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8 Wedding Gift Hacks

Wedding season is in full bloom and while tying the knot is getting more expensive for the bride and groom, attending a wedding is becoming costlier, too. In fact, a survey from American Express reveals that it now costs on average $539 to attend a single celebration.

Gifts take a big bite out of every guest’s budget with average spending ranging from $75 to $175 per person, according to The Knot Registry Survey. Relieve the financial pressure by saving on the gift with these eight tips.

Compare prices on registry items. It’s wise to reference a registry to see what the couple wants, but it’s even smarter to compare prices among stores. Online retailers like Amazon and Overstock sell popular registry brands for less than most high-end stores.

Use discount gift cards. If you’re planning to give a gift card or you’re buying an item off a couple’s registry, save money by purchasing discount gift cards from GiftCardGranny.com. The site offers gift cards for less than face value, like a $100 Macy’s gift card for less than $80.

Five Ways to Get Out of the Supermarket Without Overspending

Grocery shopping is tricky anytime, but especially challenging when you’re on budget. On one hand, having everything you need in one place is convenient. But on the other hand, having so many options can sabotage every intention you have of sticking to your budget. Supermarkets are filled with everything you need and everything you don’t need, too.

Don’t expect a supermarket to help you avoid overspending. The place is specifically designed, decorated and arranged to encourage and increase impulse spending. They want you to spend more and they know how to persuade you to do it. With that in mind, consider these five ways to beat them at their own game:

Don’t go in hungry. You believe that you dash in to pick up the infamous few things. But if you’re starving, you’re a dead aim for a couple of steaks and a load of snacks. You know what I’m talking about. This is because of the first rule of grocery stores: Anything can happen when you are hungry.

Don’t try to remember. Without a list of the exact items you’ve come to purchase who knows what could happen? It’s normal for our brains to slip into neutral in the face of fabulous food. A written list is the crutch you need desperately to make sure you do not slip and fall, so to speak.

8 Ways to Build a Cash Stash

Saving money is a curious term with two meanings: 1) To spend less, as in “I buy things on sale to save money” and 2) To physically place money where it is safe from being spent.

Okay, that’s fine. But here’s the problem. It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that 1) and 2) are the same. They are not, unless of course you stop by the bank to deposit the difference between what you would have spent had the item not been on sale into your savings. That would be a clever way to boost your cash stash this year and at the same time adjust your mindset on what it really means to “saving money.” Here are eight more:

TAX YOURSELF. Determine right now that you will assess yourself a specific “tax” each time you make an ATM withdrawal. It might be $5 or $10, you decide. Whatever the amount, make sure you become a tough tax collector. No slacking, no IOUs.

IMPOSE A MORATORIUM. Select a specific denomination of currency, like the $1 or $5 bill that you will no longer spend, but save instead. Forbid yourself, and get very strict. Why not go with the $5? Your stash will grow so much faster if you absolutely refuse to spend any Abe Lincolns.

HOARD COUPON SAVINGS. Starting today, here’s the plan: When you grocery shop, ask the clerk to total your order and then pay for it. Then hand her the coupons and watch your total plummet. Since you’ve already paid, the clerk should hand back the cash equal to your coupon savings. If available, open a savings account at the bank branch located in the super-market. It’s easy to stop on your way out to make a savings deposit—even if it’s small. It all adds up.

RACK UP REBATES. They’re coming back in a big way as retailers want to make their products appear cheaper without actually reducing the price. They offer a rebate, knowing full well only a small percentage of consumers who buy the item will ever carry through. No matter how small the rebate or complicated the process, promise you will not be among the lazy bunch. Apply for, follow up and then stash those rebates as they arrive!

DRINK WATER. Pay yourself a bonus, like a dollar or two each time you eat out and opt for water instead of a pricey beverage. Don’t be a slacker in your obligation to pay up. And remember, no IOUs allowed.

MAKE A SWITCH. Opt to exercise outdoors instead of paying a gym fee. Or, determine you’ll ride the subway instead of jumping into a cab. Identify a name brand you will leave on the shelf this year in favor of its store brand equivalent. Then stash what you would have spent.

GIVE IT UP. Pick one thing that you will sacrifice for a specific period of time, like the coming year. Just cut it out. Stash the amount you would have spent on whatever it is—regular manicures, French fries, gourmet coffee, cigarettes—into your savings container or account. You could always do your own manicures, swear off the junk food, or brew your own coffee. As for that smoking habit, just imagine all the dough for your stash if you give that up.

TRICK YOURSELF. Whenever you write a check or take an ATM withdrawal, record the amount rounded up, to say the next dollar in your checkbook registry. Then deduct that amount from the balance. At the end of the month, reconcile and stash the “oops!” overage.

7 Places to Look for Free Money

Recently, I read about a guy who has a hobby of looking for money in gutters, parking lots and other public places—and keeps a running tab. He routinely goes over $100 in a year. Not bad! Just imagine if he knew about other places that harbor free money just for the taking.

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VENDING MACHINES. Start paying attention to vending machine coin return compartments. Luckily, most of them are clear plastic so you can see into them without getting down and reaching to feel around. Winter is the best time to clean up on coins as people are often wearing gloves and don’t feel the coins they leave behind.

JUNK JEWELRY. Toured your jewelry box lately? Gather up all of the broken chains, mateless earrings, bracelets, rings—all of that gold from the ‘80s that you don’t wear anymore. If it’s at least 10k gold, it’s like cash. Go in person to three jewelry stores to see what they’ll pay you for it, then go with the highest bid. Never mail your junk gold to a “gold dealer,” and be wary of the popular gold parties.

PENSION FUNDS. If you or a family member worked for a company with a pension plan and were terminated because the company went bankrupt or was bought out by another company, you may be eligible to receive benefits from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). Last year, PBGC held $133 million in unclaimed benefits for 32,000 people. That averages nearly $4,200 per person. To see if you have anything coming your way, search the PBGC database, https://search.pbgc.gov. “Finding a Lost Pension,” may also be helpful.

Get the Maximum Burning Hours from Candles Plus Other Great Tips

Am I the only one who didn’t know that there’s a definite protocol for how to burn  jar and pillar candles? I’ve made an ugly mess of so many candles in my life—only to toss them out long before their time.

But no more because I’ve learned the secret to keeping large candles looking good and  functional right down to the last bit.

group of candles for the holidays

HOUR-PER-INCH RULE. Although it is absolutely counterintuitive, the fact is that burning a pillar or jar candle for at least one hour per inch of diameter each time you light up will give the candle many more burning hours over time. This way, the flame has enough time to melt the wax all the way to the outer edges so the whole candle burns down efficiently. Each time you cut short a burning session, the flame only burns the wax in the center, which wastes the outer wax at that level.

HOTEL TRAVEL TIP. If you’ve ever left something behind in a hotel room, you are going to love this tip. Make this the first thing you do when you walk in your room: Take a hand towel from the bathroom and spread it out on the desk or other counter top in the room. This becomes the de facto place for all of your things that you have a place for at home. Put your room key on the towel, your car keys, sunglasses, rechargers, wallet—everything. Now every thing is visible in one spot, rather than scattered about the room. As you come and go, return these items to their place on the towel. When you’re ready to check out, no searching, nothing left behind.

NONFOOD BARGAINS.  Do not buy nonfood items at the grocery store. Items like paper goods, garbage bags and cleaning supplies can all be purchased for lower prices at discount stores like Target, Walmart or Kmart. Grocery stores only sell them thinking the convenience of buying these items at the same time you buy your food will make you not mind spending twice as much.

Foolproof Plan for Saving $10,000

The most important thing you can do to make your personal economy strong is to have an umbrella—a Contingency Fund with at least enough money to pay all of your bills for three to six months without a paycheck. Call it $10,000.

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SAVE 10% OF YOUR PAYCHECK. It may sound like a lot, so if you can’t do 10, start with 5% or even 1% percent and build up. Deposit the money automatically into your Contingency Fund; you won’t miss what you don’t see in the first place. Okay, you’ll miss it for the first few weeks, but soon you really will not miss it.

GET RID OF NON ESSENTIALS. Give up the little things, such as cable TV, eating out, gym membership and entertainment.

CUT VARIABLE EXPENSES. You can’t cut off your utilities, stop eating or give up driving. But you can reduce the cost of the food, energy and fuel you buy. Opt for the cheapest supermarket and gas station. Turn out the lights; run only full appliances.

QUIT SMOKING. This suggestion requires no explanation. Although it does beg the question, who can even afford to smoke these days? At about $7 for a pack of smokes (U.S. average) that’s a $2,555-a-year habit. And in New York City it’s double that. Yeah, $14 a pack.

STOP PAYING BANK FEES.  If you’re paying a $7.95 (or higher) per month fee for the privilege of maintaining an account, stop! Open an account at an online bank (they pay better interest rates anyway), like Ally Bank, that doesn’t charge a monthly maintenance fee for checking or savings accounts. Or check with a local credit union for free personal checking accounts. Some banks even offer free business accounts.

PULL BACK.  Stop sending more money than required each month to your credit-card companies, mortgage lender or any other creditor. It’s admirable that you’re being diligent in repaying the debts, but if you continue to do this while living without money in the bank, you’ll be setting yourself up to fall even deeper in debt.

CLEAN OUT. Take a look through your cupboards and closets. Identify everything you haven’t used in the past six months. Turn what you don’t need into cash on a website like eBay or Craigslist or hold a yard sale. Or donate to an IRS qualified chartiable organization and take a tax deduction for each item’s fair market value when you itemize your federal tax return. You’ll maximize your deduction (which means you’ll reduce the amount of tax you owe) with “Money For Your Used Clothing,” a certified and guaranteed workbook that helps you determine the highest market values that the IRS will allow. You can order online or call 800 550-3502 Mon.-Fri., 8:30-5 MT.

ADJUST WITHHOLDINGS. Use the 2016 Federal Withholding Tax Calculator to make sure you aren’t having too much or too little income tax withheld from your pay.

INCREASE YOUR INCOME. Get a second job. Or third. Work more hours at your current one. Get creative by making money doing things you already love to do, like dog walking or selling handmade items.

GIVE UP YOUR LANDLINE. Over 38 percent of American adults have given up their land-based telephone service. Are you in that group? If not, why not? Basic service costs at least $25 per month in most markets.

TAKE YOUR LUNCH TO WORK. Have you figured out what you’re spending per year on eating lunch out? At $10 a day, you’re spending $2,500 after-tax dollars on lunch. Just think of all the dinner leftovers you throw out that could easily be tomorrow’s lunch.

STOP AT THE MATCH. If you are contributing to a retirement account like a 401(k) or 403(b), don’t stop now, but limit your contribution to the amount your employer matches. Ask your employer how to adjust your contribution. Once you have save to your goal, you can always change your contribution again.

The Wonders of Hydrogen Peroxide

A few days ago I got a message, which reminded me about wonders of an ordinary product most people have somewhere in the house.

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I had a cut on my hand that opened up while I was putting my expensive duvet cover (recent wedding gift!) on my comforter, now I have blood stains where I touched it. Is there any hope to getting these stains out completely? I tried using a carpet cleaning solution and washing it but, those stains remain. I’m worried these stains will be there permanently. Thanks so much for your help! Georgia

I responded immediately, directing Georgia to soak the stains with full-strength hydrogen peroxide, In hopes that she’d not set those stains forever. I heard back quickly. The hydrogen peroxide lightened the stains almost immediately, and within hours they disappeared completely. See what I mean? The stuff is downright wonderful.

Hydrogen peroxide is as harmless as it is powerful both as a household cleaner and all around remedy. It is non-toxic, safe, really cheap and available in any grocery or drug store in a food grade 3% dilution. It’s a wonderful cleaning product and reliable sanitizer. 

How to Unshrink Wool and Other Highly Useful Tips and Tricks

You know that beautiful sweater you accidentally laundered with the kids play clothes—and now looks as though it was made for your toddler. Today I have a trick for you for how you may be able to unshrink it back to its original size, shape and glory—plus a few more equally useful tips.

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UNSHRINK WOOL. Mix a solution of one gallon lukewarm water and two tablespoons baby shampoo. Soak the shrunken garment for about ten minutes. Now the important part: Don’t rinse! Simply blot out all the excess water with a dry towel and very gently lay it flat on a fresh towel. Reshape slowly and carefully stretch it back to its original size. Dry out of direct sunlight or heat. This tip comes from the Wool Bureau who verifies this technique will work provided the fibers have not become permanently damaged.

LOST SAVINGS BONDS. Can’t find them anywhere? Provided you have a fairly accurate memory, you may be able to get the bonds replaced. The Bureau of Public Debt, the branch of the U.S. Treasury Department that issues all the various types of bonds and treasury notes, has come up with a simple system for replacing bonds. First you will need to get Form PDF1048. Fill in the approximate issue date along with your complete name (as it was then), address and Social Security number and if possible the bond serial numbers. Whomever gave them to you may have recorded those numbers so keep looking. Once the form is processed the Bureau will issue you a new set of certificates. You can get the form by writing to: Bureau of Public Debt, Parkersburg, WV 26106. Visit the Bureau’s website at www.publicdebt.treas.gov for more information. If you should find the original bonds in the future, don’t try to cash them. When new ones are issued, those originals will be cancelled.