Who Else Wants to Slash Their Phone Bill?

I just read about a woman in Philadelphia who decided to go over her parents’ phone bill only to discover they were paying $21 a month for three leased telephones—one of which they’d tossed out years ago.

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The daughter figured they’d been paying this monthly amount since the mid 1980s—more than $6,000 to rent phones.

It gets worse.

In order to cancel the lease, they had to pay an additional fee for not returning the phone they’d thrown away.

Up until 1982, AT&T had a monopoly on telephones. They wouldn’t sell them—only lease them to customers for a few dollars a month. Then the government stepped in and AT&T was broken up into regional companies. Suddenly, phones were cheap and available for purchase. Thirty years later, not everyone has taken advantage of the option to buy their phones rather than rent them. This company says they still service 300,000 leasing customers.

Failure to keep up with technology cost this family $6,000. What’s it costing you? I’m not talking only about phones either. What is your monthly phone service and long-distance calling plan costing?

Enough With the Excuses, Already!

Are flimsy contrivances keeping you stuck in a big-debt, small-savings situation? It’s easy to find excuses that let you off the hook but it’s only a temporary reprieve. One excuse just leads to another and another and eventually to a way of life. Perhaps it’s time to explode your excuses.

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Excuse: I don’t have time to learn to manage my money.

The truth is we all have time to do what matters most to us. It makes no sense for you to work as hard as you do only to end up with no solid assets to show for it.

Excuse: I can’t stick with a budget.

Perhaps you’ve been trying to cram yourself into a budget that doesn’t fit. Here’s the way to create a plan that will fit you perfectly: For the next 30 days, keep a written record of every dime you spend. At the end of a month categorize your spending including a total for each. Now multiply each by 12 to see what you will spend in a year if you keep this up. No one will have to point out the problems once you have the truth right there in black and white. You’ll see immediately where you need to make adjustments. Now look for ways to reduce every area of spending by a little bit. Continue tracking your spending, adjusting where necessary to get it below your income. It takes time to get a spending plan just right, so be patient and don’t give up.

Solving the Breakfast Dilemma

Mom was right. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Medical research says we cannot afford to miss it for many reasons:

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1. People who lose weight and keep it off are breakfast eaters.

2. People who eat breakfast are better equipped to fight off colds and flu.

3. Breakfast boosts metabolism all day and fires up your brain cells for faster, clearer thinking.

Breakfast guidelines:

Eat when you can but within two hours of waking.

Eat what you enjoy. You are more likely to create a lifelong habit if it’s something you enjoy.

Have “grab and go” breakfast items available that are healthy, tasty and affordable.

Clean Up the Cloudy Headlight Covers

Well, you’ve done it again! You clever readers have come up with another batch of fabulous ways that you save time and money every day.

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AUTO CLEANER. Use plain old baking soda on a damp rag to remove bugs, tar and anything else from your vehicle. Works great, even on the grill and chrome work. Leaves no residue or odor and won’t harm the paint. I just make a paste with baking soda and water, clean away and just rinse off. Works better than any commercial product I’ve tried. This method even cleans away the cloudy film on headlight covers. Bud

CUSTOM FLOOR MATS. I wanted floor mats for our mini-van so I stopped by our local car dealership. Boy, was I floored (pardon the pun). I checked a discount department store and while their mats were priced more reasonably, they didn’t fit well. I found a perfect solution by buying clear plastic runner material that is available by the yard at the home improvement center. With a utility knife I customized the fit around the seat hardware. This saved a lot of money and works beautifully. Judith

FRIDGE DEODORIZER. Used coffee grinds can eliminate even the worst refrigerator odors. I store kimchee (Korean pickled cabbage with a distinct odor) in my refrigerator regularly and I don’t smell it anymore! Simply take out the used coffee filter with the coffee grinds in it and place it in your refrigerator in an open container. It works better than baking soda or any other commercial remedy. I’ve tried them all. Just replace the coffee grinds when they dry up. Jay

Gadgets to Keep You Powered Up

It’s hard to imagine how we’d live our lives without all of the electronic devices we’ve come to depend on. I’m talking about everything from mobile phones to portable computers, tablets, MP3 players, GPS trackers and eReaders, too. And it’s not just an adult thing. My 5-year old grandson has his own bevy of things that need to be powered including his LeapFrog LeapPad and LeapFrog LeapBand (amazing learning devices, by the way).

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The challenge is more than staying powered while on the run. The trick is to keep electronic devices fully charged and ready to go. The more people in the household, the greater the challenge and greater potential for a big fat mess.

The best way to make sure you’re always powered up and ready to go it to make charging convenient. Not necessarily expensive, but well-thought out.

Today I thought I’d give you a quick tour of the charging tools I depend on and wouldn’t be without.

Like Fourth Grade All Over Again

I’m not sure why I loved fourth grade so much. Maybe it was because my teacher was extra pretty and her name was Mrs. Hunt (who could’ve guessed?). Or that I sat behind Rick Collier voted by all the girls to be the cutest in the entire universe.

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For sure it had something to do with “My Weekly Reader,” our very own kid-size newspaper that showed up on our desks after recess every Friday. I have to hand it to the genius who came up with that idea. We had no idea we were learning important current events and other stuff that would stay with us for a lifetime. Like Roy G. Biv. I swear I’ll never forget that guy.

No Friday in the fourth grade was complete without a few fun facts, not unlike the following that I learned only recently about credit cards:

1. The very first credit card was introduced in 1946, named “Charge-It.” The catch was that a user had to have an account at the Flatbush National Bank of New York and purchases could be made only locally. Technically, it was a charge card, because the bill had to be paid in full at the end of each month.

2. The reason credit cards expire is because the magnetic strip gets a lot of abuse and needs to be replaced. A magnetic strip is good for only about 3 to 4 years of swiping. 

Steps to Follow if You’re Out of a Job

These days it’s practically inevitable that you or someone you know will face a period of unemployment. Here are six practical tips every unemployed person should keep in mind while searching for a new job:

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Don’t take it personally. Losing a job can cause shame, humiliation, and embarrassment. You may feel depressed and lose your confidence. Yes, it’s a very stressful time, but don’t take it personally. Thousands and thousands of people have lost their jobs in this economy. Don’t hibernate, and be good to yourself. If you need it, seek emotional counseling. Let your friends and family be there for you. Remember, time heals everything. This too will pass.

Collect your benefits. You may have unemployment benefits, a lump-sum payout from your ex-employer, a severance package and options regarding health insurance.

Unemployment compensation protects workers against job loss by providing temporary income support to people who become unemployed through no fault of their own. Find out exactly what you qualify for and the limitations and rules regarding each benefit.

The U.S. Department of Labor website has a handy list of all unemployment offices in each state. Standing in line at the unemployment office is a thing of the past. States now allow you to apply online or over the telephone. Generally it takes two to three weeks from the time you file your claim to receive your first benefit check, so do not 

When Life Happens

Dear Mary: I’m in a quandary. I can’t see the forest for the trees. By some coincidence, my washing machine died this month after my having babied it for 18 months. Within a week, my dishwasher, refrigerator, and screen door all announced they were on their last legs.

On top of that, a pipe burst and water leaked for weeks underneath my yard till we got a $670 water bill. A plumber ripped up the yard and fixed the leak ($450), and the Dept of Water and Power gave me a bill for $220 (a usual water bill is $45). Two days ago in the rain storm, my car wouldn’t start. Turns out water got into the hybrid battery which may cost $5000 to replace. Property taxes are due next week.

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I have paid off one credit card, am existing on the other, and my Contingency Fund is nowhere near able to handle the cumulative disaster that has become my life. I managed to pay the property taxes, but I’m not sure how to prioritize or what to do next. It’s so overwhelming, I feel paralyzed.

It’s so surreal that all of this has happened in such a short period of time. I have one dollar and some change in my purse. Do you have some advice for me? I need some structure and a light at the end of the tunnel. I still have a young teenager at home I need to provide for. Thanks in advance for your wisdom. Amy