Ms. Frugal

Thrifty blog and frugal recipies

SAVING GRACE: Are you prepared to handle your credit card debt?

Think for a moment if you lost your job tomorrow and unemployment wasn’t an option. Maybe your local union is about to go on strike, which means you’ll be hitting the picket lines and hoping that you can live without your income or, if you’re married, one less paycheck every two weeks.

These are far too realistic situations, and ones that most Americans aren’t prepared to handle when they take a long, hard look at their debt to income ratio, more specifically their income vs. what they pay out each month.

Take that shortcoming one step further and ask yourself this question: Do you have enough money saved to pay off your debt if the situation required you to do so?

Chances are, you don’t. Maybe you’ve been living beyond your means or have had one too many emergencies such as replacing a heating system in your home or having to buy braces for the kids, and that translated into racking up heaping helpings of credit card debt.

No matter the reason, you may be staring at $10,000 in credit card debt with one eye, while the other one fixates on only $5,000 in your savings account.
Simply put, something just doesn’t add up.

It almost seems that most consumers really don’t view debt as being much of a downside but rather collateral damage of day to day existence. Perhaps you’ll hear them utter phrases like “everyone has debt,” and just assume that debt is nothing more than business as usual.

Somewhere along the way, debt became commonplace and culturally accepted as the norm, but it really doesn’t have to be that way over the long haul. If using your credit cards means putting food on the table during lean times or paying to keep the electricity, it’s hard to argue that those purchases don’t qualify as emergencies.

That, however, based on job loss and a sluggish economy for so many years, it what makes up a sizable portion of debt in the United States. Men and women, moms and dads or anyone that has been faced with a lack of money due to a layoff or job loss opted to use credit cards as a means of survival, even if that still counts against us when it comes to amassing debt in this country.

In the end, both contribute to a problem that doesn’t show signs of waning any time soon.

The simplest solution is fully understanding that debt is directly related to budgeting and truly understanding how your spending is directly related to your income. Once you grasp the concept that you can’t spend money that you don’t have, as simple as that may sound, you’ll begin bridging the gap between your debt and how much of your money you actually have saved.

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SHOP TILL YOU STOP: Your wardrobe is slowly whittling away at your budget

Spring has sprung, and summer isn’t far behind. For most, this time of year means the end of subzero temperatures and snow finally melting, but for the shopping community, these seasons mean something totally different.

It’s time to hit the stores and restock our wardrobe.

That way of thinking permeates through a nice portion of shoppers, the ones who wait patiently while the in store display shifts from winter boots and outwear to bathing suits, tank tops and skirts. Along with the latest looks of the season comes something that most of the population isn’t quite prepared to handle: the price tags.

Many of those who struggle with debt also have trouble saying “no” when it comes to buying clothes the moment the hit the rack. This dilemma is even more troublesome when you consider that most of this shopping spree finds its way onto your credit card, and if it is one that is offered by a department store, you’ll probably end up spending three times the sticker price when the bill is finally paid in full.

That’s because your favorite store is secretly charging you 30% interest on that new spring or summer ensemble, and you’ll most likely look the other way while you’re trying on that outfit until the bill is about due.

The smart money is making sure whatever you spend gets paid in full within 30 days to avoid that pesky and unwanted finance charges, but that typically isn’t the norm when it comes to debt as it relates to clothing.

Just because you love to shop until you drop doesn’t mean you can’t stop spending well over your clothing allowance or can’t just modify how you’re going about the art of buying. If nothing else, you can at least limit the damage by buying in the off seasons (i.e. stock up for summer just before winter), and simply resign yourself to wearing last year’s model so to speak. You may warm up to the idea more so when you realize you’ll save between 50-70% off the total bill.
If you’re more interested in saving money by completely curbing your shopping list completely and living happily with what you already have, you can employ any number of tricks. You might want to hit the malls without your credit card, and be less apt to spend frivolously with your debit card, since it links to your checking and there’s only so much of your money to go around.

And speaking of your credit cards, you’ve heard the old wives tale about freezing your credit cards in blocks of ice to refrain from using them. While that may seem a bit primitive and archaic, the premise still resonates. Shopping online has created both convenience and a glaring downside when it comes to your debt and how it relates to buying clothes. It’s so easy to punch in those 16 digits on the front of that card and simply forget exactly how much you’re spending or that your card never needs swiped and subsequently viewed.

Out of sight, out of mind, right?

That sentiment might sound superb at the time, until you feast your eyes on that credit card bill. The smile you once wore on your face when you were buying those new clothes will disappear in an instant.

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COLLEGE FOUND: From classroom to credit debt, how did it happen?

You just finished spending a remarkable sum of money to ensure your education is solidified. The next steps: finding a job, a place to live and starting your adult life with a clean slate.

Part of that starting from scratch mentality should include stepping cautiously when it also comes to your financial future, how you spend those first few hard earned paychecks and whether you opt to start opening lines of credit before you’ve even taken off your graduation gown.

One of the more common missteps from college graduates is the propensity to overspend on that first apartment, especially if you have a job, and subsequently spending more than you have to furnish your new place, or simply not being able to shake your old college lifestyle.

Before you get to IKEA to snag that superb coffee table and book shelf, you have to resist the temptation to not overspend on your post college home. You may have convinced yourself that living alone is your best bet, but splitting the rent a few ways might make handling the additional cost of not living at home with mom and dad.

The idea of sharing your personal space with someone you may or may not know doesn’t sound ideal, but being able to adapt is key.

Not only is the monthly rent or mortgage part of the equation as far as expenses but what about cable, phone, insurance and the staple utilities such as water, electric and gas. And that student loan repayment schedule is just around the corner. The last thing you want is to be living paycheck to paycheck right out of the gate.

Instead, you might want to take in a roommate and allot yourself an allowance so that you can start socking away money so that living on your own at some point isn’t out of the question.

Overspending on your first place not only means carrying the financial burden of living alone and footing the bill for ancillary home expenses, but also having less money for your clothes, food or entertainment costs.

That could lead to an increased chance you’ll want to open a credit card to keep up with your college lifestyle that may have included a lot of eating out a restaurants or hitting the bar and buying drinks for everyone. That gravy train of sorts should probably be replaced with a hearty helping of looking your income and expenses up and down and carefully crafting a budget that makes financial sense.

Doing so might make the transition from dorm room to first time renter or home owner a much smoother one.

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GUT CHECK: Cleaning up your expenses shouldn’t include cutting wellness budget

When it comes to overhauling your budget and cutting back on your expenses, your health is an easy target.

More often than not, your wellbeing takes the biggest hit when you decide that you’ll need to start saving money, and that can only happen by eliminating the amount of money you’re spending on a monthly basis.

First up on the chopping block almost always is any sort of fitness routine, regimen or gym membership. The health club or gym membership gets plenty of attention as far as an neat and clean way to save between $30-100 per month, whether you’re paying for just yourself or the entire family.

Focusing primarily on this expense is both disheartening and unnecessary. The stress of having to save money needs some sort of an outlet, and working more hours in the office isn’t exactly the cure all that you’re thinking.

The gym caters to anyone who’s unbelievable pensive and worried about money by allowing you to run a little faster or kick that punching bag a little harder. Truthfully, today’s gym membership for an individual is $1 per day or less. Instead of honing in on your gym venture, why not look at that $1 per day and eliminate something else from your daily regimen that costs as much or more?

Maybe that $4 cup of coffee each morning or that afternoon energy drink that ranges between $3 and $5 would be a better place to start, before you start picking on your gym first and foremost.

And the same goes for not only your activity but also your food intake.

You might feel the need to feed off the dollar menu at your favorite fast food restaurant or skimp on the more expensive grocery store foods, even if they are the ones that stand as the healthiest fare. Reducing your budget might not be worth the risk of sacrificing your eating habits as a result. There’s plenty of ways to eat healthy and save money, without eating burgers and fries for the entire week. Whether you research low cost meals online or find recipes that can be prepared for under a certain, reasonable, dollar amount, you will find that to be a more realistic and revered of an option in comparison to watching your waistline expand even if you budget is shrinking.

Often times the food you eat and places you exercises don’t have a premium put on them when it comes to saving money, and most consumers see these as luxuries more than necessities. But that logic fails more often than not, especially when those same consumers don’t think about nixing the heavy price tag associated with cell phone plans and cable bills.

There’s nothing wrong with having priorities when it comes to your budget, just as long as they’re in the right order.

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IMPROMPTU SCRIPT: Rising costs of medications don’t have to affect your budget

Not all medications are created equal, especially in the eyes of the health care companies that are paying the majority of costs for them.

Consumers who wait patiently on line at their pharmacy of choice are incredibly grateful when they compare the actual cost of the medicine versus what your co pay actually ends up being. That $5, $10 or $20 price tag far exceeds the potential of paying in upwards of a few hundred dollars for one prescription.

But what if you can’t afford health care or you have one particular medication that either isn’t covered or your insurance company only takes care of a small piece of an otherwise large expense. That means you’re responsible for the remainder, and that hefty price tag might be too much for you to handle.

Spending as much on medicine per month as you would on a car loan or mortgage is more than enough to sink any thoughts you might have of saving money.
Aside from shopping around and buying health insurance on your own, that still doesn’t account for co pays on specific medicine that might be too much for you to handle. If that situation arises, you don’t have to sacrifice what money you have stored away or go deeper into debt just to ensure your health isn’t compromised.

You have options that go well beyond taking out a loan to cover these added expenses.

Consider ordering your medication in bulk through a mail order company that specifically deals in generics. Even if they don’t have generics are part of the equation, ordering large amounts at one time cuts back on the overall cost.

As part of your doctor’s office visit, you can always ask the physician for some free samples in the short term or inquire with the office manager about any types of assistance programs, whether those are on the national or state level or done directly with the drug manufacturer.

Some of these programs are directly related to your income and can drastically reduce your out of pocket expense. A $50 copayment, for example, could go down to $5 just by asking a few questions and filling out a bit of paperwork.

And when in doubt, you can always go back to an old reliable: coupons or various promotions offered by the retail. Plenty of weekly circulars from the likes of K Mart and Target toss incentives toward customers in the form of gift cards or discounts if they switch pharmacies. When it comes to prescriptions that become remarkably difficult to pay for, every dollar off counts.

The toughest aspect of medication as it pertains to saving money is knowing that, no matter what, you’re going to need the prescription. How you go about securing them and, more importantly, paying for them determines your financial fate moving forward.

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TEAM EFFORT: Financial struggles shouldn’t have to be just your burden

Struggling from one day to the next, worrying about bills and how you’re going to pay them or hoping and praying you have enough money this month to cover all your expenses is the epitome of stress and certainly adds to a daily regimen that is riddled with concern.

So with that, do you really think this is something you should tackle on your own?

A number of reasons may factor into why you believe that you should forage into fixing your finances on your own. Perhaps the mentality that pushes to the forefront most is blame, specifically you accepting it thanks to your savings account and overall portfolio not being in tip top shape.
Even if you are the one that put yourself in this financial pickle doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t ask for help to turn this thing around in a hurry, especially if your significant other also is indirectly involved in righting the ship.

Before you begin working together as a team, there are a few basics you can implore before that moment arrives. You should take stock of the entire situation and truly determine what exactly is causing you the most trouble. Maybe you’re spending too much on entertainment or perhaps that clothing budget is busting at the seams.

After you narrow down your financial shortcomings, you can pull yourself out of the muck that is your checking or non-existent savings account. Being able to broach the subject to your wife, husband or partner as to why money isn’t favorable in your household is a lot easier if you can be specific with the issues and offer realistic options moving forward.

Once you bring the second person on board to help discuss where you want to go money wise, you can troubleshoot together and fully understand their perspective and come together with plenty of ideas that transform into a well-rounded plan that encompasses the scope of the entire household.

Far too often, you want to assume all the burden and tension that is associated with having money and budgeting issues. This isn’t done with deceit or disinformation in mind but rather to spare the feelings of the people they care about and, truthfully, to not look incompetent as the person in charge of the finances.

But not asking for help or getting another opinion is only going to exacerbate the problem and leave you in an even less enviable position: trying to explain not only why things got out of hand financially but how you let this far along without speaking up.

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SPOT ON(LINE): Saving money starts with buying right items online

Pinpointing shopping as the root of all your financial misgivings might be a bit of a shortsighted comment if you consider not so much what you’re buying but where you’re getting it.
Shopping online is convenient, but also carries with it a sense of saving more money by using this particular medium, at least when it comes to certain products.
Whether you’re buying in bulk or taking advantage of online only promotions, fulfilling your product wants and needs online often means not only shopping from the comfort of your couch but counting all the extra cash you’ll be saving.
Take for instance if you have a pet.
Between the cost of food, flea medicine, snacks, leashes, litter and anything else associated with these cute and cuddly creates, you might spend far too much time and money tending to their needs for the sake of forgetting about yours.
Buying those items online saves you not only the time and effort of buying one can of food at a time but also stocking up and saving in one fell swoop. Plenty of online pet stores put prices at bare minimums, including free shipping, that it is easy to ignore those retail powerhouses and brick and mortar stores with relative ease.
It’s also incredibly easy to skip buying books or magazines within the confines of a physical store. That $4 or $5 magazine or $20 hardback book could easily be found online for more 50% off the retail price. Magazines especially come remarkably cheaper online with a plethora of subscription based sites that are practically giving these periodicals away to the tune of less than a $1 per issue.
Knowing that, why would you continue to spend five times that much while waiting in line at the grocery store?
Those small dollar figures might not seem like much, but over the course of a calendar year could equate to easily a few hundred dollars.
And as long as you’re online deciding between ordering Sports Illustrated or Good Housekeeping, you may want to take a look at buying your electronics there, too. Maybe you feel more comfortable buying the big ticket items like tablets, laptops or computers in person, which makes sense given the nature of the purchase. But what about the ancillary products associated with those larger items?
Cell phone cases or screen protectors are two perfect examples of things that you’ll find much less expensive online than in person, without sacrificing buying a lesser brand or an item devoid of quality or durability.
Satiating your shopping needs might be a little smoother sailing, with just a simple change of venue

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Social Insecurity: How to avoid being broke beyond retirement

Enjoying your “Golden Years” might be a lot more difficult if you’re struggling to stay afloat post retirement.
A growing trend in the United States puts retirees in the unenviable position of attempting to live comfortably after they’ve decided to call it a career. The transition from 40 hours per week to living off the wealth and savings you’ve amassed during your time working has been anything but seamless for a generation of hard workers who find themselves flirting with poverty or forced to go back to work in some form or fashion.
That sad tale has transformed from the exception to the norm. A shocking number of retirees or those ready to retire in the next decade don’t have the kind of money set aside that they’ll need to live out the rest of their life without fear of foreclosure or bankruptcy.
The first mistake that demographic makes is the assumption that Social Security will be enough of a monthly income, in addition to what money they have saved. That fact is incredibly narrow minded and shortsighted, especially if you’re approach the age of 62 and are still carrying debt or paying off your house or car.
Social Security is only a piece of what should be a much larger retirement puzzle as you approach your post work lifestyle. That memo needs mailed out to the masses, particularly the age groups that should start thinking about their retirement at this very moment.
If you don’t already have a 401K or IRA either on your own or through your job, you should strongly reconsider participation, especially if the company matches what you’re putting in as well. It’s hard to imagine anyone balking at the idea setting aside a pretax percentage of your pay, plus what your employer adds to that total.
Let’s say you struggled to save money your entire life, and you’ve convinced yourself that Social Security and the little you do have is going to cut it. That blueprint is a recipe for disastrous results, which is why you should turn your financial misgivings over to a professional to put you on track and make investment suggestions.
And if all else fails, just employ a little bit of logic, and reassess your necessities versus luxuries and start prioritizing accordingly. Eliminating a few spa treatments or extravagant vacations now will afford you the opportunity to breathe much easier money wise later.

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EMOTIONAL SPENDER: Buying based on how you feel can sink your budget

Everyone has bad days. Some are few and far between, and others can string together for what seems like an eternity.
Your job isn’t exactly panning out the way you thought.
You’re working too many hours, and find yourself completely stressed.
You may be in the midst of a porous relationship or can’t seem to get on track with accomplishing any goals, whether that’s exercising, eating better or spending more time with your family.
All of those aforementioned scenarios, at first glance, probably have very little to do with spending or saving money or your monthly or yearly budget.
Emotionally charged spending is quite a bit more prevalent than you would think, mostly because the people who participate in this tumultuous type of buying don’t believe it to be a problem. How many times have you heard the phrase “I’m having a bad day; I’m going to buy myself a present.”
Those famously foreshadowing words often lead to spending gratuitously to the point that you’re not only buying items you don’t need, but also are incapable of saving money.
This type of shopping hardly is confined to just clothing and can extend to food, more specifically, eating out in restaurants frequently, or simply redoing a room in your house with the purchase of expensive, unnecessary furniture and accessories that you simply don’t need.
The simple fact is buying makes you feel better in that very instant. Once the credit card bills or bank statements start rolling in, you instantly feel a sense of regret for the purchases you’ve made. When you’re in the midst of feeling bored, sad or not appreciated, it’s easy to fall victim to clever, savvy advertising that convinces you that you need a jet ski, even though you don’t like to swim.
The trick is channeling your energy away from newspaper ads or television commercials in favor of perhaps a leisurely stroll with a set of headphones. You might want to consider calling an old friend that you can seamlessly bounce your emotional status off of without fear of judgment or rejection.
This tips take only a few minutes, but ultimately will afford you with the wherewithal and restraint to banish that debit card back into your purse or wallet or filling out a credit card application at a department store while trying to hold back tears.
Buying and how you’re feeling today, this week or for the entire month run parallel with one another, but the key is capturing that emotion and transforming into something a little more positive than wrecking your budget in one fell swoop.

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Penny Pinching: Focusing on the little makes big difference financially

You might be of the opinion that you rarely buy yourself anything, spend money wisely and have a firm handle on your finances.
If that’s the case, why is most of you money slipping through your fingers?
That dwindling bank account, the inability to save money and living pay check to paycheck puts a bit of a damper on previous beliefs that your financial acumen is impeccable.
Turns out, you might be saving money and losing it at the same time.
This art form isn’t impossible, but rather quite common if you take a closer look at your spending.
Take your food shopping for instance.
You make look at this excursion with pinpoint accuracy to make sure you’re purchasing generic brands, shopping smart with online or paper coupons and calculating whether you should be buying in bulk or if less is best.
Those are absolutely wonderful strategies to employ and probably will lead to extra money available in your budget, but only if you’re equally mindful of spending money eating out at restaurants. Let’s say you spend $200 per week on food for the house, which is about $800 every month. That number hardly stands as staggering, unless you’re not only buying food twice.
If you eat lunch and dinner four times per week at a restaurant, that’s about $20 extra dollars per day or $80 each week. That’s another $320 added to your food budget, making your total nearly $1200 per month.
Your specificity and tactical approach to grocery store shopping doesn’t look quite like the impervious game plan you once perceived it to be.
Similarly, if you downgraded your pricey cell phone plan in favor of dropping the smart phone and two year agreement for a pay by month option, you deserve plenty of praise for your ability to live without the luxury of having Facebook on your phone. That is a perfect example of eliminating expenses that make a true difference in how you’re able to save.
Leaving that $200 plus monthly cell phone bill intact and instead deciding that you’re going to save money by cutting out buying a few lottery tickets per week doesn’t make much sense in the long run. Saving an extra $5 per week or $20-30 per month means very little in comparison to a few hundred.
The goal of saving money is to make more than just a minor dent in your debt but rather succeed in setting aside enough cash for plenty of breathing room. If all you’re hoping to save money by keeping your minor spending in check, you shouldn’t hold your breath.

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