Monday, February 28, 2011

Deal Alert: Free Parents Magazine

To get a free 6 month subscription to Parents magazine create an account on Similac Strong Mom's. Then visit the Special Offers page. They do not ask for credit card information.

March Challenges

It's been a while since I formed my last budget. As a first step I wrote down every penny I spent. I like to do this periodically to get a handle on how things are going financially. So March is gong to be a month of tracking. Every penny I spend is going to get written down and recorded. Then I can see where I can shave off some expenses.

If you've never tried this exercise, I urge you to do so. It really makes you aware of just how much of your money is going into silly purchases. If writing it all down is too much for you might try a free online service like mint which will track your credit card spending automatically for you. They generate some pretty neat looking pie charts to give you an immediate visual of how you are spending your money.

My second challenge for March is going to be cleaning out my apartment and getting organized. I live in a one bedroom, Manhattan sized apartment. Yet I somehow manage to accumulate stuff. I just can't bear to throw things out or to see good items going to the trash. Yesterday I tripped over a stack of shoe boxes and a suitcase. Enough is enough. Things are going to get sold on ebay/, donated to charity or given away on freecycle.

Todays job will be to clean out all the extra magazines I have sitting around. I'm going to pull out the articles and recipes etc. that I want and recycle the rest. I've dug up some unused photo albums to use as a recipe keeper. This works great since the slots easily fit an index card and can be flipped through nicely. The plastic protects the recipe from splatter during cooking. I found a really cute album, like this one from amazon, just lying around my mom's house. Almost everyone I know has empty photo albums sitting around. Use them! There is no need to go out and buy a recipe holder, which usually costs more than your average discount photo album.

Also part of March will be a trip to Zurich. This is for work purposes and my work and my husbands work are picking up most of the tab. However, once work was flying us over there we chose to extend our stay a little bit. My blue sky credit card rewards will be covering a decent portion of the hotel. So you see - bonus points really can get you somehwere!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Deal Alert: Beechnut Toddler Welcome Kit

To receive a free kit with some beechnut toddler products as well as e-mail offer and coupons, click here and fill out the form.

Frugal Food: Making Yogurt

My grandmother passed away this year and during all the hullabaloo about cleaning out her apartment we found an old Salton yogurt maker. My mother wistfully remembered the days of yore when my grandmother used to enjoy making her own yogurt. Nobody in the family thought about taking the yogurt maker until I showed up and rescued it from the trash pile. Why buy yogurt when I could make it for a lot less myself?

There were several things that got in my way. First I had to ascertain if the yogurt maker still worked. When plugged in it seemed to heat up the little glass cups nicely. I figured it was still functional. Second was the fact that there were no instructions and the most anyone remembered about what my grandmother did was that there was milk involved. A day of googling ensued.

It appears that Salton is still manufacturing home yogurt machines. There were also several interesting websites on home yogurt production. The process is really very simple. You boil milk (185 farenheit) and then let it cool to an optimal temperature (about 110 Farenheit). When it reaches this optimal temperature you thrown in a little room temperature "starter culture". This starter culture is just a little bit of existing yogurt. At this point you divvy up the mixture into covered glass containers and incubate them in the yogurt maker. It incubates for 12 hours. I put in when I got home from work and let it go until the next morning.

For the adventurous who want to try this without a yogurt maker, you can incubate your yogurt in the oven at 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes an oven with the pilot light left on works best for this.

The results were beautifull. When I woke up I had a nice thick yogurt waiting for me. You can add various flavorings like preserves, honey or vanilla right before eating. Just remember to save a little bit of yogurt to use as the starter culture for your next batch. This was fun, easy and a lot less expenssive than purchasing yogurt.

My favorite yogurt, Greek yogurt,  requires one extra step. You must use a starter culture of Greek yogurt and then strain the finished product with a bouillon strainer or a cheesecloth. Greek yogurt costs an arm and a leg so I am thrilled to try this process at home as well!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Money Earner:

I joined a month ago after reading about in "Woman's Day" magazine. It seemed like a really cute website. I never thought I'd make any money from it. I was wrong.

The concept behind fiverr is simple, you post a task you are willing to do for five dollars. Others can then purchase this task. If you have something you'd like done you can post a request and see if someone is willing to do it. The tasks run from the mundane "I will SEO optimize your website" to the creative "I will draw a cartton about your pet" to the bizarre "I will shave my beard if you pay me five dollars".

I logged on and created an account. Then I posted a couple of jobs for fun. One of them got an order almost immediately. My job "I will write your letters" produced a response right away. I wrote the letter (a romantic one for someone's girlfriend) and then forgot about Fiverr. A couple of weeks later I got another order for a recommendation letter. Since then I have gotten two more recommendation letters and a corporate letter. I'm good at letter writing so these generally take me twenty minutes max. My performance feedback has been very good, making me feel good about myself.

The catch is that you don't get five dollars. The website takes one of the dollars immediately as commission so you start off with four dollars. Then paypal typically takes a small fee. So you end up with about 3.75 $ per job. Your money is held in escrow as soon as someone orders a job and is released to you two weeks after you complete the job. So I am not getting rich. But I am having a good time and bringing in a little extra cash.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Free American Airline Miles 100-100,00

American Airlines has a game up on their facebook page called "Mystery Miles Journey". Simply click on this link, "like" the page, and enter your AAdvantage number. Prizes range from 100 to 100.000 miles. The miles will post in 3-5 business days. Even if you only win a 100 miles this is a great way to extend the expiration date of your existing miles by having activity on your account.

Alternative phone plans

When it comes to savings, if I do not need something I don't buy it. If I do need something I try to find the best price out there. You'd be surprised at the things you can get for free. However the real savings come into play when you start to think about things you previously thought you needed. Take your phone landline for example. How much do you pay in your monthly phone bill? Imagine getting rid of that expense or significantly reducing it. All that money could go into your savings or towards paying down your debt.

It may very well be that you need that landline, but I'm here to tell you that you might not need to pay so much for it. Canceling your landline is a big step but consider the following alternative options:

1) Your cell pone. I do not have a landline. I do have a cell phone. When I tracked my phone usage I realized I was not using my phone all that much. I spend the bulk of the day at work and when I call family members after nine, cell phone minutes are free. For me it made more sense to just have my regular cell phone plan.

2)Skype provides you a "virtual" phone number which allows you to make phone calls and video conference from your computer. Calls from one skype pone number to another are free (a great option for people with relatives overseas). There are also several payment options that allow you to call other regular phone numbers. In pay-as-you-go you can call any U.S. phone number for 2.3 cents a minute. If you purchase a subscription you can choose from several options including unlimited calling for a low monthly rate. There is even a premium option that allows group video calling. If you are all ready paying for internet, Skype may provide you with a way to shave down your phone bill.

3) Magic Jack is a small device that you plug into your computer. You then plug a phone into the device and can make calls from anywhere in the U.S. or Canada, so long as you have internet service. You will need to pay an annual fee to the company and they will provide you with a phone number. In addition you can receive voice mail which will be sent to your email inbox.

4) Google can help you with your phone bill in several ways. If you have gmail (registering and using it is free) then you probably all ready know about gchat, Google's instant messaging system. If your computer has video capability you can video chat with other users for free. This is just like talking on the phone, but with visuals. You can always cover the camera and use the feature for voice communications only.

Google voice will provide you with a virtual phone number for free. You can plug your landline into your internet capable computer and receive phone calls for free. In addition you can set your google voice phone number to forward calls to your cell phone or any other phone if you want to receive them while you are out. You can have all of your phones or none of your phones ring when you receive a call. You can set ringing preference for specific callers. Phone calls within the U.S. and Canada are free. Long distance calls vary by country, but are generally very reasonable. Your voicemail can be forwarded to your email inbox or text message system if you want. It's easy to block unwated calls and there are lots of features packed into this service. It's probably BETTER than your current landline.

Finally if you refuse to let go of that landline, take a look at your bill. Many people sign up for package deals that include phone, internet, cable and other services. While these services can be a great deal they can also be a way for aggressive retailers to upsell you on features you do not use. Look at what features you actually use and compare them to the features you are paying for. It might be better to pay for each individually or work out a better, less inclusive, package.

I'm pretty happy with my cell phone and Google voice. I don't miss my landline at all. I certainly don't miss the phone bill.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Finding Money when I need it

This month my biggest most surprising variable expense is dental bills. For various reasons (including lack of dental insurance) I haven't been to the dentist for a long time. I went for a cleaning/checkup now that I have some form of dental plan and was informed I need about 750$ worth of cavity filling.

If you work it out - that's only about 70$ per year I did not go to the dentist, so it's not like it is outrageous but I've got to find that money somewhere. In addition if I earn the money I've got to put some away for the inevitable taxes - so I;ve decided I'd like to bring in 900$ of extra income. I have a few months to do this since the cavities are going to be filled over several appointments, the first of which is next week.

So far I've got 232 in the bank and 7$ pending.

212 from Demand studios articles (I've got several more claimed and will try and write them soon)
20 from my various squidoo lenses
7$ pending from my fiverr jobs. 3.50 will clear and arrive in the bank in four days. The other 3.50 will take two more weeks.

For more on my "side jobs" check out my web page "Great ways to Earn Money from Home"

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dress Shopping on a Budget

There are some very exciting events coming up in my family. However, these events are going to require an update my wardrobe. My husband's family has some pretty flashy/pricey dressers and I don't want to look under dressed. I also don't want to spend a fortune on dresses I can never wear again. So I focused my search on dresses that were moderately priced and somewhat modest, so that they can be worn again to events on my side of the family who are more modest dressers.

Here are my top two finds:

The teal dress usually retails for $80. However I found it on sale at Sears for $50. Combined with the Sears gift card that I purchased for half the sticker price, this dress cost me $25. I actually got it on a lovely deep purple color, to match a pair of shoes I have.

The second dress was $40 at Fox's in Miami. I have found Fox's often has great dresses for a steal. This dress fits me like a glove and looks gorgeous.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Something to Aspire to

I haven't been posting for the past week because I went on vacation to visit my grandmother in Florida. This is an annual trip and she pays for each grandchild to fly down to visit her once a year. It's great to see her and a nice recharge of our batteries to be in the sun for a little.

It's also interesting to see all the elderly people living the high life. It is very tempting to get sucked into self pity and wonder why you have to work all day. However, if you look at the lives many of these people lived you realize that they worked really hard to be able to afford their retirement. It's encouraging to see it paid of for them.

So for me, my trip to Florida was a little peek at something to aspire to. Back to the grind!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Deal Alert: 10$ for 20$ worth of Barnes and Noble credit.

Groupon has a deal today for 20$ worth of Barnes and Noble credit. You pay just 10$, saving 50%.

Here is the groupon.

Deal Alert: Free 2$ MP3 credit on amazon

Amazon is offering a 2$ credit per account on MP3 purchases. The code for redemption is VDAYMP3S.

Click HERE to add the coupon code to your account.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

February is Budget Month

The title of this post is a little deceptive. Every month is budget month because I try and stick t my budget every month. February is merely the month I am going to tell you about my budget in the most detail. When I think of a budget I like to think of it in two categories: fixed and variable. In the fixed category are my fixed income from work and my fixed expenses like rent and savings. In my variably categories are things like extra income from side jobs and extra expenses like gifts, or extra savings. I like to budget each category separately. Fixed expenses get paid with fixed income and a fixed amount goes to savings, without deviation if at all possible. When I know how much variable income I have (after it has been deposited in my bank account and not a moment before) I plan on how to spend it. Sometimes it gets used to boost savings, sometimes it goes for something more exciting like a trip.

How did I formulate this budget? Well, for starters my husband and I budget our money separately. I know this sounds bizarre but it is not like we withhold cash from each other. It just means that we each handle different parts of the budget. Large purchases are discussed by both parties. Our bank accounts are joint but we each manage a different account. We each pay half the rent etc. It gives us both a little latitutde in our spending without having to police the other party. We share the same attitudes about spending so this works well for us. It may not work for others.

The best way to formulate your budget is to spend a month or two writing down every thing you spend. This will help you get a feel for where your money is going, where you need to rein in and what you ned to plan for.

For singles who are about to get married or start living on their own, I seriously suggest siting down with both your parents and a friend who has been married for a while to hear about their budgets. The budget of a large family, in which the parents each have an established job is obviously going to differ from that of a yong couple that are both students. But hearing about the expenses of others can help you get a handle on what things you will have to pay for. I once sat down with a young couple making their budget. They had everything planned out. Except that they forgot to include health insurance, auto insurance, and utilities. Some budget huh? Sitting down with someone who has been living on their own can help you realize all the expenses you don't realize your parents are paying for you.

Here's a peek at my "fixed" monthly budget:

Income: 2,430
Tax - 238
Charity (religious obligation) - 200
Rent- 882
Utilities - included in rent
Health Insurance - paid by graduate school
Food - 300$ (this will be discussed at length in another post. I usually do not spend this much, but it is in there in case I need to).
Transportation - 40 $ (metro card)
Laundry - 12$
Drug store/Dr. co-pays - 60
Internet - Paid for by Graduate School
Savings- 500
Miscellaneous/leftover -  198. I try and put most of miscellaneous in savings too. But it is there so that I do not feel bad for having a lot of company for dinner/going on vacation/giving a wedding gift etc. When it pops up. That's what this money is for.

If you have debt paying it down should also be a line item in your budget. Obviously some months the categories need adjusting and you can shift money from to another but this gives you an idea of where your money is going and how you want to portion it out. You may need to have a car. That involves a large expense that I do not have - insurance, lease payments , gas.

Stay tuned for more on my variable budget, my food budget and great ways to track your spending online.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Credit Card Series: Making Money off your Credit Cards

Most people are happy to have our income meet our outflow, pay our credit card bills on time and have a good credit score for the day we want to a mortgage. But some people are more aggressive. We want our credit cards to work for us. We want more than the regular rewards associated with points. Yes, we are willing to spend hours of internet searching to figure out how to get free airline tickets and free gifts cards with out credit cards.

My husband is one of those people and he has sucked me into his universe. Here are the top credit card money making ideas I have found.

1) Mastercard Marketplace: This website allows Mastercard users to access special deals. Most of the deals are run of the mill discounts. You can usually find better deals by waiting for a sale. However the "Overwhelming Offers" are great. There is usually one overwhelming offer released per day and quantities of this offer are limited. To find out what the offer is in advance you should sign up to receive sneak peek e-mails. The best offers involve 75$ off 150$ at a retailer like Barnes and Noble. You are required to lay out the full amount on your Mastercard and then your card is credited a rebate.

Sounds pretty useless right? After all you did not want 150$ worth of stuff from Barnes and Noble. Well, often you can buy gift cards. You can get a 150$ gift card for 75$. You can then sell that gift card for 140$ (see my post on turning gift cards into cash) This means you net 65$! You can also get items you really want and were going to buy anyway - like that eReader you've been eyeing for the past month. There have been some great deals on both the kindle and the nook. There have also been deals for and priceline - a great way to save cash if you were traveling anyway.

What's the catch? The offers have a limited quantity so you need to be at your computer right when they are released to have a shot at claiming one. You will need to type in a verification code, and practicing this step is crucial to making sure you are first in line for that offer. Some offers sell out in 5 seconds! In addition, you must be very careful to follow the instructions provided to redeem your offer. You can't just go to Barnes and Noble and buy a gift card. You need to click through the "Buy it Now" link Mastercard Marketplace creates for you. This way they can track your deal and properly credit your card. You cannot combine this deal with any other offers or coupons. If you try, you will not get your rebate. Not every offer comes with a gift card option - so make sure you read the fine print.

There has been talk of instituting a penalty for those who do not use the offers they claim. So make sure to only reserve offers you will use and then follow through before the offer expiration date. Entire forums have opened about how to get the most out of Mastercard Marketplace. It's some pretty creative reading material.

2) American Express Daily Wish - This program is similar to the Mastercard program but it is for AMEX users. There are several differences from the MAstercard website. The first is that you can sign up for a weekly e-mail detailing what this weeks offers will be. The second is that there is no word verification to type. To obtain these offers you just need to be logged into your account and clicking at the right time. Offers still sell out very quickly. In addition, the quality of the offer varies. I find AMEX has deals on a lot of luxury items that I cannot use, and rarely has gift cards. They focus more on selling you an actual item. The other day I claimed an offer that qualified me for a gift card when I bought a certain amount of items at my grocery store - purchases I was going to make anyway. But those deals are less common than deals for jet skis and smartphones. However, when AMEX decides to have a good deal they go all out. Around the holidays they offered ipods for dirt cheap. Better yet, they were giving away free money. A limited amount of people were able to get visa gift cards for half of their ticket price.

What's the catch ? Offers are very limited. You must follow their instructions to the letter. Make sure to use the AMEX card with which you registered on Daily Wish to make the actual purchase - otherwise it won't work!

3) Maximizing your miles - There's nothing like flying around the world for free. How do you maximize your airline miles? The guys at flerytalk will tell you. These people have devoted their lives to figuring out how to get the most miles from their cards. Ideas range from opening up new credit cards and bank accounts (for the sign on bonus) to making purchases at certain store that qualify for double or triple miles. Just do a thread search and find out the best ways to use your card to increase your mileage. I've gotten tickets to Israel, Portugal and Switzerland for free thanks to their advice.

What's the catch? These people are obsessed and clearly have a lot of time on their hands. Some of their suggestions are extremely time intensive and borderline unethical. You need to sift through those ideas to find the ones that work for you. You also need to be really organized to pull this off.