Stock Your Pantry to Save Money

There’s a persistent myth that healthy eating is too expensive or time consuming. Many assume a quick stop at the drive-thru for selections from the “dollar menu” is an easy way to save money on food. It is not. Preparing your own food at home is always going to be less expensive and a much healthier habit.
Whether you are an experienced home cook or just starting to pan and prepare meals at home, a well-stocked pantry will make meal planning much easier and help you stick to your food budget. Start with this list of pantry staples and modify it to match your family’s tastes and dietary needs.Dry Goods:

Brown or white rice, quinoa or couscous
Dry pasta
Cereal
Crackers
Popcorn
Nuts and seeds (don’t overbuy, high oil content can cause them to turn quickly)
Dried beans

Canned and Jarred Goods

Pasta sauce
Canned tuna, salmon or chicken
Peanut, almond or other nut butter
Tomatoes (keep paste, sauce and diced on hand for different uses)
Canned vegetables
Canned beans
Canned soup (for quick meals)
Chicken or vegetable broth
Canned fruit
James and fruit preserves
Pickles

Baking Needs

All-purpose flour or whole wheat flour
Sugar/Brown Sugar/Powdered Sugar
Baking powder
Baking soda
Cornstarch
Old-fashioned oats
Chocolate chips
Raisins, dried cranberries or other dried fruit
Pure vanilla extra
Honey, maple syrup or agave nectar
Yeast

Condiments and Spices

Ketchup
Mustard
Mayonnaise
Soy sauce
Oils
Barbeque sauce
Vinegars
Salt
Black pepper
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Cinnamon
Ginger
Nutmeg
Cumin
Chili Powder
Oregano
Basil
Parsley

 
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How to Shop Smart at Warehouse Clubs

Shopping at warehouse clubs such as Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s can be a great way to save money. Maintaining a well-stocked pantry and keeping household basics on hand can help reduce those in-between shopping trips that end up costing more than you planned. But you have to shop warehouse clubs wisely. If you don’t, you can end up wasting more money than you save.
DO:
Stock up on the household basics, including toilet paper, paper towels, laundry supplies and cleaning supplies. Unless you are an extreme couponer, these items will almost always be cheaper at a warehouse club rather than buying smaller quantities elsewhere. Remember to store the items in an area that is protected from pests and extreme temperatures.Load up on dry goods with a long shelf life, including dry pasta, rice, flour, sugar, dry beans and other staples. Be sure to store them in airtight plastic, metal or glass containers to maintain freshness and mark the containers with the purchase date.
Set a spending limit and shop with cash. This will help you stick to the list and avoid adding in extras just because they look like a good deal.
Split large quantities with a friend or family member. If there is something you need but you know you won’t use it all before it goes bad, see if you can find someone who wants to split the cost and share the item.
DON’T:
Overbuy perishable products. Always check the expiration dates on meat, fresh produce, dairy products, prepared salads, refrigerated juices and other perishables. The low prices may seem irresistible, but if the food goes bad before you have a chance to use it, it is money wasted.
Get tempted by samples. It wouldn’t be a trip to the warehouse club without enjoying the samples, just don’t be tempted to buy them all. Unless it is something you or your family already loves and you had planned to buy it anyway, just enjoy the sample and move on.
Pay with a credit card- don’t even bring one with you. It will be too tempting to add extras you didn’t plan on buying. Plan to pay with cash and keep track of your total as you shop so you don’t go over your pre-determined spending limit.
Forget to factor in the annual membership fee.  If you only shop the warehouse club a few times a year, it might not be worth the annual fee you have to pay.
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10 tips to Save on Thanksgiving Dinner

If you have ever hosted Thanksgiving for friends and family, then you know how easy it is for costs to spiral out of control. Turkeys, pies, casseroles and cakes can all add up to an enormous grocery bill. And if you decide to decorate, well… you see where this is going. It can get expensive. 
To help you out this Thanksgiving, here are 10 tips for saving money. 

Make a list- It is easy to overspend when shopping for a much anticipated holiday dinner. make a list of what you need and exactly how much, and be sure to stick to it when you are in the store. 
Don’t forget store promotions and coupons- Keep an eye out for special coupons and promotions around Thanksgiving. Some stores offer a free turkey if you spend a certain amount of money.
Know price matching policies- Find out if there are any stores nearby that will match advertised prices from competitors. Do the bulk of your shopping there – just don’t forget to bring your coupons.
Choose one meat- For many, turkey is obligatory on Thanksgiving. What isn’t essential, however, is ham, lamb, and prime rip. Save money by simply choosing turkey or another type of meat for your families feast. 
Buy the right amount of meat- Consider one pound per person. If you want some leftovers, calculate more than 1 pound per person. Also, remember that if you load up on side dishes, you can probably get away with less turkey.
Consider a frozen turkey- Buy a frozen turkey, and you could save 30-40% more than you would if you bought a fresh one. Just be sure to follow through with the necessary preparation. You will need 3-5 days to let it thaw. 
Balance your side dishes and deserts- Whipping up a bowl of mashed potatoes is cheaper than cooking a seven-layer sweet potato casserole. Serve the essentials (green beans, stuffing, and cranberry sauce), and go light on the most expensive dishes that require several ingredients. Of course desert is just as important as the dinner itself. Luckily, pumpkin pie and cookies are a crowd pleaser, and they are inexpensive to bake. 
Be smart about beverages- Visit a wholesale liquor store, and take advantage of sales. Don’t overlook boxed wine either – on average, one box of wine is equivalent to four bottles. Boxed wine often costs $20 or less, which is equivalent price for $5 per bottle. Serve it in a decanter, and no one will ever know the difference. For the non-alcoholic drinkers and little ones, serve coffee, tea or Kool-Aid, which are all cheaper than serving soda. 
Have a BYOD (Bring Your Own Dish) party- Asking friends and family to bring a dish is a great way to mix things up. Plus, it relieves some of the meal’s financial burden on the host. One way to go about this is asking guests to bring a type of dish, rather than a specific one. For example, you can suggest that some guests bring appitizers, while other contribute side dishes or desserts. Of course, there is no shame in asking a guest to bring their legendary apple strudel, either. 
Use DIY decorations- If you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll inevitably want to decorate. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you will need to splurge on decor. Instead, make use of everyday items in your home or shop at the dollar store. Consider using drinking glasses as candle holders, or dress up a pitcher with a simple cloth napkin. Also, go outside- there are plenty of red and orange leaves and acorns in the backyard. 

5 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know You Can Rent

Most of us have rented cars and hotel rooms, but what about renting textbook, fitness equipment or even Legos? There are many things available to rent that you have probably never considered, but renting rather than buying an be a real money saver; especially for things you only use occasionally. You should also consider renting as a way to try before you buy when contemplating a large purchase.
Take a look at this list of things you probably didn’t know you could rent.
Sports and Fitness Equipment- We have all heard about (or seen in our homes) the treadmill or stair stepper that slowly morphs into a very expensive clothing rack. Instead of getting stuck with a piece of pricey fitness equipment that might not be right for you, try out a few different varieties by renting them first. Many retailers also offer sports equipment to rent. Renting rather than buying gives you the freedom to find an exercise or sport you know you will keep doing, even after the novelty wears off.Textbooks- Buying books can take up a huge chunk of a starving students budget. And with publishers constantly pumping out new editions, they typically lose a good chunk of their worth over the course of the semester, so selling them back doesn’t do much good. Next semester, try renting your textbooks. Renting can save you up to 70% over purchasing. Visit www.chegg.com to learn more.
Lego Sets- You read that correctly. You can actually rent Lego sets for your kids rather than buying them. The advantages are many: less initial cash output, more variety and you’re not stuck with bins and bins of Legos taking up valuable storage space. You can try the Lego rental service free at pley.com
Camping Gear- Let’s go camping! It sounds like a great idea. Until you realize you don’t have a tent, or a camping stove, sleeping bags, or anything else you need to make camping fun and safe. Buying all of it at once could set you back hundreds of dollars. You’re better off renting it the first time you go, then deciding if it is something you will do often enough to warrant investing in your own equipment.
Wedding Dresses- While renting the groom’s tuxedo has been a common practice for years, the bride is expected to walk down the aisle wearing a dress that she paid hundreds- if not thousands- of dollars for. A dress she will never wear again, and that will most likely go into storage forever. Instead, rent the dress for a fraction of the cost and spend the money on the honeymoon. Check out www.renttherunway.com or www.barrowingmagnolia.com to see the huge range of styles available.
 
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5 Ways to Save on Childcare Costs

 
 
Any working parent will tell you that childcare is expensive. But even they might not realize the true cost. A recent study by Child Care Aware revealed that in 31 states, the annual cost of childcare for a child under 15 actually exceeds the cost of yearly instate tuition and fees at the states public colleges. So while planning a child’s future education is certainly important, you’re probably more concerned with saving in the here and now.
Explore All Your Options: The highest priced care isn’t necessarily the best. With national chains, the cost of branding and marketing is factored into the price, so you may find that a locally owned, independent childcare center offers more personalized services for less. Also, look into options offered by local churches (you don’t always have to be a member to use their services) and day care centers run out of private homes. Be sure whichever option you choose is licensed by your state.Adjust Your Schedule: Do you really have to be present at your job five days a week to get work done? Ask your employer to allow you to try working from home one day a week. It might not seem like much, but over time the money you will save by not using childcare one day a week will really add up. Just be sure you will have the self-discipline and quiet time needed to actually get work done, or the plan could backfire.
Consider a Nanny Share: While hiring a full-time nanny might be out of budget, it become much more accessible if you share the cost with one or more families. Sharing a full- or part-time nanny is a great solution if you have like-minded friends or family with children around the same ages as yours. A nanny share offers the socialization benefits of day care with the scheduling flexibility and one-on-one attention of in-home care.
Don’t Forget about the Child Care Tax Credit: The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit allows you to itemize up to $3000 per child, per year, with a $6000 cap per family. Keep in mind the expenses must be related to allowing you to work so it doesn’t cover the costs for leisure-time babysitting or sleep-away camp; day camp costs may qualify, however.
Think Outside the Day Care: If you have children in elementary school, you may just need child care coverage for a few hours before and/or after school. Before you commit to using a pricey day care to fill the gaps, look into whether your child’s school district offers before and after school programs. Many local parks departments offer similar services. Another option is to find a responsible teen for in-home babysitting until you get home from work. Your kids will be able to get home much sooner to start on homework or chores and you will get to come straight home from work.

The Lost Art of Making Do

These days, anything we need (or think we need), is only a few taps of an app away. It is certainly convenient, but that convenience comes with a price in the form of overspending and impulse buying. It might be hard to remember, but in the days before online shopping and instant everything, we took more time pondering our purchases and often discovered that something we thought we needed was really just something we wanted. In other words, we learned to make do or do without. Here are several ideas to help revive the lost art of making do.
Mending Clothing- With the rise of “fast fashion” and the accessibility of clothing in every price range, it is all too easy to wear something a few times and then donate or discard it for the next trendy look. But it wasn’t always that way. There was a time when people had far smaller wardrobes and took much better care of them. Items didn’t get tossed just because they developed a hole or tear- they got fixed instead. You proably don’t even own a sewing machine. A small hand sewing needle and some thread are all you need to repair a torn seam, replace a button or sew up a small hole.Cooking with What You Have- The answer to the age-old question of “What’s for dinner?”, used to be based on what you had in the pantry, fridge, or freezer at any given time, rather than which take-out place boast the fastest delivery times. Getting back in the habit of cooking your meals at home will not only save you money, you will likely make healthier choices. Maintaining a well-stocked pantry makes it easier and more fun to cook at home, because you will always have most of what you need already in the house. (Bonus points if you intentionally cook enough to have leftovers for the next day!).
Repurposing Household Items-  Could your living space use a little sprucing up? There is no need to run your credit card on a trip to Bed, Bath & Beyond. Instead, change up what you already have. Rearrange furniture into different groupings, use blankets or throws to give chairs and sofas a new look, and change how and where wall art of=r knick-knacks are positioned. If you are feeling extra ambitious, you can even paint or refinish wooden furniture to give it a whole new look.
Focusing on Function- It used to be that shopping for big ticket items, such as appliances, meant choosing from a limited number of items. Now, the choices are almost limitless. And while more choices can be a good thing, it can also lead to spending more than you need to get the job done. Instead of going for all the cool, new, and expensive features, skip the bells and whistles and focus on what you need the item to accomplish. You will not only save money, but there will be fewer moving parts that will eventually need to be repaired or replaced.
Borrowing or Trading- If you need a special tool, piece of equipment, or other seldom used item, check with friends and family to see if they have it and are willing to loan it to you before you purchased it yourself. It is  a great way to save and get what you need, and you might be doing them a favor by temporarily (or permanently) taking it off their hands.

Financial Lessons from the Tiny House Movement

 
Have you heard about the tiny house movement? As the name quite accurately suggests, it’s a growing movement of people who are giving up traditional residential housing in favor of structures that measure a maximum of 500 square feet (most measure between 225-400 square feet). Often, but not always, mobile, these tiny homes feature many of the comforts of a traditional house, just on a much smaller scale. Tiny homes make the most of small spaces by utilizing all available space with innovative storage solutions and furnishings designed to serve more then one purpose.
You might be wondering why people would choose to abandon large, comfortable living spaces in favor of something small. Of course, everyone’s reason for making that decision vary, but some of the overriding philosophy includes minimizing one’s carbon footprint, living more simply, and pursuing true financial freedom. Even if you are not ready to downsize to that degree, there are valuable lessons we can learn from the tiny movement.Evaluating Wants vs. Needs-  How much space in your home is dedicated to storing things you rarely, if ever, use? Probable more than you would like to admit. Now, imagine if you only had enough space to store your necessities and a few meaningful keepsakes? That’s the reality of living in a tiny house. Living in a small space is an ongoing process of determining the difference between needs and wants, and making purchasing decisions based on that. You may not live in a tiny house, but you can act as if you do. The next time you are tempted to buy something you don’t really need, ask yourself if it serves an immediate purpose in your life. If not, pass it by.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better-  According to data from the most recent U.S. Census, the average size of the American home continues to go up, even as average family size goes down. There’s a good chance we are filling that extra space with stuff, along with having to maintain heat, cool, clean and more house than is actually needed. Start thinking about how much space you actually need and make housing decisions accordingly. Just because you can buy a bigger house, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
It’s Possible to Own a Home Without Debt- For most Americans, a home mortgage is the most significant financial transaction they will ever undertake. And it is one that keeps them tethered to debt for a good portion of their adult lives. Owning a tiny house, on the other hand, allows for home ownership without that ongoing burden. Make no mistake, those who live in tiny houses believe they are living the American Dream, it’s just been redefined on their own terms.
Freedom is Priceless- Gone are the days of working for the same company for 20 years or more. Today’s economy demands that works be flexible and mobile, something that is hard to do when you are tied to a mortgaged house, filled with possessions. Tiny house give more people freedom to pick up and go when an excellent career opportunity presents itself. Tiny house living can also be a more affordable, less risky housing option for artists, writers, seasonal workers and others who make a living on inconsistent income.

Saving Money with Auto Maintenance

It is a commonly held belief that auto shops and car mechanics can’t be trusted- and you are especially likely to be swindled if you don’t know much about cars. Bud despite this general mistrust, there are plenty of shops that provide high- quality service at a fair cost.
If you do your homework before scheduling your car for service, you can be sure that you’re getting the right service at a good value. Start with these 10 tips to save money on auto maintenance:

Read the manual: This seems a little too simple, but if you read through the owner’s manual – and especially the scheduled maintenance guide – you will know exactly what to expect and when your car should be serviced.
Know the cost: Websites like automd.com and www.driverside.com provide price estimates for auto repairs, so you will know the fair price for an oil and filter charge, brake pads replacement, wheel alignment or other common services.
Ask around: Ask your friends, family and coworkers to recommend a shop or mechanic in your areas. Referrals are key in this business.
Check their certifications: Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification is an important indicator of a good shop. You will want to find a shop with certified technicians on staff.
Stay on top of preventive maintenance: Once you find a mechanic you trus, get in the routine of preventive maintenance. This will include changing your oil on a regular schedule, topping off your fluids, checking your filters and replacing them if necessary, checking your tire pressure and treads, and rotating your tires as needed. Regular maintenance checks will also alert you to services and repairs your car may need in the future.
Don’t ignore the maintenance indicator: It seems to light up at the most inopportune times, but is best to pay heed to the ‘check engine’ or ‘maintenance required’ indicators as soon as they come on. This is especially important if your check engine light is flashing, as this may signify serious problems. If you ignore the indicators and continue driving your car, you could cause severe damage – and incur a much heftier bill for repairs.
DIY: Learning to perform basic maintenance on your car can save significant money each year. There are dozens of DIY videos and instructional articles online for changing your oil, air filter and wiper blades, or even touching up paint and repairing small dents.
Wash and wax: on a regular basis to remove grime and residues and protect the finish over the long haul.
Shop around: if your car needs a serious repair, get estimates from a few shops to make sure you are getting the best value. If you need a new part, consider buying It from an online parts shop, as this may prove cheaper than your local parts store or maintenance shop. And if you need new tires, check prices at warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club, as they often include installation, flat repair, rotation and balancing – service that cost extra at the other tire shops.
Don’t be afraid to dispute: Before you pay for service, check your bill closely. If the final cost is higher than the estimate, or if repair prices are much steeper than the average costs on automd.com and www.driverside.com, don’t be afraid to dispute the charges.

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