Archive | October, 2012

No Frills Wills & Costco Coffins; 10 Tips To Make Your Dirt Nap Dirt Cheap

27 Oct

ImageIt’s Halloween, that time of year when we celebrate all things dead, but when it comes to planning our own final exit we turn into complete scaredy cats. Most of us leave it to a surviving relative and hope there’s enough insurance money to cover it; but is that really fair? During the recent economic downturn many people who had life insurance polices had to cash them in because they could not afford their premium or needed the money to keep the family out of the homeless shelter.

Another factor fueling this change is the Green Funeral Movement; after all, it does not make sense for someone who has been eco-friendly and thrifty in life to spend an obscene amount of money on a funeral including pumping the body full of toxins then dumping it into Mother Earth. Most of these alternative practices also allow for a more intimate experience of the persons passing and a true celebration of their life.

For the best FREE resources for understanding all your options from A-Z as well as the legalities, I highly recommended The Funeral Site and Final Passages.They also have some really creative ideas for customizing your passing, whether you want to be buried at sea or go out with a bang as part of a fireworks display…seriously!

Here are 10 great money saving ideas for your final exit strategy:

  1. No-frills wills. My relatives are notorious for not having wills and it always ends in the deceased wishes not being followed, one relative absconding with the valuables, and another getting stuck with the bills. Wills are great insurance against a family style Michael Vick dogfight. Free legal forms are available online,many courtesy of your local library. You can get it notarized for free at your bank. There are also online services that will run you about $20 for a simple will.
  2. Preplan, not prepay. When you do your research and plan well in advance you make better choices and save money. Don’t tie your money up prepaying funeral expenses, but do preplan and make sure you share your written plans with responsible family members or friends. Shop around and ask funeral homes for their itemized price list to better understand mandatory and optional services, making sure you understand hidden costs. This will give you’re a roadmap for how to plan your funeral, even if you decide not to involve a funeral home in the process. The only exception to the prepay rule is if it is part of a Medicare spend down since it is exempt as an asset.
  3. Funding the funeral. While life insurance and Social Security benefits are the most obvious, remember to explore any organizations, clubs or employers you have been involved with over your lifetime, such as Veteran benefits, trade union benefits, employer benefits, and fraternal or social organizations benefits. Depending on the manor of death, you may get funds from home, auto or travel insurance, even credit cards!
  4. Viewing & services. Home funerals are becoming very popular again. When my grandfather died, he was laid out in a casket in the living room allowing our family to have the viewing, wake and post-funeral potluck reception all at the house. Embalming is not required by law especially if the body is buried within 48 hours, but it helps to crank up the A/C where the body is kept. The undertaker was only involved in transporting the body to the church and cemetery. Many churches also provide one-stop shopping for viewing, services and reception for a nominal fee to members.
  5. Alternatives to burial. By forgoing a traditional burial, you can usually save at least $7,000, by eliminating the need for embalming, casket, transportation, burial plot and headstone. You can save all funeral expenses by simply donating your body to science and your family can still receive your cremated remains free of charge; contact your local medical college for details. Most states, with the exception of California, permit burial at sea. Cremation is the most popular alternative, but unfortunately pyres, including Viking Funerals, are illegal in the US due to the lower incineration temperature.
  6. Green burial. As previously stated, embalming is not required by law, neither are caskets or vaults/grave liners. Green caskets can be cardboard, wicker, wood or other biodegradable materials for a fraction of the cost. You can skip the casket altogether and opt solely for a shroud. Although the law does not require vaults for ground burial, your cemetery might, so check your contract. While there is no federal or state law prohibiting burial on private property, aka your backyard, nearly every local government has ordinances prohibiting it.
  7. Casket costs. Buying a casket has never been easier and most include free shipping; Costco, Wal-Mart, eBay, and, just to name a few. Same is true of grave markers and other funeral supplies. Don’t forget to use the promo code for additional discounts like I taught you in my  15 Tips For Shopping Savings Success” post. If you are opting for cremation, you can simply rent for the viewing. Since there are no laws governing caskets, you can build your own any way your want for a fraction of the cost. You can also put more than one person in a casket, even if they did not die at the same time. In my family, young children and babies are often added to the buried casket of a previously deceased family member.
  8. Plot savings. With people needing money due to the economic downturn and families becoming more transient, you can save a bundle by buying an unused plot from the owner on Criagslist or eBay rather than from the cemetery. Suburban cemeteries cost less than urban areas, since after all, it is real estate. My family has at least two caskets stacked in each grave since our cemetery does not expressly prohibit it.
  9. Omit the obit. Unless you live in a small town and it’s always a slow news day, you will have to pay for an obituary in the newspaper; usually $100 per inch and $100 for a tiny photo. You can eliminate the cost by approaching the paper to run it as a human interest story, especially if you are planning something alternative. Another option is to use free social media including setting up a Facebook page where mourners can be contacted, get updates, and post tributes.
  10. Other savings ideas. Have a friend drive the family to the cemetery rather than rent a limousine and decline the traffic escort. Have a potluck style reception including donation of dinnerware and utensils. Ask musician friends to provide the music. Bury the deceased in their favorite clothing, not new expensive clothes.

Just because you spent a fortune on a funeral doesn’t mean you were loved most, it just means you overpaid. So before you go on permanent vacation, take the time to plan your bon voyage party.

Good news readers, you can now follow me on Facebook! Simply visit Real Penny Wise and click LIKE. Be sure to SHARE with your friends too.


15 Super Tips For Shopping Savings Success

20 Oct

ImageManaging the household budget is a career in itself, so reducing expenses while supplying groceries, health & beauty supplies, cleaning products and other household consumables takes a degree of skill and planning. Fear not, stalwart reader! The good news is that we are creatures of habit with predictable buying preferences, so with a bit of guidance and minor behavior modification you will be shocked at how much you can save.

  1. Take inventory. Know what you have in stock in order to prepare the shopping list and avoid unnecessary purchases. Keep your cupboards organized so you can see your inventory at a glance.
  2. Always use a shopping list. Even though we are creatures of habit, you still need to write it down and take it with you. Get your family into the habit of adding items to the list as items run low or run out. Keep the list posted in a central location, like the refrigerator. Plan your family menu and base your list on it. If your kid complains about dinner, show them how to add suggestions to the menu and the shopping list; make them part of the process. Be sure to double check your cupboard inventory and update the list as needed.
  3. Shop the season & the supply. If you want cherries in February you will pay more since they are usually shipped from South America. If there is a drought that dives up the price of beef, you need to look at other forms of protein that are not affected, like wild caught fish. Much depends on the law of supply and demand, transportation costs, and short shelf life.
  4. Buy from the source, or as close as possible. Packaging, transportation and storage figure largely into prices, so buying directly cuts down greatly on these costs. Farmer’s markets have great deals on produce. I usually make my purchases about a half hour before closing to get the best deals. Buying from a butcher will get you the best deal on the best quality meat. When purchasing perishables especially, you need to determine what is best for your situation based on family size, storage capacity, and the amount of income your can commit to a single purchase.
  5. Know the price. For items you buy often, you usually know when the price goes up and which store sells for less. It is important that you understand cost per unit, since packaging for the exact same item can vary depending on the store. Pay close attention to items labeled “new & improved” which usually means that the packaging was changed and you are actually getting less for the same price. For items purchased less frequently or don’t go on sale, I document item, price, size and store in the same mini spiral notepad I use for my shopping list that I keep in my coupon wallet. Shop Savvy is a great free smartphone app that lets you compare prices from various stores.
  6. Buy store brands. Store brands and lesser brands can save money, but there are some things you will need to consider. You will have to do some trial and error to see if the product will perform as well as the brand you currently use; if it doesn’t do the job or your family doesn’t like it, you are just wasting your money. You also need to factor in sale price and coupons, which may make your favorite brand as cheap or cheaper than the generic version.
  7. Buy in bulk. This is not the best strategy for everyone, but if you have a large family it may benefit you to tie up your money in inventory so you do not have to run to the store as often spending more time and gas. I have rarely seen a lower price per unit by buying in bulk than you can get for the same item on sale at your local store, especially when you factor in store reward programs and being able to use multiple coupons on multiple packages. You can see greatest bulk buying savings at the butcher if you have the capacity to buy and store the various cuts of a half or an entire animal.
  8. Shop the ads. Buy when the items on you list go on sale at the store, and in the amount you will need until the next sale. Stores usually run the best deals on an item every 3mos, lesser discounts can occur monthly; meaning an item might be $1 off every 3 mos. but $.50 off in the interim. Grocery and discount stores usually have the same items on sale at the same time, rather than staggered. Coupons from stores and manufactures are often issued at the same time to coincide with the sales. Sign up for free updates and previews on your store’s website and Facebook page.
  9. Use coupons. While coupons from the newspaper and junk mail are helpful, you can save time and get the exact coupons you need by using online resources. Coupon Sherpa is a great free smartphone app that lets you search for general grocery coupons or a specific store. , and are great websites for printable coupons. Don’t forget to “like” your favorite products on Facebook to receive coupons and other promotions. Be sure to use both store and manufacturer’s coupons for the same item when available. Many grocery stores will double the face value of your coupons, check they store website for restrictions such as amount or days.
  10. Use credit card rewards. Chose a credit card that offers a high percentage of cash back on grocery purchases. Of course, this is only helpful if you pay off your bill each month.
  11. Use store rewards. By using store rewards, you can often save not only on the purchase but accumulate additional discounts. My favorite is Giant Eagle Fuel Perks which offers $.10 off per gallon of gas for every $50 spent, but also offers additional points on certain sale items each week, allowing the savings to add up quickly.
  12. Buy gift cards. Gift cards bought at the grocery store will qualify for credit card grocery cash back and grocery store reward points, and can be used at the store or online. Buy gift cards for shopping you would have to do anyway and don’t qualify for credit card cash back or the percentage is lower than that is offered for groceries.
  13. Leave the kids (and the guilt) at home. You are less likely to stray from your list if you don’t have those cute little faces pleading for treats or taking the time away from completing your mission quickly.
  14. Don’t take a cart if you only need a basket. Your stuff expands to fill your space, whether it’s a home, car or shopping cart; take the smallest container possible for the items on your list.
  15. Bundle your errands. Time is money (especially if you are paying a sitter) and gas is not cheap. Since you will probably go to more than one type of store to do your entire household shopping due to price, preference or availability, you do not want to waste time or travel resources making separate trips. Take your coupon wallet and list with you when you leave they house, like your do your keys and phone, and work your shopping into your other errands based on location, time, and items. Perishables, chemicals or bulky items that do not fit in the trunk are best purchased on the way home.

Don’t be reluctant to delegate some of these tasks to your spouse and children; they consume products and need to own part of the process. They need to understand that if they prefer certain items, they need to find a way to make it happen and your job is to show them. Don’t whine about “having to do it all” if you are not willing to delegate. If your child wants a special cereal or shampoo, have them add it to the list and show them how to find the ads and coupons; otherwise you buy whatever is on sale that week and they can use their allowance money for special preference purchases. You are teaching them about setting priorities and taking responsibility, and fostering healthy attitudes toward money that will serve them well in life.

Got a great money saving shopping tip? Tell us about it!

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Need A Little Extra Cash? 10 Realistic Cash Jobs

14 Oct

ImageIf there’s one thing I hate, it’s these articles with “great ideas” for cash jobs that are actually freelance jobs. What they fail to mention is that you usually need to have some special training, equipment or resources to do what they are suggesting. You know the ones: “be the next J.K. Rowling by writing your own children’s books at your kitchen table” or “make money as a graphic artist working on exciting marketing campaigns in your spare time”….Yeah, right; so not helpful! How about some real suggestions which utilize skills you already have? Here you go…you’re welcome!

  1. Furniture assembly & set up. More and more Americans are buying furniture online or from local stores where assembly is required. Anyone who has ever had the Ikea nightmare knows exactly what I’m talking about. Not everyone has the aptitude, patience or time for this despite their best intentions. If you have a knack for this and charge a reasonable price, you can carve out a nice little niche for yourself.
  2. Media & game center set up. Not all plug and play is created equal. Often new additions to the entertainment center pantheon need to have the setting tweaked for maximum enjoyment. On top of that, there is a very small window of time the items can be returned if things are not copasetic, and not everyone has that time or talent. If you can not only hook everything up, but know the best setting and can demonstrate the most useful and fun features, there is work for you especially around the holidays. Sure there are stores that offer this service, but it comes at a premium and with more people buying online, there is room for you to fill this need.
  3. Toy assembly. Speaking of the holidays, this is the punchline of scores of films where the father stays up until the wee hours of Christmas morning cursing at the twisted remains of a partially assembled child’s toy. People are willing to spend the money they would have had to put in the “swear jar” to have you assemble their kids toys properly for that all important Christmas morning reveal.
  4. Line sitting. Yup, get your folding chair & pack a lunch because there is money to be made for sitting on your ass for hours. You can also rent yourself out as a substitute for other line sitters who need to run to the loo.
  5. Household budget coach. Are your great at menu planning, shopping and couponing? If you have a tried and true system and have the patience to teach others you can be a great help to a busy mom. Start by doing a free brief presentation at your local library, church group or community center then pass out your card so attendees who are interested in more of a bootcamp or coaching can contact you.
  6. Household HR. Are you great at breaking down a task, teaching it, and creating and effective reward system? You don’t need a nanny intervention TV show to tell you that many parents haven’t got a clue how to do this and end up screaming and exhausted with a house that’s still chaotic and messy. If you have these skills, follow the same marketing method listed for budget coach.
  7. Online sales coach. Do you know when to sell your stuff on Amazon versus Etsy? If you can navigate the world of online market sites and teach and advise others on the finer points, there is money to be made from momtrepreneurs hocking their latest creations, to empty nesters looking to liquidate their years of collectables.
  8. Dating coach & concierge. Not every man has a sister or personal assistant, and dating advice from mommy or the guys at the gym is not a good option. Let’s face it, a last minute Valentine’s gift from 7-11 has ending many a relationship, so helping a man remember to get a gift, not to mention an appropriate one, can be priceless. There is no shortage of scenarios where you can be on speed dial, from wardrobe and grooming to date planning, where you can step in to advise or arrange.
  9. International Interlocutor. If you are bi-lingual, or just very good with someone learning English, you can be a conversational language practice partner. This could be for someone preparing for a trip abroad or a foreign business person who wants to be more familiar with appropriate use of slang and idioms. This is often done in a real life setting; everything from dealing with store clerks to dinner conversation.
  10. Focus group participant. Inquire at a market research firm near you to see if they run focus groups, most do. If you blog or have a marketing background and reveal that info, you probably will not get called. If you are unemployed, it’s best to list yourself as “consultant” and list a reasonable salary. I don’t recommend secret shopper, mail-in or online surveys; all are very labor intensive and the compensation is negligible.

Where and how you advertise depends on your target audience. Make use of free online resources like Facebook and Craigslist where appropriate. You can get free business cards through Vista Print and they often run specials on free marketing materials. By leveraging skills and networks already available to you, you can create a nice little cash business for yourself.

Good news readers, you can now follow me on Facebook! Simply visit Real Penny Wise and click LIKE. Be sure to SHARE with your friends too.

Great Deals On Barber, Salon & Spa Services

8 Oct

ImageWhen the budget is tight we often skimp on maintenance, which includes our personal appearance. While it may sound like vanity to be well groomed when you have replaced the Sunday roast with Hamburger Helper, it is actually an investment. We all know the saying about “looking the part”, and it is very true whether you are angling for a promotion or want to negotiate a better deal on that apartment rental, not to mention the affect it has on your self esteem. So before you break out the Flowbee, I’ve got a few options you might find a bit more attractive.

So what’s the big secret?

Schools! Students can provide you with high quality services for a fraction of the price; everything from haircuts to massage. These students are far from amateurs, not only do they have to complete numerous requirements before they can work on clients, but many have already been working in the field but lacked the license. I’ve had a number of “students” who were only in school because they had moved from another state and need a new license. Students generally are much more passionate about their work since they are at the beginning of their career, and are very knowledgeable of the latest techniques and styles. The instructors are constantly monitoring them and always do a final check to make sure the work was done to properly and to your liking. I have had a range of services and have never had a problem, and I have very difficult hair to work with.

So how do you find a good school?

Start by asking your friends and acquaintances, including on Facebook. Check out the reviews on Yelp. You can also do a Google search for “barber college” “cosmetology school” “beauty school” “vocational school”, depending on your need, and add your ZIP code for the closest location. Check out their website, give them a call and ask questions, then visit and ask to see the faculties. You want to get a feel for their professionalism, pricing, and range of services. Ask if they run specials or have coupons. Most do not make appointments or allow children, so it is best to ask to verify. We have two schools 10 minutes apart; my friend prefers the one that is more posh and higher priced, while I’m very pleased with the less expensive one in the more modest setting. Both are very professional and get very good reviews, it’s really just a matter of preference.

So what’s the catch?

Time is the main consideration, especially since most do not make appointments. They usually have more limited hours than a regular shop. Since they are students and need to have their work checked, it takes longer for the service to be completed. For example, I get a $30 haircut & style for $6.50, but instead of 20 min it is usually about an hour from sign in to final inspection. I had a $75 facial for $20 with no wait time, since it was a less popular service. While you can sometimes request the same student, it is never guaranteed. Even if they allow kids, believe me, you do not want to bring them. Kids cannot sit still that long and you don’t save that much compared to a Best Cuts type salon. The greatest savings are on women’s services. Since students are not paid, be sure to tip them well.

With a little research and patience, you can look like a million bucks for a fraction of the price!

Good news readers, you can now follow me on Facebook! Simply visit Real Penny Wise and click LIKE. Be sure to SHARE with your friends too.

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