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By Danielle Warchol

Like most holidays, preparing for Easter can put a dent into your budget if you aren’t careful. If you have children, you probably know that buying new clothes, gifts, or other Easter accessories adds up very quickly, and can cause unexpected stress to your monthly budget. Here are a few ways to celebrate the holiday without it costing you a fortune:

Reuse Easter Baskets and Accessories

Instead of buying new items each year consider reusing items such as Easter baskets, plastic Easter eggs, or plastic grass for the baskets. If they’re in good condition, there’s no need to go out and buy a new basket every year.

Coupons

As with most major commercial holidays, there will mostly likely be coupons for Easter related products. It might be a coupon for a bag of candy or for some little toys or knickknacks to put into a basket. If you’re looking to save some money on your Easter purchases, see if there are any coupons available for your local stores.

Holiday Sales

Additionally, many stores will also have Easter holiday sales. A lot of clothing stores know that Easter is one of those holidays where people rush out to buy new spring clothing. Grocery stores also like to have sales on Easter related foods such as ham, eggs, and pies. The closer it gets to the holiday, the better the sales. If you need to buy a couple of pairs of Easter clothing or some items for your Easter dinner, try to find a store that’s having a sale on the items you need.

After Holiday Sales

As you probably know, most holiday items are usually 25% – 75% off a couple of days after the holiday has passed. If you’re looking to stock up on non-perishable items for the next year, this is the time to buy them. If you need to replace you children’s’ Easter baskets or some holiday decorations, you’re bound to get them for a great discount.

Dye Eggs Without Kits

Many kids love Easter because it means the one time of the year when they get to decorate eggs. A lot of people default to buying egg decorating kits from the store, but many of those kits are composed of items you can find in your own home. All you need are a couple of bowls, containers, vinegar, food coloring, and eggs. Before you head out to spend $10 on an egg decorating kit, check to see if you have items at home. If your kids want to decorate the eggs after dying them, let them use crayons or stickers on the shell.

Don’t Buy New Clothes

There are many people who rush out to buy a new outfit for Easter dinners or events. If you’re on a tight budget, there are a couple of reasons why you should think twice about buying a new outfit. For one, are you (or your children) actually going to wear your Easter outfit again or is it only for the holiday? Do you already own something you can wear instead? If you do need to buy new clothes, consider checking out stores that are having massive sales or thrift stores.

Potluck Dinner

Some people invite a lot of friends and family over for Easter dinner, and while that can be a great event to host it also becomes expensive when you have to feed an entire houseful of guests. Instead of stretching your budget to buy food for everyone, suggest holding a potluck where everyone brings a side dish. This is a great way to have everyone get involved in the dinner and it will also hopefully save you some money.

Keep Dinner Simple

Additionally, you can try to keep dinner simple instead of going all out and hosting a luxurious, expensive affair. A lot of people want to impress their guests during the holidays by serving exotic or expensive foods. But do you really need to serve scalloped potatoes with specially imported cheese? Or do you need to have 10 different side dishes even though half of them won’t even be touched? Keeping your dinner plans simple will also keep your grocery budget simple.

Small Gifts

If you have kids, you probably know how much of a hassle it can be to try to buy them suitable gifts around the holidays. It’s not entirely necessary to buy huge gifts for their Easter baskets. You can fill the baskets with small $1 to $5 items instead. If you’re planning on handing them plastic eggs – or holding an Easter egg hunt – fill those plastic eggs with small gifts such as a couple of dollar bills or wrapped candy.

Free Events

Another great way to save some money is to see what free events may be hosted in your town or city. Some local libraries or community centers offer free pictures with the Easter Bunny while others host free Easter egg hunts. Finding free Easter events can be a great way to have some family fun while also saving some money on holiday expenses.

 

By Jeffrey Strain

The flu season only has a few more weeks left, and some people may be wondering whether or not this late in the season it still makes sense to get a flu shot. Health officials in the US are urging anyone who still hasn’t gotten a flu shot to go out and get one. This includes everyone over the age of 6 years old and pregnant women. This is because this year’s predominant flu strain is the H1N1 virus which has killed and hospitalized more adults under the age of 65 than in normal years. A California report from the state’s department of health says that there have been 405 people who have either died or been admitted to intensive care due to the flu who are under the age of 65 so far this season, which is more than any season since the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic.

Officials still aren’t certain why there have been an increase in the number of people under the age of 65 who have been admitted to hospitals for the flu, but they note that these are the people who are the least likely to get a flu vaccination. Those between the ages of 18 and 64 get flu shots at a 34% rate while 62% of those 65 and older get them.

Even though it’s late in the flu season, it still makes financial sense to get a flu shot. Depending on your health coverage, you might be able to get the shot at no cost, but if that is too inconvenient, you can get one at most drug stores or pharmacies for about $20. That small investment can save you a lot of money if it helps prevent you from coming down with the flu.

In many ways you should look at getting a shot as an insurance policy. While there is no guarantee that the shot will 100% prevent you from getting the flu since there are a number of different strains going around, if it does (or even lessons the symptoms), it can save you a bundle of money. Here are a few of the ways:

Doctor Visit

It’s important to remember that the flu is not getting a cold. It’s much more severe and will likely keep you from doing your normal routine. More than likely, you’ll make a doctor’s visit to seek some type of relief which will cost you the time and the cost of the visit. If the symptoms happen to be more severe, you might even have to be checked into the hospital. Just thinking about all the costs involved with that should make $20 seem like a huge bargain.

Medicine

Even if you manage to stay away from the doctor’s office, you will likely shell out money for over-the-counter medicine to try to reduce the symptoms that you do have. The cost of these will likely end up being more than the $20 it would cost to get the shot. Even worse, these medicines are rarely discounted during the flu season, (you should always buy your supply of them in the off season to save money) meaning you’re likely to pay full retail price for them.

Lost Wages

If you come down with the flu, there’s a good chance that you will end up missing a few days of work. That means either losing the wages for those days or taking sick leave or vacation days that could have been used at other times. Either way, it means that you lose money or time that could be used for better things.

Baby Sitters

If any of your children end up getting the flu, then there’s a good chance that you will either have to miss work to take care of them, or hire a babysitter to do so. Either way, you end up losing money either from your own pay (or lost vacation days) or having to pay someone to look after them.

Lost Productivity

Probably the most costly part of getting sick this way is your lost productivity. Even in the best case scenario, if you end up catching it and are able to still work, you’re going to be a lot less productive than you would be when healthy. Much more likely you’ll end up wrapped in a blanket on the couch barely able to move for a week as you try to sleep it off.

When you take all this into account, financially you should make sure to get a flu vaccine each and every year as soon as they are available. But even this late into the flu season, it still makes sense to spend a little money so that you don’t end up spending a lot of money and time fighting something you could have avoided. No matter what, be diligent and take the easy measures available to avoid getting the flu in the first place.

 

By Meg Favreau

Anybody who has ditched plans to eat a salad to scarf down a plate of nachos instead (like I did, um, yesterday) can tell you that even though we humans usually know what’s best for us, it’s sometimes difficult to actually do the right thing.
This is especially true when it comes to saving money — for emergencies, for retirement, or for almost anything else. But there is some good news. Studies show that once we do set money aside, we’re likely to leave it there. So how do we get ourselves to save in the first place? By automating! Here are six easy ways to do just that.

1. Sign Up for Your Company’s Retirement Plan

If your company offers a 401(k) or 403(b), this is one of the best options for automatic savings. Not only do these retirement plans automatically put money you earn into a retirement account before you have the opportunity to spend it, but most employers offer a contribution match. That means that for every dollar you contribute (up to a certain amount), or employer will deposit an equal amount into your account. That’s essentially free money, and it’s one of the biggest benefits you can get at a job. Take advantage of it.

2. Split Your Direct Deposit

If you have direct deposit, most employers will allow you to split your check between multiple accounts — so, instead of depositing all of your money into your checking account, you can set some to automatically go into savings.

3. Set Up a Regular Deposit to Savings

Even if you don’t have direct deposit, many banks will allow you to set up regular automatic deductions. For example, I have a checking account with a traditional bank, and I have a savings account with an online bank. I can set my savings account to automatically deduct from my checking account on every payday. The effect is the same as splitting a direct deposit — the money is in my savings account before I even know it’s gone.

4. Pledge to Save Certain Cash

You’re probably most familiar with this concept in the form of a piggy bank– at the end of the day, many people automatically put the change in their pockets into a jar, often to save for a specific goal, like a vacation. But there’s no rule saying that you have to stick to coins. Instead, pledge to set aside every $5 bill that comes your way — or even every $10. This is a great way to reach medium-term savings goals, like buying new furniture.

5. Use a Cash-Back Credit Card

You should only follow this suggestion if you’re able to pay your credit card off in full every month and you won’t let credit card rewards and 0% balance transfer offers become an excuse for spending more than you normally would. If you fit this criteria, start making your purchases on a cash-back credit card. Then, at the end of every month, deposit that cash back directly into your savings.

6. Automate Your Bills

Most utilities, businesses, and even lenders now allow you to set up automatic payments. There are two ways that this helps automate savings. First of all, automatic payments ensure that you pay your bills on time, saving you from late fees and possible dings to your credit. Secondly, sometimes you can get a discount for paying automatically — for example, some cell phone providers will knock $5 off of your monthly bill if you sign up for the automated system. If you do begin paying automatically, just make sure to check your billing statements regularly to ensure there aren’t any mistakes and you’re not being charged for services you aren’t using.

7. Sign Up for Your Financial Institution’s Round Up Program

What if you could make yourself save a little bit every time you make a purchase? Several banks and credit unions offer “round up” programs that do just that. Every time you use a credit or debit card registered with the program, your financial institution will automatically deposit the remainder of your change into a savings account. To get started, ask your bank or credit union if they offer this benefit.

How do you automate your savings? Share your favorite money-saving tips for America Saves Week – an annual celebration of good savings behavior and financial responsibility.

Meg Favreau is the Senior Editor of money-saving blog Wise Bread — an award-winning website dedicated to help you live large on a small budget.

 

By Jessica Williams

DIY projects all have the hidden agenda of saving you money. When you begin to take a look at your finances, chances are that you will begin to see exactly how much you are overpaying for everyday conveniences.

From ordering take out a few time a week to paying for a cleaning service, making things easier on your schedule can often create a strain on your finances.

Here are some Do-It-Yourself tricks that can help you keep some additional money in your pocket:

Shorten your dryer-vent hose
Disconnect the hose and vacuum it out. Trim the hose length so that it’s long enough for you to pull the dryer a few feet from the wall. A short and unobstructed line makes your fryer run more efficiently, while saving you $25 a year on electric, gas, or propane. In addition, your clothes will also dry about 20 percent faster.

Closing closet doors to can lower the square footage you’re heating and cooling. Shutting closet doors along the exterior walls help to insulate the house saving you an average of $50 a year off of your total energy bills.

Make your own cleaning solutions. Go ahead and create your own cleaning products using inexpensive kitchen items, such as white vinegar and baking soda. You can also check out The Green Guide (http://www.thegreenguide.com/) for recipes. Not only will you have cleansers that don’t contain any harsh chemicals, you will also be saving $50 or more per year on commercial cleansers.

Replace central air-conditioning filters. Every month during the summer, make sure that you replace your air-conditioner filers to keep air flowing freely through the ducts and to reduce strain on the blower motor. Not only will these new filters keep dust and mold from collecting on the condenser coils, it also extends the life of the equipment while saving you at least $40 on cooling costs.

Use your laptop instead of your desktop. Your laptop runs on batteries, which uses 80 percent less electricity than a desktop computer, saving you $30 per year off of your electricity bill.

Replace your grill, lawnmower, or patio furniture during the fall. Waiting to replace these items until the fall season can end up saving you over $150 as stores normally mark down their inventory pricing to make room for holiday decorations and snowblowers. What’s better is that most of the online retailers often provide free shipping on leftover warm-weather gear.

Plug up a Smart Strip. Three-quarters of the energy that electronics burn is consumed when the equipment is turned off. Instead of unplugging them, hook them up to a Smart Strip surge protector, which automatically kills power to electronics when you turn them off. This small switch can save you over $240 a year on energy costs.

Install a shower timer. Put one in the kid’s bathroom. This battery-operated device limits showers to 5, 8, and 11 minutes saving you almost $200 a more a year on your water bill. In addition, this also speeds up your child’s morning routines of eating breakfast, brushing their teeth, and making sure they make it out the door on time.

Cancel your phone line. Cancelling your phone line and replacing with a magicJack can save you over $400 a year. This tiny gadget instantly transforms your broadband phone access into a free phone service with unlimited calling, free long distance in the US and Canada.

Install a wireless light switch. Simply attach a batter-operated device to the wall and screw its receptor into the lamp socket. It costs about $27 for a wireless light socket switch and can end up saving you $300 once it has been installed.

These are just a few small do-it-yourself projects that can help you save money.

Jessica Williams is Consolidated Credit’s Marketing Communications New Media Coordinator. As a member of the education team, Jessica focuses on helping consumers make better financial decisions while living debt-free. She has previously worked with Take Stock In Children, where she was a mentor and communications specialist, and SouthPromo.com, where she managed community relations, event planning, marketing, and public relations. Jessica attended both the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida where she received her B.S. in Interpersonal/Organizational Communications and Marketing. Connect with Jessica on Google+.

 

By Katie Bryan

America Saves Week February 24 – March 1, 2014 is chance for individuals to assess their savings and take financial action. Did you know that only half of Americans report having good savings habits? Now is the time to take action and Set a Goal. Make a Plan. Save Automatically. Take the time this week to select a savings goal and create a plan to save for it.

Here are 5 easy ways to get involved in America Saves Week:

1. Pledge to Save
Those with a savings plan are twice as likely to save for emergencies and retirement than those without a plan. Join over 350,000 people who have already committed to save. When you take the pledge you can also choose to receive text message tips and reminders to help you save for your goal.

2. Assess Your Savings
Find out if you are saving in all the right places with this new interactive 12-step savings tool.

3. Saver Checklist: Evaluate Your Savings Preparedness
This checklist is made up of characteristics of successful savers, which include debt management. It can serve as a useful starting point for evaluating one’s savings preparedness.

4. Share Your Savings Goal
People save more successfully when they have a goal in mind. That’s why we’ve created posters so you can put your savings goal into perspective and share it.

5. Share Savings Tips and Advice with Family and Friends
On Twitter and Facebook? Share these social media posts with your friends and followers to encourage them to save.

America Saves Week is coordinated by America Saves and the American Savings Education Council. Started in 2007, the Week is an annual opportunity for organizations to promote good savings behavior and a chance for individuals to assess their own saving status