The Frugal Toad http://www.thefrugaltoad.com Money Saving Advice for Everyday Living Thu, 30 Oct 2014 13:48:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Sharm el Sheikh: Ten of the Best Sharm Activities http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/travelandleisure/sharm-el-sheikh-ten-best-sharm-activities http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/travelandleisure/sharm-el-sheikh-ten-best-sharm-activities#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 13:37:55 +0000 http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/?p=6307 Pristine white-sand beaches, some of the best diving spots in the world and a wealth of unforgettable sightseeing options all make Sharm el Sheikh a consistently popular vacation option. Millions of lucky people take last minute holidays to this sun-drenched beauty spot every year and here are just a few of the highlights of Sharm. [...]

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Pristine white-sand beaches, some of the best diving spots in the world and a wealth of unforgettable sightseeing options all make Sharm el Sheikh a consistently popular vacation option.

Millions of lucky people take last minute holidays to this sun-drenched beauty spot every year and here are just a few of the highlights of Sharm.

 

 

Scuba-diving

Sharm is home to incredible diving spots and the Red Sea waters provide exceptional clarity. Sites can include the famous Blue Hole, the SS Dunraven and the SS Thistlegorm wrecks as well as the amazing Tower – a 120m vertical canyon.

Underwater Gemma @ Baron Resort, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt

 

Desert adventures

Tear yourself from the beaches and head into the desert for an overnight stay in a traditional Bedouin tent. During the day the landscape is one of the most dramatic but you’ll never see a better view of the night sky than from this location.

 

Spectacular desert sunrise

An overnight climb of 4000 steps is the effort needed to witness one of most unforgettable sunrises from the summit of Mount Sinai. This true travel experience should be included on any bucket-list; the panoramic views of the desert are worth the climb alone.

Mount Sinai, Camel

Ancient Petra

Locations around Sharm el Sheikh have been used for many movies including the ancient city of Petra featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The 2000 year old hidden city holds many monuments and temples and is the perfect day out for the movie or history buff.

 

The colored canyons

Head out into the Sinai Desert to explore the magical multi-colored canyons for an altogether otherworldly experience. Some of the canyon walls stretch to 40 metres in height but it’s the dazzling variety of colors, including gold, purple, red and yellow that make this trip a jaw-dropping experience.

 

Cairo

Day-trips to exotic Cairo can be taken by bus but the views by plane are worth the extra cash. An excursion to this famous city will allow you to explore the vibrant markets, the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx and Egyptian Museum.

 

Four more of the best

Still looking for more activities? The beaches are of course the most alluring attraction and visitors have miles of sandy stretches and warm waters to enjoy. Watersports in Sharm can include jet-skiing, yachting, windsurfing and parasailing. Swimming with dolphins for 15 or 30 minutes is available and can be arranged through most hotels. Yes, Sharm does also have immense theme parks and the Aqua Blue Water Park is one of the most exciting!

Be sure to try and fit as much as you can in your Sharm el Sheikh vacation, but leave some room for some serious chill out down too- there’s plenty to be had.

Images by Tim Parkinson and evilijohnius, used under the Creative Commons license.

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Are you Guilty of These 5 Personal Finance Sins? http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/personalfinance/guilty-5-personal-finance-sins http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/personalfinance/guilty-5-personal-finance-sins#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 03:52:28 +0000 http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/?p=6303 How are you doing with your personal finance goals? Making the progress you expected? Or are you wondering why you don’t seem to be getting ahead in terms of savings and debt reduction? If this sounds a little too familiar, check out the list below, where you’ll find a rundown of five personal finance sins [...]

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Personal finance sinsHow are you doing with your personal finance goals? Making the progress you expected? Or are you wondering why you don’t seem to be getting ahead in terms of savings and debt reduction? If this sounds a little too familiar, check out the list below, where you’ll find a rundown of five personal finance sins that could seriously be getting in your way. You can also find out more from debt assistance organizations, like Debt Rescue.

Maxing Out Your Credit Card Or Cards

Yes, almost everyone has done it but how often do you do it? Maxing out your cards – even once or twice a year – is one of the worst personal finance sins you can commit. Compounding this personal finance sin is also often another; not paying the bill down to zero. That is, carrying personal debt over from month to month. That one’s a no-no too.

Paying Late Fees

Another sin, the commission of which can keep you almost permanently consigned to the pits of personal finance debt hell. Avoid paying your bills late – and especially avoid paying your credit card bills late. Did you know that most 0% interest on balance transfer deals become void if you pay your bill even one day late? Any debt you’re carrying, and on which you’re expecting to pay 0% interest, will have interest charged to you at the normal, exorbitant, appalling credit card rate. (Another personal finance sin might be not reading the fine print on your credit card contract – but almost everyone commits that one.) Consider setting up an automatic payment for your credit card bills if you’re a habitual late payer.

Impulse Buys

This one’s a shocker – not only do you end up with stuff you do not need, but it is also likely to be stuff you do not even use. If this is you, take charge of yourself and stop it. Perhaps pre-shop online and pick up your groceries via click and collect, or have them delivered, if you can’t resist impulse buying at the checkout. Change your route to work if you keep ‘popping in’ to the shops you pass. Seek help if you really do think you have a problem with this.

Taking A Backseat

This sin refers to those who take a less than interested approach as regards their own finances. Did you know that over 80% of bank statements contain errors? No one keeps track of your money like you do – because no one is as interested in your financial wellbeing as you are. It pays to get on top of your finances – and you will pay dearly if you’re not.

Procrastination

It’s not only the thief of time, it also leaves you open to losing track of your money, and making your finances vulnerable. Instead of putting off setting out a budget, or hiring a financial advisor, take action and get on to these all-important tasks. Avoiding them benefits no one, least of all you and your loved ones.

There are a few personal finance sins most people commit at one time or another, but if you find yourself habitually in the red, or failing to follow your own debt reduction plans, it’s time to take stock. Be honest, and face down some of your worst money habits. Things can only get better from here. What’s your worst personal finance sin ever? Confess in the Comments box below and you’ll feel better.

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Are You Making These Top 4 Money Mistakes? http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/personalfinance/are-you-making-these-top-4-money-mistakes http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/personalfinance/are-you-making-these-top-4-money-mistakes#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 13:35:21 +0000 http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/?p=4539 We all make mistakes and finances are no exception. In fact, most Americans typically struggle with personal finance due to a number of reasons chief among them a lack of personal finance education provided to school age children. Here are the top 4 money mistakes and some practical advice on how to avoid making them [...]

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money mistakesWe all make mistakes and finances are no exception. In fact, most Americans typically struggle with personal finance due to a number of reasons chief among them a lack of personal finance education provided to school age children. Here are the top 4 money mistakes and some practical advice on how to avoid making them in the future.

 

Not Saving Enough for Retirement

The average American working-household has just $3000 in retirement savings. Worse yet, fewer than half of all Americans have calculated how much money they will need in retirement. That is a scary scenario!  A good rule of thumb is to plan on having 70% of your current pre-retirement income to maintain your standard of living, lower income individuals will need 90% to maintain their standard of living. It’s easy to identify the reasons why you are not saving for retirement but in the end it will be you and your bank account. If you know you are not saving enough for retirement, here are some things that you can do to get back on track.

  • Start Saving – Make saving a priority and start saving now, don’t put it off any longer. Start with an amount that you can easily maintain each month. Success builds success and this is true when saving money is the goal. As you adjust your spending you can increase the amount you transfer to savings. When your income increases, try to put at least 25% to 50% of the increase into savings.
  • Plan for Your Retirement Needs – Knowing what your income requirement will be in retirement is paramount if you are going to have a chance of meeting your needs in retirement.  A great place to start is Vanguard’s Retirement Planner
  • Take Advantage of Your Company Sponsored Retirement Plan – Your company sponsored savings plan is the best place to start your retirement savings for many reasons: 1) Free Money via Company Match 2) Reduction in Taxable Income 3) Access to quality investment options 4) Tax Deferred Growth of your funds
  • Educate Yourself About Personal Finance – One of the best things you can do for your financial well-being is to take the time to learn about managing your money and the various investing options available. A great resource is CNNMoney’s Money 101

 

Not Having a Plan for Getting out of Debt and Staying Out of Debt

Not having a plan to get out of debt is like going on a hike without a map.  You know you’re going on a hike but you’re just not sure how you will get there. There are several options available for dealing with debt: Personal Debt Reduction Plan, Debt Management Plan, Debt Consolidation, or as a last resort bankruptcy. The Personal Debt Reduction Plan is your first course of action and depending on your level of debt, may involve some tough choices in order to reduce your debt.  A Debt Reduction Planning Calculator can be all you need and is a very effective tool if used properly. The principle is simple, make the minimum payment on one or more credit cards while aggressively paying down debt on a single credit card.

A Debt Management Plan (DMP) is a debt repayment plan that is negotiated and managed through a debt management company or a consumer credit counseling agency. In a DMP, the service provider negotiates directly with your credit card company to lower your monthly payments and interest rate to a level that you can afford.  For a fee, the DMP service provider will collect a single monthly payment from you and then disperse payments to your creditors.

Once you pay down your debt, do you have a plan for staying out of debt? One of the main reasons so many continue the debt cycle is they have no plan to stay out of debt. While there are many reasons people take on debt, it is important to understand how and why you use debt. If you have a DMP, your service provider will provide some form of credit counseling which can provide invaluable insight into managing your finances so you stay out of debt.

 

Blowing (Big & Small) Cash Windfalls

One of the best opportunities to improve your financial situation is using a cash windfall to pay down debt or fund a retirement account. The definition of a cash windfall is the unexpected receipt of a large amount of money. Examples of typical cash windfalls are inheritances or gambling winnings.  While it is easy to see how a large sum of money could help improve your financial situation by paying down debt or funding a Roth IRA it is not so easy to see the effect of blowing smaller cash windfalls can have on your personal balance sheet. Let’s face it, most of us may never see a large unexpected amount of cash however, we will see smaller amounts such as tax refunds and birthday gifts. I would argue that taking advantage of small cash windfalls can have a significant impact on your financial health long-term.

Scenario #1: Coming home from a recent family vacation you realize you have $150 in your wallet you didn’t spend because it was raining on the day you planned to go to a theme park. Do you take the family out to dinner or do you make an extra payment on outstanding debt?

Scenario #2: Your weekly food budget is $200. You are out of town on vacation staying with family and they are taking care of all the meals. Do you transfer the $200 from your checking account into your emergency fund or do you leave it in checking to mysteriously disappear over the course of several months?

By using the small cash windfalls to chip away at debt or add to a retirement account you will improve your financial situation instead of waiting for that inheritance that may never arrive.

 

Not Being a Smart Shopper

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not real fond of coupon clipping or shopping in general. After thirty minutes in the mall I am ready to head for the exit. There are two types of shopping: 1) Big Ticket Item Shopping and 2) Everyday Shopping.  Here are some tips on how to be a better shopper for these two types of shopping.

Big Ticket Shopping – Shopping for a big ticket item like a car or an appliance is perhaps one of the most important financial decisions you will make during any year.  Using a resource like Consumer Reports to purchase a Dealer Invoice for a planned car purchase or to check the ratings of an appliance you are looking at and make the best purchase possible.  You may spend more for a quality appliance initially, but it may save you money in the long run with reduced repair bills and a longer replacement life.  One way to save money on big ticket shopping is to visit at least 2-3 stores to compare prices and then wait at least 1 week before making a decision about purchasing the item. If you survived the wek without the item, chances are that you really don’t need the item.

Small Purchases – If you are like most Americans, the bulk of your shopping are the day to day purchases like groceries and trips to the mall. Because of the nature of this type of spending, it is easy to overlook the fact that small purchases make up the majority of your spending. One way to rein in spending is to create a budget based upon your spending and saving goals and monitor spending against this budget. Grocery shopping is typically the single largest budget item after housing and there are several easy things you can do to cut spending. Making a list of the groceries that you need and buying only those items on the list is the best way to cut your grocery bill. Clothing is another area where over spending can easily occur.  Most impulse purchases on clothing are because the item is on sale and the consumer believes that it is a good deal. Again, by planning your clothing budget for the month and sticking with your budget will allow you to walk past those sale signs.

Readers: What advice do you have to avoid making one of these top money mistakes?

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Romantic Date Ideas – Fun and Cheap Dates http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/frugal-living/romantic-date-ideas-fun-frugal-dates http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/frugal-living/romantic-date-ideas-fun-frugal-dates#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 13:23:50 +0000 http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/?p=6240 Are you tired of the standard dinner and a movie date night? Looking for a romantic date idea that won’t cost an arm and a leg?  Try one of these date ideas for a romantic evening the two of you will be sure to enjoy!   Wine & Cheese Under the Stars One of my [...]

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Are you tired of the standard dinner and a movie date night? Looking for a romantic date idea that won’t cost an arm and a leg?  Try one of these date ideas for a romantic evening the two of you will be sure to enjoy!

 

Wine & Cheese Under the Stars

romantic date ideas night skyOne of my favorite cheap date nights is to take my girlfriend to a beautiful lake in the desert near Phoenix and watch the stars. Throw a couple of sleeping pads, some big comfy pillows and a blanket in the back of the truck bed and you have the makings of a perfect romantic evening. To make your perfect evening even better, pack the cooler with a chilled bottle of Yellow Tail Riesling, smoked gouda , crackers, fresh fruit, and my favorite, Dove Chocolate.  Share the amazing night sky with your date, who you are snuggling with by the way, by loading a free stargazing app on your smartphone that lets you identify constellations by pointing your cellphone at the night sky.  After you have thoroughly impressed your date with your astronomical tour of the evening sky, have a glass of riesling while listening to that playlist of your dates favorite songs you put together. Did I mention that snuggling is the best way to keep warm on cool evenings?

 

 Take a Hike, Literally

hiking as a romantic date idea

West Fork Trail

Recently my girlfriend and I hiked the West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona Arizona.  It was a beautiful fall day and the leaves of the oaks and maples had just started to get some fall color. We packed a picnic lunch and ate on a large boulder along Oak Creek and enjoyed each other’s company. A hike is technically a very long walk so you should be holding hands as often as you can and water breaks are a convenient opportunity for more touching of the lips, that would be kissing. Be sure to bring a camera and take lots of pictures that you can share in a thoughtful text message down the road!

 

Watch a Sunset Together

romantic date ideasSunsets are one of life’s great joys and are made even more special when you can share them with someone close to you. Planning where to view a sunset is critical however. For Christmas last year I promised my girlfriend I would take her to California so that we could share a sunset over the Pacific Ocean together. We decided on Santa Barbara and were filled with anticipation as we setup our beach chairs for the perfect vantage point for viewing our magical sunset together, you know where this is going don’t you? As the sun began to fall towards the horizon it quickly became apparent something was horribly wrong, the Pacific Ocean was in the wrong place!  We still enjoyed a magical sunset and chuckle together as the sun set over the northern Santa Barbara coastline.  The moral of this story? Being thoughtful may include some extra planning so don’t forget the little details like the angle of the setting sun in relation to the California coastline. Santa Barbara actually faces South in case you were wondering!

 

Eat In

romantic date ideas backyard diningNext to snuggling and hugging, eating ranks high on the list for romantic activities for good reason.  Not only is it a great fun and frugal activity to share with your date, there is scientific data showing that certain foods increase feelings of pleasure and calmness.  Consuming foods high in fat cause the body’s pituitary gland to secrete endorphins otherwise called endogenous opioids which give the feelings of pain relief and pleasure.  My girlfriend and I enjoy being together in the kitchen and helping each other prepare meals.  Not only is it much cheaper than eating out, it can be a great way to spend a romantic evening with your date. To create a romantic meal takes a little planning but is sure to be noticed and appreciated by your date. When the weather permits, set a table outside on the patio and use the good stemware and china. Add a good bottle of wine, lots of candles, and some of your favorite music to make your romantic evening memorable.

 

Take in a Drive In Movie

romantic date ideas drive in movieA drive in movie has all the makings for a perfect romantic date. Something to think about is where to park. There is an inverse relationship between the distance from the movie screen and the degree of romance. The front row is the most unromantic location in the drive in and is typically where you will find families with children running around with glow sticks, not the ideal setting for a romantic date now is it?  I would recommend parking towards the back of the drive in theatre where there will most likely be fewer families. All you need now are some of your favorite snacks and a comfy blanket and pillow for a great date night!

Readers: What romantic date ideas would you like to share? What was the best cheap date you ever had?

FlexOffers

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Quicken 2015 for Mac Review – Upgrade for Essentials Users http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/personalfinance/quicken-2015-mac-review-upgrade-essentials-users http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/personalfinance/quicken-2015-mac-review-upgrade-essentials-users#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 15:14:42 +0000 http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/?p=6148 With the release of Quicken 2015 for Mac, Intuit has included many improvements for Quicken Essentials users from a new mobile app to a full featured Investment Performance module. I have been using Quicken for Windows for as long as I can remember and as soon as I heard that Intuit was releasing a new [...]

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Introducing Quicken for MacWith the release of Quicken 2015 for Mac, Intuit has included many improvements for Quicken Essentials users from a new mobile app to a full featured Investment Performance module.

I have been using Quicken for Windows for as long as I can remember and as soon as I heard that Intuit was releasing a new version of Quicken for Mac users I had to get myself a copy to try out.

Let’s take a look at the features of Quicken for Mac and then I’ll share my thoughts on the software.

 

Features of Quicken for Mac 2015 version

 

I am on the go a lot and one of the features that I like best about Quicken for Mac is the mobile app version. With some software, the mobile app version is watered down and missing features. The mobile version lets me check my spending while I’m away from home and you can even take pictures of receipts to track your spending.

 

quicken mobile app

 

The overview page makes it a breeze to get a snapshot of all of your account balances and spending.  The donut graph makes it easy to see where you are spending and where you may need to cut back. Click on the graph category and you are taken to a page that shows all of the individual transactions within that particular category. No need to memorize all those account userids and passwords. The password vault stores all those login details in an encrypted secure vault so all you need to do is click one button and all of your accounts transactions are downloaded at once.

 

Quicken 2015 for Mac all accounts

 

Budgeting

Budgeting is important when it comes to managing your finances and Quicken has made it even easier to setup and monitor your spending. Whether I am on the go or at home, I can get an instant update on my budget!

 

quicken 2015 for mac budget

 

Investments and Tax Reporting

One of the shortcomings of Quicken Essentials for Mac users was the fact that the software didn’t allow you to track investments. Quicken 2015 for Mac has an investment module that allows you to track individual investments as well as the ability to see your total portfolio performance with constantly updated quotes. When adding a new investment, if you enter your cost basis you can track individual stock gains and losses as well as preparing a Schedule D Tax report when it is time to file your taxes.  Speaking of taxes, your Quicken data can be exported into TurboTax tax software which makes preparing your own tax return much easier.

 

quicken 2015 for mac investments

My Thoughts on Quicken for Mac 2015 version

Quicken 2015 for Mac is a major improvement over Quicken Essentials.  If you are a current Essentials user I recommend you upgrade immediately. I also have Quicken 2014 for Home and Business and I have been using Quicken for over 20 years.

The Pros:

  • Budgets are automatically created based on past spending patterns
  • Reminders let you know when bills are due and alerts you of potential overdraft situations
  • Reporting is improved over the reporting functionality in Quicken Essentials for Mac
  • Investment Portfolio Tracking is a major upgrade

The Cons:

  • Importing of Data from Financial Institutions requires QFX file not available at all banks
  • Paycheck Tracking not possible
  • Retirement Planning and Goal Tracking is missing
  • Investment Portfolio Tracking does not allow asset allocation or security information similar to Windows version
  • Fewer reports available compared to Windows versions

Overall, Quicken 2015 for Mac is a major upgrade for Quicken Essentials users however, this software still falls far short of the functionality of the Windows version.  If you are a Quicken for Windows user there is no reason to switch however, if you are using the Quicken Essentials software this is a must upgrade!

You can learn more about this product and see a comparison table here: Quicken 2015 for Mac


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Ryder Cup: The Importance of Teamwork and Leadership http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/personalfinance/ryder-cup-importance-teamwork-leadership http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/personalfinance/ryder-cup-importance-teamwork-leadership#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 20:43:15 +0000 http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/?p=6156 I was watching the first round of the Ryder Cup and was struck by how different the format is from the regular PGA Tour.  The PGA Tour is all about the individual, you are playing for yourself and yourself alone. The Ryder Cup is all about the team, country and your playing partner. The last [...]

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leadershipI was watching the first round of the Ryder Cup and was struck by how different the format is from the regular PGA Tour.  The PGA Tour is all about the individual, you are playing for yourself and yourself alone. The Ryder Cup is all about the team, country and your playing partner. The last thing these guys want to do is let their team down.   The pressure to perform for your team is palpable and an amazing spectacle to watch. Competition brings out the true character of individuals, be it good or bad and the Ryder Cup competition illuminates the importance of team over individual and the impact leadership can have on success.

What Lessons Can We Take From the Ryder Cup?

Ryder Cup Team members are playing for the honor a win would bring the team, not for a paycheck. That tends to change your mindset. Much like World Cup Soccer, Ryder Cup players are part of something much bigger than the individual. Yes it comes down to individual performances, but the individual player is not playing for themselves, they are playing for their fellow teammates and country.

Personal Relationships Make the Difference

Ryder Cup Captains spend considerable time over pairing decisions and often base the decision on the personal chemistry of the two players. The stronger the personal relationship the stronger the desire to not disappoint your partner and team.

It is widely believed that much of the success of the European Ryder Cup Teams is due in large part to the close personal relationships and teamwork the Europeans have.  Europeans live for national competition against other countries whereas Americans tend to favor individual performance over international competition. The Americans have  struggled with the whole team concept despite dominating golf’s major tournaments: The Open Championship, The US Open, The Masters and the PGA Championship.

Corporations recognize the value of investing in hiring and training the best employees possible. Corporate spending on team building is trending in a different direction. In the past, team building activities were centered around strengthening ties between individual team members. Now, corporations are focusing on service-oriented team building projects in an effort to tap the stronger emotional impact of improving the lives of the local community. What’s the message?  The corporation through the individual, has a responsibility to the community.  These people in need depend upon you, do not let them down. Employees will perform better if they feel their efforts have a direct impact on customers they have an emotional connection with.

Plans are Important, Adjusting to a Changing Environment is Critical for Success

US Ryder Cup Team Captain Tom Watson was roundly criticized for not playing rookies Jordan Speith and Patrick Reed the afternoon of the first day of competition on Friday.  They were playing exceptional golf in the morning and sitting them was in hindsight a big mistake. The plan was to send Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley out in the afternoon but with Speith and Reed playing the best golf on the American team,  the plan should have been adjusted to meet the changing conditions.

Medinah 2012: It’s Not Over Till Its Over!

In 2012 the Ryder Cup was held at Medinah Country Club in Chicago, Illinois.  Needing 14 1/2 points to win back the cup from the Europeans, the Americans are up 10 to 6 going into the final match on Sunday. Of the 12 singles matches, the Europeans would need to win 8 matches. It was a perfect storm and the Europeans ended up winning 14 1/2 to the Americans 13 1/2.

Each individual win elevates the team. Success breeds success. The Europeans stunning defeat of the Americans at Medinah proves that despite what might appear to be insurmountable odds, the act of believing in your fellow team mates, focusing all of your talents on the immediate task at hand, and never giving up are very powerful things indeed.

Readers: Has being part of a team motivated you or helped you to increase your individual performance?

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