the property consider making a garden with your favorite greens. Fresh tasting rewards combined with natural stress relief. Don't have the property? Consider a container garden (or even an indoor container like the Aero Garden) for some of your basics. Maybe get to know you neighbors and join in a community plot.

Coupons, discounts and closeouts:
Buy on Sale - not occasion: Now is the perfect time to shop for next year's holidays, birthdays and special events.  Take advantage of post-holiday and season end sales.  Think ahead and you can squirrel away presents for the year at half the cost!Many sites online now offer ways to compare the best deals by product or store. Whether looking for new electronics or ready to head to the grocery store, check out these sites before you buy. Also take time to review the forums with customer input and reviews. A bit rough around the edges, the customer reviews on these sites are often short and to the point.

  • The Bargainist: This site lists both sales and coupons. Easy to use search - just type in the product you are looking for and it will check for any deals currently available.
  • Cool Savings.com: A membership is required. If you don't mind printing your own coupons, this site is ideal for the busy shopper who knows what they want but does not want to sift through mailers, the newspaper and magazines to find a good deal.
  • Coupon Mom: A list of coupons, free offers and much more. A great way to search out grocery coupons. There is a membership but as with similar sites, this is free.
  • Deal Catcher: Coupons, sales and rebates galore. Review sales by stores as well as by item rather than brand.
  • Fat Wallet: The savings here can be found in the online forums. Savvy consumers share information and special deals. There is also the plethora of coupons and discounts listed by store or category.
  • Overstock.com: Less about coupons but more about sales on overstocked items.
  • RetailMeNot: A twist to the coupon frenzy, this site offers the coupons for online retailers. Many online retailers or stores with online shopping offer discounts or special deals with certain coupon codes or key words. RetailMeNot searches for these codes for you so you can use them on your next purchase.
  • SlickDeals.net: Mostly user driven, this site helps to create a community where bargain hunters can congregate and share what they have found. The latest deals page can be fun to review but you can also search for products by name.

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Be an educated consumer:
Be more particular about the products you buy. Taking time to read reviews and learn the pros and cons others have experienced before you buy will help you choose better products that will last longer.

  • Buzzillions.com: After compiling reviews from customers that are sent to major retailers in response to the products they sell, Buzzillions then puts all those reviews together into an easy to read snapshot with an overall rating. You can then read the individual reviews from other consumers like you.
  • Epinions: This site is user driven with opinions on everything from products to entertainment. Perhaps you want to know more about a book, video game, movie or iPod? Most likely someone has given their two cents about it here.
  • PriceGrabber.com: This site helps the consumer compare prices between online retailers. Many popular products also come with reviews and ratings. The price comparison also includes some of the used markets such as Amazon Marketplace.

Rack up rewards:
There are many programs out there to reward shoppers. Take the time research them and find one that works for your shopping style. If you shop online there are shopping portals that offer rewards. If you shop a little bit everywhere, consider a credit card with flexible reward points. If you shop at one store the most, get a rewards card with them.
*A thing to remember with reward credit cards is that they usually come with a higher APR. It is better if you can charge and then pay immediately and not rollover this debt. That way you can get the rewards without the extra interest.

  • CreditCards.com: If you use credit wisely, then you might consider a credit card rewards program. This site offers an easy glance through some of the programs available. Also consider looking at individual card company sites.
  • Ebates: An online shopping portal that received favorable reviews from some bigwigs like Good Housekeeping and CNN. Not only do you get a discount when shopping, but you can get bonuses as well.

Buy and barter used:
Flea markets and garage sales can be great if you have the time and the weather to get one going. Maybe you don't have either? Then how about trying the same bartering and selling online? Besides the already popular eBay, you may be surprised at how many sites there are that will allow you to exchange, sell and buy cheap!

  • Craigslist: An online mismatch of services, used goods and announcements by city location. Here you may be able to find used items cheap. It can be the ordinary like used furniture to the not so common. For example, I once found someone who had new pavers left over from a patio project that they are willing to sell at a discount just to get them off their lawn. You may also be able to find cheap services such as yard work. However, users beware, there are no regulations on this site and you should take precautions when working with anyone on this list. This site definitely has a mixed history of great successes and terrible wrongs. Be careful.
  • eBAY: One of the most popular and well known online auction stops, eBay has been around since 1995. Users have the ability to rank other users for the ease of trade transactions. Probably the biggest garage sale on the internet.

Get it FREE:
Drive like it's $4 per gallon!  Luckily, this is not currently the market.  However, we all learned better habits when the crunch was real.  Save money by keeping gas-efficient routes for errands.  Take the bus once a week to work.  Be creative and you can save time and money!There are some sites that will help you sift through the spam to get free items. Be warned that some of the free items still come with many "free" emails.

  • Coupon Mom: Already mentioned above, this site also lists ways to get free samples of many products.
  • Free Shipping.org: This site lists all the free shipping deals and codes. If a site offers a free shipping offer, they have it listed. If you need a code to get free shipping, they have most of those too.
  • Hey, It's Free: This blog website run by Goob works to find out the real freebies on the internet. Goob goes out there and finds out if a site is just spamming or if there really is something for free at the end of all the forms. That wisdom is then passed on to the readers of this sarcastic but informative blog.

Compare Insurance Carriers:
It is true, if you have been accident/incident free for a while you may be able to save by switching to another insurance carrier. Every company may offer something different in incentives, but take a look and see if a switch can't save you some money this year.

  • InsWeb: Recognized by sites like Kiplinger and Forbes, this online insurance comparison site will help you by getting quotes from agents after you supply your information.
  • NetQuote: An insurance comparison website. You fill in the information and the agents work out your rate with their company.

Be your own travel agent:
Consider your vacation plans carefully in advance. When shopping for tickets, shop around to more than one vendor. It is not unusual for some airlines to give better deals then the online travel agencies. If you are a spur of the moment type of traveler, you might consider researching a couple major cities before tempted by last minute weekend travel deals. Like consumer reports, travel blogs are a great way to get more information before you go. Did you know you could see an opera in Vienna for $5? Well, now you do…

  • Budget Travel: In print and online magazine from Frommer's Travel, the site also offers free articles on featured destinations, trip ideas and advice from other travelers.
  • Kayak.com: This travel search engine is different in that it does not sell you the deals, it just works to find them for you. This is one of the easiest ways to search online travel agencies (i.e. Expedia) and the travel companies (i.e. airlines).
  • Lonely Planet: Supplementary to the printed books, this website offers information about popular travel destinations as well as tips from other like-minded travelers.
  • USA.gov: Want to stay close to home but still get away? Check out the official state travel sites for the 50 United States and U.S. territories.

     

© enlighten technologies™ and Heather Pundt 2015 - To contact Heather, please use hpundt (at) lawchek.net or visit her Google+ Profile.


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