Share   
Consolidated Credit
Posts Tagged ‘saving money’

By Jessica Williams

It’s wedding season. That means brides everywhere are tying up loose ends trying to stick to their special day’s budget in preparation for the wedding of their dreams. If you are a close friend, relative, or co-worker of a bride, give her a break and throw her an inexpensive, but elegant bridal shower to help take some of the weight of her shoulders.

Invitations

Nowadays you don’t have to buy any invitations. You can create your own online using various websites. You can email them out, or print them out on cardstock paper that you can purchase from your local office supply store. Of course, emailing the invites would be the least expensive choice as you won’t have to pay for ink, paper, or the postage charges. Websites like Evite.com and Punchbowl.com do all of the work for you.

Decorations

Create a decoration budget and head over to your local Dollar Tree store. Dollar tree locations have a large assortment of centerpieces, garlands, streamers, confetti, and other items to help you turn any room into a theme of your choice. Just pick a theme and let your imagine run wild. The best part is, you won’t pay more than $1 for the decorations that you purchase.

If you find that there are some things that you can’t find at the dollar store, head over to your local party supply store to pick up those few remaining items.

Food

Keep the food simple, with light appetizers and beverages. A simple non-alcoholic drink option is a punch that consists of:

• 2 quarts of cranberry juice
• 2 quarts of ginger ale
• 46 ounces of pineapple juice
• 1 cup of lemon juice

Appetizers can consist of mini sandwiches, devil eggs, meatballs, vegetable trays, fruit trays, a host of other miniature delights.

Games

The best bridal shower games, often times are the silliest games. Here are a couple game ideas that cost little to nothing.

• How Well Do You Know the Groom? – Just prepare of list of questions about the groom ( i.e. What’s his shoe size? What‘s his favorite color?) You can either ask the entire room to participate or pose those questions to the bride to see her answers.
• Design a Wedding Dress Game – Split shower attendees into groups, give them toilet tissue, have one person be the model, and make them create their own wedding dress using the toilet tissue that was supplied to them.

Shower Favors and Prizes

This should be the last expense that you will have to worry about when it comes to planning a shower. Not only will you have to choose the amount of prizes you purchase based off the number of games you will be doing at the shower, but you will also have to make sure that all attendees leave with a keepsake. Have fun, be creative, but most importantly watch your spending.

Here are a couple of great favor ideas:

• S’mores Kit – All you need is clear cellophane paper. Put 4 square graham crackers, 2 square pieces of chocolate and 4 marshmallows in a bag. Tie them with a ribbon or thread of your liking and place your own personalized tag on the thread tie.

• Personalized Bottle of Water – Just take a regular plastic bottle of water and create your own water bottle brand for your special event. Just create your own label, print it, and stick it on

Remember that bridal showers are meant a time to celebrate the bride before her nuptials. By throwing her a party where she won’t have to pay for things, she can truly relax, and enjoy a moment of solace away from your hectic wedding day planning.

 

By M. Butler

Home Depot is a popular place for people who enjoy DIY projects, or are in the middle of renovating or building a house. It’s easy to get lost in their stores, wandering up and down the aisles, and filling your cart with a bunch of different items. Sometimes this means you end up spending more money than you originally intended. A trip for a $20 purchase could easily turn into a $200 trip. If you’re someone who does tend to spend a lot of money at when shopping at Home Depot, here are a number ways to save money at their stores:

1. Savings Center

Before you head on over to your local shop, make sure to check out the savings center section of their website. This page shows all the best deals and sales happening each week and month at their stores. The savings center shows deals and sales for every applicable department, and many of the sales range from 5% off to 50% off. If there’s something specific you’re thinking of buying, it’s a great idea to check out the sales before making a purchase.

2. Rebates

Another great way to save money is by taking advantage of the rebate finder on their website. The website lists all the available rebates for products that the stores sell, some of which go as high as $1,000. Since they don’t normally offer coupons, utilizing rebates is a great way to save some money on your purchases.

3. Special Buy of the Day

Another feature that is offered on their website is a “special buy of the day.” They pick one item in their store and set a special sale price for 24 hours. Keeping an eye on this section in case something you’ve been meaning to buy pops up as a special sale is well worth your while.

4. Free DIY Classes

One of the great offers that you can take advantage of is the free do-it-yourself classes that Home Depot offers. While this won’t save you money on the purchase price of the materials you buy, it can save you hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars on hiring someone else to do the project. You may be surprised that with a bit of instruction, how much you really can do on your own to save money, and this confidence will help you tackle other home repairs around the house (although some aren’t cut out for DIY projects). They even offer free workshops aimed specifically toward women.

5. Sales Catalog

Checking out the sales catalog is another way to save money during your next trip. The sales catalog contains the weekly sales happening at your local store, and often includes items that aren’t shown on the Savings Center webpage. These catalogs are available both online and in-store and can be a great way to help you plan your trip and spending.

6. Newsletter

Home Depot offers a Garden Club newsletter and signing up will grant you with special member only perks and deals, such as discounts and coupons. Such coupons could be $5 off a $50 purchase or 10% off. The newsletter also provides great tips and tricks of gardening and outside home care and repair, so if this falls under your interests, you should consider signing up to take advantage of their expertise.

7. Price Match

If you find a product for a lower price at a competitor store, Home Depot will honor the lower price as long as you can prove it (such as bringing in the flyer or pulling up the competitor’s price on your smartphone). Not only do they promise to match the price, but they’ll to beat it by 10%. Checking the competitors advertised deals before you go on the things you plan to buy can end up being a great savings. Don’t only look at other home improvement stores when searching for the best price. Also look at discount stores like Walmart and Target that might also stock the items you’re looking for to claim the price match deal.

8. Coupons

Home Depot doesn’t often offer coupons, but a quick search online for “Home Depot coupons” brings up a decent amount of results. Before you go on your next Home Depot trip, it’s a good idea to search for coupons online to see if there are any available. Even if you can’t find any, not all is lost because the stores also honors competitor coupons. That means if you have a Lowe’s coupon tucked away somewhere, you can claim that savings on your trip.

9. Military Discount

If you’re in the military or a veteran, you can show the cashier your military ID in order to obtain a 10% discount on your total purchase. Many places offer discounts to members of the military, so just remember that Home Depot is one of those places!

10. Gift Cards

There are a lot of places online that sell discounted gift cards or that will allow you to swap an unused gift card for a different gift card. If you have, for instance, a bunch of department store gift cards laying around that you’ll never use, head on over to a site like CardSwap and swap it in for a Home Depot gift card. You can also buy discounted gift cards on these sites, with discounts being as high as 40% off the original gift card amount. If you know that you’re going to be doing a big project and will be spending a lot at the store, loading up on gift cards that you can buy for less than retail value can save you hundreds of dollars.

11. “Special” Items

Home Depot often has a separate section of the store for items that have been returned or gently damaged (such as dents in cans or scratched items). These items are still up for sale, but at a greatly reduced price. If you’re looking to save money and don’t mind some dented paint cans or tools that have been scratched and don’t look shiny and new, shopping in the clearance/returned/special item section may be where you want to look. If you can’t find this section on your own, just ask an employee where it’s located, and they will happily show you where it is.

12. Free Entertainment for Kids

In addition to adult do-it-yourself workshops, the stores also offer DIY workshops for kids. Not only do the kids learn important hands-on creating skills, they get a half day of free entertainment while they do it. Even better, the skills that they learn can be utilized to help you on DIY home projects as they get older, saving you even more money.

 

By Jennifer Derrick

A long time ago I had high artistic ideals. I wanted my work to change the world, to bring awareness to important issues, and to be “great.” That lasted until I was out of college. That’s when I realized that I had to eat, pay rent, and fill up my gas tank. High ideals went out the window in favor of any job that paid. And since I graduated in the middle of the 1990′s recession, the bar wasn’t all that high. I took a fair amount of advertising and marketing work, shilling useless products to people who probably didn’t need them. But I got the bills paid, even if my work wasn’t world-changing in any way.

A few years out of college, I met a former friend who was still clinging to his ideals. You can guess the state he was in. He didn’t have a job and was living with his parents. He had no social life or real work. But, dammit, his ideals were still pure. He was still cranking away on his “literary masterpiece.” In his parents’ basement. While I was far from rich, I’d managed to cobble enough money together to have my own place, a car, and a few extras. I felt superior to him in just about every way.

“You sold out,” he accused me.

“I had no choice. Work of high artistic merit doesn’t pay the bills.”

“That stuff isn’t important. Your work should change the world. Be important. Not just be some drivel on the side of a cereal box.”

“Yes, but I also need money to live. These jobs pay my bills.”

“Sellout,” he said, shaking his head.

I think I was supposed to be insulted. I wasn’t. While I don’t live for money and I don’t chase the Joneses, I’m well aware that everyone needs money to exist in this world. Earning money through legitimate work isn’t a terrible thing to do. In fact, it’s pretty darn noble. I’m sure if you’d asked my friend’s parents they would have preferred having a sellout for a son over a mooch.

There is nothing wrong with taking jobs to pay your bills. You may not be crafting life altering prose when you write that ad for weed killer, but you are earning money with your skills. You only become a “sellout” if you let that kind of work permanently derail your higher dreams. If you’re writing marketing brochures by day and working on your novel or Pulitzer winning article by night you haven’t sold out, you’ve just made a realistic decision to keep your head above water and feed yourself/your family.

You might even find that “selling out” can be a good thing. Work that gives you a credit can be a pathway to better things. You never know who will see your work and ask you to work for them. One job may lead to another until you are suddenly being paid to produce work of high artistic merit. (Incidentally, some of the greatest artists in history became famous after they sold out.) The money you earn from selling out can also be used to buy more education or better supplies which may speed you on to that ideal job. Getting yourself out there and earning money is rarely a bad thing.

The exception is that you should never take work which goes against your moral principles. Sometimes you have no choice but to work against your beliefs, as when your jerk of a boss demands that you work on a campaign for fur or be fired, even though you’re vehemently opposed to the fur trade. You may have to do it because you don’t have enough money saved to tell the jerk to shove it. (But you’ll quickly learn to save money and find a better job so that you’re not in that position again.) If you have a choice, though, don’t sell your soul. Try to find jobs that align with your beliefs, if not your definition of great writing.

And try not to take work that will impact you negatively later. Writing that script for a hard core porn movie may net you a boatload of money, but chances are someone down the road is going to frown on that one. Just try to look forward and think about how this job will be seen later when you’re applying for another job. Most employers won’t care that you took “sellout” work like advertising, low budget movies, brochures, and infomercial scripts, but they may not look so favorably upon things written for certain industries or fringe causes. (In other words, if you have to write the porn script to pay for groceries, for heaven’s sake, use a pen name.)

Artistic snobs like to call those of us who get paid for less-than-ideal jobs sellouts. But there’s nothing wrong with selling out. I’d rather be a sellout with a place to live, food to eat, and a cared-for family than a parasite living off of my parents or society. High ideals and great writing have their places and are certainly worth striving for. The reality check is that you have to pay your bills. Fortunately, we live in a world that requires a lot of words to explain (ads, manuals, web sites, easy to read books, brochures, etc.) and offers a lot of jobs for those who are willing to do the work. I’d rather work than not. I still work on my idealistic projects, but I admit that I took the money and ran a long time ago. I’m a sellout, but a sellout with a good life.

 

By Jessica Williams

Mother’s Day is a day set aside to honor all of the mothers of the world. This year, give the mother in your life a day off and cook her a full meal that includes drinks, appetizers, and a dessert. Here are some recipes that won’t cost you much money or time, but will leave the mother in your life speechless.

Drinks – “O Fizz”
(From Oprah Magazine)

Ingredients:

• 3 teaspoons of sugar (or simple sugar)
• 12 fresh mint sprigs
• 3 ounces of fresh lime juice
• Ice
• 8 ounces of vodka
• Cranberry juice
• Champagne or sparkling wine
• Fresh raspberries

Directions:

1. Add 3/4 teaspoon of sugar (or simple sugar), 3 mint sprigs, and 3/4 ounce of fresh lime juice to a cocktail shaker.
2. Muddle ingredients with a longhandled muddler or bar spoon.
3. Add ice to the shaker.
4. Add 2 ounces of vodka and a splash of cranberry juice.
5. Shake vigorously and strain into a flute.
6. Top the glass of with champagne (or sparkling wine) and garnish with a few fresh raspberries and a sprig of mint.
7. Repeat steps for each glass made.

Appetizer – “Apple Deviled Eggs”
(From Robert Irvine of Food Network Magazine)

Ingredients:

• 6 hardboiled eggs
• 1 shallot
• 1/2 green apple
• 1 teaspoon of parsley
• 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
• 1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
• Salt
• Pepper
• Lemon thyme (or mint)

Directions:

1. Cook 1 diced shallot in butter for 2 minutes.
2. Add diced green apples, and cook for one minute.
3. Add 1 teaspoon of chopped parsley, then let cool.
4. Mash the yolk of6 hardboiled eggs and then add the apple mixture.
5. Add mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, and a dash of salt and pepper to the mix.
6. Spoon mixture into egg whites.
7. Top off with lemon thyme (or mint) for garnish.

Entrée – “Chicken Marsala Florentine”
(From Shanou of AllRecipes.com)

Ingredients:

• 4 bonesless, skinless chicken breast halves
• 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
• Salt and pepper
• 1 tablespoon of dried oregano
• 2 tablespoons of olive oil
• 3/4 cup of butter
• 3 cups of sliced Portobello mushrooms
• 3/4 cup of sun-dried tomatoes
• ½ cup of packed fresh spinach
• 1 cup or Marsala wine

Directions:

1. Place check breasts between two pieces of wax paper, and pound to 1/4 inch thick with a meat mallet.
2. Dust chicken with flour, salt, pepper, and oregano.
3. In a skillet, fry chicken in olive oil over medium heat. Cook until done, turning to cook evenly. Set aside and keep warm.
4. In the same pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and Marsala wine.
5. Cook for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6. Mix in spinach, and cook for about 2 minutes.
7. Serve over chicken.

Desserts – “Slipper Cookies”
(From Spoonful.com)

Ingredients:

• 2 halves of an oval sandwich cookie
• 1 donut hole
• Frosting
• Shredded coconut tinted with red food coloring
• Pink decorator’s gel

Directions:

1. First separate the 2 halves of an oval cookie sandwich and remove the filling with a butter knife.
2. Slice a donut hole into thirds.
3. Coat the rounded sides of the two end pieces with frosting.
4. Once coated, roll them in shredded coconut tinted with red food coloring to create a pair of fuzzy slipper tops.
5. Use a dab of frosting to stick each slipper top to the cookie sole.
6. Adorn the edges of the cookies with the pink decorator’s gel for the shoe stitching.

 

By Melody Warnick

The advent of electronic-toll highways was designed to make traveling down toll roads easier for harried drivers. Goodbye brake lights, lines of cars and fumbling for coins, hello electronic transponders and license plate-readers.

But if you’re in a rental car in an unfamiliar city, driving on an e-toll road with no cash lanes can leave you with a nasty charge on your credit card bill.

As the number of cashless e-toll roads has risen, so have the complaints about fees piled on top of fees.
In 2011, Seattle attorney Averil Rothrock launched a class-action suit against Fox Rent A Car and Violation Management Services after she returned from a Denver trip to find a $106 charge on her credit card. The amount reflected two $3 tolls and two $50 “service fees.” In the lawsuit, Rothrock complained, “The ‘service fee’ is nothing other than an illegal scam to collect from customers amounts they do not owe. She contended that Fox gave customers no way to pay the tolls without incurring the egregious fee, and that the two companies “conspired to turn Fox customers’ tolls into an illegal profit center for themselves.”

Though the case settled almost immediately, Rothrock says, “I get contacted about this all the time by people facing similar issues with car rental companies, leading me to believe that it is a huge problem for consumers.”

In 2012, New Yorker Jodd Readick filed a class-action lawsuit against Avis after he was slapped with an irritating “convenience fee” that he believes was left deliberately ambiguous in the fine print of his rental agreement. A similar lawsuit in Florida against Hertz and PlatePass was settled in 2013; the companies were ordered to provide $11 million in refunds.

Maze of fees

When CreditCards.com first wrote about the issue of rental car e-toll booth charges in 2011, disclosures about rental car policies for cashless toll roads were not always clear. One upside of the complaints and lawsuits from consumers is many national rental car companies have largely revamped or clarified the fees they charge customers for using toll systems. In its settlement, for example, Hertz acknowledged the suit “led to changes and modifications being made to Hertz’s rental agreement.”

Avis and Budget charge a $2.95 daily convenience fee for their e-Toll system, even on days when the renter doesn’t drive on a toll road. The fees max out at $14.75 per rental per month. The driver also pays for tolls they’ve driven through at the “cash toll rate,” not the discounted rate normally given subscribers.

Dollar and Thrifty are moving in some states to a flat-fee, prepaid toll system called Pass24. For $5.95 a day or $27.95 a week, customers in a handful of states can prepay for both tolls and fees at one time.

Hertz charges a $4.95 daily administrative fee for customers using its PlatePass system. Like Avis and Budget, that includes any rental days where the toll transponder wasn’t used, up to a maximum of $24.75 per rental per month. Hertz also offers a Toll Day Pass; for between $9.90 and $14.30 a day, renters are covered for all tolls and fees, with the promise that “you will never receive any subsequent toll charges or administration fees.”

Alamo, Enterprise and National charge a $2.95 daily fee for their TollPass program, up to $14.75 per rental period, along with the cost of the tolls.

Although the increased clarity in rental agreements is a step forward, some drivers still feel outraged by car rental company’s toll fees, largely because they often feel like they have no choice but to pay them. While it’s simple enough to turn down a rental car company’s add-on insurance — usually you’re covered by your own auto insurance — if you’re driving in an area with cashless toll roads, you can’t easily do without an electronic toll transponder. Rental car drivers who opt out of the e-toll system, then accidentally drive on a e-toll-only road or fail to find the cash lane in time, will usually be charged with a toll violation, which often includes an additional fee of between $18 and $25 a pop.

Third-party fees tagged on

Even more vexing is that some rental car companies outsource their fee collection to third-party agencies, which tack on their own fees. Although it ostensibly makes the process more efficient — and allows rental car firms to keep a happy distance from a sometimes-ugly customer service transaction — customers end up losing.

One of the most widely used agencies, Violation Management Services of Great Falls, Mont., has an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau in Washington. The BBB says the company showed “a pattern of complaints showing that consumers had unknowingly or did not approve a compliance agreement regarding processing fees relating to vehicle violations from rented vehicles from third-party business contracted with this business.” In its response to the BBB, the company said its existence is revealed in rental car agreements, and that it needs to move quickly to protect the fleets of rental car companies from being seized due to unpaid tickets.

Even if you figure out a way to avoid using the car company’s e-toll transponder system, you may end up being charged for it anyway. When Sean White, of Hollywood, Fla., rented a car from Budget for a two-week trip to Orlando, he brought along his own portable SunPass prepaid toll device and never turned on the toll device in the rental car. But six weeks later, his American Express card showed a bill for over $79 in tolls. When he disputed the charge, American Express “reversed it, but then a month later charged it back and sent me documentation of tolls collected in Texas with the onboard device in the rental car.” When White provided evidence he paid his Florida tolls with his own SunPass — and he hadn’t been near Texas — the charges were reversed, only to reappear a few months later. The problem took nine months to resolve.

Surviving the e-toll system

For all its hassles, representatives of the rental car and toll management industries naturally believe that the benefits of offering e-toll systems in rental cars outweigh the drawbacks. “I think there’s a convenience element that most renters recognize and take advantage of,” says Charles Territo, a spokesman for Arizona-based PlatePass. “And the number of toll roads is only going to increase.”

Neil Abrams, a rental car-industry constant, adds that rental car companies are justified in tacking on administrative fees because they incur their own costs related to managing tolls and violations. “Rental companies, the big brands, get tens of thousands of violations each month that go unpaid by the renter,” he explains. Even with something as simple as charging a renter for a toll, “there’s time and labor involved.” The cost of all the paperwork adds up.

Abrams acknowledges that toll administrative fees are galling to consumers. Even Dollar-Thrifty’s Pass24 program, which aims to create a single flat-fee for toll road usage, can be controversial and confusing because “if you have one toll you get charged the same thing as someone who has $20 in tolls. People see the charges on their charge card and they don’t understand what it is, notwithstanding that there’s full disclosure on the rental agreement.

CASHLESS TOLL ROADS: 6 TIPS

1. Read your car rental agreement carefully. Look at it online before you travel, or take the time to actually read it at the counter. Ask the customer service agent to explain fees if you don’t understand them. If you choose to rent a car with e-toll collection, ask how it is activated. Most national companies begin charging daily or flat fee rates upon rental, while others won’t activate until you pass through an e-toll booth.

2. Check out an online map of where you’re going to see if you’ll be driving on toll roads — and if there’s an easy alternative that avoids them altogether. A quick online search can tell you how much each toll costs and whether there’s a cash lane available. You can also call your rental car company’s toll-free number for more info about how tolls are collected at your destination, or log onto the website of the tolling authority.

3. Prepay for services on your own. Some e-tolling systems, including SunPass, let you buy passes at retail outlets, including grocery stores, so you can avoid your rental company’s fees. Some tolling authorities also have a one-time payment option.  In San Francisco, for example, once you know your rental car’s license plate number, you can register it online or by phone with the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation Districtand pay a single one-way toll of $7 by credit card.

4. Settle up with the toll authority directly to short-circuit fees. Lisa Telles, a spokesperson for the Transportation Corridor Agencies, which operates toll roads in California, points to their One-Time-Toll payment option at TheTollRoads.com, where “paying within the 48-hour time frame halts the violation process. All customers need to do is identify the location and toll, provide the license plate number and a credit card number to pay the toll.” If you can get to it before your info is passed along to the rental car agency, you may be able to avoid additional charges.

5. Keep your receipts and any other documentation you have of how, when and where you paid for cash or electronic tolls. You’ll need them if you dispute a charge.

6. Keep an eye on your credit card bill, which should show toll charges and fees within two months after your trip. If you see a suspicious charge, dispute it with your credit card company — but be prepared to duke it out with the rental company as well.

Melody Warnick is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Day, Redbook, Parents, American Baby, Smart Homeowner, and many other publications. She also writes for businesses and nonprofits.
Melody lives in Blacksburg, Va., with her husband and two daughters.