Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Storing up for Winter

I love this time of year, when the temperature outside is comfortable enough to throw open the windows and let the breeze in.  After a summer of excruciating heat, I feel the need to get outside and enjoy what nature has to offer.  Most often my choices are free this time of year.  Attend a festival for Bluffton or one of the neighboring cities, take a day to play on the beach when it's not too hot, or get the kids out for a walk in your neighborhood or local park.  All are affordable ways to enjoy the outdoors and spend some quality time together as a family. 

If you are not allergy ridden, turn off your HVAC and use the windows this month, a little fresh air will do the body good and will help cut down on your energy cost to boot.  This time of year is also good for a certain kind of cooking which I absolutely adore; Soups, Stews, Chili, and pasta dishes.  This time of year many vegetables go on sale such as potatoes and broccoli, as do apples, pumpkins, and pears.  Use these as a start to any yummy dish and you will have a money saving treat.  Rachel Ray makes a great side dish with mashed sweet potatoes, honey, chicken stock, lemon juice, and nutmeg that is amazing and cheap. Soups, stews, and chili can all be made in big batches when the ingredients are on sale, and leftovers can be frozen for a week that you don't have time to cook or when money is a little tight.  A little creativity can be fun in the kitchen, and lead to mouth watering dishes that don't break the bank.

As I start to crave comfort foods this time of year, I make use of pasta sales by baking my pasta.  Publix had both pasta and sauce on sale this week.  Simply cook the pasta according to the directions, add your favorite sauce and pour into a casserole dish.  Top with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese and bake in the oven.  It's such an easy and affordable way to feed a crowd, and generally most people love baked pasta.  When the items are purchased on sale, an 8x10 pan of baked pasta can be made for less than $10.00.  In my family this would normally serve at least 4 separate dinners as I divide it out into 2 - 8x8 pans, and freeze one of them for another time.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Movin and Savin . . .

Many folks in the Low Country are moving locally for a variety of different reasons. Some of us have lost our homes to foreclosure, some are trying to lower our monthly rent, and some of us are trying to minimize our losses by renting our owned home only to become tenants ourselves. Regardless of the reasons, moving can be stressful, tiresome, and most of all expensive. Time constraints tend to add to the cost, because most of us have only a day or two to get all of our items from one house to another which means that instead of carrying our stuff willy-nilly, we need to box up all of our items and rent a truck.

We recently moved only a few streets away, and the cost seemed much more than the last time that we had moved. Maybe we had more stuff than I could remember, but my one very important tip would be to clean every last cabinet, drawer, and closet out before you even start packing. Get rid of everything that you don’t need, either in a garage sale or give it to Goodwill, but the less you have to move, the better. Even though I have not taken this advice myself, the cheapest way to purchase moving boxes in online, which offers a discount through most of the truck rental companies, and they will ship them directly to your house. Me, I like to go back ten times to the store because I really didn’t think I was going to need this many boxes. From my experience, the boxes at the Uhaul stores are competitively priced, and the packing paper is cheaper at the Uhaul store than buying it at Lowes. This surprised me, but the other great thing is that the cheaper paper is actually larger which really helps with those glass items that need a lot of wrapping. Out of the top companies: Ryder, Penske, and Uhaul, I found Uhaul to be the most affordable for my local move, but I encourage you to price shop as prices change for the seasons, day of the week, and the distance that you are moving.

A great way to save money on your boxes is to reuse them. If you have moved recently, hopefully you had enough storage space to save your boxes, if not, you are bound to have a friend that might have just moved; ask to barrow or use their boxes. The Uhaul boxes I purchased stated that they were good for 4 uses. Now, some of ours did not make it, but most of them did, which will hopefully save us some funds on our next move.

For the actual labor of the move, in order to save money, you need to be ready to do some heavy lifting. Also, asking a few friends to help never hurt anyone. Offer to buy your friends lunch, dinner or both, and even if they only come for a short while to help move some of the larger items, it will be worth it. If you don’t have anyone that can help you, most of the truck rental companies can recommend movers that you need to pay by the hour; the going rate ranged anywhere from $200 to $1000 for about 3 hours of work depending on the company.

Here are some tips for saving money in a local move:

1. When using a moving company, try to book as far in advance as possible so that you will have time to compare prices and get exact quotes.

2. If possible avoid the summer months for moving, these tend to be the busiest as I was told by Uhaul because parents with children want to wait for the kids to get out of school before they move. Prices go up during these months.

3. Call your car insurance company and see if your truck rental is covered, if it is, it can eliminate the need for extra insurance costs on your truck.

4. Order your packing supplies online – some companies offer up to a 10% discount and free shipping, so if you don’t mind waiting a few days, it can save you money in the long run.

5. If you can find a friend with a pickup truck to help, you can either reserve a smaller truck or eliminate the truck cost all together.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your friends are your friends for a reason, and many people are moving these days so you might be helping your friend move next month.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Get back out there!

So after taking a little bit of a hard hit from the vets in our area, I took a little break from writing both my blog and my column.  Even though I was accused of "having an axe to grind," that was not my intention at all.   I really upset both Bluffton Vet and Coastal Vet by calling them for prices and services, then publishing those prices in the paper.  My question I pose to you is this, "If they are so upset that inaccurate information was posted, then why don't they make these prices public knowledge by putting them in black and white on their websites?"  I believe that my words were taken a bit out of context, when they cited that "obviously you get what you pay for".  You absolutely do "get what you pay for," but the point of my blog is to save readers' money, and sometimes that means sacrificing a little quality in order to get the job done. 

When I told my readers to go to the Dollar Store for bread, I have to assume that you know that the Dollar Store does not offer the same amenities and services as Publix, but I figured that my readers were smart enough to know that.  Just as when I told my story about calling the local vets, you need to know that they were just that, Phone calls to the clerk who answered the phone at the vet's office. I was merely stating prices on the specific items that I was requesting, and I did not stop by to see the vet's credentials, cleanliness of the facility, or chat with the vet to see if he or she was personable.   As for the recommendation of the vet clinic in Beaufort, sorry, but that came directly from the Humane Society on Hilton Head Island.  I can only infer that they do not know of a more affordable vet nearby, or I assume they would have referred me there. 

Now I will go back to my original intent which is to invite you on my "Money Saving" journey.  This morning as I watched the Today Show, there was a quote that was mentioned from Hoda's new book that she says changed her life.  "Your journey is not all about you."  I agree, if you are on a journey and you are learning from that journey, no matter what it is, you have an obligation to share your experiences and knowledge with those who want to listen.  Use your experiences to help others. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pet Care Adds Up

If you have any pets, you know that they can be extremely costly to take care of, feed, and the vet bills can be nothing short of outrageous.  I take my daughters to the pediatrician many times a year, and I never have that pit in the stomach feeling that I do when I visit the vets with my dogs.  I agonize over having to make their appointments knowing full well that I will be bullied into items that my dogs probably don't really need, but because I want to be a good Pet Caregiver, I feel too badly to say, "No." 

It's that time of year again, the time where the dogs need to go in for their annual checkups, and get their shots.  They also need heartworm and flea medications too, which as I sit here typing this I can almost feel my throat begin to close up a little in anticipation of the bill that I will receive.  "No MORE", I think as I move to another browser in my screen and begin searching for more vets in the area.  Maybe it's just my vet, and possibly I have chosen the most expensive vet in Bluffton.  When I find the Vet websites, absolutely none of them list the costs fore services related to the annual check ups, shots, or medication offered.  This is not going to be easy, but I'm ready to put in the work to save the money.  So we called 3 Vets in Bluffton and none of the prices were the same:

Banfield Pet Hospital
  • Exam $110/ dog not including the Heartworm and feces test - Includes Rabies, DHLP, and Bordetalla shots
  • Heartworm and feces test (which they recommend) $75/pet
  • Heartworm meds (6 for $35)
  • Frontline (4 for $57)
Bluffton Vet
  • Exam $186/dog - includes Rabies, DHLP, Bordatella, and Feces test.  If you want a 3 year Rabies, add $23.
  • Heartworm (Interceptor) ($55.75 for 6 - 55lb and up) ($40.50 for 6 - under 55lbs) and singles for $10
  • Frontline (55lb dog - 6 for $78) (45lb dog - 6 for $75), Singles are $18 and $17
Coastal Vet
  • Exam $150/dog - includes 3 year Rabies, DHLP, Bordatella, heartworm and feces test.
  • Heartworm (Interceptor) (55lb - 6 for $49)(45lb - 6 for $36)
  • Heartworm (Heartgrade) (55lb - 6 for $43) (45lb - 6 for $38)
  • Advantage (55lb - 7 for $90) (45lb - 7 for $85)
After calling all of these vets, I was still feeling like I was going to have yet another $600.00 bill to pay when I took them in and was feeling a bit beaten.  As I sat there I was trying to figure out what to do, do I keep calling more vets just to get the same prices, or do I call the Humane Society for information.  It occurred to me that the Humane Society wants to help because they don't want to end up with dogs who have no home because their owners can't afford to care for them.  We called and she recommend Affordable Pet Clinic in Beaufort, SC.  The prices for this vet are below, and amazingly enough we have to wait a few weeks for an appointment while the other vets could get us in immediately. 

Affordable Pet Clinic (Beaufort, SC)
  • Exam $75/dog includes 3 year Rabies, DHLP, Dewormer, and Heartworm test.  Bordatella is $15 extra.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Garage Sale 101

In order to live a more clutter free life and make some additional money, it is always good to have a yard or garage sale from time to time.  Our Community has one every spring and fall and we join in almost every time.  It always amazes me how much stuff we seem to accumulate in our house, garage, back yard, etc.  Even though I have cleaned out my closet numerous times over the last few years, I still have a huge amount of clothing that I never seem to wear.  This past Saturday we threw our own garage sale without the help of the community advertisement and the additional houses selling stuff too.  I was absolutely amazed by the amount of people that showed up and was so very happy to see almost all of our items go. 

When we decided to have our own sale without the rest of the community, I was a little worried.  I knew that the traffic was obviously higher on the day of the Community Sale as I am drawn more to a community yard sale than one that is all alone.  My thinking is that I can see more at one time and I won't be driving all over town from one to another, so I assumed that others shared my "Garage Sale Laziness" also.  I was so WRONG.  In the week before the sale, I gathered items from the house, and mentally made note of the furniture that needed to be moved out.  The night before the yard sale, my husband and I moved all the items for sale to the garage and tagged most of the stuff with prices.  We set up the tables that would be pushed out, cleaned the garage, and cleaned up the items for sale as well.  I had advertised on Craigslist a few times that week, and had already gotten a call about some of the items that we had for sale. 

The morning of the sale, I meant to get up at 5am, but I didn't actually get out of bed until 6am.  By 6:30am my husband and I were pushing the items for sale out to the driveway and setting up.  Even though I had advertised that the sale started at 8am, at 7 o'clock on the dot, a van pulled up and 6 or 7 guys came into the driveway to look at the items we had for sale.  I had about 3/4 of the stuff out and tagged, and by 7:05 we had sold an entire bedroom set and loaded half of it into the van.  After that it was a steady stream of people until about 9:45am.  It died down around 10am, and by 11am we had sold the majority of our items.  It was a great success and I highly recommend it.  If you don't have tables, you can always use 2 sawhorses with a board on top, or for clothes, just place them on a blanket laid out.  While I didn't think that we would make as much money without the Community Yard Sale support, but we ended up making more money and I think it was because we did not have any competition and people only bring a certain amount of money.  In a community yard sale, they could spend all their money before they get to your sale.  I found out that we sold more furniture and big items in our own sale, but sold many more small items and knickknacks in the Community one.  Set yours according to what you are selling.   Below are some tips that I learned along the way:

1.  Get change the night before.  Go and get $20 in change, mostly ones and keep in an envelope in your pocket.
2.  Advertise, Advertise, Advertise  - Put your ad on Craigslist and any other free listings in your area.  Include as much detail as possible as people are looking for specific items and it could be just what they are looking for.  Mention it on the Bluffton Today blogs and your Facebook status.
3.  Have some plastic grocery bags available for customers to carry away their goods.
4.  Clean your items before you put them out.  Customers are looking for gently used items, not gross dirty items.  A rag and some cleaner can do wonders for your stuff.
5.  Place signs at your entrance and at every turn telling customers how to get there.  Put your address on the sign as well.
6.  Get out there early and be ready, we have always sold the majority of our items between 7 and  9am.
7.  Be ready to haggle, I'm not that good at this so I leave it to my husband.  But price your items $2 or $3 above what you want to sell them for, so you have a little wiggle room.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Panic Attack . . .

As I log into Mint.com tonight to take a look at my spending trends lately, the first thing that jumps out at me is a piggy bank wrapped in Christmas lights with a note that says, "The Holidays are only 12 weeks away!"  Since I can feel my heart start to beat a little bit faster with this news, I thought I would have to share this with you.  OH MY GOD, since I normally do my Christmas shopping starting on black Friday, that means that in about 8 weeks I will need to have enough Christmas money set aside to do my shopping. 

Wow, it's amazing to me how quickly that can make me nervous.  We have been doing so well with our spending, but somehow around the holidays, we get a little crazy.  For the past few years, we have been waking up at 4am to Christmas shop on black Friday morning.  Well worth it if you have kids, as there are some really great deals.  I normally start googling the black Friday ads weeks before and planning out my mission.  I know that I need to get to each store right when it opens if the item I am looking for is something that will go quickly.  From recent years, Walmart opens at 5am, Target at 6am, and last year, we were walking into Toys R Us at 4:30am which was 4 hours after they had opened.  CRAZY but true, the Saver in me comes out this day every year and I normally do pretty well with my Christmas shopping. 

To start, I first make a list of everyone I need to buy for this year.  Then I set a budget for each person or couple depending on how they are listed.  For the girls, I do set a budget too, but I have never been very good at sticking to it.  Then I start to browse the ads and begin picking gifts for each person on my list.  I circle the toys for the girls and zone in on the best toys for the best value.  I also have a knack for going to my rewards points this time of year.  My Wachovia debit gives points for each time it is used as a credit card, and last year I got a $100 Toys R Us gift card with the points that we used to buy our toddler a toy kitchen.  I didn't have to pay anything for those points, I just have to remember to use my debit card as a credit card when I pay at places like the gas station and stores. 

So beginning this week, I am going to try to cut my spending back another $20 so that I can begin putting that toward my Christmas spending.  As I write this, I am labeling an envelope "Christmas Money" and placing it into the junk drawer.  I will need to put $20 in each week so that I start out with a pot of $160.00 that money that I know won't go onto the Credit Card. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Football Season's Here!!!!

Football Season is here and for us that means Sunday Funday Football with yummy football food and snacks.  One of our favorite dips to make is the Chicken Wing Dip that I got from a friend and have since passed the recipe on and on.  Such an easy yummy treat, not healthy at all, but this time of year a lot of the ingredients are on sale.  You know that I talk about the Rotisserie Chickens a lot, and I have been told that when they go on sale, you can buy them and freeze them in freezer bags if you want to use them in a dish later.  I have not tried this yet, but be assured that I will.  When they are on sale, I definitely recommend the dip below, and the other ingredients have coupons throughout this season as well:

Chicken Wing Dip

2 Cups Chopped Chicken (I use the chicken from a Rotisserie, but to save money you can cook the chicken yourself)
3/4 Hot Sauce (I use Franks Hot Sauce, and they do put a coupon in the Red Plum insert from time to time)
2 blocks of Cream Cheese (Coupons.com has coupons for cream cheese right now)
1/2 cup Blue Cheese dressing (I use the one in the produce section, and there was a coupon in the Red Plum this week)
1 Cup shredded Cheddar (Again, there is a coupon on Coupon.com and one came out of the Red plum too)
Tortilla scoops (On sale at Publix this week)

In an 8x8 dish or casserole dish, spread the cream cheese on the bottom of the dish.  In a separate bowl combine the chicken and hot sauce.  Place the chicken mixture over top of the cream cheese.  Spread the Blue Cheese dressing on top of the Chicken mixture, top with shredded cheese.  Bake at 350 for 30 mins or until bubbly at the sides.  Serve with Tortilla scoops or Triskets.  YUMMY!!

(Other recipes call for canned chicken and more blue cheese; I prefer this recipe, but it's totally up to you!  Also if you really hate Blue Cheese, you can always substitute Ranch instead.)