Tag Archive | "saving money"

When should you repair it or replace it?

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When should you repair it or replace it?


Junk PileI know that at some point you’ve had your favorite gadget or appliance brake and you are left with the conundrum – Do I repair it or do I replace it?

What I find really fascinating about this question is the change in habits over the last 50 years. Our parents and their parents repaired things. If your vacuum broke for example, then you had a repair guy. Today, we usually throw it out and just buy a new one. But why?

  • In part, stuff just doesn’t cost as much as it did before making it cheaper to replace than before. Advances in technology and supply chain management have drastically reduced the cost of goods.
  • We have more money than prior generations. It took my dad many years of working to get to the salary I was earning just out of college.
  • Our culture has also changed. We don’t have an on-call repair guy. I personally wouldn’t know who to call to fix a vacuum.
  • Buying something new can sometimes just be easier. Rather than experience any downtime or have to find a repair service, we just cut out the pain and buy a new one.
  • We want a newer model.
Despite those reasons, there still are cases when it makes sense to repair your broken item. Here are some guidelines.
  • Set a dollar figure that is your threshold for repairing. For example, if the broken item costs more than $100 then see if you can repair it.
  • If the repair costs less than 50% of the cost of a new one, then repairing it is probably worth it. For example, if your $150 pair of Bose headphones break and it costs $80 to repair them, then you may want to just replace them. But if it costs $60, then you may want to repair your headphones.
So where should you go to find repair services? I know that I’ve struggled with this, so here’s what I’ve found.
  • Talk to your neighbors. You might be surprised by what they can do. As part of my Eagle Scout project as a teenager, I repaired a bunch of bicycles. One of the Scout leaders happen to have a background in bike repair. So he had knowledge and tools.
  • The good old Yellow Pages are a great place to start. And these days, you can search the Yellow Pages online.
  • Sites like ServiceMagic.com can help you find a contractor or repair guy for just about anything. There is a Handyman Services and Appliance Repair sections.
  • Just spend a little time on Google searching. Start with very specific searches such as “repair Bose headphone model AE2i” and then go less specific, such as “repair Bose headphones,” if you can’t find what you are looking for.
The objective is to save some money, but not give yourself a headache trying to fix everything. Some things should just be replaced. Tell us in the comments section some of the things you’ve repaired instead of replaced. And fore more money saving tips, follow Rabbit Funds on Twitter.

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Dear Retailers: I want Thanksgiving back!

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Dear Retailers: I want Thanksgiving back!


I’m outraged. And you should be too. Black Friday is officially taking over Thanksgiving. Is this nation so obsessed with profits that we will throw our heritage and family traditions out the window?

Crowd at Wal-mart

Image courtesy of Mashable.com

I love Black Friday. I love the great deals. I love getting up early and fighting the crowds to get just what I wanted. But I believe that Black Friday should be confined to Friday.

This year, retailers moved opening times up to midnight on Thanksgiving. To help shoppers, stores offered floor maps. The Wal-mart near our home had a huge board with all the deals and their locations on a large map. Wal-mart had specialists on stand-by all Thanksgiving day to help shoppers plan out the best plan of attack.

I was sickened by all of this. What has happened to Thanksgiving? This holiday is uniquely focused on spending time appreciating what we have. Retailers have taken that away and turned the focus to what we want.

So this is me saying, “I want Thanksgiving back!” Do not open your doors before 5AM on Friday. Do not steal the attention from things that actually matter. If you agree with me, let everyone else know in the comments below.

While I’m on this kick, I have another concern. I fear that many individuals fall victim to the coupon effect that I have discussed before (Why coupons could cost you more money). It is so easy to buy something because of the awesome deal or price that we are getting. But too often, that thing isn’t something that we would normally buy. Meaning, you haven’t saved any money. Let me give you an example.

Let’s say you see a 32 inch LCD LED TV on sale at Best Buy. The price is unbeatable. You will not find this price again any time soon. So you buy it. But you weren’t actually planning on buying a TV at all. The low price changed your buying behavior and enticed you into buying the TV. You didn’t save any money. You only spent money.

And what’s even more scary than the fake savings are the lengths that many Americans go to for Black Friday. Mashable.com created a gallery of pictures posted to Twitter of the crazy crowds at stores across America (see image above). Also, what about the violence? Did you see the article about the Grandpa who was beaten unconscious by policemen because they believed he was shoplifting? Apparently, the crowd began to get a bit violent so the Grandpa stuck the item he was intending to buy in his waistband and picked up his grandson to save him from being trampled. The man was taken to the hospital and then booked into jail.

Are you kidding me?! What has happened to Thanksgiving? We have become obsessed with stuff and are willing to sacrifice one of the most amazing holidays for it.

As an aside, this post was featured in the 337th Carnival of Persona Finance hosted at MyPersonalFinanceJourney.com. Thanks for reading.

Posted in Family, FeaturedComments (2)

How I spent only $77 on a trip to New York City [VIDEO]

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How I spent only $77 on a trip to New York City [VIDEO]


We are on a pretty tight budget right now – new baby and Christmas are on their way. So when I got the good news that I had an interview with Oxford’s MBA program in New York City, I immediately went into how-do-I-spend-as-little-as-possible mode. Here’s a break down of how I was able to only spend $77.31 flying across the country.

The value of frequent flyer programs

I am a big fan of loyalty programs and mileage plans in particular. I am a diehard Delta flier (or flyer since I need to start using the British spelling). Because I travel a bit for work, I have a bunch of miles saved up. I also opened an American Express Skymiles card a few months ago and received 20,000 miles just for opening the card. I don’t have any annual fees for the first year.

And because I’m a Medallion member, I don’t pay any baggage fees. Being a Amex Skymiles card holder also gives me and upto 8 other individuals traveling with me free checked luggage.

Roundtrip airfare cost 25,000 miles and $5. Opening the Amex Skymiles card almost covered the entire purchase.

The value of a good book

In case you haven’t flown recently, airlines charge you for everything. In airline industry lingo, it’s called a-la-carte pricing, unbundled pricing or ancillary revenue. Rather than put the price of everything into the ticket, passengers can choose just what they want to pay for. Delta offers seat back in-flight entertainment systems and wireless Internet access on many of its routes. Unfortunately, many of the entertainment options cost money. Enter Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, or any other book that you want to read. I was able to finish up reading Trust Agents, which I started on a recent flight to California.

The cost for in-flight entertainment was $0.

The value of good friends

Next to airfare, lodgings are usually the next most costly part of a trip. Though thanks to Facebook, I keep in touch with a lot of old friends, including several that live in New York. I quickly messaged one on Facebook and was hooked up with a place to crash for the one night as well as food.

Over night accommodations cost $0.

The value of public transportation

There is very little public transportation where I live. Not because I live in a rural area or anything, but it’s very suburban and too spread out for mass transit. I didn’t learn the value of mass transit like subways until I lived in Mexico City for two years. My friend was able to give me directions on how to use public transportation to get from JFK airport (which I hate) to his place. From there, I used the subway system to get around New York. I avoided using taxis, shuttles or black car services to keep my costs low.

Local transportation costs came to $43.50.

The value of awesome, cheap New york style pizza

I love pizza. And I really love pizza in New York. My friends had planned to provide dinner for me the night I arrived. Unfortunately, they unexpectedly ended up in the hospital for a few hours, leaving me on my own for dinner. I went to Sal’s Pizzeria in Mamaroneck, New York for some amazing pizza and gelato. Okay, I splurged on the gelato. But they had stracciatella and hazelnut gelato! I also had pizza the next day for lunch near Ground Zero. The good thing about pizza in New York is that it’s good and cheap.

Food costs came to a whopping $28.81 despite having to unexpectedly having to pay for dinner.

Final thoughts

I decided that I would share my final thoughts, as well as a few scenes from my trip, via video rather than making you read more. Enjoy!

Also, this post was featured in an edition of the Festival of Frugality.

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3 Ways to save money at dinner time

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3 Ways to save money at dinner time


One of the expense categories where my wife and I struggle the most is dining out. And I imagine that we are not the only ones. In fact, many of m friends find themselves splurging a little too often on dining out. So why the lack of self control despite having a budget and feeling so committed at the beginning of the month?

Here are my thoughts. Please add your own reasons in the comments.

Commit to a dinner plan before you are hungry

Much like the adage, “Don’t grocery shop while you are hungry,” you should avoid making the “What’s for dinner?” decision while you are hungry. Though don’t just decide early in the day that you will be staying in, actually commit to your decision by putting the meal into action. For some of you stronger willed individuals, committing may mean just getting the chicken out to thaw. For the rest of us, we need to go the extra step and practically make half the meal before getting hungry.

Another reason for committing early in the day is to avoid the temptation after work while you are in the car running errands or driving home. Many of our lapses in judgement are a result of deciding what to do for dinner while we are driving around. Going home, preparing the meal, cleaning up, etc. sounds like so much work when, “Hey, isn’t Cafe Rio just around the corner?”

So at least plan on your meal early in the day or week. It’s even more effective though if you can commit to your plans be beginning your preparations.

Reduce the size of the expensive main dish

Grilled Chicken

I’ll give you an example to illustrate what I mean. I have a family of four. My two little girls don’t eat a lot, so we grilled up only three chicken breasts for dinner last night. My girls shared one breast, my wife and I shared a breast, and the third was stuck in tupperware as my lunch for the following day. Now, half a chicken breast won’t fill many guys, including myself. So we made garlic bread (purchased for $1) and vegetables such as corn (which we buy in bulk from Costco). By the end of the meal, I was full despite having had a small portion of protein (the most expensive part of the meal).

So get creative and add tasty, inexpensive sides to your dinner time meals that allow you to make a smaller portion of the expensive part of the meal. This same tip is also great for losing weight. Controlling portion sizes is one of the biggest factors in a successful, long term diet plan.

Make sure to have leftovers from dinner

Another expense category where many families struggle is work lunch. Your best laid plans to get up early to make sure that you have enough time to make and pack a lunch can easily fall through if you hit the snooze button one too many times. However, if you have leftovers from last night’s dinner already packed and ready to go, then you are much less likely to eat out come lunch time.

This money saving tactic obviously isn’t rocket science but does take some planning and forethought. For example, not all meals re-heat well or a recipe may only serve four but you need it to serve five in order to have one leftover meal.

You also have to practice self-control at dinner time. It’s happened more than once that my wife has made extra but my appetite took over and I ate everything. So stop after your portion is gone. This is also a healthy habit to form as well. Extra servings are rarely needed.

So what other tips do you have for saving money at dinner time?

Posted in Saving Money, Family, FeaturedComments (8)

Rabbit Funds: The Best of 2010 and What it Says About Readers

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Rabbit Funds: The Best of 2010 and What it Says About Readers


As we begin 2011, I find myself still reflecting on 2010 and what I’ve accomplished. Seth Godin recommends making a list of what we’ve “shipped” or completed this year. As part of my reflection, I’ve analyzed the traffic to Rabbit Funds to see what you, the reader, like.

Rabbit Funds LogoFirst, thank you. Without you and your readership, this site would not exist.

As I looked at the stats, I was a little surprised to be honest. Some posts that I took great pride in faired okay while other posts that I thought were average were really well received. Apparently, my crystal ball is broken.

I thought you might like to see some of the stats. So I’ve outlined below the 10 Most Viewed Posts and the 3 Most Commented Posts and added some thoughts from me about the stats indicate about readers. Let me know what you think in the comments.

The Top 10 Most Viewed Posts

  1. Money Hacks Carnival #104: Have you ever? – A lot of traffic actually comes from searches for Jack Nicholson as the Joker, which was featured in this post. I should therefore devote more time to celebrity gossip ;)
  2. 3 Reasons Dave Ramsey is wrong about Credit Cards – Not everyone thinks that every word that drips from Dave’s mouth is manna from heaven.
  3. 49 Expenses that are not emergencies – People like lists.
  4. 6 More ways to stop overspending and save money – With tough economic times, you are looking to change or improve your financial situation. Keep it up!
  5. REVIEW: Mint.com and the new Goals feature – If you are still looking for reviews on Mint.com, then stop it and sign-up today.
  6. HOW TO: Dejunk your home, sell stuff, and be happier – Wanting extra cash, you are looking for tips/advice on selling stuff in your home.
  7. Why Hubspot fails at social marketing –  Ranting and raving usually seems to get some attention.
  8. Dave Ramsey said to sell my stuff and payoff debt – Some more Dave love.
  9. 5 Ways too stop overspending – Debt isn’t fun and you are looking for ways to rid yourself of spending habits.
  10. INTERVIEW: Seth Risenmay, Founder of MoneyDesktop.com –  You are looking for and researching budgeting tools. Yeah!

The Top 3 Most Commented Posts

  1. Money Hacks Carnival #104: Have you ever? – Most of the comments are from other bloggers. So this post almost doesn’t count. But it does show that finance bloggers are grateful.
  2. 3 Reasons Dave Ramsey is wrong about Credit Cards – Again, it seems that folks want to have their say if it’s a controversial topic.
  3. 6 More ways to stop overspending and save money – It’s interesting that the top commented posts are also three of the most visited posts. I’m happy to see that you are looking at and engaging in discussions about saving money.

The Coming Year

Thank you again for helping to make 2010 a great year for Rabbit Funds and the personal finance community in general. As for 2011, I will work hard to continue providing great content and look forward to interacting with you. As always, your comments, suggestions, and feedback are always welcome.

To stay up-to-date with the coming posts about saving money, budgeting, and financial planning in general, subscribe to the Rabbit Funds RSS Feed or Follow us on Twitter. Good luck and good investing!

P.S. Rabbit Funds was recently selected as an Editor’s Pick in the 288th Carnival of Personal Finance hosted at  DollarMatters.com. If you are looking for some great articles to read, then go check out the line-up.

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5 Financial activities to help kids appreciate Christmas

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5 Financial activities to help kids appreciate Christmas


I have two girls, two and one, and for Christmas this year, we talked about how we could help our two year old begin to understand what Christmas is actually about – and no it’s not about receiving gifts. No matter what your religion or beliefs are, Christmas is a time to think about things bigger than yourself. Christmas is a time to throw our inner-Scrooge out and help others.

Christmas PresentYoung children, though, are generally only exposed to the commercial Santa Claus story instead of the figure of a man determined to bring cheer and happiness to innocent and equally deserving children the world over. I largely place the blame at the feet of Hollywood (who lost its values long ago) and retailers. Please do not misunderstand me though. I have no problem with Hollywood and retailers trying to make money. However, profits do not incentivize them to create an accurate or compelling story of the true meaning of Christmas. That responsibility falls to parents, as it should.

To give you a few ideas, I’ve compiled a list of five activities to teach children how to appreciate Christmas and what it really means.

1) Earn money for gifts

Growing up, my siblings and I would go to Grandpa’s house and rank the leaves to earn $100 that was to be spent on buying Christmas gifts. First, there were a lot of leaves. I mean a lot. Second, raking those leaves are some of my fondest holiday memories. Even at a very young age, we helped in whatever way we were capable and were equally rewarded.

Earning money that I then exclusively spent on others was not something I did often. So having that experience each year gave me a nearly singular opportunity to develop an attitude of financial sacrifice. Also, I learned that Grandpa makes up the difference. The 5 year old was probably more trouble than help. And yet, he would receive as much compensation as the 9 year old and 12 year old. Why? Because Grandpa made up the difference by working a little harder. Wouldn’t this world be so much better if we all worked a little harder to make up the difference?

2) Create a Christmas budget

Once your children have earned money for Christmas gifts, have them create a Christmas budget. For example, have them create categories like Charity, Family, Friends, Schoolmates, etc. Within each category, list the names of everyone who will receive a gift. Last, place a dollar value next to each person’s name.

When picking the values, let your children do it. Hopefully, it doesn’t add up to the amount that they actually have to spend. Let me explain why I would hope that happens. If the amount does not add up, then you have the opportunity to talk about balancing a budget. So let’s say that your child has $100 to spend but wants to spend $150. Explain that the budget can’t exceed your income, or the $100. Then revise the budget together. I wish more adults had this skill.

3) Participate in a local charity program

As part of the budget, allocate a few dollars for a charity program in your area. You will probably need to add some money to the budget. Where I live, we have Sub-for-Santa and Angel Tree. Both programs allow you to go and buy gifts for a specific child or family. This year, we selected a two year old girl and had our two year old, Kennedy, help pick the gifts. We told her that she was giving presents to another little girl that was her “friend.” I’m not sure she fully understood, but will in time.

4) Volunteer time at a shelter

Okay, this one doesn’t really involve money unless you think time is money. Nevertheless, serving those less fortunate almost never fails to teach appreciation for the things and luxuries in one’s life. In fact, you may realize that having a pantry with food in it is considered a luxury in most parts of the world. Afterwords, talk about how being educated, getting a good job, and earning money allows us to help others.

5) Have them put Christmas money received as a gift in savings

If your kids receive money as a Christmas gift, have them put it in savings or open a savings account if they don’t have one yet. Make sure to make them a part of the entire process. Meaning, even have the four year old go in and hand the money to the teller. Have the nine year old fill out the deposit slip.

My cousins always had to put their Christmas money in savings while I was allowed to spend it all. Now, I wish that I would have been encouraged to save it, or at least most of it. I usually received sufficient toys from my family and the savings would have been helpful down the road.

What holiday traditions do you have to help teach your children about the true meaning of Christmas?

Posted in Budgeting, FeaturedComments (1)

7 Airline and Hotel Fees to be Aware of Before Traveling

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7 Airline and Hotel Fees to be Aware of Before Traveling


I recently spent a week in California on business. Some of my friends think that it was actually a vacation. Though believe me, the 14 hours a day working would approve otherwise. But I digress. During my trip, I was surprised by a number of fees that I did not expect to pay.

Airline FeesWhy all of the extra fees?

First, let me give some background as to why the travel industry is charging for amenities that used to be “free.” I happen to work in the travel industry and am very familiar with the pricing schemes that airlines, in particular, employ.

In the past, an airline ticket or hotel room price encompassed many of the amenities such as baggage or Internet. The move to charging for these services is often called a-la-carte or unbundled pricing. The move to a-la-carte pricing is based in simple economics. In Economics 101, we learn that consumers are willing to pay different prices for the same good or service. If you were to graph all of the prices a given populous is willing to pay, then you’d have a Demand curve. By making checked baggage, carry-on baggage (thank you Spirit Airlines), in-flight entertainment, and so forth available at a price, an airline allows consumers to pay just what they are willing to pay.

Essentially, the travel industry provides a basic service like a hotel room and then says, “Everyone who wants to pay $15 more, please pay here. Everyone that wants to pay $25 more, please pay here. Everyone who wants to pay…” You get the point. A-la-carte pricing benefits the company because travelers who don’t want to pay much, don’t have to. For example, I can book a cheap flight and carry-on my luggage.

A-la-carte pricing schemes also benefit consumers since you are able to pay less if you want less. The price of the extra amenities are no longer bundled into the price of the service. However, you need to be aware of what is free and what you have to pay for before traveling or you may be caught off guard and end up paying much more than you expected.

7 Airline and hotel fees

Consider contacting your air carrier and hotel before your trip to find out if the following are free or what they cost.

Airlines

  1. Checked Baggage – If you’ve flown in the last year or two, then you probably know that you have to pay for checked baggage. However, some airlines charge only for the second or third piece and the first piece is free. Others, like Delta, charge for even the first piece. Further, the price per bag goes up with each piece. Other airlines, like Southwest, do not charge for any checked baggage.
  2. Carry-on Baggage – Spirit Airlines recently introduced a fee for carry-on baggage, while lowering the price of a ticket at the same time. In part, this fee is in response to the frequent flyers who were “gaming” the system by not checking an over-sized piece of luggage and showing up at the gate with it. Since the luggage is over-sized, it has to be checked and can’t be carried on. Since checking at the gate was free, the traveler avoided the checked baggage fee. Gone are those days on Spirit.
  3. In-flight entertainment (IFE) – I have a particular expertise in this area. If you are sitting in Coach or Economy class, expect to pay for IFE. On average, one movie will cost about $6. If you are flying First or Business class, then the IFE is usually free. Some airlines will give you free access to content such as TV shows and charge only for premium content such as movies.  If you are traveling with kids, you’ll definitely want to find out what’s on board and what it costs. You can use SeatGuru.com to find out if your flight will have in-flight entertainment. But you’ll have to talk to the airline to find out the cost.
  4. Restrooms – Ryanair, based in Ireland, is well-known for inundating passengers with fees. The CEO, Michael O’Leary, stated in April of this year that they were considering charging for restroom access. The point is, before you fly, do some research online about the airline and find out what you’ll have to pay extra for.

Hotels

  1. Continental Breakfast – Even though your hotel offers a complimentary continental breakfast, find out what is included. For example, I’ve seen them range from eggs, pancakes, and sausage to just pastries and cold cereal. If you are picky about breakfast, which I am when traveling, then find out what’s on the menu.
  2. Internet Access – Many hotels offer free Wi-Fi Internet. However, the Westin where I stayed last week did not. I had to pay $9 per day for poor Internet access.
  3. Business Center – Unfortunately, I do more business travel than leisure. And almost always, I need to print something. At the Westin where I stayed last week, I was frustrated to find that I had to pay $6 to access the computer in the psuedo-business center (on top of the $9 for Internet access I had already purchased) just to print three pages. Most hotels in my experience don’t charge for a limited access to a computer and printer.

Expect to see more fees

The reality is that airlines are not making any profits. In order to recoup huge investments in expensive aircraft and infrastructure, the a-la-carte pricing scheme allows airlines to make more money and stay in business. Though, I hate to end on a sad note. So enjoy one of my favorite MAD TV skits.

For more information on financial planning topics, sign up for our RSS Feed and receive new posts directly in your favorite RSS reader.

(Photo Credit: Examiner.com)

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Why eating out gives us buyer’s remorse

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Why eating out gives us buyer’s remorse


Why do we feel the need to eat out?

I mean really. Of course there are the advantages like no preparation or clean up. But is it worth the extra expense?

For example. I called my wife about 5:30PM yesterday to let her know that I’d be coming home from work in about 30 minutes. She then mentioned that we didn’t have a meal readily available in-house and that she wanted to take her younger sister who’s staying with us out for a meal. Being in a good mood, I said, “No problem. You girls decide where you want to go and I’ll be home shortly.”

Red Lobster

Due to health conditions, my sister-in-law has a very strict diet that excludes many types of food. So they decided on seafood and off to Red Lobster we went. Since crabfest is going on, my wife and I both ordered a pound of succulent snow crab with about a dozen shrimp scampi. The food was enjoyable. My 10 month old loved the crab.

But then the bill came. Seventy-three dollars later, I’m sitting there thinking, “Why did we do this?” The effects of cognitive dissonance were beginning to set in.

Cognitive disso-what?!

Better known as “buyer’s remorse”, cognitive dissonance is what we experience when our actions don’t fall in line with our beliefs. Our brain raises a red flag saying, “Why are you doing this? This action goes against what we believe about the world or ourself.”

And yet, we as consumers are so well trained to ignore that mental alarm and act in contrary to our beliefs and desires. I believe that fundamental to the issue is the habit of instant gratification that has been nurtured by the “me” or “now” generation. Our grandparents, the people who survived the Great Depression, are skilled ninjas in the art of waiting. And yet, that crucial skill seems lost on many Americans.

What are your beliefs about spending, budgeting, and frugality?

I propose a simple, yet potentially life changing exercise. Sit down this afternoon with a pad of paper and answer three questions.

  1. What did your parents teach you about money?
  2. How do you currently view money and its affects on your lifestyle, goals and dreams?
  3. What actions, such as eating out, are currently in contrast to your views?

From this simple task, you may discover that your attitudes are what they should be. Or that your behavior does not reflect your beliefs. Also, you may discover the root of the issue – your childhood (said slow and deep).

So how bad is eating out and what can you do to change your habits?

Here’s what a few of my colleagues have to say on the topic:

Lunch Savings Calculator provided by Mortgage-calc.com allows you to input what you’d spend making a homemade lunch versus eating out, for how many years, and the investment rate you could yield with the savings.

Saving Money Not Eating Out by Me Financially Free outlines how he estimates an annual savings of $2,340 by not eating out for lunch.

How Much Money Can You Save by NOT Eating Out over at OutOfYourRut.com not only addresses the potential savings, but gives you eight suggestions for spicing things up in the kitchen.

Save Money by Not Eating Out for an Entire Month presented by Les O’dell at Good Financial Cents talks about some of the non-financial benefits in addition to the financial benefits from not eating out.

What tricks or tips have you used to avoid eating out? For more information and commentary, fan us on Facebook!

Posted in Saving Money, FeaturedComments (5)

Summer Utility Bills Got You Down? Find Another Way to Chill!

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Summer Utility Bills Got You Down? Find Another Way to Chill!


You probably already pay a lot for your utilities.  With electronics galore cluttering up your house, old appliances draining precious energy, and summer temperatures soaring (necessitating the dreaded switch to AC), you’re beginning to feel the crunch on your finances from summer utility bills.

However, there are a few simple tricks you can try to cut down on your utility bills through the hot summer months.

  1. ThermometerUpgrade to energy star. Trade in your old appliances for new energy-efficient models.  True, there is a hefty initial cost, but between government tax credits, rebates or cash back from utility companies, and a reduction of 25-30% in your monthly bill, they practically pay for themselves.  Along these lines, you can also consider low-flow toilets, tankless water heaters, and a more efficient AC unit and furnace.  Bonus: you’re making the planet a little greener.
  2. Stop leakage. Nobody likes a leaky…well, anything.  You certainly don’t want to let out the “bought air”, so think about hiring an auditor to come out and assess areas that may be leaking.  If an audit is out of your price range, you can try it on your own by running your hands along the edges of doors, windows, baseboards, outlets, etc. to determine potential problem areas.  Then you can simply fill them in with foam weather stripping or caulk (both can be obtained pretty cheaply at your local hardware store).
  3. Get smart strips. These work in much the same way as the sleep mode on your computer.  When electronics are not in use, the smart strip cuts off power to the devices plugged into it, relieving you of the burden of paying for idle current or alternately, the constant annoyance of unplugging everything in your house.  Most of these strips claim to pay for themselves within six weeks of usage.  Not too shabby.
  4. Use a grill. Summer cooking can overheat your house and put your AC on high alert.  So get outside and enjoy those nice evening breezes.  In addition to keeping your temperature cool and controlled indoors, cooking outside cuts down on electricity or gas needed to run your stove.  And BBQ is delicious!
  5. Plant a tree. Yeah, it’s for your tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about it today.  Having leafy trees that soar above your rooftop will help keep your house cool throughout the summer, so even if it doesn’t get tall enough for a few years, it’s an inexpensive way to make your house more efficient in the long run and add a little natural beauty.

What else hav you tried in order to save money during the summer months? For more money saving tips, sign-up for Rabbit Funds’ RSS Feed!

Author Info: Thomas Warren is a content writer for Go College, one of the oldest and most trusted resources to guide students on how to finance and succeed in college.

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REVIEW: Mint.com and the new Goals feature

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REVIEW: Mint.com and the new Goals feature


For the purpose of this post, I am assuming that you already believe in budgeting. Meaning, I intend to review Mint.com as a budgeting software solution and not attempt to persuade you that you should be budgeting (though you should be).

Before detailing my experiences, let me start by saying that I love Mint.com. I had been a hardcore Microsoft Money user for years and was devastated to find out that they were discontinuing the product. Looking for a cheap, straightforward alternative, I decided to attempt Mint.com.

Here’s a brief outline of what I like and don’t like.

Likes

  1. Free – If you are just starting to budget, then Mint is a good way to get your feet wet with a strong tool that is user friendly and free.
  2. Auto-updates my accounts – This feature is fairly standard to most budgeting software but still worth mentioning. You use an obscure bank or credit union, then auto-updating may not be possible.
  3. Offers – Mint.com makes money through third party offers such as credit card companies and brokerage firms. First, the “advertising” is not obtrusive to the user experience and you usually have to go looking for the offers (“Ways to Save” tab). Second, although I am opposed to credit cards and the like, I believe that consumers with credit card debt may benefit from lower interest rates or better terms. So I believe there is value in helping compare offers.

Dislikes

  1. Only simple reports – Having used Microsoft Money for years, I had fallen in love with being able to quickly and easily create custom reports to analyze just about any part of my financial house. With Mint, you are restricted to a small set of non-customizable reports.
  2. No debt management tool – Ok, so that statement is a little misleading. Until the recent addition of Goals, Mint offered no way to systematically eliminate your debt using techniques such as the debt snowball. Though, I outline my experience with the tool below.
  3. Mint.com Budget Left OverDoes not take into account savings – I really like the Budgeting feature. It is straightforward and easily accommodates custom budgets and helps you save for non-monthly expenditures (i.e. it tells me how much to save each month in order to pay for my wife’s salon trip every 4 months that always costs more than she says it will). However, I tried to add a budget for what I stick into my Roth IRA account, which is tracked by Mint, and the budget disappeared. Meaning, that investment amount isn’t subtracted from my spending and it appears that I have more money to spend than I actually do (see image to the right). I tried adding a ‘dummy’ Savings budget so I’d know not to spend the money, but then the investment isn’t tracked correctly.

The new Goals feature

Let me start by saying that it’s about time!

I’m honestly a little surprised that it has taken the team at Mint.com this long to add a goals feature. Either way, we have it now. When you click on the Goals tab, you are presented with a number of “off the shelf” options or a create your own goal option.

Mint.com Goals Feature

“Get out of Debt” goal

Excited to see how the debt elimination feature worked, I decided to see how I could payoff my mortgage sooner. To my surprise, the only debt I was allowed to eliminate was my one credit card (which has a balance of $176). Dismayed, I selected my credit card and hit Next. Mint then analyzed my discretionary income (or extra income after expenses), the minimum due on my credit card, and the interest rate. Mint’s advice was to pay the minimum, only $15, for one year despite sufficient discretionary income to pay it off much sooner. Like now. Simply put – Mint’s debt management program failed.

“Take a Trip” goal

Though, I believe everyone deserves a fair chance. So I attempted to create a different goal. My little family will be headed out to Washington D.C. next Spring to see her family. Below is what I entered. This time, I felt everything worked very well. We were able to give the goal our own name and upload a pic to motivate ourselves – very cool.

Mint.com Trip Planning

Despite the drawbacks of the debt reduction goal, I definitely give the Goals feature two thumbs up.

Last question, is it safe?

Let’s be honest. If I am sharing my account information with a site, I want to know that it’s safe. In a video posted to YouTube, Mint’s CEO Aaron Patzer explains how Mint approaches security. I’m pretty paranoid about my identity being stolen and take a good number of precautions. So far though, I have felt completely safe using Mint.

My recommendation is that if you are not currently using any budget software or if you are unsatisfied with the one you are using (this includes Microsoft Excel), then check out Mint.com.

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Freedom Week: Financial Emancipation Proclamation

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Freedom Week: Financial Emancipation Proclamation


To celebrate the birth of our nation and the freedoms that we are afforded, I am writing three posts this week with a twist. Each post is based on an influential document which has given us rights.

So far this week, I have posted the Financial Declaration of Independence and Financial Bill of Rights. Today’s post, adapted from President Lincoln’s declaration which challenged slavery head-on, is the Financial Emancipation Proclamation. Without further ado:

Financial Emancipation Proclamation

Financial Emancipation Proclamation

On this second day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand and ten, all persons held as slaves within any State of Debt or living without the benefit of a Budget shall now be in rebellion against Credit Cards, Living Paycheck to Paycheck, and Overspending, and shall be now and henceforward, and forever frugal; and the people of the Unites States, banded together, will recognize and maintain our own freedom, and will do no act or acts to enslave ourselves, regardless of marketing schemes and any efforts creditors and stores may make to entice us to empty our wallets and bank accounts.

That the people will, on this second day of July, by proclamation, designate the debts, if any, in which we the people shall use the Debt Snowball Method to speedily eliminate said debts; and heeding the call by Dave Ramsey, and other financial experts, shall on this day cut, melt, or in other words destroy by any means the credit cards by which we have amassed the greatest consumer debt on record; in the absence of credit cards, we will institute budgets based on our available cash, after fair taxes, charitable donations, and savings contributions, that will allow us to control overspending and live without fear of eminent bankruptcy.

Now, therefore we, the People of the United States, by virtue of the power vested in us as citizens of a free nation and granted by Nature’s God, do, on this second day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand and ten, and in accordance with our money saving purposes do publicly proclaim, from this day forward, to commit to solemnly live by, resulting in peace of mind and financial independence, the following, to wit:

Refined Budgets, Sound Cash Management, Adequate Life Insurance, Sufficient Auto and Home Insurance, Debt Avoidance, Frugality, Bargain Hunting, Retirement Account Funding, College Savings, Stock Speculation Avoidance, Affordable Home Owning, Index Mutual Funds, Estate Planning, and Tax Planning.

Signed this 30th day of June, 2010,

Adam Williams and the Rabbit Funds team

Sign the Financial Emancipation Proclamation by leaving a comment in the comments section below and follow Rabbit Funds on Facebook for more great financial planning info.

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Freedom Week: Financial Bill of Rights

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Freedom Week: Financial Bill of Rights


Bill of Rights

To celebrate the birth of our nation and the freedoms that we are afforded, I am writing three posts this week with a twist. Each post is based on an influential document which has given us rights.

On Monday, I outlined the Financial Declaration of Independence. Today’s post, based on the United States’ Bill of Rights, is the Financial Bill of Rights.

  1. First Amendment – Freedom from debt, credit cards, and HELOCs
    We shall take out no unnecessary debt living beyond our means, which prohibits free exercise of other rights; or overspend through the use of credit cards; or enslave ourselves through the use of HELOCs; rather save the necessary sum to pay cash for wants and needs.
  2. Second Amendment – Right to keep and have savings
    A well regulated Automatic Savings Plan, being necessary to the security of a financially free Family, the right to an Emergency Fund, shall not be infringed.
  3. Third Amendment – Protection from bank failure through FDIC insurance
    No Investor shall, in time of peace place cash savings in any bank, without FDIC insurance, nor in time of war, but use multiple banks as necessary.
  4. Fourth Amendment – Refusal of Interest Only and Adjustable Rate Mortgages
    The right of the people to be secure in their houses, condos, and town houses, against needless foreclosures and bankruptcies, shall not be violated, and no Interest Only or ARMs shall be issued, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
  5. Fifth Amendment – Health, life, AD&D and LTD insurance
    No person shall be without Health insurance, or adequate Life insurance, sufficient for final expenses and income replacement, except in cases when no financial means to purchase insurance exists, while actively seeking new employment or other income source; nor shall any income producing person be without Accidental Death and Dismemberment insurance; nor shall any income producing person be without Long Term Disability, sufficient to replace 60% of the normal wage.
  6. Sixth Amendment – Right to steady, growing mutual fund returns
    In all mutual fund investments, the investor shall enjoy the expectation of steady, growing returns, by careful fund selection based on principles of positive alpha, fair management fees, consistent performance, and passive management where appropriate; each fund consistent with a target asset allocation plan; to have compulsory purchases avoided and decisions based on sound investing principles.
  7. Seventh Amendment – Consistent asset allocation by rebalancing
    In accordance with a predetermined asset allocation plan, where the values are determined through evaluation of your risk and investing objectives, the right of rebalancing, or realigning investments which have deviated from their allocation, shall be exercised, and no given investment, shall be allowed to overwhelm the returns of other investments, which may result in large, unexpected losses.
  8. Eighth Amendment – Abolishment of excessive management fees
    Excessive management fees shall be avoided, nor 12b-1 fees paid, nor front end or back end loads paid.
  9. Ninth Amendment – Protection of rights not specifically enumerated in credit card agreements
    Where credit cards are used, the enumeration in the Agreement, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the credit card account holder.
  10. Tenth Amendment – Powers of spouses and family councils
    The powers delegated to the Head of Household by the Family, are reserved to the Spouses respectively, and decisions discussed in family council.

Signed this 30th day of June, 2010,

Adam Williams and the Rabbit Funds team

Sign the Financial Bill of Rights by leaving a comment in the comments section below and follow Rabbit Funds on Facebook for more great financial planning info.

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