The Frugal Toad http://www.thefrugaltoad.com Money Saving Advice for Everyday Living Thu, 23 Oct 2014 13:26:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 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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Deciphering Your Financial Award Letter [INFOGRAPHIC] http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/personalfinance/deciphering-financial-award-letter-infographic http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/personalfinance/deciphering-financial-award-letter-infographic#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 13:23:14 +0000 http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/?p=6149 The financial aid process can be overwhelming before starting your first year of college, especially if you aren’t aware of how it works. After filling out the FAFSA and being accepted into a school, you will be presented with an award letter from your chosen school(s) with details around the different types of federal, state, [...]

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The financial aid process can be overwhelming before starting your first year of college, especially if you aren’t aware of how it works. After filling out the FAFSA and being accepted into a school, you will be presented with an award letter from your chosen school(s) with details around the different types of federal, state, and university-specific aid you are awarded. It will also outline your contribution expectations and will help you learn whether you will need additional funding to attend that school. The infographic below, provided by Citizens Bank, breaks down how to read and interpret this award letter so you can make the most informed decision possible when selecting a college to attend.

 

Financial Aid Award Letter Sample

Consider private student loans from Citizens Bank

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Save Money by Turning Canned Fruits Into Amazing Desserts http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/frugal-living/save-money-turning-canned-fruits-amazing-desserts http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/frugal-living/save-money-turning-canned-fruits-amazing-desserts#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 13:59:20 +0000 http://www.thefrugaltoad.com/?p=6094 Eating well on the cheap? The rice and beans brigade will tell you that asceticism is the only way to go but all budget and no bounty makes for a pretty boring life. Now it’s understandable that after buying groceries for breakfast, lunch, dinner and let’s not forget the snacks, there’s not much left over [...]

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Eating well on the cheap? The rice and beans brigade will tell you that asceticism is the only way to go but all budget and no bounty makes for a pretty boring life. Now it’s understandable that after buying groceries for breakfast, lunch, dinner and let’s not forget the snacks, there’s not much left over for dessert – even when dessert is fresh fruit. 

Luckily there’s canned fruit to the rescue. When your family favorites aren’t in season you can grab last season’s bounty from a supermarket shelf and turn it into a gorgeous after-dinner treat that kids of all ages will gobble down. Intrigued? Check out these budget-friendly (and surprisingly easy) finds for some amazing desserts made frugal thanks to all things canned.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

mini pineapple upside down cake

Image via Taste of Home

This is one of those crowd pleasers that looks posh with almost no prep thanks to the fact that it needs no frosting as a finisher. A basic vanilla cake recipe gets a tropical upgrade with simple canned pineapple rings and a brown sugar glaze that sets right in the oven. This recipe from Taste of Home uses pantry staples almost exclusively so there’s no need to shop outside of your thrifty comfort zone for ingredients that may or may not be used again. 

 

 

 

 

Fruit Cobblers, Crumbles & Crisps

cherry cobbler

Image via Better Homes and Gardens

These desserts are the frugal mom’s friend in more ways than one. How much effort you want to put in is up to you – there’s the plain canned fruit waiting for you to add the sugar and spice or already sweet pie mixes that make putting a fresh baked dessert on the table as easy as cranking the can opener. These recipes from Better Homes and Gardens take cobbler from a can to the next level without asking you to buy anything more than staples like graham crackers, lemon juice or white chocolate chips. 

 

 

 

 

Pumpkin Cheesecake 

pumpkin cheesecake

Image via Kraft

Are you only baking seasonal desserts? Well, you don’t have to when there’s canned pumpkin in the pantry! The flavors of autumn come to the table looking labor intensive and luxurious but the truth is there are few desserts easier to make. This three-step pumpkin cheesecake from Kraft is a fall favorite that’s not only gorgeous all year round, but also wallet-friendly thanks to fact that it’s made from ingredients most frugal folks will already have on hand. 

 

 

Dessert Pizza

fruit pizza

Image via Pillsbury

This wild take on pizza and dessert both delights pie lovers and intrigues gourmands – all without costing a lot. Some recipes use readymade pie crust, but those who prefer their sweets will love this recipe from Pillsbury that uses sugar cookie dough for the crust and sweetened cream cheese for the sauce. Canned (and frozen) fruit provides the fresh flavor and beautiful color. It’s another dessert that arrives looking like a million bucks but with coupons may cost practically nothing.

 

 

When you’re totally pressed for time, you can use the same techniques that make these canned fruit desserts so amazing. You can easily turn cake mixes, premade graham cracker crusts and store-bought pie crusts into something more like homemade. Only you’ll know how frugal life’s sweet luxurious can be!

– By Lana Evans

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