Budget Travel

December 18, 2009

It’s a Crafty Chirstmas

By Meg Hoppe

My best friend and I decided that this year, we would each make our gifts for one another. So, I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on thrifty Christmas gift ideas. I have been scouring the homemade gift websites, craft magazines, and craft stores to find the perfect gift idea for her.

Luckily enough for you, this means that I have an amazing list of thrifty, easy-to-make, and fun gift ideas for the last-minute giver.

A homemade Stupid Sock Creature is a great monster to find under your tree

Stupid Sock Creatures: These little monsters are absolutely a blast to make. In fact, my friends and I had a Stupid Sock Puppet party last year. We sat, laughed, drank some wine, and made these great little creatures. It’s definitely an activity that’s geared towards an older audience as the puppets are much more involved than  sock puppets you might remember from childhood.

Aside from the book with patterns in it, most people have all of the tools needed to make the puppets. Grab some old socks, buttons, thread, a needle, scissors, a ruler and you’re set to go. Most bookstores carry the Stupid Sock Creatures book. These little guys are great gifts to give friends of all ages. They have character and are absolutely adorable. [Price: $10.00-$15.00]

Book: I am in the process of writing and illustrating a story book for a friend. The process can be a rather long one, so if you’re short on time I wouldn’t opt for this gift idea. However, if you have children, time, and are looking for a lasting and meaningful gift, I think making your own book is a great idea. There are so many ways to go about this. One of the simplest is Blurb.com. they give you a program to download that is PC/Mac compatible and all you need to drag and drop, you can see the product before you buy, and then you can order it. Typically you need to allow about 1.5-2 weeks for shipping on your book so plan ahead. Overall though, books that you create yourself whether it’s a story book, photo book, or small book of affirmations make great gifts that last forever. [Price: $15 and up]

Obviously not the words I'd choose, but a Wordle is a great gift for anyone you think deserving of compliments

Wordles: Can you think of a friend or family member who just loves to sit there and compliment themselves? I know that I can. Go to Wordle.net to make them a personalized “word cloud.” Essentially you think of words that remind you of that person, phrases, jokes..anything..and you plug it into this site and it comes up with a creative layout and great typography. This can make a really nice art piece if you get it printed out and framed. Makes a great and thoughtful gift. [Price: $10.00-$15.00-printing & frame]

Cards: Get creative with your Christmas cards folks. Make a collage on the front of your card, take a funny photo, add some ribbons or just plain flair. I’ve always preferred the handmade card to the store bought one, they are just better. It’s always a nice touch to any gift that you give. [Price: $5.00-$10.00]

Recipe Booklet: I make a mean cheesecake. In fact, I’ve been asked on countless occassions for my recipe. This holiday season, get together your favorite recipes [or most asked for] and compile them together in a little recipe booklet. It’s a nice way to pass some lasting gifts onto people that they can make their own in the future. [Price: $15.00-$20.00]

Secret Hollow Book: For that special boy on your list who asked for ninja throwing star, try this great secret stash box instead. It’s an all around great gift. From when he opens it and really thinks you bought him a book to when he realizes what it is and loves it. [Price: $5.00-$10.00]

You can make any photo a marble magnet

Marble Magnets: These simple gifts are great stocking stuffers for people your list making their way to college or their first apartment. The magnets are so easy to do you can easily make enough for everyone on your list in no time. Check out the rest of the Not Martha site for other awesome crafty things that us Non-Marthas can easily accomplish! [Price: $10.00-$11.00]

Check out some of these sites for more great homemade and thrifty gift ideas:
Disney Family Fun
Roxycraft Blog
Tidbit Bakes

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blogs here and here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.


December 4, 2009

Twitter’s Saving You on Travel

By Meg Hoppe

Changing the old adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" to "If don't have anything to say under 140 characters, don't say anything at all."

Welcome to December everyone!

I noticed that I’ve been really letting myself go lately. I’ve stopped budgeting, stopped writing about budgeting and started shopping. I could tell you all it’s been the holidays, the sweet fall leaves, or the over abundance of turkey in my life as of late. Whatever the reason, holidays can be killer on everyone’s wallets. So, in my attempt to re-join the land of the fiscally responsible, Black Friday deals have their sway on even the strongest, I stumbled across this article discussing the benefits of Twitter on travel.

Most friends rolled their eyes when I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon. At first I used it to challenge my writing. If I can write a concise and witty 140 update, I’ve chosen the right profession. However, now this social networking giant has become a tool that everyone should explore.

Aside from taking the place of a news wire for a journalist, Twitter is a great place to find deals, savings, and freebies. I’ve been on for almost a year and have gotten free CDs and invites to events. I did some digging and found tons, and I mean tons of tweets advertising cheaper prices for or giveaways for almost everything you can imagine.

And apparently traveling is no exception to this. According to an MSNBC article, last summer some lucky followers were able to get $9 JetBlue tickets from JFK to Nantucket and $444 round–trips on United from the West Coast to Australia. You might ask yourself how they were able to get them. Twitter folks, it’s all about Twitter. By following JetBlue and United a few lucky travelers were able to check out steep sales first.

I really think it’s time for you to get off your anti-Twitter rampage and step on over to the dark side. We have cookies and cheaper plane tickets, so why are you waiting? Get your own 140 character soap box and join the movement.

Some great people to follow for the best travel deals:

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blogs here and here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

September 18, 2009

Going Green to Save the Green

By Meg Hoppe


Save money the green way!

I know, I know, I just posted a list of money-saving tips. And I know, I know, I always complain that they’re not that helpful. But I found a great list that I wanted to re-post on principle alone; because it’s green! Anytime I can do something to help the environment I go out of my way. If I can help myself at the same time, then I am absolutely game. So here are “Eight Green Money Saving Tips” from EcoVillage Green [a great eco blog that I suggest everyone check out].

Buy Used Instead of New: Personally, I think that used items have more character. That said, there are some things that I won’t buy used, no matter how environmentally friendly they are. Use your imagination and get back to me. Truthfully though, buying used saves a ton of money. Especially if you have kids. I know, that when my brother was growing up my mom went through clothes and shoes weekly for him. The boy just wouldn’t stop growing. So why even bother buying new? There are lots of re-sale stores that have great clothing in fantastic condition. Look into them and save.

Look Online for Free Items: Listening to the news, you would think that Craigslist.org is nothing more than a prostitution hub. But I will tell you that it’s one of my favorite websites [no, not for the prostitution]. When I’m not perusing Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, or Anthropologie for things I cannot afford, I love looking at the free section on Craigslist. That and the apartment section for places I cannot afford. People give things away for so many reasons; they’re moving, divorcing, getting married etc. Often times the things that they have a really nice. For example, my mother [she seems to be a trend in this blog and the last], bought a really nice bunk bed set for my old room from Craigslist. It was in great condition and she got it for a steal. Check out other sites like Freecycle.org to see what else you can find.

Eat at Home Instead of Eating Out: A few friends and I have a weekly

Sunday Dinner NEVER looks this nice

Sunday Dinner NEVER looks this nice

Sunday Night Dinner ritual. Every Sunday around 6p.m. we all congregate at a friend’s apartment and each of us brings something that we made or bought. There is normally a theme for the night [last week it was Cashews; there was Cashew Chicken & I made delicious Caramel Cashew Cookie Squares & brought Chianti]. Sunday Night Dinners are something that we all look forward to and it is a far cheaper option for us to eat in. Honestly, you can cook a meal for a family of 4 on $30.00. You can also buy for several meals instead of just one, it’s win win.

Form a Hand Me Down System w/Friends & Family: Sharing is caring, that’s what I’ve always said. Granted, I normally don’t always care to share, but that is irrelevant. For people with children, you know how quickly the grow out of things. So instead of just throwing clothes and other things away, share them with friends and family who also have children. It saves a lot of hassle and money if you know that you have a network of people to go for something.

Look for Opportunities to Barter: Again, I will point out the amazingness of Craigslist. They have a barter section already on the page. Come on, you can’t hate the site now. If you tactfully barter, chances are you will be able to knock quite a bit off the price. Just make sure you know when to quit.

Be a Frequent Yard Sale Shopper: I love yard sales. Hands down, I love them. Flea Markets are in that vein as well. You can find the coolest one-of-a-kind things at yard sales and flea markets. These are really good places to haggle and get a good deal. But you just need to be prepared to find something that you might have to store for awhile. What you find will be unpredictable, but completely worth it.

Go Green

Go Green

Have a Yard Sale: My mom had a yard sale once when we were little. It’s a great way to make sure that items you loved will pass into the hands of someone else who will enjoy them as much as you did. Even if you just get a couple bucks, it’s a couple bucks that you didn’t have before.

These are some great tips that I enjoy because they stress being green. Take all of the money that you save with ALL of the money-saving tips I find and deliver to you to do something fun and green with your family or friends!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

The Mecca of Money-Saving Lists

By Meg Hoppe

money saving

While taking in my daily 5th cup of coffee and reading the new tweets from my Twitter crowd, I stumbled across this great post from TIME magazine. Someone at the lovely TIME magazine spent a few hours [or minutes, whatever] compiling a list of my favorite things: Money Saving Tips. The writer then went the extra mile and put them all on one easy to read page entitled, A List of Money-Saving Lists: 422 Ways to Save in Total for me to peruse at my leisure.

Now, if you read my previous post on this, you’ll remember that when it comes to money saving tips, I’ve heard just about all of them. There are those few that actually make a difference, but for the most part they are meant to placate us. Whatever, sometimes I need placating so I read the article and clicked the links and here’s what I found:

There is little to nothing new to say about saving money. Sorry Forbes, Oprah, and whoever else. Ideas like shopping around for prices, haggling [a tactic my mother takes very seriously which quickly escalates to mortifying], and coupon cutting [come on, it’s been around since the dawn of time]. Personally, I think that wasting space for those ideas in an article about saving money should be put into an article about wasting time. Common sense, I know it’s a dime a dozen, but these things are second nature now.

There were of course some interesting ones. There is a pretty good piece about saving green at Starbucks; and for a Banana Strawberry Vivanno lover, this is important. However, The Huffington Post’s article entitled, The 7 Most Inappropriate Products for Children made me belt out in a mortified laughter that topped all else. As I perused the Pole Dance Doll, Shave the Baby [the caption makes it], and one of my favorites the breast feeding doll I thought, clearly, this holiday season we’re all saving money not buying the kids on our lists a darned thing. Their toys are getting out of control.

Brad Tuttle of TIME did a really good job getting together a great list of lists. Maybe my cynicsm just stems from the fact that I’m a budget writer and I’ve read about 200 of these lists.  The article is definitely worth a solid read through, if not just for that Huffington Post piece. Maybe you will find something helpful that I overlooked. Make sure to leave a comment if you do!

And share with me, either here or on my twitter,@CallMeHoppe your best budget tips!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

September 11, 2009

College Money Saving Tips

By Meg Hoppe


"Christ. Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the Peace Corps."

If there is one thing I know how to do, it is budget in college. During my undergrad I was a pro at paying little to nothing for amazing things. Since I made next to nothing working my 3 jobs, this was a good thing. So here are some tips for all you college students out there on how to save money at school.

Buy Books Online/Rent Them: My freshman year, I paid about $500.00 for books in one semester. After that, I never spent more than $200.00 on a semester’s worth of books. In fact, after that I went back to my campus bookstore probably less than 5 times to buy a book for class. My solutions: the library and the Internet. It is a little known fact that your universities’ libraries will most likely have your class books on the shelves. If they don’t, your school is probably a part of an inter-library web with other schools so check them out too. It is super simple, just go to their website and search online. Simple, easy, and most importantly it’s free.

The second option that I mentioned is the online option. When I started looking online for books, I hit the proverbial jackpot with this website [formerly campusi.com]. The great thing about this site is that it’s not an actual vendor. You type in the title, ISBN # [uber helpful by the way] and the site pulls up all of the online vendors who have it and how much they are selling it for. So, instead of shopping around for an hour, you can spend 5 minutes and get the information you need to buy the cheapest book.

Save and then Splurge: My best college friend has over $7,000.00 in credit card debt alone. According to American Progress, in 2008 American credit card debt had raised 8.2% to $951.7 billion. When you graduate school, you have a 6 month grace period before you have to start paying off your loans. The last thing that you want to have to worry about is a mountain of credit card debt. Instead of charging everything that you do, save up for what you want and pay in cash. If you really want a new game system, start saving and then buy it when you have the cash. I cannot tell you the grief that saved me in college.

Go to Campus Activities: I don’t just think this is a good idea because I was Homecoming Chair one year and Mainstage Co-Chair another year for my Campus Activities Board. Campus Activities is a great way to participate in some really awesome events that are predominately free. I cannot tell you

Hokey logo, yes. But welcome to college. The club logos are bad, the food is bad, but the events are pretty good.

Hokey logo, yes. But welcome to college. The club logos are bad, the food is bad, but the events are pretty good.

the amount of free singers, comedians, mentalists, etc. that we had during my undergrad. The events were always fun, included free food [it is a time honored fact that free food brings students], and often left people walking away with something. What more can you ask for,  free night out with friends and dinner. Both of which are hot commodities in college. Don’t just assume that only freshmen and dorks go to campus events. They are planned to be fun and free for you. Take advantage.

Local paper to track down free events: I will have it be known that I still do this. Local papers, Time Out as an example, will always list free events in your area [you can always check out MetroMix.com for cool things too depending on where you go to school]. You would be surprised how cool some of these events can be and how cheap they can be too. For example, I once got two free tickets to a Shiny Toy Guns show just for being a Chicago native. The show was in an art gallery and had an open bar. It was absolutely amazing, and absolutely free. It’s also great to become a fan of local places on Facebook or follow them on Twitter because so many businesses advertise free events or discounted rates on those sites.

Alcohol: I can sit here and tell you not to drink, but I think we all know that you’re going to. What you might not realize is just how expensive alcohol can get and how quickly it can add up. So you need to know a few tricks to keep your bank account satisfied with your vices.

  1. Specials at Bars: If you’re over 21 and you like to go to the bars with friends. Check out the specials. My local haunt [yes my friends and I call our pub our local haunt] has a daily beer and liquor special that is $2 and $3 respectively. Let me tell you, paying $2 for a foreign draft and $3 for an amaretto stone sour is a treat even now. So check and see what kind of specials the bars you’re at have. Most of them will have something on the busy college nights, so ask around why people go to what bars on what nights. I promise you, it isn’t for the atmosphere; it is for the cheap alcohol.
  2. Drink with Friends: If you don’t have the cash to go out, start a fund with friends and head out to Jewel. Believe me when I tell you that you’re not experienced enough in drinking to taste the difference between Ketel One Vodka and Smirnoff Vodka. So get the cheapest that you can. You will be amazed at how much more fun you can have just having a small party with your friends than going out to the bars on “Thirsty Thursday.”
  3. Bring a Budget: If you are going out to the bars, bring cash and pay only with what you have. It will keep you within a predetermined budget and you won’t find yourself hitting your credit limit on your Visa. Not only that, but if you’re aware that you have a budget, you can pace your drinking all night and have a healthy buzz with enough time to sober up for the walk home.

Food: If you want to be able to eat on $.12 I have two words for

Who said Ramen can't look delicious?

Who said Ramen can't look delicious?

you: Ramen Noodles. Granted, they aren’t healthy, but you would be amazed at one can do with them. I liked to cook the noodles separately and put a little olive oil and parmesan cheese on them [clearly the money not used on real food was spent accordingly]. Sometimes I would use the noodles [cooked and uncooked] in a salad. And though it sounds gross, sprinkling a little [I stress little] bit of the seasoning on uncooked noodles and eating them like chips was absolutely delicious. I have a great list of friendly budget recipe books with Ramen Noodles and other college friendly food here:

Check out Local Specials through Your School: When I was in school my Campus Activities Department had one day a month that was called DU Day at the Lake. Basically, if you brought your school ID to the local movie theatre you could see as many movies as you wanted for $3. Let me tell you, classes were barren those days as most students took in every movie that they possibly could. Check out specials that your school has for local businesses. Most of the time the local establishments make so much money from you, they like to give back, whether in the form of coupons, free nights, or discount events.

Movies: Movie nights are a standard must in college. It’s always great to just grab a movie and popcorn with the friends. You have friends, hopefully, who own movies, hopefully. So ask around if someone has a movie that you want to watch before you go out and get it. The most important part of the borrowing system is to remember to return the DVDs when you’re finished. My best friend in college had a problem with people borrowing movies and never returning them. So she stopped bringing the cases to school. She noticed that if people just saw the cases, they would ask to borrow a movie without wanting to watch it that night. Now, if someone came in with a certain request for a movie, she would be more than willing to share.

If you watch movies endlessly and don’t want to ask around, sign up for Netflix. While you might not think it’s more economically sound to sign up for a service like Netflix, it is. I promise if you get movies often, the service will pay for itself after one or two rentals. The best part about Netflix is that you can order them online and just wait a day. It’s so easy and so worth it. The watch online portion is especially phenomenal. I was MIA for two weekends during my junior year because I had found Dexter on Netflix and couldn’t tear myself away. Drop the Blockbuster nights and sign up for a cheaper online service.

Buy Store Brands: I know you think that Keebler cookies taste better than Jewel brand, but I am here to tell you…they don’t. No really, they absolutely do not taste any better. They are more expensive by about $2 but taste the same. So instead of spending an arm and a leg on name brands, stick with the store brands. For the most part, they have the same ingredients. The only reason that “name” brands charge more is because they have a branded image that allows them to charge more for the same product Jewel sells.

Be smart with your money because it goes faster than you think. Work as much as you can so you don’t have time to spend, and take in the cheap things with a group of friends to make it memorable and fun. Being able to remember the fun you had in college is completely worth it. Also, being able to stay in the black with Chase is completely worth it.

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

August 3, 2009

Getting the Most From Your Foreclosed Homebuying Experience

By Meg Hoppe

Foreclosure SignAnyone looking to buy or lease a home these days has probably considered the pre-foreclosure and foreclosure market a lucrative place to look. If you’re a first time home buyer or aren’t that familiar with the foreclosure market it can be a rather scary endeavor to do all on your own. With the amount of foreclosures going up daily, there are countless websites devoted to tips, guides, and listings. But how do you know what sites to trust and what advice to take as credible?

I started researching foreclosure listings for a friend and found out quickly that it is one of the most muddled and confusing aspects of real estate. This rise in foreclosure properties is such new and uncharted waters anyone not a seasoned investor. You need to make sure that you’re smart about the process. It’s easy to get caught up in the sticker shock [shave anywhere between 10% and 20% off the market value of a house] of some of these places.

The first question that I had while approaching my research was where to find these homes. I looked at several websites that didn’t scream legit to me so I found it very difficult to trust their information. If you’re doing this process completely on your own or if you’re a seasoned home buyer, you can just look in the public records.

All foreclosures are listed publicly and online for people. Public records are free to access if you go down to the courthouse or deeds office to obtain the information. However, if you’re looking online, you will more often than not, get a teaser and then be required to pay a fee to see the whole notice. My suggestion, check out sites like public-record.com, realtytrac.com, and foreclosures.com, search out what you want, compile a list, and get the records yourself. Don’t rely on a third party to do your work for you.

If you decided that doing it completely alone isn’t what you want, the best hud_logo_smallplace to start might be the Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] website. HUD holds houses whose previous owners held mortgages insured by the federal government. HUD houses go to market about six months after foreclosure. Local governments get the first option to buy. After that, buyers who pledge to live in the house have the first opportunity to offer a bid. If the house is still on the market after a period of about 10 days, the listing is opened to investors.

After researching the HUD process, I found it to be a really safe way to acquire a foreclosed home. Because the houses are owned by the government they are often already winterized [see below] and taken care of. There could be less fixing up that needs to be done, however, it is still important to see the house for yourself and have someone with you to assess damages [see below].

Okay, so you’ve gotten the information about finding the home and now what? What do you look for in the house, how do you make sure that it’s what you want? CNN and This Old House suggested a few things such as to help you pick out a solid investment:

  1. Proper Budgeting: Set a price that you won’t go above. Make sure to keep in mind that the house will come as-is and this can mean extensive repairs.
  2. See the House for Yourself: You should never buy something as large as a house without seeing it first. Go through the house with a fine toothed comb. You’re making an investment and you want to be sure that you’re getting what you’re paying for.
  3. Note How Long the House has been Empty: The longer that the house has been empty, the worse off it could be repair-wise. Take this into account and make sure you bring a private inspector with you.
  4. Look at the Landscaping: The landscaping of a house says a lot about the quality of the house itself. For example, if there is root damage from trees, there could be sewer and pipe damage. The costs to fix something like that could be enormous and not worth it.
  5. Hire out a Private Inspector: Don’t just trust what the homeowner or government tell you. Bring in someone that you’re paying to look at the house with their professional eye. This is very important so don’t just trust your Uncle Chuck who is a pretty handy guy. Pay someone to come in, it’s worth every penny.
  6. Making Sure the House has been Winterized: Again, if the home that you’re looking at wasn’t properly prepared for the winter there could be extensive damage. Don’t run utilities until you know the state of the pipes and heating.

sold-on-house-keychainAfter you’ve done all of this:  gone through the HUD website, their FAQ, HUDclips.org, foreclosure listing sites, and gone through the property with a fine toothed comb, you are going to want to know the actual process of getting your new home. At this point, you have to be ready to jump on the home that you’ve been researching.

Whether you’re contacting the owners directly or attending a public auction, things get very competitive. Think of throwing chum in the middle of a shark pit during feeding time and you’ve gotten it about right. Often times you don’t have the time to wait or think about options before the one you want is gone. That’s why it’s so important that you do your research ahead of time. For local auctions, check out some of these websites for directions, FAQ, and locations. Note that if you attend a local auction, you will not be able to inspect the house before you buy it. For the most part, I do not recommend this.

If after doing your research you’re not sure that you’re ready to buy a home on the foreclosed market try taking a look at the rent-to-buy option. It’s essentially renting a home until you can pay off the down payment. It’s another option to getting the house of your dreams. For more information on that and pre-foreclosures and foreclosures check out these sites.

  1. 5 Tips for Buying a Foreclosed Home [AOL]
  2. Buying a Foreclosed Home: Pros and Cons
  3. Lease options: Lease Purchase Sales[About.com]
  4. Lease-to-Own Home Purchases
  5. Buying a Lease-to-Own Home
  6. irenttoown.com

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

July 30, 2009

Money Saving Tips We Haven’t Heard Before

By Meg Hoppe

I find that placing my piggy bank in an open field and inserting only quarters, I spend less.

Money Saving Tip #1: I find that placing my piggy bank in an open field and inserting only quarters, I spend less.

If you’re anything like me, you’re tired of seeing the same money saving tips. You click on the article anyway, hoping for something new and innovative to pop up. I know that if I packed a lunch instead of buying one, made my coffee instead of going to Starkbucks, and stopped spending so much on video rentals I would save a small fortune. That’s why I’ve started doing all of that. And yes, I have seen a slight decrease in the amount of money that I spend. However, it’s like the moment I save money in one area of my life, another area calls for my attention and subsequently my credit card. I realize that I’m no master budgeter, my bank account, credit card debt, and credit history can tell you that. So this is the sole reason that I want, no need, money saving tips that will actually save me money.

So, during my habitual checking of my social networking sites, follow me on Twitter @CallMeHoppe, and e-mail I stumbled across yet another “X Amount of Ways you’re Being Ripped Off” article. I think that at this point, I click on them with a zest of wishful thinking. I just hope that maybe this one will have some gold nugget or at least a slightly humorous/interesting variety.

You can rest easy America, because I have found a spectacular money saving article that I would like to share with you. Aside from the normal, yeah we get it Comcast is financially molesting us; there were some rather interesting tips. Here, let me share a few.

From Forbes [yes THE Forbes magazine] “14 Ways you’re Getting Ripped Off” article. If I had to pay for it, the article would have been 15 ways…

High End Guacamole: Is this really a growing problem in America? Are

Yes that is my piggy bank sitting atop of that pile of money. No more guacamole for me, thanks Forbes!

Yes that is my piggy bank sitting atop of that pile of money. No more guacamole for me, thanks Forbes!

we undergoing some sort of guacamole epidemic that I haven’t heard about? The fact that Forbes found it pertinent to include making your own guacamole in this article only proves my point that people are running out of money saving tips. Next you’re going to see Business Week telling me that I need to start making my own ketchup and mustard.

Auto Dealer Repair: I used to work at a car dealership and let me tell you that this one is completely fact. I cannot tell how many times the guys in the body shop and I would laugh at people coming in with their cars. Not only do customers pay exorbitant amounts for maintenance, but they are paying for high end parts that could easily be substituted. I don’t think I met one person at the dealership who actually took their cars to a dealership for repair. But if you like stale donuts and lukewarm coffee then go for it.

Emergency Room Visits: I happen to agree 100% with this one. In my opinion, Forbes should include riding in ambulances. If I am in need of immediate medical attention, I would rather wait and pay for a taxi. It would be cheaper than taking an ambulance and truthfully, it would probably get to my house sooner. While Forbes puts this one on the list, they acknowledge that there is nothing that we can do about it. Unless you want to start playing doctor, and I mean that in the literal sense, you’re stuck going to the hospital. I suppose the only things you can really do are take care of yourself, vote for someone who will push through a health care bill that won’t force you into bankruptcy, and learn to wield a scalpel.

Caskets: Okay, my main beef with this “money saving tip” is that it saves me nothing. I’m not getting ripped off because I am dead. Sorry kids and bereaved husband but I don’t have to deal with this. However, when I do die, seeing as how Forbes says that caskets can cost upwards of $20,000 bury me in a sheet in the backyard.

Movie Theater Snacks: Agreed. Stop buying them people! Why do we do this to ourselves? It costs $4.00 for a box of little Snickers balls. I can buy 4 Snickers for that price. If I really want them in ball form, I can take the time to rip off small pieces, mold them with my fingers…just eat the Snickers bar from 7-11.

Ab-Slimming Gadgets: One of my best girlfriends is a notorious impulse shopper. I think that she has more of these ab-slimming gadgets than anyone I’ve ever met. The best part about this situation is that she rarely uses any of them. It has always reminded me of the song by Steve Goodman [amazing folk musician from Chicago who originally penned “Go Cubs Go” and “City of New Orleans“] entitled “Vegematic.” It’s about a guy who falls asleep with the TV on and buys everything on the infomercials in his sleep. Imagine waking up to all that useless “Seen on TV” crap. So instead of watching infomercials about losing weight, take a walk and burn a few calories. Put down the phone, you will never use that Ab Cruncher and you know it.

Honestly, Forbes didn’t tell me much that I didn’t already know. Their ideas weren’t at all useful to my daily life as I don’t subscribe to most of that nonsense. However, if you want to read the rest, there are some other pretty funny ones, check out this link. Kiplinger also has a similar article that has some actually useful tips pending you don’t already realize all of them. They also have 20 Ways You Waste Your Money as opposed to Forbes’ meager 14. You can check out that article here.

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

June 2, 2009

Summer Fun on a Budget

Filed under: Budget Travel — twdhf @ 7:55 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

By Meg Hoppe

Photographed by: D Sharon Pruitt

Photographed by: D Sharon Pruitt

From vacations to concerts and festivals, summer is the time to travel.  Kids are off of school and meandering around and the weather is perfect for weekend trips downtown or out of town.  If you’re at all like me, you find that come Labor Day, you bank account has gone through the ringer. A few days at the Taste of Chicago, some baseball games or concerts, and a summer vacation with the girls can put a dent in my credit card bill that even I have trouble looking at. So, this year as my social calendar fills up I’ve decided to try something a little different.

Being a rather young writer, my bank account doesn’t have the bang for its buck that I would like.  Knowing that most of my friends have the same problem, I have resided myself to the notion of stretching what I can for as long as I can without compromising. You might find yourself wondering how I plan on stretching a rather slim regular income while not compromising my plans for the summer. To be honest, I found myself wondering the same thing when I made the suggestion. The answer to that lies in the little nuances of event planning.

Living in Chicago affords me the luxury of having a decent amount of free events to attend all year long. Aside from hitting up local museums on their free days, which they all have, I can check out the Botanic Gardens any time I want, picnic in the parks, check out local festivals and neighborhood parties.

For those of you who love sports and concerts, but don’t really want to dish out $40.00-$100.00 for tickets; utilize your local Craigslist. I have found that for most events just looking a few days prior, even the day of given enough time, can prove to be both frugal and fruitful. The closer you get to the actual event, the more willing people are to bend a little on the ticket price. I’ve paid next to nothing for sold out shows and games because people just needed to get rid of their tickets. Just note that if you’re going to use Craigslist, you need to have a back-up plan in place in case you can’t score great tickets.

Now we come to the vacationing section of the cheap summer fun plan. I have found that vacationing can be a pleasure for your bank account when done correctly. First off, think about where you want to stay. Do you really need to book a room at the Four Seasons in New York when you have those second cousins who have a pretty decent size brownstone? Bring home some wine and flowers during your stay, offer to help clean, do some chores, and you have free digs to call your own while on vacation.

When it comes to travel to and from, choose the cheapest route available. If you have a group of friends, do your research on car rentals, vans, cheap airlines, etc. When my friends and I travel, we do lots of research. We buy any plane tickets well ahead of time and plan our trips on non-peak days to avoid higher costs. When we are on vacation, we have a researched cheap mid sized vehicle that when split between us is reasonably priced. If you’re in a big city, utilize public transportation. City transit normally offers weekend passes that are a bargain if you do the math and see you’re using it enough.

Vacations can sometimes seem like the check-out aisle in a grocery store. They’re littered with “impulse buys” or “impulse trips.” In order to avoid spending more money than you had originally set out to I’ve found that it is important to have a plan laid out before you go. If you make a note of the main attractions or events you want to attend, you are eliminating lots of “impulse trips.” Now, that’s not to say that every moment of every day has to be planned. Remember those cousins you’re staying with? They live there and have a wealth of information for things to see and do. Ask them for ideas on cheap things to do and I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised. Offer to take them out with you and you can end up having the best vacation of the summer.

In the end, summer vacations and trips are all about the people you’re with. So don’t forget to just spend some nights at home. Break out some citronella candles, margaritas, and call your best friends for a night of good food, good drinks, and good company. Good friends are the best and cheapest summer event you could possibly plan.

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.