Back in the 1950s, life was good again, and young couples were scooping up homes left and right, and settling down to raise some babies. The average home back then was about half the size of most of today's homes, and often came with only one bathroom. Kids shared rooms, and there was no such thing as separate living and family rooms, or "bonus" rooms.
Today's average home is about 2,349 square feet. We have more room than we can use, and it's not because we necessarily need all that space. It's more about saying we have all that space. Pure and simple, it's keeping up with those snooty Joneses.
But in recent years, the economic downturn has caused thousands of homeowners to just throw up their hands and walk away from their homes, simply because they can no longer afford to pay for them.
So what's the trend now? People have gotten much more savvy in this economy when it comes to saving money, and this includes housing. There's a growing trend toward building small houses – which can be built by do-it-yourselfers for about $20,000 and up.
Under around 800 square feet, these homes can be delivered completed, or you can put them together yourself. It's all about simplifying and getting down to the business of what really matters. But why go small? Obviously, it costs less to build, maintain and live in a smaller home. It's also more energy efficient.
For some, thinking about getting rid of a lot of stuff is an overwhelming thought. But for those who go tiny in their housing, it's a necessity. It forces you to be more thoughtful and purposeful about the things you hang on to, as well as future purchases. You'll wind up saving a bundle just by cutting back on "stuff."
So when you want to think big when it comes to savings, think small. Going smaller in your housing, and simplifying your life and your belongings could be just what your wallet needs.
According to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the average American family spent more than $2,500 on dining out in 2010. If you cut a mere 30 percent of that cost, you'd save more than $750. That's significant savings. How can you accomplish this?
Stay home. But where's the fun in that? Everyone likes to dine out occasionally. There are some things you can do that will help to dramatically decrease the cost of eating out.
• Check restaurant.com. They have gift certificates, as well as sales year-round, and you can find huge savings there. Bear in mind, however, that the certificates are for dine-in only.
• Search online for coupons. You can find them at various sites all over the Web, including some that will save you 50 to 90 percent.
• Use "check in." If you've got a smartphone, you'll find that there are social networking apps that will give you free stuff and some fairly deep discounts for "checking in." Apps like Yelp, Foursquare, and SCVNGR are the most popular.
• Call ahead and ask about special occasion deals. Restaurants will often give you a discount when you have a large party. Some even have birthday or anniversary clubs that you can sign up for. You can also go out to eat on your birthday. There are lots of restaurants that offer a free meal on your birthday. Check out eatfreeonyourbirthday.com.
• Use social media. Follow your favorite restaurants on Twitter and friend them on Facebook. You'll be among the first to know about specials and discounted deals.
Father's Day is this weekend, and while our hearts are full of love for dear old Dad, our wallets may be empty. Here are the top 10 inexpensive or free gifts you can give Dad on his special day.
1. Give Dad a day free of chores. Remember all those little things Dad normally takes care of? Take care of them for him so he can not only enjoy a free day or a whole weekend, but he'll be able to relax knowing the jobs are still being done.
2. Spend the day outside with Dad, doing whatever he wants. He may want to go fishing, or maybe just browse his favorite hobby shop. Whatever it is, make it all about him.
3. Give Dad control of the remote for a full 24 hours. That's right – he gets to decide what and when you watch.
4. Wash and fully detail Dad's vehicle. It's something he may not have time to do for himself that he'll truly appreciate.
5. Make Dad his favorite dessert, or serve him breakfast in bed.
6. Write your dad a story, with him as the hero. Or recall your fondest memory of time spent with him. It'll be even more special if you can add a photo.
7. Have your picture taken and give it to Dad in a nice frame. All dads like bragging on their kids.
8. Ask your dad if you can work with him on a project. It could be woodworking, or even a project around the house. You'll learn new skills and you'll make great memories with Dad – and spending time together is the best present.
9. Mow the lawn and trim the hedges – without being asked.
10. Hide your dad's favorite treats around the house and leave him clues to help him find them. Or you could just stuff them in his pockets, briefcase, laptop case, office desk…wherever…along with notes that tell Dad how special he is.
If you are like most people, you spend a small fortune on shampoo and conditioner. Consumers shelled out about $2.32 billion on shampoo last year, and $1.71 billion on conditioner. But it doesn't have to be so. Here are some ways you can save on this necessity.
Don't buy it at the drugstore or supermarket. Pharmacy chains and supermarkets price shampoo and conditioner about 10 to 15 percent higher than Walmart and Target, the nation's two largest discount stores. It's even worse if you buy salon or professional brands.
Conversely, you should beware of buying these items at discount beauty stores and mass merchants. You might not be getting the real deal, and the product could be discontinued, old or tampered with.
Basically, all shampoos do the same thing – there's no need to shell out big bucks for an expensive brand. A bottle of shampoo that costs $3 is going to wash your hair just as well as a $20 bottle.
Conditioner is another ball of wax. More expensive brands are proven to be more effective than the bargain brands So if you plan to splurge on hair care, do it on the conditioner.
The simplest way to save money on shampoo and conditioner? Use less. Use a dime- or nickel-size amount of each if you have long or thick hair; less if your hair is shorter.
Now that the weather has warmed up, the mosquitos are coming out and literally bugging us. How do you fight them off, yet be environmentally conscious and all natural, and remain frugal at the same time?
The answer is peppermint oil. It's just a nice fragrance to us humans, but to most insects, particularly fleas and mosquitos, it's a repellent. Since you can buy peppermint oil in concentrated form, a little goes a long way. This saves you money. Here's how you use it.
• Put a few drops here and there on your clothing, like inside pockets and in areas where you perspire the most, since those are the areas mosquitos will be drawn to, like your collar and armpits.
• You can also dilute one part peppermint oil with 10 parts rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle, and use it on plants, pets and clothing, as well as yourself.
• Mix some of the peppermint oil with other oils that are also natural insect repellents like rosemary oil, lemongrass oil and lemon eucalyptus oil, then mix it with rubbing alcohol or dab it in key spots on your body. This increases the number of bugs you'll be repelling, since different bugs are repelled by different scents. As an added bonus, you'll find that adding lemon eucalyptus oil increasing the length of time you're protected by five or six hours.
• While you are repelling insects, you can also condition and soften your skin by adding a little vitamin E. Break open one capsule and mix it into the peppermint oil.
Bear in mind that while this method is effective in repelling insects, it can irritate your skin, so do a skin test by applying a little on the inside of your forearm and monitor it for any reaction. You will also want to wash our skin thoroughly after use with soap and hot water.
Spring break is over, and now we're staring down the barrel of the end of another school year – which means it's time to plan your summer vacation.
The economy seems to be picking up, and this means more people will likely travel than in the past few summers. But taking a great vacation doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of money to travel to some exotic location – and not going to that exotic location doesn't mean you can't have a great time.
Here are some suggestions to help you take a frugal vacation – you'll enjoy yourself even more, knowing you're not breaking the bank.
• Staycation – One of the most obvious money savers is to simply stay at home for your vacation. Turn off your phones and computers, and escape from the everyday. You can enjoy guilty pleasures like reality TV, ice cream every day, reading all afternoon by the pool or lake, or you can check out the local sites in your area you never have time to see.
• Wanna Switch? – Switching houses is a way you can see a new area for a little money. Contact your friends and family and see if they'd like to come to your area, while you travel to theirs. You won't have to spend much for entertainment and food, and your accommodations will, of course, be free.
• Road Trip – Gas prices are expected to be high this summer, but even so, taking a road trip is still the cheapest way to go on vacation. Pack the car, fill up the tank and head out.
If you choose to take a road trip, be sure you take these steps in order to be prepared and make sure your trip is the best ever:
1. Tune up your car, and make sure all the fluids have been checked, the oil is changed and your tires are inflated properly.
2. Make arrangements for accommodations and site-seeing opportunities ahead of time, so you don't get there and get disappointed.
3. Set up a plan ahead of time. Know where you want to go and stick to your plan. It's easy to go over budget if you don't.
4. Do some homework before your road trip to see if there are discounts on the attractions that you can take advantage of.
Gas prices in 2011 were touted as the most expensive, on average, ever. The average cost per gallon, nationwide, was around $3.51 for the year.
Typically, gas prices peak in the summer months, or around Memorial Day. This year's national average is expected to be $3.86 to $4.13 by Memorial Day. Some experts have predicted prices will rise to well over $4.25 a gallon by mid-summer.
With prices like that looming, consumers everywhere will be clamoring for the cheapest gas prices in town. If you are looking to squeeze every penny you can out of each fill-up, they you will want to know which smartphone apps are the best for finding the cheapest gas. Here are some of the best apps currently available.
• GasBuddy – Based on your GPS location, GasBuddy operates by the user pressing a green gas pump button on the screen labeled, "Find Gas Near Me." The app then shows you prices in your area so you can compare. The app is free.
• Fuel Finder – This app isn't free, but comes with more than just the "find me gas" feature. There's a feature, "On Fumes" that shows you the closest stations to you if you are running out of gas. The app can also tell you whether the price listed is worth the drive to fill-up; it tells you how many dollars per tank you'll save, so you'll be able to decide if you should make the effort.
• GasHog is only 99 cents, and will allow you to enter your odometer reading and the amount of fuel each time you fill up, and it calculates your fuel economy. It doesn't point out the cheapest gas, but it does help you spend more wisely.
• GasBook – This free app shows you cheap gas and cheap lodging near you, wherever you are, based on your GPS location.
• Gas Stations – This Android app allows you to input your location and how far you're willing to drive to get cheap gas. You can also save gas stations you like as a Favorite for your return trips.
The only glitch with these apps is that they don't account for cash vs. credit. Some stations offer a discount when you use cash, or they'll charge more if you use a credit card. Some of the apps, like GasBuddy, are adding to the application the flexibility to see both prices.
Back in the 1940s, they had victory gardens. In the 1970s, there was the back to the land movement. And these days, it's edible landscaping.
Whatever you call it, growing your own food is a great way to save money, whether you grow food in containers on your deck, are part of a community garden effort, or even if you grow your plants right out front where everyone can see them, alongside your roses.
Eating more fruits and veggies is a great way to stay healthy – they're loaded with vitamins and minerals our bodies need. The best way to make sure you get a good range of fruits and veggies in your diet is to eat a "rainbow" – it's also a great way to plan your edible landscaping.
Red veggies and fruits include strawberries, tomatoes, watermelons, raspberries, apples, radishes, beets and red peppers. These contain lycopene and anthocyanins, which strengthen collagen proteins in the body, improve memory, and prevent lung, prostate and stomach cancer.
Orange veggies and fruits include carrots, squash, pumpkins, melons and sweet potatoes. These healthy nuggets contain beta carotene and liminoids, which protect against chronic bronchitis, asthma and emphysema. They can also help reduce the risk of cataracts and lung cancer, and decrease cholesterol levels.
Yellow fruits and veggies like yellow peppers, corn, beans and yellow squash contain liminoids, beta carotene and zeaxanthin, which helps protect against chronic bronchitis, asthma and emphysema. They are also good for the eyes and can decrease high cholesterol and help prevent tumors in the colon, *** and prostate glands.
Green fruits and veggies contain lutein, saponins and glucosinolates, which help preserve your eyesight, and maintain heart and skin health, as well as help prevent prostate cancer and lower lipid levels. Get your green by eating spinach, collard greens, broccoli, kale, tomatillos, cucumbers, asparagus, cabbage and bak choy.
Blueberries, grapes and plums fall into the blue group, and contain anthocyanins. These helpful fruits can help strengthen your collagen protein, lower you blood pressure, and prevent colon, cervical and prostate cancer.
Last in the rainbow are the purple veggies like purple cabbage, purple onion and eggplant. These all contain anthocyanins and flavonoids, which can strengthen your collagen proteins and prevent cancer, as well as provide anti-inflammatory and analgesic benefits.
You may spend a few dollars on seeds, plants and supplies each spring, but the fruits and vegetables you produce will save you hundreds of dollars each year on your grocery bill.
It's spring – and for many homeowners, that means it's time to plant flowers in their yards, and vegetables in the garden. If you have a garden, whether it's just ornamental or you use it to feed your family, you know that watering, particularly during the summer months, can get expensive. Here's one way to help defray some of that cost.
If you live in an area that gets a lot of rain in the spring, as well as afternoon showers in the summer, consider setting up a rain barrel. It's an inexpensive way to capture water for your lawn and garden, and you can even use the water to wash your car.
And here's an added bonus: By capturing the rainwater coming off your roof, you'll reduce storm water runoff, and that helps to prevent erosion and flooding on your property.
You can pick up a rain barrel at any lawn and garden store for about $80 to $150 – you'll get the money back in savings on your water bill. But it's even better to build your own barrel, and pocket the savings.
Just get a 55 gallon drum or trash can. Drill a hole for the faucet down low, but not so low that you can't attach a hose or place a watering can under it. Carefully screw the faucet into the drum to create the threads needed to hold it in place. Unscrew it, and apply a thin line of caulk around the edge of the hole. Place a reducing washer over the hole, with the caulk acting as the adhesive. Be sure to place the raised portion of the washer against the barrel. Once the washer is in place and the caulk has hardened, screw your faucet back into place.
But don't forget about the inside of the hole. You have to create a seal there as well. Run a line of caulk around the hole on the inside of the barrel, and add another reducing washer. Once the washer is in place, screw on a lock nut to secure the faucet.
Plan for overflow with your barrel. Some people install a spout at the top as well, while others just let the spillover do just that – spill over.
The last step to create the barrel is to add tight mesh mosquito screen under the lid of the barrel to let the water in, but keep the bugs and other critters out.
Set your barrel up so that your downspout flows directly into it. You may need to shorten the downspout to do so. Make sure your barrel is on level ground: this is very important. A full barrel can weigh up to 450 pounds; you don't want it tipping over on you.
Once you start getting some rain, you'll start to see the savings. And that savings will add up while the rain falls down...
It's spring time, and for most people, that means spring cleaning. But with pollen and other allergens in the air, why add to your list of irritants by using chemical-ridden cleaners in your home? Instead, opt this year for green products you can make yourself. The added bonus is that since you make them yourself, you'll save a ton of money.
Most cleaning products you see in the stores today use toxic chemicals that can damage your home and the things in it over time, as well as cause harm to your skin and your lungs – and as an added bonus, by making your own products, you'll wind up paying about one-tenth of what you'd pay for the commercial brands.
What you'll need to have on hand to make your own green cleaning kit is baking soda, washing soda, white distilled vinegar, a good liquid soap or detergent, tea tree oil, six clean spray bottles and 2 glass jars.
For a soft scrubber to clean your tub and bathroom surfaces, mix about 1/2 cup of baking soda in a bowl with enough liquid detergent to make it look like frosting. Use a sponge to scoop and apply it to your shower walls, sink and tub to wash these surfaces. It rinses easily and doesn't leave grit. You can add a teaspoon of vegetable glycerin to the mixture and store it in a sealed glass jar to keep the product moist for next time.
To clean your windows, mix 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of liquid detergent with 3 tablespoons of vinegar, and 2 cups of water, then pour the mixture into a spray bottle. Shake it up and use it to clean your windows, and glass and mirrored surfaces.
To clean your oven, sprinkle water generously over the bottom of the oven, and then cover the grime with enough baking soda to make the surface completely white. Sprinkle some water over the top and let it sit overnight. You can wipe away the grime easily the next morning. Once the bulk of the grime has been removed, you can use a little liquid detergent to wash the rest of the oven.
You can make your own all-purpose spray cleaner by mixing 1/2 teaspoon of washing soda with a dab of liquid soap and 2 cups of hot tap water. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and shake until the washing soda has dissolved.
To make your own furniture polish, mix 1/2 teaspoon olive or jojoba oil, and 1/4 vinegar or fresh lemon juice in a glass jar, and shake well. Apply them to wood surfaces using a soft rag. This mixture can be stored and used indefinitely.
If you keep a clean spray bottle filled with 95 percent water, 5 percent vinegar, you can use it as a natural deodorizer. You can clean your cutting board with it, as well as the toilet bowl rim.
At one time or another, everyone has to deal with mold. But most of the cures are hard to take and hard to use. Nothing works as well as this natural spray. Mix 2 teaspoons tea tree oil with 2 cups water in a spray bottle and shake. Spray it on problem areas, but do not rinse.
You can also pour distilled white vinegar into a spray bottle and spray it onto moldy areas and leave it. The smell will dissipate in a few hours.
All of these cleaning mixtures are safe for you and your family, as well as your pets. And while you are taking care of your home and Mother Earth, you'll save some money as well. It's a win-win.
The cost of medical care is often overwhelming. For many people, the current economy has forced them to drop their health insurance, and therefore medical care is out of reach or limited, at best. But there are some ways you can save some money on your health care costs.
If you do have insurance, make sure you understand what you've got. Many health care plans cover extras like therapy, alternative care, gym visits or phone consults with a nurse practitioner. It also pays to know which doctors and hospitals accept your insurance as well.
For children, your best best may be the State Children's Health Insurance Program. You can find out if you qualify by going online at cms.hhs.gov/home/chip.asp.
Haggling over cost can save you some serious cash also. You haggle over a car or the cost of a home, right? Why not see if there is some wiggle room on the price tag of your health care? Compare the cost of a test or procedure before you go in, and ask for the billing code, so you're getting an accurate cost. You can compare what doctors are billing at ama.assn.org. You should also offer to pay in cash, in total. This can save you from 20 to 50 percent.
Drugs are another huge expense. If you can, go generic. You can check to see if what you are currently taking is available in generic form at Rxaminer.com. You can also ask your doctor for higher dosage pills, then split them in half, which will give you twice the medication for the price. Check to see if you can get your drugs by mail order – this can save you up to 40 percent on costs.
Keep abreast of community events, and if there's a health fair being held locally, take advantage of the free tests that are offered. You can get blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose screenings, as well as eye exams and bone density tests.
Last of all, when you do receive treatment, ask for an itemized bill and go over it carefully. Errors on medical care bills are more common than you think, so you should double check your statement.
It was all over the news this week – gas prices will surge toward $5 a gallon by late summer. Prices are already headed toward $4 per gallon. Overall, prices are up 10 percent from the start of the year.
Why? What other reason would there be? Turmoil in the Middle East. Oil prices spiked this week after Iran's oil ministry said it would stop exporting oil to French and British companies, a reaction to sanctions from the U.S. and the European Union.
So without a doubt, we'll all be wincing in pain as we pump this summer. So how can we lessen the blow? Here are 10 tips to help you keep gas in your vehicle without going broke.
• Vehicle maintenance saves gas. Use the recommended oil, replace dirty air filters, and keep your tires inflated to the proper pressure, as well as tune up your engine.
• Flooring the pedal and slamming on brakes uses a surprising amount of gas. Drive more moderately and you could save more than 30 percent of the gas you use.
• Lighten the load your car has to bear. Keep the luggage off the roof and empty your trunk. The heavier the weight of the stuff in or on your car, the more gas your car will use.
• Bike or walk whenever you can to save gas. It's healthy for your wallet and your waistline.
• Try to avoid rush hour traffic. An idling engine uses a lot of gas.
• Consider opting for a hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle.
• Drive at the speed limit, and save up to 14 percent on longer trips.
• Use your cruise control. Keeping your car at a consistent rate saves gas.
• Use public transportation when you can and leave your car at home.
• Check into alternative fuel like biodiesel, a blend of gas and ethanol. Find out what's available in your state and whether your car will run on it.
It's a rainy day here, and when there's a rainy day anywhere, there are frustrated moms looking for ways to squelch the cries of, "I'm bored!"
But if you're like most people, your squeezing those pennies and watching where every dollar goes. So the idea of keeping your kids engaged and happy on a rainy day, without having to spend a lot, if anything, is truly appealing. Here are a few ideas…
• Pile in the car and go to the library. There is so much more at the library now than just a little old lady constantly shushing everyone. There are children's sections that are bright and colorful, and that include personal computers. There are also DVDs and audio tapes available, that you can use at the library or check out. You can get each of your children a library card, which is free, and they'll not only increase their love of reading, but it will aid in their education and teach them responsibility as well. And did we mention it's free?
• Break out those board games you haven't played in a long time. Try a new one together, or have your children use items you have around the house to make a new game.
• The library isn't the only indoor destination you can head to when it's raining. You can go bowling, indoor miniature golfing or head to an indoor pool.
• Stir up some fun in the kitchen. Have your kids help you bake something or prepare a whole meal. You can even make a treat for a neighbor or sick friend, or perhaps make treats and pile in the car and head to a nearby nursing home or children's ward at the hospital.
• Remember when you were a kid and you built forts? Well, kids still love to do this simple activity. Pull out Halloween costumes and build a character-appropriate fort. For example, if your little boy was Batman last Halloween, make your fort into a bat cave. Build an igloo, a teepee, a pirate's cave…the list goes on and on.
• And don't forget…you can always simply celebrate the fact that it's raining and just get out there and play in the rain. If it's warm, throw on your swimsuits and get out there and jump in some puddles. If it's a cooler, you can opt for raincoats and boots, then end your time in the rain with some hot cocoa. You can even use the time out in the rain as an educational tool, by looking for animals that come out when it rains, like earthworms, or measuring how much rain fell.
Whatever you do, make it fun and do it together. They're only children for so long, and you can't put a price tag on memories.
So you've got a special someone you want to plan a special something for this Valentine's Day. You've got a lot of love and ambition. But what you don't have a lot of is money. So what do you do? How do you plan a romantic Valentine's celebration on the cheap – without looking cheap?
Here are 14 ideas of things you could do that cost little to nothing.
• Have an indoor picnic or in your backyard. Share finger foods and favorite treats, and maybe a bottle of wine.
• Buy a small, decorative jar or basket, or create your own container, and fill it with love notes written on small pieces of paper. Make enough to last until next Valentine's Day and you'll earn extra points.
• Do something for your love that he/she hates doing. Fill up the gas tank, rake the yard, unload the dishwasher…whatever. Be creative.
• Cook his/her favorite dinner, or serve his/her favorite breakfast in bed.
• Do an at-home spa date, complete with candles, bubble bath, facial mask and scrub.
• Have a movie night, complete with popcorn and romantic flick.
• Hide love notes for your love for him/her to find throughout the day. You can use sticky notes or make your own heart-shaped notepaper.
• Plan a chocolate tour in your hometown. Go to a local sweets shop and ask for a tour, then go to your love's favorite restaurant or bakery and have a chocolate dessert, then go home to a cup of hot chocolate.
• Write a love note on the bathroom mirror while he/she is in the shower.
• Write love notes and tie them to helium balloons, and then place them all along the path he/she takes to work or when he/she goes for a walk.
• Plan a scavenger hunt. Write clues and put them in envelopes, then place them around town.
• Repeat your first date, down to the last detail, if possible.
• Make a coupon book for him/her, and fill it with redeemable coupons for free kisses, hugs, hand-holding, massages, etc. Get as creative or naughty as you want.
• Create a calendar or small photo album that tells the story of you as a couple.
If you are like most people, you'll be glued to the television set this Sunday watching the annual American tradition that is the Super Bowl. And if you are gathered with friends and family to watch the game, it's a safe bet there will be lots of food as well.
According to NPR, the amount of food eaten on Super Bowl Sunday comes in second only to Thanksgiving. The National Chicken Council has estimated that people will eat a staggering 1.25 billion chicken wings, 14,500 tons of chips and 4,000 tons of popcorn.
According to the experts, the average American will spend about $128 on Super Bowl fare. That's down from the average $144 consumers spent last year per party. Obviously, consumers want to party on the cheap.
If you're expecting a group of friends or family members to show up this Sunday wearing football jerseys and bibs, you may want to consider how to plan a menu that is both satisfying and frugal.
First of all, determine ahead of time what you can afford to spend. Make a list of must-have items, and stick to that list when you go to the store. Look for coupons, buy store brands, and don't be afraid to ask your friends and family to bring some items as well.
When it comes to paper goods like plates, napkins and tablecloths, hit up your local dollar store. If you plan on spending a little on decorations, you can look for streamers and balloons in your team's colors while you're there. If you really want to slice into your budget, use your own dishes and utensils and make use of your dishwasher, instead of buying paper goods.
If your guests want to drink something other than soda, let them know it's BYOB. This will save you a ton of money.
When it comes to veggies and dip, save some money and cut your own veggies instead of buying the pre-cut ones, and mix your own dip. You'll also save money if you bake your own sweets instead of buying them in the local bakery or grocery store.
Whatever you do and however much you spend, Super Bowl Sunday is about more than just the game – it's about good friends, family and good times. Make the most of it, whatever your situation.
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