Hotel

Save tons on a hotel room

We recently came home from a week-long trip to Walt Disney World and while we like to have a great time and do things up as much as possible, we also like to stay within a reasonable budget so that we don’t mess up any other goals we may have.

This time when we decided to go, we gave some serious thought to flying so we wouldn’t have to take as many days off of work. However, when we started to price out the tickets, it was really hard to justify spending about $1100 versus the approximate $300 to $400 we spent last time on gas, hotels, and food.

In order to keep the trip down and back at a reasonable cost, we had to stay in hotels as cheaply as possible. I’m the type of person who would prefer to stay at a slightly nicer hotel, but I also don’t want to blow our entire vacation budget on a temporary place to sleep.

The answer is to use hotel discount guides. You can find these at welcome centers and rest stops on the highway. They are free and are usually sitting outside in newspaper stands. The guides are arranged by highway and exits in that state so you can find the discounts for all the hotels at one exit in one place.

The discounts are really good and are lower than what you would get with a AAA card. As an example, we stayed at a Comfort Suites on the way down. I just checked their website and if we were to book it through there, we would have paid about $110 a night (AAA rate is $99) with taxes and everything. With the discount guide, we paid a total of $66.

There are usually some stipulations with the discounts, but they aren’t usually deal-breakers. Some examples are that the discount can only be used for a one night stay or that it only applies to certain room types or for a certain number of people. They may let the last one slide though if you ask nicely.

You can use the discount guides for more than just a road trip. Maybe you can impress a family member by paying for their hotel stay overnight as they’re visiting. (They don’t need to know how much you spend.)

Potential Savings: You can probably expect to save 30-40% off of the normal rate.

Let me know when you might use hotel discount guides to save money on a hotel stay in the comments below. If you’ve got any creative ways to save money on vacation leave those below as well.

Featured Image courtesy of sixninepixels / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Verizon

Quick Savings Tip for Verizon Smartphone Users

If you’re a Verizon Wireless user, then you probably already know that you’re likely paying more than you would with any other cell phone company. That’s why I’ve recommended checking out Ting and Republic Wireless in the past.

Recently though, Verizon has made a few steps to give their customers a bit of a break. Along with changing the name of some of their plans to MORE Everything, they’ve also given their smartphone customers more data for the price that they’re paying now. In some cases they may get double the data allowance they had before.

If you’re a Verizon Wireless customer, you’ll get the data increases automatically without intervention on your part. However, to save money, you will need to get involved. If you’ve stayed under your previous data cap, then simply call them up and ask to be moved back to your previous data cap level. That should immediately lower your monthly bill by whatever the next data level down is. Almost instant savings!

If you’ve got any additional savings tips, leave them in the comments below.

Tax refund

Is getting a tax refund a good thing?

We established in an earlier post that a lot of people will be getting a tax refund and it will average around $2800. That’s quite a big chunk of change. But is getting a tax refund a good thing? A lot of people think that if they’re getting a refund that it means they did something right or maybe they are somehow putting it to the government by getting money back. Unfortunately, that’s not really the case.

The money you get back in a refund is YOUR money! It means that throughout the year you’ve paid too much to the government. They’ve been nice enough to hold onto it for you all year and not give you any interest on it so that you can file a bunch of paperwork and get it back. In fact, since the government tends to spend more than they collect, the money they’re giving you back was probably borrowed from China. How’s that for scary?

Why wouldn’t you want to get a tax refund? Like I said before, you’re not getting any interest on that money. Plus, if you’re someone who has a hard time making ends meet each month it could be because you’re paying too much of your money in taxes only to get it back next April. That’s money you could be using to help pay off debt, invest for retirement, or save for college or a new car.

So how do you go about eliminating your tax refund and bringing more of that money home? Follow the steps below.

  1. Look back at the previous year’s refund amount. Do you expect any major changes in your life that might affect your refund one way or another? For example, are you getting married, having a kid, buying a house, etc. If so, you may want to use discretion later on.
  2. Take the anticipated refund amount from the previous year and divide it by the number of paychecks. If you anticipate getting a $1000 refund and are paid biweekly, that comes out to be about $38.
  3. Talk to HR or payroll and adjust your W4 exemptions until your paycheck amount increases by the amount you calculated in step 2. If you want to play it safe you can adjust your exemptions so only half of the amount you calculated is back in your paycheck. One important thing to remember: The exemptions on your W4 do not have to match the number of people in your family. They only tell your payroll department how much to withhold for taxes. I know, blah blah blah.
  4. If you need help calculating the number of exemptions you can go to Paycheck City and enter in your information into the calculator until it’s close to your current paycheck. After that, you can adjust the exemptions and see the difference it will make to your paycheck.

If all of that sounds too difficult and you get a huge tax refund, try increasing your exemptions by just 1 or 2. You’ll likely still get a refund next year, but at least you’ll have reduced it a bit. Then you can increase your exemptions by 1 or 2 the next year until you get your refund down to almost nothing.

Remember, tax refunds aren’t necessarily a good thing. If you get a tax refund this year, celebrate it by spreading your refund out across the entire next year!

Hopefully you’ve found this post helpful. If so, please share it with others. Have any questions, comments, or suggestions? Please post them in the comments below.

Featured Image courtesy of basketman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Taxes

What are you going to do with your tax refund?

According to the IRS, the average tax refund last year was about $2800. That’s a lot of money. Let’s look at that a couple different ways.

$2800 is the same as:

  • $233 a month
  • $116 if you’re paid twice a month
  • $107 if you’re paid bi-weekly
  • $53 if you’re paid weekly

That would be a pretty nice raise if you got that money in each of your paychecks. We’ll talk more about that in a future post. For now, let’s look at some ideas on how to use this year’s tax refund.

It’s always nice to get a big pile of money unexpectedly. It’s sad to find out after a while that it disappeared and you’ve got nothing to show for it. Below are some ideas on how you might use your tax refund this year.

  • Pay off some debt. Since you’re probably paying interest on any debt that you have, paying it off makes your tax refund that much more valuable by saving you interest every month.
  • Start or build an emergency fund. Emergency funds are far from exciting, but on the bright side, once you’ve got one, unexpected events aren’t such a crisis.
  • Put it in an IRA for retirement. You can start the year by cutting your tax bill for the next year by putting your refund right into an IRA. Whatever you contribute to a traditional IRA can be a deduction if you itemize your taxes.
  • Start a 529 college fund for your kids. Depending on where you live and in which state you start a 529 college savings plan, you can get a lot of great benefits that a savings account won’t provide.
  • Buy something big you’ve been looking at. If you’ve been planning to buy something like a new computer, furniture, or something else that isn’t exactly “cheap”, using your tax refund can get you that item that much faster. Plus, if you’ve saved money for that special item you can use it for something else now!
  • Plan a vacation. It may not sound like the most responsible thing to do, but paying cash for a vacation is better than putting it on a credit card.
  • Start a business. I’m sure you didn’t expect to see that on the list. If you’ve ever thought about starting a business but have always used not having the money as an excuse, now’s your chance. It may be the catalyst to make a dream come true.

Don’t let your tax refund (or any unexpected dollars) slip away. Make a plan for it, even if the plan is to spend it frivolously. At least you’ll know where it went.

How do you plan on spending your tax refund? Post your ideas in the comments below.

Featured Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Allowance Game

The Allowance Game – Teach your kids about money

If you have kids, grandkids, or simply know of some kids you kind of like, then I’m sure you can agree that they need to learn that stuff costs money, and money isn’t unlimited. If you can teach them about money through real world experiences, like chores, that’s great. But kids have short attention spans, so sometimes using a game keeps their interest a little better.

I played The Allowance Game when I was younger, which seems like a long time ago now. Now that I’ve got kids of my own, we’ve inherited that same game to play with our kids. I’m going to be basing what I know about the game from the version we have that is from the 80′s (and possibly older). The rules have probably changed with inflation (something I don’t think Monopoly can claim).

The goal of the game is simple. The first to have $10 wins. Every person starts with $2. You roll the dice and move around the board, following the instructions on each space you land on. On some of the spaces you will get money for selling things, doing a job, or losing a tooth. On other spaces, you have to spend money to buy a record at a garage sale (I told you we had the old version), or get some ice cream.

Every time you pass “home” you get to collect your allowance (similar to Monopoly). Unlike Monopoly you don’t buy spaces. However, there are a couple of unique corners. One is the bank, where you can put in a dollar and then every time you land on the space, you earn interest. You can also purchase the skate rental square and then people have to pay you to rent skates when they land on that space. (The skate rental has been updated to a lemonade stand in the new version.)

As for the money aspect, the game has fake 1 and 5 dollar bills, along with plastic nickels, dimes, and quarters. They’re realistic enough that kids will know what they are and can relate them to the real thing.

So what will kids learn by playing this game?

  • How to make change for dollars.
  • How to count money.
  • Buying stuff costs money and money can run out.
  • Saving money can make you money (when you save it in the bank).
  • Starting a business is a good way to make money (such as with skate rental or a lemonade stand).

The Allowance Game isn’t meant to be difficult. You don’t have to read through a huge book of instructions to get started, which is great for kids who just want to get started. You can probably play through a few rounds in an hour too. If you want to teach a child about money, then check it out using the affiliate link below. It could make a great birthday gift!

Have you ever played The Allowance Game? Do you have any games that you play with your kids to teach them life lessons? Leave a comment below!

Cord Cutter

Cut the cord, fatten your wallet!

I’m sure by now you’ve heard the term cord cutter. It used to be reserved for those crazy people who lived on the fringe, pinched pennies, and had no life. That has changed significantly over the past couple of years as friends of mine have joined the ranks after telling me how they could never drop their subscription television for one reason or another.

I believe that this change has occurred due to the increase in great content outside of cable and satellite. Stores are carrying streaming media devices almost like they carry DVD and Blu-Ray players. Plus, many of the Blu-Ray and DVD players and televisions are now “smart”, which means they include most of the same content options as streaming media players.

If you’re looking for a way to cut some costs, dropping the cable or satellite might be a good option. Not only that, but you may actually enjoy your television viewing experience more. Below are some options and ideas for improving your experience and saving some money in the process.

  • If you already have a smart television, Blu-Ray, or DVD player then you’ve already got a good start. If you don’t have one or you don’t think your options are that great on the one you’ve got, check out Roku. It has over 1000 “channels” and is one of the most widely used streaming players available. There are others out there, but with the options available on the Roku and a starting price of $49.99, it’s hard to beat. Whatever you get, make sure it has the options you’re interested in.
  • Netflix has thousands of television shows and movies available when you want them and it only costs $7.99 a month.
  • Amazon Prime not only offers you free 2 day shipping on a ton of products and free books from their Kindle lending library, but you also get access to their library of free streaming titles. At $79 a year, that comes out to about $6.59 a month. Some of the titles are available on Netflix, but there are plenty of them that are not due to the different content licenses each company.
  • Hulu Plus provides you access to many current shows the day they after they air on television. It’s like a digital DVR replacement. The downside is that it even though you are paying for it, you still have to watch some advertisements. This will run you $7.99 a month as well, or if you use a PC and don’t mind waiting a little while longer to view shows, it can be free.
  • Crackle, PBS, PBS Kids, NASA, and more are available on the Roku for free and on other platforms as well. To browse the channel selection on the Roku, go to http://www.roku.com/now-playing.
  • To enjoy all of your local programming in full HD, get a digital antenna. Check out http://www.antennaweb.org to figure out what to look for based on where you live. I’ve found that unless you are close to television signals, getting one with a power booster will help you pick up signals that are further away.
  • If you’re ready to take cord cutting to the next level, check out the Channel Master DVR+. It allows you to find and record your favorite over the air shows with no monthly subscription cost. It’s the DVR for cord cutters.

Some of the biggest complaints that I hear about cord cutting is “what about sports?!?!” That’s completely understandable since it’s probably the biggest weakness with streaming content. The sports options are expanding though.

Besides saving money, one of the biggest benefits to cutting the cord is that your life doesn’t have to revolve around what time your favorite show is on. Gone are the days of having to get home by a certain time so you don’t miss a season finale. Controlling the content means you control your schedule. Isn’t that the way it should be?

Potential Savings: We cut the cord about 3 years ago and haven’t looked back. As for savings, Time Warner is currently offering 200+ channels with 3Mbps internet for $79.99 a month. We have 15Mbps internet for $34.99 a month. If you were to subscribe to all the services mentioned above (Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Amazon Prime), it would cost about $57.56 a month. That’s a total savings of over $22 a month or $269 a year.

Featured Image courtesy of Gualberto107 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Combining Common Sense Financial Advice with Unique Money Saving Tips