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  • Frugal living: It's the gravy on the mashed potatoes of life

    Frugal living isn't exactly a new concept, nor is it a new trend. Millions of people all over the country are getting back to the basics and living a more frugal life. What exactly is frugal living, and how does one actually, well, live frugally?


    For some, the term, living frugally simply means doing without. But this just isn't true. Frugal living isn't about deprivation – it's about living smarter so you can live the way you want to live. 


    Frugal living is all about smarter money management. Set your budget, know how much you've got in the bank, and you'll know what you can afford. More importantly, you'll know what you can't afford.


    Frugal living also means spending smarter, and stretching your dollar as far as possible. It means you work to get the best deals possible, using coupons, rebates, and shopping sales. But it's also about knowing when to say no – determining that now isn't the best time to purchase that particular object or deciding not to purchase it at all.


    There are five things you should remember about frugal living that are at the very heart of this concept:


    • Buy quality. Get the most out of your dollar, make it last and use it in a variety of ways.


    • Do your homework. Consult consumer opinion, read labels and test results yourself.


    • Remember that time equals money, and always ask yourself, "Is the money saved worth the time invested?"


    • Wait 24 hours before you purchase anything. By doing so, you may figure out a way to avoid spending the money but still meeting the need.


    • Learn to live below your salary, and not at your salary.


    Why should you want to live frugally, squeezing every penny you've got? Frugal living can lead to paying off all your debt, saving up enough money to pay for your child's education, a fat retirement account or traveling the world someday. 


    Frugal living is all about determining what you really want out of life, taking control, and making it happen. And if you save a few bucks along the way, well, that's just gravy.

    Posted Jan 26 2012, 10:31 AM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • Tips to help you save money while heating your home

    It's January – and that means, no matter where you are, cooler temperatures. How do you heat your home affordably? Here are some tips to help you save money while heating your home.


    • Get a programmable thermostat. This will help because traditional thermostats rely on human comfort and memory – which can cost you more money. A programmable thermostat will adjust, whether you are home or not.


    • Consider using different heating units to warm different areas of your home. This will allow you to heat only the areas of your home in use.


    • Turn your thermostat down at night. Night-time hours are the most expensive when it comes to heating your home. Use heavier blankets and turn that thermostat down to save money.


    • Space heaters can save you money. Use them in individual rooms to save money, either as a complement to your central system or as supplement in rooms that aren't used often. But be sure to follow manufacturers' safety instructions.


    • Run your ceiling fans in reverse to bring warm air down from the ceiling. 


    • Make sure your windows and doors are properly insulated.


    • If you haven't already, have your heating system serviced. A well-maintained system will run more efficiently. This should be done once a year.


    • Make sure there is sufficient insulation in your attic and that it is high quality insulation – R-30 value is recommended in areas that don't experience extreme cold – R-40 or R-50 is better for areas where temperatures are more extreme.


    • Open your curtains and let the sun help with heating your home. It doesn't cost you a dime and it helps chase away the winter blues.


    If all this doesn't help, consider replacing your heating and cooling system. If you have an older system, this could make a huge difference in your electric bill. Energy Star appliances are about 10 percent more efficient than others.

    Posted Jan 12 2012, 11:01 AM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • Re-gifting...Taboo or acceptable money-saver?

    Most of us at one time or another have received a gift we were less than enthused about. What if you can't return the gift? What then?


    One of the easiest and most effective ways to deal with a gift like this is to re-gift it – just get over the guilt, realize it will only collect dust and clutter up your home, and give it to someone who will really use and appreciate it. So…how do you re-gift without getting caught? 


    First of all, take a good, long look at the gift you received. Is it worth giving to someone else? Do you know anyone who would like to receive this item?


    Second, keep track of where your gift came from, so you don't re-gift that person what they originally gave you. You should also be sure that if there were "witnesses" to your receipt of the gift in the first place, they don't get the re-gift either. And if there is any personalization to the gift, make sure it's gone.


    Next, make sure you repackage or re-wrap the gift properly. The presentation of the gift is key – you don't want it to look like a hand-me-down. And speaking of hand-me-downs, don't give anyone a used gift, even if you've only used or worn it once. Make sure anything you re-gift is brand-spankin' new. 


    Don't wait to long to re-gift the item. The older it is, the more obvious it is that you have re-gifted. 


    And last, don't feel guilty. If you have an item that is brand new but you can't or won't use it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with passing it on to someone who can put it to good use. According to a survey by Money Management International, more than half of consumers surveyed feel that re-gifting is acceptable. 


    Emily Post even thinks it's okay, and there's a "National Re-gifting Day," celebrated each December 18. And eBay markets "National Re-gifting Week" each year as December 26-30.


    So dust off those gifts you don't have a use for and put them back into circulation with a great big bow on top. And smile while you're doing it, knowing that you saved money – and a little closet space.

    Posted Jan 05 2012, 10:25 AM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • Set goals to ensure financial health in 2012

    There's no doubt that financially, 2011 was a tough year. The recession is, well, receding, but we've got a long way to go yet. With a new year looming, it would be wise to start planning and making your financial goals for 2012. Setting realistic goals is a great first step.


    • Set both short- and long-term goals. Short-term goals include things you want to accomplish in the coming year like reduce your debt or build up your emergency cash fund. Long-term goals might be things like saving for your children's education or putting money away toward an early retirement.


    • Set your budget, love your budget. Some people may look at budgeting as a chore or a heavy weight to bear, but having a set budget can actually be quite freeing. Once you've set yours, stick to it and you'll not only be guilt-free, but you'll be in better shape financially.


    • Determine your priorities. Figure out what matters most to you, and focus on those things. 


    If you've figured out what's most important to you, you'll want to follow three simple rules. First of all, spend less money. Be sure, before any purchase, to ask yourself if spending this particular amount of money will help you achieve your goals. If you are even slightly unsure, it's best to not spend it.


    Second, save more. Putting more money away for a rainy day or emergencies is never a bad thing, and saving toward retirement also has to be a priority. 


    And last, make sure you invest your money wisely. Don't put all your eggs into one basket, and remember to reevaluate your investment goals periodically in order to be sure you're still on track with your overall financial goals. 


    No matter what your goals are in the coming year, spending less and saving more, as well as investing wisely, will surely help you stay focused on your goals and get even closer to making those goals a reality.

    Posted Dec 29 2011, 11:27 AM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • Make these New Year's resolutions – and keep them

    Getting out of debt is something everyone longs for. And this time of year, with the idea of New Year's resolutions looming, it may be a good time to finally make those resolutions to keep – and change your financial well-being for the better. Here are four things you can do to make that happen. 


    1. Lower your debt to income ratio. Your debt to income ratio can make a difference in the type of home loan you qualify for. It can also help you determine what your current financial snapshot looks like. If your debt to income ratio is higher than 30 percent, you need to lower that number as soon as you can.


    2. Pay off old debt. Contact one company at a time and work out a deal with them. This will improve your credit score, and as you pay off things one by one, you'll see your overall credit history improve.


    3. Stop using credit cards. The best way to get out of debt is to refrain from creating more debt. So stop using your cards and pay them off.


    4. Set up a debt payment plan. Setting up a good debt payment plan is an excellent way and the first step toward getting out of debt. You have to have a plan to get anything done, right? This is no different. Make a plan and stick to it. 


    As you work to get out of debt, make sure you track your progress. Knowing how much debt you still owe, as well as how much you've already paid off, can be a great motivator. Make these your New Year's resolutions and for once, keep your resolutions. You'll be debt free and happy you took the steps to make it happen.

    Posted Dec 22 2011, 11:25 AM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • Top 10 Inexpensive teacher gifts for Christmas 2011

    If you have a child in pre-school or elementary school, you may be like a lot of parents – you dread Christmas because it means you have to buy teacher presents. Not that you don't want your child's teacher to get a gift – it's just that no one is ever sure what to give a teacher. And we all know teachers have plenty of Christmas mugs – so put that idea right out of your head.


    Here's our Top 10 list of teacher gifts.


    1. Get together with other parents in the class and pool your resources. You could ask for $5 from each child, and purchase a large gift together, like a gift certificate to a fancy restaurant or store. Then have each child sign a card.


    2. Put together a basket with the ingredients for a quick meal, like a pasta dinner, which could include a jar of gourmet sauce, pasta and breadsticks, or a pancake breakfast, complete with mix, a bottle of syrup and maybe some fruit. 


    3. Teachers often wind up buying art supplies for their classrooms, so why not purchase a gift certificate for the local craft or dollar store, or pick up some of the items yourself. Parents could work together on this and provide the supplies needed for the class until the end of the year.


    4. Find out what the teacher enjoys. Does she go to Starbucks often? Does she read romance novels at lunch. Pick up a gift certificate.


    5. Pick up a gift certificate to a local movie theater, and attach it to a box of movie candy.


    6. Purchase a little indulgence for the teacher that she might not think of getting for herself – like cashmere gloves or socks, gourmet chocolates, bath salts, or a scented candle.


    7. Have your child do a portrait of the teacher, have him or her sign it, then frame it as a gift for the teacher. It's a personal and thoughtful gift. You could also have each child in the class do a picture or story page about their class or teacher, and put together a scrapbook as a gift.


    8. Remember that teachers have to spend time on the playground every day, just like the kids. Buy her a hat and scarf set, a pair of gloves, an umbrella or a rain hat.


    9. You can pick up some personalized notepads for your child's teacher, and have your child help pick the paper and ink color, as well as the pad design. 


    10. Most craft stores sell canvas tote bags, and your child can get creative when he or she personalizes this useful gift for teacher.


    It doesn't take a lot of money to make a teacher happy – it just takes a little thought and a lot of heart. 

    Posted Dec 15 2011, 11:48 AM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • Cheap Christmas party host gifts can be creative

    By now you've probably received several Christmas party invitations. While attending Christmas parties can be a lot of fun, buying a host/hostess gift for each one is not. And it can get expensive. Here are some ideas for inexpensive gifts any host or hostess would appreciate.


    • Good enough to eat – Give your host a small selection of locally made products like flavored oils, candies, mustard, barbecue sauce, spices or nuts. You could also give a jar of ingredients to make a batch of brownies or cookies, along with the recipe. If your host likes tea or coffee, you could gift him or her with a variety of tea bags or coffees, and a new mug. A fruit basket is also a great gift.


    • If you know your hostess is a crafter, bring her some stickers, acid-free pens, or decorative scissors. You could give a collection of craft magazines tied together with pretty ribbon. If your host is a gardener, give a new pair of gardening gloves with a coupled of packets of seeds.


    • Always cookin' up something – Give your host who loves to cook an extra serving dish, or a holiday-inspired serving bowl. You can also purchase some quality wooden utensils or a collection of gourmet peppercorns. Kitchen towels or dishcloths are also a welcome gift.


    • Got no idea…? If you don't know your host that well and are unsure what to give, you can always fall back on a CD of holiday music, certificates for the local movie theater, a deck of cards with an instruction booklet of card games or a bottle of wine.


    • If your host is a personal friend, you could give a jar of bath salts, a journal, a collection of nail polish, a makeup bag, a collage of photos from activities you've done together, a set of fishing lures or a pair of warm winter socks or gloves, or even a personalized scarf.


    Whatever you give, making it as personal as possible and catering it to the recipient's tastes is always important. You don't have to spend a lot of money to make someone's holiday a little brighter – you just have to step out with a smile and  put a big bow on your gift. 

    Posted Dec 08 2011, 12:29 PM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • Plan ahead to make Black Friday successful, enjoyable

    Thanksgiving is this Thursday – but for bargain hunters everywhere, the holiday means one thing, and one thing only: Black Friday comes next. Here are some tips to help you plan a successful Black Friday shopping trip.


    Plan ahead. A lot of stores open at the same time, and you may have numerous stops to make. Sit down with your ads and determine which is the most important to you – you may have a shot at only one or two doorbuster items, which don't last long due to stores having limited quantities of that item in stock. Figure out which one you want the most and which is the best deal, and figure out where the best place is to get it. And don't forget to have a backup plan in case you miss out on that item or the line is too long.


    Make a list. Before you ever leave home, make a list of the items you are seeking. Lots of stores are releasing their doorbuster lists early, so you can plan ahead. Know what you're looking for and you won't have to spend time looking through circulars while you're in the store. But you should carry the circulars with you, in case there's a price dispute. And remember: stick to your list to stay on budget.


    Shop in teams. If you have a group of friends or family members that can shop together, you can make the most of your time and numbers by standing in line outside of different stores. You can text to stay in touch, and even have someone act as a runner or stand-in when you need a break. 


    Carry supplies. Make sure you have snacks and bottles of water with you, in case you wind up in line much longer than you'd planned, and can't take a break to go and get something to eat. You may even want to consider taking a chair.


    Last of all, remember to be patient. The stores are going to be crowded and you will have longer wait times. Parking lots will be packed, and good spaces will be hard to find. Don't be obnoxious, cut in line or rude to store clerks. Remain calm, be courteous, and enjoy yourself. 

    Posted Nov 22 2011, 10:58 AM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • 25 ways to use leftover Thanksgiving turkey

    We've all been there. We've eaten way too much turkey and all the trappings, yet we still have enough turkey left over to feed a small army. What can you do with all that turkey? It's just poor economics to waste it, right?


    Here's 25 ways to use up your leftover turkey and be economical, all at the same time. Recipes can be found in abundance on the Internet, so pick something, Google a recipe, and use up that leftover bird!


    • Burgers

    • Pitas

    • Tostadas

    • Lasagna

    • Enchiladas

    • Shepherd's pie

    • Pot pie

    • Noodle casserole

    • Soups

    • Salads

    • Sandwiches and wraps

    • Pizza toppings

    • Fajitas

    • Burritos

    • Skillet meals

    • Pasta dishes

    • Stir fry

    • Paninis

    • BBQ

    • Gyros

    • Kabobs

    • Chili

    • Omelets

    • Nachos

    • Tetrazzini

    Posted Nov 17 2011, 01:43 PM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • Make your Thanksgiving a frugal, less stressful holiday

    Thanksgiving is just a couple of weeks away, and many homemakers and party planners are beginning to plan menus, decorations and budgets for this annual celebration. And while the economists may be saying the recession is over, most people are still feeling the sting. So saving some money on the Thanksgiving feast is still pretty important to most people. Here are some tips to help you spend less and enjoy your holiday more.


    First of all, shop early. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, you'll see sales and coupons for lots of traditional Thanksgiving meal items. Begin purchasing these items now, using those coupons or get them on sale, and save big.


    While it is convenient to buy prepackaged food items, these items can cost you more than if you were to simply make these foods from scratch. Consider doing it "old school" this year, and save the difference.


    There is a common tendency on these occasions to purchase way more than we actually need. Don't buy any more food than you really need – make a list and stick to it. If you do make too much food – and who doesn't on Thanksgiving – be sure to use the leftovers for future meals. You can use leftover veggies in soups, and freeze the leftover turkey.


    If you are having lots of people over for the Thanksgiving meal, consider going potluck, instead of trying to cook the whole meal yourself. Assign each guest a dish, and you do the turkey. It will save you – and your guests – money and time. 


    Thanksgiving isn't about how much food you have and how much you have to spend in order to have it – it's about spending time with your loved ones and reflecting on the things and people you are most thankful for. 


    Posted Nov 10 2011, 11:34 AM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • Shop smarter this holiday season

    There's no doubt that since the holiday season is now upon us, people will be looking for deals. Searches for coupon-related terms were up online last week 199 percent from the same time last year. 


    On any given day, there are more than 10,000 deals placed online by retailers. Some are only mediocre, while others are true deals. With all the coupon sites and deal touters out there, how do you know for sure you've found the best deal there is? Here's how to make sure you get the best price.


    Check price comparison sites like PriceGrabber and Shopzilla. This will give you a more manageable list of products and prices than you'll get if you use a less deal-specific search engine. But bear in mind that the site you use is only offering deals from stores they have deals with, so you may want to use more than one site. 


    When you find a good deal with one retailer, ask for a price match at another. Several stores offer this, but remember to keep your printed copy of the offered deal with you, whether it is from an online source or your local newspaper. 


    Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) is right around the corner, and you can be there will be deep discounts at all sorts of retailers – but electronics stores seem to be the most common. You'll find items in the stores that aren't listed in circulars, so don't just rely on the circulars. But beware that you could get sucked into a good deal on an inferior product. Know what brand you prefer or feel is better quality before you shop, and don't stray from that.


    Your best bet is to comparison shop before you leave home. The Internet is wonderful for this – and it will save you vast amounts of time. You'll know what the regular price is, and can then determine how much you're willing to pay, and if the offered price is truly a good deal.


    Be aware that retailers seem to be making it more difficult to use coupons or special deals because consumers are doing more shopping online – whether at home or in stores on their cell phones. So pay attention to fine print and expiration dates.

    Posted Nov 03 2011, 01:44 PM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • Feeling pressured to host an expensive birthday party for your kid? Fear no more!

    When most of us were kids, we had birthday parties that involved Pin the Tail on the Donkey, a pinata, birthday cake and ice cream. And there were presents, party hats and balloons.


    It's not like that these days.


    Kids' parties these days means parents spending exorbitant amounts of money on custom made birthday cakes, designer outfits for the kids to wear to the party, hiring party planners, and getting special celebrity guests to show up on the big day. Parents spend thousands of dollars on these affairs, some of which rival the lavish trappings of an expensive wedding.


    But why spend all this money on kids' parties, when the kids will be happy with something much less expensive but still fun?


    For many parents, it's about impressing the Joneses and validating their own self worth. It's also, for some, about assuaging the guilt they feel for spending more time at work than with their children. Some say it's simply because the parents of today's kids have more money to spend on these things. 


    The bad news is for the parents who don't have the money for these over-the-top parties. When their children attend these expensive parties, the children's expectations for their own birthdays are raised, and the parents throwing the expensive parties expect their children to be able to attend similar functions. 


    The sad part of this whole scenario is that the birthday boys and girls who are the center of attention at these lavish parties grow up with an inflated sense of entitlement – they think they deserve the treatment they get and just grow to expect it. They also grow up thinking that money can buy happiness.


    But you can throw a party for your child that accomplishes what's really important: Making your child feel special. And you can do this without spending a small fortune.


    Hold the event at your house, and save the cost of renting a facility. You can have the children do an inexpensive craft project, like making clay dinosaurs, or have them make their own ice cream sundaes or decorate their own cupcakes.


    You can also keep the decorations and party favors simple. Get creative and make your own – you can even get your children involved in making simple decorations, or purchase inexpensive items at a low-price store or party supply store.


    One huge expense for parties is always the cake. Bake one yourself, and get your kids involved. If you burn more cakes than you frost, you may want to consider going to your local grocer or bakery and see if you can get a low-cost cake. You can still customize it yourself.


    Entertainment is another big expense, and you don't have to hire professionals. Just keeping the kids entertained is the name of the game, and an old fashioned game of tug of war, limbo or an egg race will accomplish it. You can get teenagers from your neighborhood or church to run the games, and they'll likely do it for free as long as you feed them.


    Remember: When it comes to your child's birthday, the important thing is not how much you spend; it's the memories you create with your child. And those memories, well, you just can't put a price tag on them.


    Posted Oct 27 2011, 11:17 AM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • Ditch cable and save big

    The average consumer spends about $75 a month on cable. That means he spends $900 a year or about $45,000 in his lifetime, just on cable. But why pay when you can watch so many of the same shows for much less or free? There are people all over the country who have chosen to drop cable – thousands of people turned off their cable service in 2010. So why shouldn't you save money by ditching cable?


    For many, having cable is just another necessary expense, like groceries or gas, but it doesn't have to be that way. You can lose the expense of cable by switching to free hi-definition broadcast television for the networks and public television, and use a box for other shows. Or you can hook up your television to your computer for access to Internet programming, or purchase a television with wireless capabilities, and use your wireless Internet connection. 


    You can even go old school and hook up a set of rabbit ears – antenna – to your hi-def flat screen. You should be able to get some local channels, as well as a few others. 


    There are also services that you can get online that will enable you to see many of the shows you enjoy, like Hulu and Netflix. You can also use Internet sites like Vudu for movies, and Apple TV, Google TV and Roku.


    What if you just can't part with your cable – can you still save money? You can negotiate with your cable company. Call them and say your cable is too expensive and you want to shut it off. They'll very likely offer you a discount off your monthly bill if you agree to a one-year contract. You can also review your bill and cut the extras, like a premium movie package.


    You can hook up to basic cable by just hooking the cable directly to your television, and getting rid of the cable company's remote and cable box. Then you won't have to pay "rental" fees on those items, and you'll save money.

    Posted Oct 20 2011, 12:41 PM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • How to save money on doing laundry

    The Consumer Energy Center reports that the average American family washes about 400 loads of laundry a year, which means most families do about 7.6 loads a week. When you consider this, and factor in the price of laundry detergent and electricity, as well as water, you can see that the cost of doing this simple chore can really add up. But there are some things you can do to reduce your laundry costs. Here are our top 10 ways to make this happen.


    1. Use the recommended amount of detergent – or even less. Using too much soap can make your machine work harder and take longer to complete the cycle.


    2. Wash in cold water to increase your energy savings.


    3. Only wash full loads. It takes the same amount of energy to wash a full load as it does a half load – the savings goes directly into your pocket.


    4. Wash using the shortest cycle. It may seem like washing on the longer cycle makes for cleaner clothes, but that's not the case.


    5. Make sure your machine has an Energy Star label.


    6. Keep the lint trap clean.


    7. Line dry some items.


    8. Use warm water to pre-soak heavily soiled items only.


    9. Switch to a front-load washer.


    10. Make your own laundry detergent. It's easy to do and can mean substantial savings. The cost breakdown is this: one box of Borax ($5), 1 box of Arm and Hammer washing soda ($3) and one bar of Ivory soap ($1) will cost a total of $9 and will wash 500 loads. A 50-ounce bottle of detergent will cost $9 and will wash about 32 loads. That means you'll spend about $144 to wash the same 500 loads.  By making your own detergent, you'll save $135.

    Posted Oct 13 2011, 03:09 PM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • Treats without a high price tag – no tricks

    Each year on Halloween, consumers spend roughly $21 million – just on candy. The average household spends about $20. One of the biggest complaints registered each year is that to avoid running out of candy, most people purchased too much candy – and therefore spent too much.


    So how can you participate in the ghoulish fun without spending an obscene amount of money? 


    The first step is to not purchase the candy too far ahead – you are, after all, human. You're going to eat some of it. Or you could simply just purchase candy you aren't particularly fond of, so you won't be tempted.


    The easiest way to save money is to buy generic treats – name brands obviously cost more. If you are a stickler for name brands, you should be able to find sales in the last few days leading up to Halloween, and there are loads of coupons and special deals out there if you look for them.


    Many people think that giving out healthy treats is more expensive. This can certainly be true, but there are some inexpensive alternatives. You can shop in the school lunch box section of your local grocery store, which features items in single serving sizes, and what you don't give away, you can use for your own children's lunches. You can give out single serving packages of nuts, cheese and crackers, fruit cups, fruit roll-ups and even sugar-free gum. 


    Another alternative to giving out sugary treats is handing out small toys. These could include balloons, erasers, pencils, pencil toppers, plastic spiders, stickers and plastic rings. Many of these items can be picked up at dollar stores. If you purchase too many of these items, you can always pack them away for next year.


    Some people like to bake and look at this as a viable alternative to spending a lot of money on Halloween treats. But in this day and age, unfortunately, many parents throw out homemade treats. 


    No matter what options you choose, the key is planning. Don't wait until the last minute. 

    Posted Oct 06 2011, 12:10 PM by moneycoach with no comments
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