Archive for the ‘Budgeting’ Category

Meal Planning to Save Money

Friday, January 9th, 2009

With today’s high bills and struggling economy, many of us are trying to tighten our belts a bit. One of the most variable items in many budgets is the food bill. While no one wants to just eat rice and beans, planning out your meals can cut your food costs and provide you and your family with more nutritious food. You can also save time by cooking smarter, using tools you probably already own, and shopping less.

Making your own menus will save you more than money. How many times have you found yourself back at the grocery store because you didn’t have the ricotta for a lasagna or were missing the lemon juice you needed? Maybe you dial that pizza delivery more than you would like. Regardless, a meal plan will allow you to shop efficiently, avoiding extra trips to the store. It will also allow you to take advantage of sales and specials and use your time wisely. Perhaps you can make two of a casserole or dish and freeze one, or do some extra prep on the weekend for busy weekday meals.

You only need a few tools to plan meals and menus. First, make a list of favorite recipes. Add a few that you are interested in or want to try as well. Choose a variety of types of meals, and meals with a wide range of preparation requirements when you make this list. You may want to include take out, dinners out, or quick, convenience foods in your list for nights when time is just too tight to cook. You also need a planner, calendar or printable on-line menu, whichever suits your needs. Finally, your local grocery ads are the last thing you need if you want to save.

Look at what is on sale in your area and any coupons you might have. Keep in mind that you can use coupons on sale products and that some stores will match competitors’ prices, helping you to save valuable shopping time. There is even a service that for a small fee will tell you what to buy when in your area to make the most of your savings, at grocerygame.com.

Another way meal planning can help you save is by allowing you to use foods that are inexpensive, but may be too time consuming without some forethought. Often, tougher cuts of meat work very well for slow cooking, using a slow cooker or a slow simmer on the stove. You might also plan to bake cookies for the kids’ lunches instead of buying treats or take the time to cook dry beans instead of buying canned.

Planning for leftovers is ideal. If you bake a ham or roast a chicken on Monday, reuse the meat in other forms on Tuesday and Wednesday. Monday’s chicken and mashed potatoes can become Tuesday’s chicken pot pie and Thursday’s chicken noodle soup. This will allow you to stretch your food dollars as much as possible thanks to smart planning.

If you often find yourself asking what’s for dinner at 5:30 on Wednesday night, a meal plan can save you time, trouble and keep more money in your pocket. You can even reuse your family menu from month to month to save time, or change it seasonally if you prefer. Taking the time to figure out family dinners before that night will make everyone’s life easier and make healthy meals a joy instead of a chore.

More Ways to Save on Gas

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Gas prices may not be as high as they were a few months ago but we are still seeing big numbers at the pump.  We also have less money to spend at the pump.  There are layoffs and people being fired everyday and with inflation hitting us steeply it will only get worse.  People loosing their jobs need to find ways to save money and gas is a good place to start.  The way I see it, we need to do many things

1- people stop driving as much.
2- Quit allowing ourselves to be gouged and raped at the pumps.
3- Actually invest NOW into bio fuels.  Don’t just offer tax incentives and research, make it actually happen.
4- Allow more oil refineries to be built.  Oil is not low in supply at the moment, the refineries just cannot put enough out to meet the demand.  This is a short term fix only, and would do so to help with the gas prices.  In the mean time, we need to be working on solar and bio power supply.

But for now, the immediate fix would be make gas gouging criminal, like it should be.

I am not driving anywhere that is reasonable distance- been riding my bike to the post office, UPS, errands, etc.

Also, read our articles on this blog about gas cards .

$4 Gallon Gas

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Did you notice less people traveling on the highways over the last big holiday weekend?  Americans are driving less.  Gas has quickly become America’s top economic issue since it relates to so many products and services.  Sunday, gas topped the $4 per gallon average the first time first in Alaska then it spread to other states.  On June 10th Maryland, Georgia, and Florida got hammered with $4 gallon gas.

The national average now is $4.04, but that may go up or down depending on the commodities.  The shock about $4 gas could reduce consumer spending drastically because of the fear people will not have any money left over after driving to work and running personal errands.

Commercial fleets are paying 33% of their total costs in fuel now compared to 13% in 2006.  This steady rise in commercial fleets could quickly lead to our own pocketbooks in higher prices for FedEx deliveries, cereal, among other increases in everyday goods and services.

We were complaining about these prices back in 1980 when a new level of $1 was reached but you must consider inflation with these prices.  Then again it took sixty years to reach over 99 cents price point.  Would you love to have some 99 cent gas right now?

Expect lawn care services, shipping, and anyone and everything to try to put on extra fees to pay for their gas.  We will be having dreams of hybrid cars, trucks, and lawn mowers.

You can dream all you want for lower prices at your neighborhood Shell station or 7-Eleven it might come true in a decade or so.  Praying might even come in for some.  We should have gotten off this addiction to oil years ago but we are still craving for crude oil and that’s what we are getting.

Watch out for thieves as gas prices soar.  Crooks are cutting into gas lines in neighborhood malls and shopping centers and even stealing catalytic converters out of trucks and cars parked at residences.  People may even start killing for fuel as these prices continue to rise to keep a closer eye on things when you get out and about.

Cheers to the good inventive people who are coming up with creative ways to keep gas mileage down!

Free Budgeting Software

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

There are a number of choices in budgeting software. The good news is that they all work and work well. On the whole, any budgeting plan works as long as you implement it and stick to it. How should you choose budgeting software? Well, many people start by looking at the software most easily integrated with their bank and other financial resources. Many banks now allow you to download your statements directly into Quicken or Microsoft Money, as you prefer. You might also consider a virtual version of old fashioned envelope budgeting with a product like My Spending Plan at Http://www.myspendingplan.com. You can also find a number of free or shareware budgeting software options on-line if you’d like to get started at a lower cost. Finally, if you already own or have access to a basic database program similar to Microsoft Excel, this is an excellent and easy to use budgeting tool.

Which of these options should you choose? First, consider how much you can afford to spend. There are a number of great free budgeting tools, particularly if you do not need to manage and supervise investment accounts or other more complex financial matters. My Spending Plan works on the envelope system, but you will find that there are a number of other free budgeting software options on-line as well, and one may meet your needs and preferences. Buddi is an open source program that will run on any machine with Java installed and is available at http://buddi.thecave.homeunix.org/en/. 

Buddi offers a traditional way to track your spending and budget your money. GnuCash allows for common financial file downloads and access at no charge gnucash.org. GnuCash offers substantially more accounting tools than the other free options listed, and will also work well for small businesses needing to keep track of their money.

If you are willing to spend on your budgeting software, the two big names in the business are Quicken and Microsoft Money. Microsoft Money is easy to learn and use, particularly if you are already accustomed to using Microsoft products. It has a number of convenient on-line access features as well, including integrated access with MSN Money.

Quicken is available both as Quicken On-line and as a standard piece of software. If you do nearly all your budgeting at home or the office, the traditional software may be a good choice, but if you use multiple computers or are often on the go, the newer on-line option may be an excellent budgeting tool.

Which of these two should you choose? That answer depends upon your bank, investments and other financial matters. Choose whichever is the most compatible with your needs for the most convenient and easiest home money management.

Oil Hits $130 a barrel

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Just in time for one of the biggest travel weekends of the year Oil prices rose to $130 a barrel.  This is the first time it has hit this high of a record and it may not stop anytime soon.  Supply concerns and the Weak American Dollar are just a few of the reasons that oil is rearing its ugly bullish head (not ugly to investors).

Expect prices at the pump to rise in time for Memorial Day weekend.  You may want to think twice about your vacation this weekend or your outing at the beach.  Prices will be sky high at over $4 at some gas stations across the country.

Let’s hope Honda expedites the release of the gas-electric hybrids they have planned to release in the U.S. next year.  Until then its time to get some bicycles and/or walk until these gas prices come down some.  Don’t get your hopes up though because gas prices will not go down until at least October and that is if we do not have a bad Hurricane season.

Drive Faster, Save Gas

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Gas prices are climbing to all time highs right now at over $4 for diesel fuel and regular unleaded. The wholesale has reached new benchmarks at almost $120 a barrel. Possible invasion of Iran, Combat in Iraq, Demand, among hundreds of other reasons that gas prices will only climb from here on out.

The purchase of a 2010 Mitsubishi i MIEV Plug-In Electric is unlikely since that will probably not be around until 2009 for pre-order. You can invest your hard earned money in a hybrid car or SUV but that could also only save you in the long term which is not a bad thing.

My tips on saving money on gas might be different that the ones you normally read:

  1. Drive Faster – Find tollways to drive on and pay the extra toll instead of driving down older roads or highways. You can normally drive faster on highways and avoid wasting gas sitting in several accidents or slower traffic congested areas.
  2. Carry Several Gas Cards – If you have the credit then why not. I have a credit card for each gas station I live near so I can get 5-10% cash back at their stations. Exxon, Shell, and BP all offer great credit cards to maximize the money you spend at the pump. I also use the Chase Free Cash Visa at Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart purchases and the Chase Freedom Card for 7-Eleven and all other gas retailers.
  3. Get Oil Changed Frequently – Make sure you keep up with the regular maintenance of your car.
  4. Tire Pressure – Make sure your tires are in good shape and are aired up to the proper levels recommended in your manual.
  5. Pull Technology From Business to Consumer – Do all you can as a consumer to contact companies to speed up their technology to get more vehicles such as biodiesels on the road. If you own a RV there are ways to convert it. Ask around and find out how you can convert your car, truck, or RV to take biofuels such as restaurant grease. This will speed up the free market process faster than the government tax credits.
  6. Hypermiling – the more aggressive ways for gas savings.  One hypermiling way to drive is to tailgate the car in front of you using wind and resistance to down power your car.  I would not advise this method unless you have a standard shift otherwise you would have to turn off your car.  They also tell you to over inflate your tires which is also sort of risky behavior.

It is said that gas prices related to consumer spending and that many budget less spending when they go higher. There are many things that go into consumer spending besides gas prices but it does make airfare go higher, shipping, goods, and maybe even some service pricing increase.

This is an exciting time for America as we can learn to conserve foreign oil more and learn creative new ways to gain in technology. Using gas rewards cards, upgrading to toll roads, and biodiesels are the best solution to the gas price hikes. You might even see more people walking and riding their bike… a free diet called exercise!