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Patriotic Spending?

The Dollar Stretcher

Dear Dollar Stretcher, During times of national crisis the general public has a natural tendency to conserve. That is actually the worst thing we can do right now. The economy will take a nosedive from the recent tragedy. If you really want to do something for your country go out and spend $20. Then, next week, spend another $20. Always be sure to buy American made from American businesses. By doing so, the country’s economy will bounce back much faster, which helps us all in the long run.  Donna, North Carolina Donna makes an interesting point. Our normal instinct in uncertain times is to conserve our resources and spend less. Yet, after the terrorists’ attack, the economy is struggling and could use some stimulus. Consumer spending could be part of that stimulus. So is going to the mall each week and spending an extra $20 a patriotic thing to do? When Donna buys that pizza it does help a local merchant. If enough people join Donna, employees work hours won’t be reduced. And, the merchant will buy more ingredients. So Donna’s spending will have a ripple effect. But, let’s remember that something else happens, too. Donna has either taken money out of savings or borrowed the money. So she has less money than before. And, if she used a credit card she’ll repay the loan with interest. So Donna has taken money out of the investment world (banks, the stock market, etc). That means less money is available for businesses to borrow to help meet payrolls. If they can’t pay their workers, they’ll need to lay them off. So spending alone might not be the answer. Then how can Donna make a decision that helps her country? She can do the most good by making ‘normal and prudent’ purchases. The terrorists assumed that it would be very hard for business to recover. Fortunately, the capitalist system is resilient. There are many companies that can supply most products or services. If one company is crippled another steps in. The result is that any disruption is pretty quickly fixed. But, being able to supply the goods and services that people need isn’t enough. Americans, and consumers around the world, will need to buy what business has to offer. The ‘nosedive’ will be corrected if we just return to our normal spending patterns. That means going about our business and our lives in our usual manner. If we spend the same amount that we did before the terrorist attack the economy will be just as big as it was before. We really don’t need to do any unusual spending. Just go back to doing the same things economically that you did before the attack. If your family goes out for pizza on Tuesday nights, go out this week. If you were going to visit Grandma at Thanksgiving, buy those plane tickets. Donna’s right. In any emergency, our instinct tells us to conserve. That’s where the ‘prudence’ comes in. We know that feeding our families tomorrow is more important than buying non-essentials today. So, is buying a new car now prudent? It really depends on your situation. Suppose your old car is worn out. You’ve saved for a newer one, can afford the payments and had planned to make the purchase now. Then you should start shopping for the car. But if you have a year to go on your present payments and your car is running fine, buying a car to prove your patriotism is foolish. The reason is simple. You don’t create wealth by spending money. Wealth is created by producing something of value. Yes, you’ll help keep the car salesman employed. But if you borrow money that you’ll struggle to repay, you’ve actually become a burden to our society. More debt makes our society weaker. If you have too much debt you can’t afford to help others. You’ll be in a worse position if something interrupts your income. Then you could end up asking the government to help pay your bills and become a burden. So what should Donna do? She can ask herself a few questions before making any purchase. – Do I need this item or service? – Would I have made this purchase before the attack? – Can I afford to pay for it? – Am I using patriotism as an excuse to spend? – Will American businesses benefit from my purchase? One final thought. Now is a wonderful time to contribute to charities helping those who have been affected by the attacks. Perhaps Donna could do more good by giving the $20 to a local food bank. The money will be spent and help people keep their jobs like she wants. But instead of another pair of shoes in her closet, Donna’s $20 might help replace a pair of holey sneakers for a child who’s parents are unemployed. Do we need Donna and everyone else to help speed up the economy? You bet! But reckless spending will only make it weaker later on. So let’s think before we act.

Your Secret To Success

By Doris Dobkins

Have you ever wondered what the secret ingredient is to success and financial independence? I know I have. I’ve also discovered it and want to share it with you in this article.

The most successful and financially independent people are goal- oriented. They clearly define their goals. This allows them to visualize the future and focus on a plan for prosperity.

I know it is still October but it is not too early to start thinking about next year. Do you have a financial plan for next year? Have you prepared a budget? What do you want to accomplish financially during the next 12 months?

Financial success begins with a definition of your objectives, which is a list of what you plan to accomplish. Make them specific. Make them tangible. To take control of your financial future, you must not only identify where you are presently but have a plan that will take you where you want to go as quickly as possible with maximum satisfaction.

What do you want from life? What do you want to get from your money? What are your financial goals? How soon do you want to pay off all your credit cards? When do you want to retire? Take some time to list your goals. Feel confident about your decisions.

You can make them happen in three easy steps.

Step One:
Order my home study course which is packed with ways to save money and guarantees you’ll save at least three times what you spent on it.

Step Two:
Pick 5 chapters to focus on, complete the self-assessment sections and implement what you learn.

Step Three:
Subscribe to any weekly money saving newsletter to keep you motivated and encouraged to achieve your goals. To join my free weekly ezine, just click on this link.

You are in control of your financial destiny and freedom!  Start today!

Doris Dobkins is the Money Saving Expert Author of "Financial Freedom A-Z Home Study Course" (Do It Yourself Steps To Becoming Debt Free) and publisher of the free weekly ezine $mart Money New$. Sign up at her web site .

How to Save Through Refunding

By Dr. Charlotte Gorman

You probably have a number of refund forms just lying around your house. Look at them as INCOME MULTIPLIED. Use them and get back hundreds of dollars annually. Try some of the ideas below.

1. Save all refund forms you come across. If you can’t use some of them, then trade them for forms which you can use. There probably is someone out there who would like to have your refund form for receiving $1.50 back on the purchase of a package of chewing tobacco. Refund forms are potential money in your pocket.

2. Keep your refund forms organized, and you will be better prepared to take advantage of refund offers. Here is one way you might organize your refund forms: First, get out twelve used business size envelopes (from the stack you have been saving). Second, write January on one of them, February on another, and so on through December. Third, sort out your refund forms by the expiration dates and put the forms in the appropriate envelopes. Being organized will help you to take advantage of as many refund offers as you can.

3. Never leave home to go shopping without your inventory of refund forms. You might need to refer to them while you are out shopping. For example, you find a shampoo on sale for $1.00 and you think you have a refund form for $1.00 back on the purchase price. If you have all of your refund forms with you, you can easily check to see if you have one for the shampoo.

4. Search actively for items for which you have refund forms if you can use the items or give them as gifts and if the amounts of the refunds are worth your efforts.

5. When you send in refund forms, be sure to fill in all the blanks correctly, completely, and legibly and enclose the required qualifiers. Use small envelopes if possible; they are cheaper than the business size. Try to keep the weight of your letter at one ounce or less–peel off thick cardboard backings and trim all qualifiers as closely as possible. Additional weight could require more postage and reduce the amount of money you will actually realize from the refund offer.

6 . Write down and keep the following information about every refund offer to which you respond: Name of the refund offer, the mailing address where you sent the form, what qualifiers you sent, date sent, and what you are supposed to receive. Some refund forms will list an address to which you may write if you have not had a response within a certain length of time. Write this address down, also. Keeping the above information will help you in following up on a refund offer in which you are participating but from which you have not yet received your refund.

7. If you have not received a response to a refund offer (check, coupon for a free product, or merchandise) within 12 weeks after submitting the form and qualifiers, write to the head office (corporate headquarters) of the company offering the refund. Normally, this is not the same address to which you sent the refund form. The head office address usually is found on the product package, and sometimes it is listed on the refund form itself.

I have written (I have called if they had toll-free numbers.) to the head offices about several refunds which I had not received and have gotten very nice, apologetic letters along with refund checks, coupons for free products, or whatever the refund offer was promising. Since most refund offers are handled by clearinghouses which receive thousands of refund requests, it is always possible that one will be misplaced.

8. When you write to the head office (corporate headquarters) of the company offering a refund to inquire about your refund, use a post card, not a letter in an envelope. The postage for a post card is much cheaper. Every penny saved on postage is important in refunding, since postage is a relatively large part of your overhead.

9. Where do you find refund forms? The following are some suggestions:
a. Search for pads of forms on the shelves throughout stores. You should take no more than one of each form. Taking more than one deprives others of the opportunity for a refund.
b. Check bulletin boards at the front of the store. Take only one of each form.
c. Look through special mailouts to your address, so be sure to open all of your "junk mail."
d. Examine newspapers. e. Swap with friends. Get a group together for a swapping session.
f. Explore boxes at the fronts of various stores. Shoppers put in refund forms when they have some they don’t need. Others take out ones they can use.
g. Flip through magazines, especially "women’s" magazines.
h. Ask the cashier whether he or she has refund forms under the counter. Take no more than one of each different form. i. Investigate file cabinets or boxes in the store office or at the courtesy/information/exchange desk. Ask the manager or the person at the desk if you may look through such cabinets or boxes. Take only one of each different form.
j. Observe the outsides and insides of specially marked packages. k. Ask relatives and friends to save refund forms for you.
l. Put a note on a store’s bulletin board saying, "I will trade refund forms. Call ——-." Be sure to clear with the manager before you place a note on the bulletin board.
m. Join a coupon/refund club where you can exchange refund forms. (Organize one if there is not one in your area.) Better still, join several clubs.
n. Trade forms through the mail. Some couponing and refunding magazines have classified sections with ads placed there by people who would like to trade refund forms. You send forms to these advertisers; and they, in turn, will send you an equal number of forms of similar quality. Often, the advertisers will be from other states, so you may receive some forms which are not available in your area.
o. Trade refund forms by mail with people you know.
p. Purchase refund forms through the mail. Some couponing and refunding magazines have ads placed there by people who sell refund forms.
q. Place an ad in the newspaper. Some newspapers offer free ads of a noncommercial nature. Your ad might read: "I want to exchange refund forms. Call——-."r. Write to companies. When all of the refund forms have been taken from a pad on the shelf at a store or on the store’s bulletin board, the cardboard backing will sometimes give an address to which you may write to request one of the forms.

10. A word about qualifiers: In general, save the entire product package. One manufacturer may require the proof-of purchase (POP) seal for a particular refund. Another may request the net weight statement, another may ask for the hinge off the top of the plastic bottle, and one may want the plastic lid from a coffee can.
You can never be totally sure just what qualifier a manufacturer will request in a particular refund offer. You can no longer afford to save only box tops and universal product codes (UPCs)–the bar codes consisting of lines with numbers below them. Unless you save virtually everything, you could miss out on many refund offers and the opportunity to save money.

11. Organize your qualifiers. Separate qualifiers for storage. For example, all cereal boxes may be flattened and placed in one large box; soup, fruit, and vegetable can labels could be placed in a smaller box; toothpaste boxes and soap wrappers may be placed in yet another box; and flattened facial tissue boxes may be placed in another. Small qualifiers may be stored in used envelopes. Being organized should help and encourage you to respond to more refund offers.

12. The following are some examples of qualifiers: box tops; fluid ounce statements; ingredient listings; proof-of-purchase (POP) seals; the names of the products; the ends of pouring spouts; the universal product codes (UPCs); instructions for preparation; the net weight statements; the side, front, or back panels; the product symbols or "logos"; box bottoms; the round circles where the prices are stamped; certain statements on the containers; warranty statements; instruction sheets; inner seals; tear strips; entire labels from cans, jars, and bottles; the cap liners; complete outer wrappers; neckbands; plastic lids; individual wrappers, such as wrappers from individual bandages; owners’ manuals; and instruction manuals.

13. The following are some sources of qualifiers:
a. Items you purchase.
b. Friends, relatives, and co-workers. Ask them to save qualifiers for you. If they save quite a number of qualifiers for you, you may want to give them an occasional gift of an item you receive through your refunding activity or something else as a token of your appreciation.
c. Coupon/refund club meetings, swap sessions, and Refunder’s Conventions. Trade your qualifiers here.
d. Newspapers. Place ads such as: "I would like to trade or buy qualifiers. Call——-." "I need five box tops from Kellogg Cornflakes, two hinges from the top of Pert shampoo bottles, and six cardboard backs from Duracell size D batteries. Will pay or swap. Call——-." Hopefully, your local newspapers offer free ads of a noncommercial nature. If they do not, after paying for the ads, you may not realize enough profit to make it worth the effort of putting the ads in the papers.
e. Couponing and refunding magazines. Check the ads to see if the qualifiers you need are offered for sale or for swapping.

14. Always save all cash register tapes. Many refund offers require that the dated cash register tape with the price circled be sent in with the refund form and the necessary qualifiers.

15. Planning your menus so that they will be nutritious but at the same time using as manycoupons and taking advantage of as many refund offers as you can will be well worth the hour or so it will take you for this planning. Simply stated, whenever possible, buy the item on sale, use a coupon with it, and then send in the qualifiers for a refund. With careful planning, you will be surprised at how often this combination is possible. You could save quite a lot of money each week on your grocery bill.

SOURCE: The Frugal Mind by Charlotte Gorman
*Dr. Charlotte Gorman is an Extension Agent, Family & Consumer Sciences, Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A & M University System. She is the author of The Frugal Mind, The Little Book of Living Frugal, and Speak for Yourself.

Check Out Seminars/Presentations First

This is borne out of our real life experience at a few seminars we have attended lately. Most seminars only tell you or promise that you will benefit from the experience if you attend. However, you have no idea what it is about or how you will use what they sell you. Or, if you even want what they have to offer.

So what can you do to prepare? You can use the internet because you aren’t the first person that has attended one of these presentations. For years now, I have used Google Groups. I have found there is a group for just about anything and someone is either praising or grimacing over their purchase at the latest seminar.

Google Groups
To use Google Groups, just go to and put in the search box the name of the seminar in quotes if it is more than one word. Then put in the word hate. This will show you if anyone is speaking of the seminar and using the word hate on the same page. If you don’t get any hits then you have to regroup. This is where you have to think like the posters and use the same words they use in their posts. If hate doesn’t bring anything up try other synonyms to the word hate. In the seminar I searched on nothing came up with the word hate. However, I used the word rip-off and I got two entries. Using the word scam I got 4 entries.

When I used Google Groups for a car I purchased, I found that I got many entries with the word hate. Reading the entries, I found that they were all talking about a much earlier model year. So, sometimes you might want to add a year to the search to limit it to more current gripes and concerns.

Better Business Bureau
Additionally, you should check the Better Business Bureau. They now have a website that permits you to look up a company by name and by url. This is helpful because many times companies will change their names and/or website address. Most times their search will show you a history of the companies names. This can be found in the section Alternate Business Names. Having many names isn’t unusual but look at the grade they have been assigned and the number of complaints. For example, one company we reviewed had an A- grade. However, digging deeper we found they had 93 complaints.

Complaints can be settled to the satisfaction of the BBB and they still get a good grade. However, do you really want to do business with a company that consistently relies on the BBB to resolve customer dissatisfaction. I can tell you, we don’t.

Their Approach
Lastly, if you use Google Groups before the seminar/presentation you can also find out their approach. Once you know what they are pushing you may want to just opt out of that reservation and use your time more productively. Not to mention, save your money too.

Think about this, if they are giving this presentation about how much money they have made, then ask yourself if is so “foolproof” why aren’t they still out their making that “big money”?

They Want Your Credit Card Number
Sometimes they may be offering something free for 90 days, you only have to give them a credit card so they can automatically bill after the 90 days is up. Be wary of this approach, many consumers don’t get the charge removed even after notifying the company you want to cancel.

Search Google Groups before you give a company your credit card for any reason. Find out if they honor their word and cancel on time or not. Stay on top of this and notify your credit card company of the infraction. Remember to check your credit cards policy for disputing a charge.

Bank Card Policies Are Your Friend
I bought some software that was created overseas and I contacted them about it not working well on our computer. They said they would refund the money in 2 weeks. I thought this was strange and contacted the company that charged our credit card and they refunded the money that day. All I had to do was show them on the company’s website that the product was satisfaction guaranteed. After I did that they were very willing to refund the amount.

We are not saying all presentations are bad or sinister, instead we are saying watch for the loopholes we have discussed above. Follow your instincts, if it looks like they aren’t making any money then be suspect because there is some hidden way they will recoup the cost of the presentation you are attending.

Don’t be fearful of any presentations that come along. Instead just be prepared, do your research and make wise choices. That is the best way to succeed.

Randal J. Watkins

Ways To Save Through Participating In “Public” Activities

by Dr. Charlotte Gorman

With summer coming and the uncertainty of the international situation, many people are searching for ways to cut back on expenses—particularly on entertainment expenses. Below are some tipson how you can make your entertainment dollars go farther and still have fun by participating in free or low-cost “Public” activities. 1. Always keep your eyes open for free or inexpensive entertainment. Such activities might include a lecture on the “heavenly bodies,” a demonstration on cake decorating, a talk on the latest computer technology, a training workshop on ways to save on your income taxes, a presentation on nuclear energy, or a program on investment strategies. Dozens of free and low-cost activities are normally available at any given time. They may be offered by various organizations, clubs, or groups; colleges and universities; government agencies; individuals; and businesses. The less you pay for entertainment, the more money you will have to spend for other items or to put in the bank. 2. See free exhibits in shopping malls. For example, this week there may be an exhibit on solarenergy. Next week, local kitchen dealers might have an exhibit of contemporary kitchens. Another week, fishing boats may be on display. 3. Participate in free or inexpensive activities conducted in shopping malls. For example, this week local beauticians may be holding free personal makeup consultations. Next week, graphologists may be giving free individual handwriting analysis. 4. Go window-shopping. It is not only free, but it can be fun, also. Window-shopping can help you keep informed on such things as the latest clothing fashions, current trends in home decorating, and new innovations in home office equipment. For example, information gained through the above window-shopping will give you ideas on how to update your present wardrobe, how to modernize the furnishings in your home, and how to change your home office for more efficiency. 5. Spend time at your local library. You can read books, magazines, and newspapers; listen to cassette tapes and records; and watch video tapes without having to buy them. Check with your local public library to see what free services it provides. Some public libraries may not provide all of the above services, while others may provide these and many more. 6. Participate in various free activities at your public library. For example, some libraries provide “story time” for young children and lectures for adults. Check with your local library to see what activities are available, ask to be placed on the library’s mailing list to receive activity announcements, or watch your local newspaper for such announcements. 7. Visit public art galleries. Admissions normally are free or relatively low in price. If there is no admission charge, most art galleries provide a container in which you may place a donation to help defray operating costs. A modest donation is all that is necessary. 8. Visit public museums. Admission normally is free, or only a small admission fee is charged. If no fee is charged, you may wish to drop a small donation in the container provided to help with operating expenses. 9. Go to open houses and grand openings. For example, there may be an open house conducted by the local historical society offering free admission to the history museum and free refreshments; or a new furniture store may be having a grand opening with free gifts, door prizes, and free refreshments. 10. Tour new and used homes which are for sale by going to free residential open houses held by owners or real estate agents. 11. See the exhibits at your county and state fairs. There are usually commercial, home economics, agricultural, and 4-H Club exhibits, in addition to various other exhibits. Normally a small admission fee to the fairgrounds entitles you to see all of these exhibits. 12. Exhibit, free of charge, your own items (such as flowers and vegetables you have grown, clothes you have made, furniture you have refinished, and pictures you have painted) at county and state fairs. Contact your Land Grant University’s County Extension Service or the county and state Fair Boards for details. You might even win ribbons or money on your exhibits. 13. Visit your State Capitol. Admission is free. Most state capitols have various permanent and temporary exhibits. Guided tours and informational literature are available at some state capitols. Visit the U.S. Capitol whenever you have the opportunity. 14. Tour a fire station, factory, radio station, television station, winery, police station, and other interesting places if such tours are possible. The tours usually are free. Some of the places may even provide free souvenirs and/or refreshments. Call the place you wish to visit in advance to find out when such a tour can be arranged. 15. Go to the movie theater when the tickets are less than full price. For example, tickets usually are cheaper for the matinee. Also, some theaters reduce the price of admission on one designated night of the week. Take advantage of these “specials.” 16. If you plan to attend a concert, symphony, or ballet, where different priced tickets are available based on the location of the seat, buy the least expensive ticket. In addition, tickets may be cheaper for matinees and for certain nights of the performance. Also, ask about special discounts for senior citizens, students, and groups. 17. Play tennis on free or low-cost public courts. Check to see if reservations are required or recommended. 18. Attend church activities. Some churches sponsor potluck dinners; picnics and various other outings; educational classes on a wide range of topics; plays; movies; musical performances; special activities for youth, singles, and senior citizens; and classes for widows, widowers, and divorced persons. Many churches may have several activities going on at the same time. You can make your own selection. Normally, there is no charge for participating in most of these activities. If there is a fee, it usually will be low. 19. Utilize church recreational facilities such as basketball courts, indoor gymnasiums, tennis courts, swimming pools, bowling alleys, and baseball fields. Usually, these facilities may be used by church members at no cost. 20. Join several clubs and attend club meetings and various other inexpensive club activities. Limit yourself to clubs with low membership fees. 21. If a public beach is nearby, visit it. You could go swimming or wading, lie in the sun, picnic on the sand, look for sea shells, or just walk along the beach. (Caution: Based on the results of research on the relationship between sun exposure and premature wrinkling of the skin and skin cancer, many medical experts recommend that people apply a sun screen when they are outdoors.) 22. Visit community, city, state, and national parks. Some may be free, while others may charge relatively low entrance and/or activity fees. 23. Check with the National Park Service or Forest Service for information on special, free, or low-cost permits to visit historical sites, parks, monuments, and recreational areas administered by the federal government. 24. Visit the zoo. Some zoos provide free admission on certain days of the week or at certain times of the day. 25. Go on a picnic. You must eat anyway, so why not make the occasion an enjoyable, inexpensive form of entertainment? 26. Go on a hike. If carefully planned, a hike can be very inexpensive or even free if you already own your hiking equipment. It can also be exciting and enjoyable. 27. Take a nature walk. Not only can it be inexpensive or free, but it can be a lot of fun. 28. Participate in free or low-cost trips offered by various organizations, groups, clubs, churches, and colleges. 29. Check out possible savings on “off-season” travel, hotels, and tourist attractions. Check with your travel agency or directly with the airlines, hotels, etc. 30. When planning any entertainment activity which requires the outlay of money, always ask about special fees and discounts for senior citizens, students, children, physically challenged persons, families, and groups. You may not be told if you don’t ask. You could save on your entertainment expenses. *Dr. Charlotte Gorman is an Extension Agent, Family & Consumer Sciences, Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A & M University System. She is the author of The Frugal Mind, The Little Book of Living Frugal, and Speak for Yourself.

Never Pay Retail – Ever!

by Kimberly A. Griffiths

With so many different types of sales running all the time, why would anyone ever pay retail? In most cases, with a little research, you may never have to pay retail again.

Buyers beware — not all sales are created equally.

• % off sale price
Some sales offer substantial savings such as 50% off already reduced merchandise which is probably as deep a discount as you can get. It may take some time and patience once you’re in the store, but these sales can really be wonderful when buying necessities such as back-to-school clothes and even for off-season holiday shopping.

• Buy one, get one 50% off
The buy one, get one 50% off is my least favorite sale. It is essentially a way for stores to move their merchandise without offering any great incentive to the shopper. It’s just another way of saying get a 25% discount when you purchase two items. Unless you’re shopping with a friend, family member, or neighbor who needs the same thing, it just isn’t all that exciting of a sale. You rarely need to buy two of one thing. I would also group the buy two, get one free in this category – uneventful.

• Two-for-One
Lately I have noticed that grocery stores have pulled out all the stops to offer their products at a two-for-one deal. Almost every shelf is lined with a brightly colored sale sticker offering two-for-one. But again, more often than not, I only need one item not two! I can’t speak for all the stores nationwide since they all have different policies, but in my case, I found that if you buy only one item instead of the two that they’re pushing, the one item is half the price. For example, if orange juice is advertised as two for one at $4.00, one might be $2.00 – ask the cashier! If you find that the one item is indeed half the price, tell the cashier that you no longer want the second item. They will put the food back on the shelf. no worries.

Another marketing incentive is the buy-one-get-one-free (BOGO) option. If you dine out with a spouse, colleagues, or a friend, consider eating out at restaurants offering a buy-one-get-one-free coupon. Truly, if you tend to eat out often, this could be a substantial monthly savings. Just commit for one week that you will not eat out unless you have a buy-one-get-one-free coupon. ValPak

Search for restaurants by zip code, and ooo la la instant printable coupons for restaurants in your area! A word of caution, no matter how frugal you may be, I don’t recommend using a coupon on a first date. Know the difference between a special event versus going out to lunch with a co-worker!

• Free After Rebate
Although the free after rebate takes a little work, this can also be quite a good deal. I notice these offers most often on small electronics. In fact, the modem I’m currently using was free after submitting a manufacturer’s rebate. Sure, I had to wait 8 weeks for the check to come in the mail, but I’d rather spend 15 minutes on the front-end of the deal doing a little bit of work so that I can get my money back.

• Free Samples
One of the best ways to try out a product is when it is free! From laundry detergent to toothpaste, companies are anxious for you to try their product. If you live in a major city, free trial mints/gum, aspirin, soda, etc. are passed out on street corners from time to time. If you want to get more free stuff, try Start Sampling

• Online Sales
Whether you are researching to buy in a physical store or looking to buy online, always look for product coupons. Simply type in the product you are looking for and the word "coupon" into a search engine like yahoo, msn, google, or ask jeeves. For example, recently I decided to have a few personal photographs enlarged to place on a wall in my home. I did a search online for "photograph coupon" and found a 40% discount on my purchase at Kodak Gallery

The entire purchase took 2 minutes longer because I searched for a virtual coupon which saved me $20. Saving $20 in 2 minutes on something I was going to purchase anyway is exciting!

If you cannot find a coupon after doing a search, try using a shopbot, a comparison pricing tool, which finds the lowest price in their network for the product you are searching for. Some common shopbots include

Price Scan

Price Check

Price Grabber

Smart Shopper

• No Sale?
If a store isn’t offering a sale, don’t hesitate to ask the store manager if the price quoted is the best value they can offer. Once you ask the question, remain quiet and let the store manager respond. Don’t look away, don’t interrupt, just wait for his/her response. This approach takes practice, but you can save a lot of money by learning how to negotiate. You may flop the first few attempts but remember, you’re the customer and you can always ask.

For example:

At an oil change garage or dry cleaners:
"I have a coupon for your competitor down the street, will you accept their coupon?" If the answer is yes, then ask "Do you offer any further discounts?"

"Do you have any discounts for new (or regular) customers?"
Speaking to your credit card company:
"I received a credit card offer from Bank X in the mail which offers a rate that is 1% lower than what I’m currently paying with no annual fee. I’m considering switching to this card unless you can offer the same or better deal. What terms can you offer me?"
Buying furniture:
"Since I’m buying more than one piece of furniture [on sale of course], can you arrange for free delivery for me?"
Almost every other type of face-to-face purchase:
Is this the best deal you can offer?

• In Summary
Spend a little time trying to save the hard earned money you worked for this week. Don’t be so eager to spend it or give it away. And, don’t buy something just because it’s on sale – that’s also not a wise choice. Spend money only on the things you need and preferably find these things on sale.

If you really want to see the difference in savings that you are making by shopping the sales, create a strategy. If you save 25% on your grocery bill or $12.00 by using a coupon, put the money you would have spent into a jar. The money you accumulate in a month’s time will amaze you. Use the savings to pay off the credit card bill that you are paying off. Become a smart shopper by never paying retail – ever!


The author, Kimberly A. Griffiths, has been through the vicious cycle of debt herself, and provides a no-nonsense system to managing your money paycheck to paycheck. You customize the journal based on your pay schedule and learn the necessary tools for making ends meet. Find out more on her site

Make Your Money Last Longer and Add Time To Your Week

by Donna L. Watkins

There are so many ways to save money, and the least effective one is finding things on sale. We have to learn how to find and use what we already have. It’s a talent lost in our present culture of wanting more. Find a few ideas below to stimulate your own creativity to do what fits for your own family and household.

We have been recycling paper for many years, as many others have, but we’ve found that most folks don’t think about using the paper before recycling it. Do you realize how much junk mail passes through the home or office that has printing only on one side? We keep it and use it in our printers. Most of what we print is for ourselves and for our files, so we save having to buy reams of paper. We also do this when we print something for somebody else that we know, so it will be a topic for conversation, which gives us the chance to teach that recycling and concern for the environment is important….and that frugality can be fun and not embarrassing. We set the example and that opens the doorway to teach that it’s okay to choose voluntary simplicity instead of ‘keeping up with the neighbors.’

While we’re discussing paper for printers, you must check out the refill options for those ink cartridges…it’s much too expensive to keep buying new ones.

We also save all those envelopes included in junk mail. It costs more for a label than it does for an envelope, so it’s not frugal to use them in place of envelopes for mailing and the post office doesn’t like it either. However, we’ve used envelopes for sorting things, dropping off a night deposit at the bank, passing a note or a check payment to somebody. We cross off the address with a squiggly, creative flair and write the name of the person we are going to give it to. You can file canceled checks in them or coupons by different categories. I’m sure you’ll think of more uses for them. This also sends a message of "waste not, want not" to our nation of in-debt families.

If you like spiral notebooks because of the hard surface, find a pocket portfolio and put junk mail in it to use. It’s actually nicer than the spiral since you can arrange the papers/notes in any order you want and still have them orderly in the portfolio.

We never buy note paper. We have little boxes sitting by the telephones and put any scraps of paper that we find with a clean side up to write on. Some paper isn’t the right size for a printer. There are all kinds of different scraps of paper to provide for your note paper box: extra deposit slips, the backs of receipts, small junk mail envelopes, the backing on check pads, etc. Just begin the process and you’ll find many opportunities for free paper and you’ll feel good about saving money and trees. You can lay sheets by the phone and while you’re on one of those long conversations, you can tear them into note size making good use of your time while listening to a friend. Feel good using some of the junk mail instead of just recycling it!

Do you know that many people have eliminated trash pickup by recycling garbage in a compost pile and recycling almost everything else they use. You can keep a large trash can outside with a plastic bag inside that will take a month to fill….and then you can haul it off to the community dumpster which is free, thereby eliminating trash pickup fees which have really become high in most towns.

Since we decided Voluntary Simplicity is the way for us, we have also been concerned about being frugal with the environment. That has required some choices where we had to choose between frugalities for conservation reasons or the pocketbook. It’s been an interesting journey which began when I read the following:

"If every household in the US replaced just one roll of 500 sheet virgin fiber bathroom tissues with 100% recycled ones we could save: 297,000 trees, 1.2 million cubic feet of landfill space (equal to 1400 full garbage trucks), and 122 million gallons of water (a year’s supply for 3500 families of 4)"

It doesn’t take much to make a difference!

We began using recycled toilet paper, tissues, napkins and paper towels. They cost a little more, but somehow they give us a really deep feeling of satisfaction for helping the world God made for us to enjoy. Most recycled papers are not bleached with chlorine which is beneficial to the environment and our health also. I like the absence of dyes and fragrances, yet another elimination of chemicals in our homes. The toxicity of our environment does not go unnoticed by our physical bodies since research has shown that as chemicals increase so does cancer.

We’ve replaced a shelf full of cleaners by buying one simple laundry/cleaning product: Sunshine Concentrate

We use it for laundry, hand soap, window and car cleaner, and for disinfectant qualities we make it up in a spray bottle with antibacterial essential oil s.

Since we use herbs and vitamins we make sure we recycle those bottles, but first we like to use them for something. We enjoy making snacks from dried fruits and nuts, so we use the bottles for them instead of plastic baggies. You can use them for many things if you get a little creative. Our herb bottles have a 2" wide opening, so they’re great to put in drawers to organize paper clips, tacks, rubber bands, buttons, etc. and can be used for pencil holders and flower pots for beginning seeds.

Let’s allow our minds to become creative again as they were in older days when ‘things’ weren’t so available and our nation didn’t have a disposable mentality. Frugality begins in finding use of the things we already have in our possession, not just saving money on obtaining more things. You not only feel good about doing more with what you have, but you’ll be surprised at how much more time and money you have when you don’t have to spend gas and time shopping. You’ll also find that you can reduce your car insurance if you put less miles on your car each year.

I firmly believe one of the main reasons our ancestors lives were so much more peaceful is because they didn’t shop every day or week. Get rid of the"have it now" mentality and make lists of what you need and schedule a time weekly at first and eventually less often to shop. It will happen automatically as you stir your creativity to find things you can substitute that are already in your home.

Make your money last longer — you can have more fun times with your family, and you can give more to organizations your heart cries for.

Donna writes for A Healing Moment and A Touch of Nature, free email newsletters.

Ways To Save Through Free and Low-Cost Medical/Health Services

by Dr. Charlotte Gorman

Medical and health services costs continue to escalate with no cap in sight. But here are a few tips on making use of free or low-cost services that could save you a considerable amount of money: 1. If your employer makes available certain free medical care and medicines to employees (and maybe spouses and dependent children) through a “Company” nurse or doctor, then take full advantage of this benefit. You could cut your medical expenses by a tidy sum. 2. If you are a veteran, find out what medical benefits you could be eligible to receive. Call or write the nearest Veteran’s Affairs office for information. The benefits might make a big difference in how much money you must be out for medical care. 3. If you are a college student, take advantage of free or low-cost medical care and prescription medicines offered by the campus student health services. 4. Check to see if you or your family members qualify for Medicaid (a free medical assistance program). Call or go to your local social services office for information. 5. Call or visit your county and/or city Health Department to see what services are offered free or at a reduced cost. Some services which may be offered are medical examinations, immunizations, well-baby care, prenatal care, and TB (Tuberculosis) testing. If the services you need are not provided by the Health Department, ask where you might receive the care at the least cost. 6. See if you qualify for free or low-cost medical services from various charitable organizations, civic clubs, and other groups. Call your county or city Health Department, local office on aging, and local social services office and ask for information on where you should go for the particular help you need. For example, some Lions Clubs provide free eyeglasses for needy children. 7. Contact the business offices of your local hospitals to see if you are eligible to receive free medical care. Some hospitals offer a certain amount of free care, for example, for indigent persons. 8. Take advantage of free tests. For example, some offices of the American Cancer Society provide free colorectal cancer testing. Some national chain department stores offer free hearing tests at various times throughout the year. Some pharmacies located in national chain grocery stores provide equipment within the stores for free, do-it-yourself blood pressure tests. Getting free tests cuts down on your outlay. 9. Watch the newspaper for upcoming Health Fairs and similar public events where a variety of free tests, screening, and information may be available. The following are a few examples of what might be offered: information on alcohol and other drugs; birth control information; blood pressure checks; dental screening; fitness testing; glaucoma screening; nutritional information; stress management information; vision screening; bone density tests; and hearing exams. Not having to pay for these will lower your medical/health expenditures. 10. If you, a family member, or a friend has a drinking problem, call Alcoholics Anonymous for free help. Locate the number in your telephone directory. 11. If you are unsure of where to turn for free and low-cost medical help, call or visit several local churches. The ministers and other church personnel usually will be able to direct you to appropriate places which provide the help you need. 12. Check with your local Health Department and social services office for information on where you can obtain free or low-cost mental health counseling. 13. Inquire at your community mental health services to see if you are eligible for free or reduced-cost mental health counseling. Charges usually are made on a sliding scale. 14. Talk with your minister to see if he or she provides mental health counseling. Such counseling normally will be free. 15. If you are a college student, check with the Psychology Department, Counseling Center, or other appropriate department or office to see if mental health counseling is offered free or at a low cost to students. *Dr. Charlotte Gorman is an Extension Agent, Family & Consumer Sciences, Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A & M University System. She is the author of The Frugal Mind, The Little Book of Living Frugal, and Speak for Yourself

Ways to Save on Life Insurance

by Dr. Charlotte Gorman

1 . Shop around for the best prices for life insurance. Talk with a number of agents representing several different companies. The rates can vary significantly from company to company on a given type of insurance. Ask about discounts on premiums for nonsmokers. Also, ask if any other discounts are available. Even a small difference in premiums over many years can be substantial. You could, also, be drawing interest on the money you save.

2 . Check to see if your employer offers group life insurance to employees. Group coverage usually will be cheaper than an individual policy you buy on your own.

3 . When you retire, see if you can continue your group life insurance. Some employers will even continue to pay all or part of the premium for the retiree. Continuing the group coverage should cost less than individual coverage.

4 . Check with professional and fraternal organizations, clubs, various associations, and other groups to which you (or your spouse) belong to see if any of them offer group life insurance plans. It could be to your financial benefit to join one of the above just to qualify for its group insurance if the membership fee is not too high. Group rates should be less than individual rates.

5 . Don’t buy more life insurance than you really need. Determine how much coverage you actually need and take this amount into consideration when buying life insurance.

One rule of thumb is that you need coverage equal to seven times your annual salary. So, if you make $30,000 a year, you would need $210,000 worth of life insurance under this rule. However, the amount of your savings should be taken into account. Let’s say you have $150,000 in CDS–then you might need only $60,000 worth of coverage.

On the other hand, consider if you need any life insurance at all if no one depends on you for his or her livelihood and if you have enough money to settle your debts and pay for your funeral and burial expenses. However, if the direct opposite of this is true, you probably need life insurance.

6 . Consider which type of life insurance is affordable and adequate for you. Ask the agents with whom you talk to explain to you all of the various types of life insurance. (Term life insurance is the least expensive type of life insurance and, thus, can provide the most protection for the least amount of money.) If you have all of the necessary information on the types of life insurance, you will then be equipped to make a wise decision about what type you should buy for your particular situation.

7 . If you want additional life insurance coverage, ask your insurance agent about increasing the coverage in your present policy to see if that would be cheaper than buying a second, new policy either from your present company or from another company. It usually will be cheaper to buy one large life insurance policy rather than several small ones totaling the same amount as the one large policy. Depending on the breaking point, the more life insurance you buy, the less the cost per $1,000 worth of coverage.

8 . If you had particular medical problems when you took out your life insurance policy which caused your rates to be higher than the standard rates, and if these medical problems have improved or completely disappeared, ask your insurance agent if you might now qualify for lower rates. The lower premiums could leave you with extra money to save, pay other bills, or buy necessary items.

9 . If you were working in a dangerous occupation when you took out your life insurance policy but are no longer in that occupation, talk with your insurance agent to see if you are now eligible for reduced premiums, that is if you were paying higher than standard rates because of your dangerous occupation. Even if you are still working in the dangerous job, discuss the matter with your agent. Your occupation may no longer be considered as hazardous as in the past because of safety improvements. Reduced premiums mean you are left with extra money you can use for other things.

10 . Increase your coverage when necessary. For example, you may need more life insurance when you get married, when you have children, and when you buy a house. The premiums will be higher for additional coverage, but the increased coverage could be financially advantageous for your survivors.

11 . When you buy an airline ticket, charge it to one of your credit cards if, by doing so, the credit card company provides accidental death insurance which will be payable to your beneficiary(s) should you be killed while you are a passenger on the airplane. Some credit card companies automatically provide $100,000 (or more) worth of such coverage. The coverage is free.

12 . When you purchase an airline ticket, do so through a travel agency which automatically provides accidental death insurance on you which will be payable to your beneficiary(s) should you be killed while you are a passenger on the airplane. Some travel agencies provide $100,000 (or more) worth of coverage. This coverage is free.

13 . Ask people you know what insurance companies or agencies they use and if they would recommend them to others. Getting favorable recommendations could help you find reliable and stable insurance companies or agencies which can give you the most coverage at the lowest cost.

14 . By paying premiums annually, rather than monthly, quarterly, or semiannually, you usually can save some money on your premiums. Ask about this when taking out insurance. Some companies will add several dollars onto the regular premium if a policyholder pays other than yearly to help cover the cost of the extra paperwork. Saving a few dollars each year can add up to an important amount over many years.

15 . If you switch from one policy to another, make sure there will not be a lapse between the time your coverage will be effective on your new policy and the time you are no longer covered on your old policy.

16 . If you switch from one insurance company to another, make sure you collect any refunds of premiums due you from the previous insurance company. Even a small refund is worth your effort.

17 . It is extremely important that you read all of your insurance policies carefully and understand what they do and do not cover before you take out the insurance. If, however, you discover later that a policy you have really doesn’t cover what you thought it covered, then contact your insurance agent immediately and have the situation corrected, if possible.

About the Author
Dr. Charlotte Gorman is an Extension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences, Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A & M University System. She is the author of The Frugal Mind, The Little Book of Living Frugal, and co-author of Speak for Yourself.

Layaways – Who Do They Help?

I recently came across an article on MSN Money about how layaway is making a comeback in these difficult times. This instantly reminded me of something very valuable I learned while working retail many years ago about layaway programs.

Now I share the secret with you: layaway is nothing more than a storage program. It only works to your benefit if you keep up the payments and retrieve your merchandise by the due date. Otherwise, you’re paying to store the retailer’s merchandise in a back room for a specified period of time and with specified payments. This is exactly what you do when you put things in a storage unit.

If you end up not making your due date for payoff and pickup (and as many as 2/3 of us don’t), the money you’ve been paying all along the way is refunded but you will often incur a cancellation fee and not be refunded your service fee—that’s money YOU’VE lost! Now the retailer gets to return the merchandise to stock, mark it down if need be to match prices with existing remaining stock, and benefit from your cancellation. You’ve pre-paid his “losses” on the new sale price. Now this merchandise will sell much faster because it’s now marked down, insuring less future loss.

Currently, Sears has a cancellation fee of $10.00. For a look at many major retailer’s layaway poicies go to <a href="" target="_blank">Layaway Plans</a>

Before you go rushing to your local layaway retailer, sit down and do the following so you’re prepared:

1) Get all information about the terms and agreement on the layaway program itself before signing anything and laying anything away. Most programs won’t let you put away merchandise already marked down, but some will take markdowns of items in layaway when they go on sale, and credit the difference to your layaway balance.

2) Realize that you’re putting away merchandise often at FULL PRICE, when you will have an opportunity to purchase it at a discount later on if it returns to stock—whether YOU lay it away or someone else does.

3) Ask yourself if you’d rather have the merchandise NOW (or on your program’s end date) or if you can wait a little while for it to go on sale or clearance. Is the potential discount worth the wait, and how would it compare to the potential loss of a failed layaway scheme and no merchandise at all?

Like me, I believe you’ll most likely take the “wait for the discount” choice. I learned about this after having to help clean out a Christmas layaway storage room one year, and taking all the clothing from it back to my department to mark down to current prices. After looking up and marking down clothing that was never picked up from layaway, I asked my manager why people do this if they never intend to pick it up. He told me, “I don’t care why they do it—just that they KEEP doing it. This is a good money-maker!”

Can YOU afford such a loss in times like these? Don’t fall for this marketing trap.

Contributed by Wenchypoo