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It seems like everywhere I go, everyone is talking about preschool recently. Apparently January is the month to start looking for preschools (who knew?). The thing is many schools start registration in February or March and the good ones fill up fast. We’ve decided enroll the little one in preschool in the fall and it’s a huge decision. I’m full of nerves – am I making the right decision? Is this decision going to affect him for the rest of his life?

While our family is all for being frugal, we’re willing to pay for our kid’s education – it’s just one of those things that we feel is worth it. But some preschools are just ridiculously expensive – there’s no way we can hack it. Besides, even if we could, we’d like to save that cash for, you know, college. So we’re in the midst of trying to find the best preschool at the lowest price. Here’s how we’re doing it.

Set your priorities

What are you looking for in a preschool? Do you want a specific learning approach (like Montessori or Waldorf)? Do you want something that’s right around the corner or are you willing to drive further for something really great. Determine what’s most important to you and your child and keep these priorities at the forefront in your search. For me, the specific style of school isn’t so important as long as I like the general vibe of the school. That’s why visiting the schools you’re interested in is key.

Ask around

The best place to find preschools for less is your friends. All of the places I’ve looked at so far were at the recommendations of others. Moms really do know best! Chances are someone you know knows someone who has had experience with pretty every preschool in the area. Don’t be afraid to ask about prices. In my experience, moms aren’t shy about this kind of thing. If they found a great deal, they want to share that knowledge. If you’re new to an area, reach out to community services – like schools and libraries. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction.

Go public

Public schools are usually the least expensive around. One of my favorite preschools we’ve toured so far is connected with a nearby town’s recreation program. Since it’s a non-profit, the school is easy on the wallet. Plus, it’s a really nice school with a great educational program. We’re not 100% sold on this school, but it’s definitely a front runner.

Look for scholarships

While public preschools are usually the cheapest, some private schools offer scholarships or sliding scales for lower income families. I haven’t had personal experience with this, but friends of mine have saved thousands with tuition assistance. Churches also offer discounts to parishioners on their preschool programs – to the tune of 10 to 15 percent off.

What are some of the ways you save on preschool? Also, do you think every kid needs preschool? I’d like to do another post on this because long story short, I don’t.

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Have you ever dealt with a personal negotiator? I hadn’t – until I was recently contacted by Jim Herst, a personal negotiator with over 50 years of experience in the business.

What Jim does is try to save you money on the bigger purchases in life – like cars, home repair, wedding expenses, or reoccurring bills (like cable and telephone). We often feel locked into the prices we are offered, but that’s not always the case. Many of these companies are willing to negotiate and lower their prices in order to make a sale or keep a current customer. These companies want to win and keep customers just as much as you want to save money.

The problem starts when it comes to approaching these companies. It can be hard approaching them, not knowing what to ask  in order to get yourself the best possible deal. That’s where Jim comes in. He negotiates with the companies in order to save you the most money. He has 50 years experience negotiating for small-business clients and individuals, so he knows how to broker the best deal. Even better, Jim’s service is risk-free – meaning you pay him nothing in advance. His fee is a small percentage of the savings he obtains for you if you opt to take that savings.

When Jim approached me to review his service for this blog, I decided to give his service a try. I’m not looking to make any major purchases in the near future, so I decided to see what he could do for my cable/internet/phone bill. Jim worked tirelessly on my behalf, but as it turns out, I already have the best deal (go figure). Although I personally didn’t see any savings (and that’s probably because Comcast likes to be difficult), I feel confident that Jim offers quality service that can save you big bucks – especially on big purchases like cars, boats, and home repairs.

If you are making a big purchase or just want to save on your monthly bills, I definitely recommend checking out Jim’s site. Since it’s risk-free, it’s definitely worth a shot!

 

I was not compensated for this review and all opinions are 100% mine.

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I feel like every personal finance/frugal living is talking about Black Friday, so I wanted to jump on the band wagon. It’s just four days away, so you probably already have your plans set. But I wanted to share mine.

It’s all about online, folks.

First though, let’s back up a bit. I wanted to come on here railing Black Friday and all its assorted evils. Did you hear Target is opening their doors at 8pm Thanksgiving Day? Target is second in line at 9 pm. Which makes me wonder – what happened to Thanksgiving? You know, that holiday where you’re supposed to gather with friends and family over a wonderful meal and take the time to be thankful? Nah, forget that. We need to stand in line, out in the freezing cold, fight the crowds – all for the latest gadget (that they might not even have by the time you actually get inside the doors). People have actually died on Black Friday. Died! And now we have extended this national craziness to Thanksgiving day itself.

If you haven’t guessed, I don’t like Black Friday. It’s kind of like my theory on coupons – you’re only going to be saving on things you don’t need. Then, I started looking at some of the sales. And really? They’re not that bad. You can honestly save some serious dough on things you might end up buying anyway – toys for the kids, gadgets for the hubby, cozy slippers for your mom. I couldn’t consciously come on here and recommend staying the heck away from Black Friday when there actually are great sales out there. So, I came up with a compromise – online shopping.

Online retailers like Amazon, Target, Walmart, Best Buy and Kohl’s are offering great sales on Black Friday in addition to Cyber Monday. A lot of these stores are offering free shipping. That means you’ll not only get a great deal, but your purchase will be delivered to your doorstep for free. So just take some time to look ahead for online deals instead of fighting the crowds Thanksgiving night.

It’s the best of both worlds. By shopping online, you’ll see some really great savings (provided you only buy things you would have anyway) and you’ll miss out on the crowds. Plus, you can spend Thanksgiving exactly where you should be – with your family (or friends).

What do you think of Black Friday? Do you brace the crowds or stay at home?

Earlier this week, I talked about creating a budget. Today, I wanted to talk about how to stretch that budget. Short of getting a part time job, or saving a little throughout the year (it’s a little too late for that), here are some ideas of how to make the most of what you’ve got this holiday season:

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Give the gift of food. Bake your family and friends their gifts at home! Instead of purchasing gifts that your loved ones may never use, why not bake cookies, fudge or loaves of banana nut bread as a present?

Make homemade cards. Get your little ones involved in this one and craft your own holiday cards. They’re way more personalized than those generic photo cards. Purchase some inexpensive card stock, glitter and paint and let your kiddos go wild.

Spread the joy of cookies. Have a knock-out cookie recipe? Then spread the joy. Layer dry ingredients in a mason jar. Attach the recipe with a ribbon and there you go – practical and cute.

Offer to host this year. Instead of spending all your money on travel costs, offer to host the holidays at your house. You’ll save tons of money by foregoing expensive flights. You’ll also be able to create your own special traditions and spend the holiday exactly as you want.

Get the most out of price matching. During this tough economy, stores are making the extra effort to have you shop there. That’s why stores like Target, Walmart, and even Best Buy, are offering price matching. Make the most of it when purchasing big ticket items for your loved ones.

Have any more ideas on how to stretch your holiday budget?

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This week, I wanted to talk all about holidays. Thanksgiving is next Thursday and… well, we all know how quickly the holidays are upon us after that. So, today, let’s talk all about holiday budgets and how to create them.

First, make a list of categories for your family’s holiday spending. Usual categories are things like gifts, gift wraps, holiday cards and postage, holiday family photo, holiday meals, baking, decorating, and travel expenses. Determine every area that you normally spend and try not to leave anything out.

Next, determine a bottom line. How much do you feel comfortable spending overall? Once you have that number figured out, you can go ahead and split it up between your categories. Obviously some categories will get more than others (like gifts as opposed to postage stamps). But, you need to keep your bottom line in mind and try not to go over that amount. If you come up short, look for low-cost or no-cost ways to make up the difference without breaking the bank. Short on money for gifts? Why not hand make a few items for friends and family to get the most bang out of your buck. We’ll talk about stretching your holiday budget tomorrow!

Lastly, stick to it! This is most likely the hardest part of creating a holiday budget. It’s so easy to tell yourself It’s the holidays, I have to get it or This gift is so perfect for so-and-so, it doesn’t matter that it blows my budget and end up spending far more than you’ve allotted. Remind yourself why you made this budget and why it’s important to stick to it. Track everything you spend in each of the categories. Use a cash envelope system if you feel comfortable that way. Or, keep track of your expenditures on Mint.com or in your own personal system.

And have fun – that’s what the holidays are all about!

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I talk a lot about living the simple life on this blog – paring down to essentials, and the like. I like to keep things simple, avoiding the hustle and bustle of modern life. But, it’s funny, you realize very quickly that you don’t know a thing about living the simple life when your electricity goes out for days. Suddenly, you’re facing the dark with candles and lanterns like those in the pioneer days. It’s times like these when you are forced to really slow down. You get a instantaneous lesson in how programmed you are to something you’ve come to depend on entirely too much.

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If you haven’t heard, New Jersey (the Jersey Shore especially) was walloped by Hurricane Sandy this past Sunday and Monday. We were without power from 7 p.m. on Monday until just yesterday morning. Most of New Jersey still doesn’t have power and doesn’t expect to for another four or five days at the least. Unfortunately, loss of power is nothing compared to what some have faced. Houses have swept away, blocks destroyed by fires and the shore towns have just been devastated by flooding.

Instead of thinking abut what we didn’t have (hot water, a stove top or oven to cook, television, internet), we focused on what we did have. We were safe. We had a house over our heads and we didn’t have any damage. We took it as an opportunity to slow down, read stories by candle light, play games, and talk to each other (instead of letting the TV or radio do it for us). Once the storm was over, we took walks – the three of us, me, my son and my husband, hand in hand. We read long stories, all cuddled up together in a giant blanket. We gathered closely around a cluster of candles for dinner – revealing in the intimacy and the one-on-one time with each other.

We were lucky. We were also taught an important lesson in simplicity. For as much as I tout the simple life, I realized I don’t know as much about it as I thought I did. I learned to appreciate the time we had with each other. We learned to make the best of a situation. Instead of wallowing, we made good, lifelong memories, despite the chaos around us – hopefully some that my son will remember for a long time. We learned to embrace true simplicity at its core. We also learned that there are a lot of things we’re willing to go without in today’s world – i.e. the biggest house, the most expensive car, designer clothes, etc. – but electricity is not one of them.

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Whether you’re working towards reducing your debt, stockpiling your savings for retirement or just trying to make ends meet, when you embark on the journey of frugality, you’re embarking on a new lifestyle that often goes against the grain of what everyone else does.

Instead of thinking about all that you’re missing out on, take the time to enjoy the journey. Have a look at these benefits of frugality:

  • By embracing frugality, you’re also embracing a simpler life. When you’re not keeping up with the Jones, you have less gadgets to buy, less designer-name clothing to keep up with, less never-before-heard-of ingredients to track down.
  • On a similar note, living the frugal life lends itself to an attitude of contentment. Living a frugal lifestyle means you’ll make the most of what you have and you’ll appreciate it more. This makes for a far more content life, rather than a life obsessing about acquiring more and more things.
  • You’ll also learn what’s “good enough”. Is good enough the latest new thing? Probably not. Good enough is probably sitting on a shelf in your home right now. When we stop focusing on getting the best of everything, we realize that good enough is perfectly fine.
  • Frugality also teaches you a lot about yourself and the world. Frugal people often do a lot for themselves like growing vegetables in a garden or sewing a pair of pants. These skills were once considered necessary to survive, but have now been phased out in recent years. By learning these skills, you’ll be more equipped to survive on your own. Nothing spells accomplishment like learning new skills that are essential to survival.
  • By being frugal now, you will be in a much better place in the future. Like Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else, so you can live like no one else later.”
  • Being frugal often equates to being healthier. Since becoming more frugal myself, I’ve eaten healthier and exercised more. I’ve stopped eating out and started making more from scratch recipes. In addition, you’ll do more for yourself (like cutting the grass or paint a room) leading to more exercise.
  • Frugality often calls for you to slow down, where you can get down to the roots of life and what really matters – friends, family and happiness.

So take a moment to enjoy the journey and be thankful that you’ve chosen the frugal path.

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Dear Readers: Somehow, I missed an entire week of posting. I’m sorry and I hope you haven’t all given up on me. It’s been a busy, busy, busy couple of weeks and posting has taken a hit. However, this week will be jam-packed with posts, I promise! I have a lt of ideas that have been brewing, so I hope you’ll stay tuned!

Getting out of debt can be a long, frustrating process. Knowing the first steps you should take if you’re serious about getting out of debt can make the difference between success and failure.

Step 1: Understand why you got into debt in the first place. In order to start digging yourself out of debt, you need to understand why you went into debt in the first place. You can then see the best way to remedy the situation? Was it excessive spending? Then you need to work on why you spend excessively. Maybe you overspend due to a lack of self control or as a way to boost your self-esteem. Working out those inner issues must be done before you seriously start tackling your debt so you don’t just end going back into debt shortly thereafter. Was your debt situation the result of a unexpected financial crisis, like losing your job or a large medical bill? In that case, you need to work on building up a stockpile of funds so it doesn’t happen again. Which is, in fact, the next step in debt reduction.

Step 2: Start an emergency fund. Before you start putting any of your money towards debt, start stockpiling savings instead. That way, you have something to fall back on if things go awry. You won’t have to go back into debt. Strive for $1,000 in your emergency fund at first.

Step 3: Set up a plan and get to work. There isn’t just one way to get out of debt. Start researching the different methods to find out which method works best for you and your family. Some families prefer a cash envelope system of budgeting. This just doesn’t work at all for others. See what works for you and what doesn’t. A great resource is the personal finance blogging community. There, you’ll find a wealth of information Once you’ve decided, get to work. There’s no point in wasting time, so get cracking.

 

Do you agree with these first steps? Do you think there are any other first steps you should tak to help you tackle debt reduction?

Being overweight and in debt are remarkably similar. Both situations are easier to get into rather than out of. And neither is healthy. Luckily, the same mechanisms work to extricate yourself out of debt as to lose weight – all you need to do is to count your dollars like you would calories.

Take in less than you burn. The first thing fitness buffs will tell you when you ask them how to lose weight is to take in less calories than you burn. There’s even a formula to figure out how many calories the average person extends during the course of the day (BMR) and through common forms of exercise. The same goes for budgeting, but it’s much simpler – spend less than you earn. You already know how much you earn (no fancy formulas needed), so you know your budgeting limit.

Don’t starve yourself. The second thing fitness buffs will tell you is to not eat less than a certain number of calories per day – or else your body will go into starvation mode. If you starve yourself, you’re more likely to overeat later, counteracting the weight loss. It’s just the same for spending. Cut back, but don’t cut back too far, or else you’re likely to overspend at some point, undoing your savings goals.

Keep track of your calories. Sites like Sparkpeople.com and Myfitnesspal.com are very popular with dieters for a reason. They help you keep track of how many calories you’re taking in and help you stay accountable. I mean how else do you know you’re staying below your limit? Not surprisingly, sites that help you track your spending keep you on track in just the same way. Check out Mint.com or BudgetTracker.com.

Calorie counting isn’t the only way to go. You know how successful dieters do other things besides counting calories – like exercising, eating the right kinds of food and changing their lifestyle instead of just dieting for the short term? Yep, you guessed it, the same goes for budgeting. Cutting back on spending isn’t the only way to financial success. How about earning extra income (like exercising)? Or buying good, long-lasting products over cheap, inefficient ones (like eating the right kinds of foods)? Changing your lifestyle is also essential to long-term financial success. You need to develop a frugal mindset to make any long lasting changes.

Do you see any other similarities between dieting and budgeting? Isn’t it funny how similar they are?

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The holidays will be upon us soon, so now is the perfect time to roll up your sleeves and make some extra cash. I talk a lot on here about ways to save money, but I don’t really address the flip side of that – making more money – and it’s an integral part in achieving your financial goals. So here we go, 7 ways to make some extra cash:

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1. Swagbucks.  No Swagbucks won’t make you into a millionaire, but it will help you make a few extra dollars. The real cash comes from the referral program, but only if the people you refer actually use the program. Earn points by searching the web (just like you always do!) and completing surveys. Easy-peasy.

2. Sell your stuff. Sell things you no longer use on Craigslist, eBay or Amazon. Chances are you have a plethora of gently used items that you just have no need for that are simply just taking up space in your attic, basement or garage. Get rid of them and make some extra cash while doing it! It’s a win win in my book.

3. Bank account opening bonuses. Many bank accounts will offer a bonus for opening a checking account with them. Simply open an account, make a few purchases according to their specific guidelines and reap the extra cash.

4. Blog. Have something you’d like to share with the word? Set up a blog. Blogging is cliche these days, but there are still ways to make money doing it. With little to no overhead, blogging can lead to serious part-time job income.

5. Recycle scrap metal. Collect scraps of metal that people leave on the side of the road for bulk pickup. Take them to your local scrap metal recycling center and get paid for each type of metal you bring. It pays to know which metal is which, so do your research beforehand.

6. Tutor high school students. Know a lot about a particular subject? Sites like Tutor.com and Tutorvista.com pay you to tutor their clients. Or place an ad on Craigslist.com offering your subject area expertise and see if you get any responses.

7. Run errands. Sign up with Taskrabbit and run errands for people – like grocery shopping, household chores or handyman work.

And one extra for good measure:

Do anything for $5. You can sell just about any service or product at Fiverr.com for $5. Fiverr.com takes a $1 commission, so you actually will make $4 per transaction. Come up with something fun and creative in your area of expertise to make a quick $4. Get 5 people interested in your service and you’ve made $20.

How do you make extra money? Have you tried any of these methods? Have anything you’d like to add to this list?

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