Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Where to look for Travel bargains…

Want to save money for that summer trip? Use the Internet to find your travel bargains. Check out more than one travel site. Each site usually maintains slightly different inventories. Some great sites to check out are:
http://www.expedia.com/, http://www.orbitz.com/ , http://www.travelocity.com/ - These are the most well known. A couple of other places that scour many other sites including consolidators and discounters are: http://www.bookingbuddy.com/ , http://www.sidestep.com/ and www.tripmania.com . These sites should give you the lowest prices available. If your traveling dates are flexible you might want to check out http://www.hotwire.com/ , http://www.lastminutedealfinder.com/ , http://www.lastminutetravel.com/ , http://www.site59.com/ . One of my favorite travel sites is http://www.smartertravel.com/ . Two years ago we got a deal from Houston to West Palm Beach for $ 99.00 each round trip. Four of us traveled to Florida to see the Grandparents right before the start of school. It was a great trip. The way Smarter Travel works is: You go to their webpage and sign up for the weekly Last Minute Travel news letter. Type in the city you live in and they will send you a newsletter every Wednesday for last minute travel on the coming weekend. You have until Friday at midnight to book your travel. You will fly on Saturday and come home either Monday or Tuesday. It’s as simple as that. A new site that I found just a few days ago is http://www.skyauction.com/ . They have trips up for auction and you bid for your travel with other bidders. Check it out.

Most of the major sites will also offer discount rates for car rentals and hotels. A few sites to check out here are: http://www.hotels.com/ , http://www.lodging.com/ ,and http://www.roomsearch.com/ . If you have an Entertainment book you can also look for great hotel deals there.

Want to take a cruise? Look for discounts at: http://www.vacationstogo.com

Want to know what to do when you get there? Check out http://www.citysearch.com/ for information about the city you are traveling to. They have info on tickets and events, and where to eat out. Need dinner reservations, check out http://www.opentable.com/ for info on 3,000 restaurants across the country.

Check out http://www.travel.yahoo.com/ for travel guides for everything you need to know about your travel. For other travel guides, go to: http://www.frommers.com/ , http://www.foders.com/ , http://www.tripadvisor.com/
After your trip is booked, you may want to check out a few other sites.
If you plan to travel abroad, check out: http://www.travel.state.gov/ for information on visas, travel advisories and what to do incase of an emergency in a foreign land. If you visit http://www.currencysource.com/ it lets you purchase foreign currency with your credit card so that you have local bills in hand when you land at an unfamiliar destination. Finally, visit http://www.weather.com/ for a 10-day forecast so you know what to wear.
Some of these website have come from an article in the Parade magazine and others I know from personal experience. Use these sites to keep your travel within your budget and have a good time.
I'm adding another site: www.travelzoo.com/top20
If any of you know of any other sites, please list them in the comment section so that we can all save on our travel.

Monday, May 30, 2005

He Stole My Blog...

A Younger Stern Family Hiking Above William's Creek Posted by Hello

I happened to mention to my husband that I have been thinking about writing a blog about my favorite place to go. Next thing you know, he had written about his favorite place to go. Next to home, my favorite place is in the mountains outside of Pagosa Springs, Colorado. When Fraser and I had been married only two years, we decided to take a trip to Colorado and go camping. My family had only taken vacations to the beach and never to the mountains. I remember how excited I was to go see real mountains. As we drove out of the flat lands of Houston, I discovered hills; Wow! The further we drove north the bigger the hills got. Fraser reminded me that those were still hills, not mountains yet. I was totally enthralled with the beauty I was seeing. We had gone on vacation at the end of September because it was the only time we could get off of work at the same time. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There were shades of yellow and orange all over the trees. The leaves on the aspen trees would shimmer in the breezes and it was so beautiful. I had never seen such beauty. As we drove up threw northern New Mexico, you could see the mountains, with snow on top of them. Everything around me was like a dream world, mountain streams, wildlife, fresh air, winding roads, meadows and more. I couldn’t have been happier. We found a place outside of Pagosa Springs called William’s Creek camp ground. (If you ever want to go there take Hwy 180 to Pagosa Springs. Go west through town, up the hill to Piedra Road and turn right (north) on Peidra Road. It’s about 23 miles up and start looking for the signs that say, “William’s Creek Campground.” ) A nice creek goes through the campground and they have wonderful camp sites.
One year while we were there I ventured down to the creek and found a huge boulder on the edge of the water. I climbed out onto the boulder and actually sat there for two hours. The sound of the water rushing by had me hypnotized. I could feel life surging all through my body. I closed my eyes and felt like I had left this world. What a powerful feeling. I did some deep thinking and thanked my Heavenly Father for the experience. I love going there. A few miles up the road from the camp ground is a beautiful lake called William’s Lake. Mountains completely surround it and you can see the reflections of the trees in the lake. At the base of the lake is a spillway where the lake ends and the creek begins. We enjoyed taking a hike around the lake and we would rest near the spillway. Just above the lake the road goes for a few more miles and ends with a parking area that takes you to a trial for a hike up to the Continental Divide. We would pack light and take to the trail. There was a certain place that I would stop because it would just get too steep for my dad. (Did I mention that after my mom died, that my dad would go camping with us, just like he were one of the kids. I think he loved it more than we did.) Fraser and the kids would go up to a large meadow a few more miles and then come back down. We absolutely enjoyed exploring and taking in all we could.
I can see it in my dreams and one day we plan to build a log house on the land we own in Pagosa Springs. That piece backs up to Martinez Canyon with Pagosa Peak in the background. If I close my eyes I am there.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Tips on Grocery Shopping

Well, it’s Memorial Day Weekend and the grocery stores are teeming with special buys. It’s a great time to fill up your frige and stay within your budget. While the children were living at home I had a grocery budget of $ 100.00 a week. I decided not to write checks for groceries because I would tend to go over my weekly budget. When I had $ 100.00 cash in hand, I couldn’t go over. If I used the money up early in the week, then I just didn’t spend any more till I got my next $100.00. In Houston, our grocery sales start on Wednesday and go thru to the next Tuesday. I get our grocery ads, that come in the paper and mail, and sit down on Wednesday morning with a 4”x6” card and a pen. I look thru each ad sheet and select the items that I need from each store and write it down. I also write down the items that I know I have to get on the back of the card and I use this to shop from. The grocery stores are close in proximity to my house, so I don’t usually go out of the way to shop. As I drive by one of the stores I will stop and shop.

1) Don’t forget to carry your coupon box in the car so you won’t forget to have them with you at all times. My husband used to fuss at me about cutting coupons until he saw what I was saving. Most stores double and triple the value of the coupons. Learn the rules of “couponing” and you will save money.
2) Know your store. Where are the discount counters. What part of the meat case do they put the day old meats. Does your store have extra specials on certain days?
3) If you live in a part of the country where it gets hot, carry a couple of insulated bags in your trunk to put your refrigerated items in. These bags cost only $ 3 or $4 and you can get them at Costco, Sam’s or Wal-Mart.
4) Purchase items when they go on sale and you have a coupon for it. I bought barbeque sauce the other day that was on sale for 69 cents and I had a 25 cents coupon, that they doubled, and I got that barbeque sauce for 19 cents.
5) Don’t buy items that you are not going to use. It is tempting to purchase something because it is just too good a price to not buy it. If you want to try something that is new, just buy one, try it and decide if you really like it before buying it again.
6) Don’t be afraid to purchase store brands. Many of them are just as good as the name brand ones. Again, just buy one and try it before buying extras.
7) It is best not to buy “dented” cans. If you must, buy one that is not dented on any of the seams and use it right away.
8) If you are a mom, buying diapers for your baby, know what the prices are at the stores that you shop in. Wal-Mart usually has good prices on diapers and they will take coupons. Usually the larger the box, the better value per diaper.
9) Stick to your list. Ahhhhh….this is hard to do. I almost always get more than what is on my list. I guess I’m just not that disciplined. OK, so I have a weakness! Don’t we all?

If you have your own grocery shopping tips, share them in the comment section. Thanks
Have fun shopping, and enjoy your Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Saving with an Entertainment Book

For the last 14 to 15 years I have purchased an entertainment book. They cost $20.00 in Houston and I have saved way more than I paid for the book. If you like to save money, you will want an entertainment book.

They have discounts for:
1) Fine Dining at fancy restaurants - Usually buy one / get one free.
2) They also have coupons for Whataburger, Sonic, Murphy’s Deli, Souper Salad, Arby’s, Domino’s Pizza, Baskin Robbins, Krispy Kreme, Papa John’s and many more.
3) They have coupons for attractions in your area: Example – 50% off Astro games on certain days, AMC theatre tickets, Museum of Natural Science, Burke/Baker Planetarium, Ringling Bros. Circus, Disney on Ice, Movies and Plays, and many other attractions.
4) Travel – Discounts on airline tickets, rental cars, Carnival Cruises, Universal Studios Resort, Busch Gardens, Sea World & etc.
5) Guaranteed best rates on Hotels all over the country.
6) Home, Garden and Auto – dry cleaner coupons, oil changes, Midas repairs, car washes, & etc.
7) Retail and service – Department store coupons, Grocery store discounts, shoe repair, florists, and much more.

The coupons I like the most are the ones for the grocery stores. They have a coupon, for two different stores in my area, that offers $5.00 off when you spend $ 50.00 or more. I make sure I have my $50.00 worth of groceries and then hand the checker the $5.00 coupon first. Once the total goes under $50.00 then the $5.00 coupon won’t work any longer. After you give them the $5.00 coupon, then you can give them your other grocery coupons (doubled and tripled) and end up spending quiet a bit less. They have a coupon for each and every month of the year. $5.00 x 12 = $60.00.

TF and I use quiet a few coupons from the book and I would say that we save about $300 to $500. a year using this one coupon book. I remember when the kids would go out on a date, they would look to see if I had coupons for the places they were going. One year Bonnie’s friend Nicole used one of the coupons for her dinner out on prom night. She and her date saved about $30.00 on dinner.

These coupon books come out in September and go thru October of the next year. Right now the Entertainment books are marked down to half price. You can go to http://www.entertainment.com/ and check it out. Pick out the area that you live in and it will show you what is available in your area. I am not being paid by Entertainment, I really use the book.

Tomorrow’s blog: Tips on Grocery shopping.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Count your many blessings:

I had an interesting day today. I woke up with a monster sinus headache. I didn’t want to do anything but sleep but I had already promised a friend that I would go with her to visit her daughter at the V.A. hospital. I took some high powdered sinus medicine, tapped on the bones under my eyes and took a hot shower. The headache went away and I headed down to the VA with my friend. Now this is the first time I have ever been inside the VA hospital and I was blown away by the activity. There were six clinics just on the first floor and each waiting room was full to the brim with patients waiting to be seen by a doctor. We made it up to the sixth floor for a nice 45 minute visit. After the visit, we followed our same path out to the front of the hospital to pick up my friends car from the valet service. I sat down on a bench while we were waiting. As I sat there watching people go in and out that hospital, my mind suddenly realized that I was seeing little old men, probably WWII veterans, who were walking with canes and in wheel chairs, there were several men with artificial limbs. I knew that these were our service men and women who were ill or wounded in battle. I felt a sudden warming in my heart and tears were slowly streaming down my face as I observed these people. In my head, I could hear a song and within seconds I was humming… “Count your blessings, count them one by one, count your many blessings, see what God has done, count your blessings, count them one by one……….” I felt goose bumps on my arms and I knew that the spirit had touched my heart and soul with a feeling of gratitude. At that point in time my sinus headache seemed like nothing. These vets had given much in exchange for their service to us all. I learned guiet a bit today from just a few short minutes sitting on a bench. Funny how these things happen…

Crock Pot Cooking:

When I was in my younger years and worked in the retail industry, I had little time to cook a dinner before it was so late that it was too late to eat it. I learned very quickly to use my crock pot. In the morning before I would leave for work, I would put something in the crock pot, turn it on low and when I got home from work, dinner was ready. I started with simple meals.

Cut up one chicken or chicken parts and place them in the crock pot. Sprinkle a little of your favorite seasoning on top. Open a can of cream of mushroom soup or Lipton Onion soup mix and cover the chicken. You don’t have to add water because the chicken will provide its oven juices for a nice gravy. If you must add water, just add about ¼ cup. If you would like, you can put a few potatoes and some carrots on top of the chicken and have a complete meal. When you get home from work, make a quick salad and you can put dinner on the table almost immediately.

One thing that I did was invest in a few crock pot cookbooks. You can get them at the half priced book store or in any bookstore. One of my favorite books I purchased last year from Sam’s wholesale club. It is called “Fix-It and Forget-It Recipes”, and they have some awesome recipes.

My sister is a single mother and she was always complaining about being too tired to cook when she got home from work. I taught her how to use her crock pot and now she cooks almost everything in it. Anything you can cook in the oven can be cooked in a crock pot.

Here’s a recipe for “Slow Cooker Lasagna”

1 –lb. ground beef, browned
4-5 cups spaghetti sauce, depending upon how firm or how juicy you want the finished lasagna (Pre-bottled sauce is easy to use if you wish)
24 oz. container cottage cheese
1 – egg
8 -10 lasagna noodles, uncooked
2-3 cups grated mozzarella cheese

1) Combine ground beef and spaghetti sauce.
2) Combine egg and cottage cheese.
3) Layer half of the ground beef mixture, the dry noodles, the cottage cheese mixture, and the mozzarella cheese in the slow cooker. Repeat layers.
4) Cover. Cook on high 4-5 hours or on low 6-8 hours.

My sister bought me a new crock pot for my birthday this year and it is a fancy one. It is preprogrammed to cook either high or low. At the end of the cooking period, it will automatically turn off. I’m not sure I like that feature, but I’m getting used to it. Sooo…
Drag out that crock pot and give it a whirl. If you are a busy person, you will enjoy the ease of crock pot cooking.

If you have a favorite crockpot recipe that you want to share, post it in the comment section.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Fit more into your freezer.

Buy meat and chicken at the store when it goes on sale or is marked down. I have been known to buy 50 lbs of chicken at a time if I find it at the right price. When you get home from the grocery store, rinse your chicken pieces and place them into a freezer bag big enough to feed your family for one meal. Don’t use a bag that is too big. Have on hand some pint, quart, and gallon sized bags and use the appropriate size. I usually use the quart sized bags and put 4 or 5 pieces of chicken in them. Lay the chicken pieces flat. Zip your bag almost closed and insert a straw into the corner of the bag. Suck out the air from inside the bag. Once all the air is out of the bag, close immediately as you pull out the straw. This will preserve the chicken for a longer amount of time and works almost as well as a Seal-A-Meal.

Ground Beef- I usually pack ground beef into 1 pound increments. Pack what you will use for one meal. Place beef in the freezer bag and zip the bag till it is almost closed. Lay the bag on the kitchen counter and flatten the meat through out the entire bag, making sure you press it into all the corners. As you are doing this, gently press the air out of the opening on the top corner of the bag. Insert your straw and suck out any excess air. Close immediately as you pull out the straw. You now have a flattened bag of ground beef. You will be surprised how little space it takes up in the freezer. When you are ready to thaw your meat it will thaw quickly because the surface of the meat is so thin.

You may use this method with any number of items that you want to freeze. Give it a try and just see how much you can fit into the freezer. Email me if you have any questions.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Brad, The answers are:

This doesn't have anything to do with Frugal Living, but when the gauntlet has been dropped the answers must come forth.

List five things that people in your circle of friends or peer group are wild about, but you can’t really understand the fuss over.

1) Current day sitcom TV. - I can’t even watch the sitcoms of today. People are always tearing each other down & they would do anything for a laugh. I don’t like the reality TV either. I tried to watch one of the episodes of the Sports Illustrated model search. Those girls were beautiful but they spit and clawed to get the one million dollar contract they were after, just not my cup of herbal tea.

2) All the hype about Colin Farrell. - What a jerk! Give me Orlando Bloom instead. I loved him in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

3) Football – Sorry guys, I just cannot get interested in the game. When the kids were in high school, I would go to the football games to watch them play their instruments in band and cheer them on. I never could get into the game itself. NOW Baseball is another story. I love every aspect of the game.

4) What is this fascination with Mini-vans? - No way Jay! There is not one out there that I like. I’ll take a car any day.

5) Green Jello salad. - Many of my friends have lived in the great state of Utah and they consume more green jello than any other state. I don’t hate it, but I would rather have brownies. Now my waistline would prefer “sugar-free” jello. I guess you know what wins out.

OK now, who do I wish to take this challenge:
1) Ethne – Pole Dancing in the dark
2) Linda – Civilization Calls
3) Barb – Catscape
4) Jason – Nerdy Conservative
5) Tony – Red Mind in a Blue State

There you go Brad! Thanks for the challenge! This feels like a wave, is it going to make it back around?

There's more to it than sending extra money...

I wanted to share some information that I received in my email a couple of days ago. I was thinking of Brad , the unrepentant, as he and his wife are settling into their new house. With just a few dollars more anyone can work to pay down the principal on their homes. Take a look and see the correct way to do it.

Paying off mortgages and car loans fast requires a little more effort than simply sending extra money, as this client discovers...

A client writes:

"Hi Greg,
We have been paying a little extra on our house payment each month from the beginning of our loan, and we have paid half of the payment halfway through the month.

Right now our statement says that the next payment due date is November 2005.

If I don't make a house payment until November, will that work against us where the interest is concerned? We appreciate your advice!" -- Martha

Hi Martha,
No. You've already paid future interest... and that's a problem!

I don’t believe your mortgage company has applied your extra monies in your favor.

Since your statement says; "no payment due until November 2005,"

I believe your mortgage company is applying extra money to Future Payments instead of Current Principal.

That is, instead of shrinking your principal balance each time you paid extra money, thereby reducing your cost of interest each month and shortening your time to payoff, your mortgage company has "assumed" you intended to make Future Scheduled payments.

They have consumed practically 100% of your extra money for interest instead of applying 100% of your extra money to principal balance reduction.

To illustrate, assume your principal balance is $100,000 and your regular payment is $800 of which $700 is interest and $100 is principal.

In January you make a scheduled $800 payment. Your balance should decrease by $100 to $99,900.

In February you make another scheduled $800 payment. Your balance should decrease by $100 to $99,800. And so on...

Now, suppose in MARCH you send in an EXTRA $500 with your scheduled payment. This is what you want to happen...

Scheduled payment reduces balance by $100, as always.
New balance is $99,700.
EXTRA $500 reduces balance by $500.
New balance is $99,200!

You should start APRIL with a balance of $99,200 because you have PAID OFF more principal using your EXTRA $500. You don’t want your $500 to be considered a partial payment of your future APRIL scheduled payment!

If you’ve been sending in extra money for a while, each time you reach $800 they register another future monthly payment paid.

This is how your statement can read, "No payment due until November 2005."

I recommend a visit to your mortgage company to discuss re-allocating your extra payments to your principal balance and refunding the excess interest you paid against a balance which should have been declining. They may balk, but we’re talking about serious money. Your money!

The best procedure to rapidly pay off amortized debts, like mortgages and automobile loans, is to send two checks, one for your Scheduled payment and one for your EXTRA principal reduction. Attach a note
to your EXTRA principal reduction check stating, for "Principal Reduction Only!"

And even this may not work 100% of the time, so...

After your checks have cleared, VERIFY your mortgage balance to confirm proper application of your checks -- each month!

I know this can be a bit of a bother, but understand what's at stake. By paying off your mortgage 20 to 25 years early, you are costing your mortgage company hundreds of thousands of dollars. By the same token, you are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars! It's worth a few minutes of your time once a month.

Greg Moore is the Architect of the Debt Freedom System, 'DebtIntoWealth -- Lessons from My Journey to Debt Freedom." Check out Greg’s website at:
http://www.debtintowealth.com/debttrap.html for more information.

Also check out: www.bankrate.com/dls/news/debt/20050520a1.asp "Paying Ahead vs. Paying down principal on loan." Written by Steve Bucci of Bankrate.com

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Free Advice - 5 Cents please

Okay, the first blog will be
this picture of Lucy
from Peanuts Comic strip.

Look for a real blog as soon as I have the chance.
That's free advice, 5 cents please.

Thank you Brad for the idea. Posted by Hello