Thursday, June 16, 2011

Guest Post: Release Your Equity With a Reverse Mortgage

A reverse mortgage is a mortgage loan taken out with your own property used as security and the amount loaned not having to be repaid until your death or if the house is to be sold before that time. The mortgage provider will hand the money over at the beginning of the loan which will attract compound interest from that day on although no repayments will be required while you remain alive or if you wish to dispose of the property beforehand. If there is any money left over following the event of your death and the property being sold, the excess amount will be distributed among your beneficiaries. If on the other hand you decide to sell the home you will need to satisfy the mortgage debt in the usual way before any remaining monies can be distributed.

The three main characteristics that make a reverse mortgage different from other types of mortgages are:

  • There are no mandatory payments required until what is known as certain 'trigger' events take place. These trigger events include your death or that of your spouse or partner if their life outlasts your own, the earlier sale of the property, your leaving the property or a breach of the contract occurs.
  • There is no fixed term as there is in a normal home loan as a reverse mortgage lasts until the death of the surviving owner or one of the other 'trigger' events occur.
  • Interest is charged and compounded over the life of the loan.
Eligible applicants will be allowed to borrow up to a limited amount against the security of the property as long as it is your primary residence, although there are circumstances when a reverse mortgage can be arranged with a non-owner occupied property being accepted as security. The beauty of such a loan is that you will never be in default due to not making any repayments other than breaking one or more of the conditions that will be imposed such as not maintaining the property in a satisfactory manner. If the property does fall into disrepair the lender will have the right to carry out the maintenance that is required and have the cost charged to the balance of the loan. Factors Determining Eligibility for a Reverse Mortgage A reverse mortgage loan applicant must be able to satisfy the following requirements:
  • Be at least 60 years old, in most cases, and where there is more than the one borrower the youngest determines the age eligibility.
  • The amount that will be loaned will depend on the lender's own policy. This is usually calculated by taking into account the applicants age, as the older the applicant the larger the amount available to be borrowed.
  • Another factor will be the value of the property itself as the more valuable the larger the size of the loan also. The loan to value ratio (LVR) will refer to the amount advanced against the value of the property, the maximum LVR is commonly around 50 percent or lower.
  • The minimum amount can be as low as $10,000 or any other specified amount.
  • If there is an existing mortgage held over the property it must first be repaid in full as the reverse mortgage provider has to own the only mortgage being secured by the property.
  • The property will need to be valued on a periodic basis with the cost either borne by yourself or added to the loan amount.
  • The location of the property may also be a factor.
The interest rate charged for a reverse mortgage is usually a little more than the accepted standard rate at the time. It is normally accrued daily and allocated to the home loan account on a monthly basis, in other words it is compounded, meaning the debt increases considerably the longer it runs. For instance if you were to borrow an amount of $30,000 at an interest rate of 8.5 percent and a monthly account keeping fee of $10, in 10 years times the debt will have grown to $71,860. This also assumes the interest rate remains constant over that time. Other costs are also incurred such as the application fee and if these are added to the amount being borrowed they too will be subjected to compound interest. If you wish you can arrange the loan to be paid to you in the manner of a regular income. You can have this done through a line of credit being established or receive small regular draw downs. You will not be charged any interest on the portion of the loan you haven't used. Of course if you wish to take a lump sum payment you can but the interest will begin on whatever amount you draw down on. A reverse mortgage can be a quite useful way of turning your equity into cash at the time you need it the most. After you have retired and no longer earning an income, especially if you haven't any savings or superannuation to fall back on.

This article was written by John from Home Loan Finder.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Never Waste a Teabag


This is a story of progressive frugality. One learns as one goes along.

I have always used teabags twice when possible to save money; that's nothing new. One day as I was about to toss a twice-used teabag into the garbage, I happened to think that the string might be useful for something. Granted, it was a short piece of string, but I thought several could be tied together to use... well, to tie things together or something. With no more thought than that, I started saving them until I had a handful, then sat down and tied them together and wound them into a small ball.

I could almost say "end of story" and stop there, except that I was cleaning out a shelf and found an old dust mop cover (a real dust mop, for those of you who think they are disposable) that I had made from a skein of unwanted cotton yarn. I wondered if I could ever get enough teabag strings together to make another one. (Yes, I still have the same dust mop from at least 20 years ago.)

Why not? So I started saving teabag strings without tying them together and now I have a pretty big handful.

Then, one day, again as I was about to toss a used, now stringless, teabag, I happened to think that, since I throw looseleaf tea onto the compost, I could just as well throw teabags on the compost. Eventually I discovered that the bags take a lot longer to decompose than I wanted to wait. Next step: Let each teabag dry so I could rip off the end and dump the tea out. Now there was only the tag and the empty teabag to throw away.

I did this for awhile, then, as my mind slowly progressed to more frugal ways of looking at teabags, one day I decided to see if I could save an empty teabag to reuse. I could. I cut a narrow strip across the top of the teabag and dumped the contents out. The teabag seam stayed crimped. Now all I have to do is put my own tea, herbal or otherwise, into the teabag, fold it again and staple it at the top, just like it came originally.

So now the process goes like this: One teabag, used for two cups of tea, go on a clip on the stove where it can dry thoroughly. Once it's dry, which takes a couple of days, I take it down, pull the string off (still don't have enough for a dust mop cover) and cut carefully across the top. I then empty the dried tea leaves into a container, fold the teabag and put it away with the others, to be used as the summer produces herbal tea material. Eventually, I empty the container into the compost and start over.

Now I'm trying to come up with some way to fasten the teabags without having to use staples. Glue either isn't safe to imbibe or dissolves in boiling water, so that's out. Any other ideas?

EDITED: I went ahead and used staples and made teabags from loose dried hibiscus flowers. It worked very well! I will continue to save teabags! :)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

KIP week

Do you knit? This week (June 12 - 18) is the worldwide "Knitting in Public" week. Take your yarn and needles with you to the bus stop, the doctor's office, a concert, a picnic... wherever you happen to be in public. Let them know that knitting is not a dying art! Some people make it a demonstration, knitting on the library lawn or in front of a yarn shop, in a shopping mall and so on. Get some knitting friends together and have a "knit-in."

Frugal? It can be. Reuse yarn, buy at super sales and be creative with what you have.

Related posts and articles:


Mug rugs and quick gifts - A free pattern and some frugal thoughts about it

Frugal toasty toes - Recycle an entire sweater to keep your feet warm this coming winter.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Guest Post: How to Can Garden Produce

By Bailey Harris. Bailey writes for www.insurancequotes.org.

If you are worried about your family eating fresh and healthy foods on a budget, you may want to consider growing and canning your own garden produce. At first, the thought of canning your own foods may seem a little overwhelming, but the process is actually very straightforward and easy.

Supplies Needed for Canning Produce

Before you can begin canning your own garden produce, you will need to be sure that you have all the correct supplies. At first it may seem quite expensive, but many of your supplies can be reused. Supplies that will be needed include a recipe, canning salt, canning jars, new lids, new rings, a stainless steel funnel, jar lifters, and either a pressure canner or a boiling water bath canner. You will also need a fairly large workspace and a couple of hours of time

Pressure Canning vs. Water Bath Canning

When you are canning your own food, it is very important to heat it to the correct temperature. This will kill all of the bacteria that can grow and make your canned food unhealthy. If you are canning foods that have a high acid content, such as tomatoes, fruits, or pickles, you may use the boiling water bath method. This method is very simple and inexpensive. If you are canning foods that are not high in acid content, such as vegetables or meat, you will need to use a pressure canner. A pressure canner may seem a little pricey, but it is usually a onetime purchase that will last many years.

Cooling and Testing the Jars

Once you have heated your canned items to the correct temperature, using either the water bath or pressure canning method, you will need to let your jars completely cool. This can be done by simply letting your jars sit on the counter, at room temperature, for 12 to 24 hours. Once they have cooled, you will want to check that the lids are sealed. To test the lids, simply press down in the middle of the lid, if it does not move it is properly sealed. If the lid moves then it is not properly sealed and should be placed in the refrigerator and eaten before it spoils.

Storing Canned Produce

Once your produce has been canned and cooled, it must be labeled, dated, and stored. It is best to store your canned produce in a clean, cool, dry, and dark place. Try to keep your canned goods away from direct light, this can cause discoloration. Most canned foods should be used within one year. Canned items start to lose flavor, texture, color, and nutrients if they sit on the shelf for more than one year.

Growing your own garden and canning your own produce can be a fun and economical way to spend some great time together as a family. It can be very rewarding to see, eat, and enjoy the canned produce knowing that everyone in the family had some part in making it and that you did it together.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Saving pennies and making pennies with rewards programs

Or nickels or dimes or dollars. Or even tens of dollars and occasionally hundreds of dollars. I'm talking about the rewards programs and the "get paid to" programs on the internet. The chances are that you can make at a minimum enough to pay for your internet connection.

Some pay cash, some pay in gift certificates to various sites and stores and still others pay in "prizes," where you choose what you want (like shopping) and then you work toward having enough points or tokens or whatever they call them.

If you have a few moments online, why not try them? This is the other side to saving money where we can: Making money where we can. The only thing it takes is a computer with internet access. To get cash, many of the sites require you to have a Paypal account and you'll have to have a physical address and an email address and that's about it.

Here are some of the programs that I like best:

MyPoints - This is one of the oldest and best established programs on the internet. They send emails usually worth 5 points each. You simply click on the link provided and you're immediately credited. Besides that, you can earn by going to the site and clicking on the "Easy Points" link in the navigation bar. There are various offers and videos in that section. You also earn when you buy things through them. There is an enormous list of companies on the site, but you must start on the MyPoints site to get credit. Download their "toolbar" which is a search bar, and you will get credit for searches each month. They started at 75 searches and I can't remember how many points you got for that, but last month (May), they gave me 400 points for 153 searches. They will send an email alerting you to the search requirements each month, usually mid month, so use their search bar anyway. It isn't the greatest search function, but it's getting better.

Mypoints offers a very long list of gift cards that you can get, from Amazon to Walmart. They have recently begun paying cash through Paypal, too.

Swagbucks - New on the scene, but robust and fun, too. You can make points by searching, through which points are randomly given. About every other search will get you points, anywhere from six to thirty. The lower amounts are more common, of course. Make points also by checking the home page where there is sometimes a video to watch for a couple of points. Offers of various kinds will get you points, including free sign ups and things you might do anyway. Also, watch "Swagbucks TV" but only if you have something else to do while it's running. You get three points for 10 clips. Some of them are less than a minute, but some run far longer. If you're reading your email, start up the Swagbucks TV and check it every so often. I read somewhere that you can make up to 75 points each day through the TV, but I've never got that far! They also give out codes, which are kind of hidden and hard to find until you get the hang of it.

Swagbucks has all kinds of rewards, from cash to gift certificates to merchandise and donations to charities. You can rack up the Amazon gift certificates quickly (well, quickly for this type of program).


I do several more, mostly depending on how much time I have and the mood I'm in, but these three are my favorites. They make take some time, but they're an easy way to get a little more cash or merchandise. If you spend wisely, you can use them to save money. For instance, I recently ordered a cable modem and paid with Amazon gift certificates, at least half from rewards programs. I will save the $7 fee that Comcast charges for renting their modem. That's money saved all around.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Powdered sugar and popcorn salt

One of the best things we can do for ourselves and our budgets is to cook more and more from scratch. When I say "make my own" any more, I truly mean make my own, as in salad dressings, bread, powdered sugar and popcorn salt.

Powdered sugar is quick and easy if you have a blender. Just put table sugar in it and blend until it's a powder. It won't be as light as commercial powdered sugar unless you add a little cornstarch. The cornstarch is to keep it from clumping after it sets for awhile, but if you make just enough for what you need at the time, you don't have to waste cornstarch.

And the popcorn salt is easy, too. A coffee mill works after a fashion but a blender does a better job. Don't overdo it. Use short pulses and check it every couple or three times. If the salt is too fine, you can easily over salt the popcorn.

There are lots of things to make from scratch and the more ways you use, the more money you save.

Friday, May 20, 2011

I did it!

How many times have I tried to make crackers that were crispy just like the kind you buy? Answer: Lots! I lost count of how many times I've tried, but finally I took a recipe and made it my way and it worked.

The recipe called for a cup of butter, milk, vinegar and baking soda, then salt. As I was putting it together, I realized that plain buttermilk would substitute for all the ingredients except for the baking soda and salt. The first batch turned out good, but not crisp. So here's what I did:

To 2 cups of flour, add a half teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon of baking powder and a half teaspoon of baking soda. Mix it up, then add enough thick buttermilk to make a dough that can be handled on a floured board. Roll it out as thin as you can. I wound up using a pasta machine made for rolling noodle dough. I put the rolled out dough on a parchment paper on a cookie sheet, scored and lightly salted it, then baked at 275 for somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes.

Voila! Crackers. Finally.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Free books?

Reading is one of my passions, but being frugal, I don't like to spend money on books, magazines or even a newspaper. I can catch the news on the computer and read plenty of articles and magazine-like content online, but nothing is quite like stretching out on the couch with a good book, or tucking one in my purse to read while in the doctor's waiting room.

One way I've found to get good, free reading material is to trade with others. All of my kids love to read and two of them are here in town, so we trade books now and then. Although we don't always read the same kind of material, we now and then find one that we all enjoy.

How else to get free reading material? How about checking with a local Freecycle? Another way is to take some of your books to a used book store that will give you credit toward other books.

Yes, you can print books from online sources, but ink and paper are not free. There are a few places where you can trade books online, but postage is not free, either. I'm open to any ideas that anyone has on how to get more free reading material.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Checking in...

I've been out of commission lately due to surgery so I apologize for not updating this blog personally. I am grateful for guest posts that allowed it to continue somewhat. Some of these guest writers are pretty good!

But everything else aside, it seems to be a time of disaster or potential disaster. For everyone affected by the severe weather in the south, my heart is with you. It's so frightening to see nature become violent.

Wednesday, April 27, marked another tragedy in that David Wilkerson, author of "The Cross and the Switchblade" and "The Vision" and the founder of the NY Times Square Church, died in a head on accident. The tragedy is as much in the fact that his passing was mostly ignored by the media, yet this man did more to change more lives than any politician has in centuries.

More and more it seems like we're living on the edge. I've been checking over my "bug out bag" and looking at emergency supplies. Earthquakes, tornadoes, personal tragedies... we can't control them, but we can be aware and prepared as much as possible.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Guest Post: Five Tips for Mother's Day Shopping

If you're looking for great Mother's Day gift deals because you don't want to spend a fortune, the good news is – you don't have to. Following a few savvy shopping tips can help you land the best gifts at the best price. Here are five of those savvy shopping tips to help you get started.

1. Shop Clearance Sections
Clearance sections can be treasure troves of discounted items. Retailers will slash prices on old stock to make room for new. Some prices can be discounted by 75% or more off retail prices so this is definitely a do-not-miss area to check out.

2. Shop Ebay
You can find almost anything you're looking for on Ebay. Most Ebay sellers offer items at a cost far below retail value. Ebay isn't just for used items. You can find plenty of brand new items as well so it's worth checking out.

3. Gift Certificates
Even though a gift certificate may seem like an impersonal gift, there really are some great deals on them out there if you know where to look. Websites like Groupon will offer gift certificates to local area merchants at 50% or more off the retail value. For instance, a $100 gift certificate to a local spa may sell for $50 on Groupon – but you can still redeem it for $100 in services.

4. Book Trips Well In Advance
If you want to send your mom on a trip for Mother's Day, booking the accommodations months in advance will ensure that you get the best deal. Cruise lines, for instance, offer a savings of several hundred dollars off the price of a cruise if booked between certain dates. It doesn't have to coincide with Mother's Day. She can take the trip any time.

5. Err On The Side of Practicality
Instead of wracking your brain trying to think of something your mom might want, need or use – find out straight from her. Maybe she's been wanting her sewing machine repaired. Maybe the oil in her car needs changing. Maybe she wants to replace the curtains in her bedroom or buy new bedding. There may be something you can do for her that she wants and/or needs and it could cost considerably less than what you planned to spend anyway.

Todd is a writer for Dealio.com

Friday, April 15, 2011

Guest Post: Looking for a Cheap Mode of Transportation?

Due to the prohibitive prices of cars and gasoline, people all over the world are looking for cheaper ways to get around. Let's take a look at some practical (and not so practical) inexpensive modes of transportation.

Bullock Cart

Bullock carts have been used for transportation since ancient times in many parts of the world. People still use them today in areas where cars are too expensive or there isn't appropriate infrastructure for cars. They're still widely used in Malaysia, for example. The bullock cart is powered by one or several bulls. Did you know that in Mumbai the number of bullock carts registered in the city went up by 770 percent from from 2008 to 2009? Chances are you didn't!

Instead of buying an expensive 2011 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class automobile (MSRP $110,400, MPG - 11 city/17 highway), consider purchasing a 1200-pound Angus bull for about $2,500. If you're handy, make your own cart, buy some wooden wheels, and remember to stay off the freeways.

Auto Rickshaw

An auto rickshaw is a motorized, three-wheeled version of a traditional rickshaw. The popular air-cooled scooter has a two-stroke engine, with handle bar controls instead of a steering wheel. Originating from Thailand, auto rickshaws are widely used all over Asia. An Indian-made auto rickshaw typically gets 82 miles per gallon! They have a top speed of about 31 mph, so, again, stay off the freeways.

Llama Carts

If you and your llama are interested in getting a llama cart, there's an instructional video available that shows you how to train your llama to properly pull it. According to one expert (yes, there are experts on this subject), not all llamas are suited for pulling a llama cart.

Sacco-Cart

Let your dog take you places in a dryland sacco cart! You probably shouldn't try this with a chihuahua.

Bus

Alright, time to get into some more practical alternatives! Buses are a cheap mode of transportation used all over the world. If you live and work in or near a city, buses or other modes of public transportation can bring you just about anywhere you'll need to go.

Scooter

Scooters get a whopping 80 mpg or higher. A small 50cc scooter gets 100 miles per gallon and costs about $750. It has a top speed of about 40 miles per hour. A 150cc scooter averages about 70 miles per gallon, can go 60 miles per hour, and costs about $1500. You might feel silly riding one around town, but they are very cost efficient alternatives to cars.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) reports that in 2008 it cost approximately 54 cents per mile to drive a medium size sedan, including gas. This number was based on a gas price of $3 per gallon, which seems like a bargain right now. Mike Mount, a spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Council, mentioned that it costs about 30 cents per mile to ride a scooter. Also, scooter insurance is significantly less than car insurance.

Motorcycle

According to Allstate Insurance, the average motorcycle rider reports getting just over 56 miles per gallon, with some getting over 100. Automobile drivers, on the other hand, report an average of 22.4 miles per gallon. Also, on average, motorcycles cost less than cars. The list price of a Kawasaki KLR650, for example, is $6149 and it gets 60 miles to the gallon.

Bicycle

At a big box store, you can purchase a decent bicycle for about $100. At a store that specializes in bicycles, a good, comfortable hybrid bicycle costs between $300 and $600. You can cruise at about 10 to 15 miles per hour. Best of all, you won't have to worry about traffic jams anymore. A bike is a good alternative if your commute is minimal and you don't mind getting a little sweaty before work!

Electric Bike

After you start pedaling, turn the throttle and get a boost. You only have to pedal the bike lightly to keep it moving. U.S. law limits the speed of electric bikes to 20 mph, so in most states you won't need a special license, insurance, or registration. Some of the bikes using an internal combustion engine are powered without any need for pedaling.

According to eco.wheelz.com, it only costs $0.10 on average to fully charge a battery. Given that, it costs less than a penny per mile to ride an electric bike. Retail prices range form $600 to $1100.

There are a variety of cheap modes of transportation out there. A llama and llama cart can pay for themselves if you're interested in selling llama fiber yarn! If owning livestock isn't really your thing, however, there are other options out there!

Besides being an "expert" on goat and llama carts, Brady Daniels also knows motorcycles. He writes feature articles about them for  Motorcycle Insurance Quote.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Odds and ends

I was cleaning out a file the other day and came across some interesting tips that I'd forgotten about. I could have used them, too. It doesn't do much good to have a lot of tips and good ideas if you forget about them when you need them, so these are going in a more current file so I can find them. I'll pass them on and if you don't have them, you can figure out how to keep them handy, too. ;)

Brass polish: One tablespoon of salt, one tablespoon of flour and one tablespoon of white vinegar. Mix until smooth and rub on brass with a cloth, then wash with warm soapy water.

Aluminum polish: Rub aluminum with crumpled aluminum foil to polish

Silver cleaner: You'll need an aluminum pan, a tablespoon of salt and a teaspoon of baking soda. Mix the soda and salt in a gallon of hot water in the aluminum pan and put your silverware, silver jewelry or other items in it to soak until it's clean. If you have access to raw milk, you can soak silver in soured milk. Pasteurized milk won't work - it has to be real milk that's soured.

Waterproof your leather boots or shoes with petroleum jelly. Rub it in and let it set overnight, then wipe off any excess.

If you have hardwood floors, you can give them a quick shine by putting a piece of wax paper on your dust mop and going over them with it. (It may take more than one piece of wax paper!)

Keep your bathroom fixtures shining by wiping them with lamp oil. Dampen a rag, splash a little lamp oil (this is processed kerosene)on it and wipe the chrome fixtures with it. I know it sounds strange, but try it, it really works.

Have you ever tried any of these?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Why we will experience a food shortage

Beyond the extremists and the survivalists, beyond those wanting to sell emergency food supplies and beyond those who blame the government for everything, there is a vague feeling of unease about food that has the potential to grow as the situation becomes more ominous.

At the end of this list is another list of links to articles around the internet. I've tried to omit the doomsdayers and find the true facts, but if you have anything to add, please do so.

Here's why I think we will experience a serious food shortage:

1. Natural weather disasters have caused more food production shortfalls than usual. We've felt the repercussions before when coffee and sugar production fell due to weather, but this is more widespread. Drought, floods, freezes and cooler than average or hotter than average temperatures have had devastating effects on crops.

2. Banks are unwilling to loan to farmers for fertilizer, seed, etc. The economy is taking its toll on farms that work like businesses in that they borrow working capital each year and pay it off when the crop comes in. Banks are not loaning anyone much any more and this includes farmers.

3. Legislation is making it more and more difficult for the small farmer or backyard food marketer to sell their produce. This will affect farmer's markets and roadside stands and limit your choices.

4. Developing countries like China are demanding more and better quality food as their standard of living rises and individuals are better able to afford dairy and meat. This takes grain to grow, which may be in short supply. See numbers 1 and 2.

5. Some nations are halting food exports to try to keep their own prices within reason. This leaves less on the market for other nations who depend on them and drives the price up.

6. The ever worrisome biofuel situation chimes in. Land that was once producing corn for feeding out cattle and hogs is now being used to produce corn for biofuel. As legislation, global politics and disasters push the price of oil up, biofuel beckons farmers with promises of making more money than if they were growing food.

7. Just a suspicion but I am in no way alone in this: Food reserves are down. Grains, dairy and other food surpluses are held by the government and released as needed. Food prices are at record highs for many of the reasons listed above... where are the reserves? Either we're being lied to about them or they're being withheld for political reasons. I don't know which I'd rather believe.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why waste matches or a lighter?

Are you tired of passive solar ideas yet? Just one more...

A good magnifying glass is worth every penny. When you need to start a fire in a fire pit or campsite, use the magnifying glass to concentrate the sun's rays onto a piece of paper or dry leaves. It won't be long until a flame appears then you can add other fuel carefully.

If you have a fireplace or woodstove, you can even start a fire outside in the sun and bring it in. Just use a wide mouth metal container like an empty tuna can, poke a few holes around the sides for air flow and put the paper or other tinder in it. Use a cloth or create a handle of some sort to move the can of fire indoors.

It's no wonder that early religions worshiped the sun. We owe much to this ball of fire and we could use it a lot more than we do.

Monday, March 21, 2011

More about passive solar power

If you're into saving money, using as many solar powered ideas as you can find makes sense. It can be fun to find different ways to get the sun to do for us what we now pay to have done. If you haven't tried these, they're worth thinking about.


Passive solar powered oven
It took me a long time to decide to spring for a solar oven, but I'm glad I did, not only for the money it's saved, but for the pure pleasure of cooking a pan of cornbread or soup in it. The food is delicious and it never burns or dries out.

The concept is simple: A black box to absorb heat, a see-through cover to allow the sun in and to trap the heat as well as to keep the food safe from dirt, bugs and animals. There are many variations on the basic plan, from elaborate solar kettles to cardboard pizza boxes. Aluminum or mylar can help reflect even more sun rays into the box to raise the temperature a little more. You can cook anything from hotdogs to cake in the right solar oven. 

Passive solar powered dehydrator
A simple tray with a mesh bottom can be put together by almost anyone. Put the food on it, cover with a cloth and set or hang it in the sunshine, or use your car. Just be sure that the mesh is food safe. Window or door screen are not. You may find a plastic mesh that's food safe or look around at what you already have. It doesn't have to be "mesh" as such, just something flat that will allow some air circulation. I have used a mesh type of no splatter lid, and although it was small, it worked fine. The ridged part of a broiler, if it has holes, will work. If you can't find anything else, go ahead and use window or door screen, but cover it with a cloth before putting the food on it. Cloth itself, when it's stretched tightly onto a frame, is good to dry things on. Use your imagination.

Passive solar powered food warmer
Again, use your car. Put your food, wrapped like you would a sandwich or in a covered container, on the dash of your car when it's in the full sun. It won't be long until it's warm enough to eat. Use this method to save honey that's started to crystallize, to thaw frozen soups from the freezer and to melt butter or to melt chocolate for dipping or any time that you would use a double boiler. It may be a little slower, but it's cheaper by far.

Friday, March 18, 2011

There's passive solar and then there's passive solar...

And the most frugal is the latter.

Okay, I'll explain.

Passive solar power is usually used to produce heat for various applications, and indeed, heat can do a lot of things besides just heat your house. Unfortunately, most passive solar "systems" are expensive to obtain and install and it takes someone very handy to build their own system.

But of course, there's another way. It may not produce the dramatic results that a system does, and it may not be visible so that others can see how cool you are, but you may save just as much money with even more efficiency. Affordable passive solar power comes in many ways rather than one, and some of the ways might even be frowned upon by your neighbors. If you're ready to be a rebel with a cause (that of saving your bank balance), read on.

Passive solar powered ice tea maker
Fill a gallon glass jar or pitcher about half full of water, add three heaping tablespoons of loose tea or four to six teabags and set it on a slab of stone or dark cloth in a sunny location for several hours. That's all there is to it. If the tea is too strong, add water. Add sugar if desired. You'll save money hand over fist if you've been buying tea premade from the grocery store.

Passive solar powered water heater

This is a very affordable way to heat water. Put it into well washed milk jugs or other clear or semi clear containers and put them in a sunny place. In a few hours, you'll have water hot enough to wash dishes or wash your hair (or take a bath if you've put out enough containers). If you need convincing, just test the temperature of the water from a garden hose that's been in the sun all afternoon.

Passive solar powered clothes dryer

This was invented many years ago. In the traditional manner, two T-posts are set in the ground, usually about 20 feet apart, and wire or plastic line is strung from one to the other. You pin wet laundry to the line with clothespins and wait for it to dry. It works best when the sun is shining, of course and a breeze will hurry the result. The sun dries, kills pathogens with its ultraviolet rays and, given enough time, will whiten whites and remove stains.

Do you use the sun in these ways? It will save you money.

There are more ideas coming up, but share yours, please. Why not use passive solar power for all it's worth?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I keep saying it...

The situation in Japan should be seen as a warning. Emergencies often strike quickly, giving little to no time to prepare. We've seen the stories of runs on grocery stores when a hurricane or blizzard is forecast, but those are tame compared to fears of nuclear disaster in the aftermath of a huge earthquake and a monster tsunami.

Was it a once in a thousand years event? We don't know. Could it happen here? We don't know. Could other emergencies occur that would be at least locally as devastating? Yes. Here's a look at what could happen:

What Your Grocery Store Will Look Like in an Emergency

How's your food storage pantry coming along?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Painting and planting

I started doing a major paint job in the kitchen over the weekend. It's going to take all week to finish it (and maybe longer!), but it will be nice when it's done. The cabinets are made of press board and this is the first time they've been painted inside, so they take three coats of paint and a fourth touch up coat. That doesn't sound too bad, except that my kitchen is small so there isn't much room to put things that I take out of the cabinets.

That means it's one cabinet at a time, nearly an all day job for each. I take things out, wipe the cabinets down, paint inside and out, let it dry, paint again, let it dry, paint again, let it dry, touch up, let it dry... then put on fresh shelf paper and replace things. THEN I have room to take things out of the next cabinet and repeat the process.

And most of the time, I'm planting the garden in my mind. Killing two birds with one stone, you know. ;)

It's been warm here with threats of rain. The dandelions are beginning to grow and I see good sized, pinkish nubs of rhubarb. The tulips are up, the crocus is up, the grape hyacinth is up and I'm ready! Well, as soon as I finish the kitchen, I mean.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Up and Up and Up

Food prices, I mean. And gas prices. And clothing prices.

It may be time to start putting some of that extreme frugality into practice. Things are not going to get better in the near future, so don't put off finding ways to get through this. The longer you wait, the more it's going to hurt.

Be diligent in watching out for sales and cooking from scratch. Stock up on basics when you see them begin to inch up in price because the next time you need them, they may have leaped up in prices.

And how many times have I said this: Grow as much of your own food as you can. Even if that means a tin can of dirt on your windowsill. You might be very glad to have some free lettuce when the price doubles again.

Don't think things will always be the same. There are rumors of global food shortages due to the weather, and pathogens growing in GM crops. GM has permeated almost every part of our food system. 

I'm not trying to frighten anyone into a panic, but I'm trying to wake us all up. We need to be very alert to what is going on around us.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Online shopping: coupons, codes and good deals

I shop online quite a bit. Although the cost of shipping can sometimes cancel the savings, there are still ways that make online shopping very frugal and I try to take advantage of every one.

First, use a shopping bot like Bizrate or Pricegrabber. These shopbots search the web for the lowest price in the stores that are in their database. You can usually find a good price through them, but beware that they only search within their own databases, so check a couple of them before deciding.

Secondly, search for coupons or promotional codes for the product you want.  There are sites that list coupons and codes for almost every retail site online, but be sure to check the date and any other limitations before trying to use them.  Discontinued codes and coupons are usually removed, but not always. You will usually use these codes at checkout and they're usually good for anything on the site, unless it's restricted to a particular item. Combine these coupons with sales items and you can get a very good deal.

Another way to get coupon codes (some of them specific to you) is to sign up for site newsletters. These will often contain special savings, coupons, codes and "insider" news that will help you shop wisely.

Yet one more way and one that I've found is fun as well as money saving is to work a few "rewards programs" like MyPoints and Swagbucks. You can get gift certificates to your favorite stores and you're getting them free if you don't count the few minutes it takes each day to rack up points.

Online shopping has definitely come of age, so it's up to us to make the most of it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Save money or pay off bills?

Another question I get here at Frugal Living is "Should I save money, or pay off bills first?"

If you ask that question in a room with ten frugal living and personal finance experts, you'll get fifteen answers. I'll throw mine into the ring:

It's never a good idea to put all of your money into one pot. If you're in debt, you need to get out as soon as possible, but if you have no savings, you need to get some started immediately.

Why not get the best of both? After your basic bills are paid, divide whatever money you have and put part of it toward paying down bills (pay extra) and put the rest into a savings account. You will eventually be in a position to handle any money emergency without worry. 

The argument for starting a savings along with debt down payment goes like this: If you don't spend all your money paying down debt and something happens (your car needs repairs, you have unexpected medical expenses, etc), you can cover them with cash and not go deeper in debt.

All of this supposes that nothing is going to happen for awhile. If it does, be a little more frugal (or a lot more frugal if you need to) and pay as much in cash as you can.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What do you want?

I like to say that I was born frugal. For some of us, it really is an attitude that we come by naturally, but for some of us, it has to be cultivated. No matter which camp you're in, frugal living can make a big difference in what you get out of life.

Do you know what you want? For sure? Tell me. I don't want some vague, "I want to buy a house". What do you want? Do you want a cottage on the sea? Do you want a cabin in the woods? Or maybe a McMansion in the newest subdivision. How much will it cost? How much of a downpayment do you have? How much can you save each month toward a downpayment? How big of a mortgage can you make payments on? What can you do to increase your buying power?

Once you can answer those questions, then you can move forward. Frugal living will not magically make those things happen. You will have to work for them.

Monday, February 28, 2011

What daily expenses can you cut?

In the last Frugal Living post, I talked about tracking your expenses and cutting 75% from your weekly expenditures. I know that saying, "do it" without giving you a clue as to how to go about it can leave you wandering around in the dark, so this time, I'm going to tackle how to cut some of those small expenses.

Frugal living doesn't mean that you have to go without things, but it does mean that you have to become creative and actively find ways to obtain the things you want without spending money, or at least as much money as you have been.

Here are some examples to get you going, but remember that this frugal living adventure is yours, so these are only examples:

  • Instead of buying a cup of coffee on your way to work, make it at home and take it in a insulated cup. Instead of buying coffee from a vending machine later in the day, take some of the same coffee in a thermos.
  • Instead of going out for lunch, bring your own. If your coworkers think you're nuts, tell them you're on a special diet.
  • Instead of buying the newspaper on your way home each evening, get a subscription and have it delivered for less.
  • Instead of shopping for office wear at the mall, check out some thrift stores. You might be surprised at what you find there. Go with an open mind and open eyes.
  • Instead of paying extra for someone to watch the kids when you have to work late, see if you can find someone to swap babysitting with. You can watch their kids and they can watch yours.
  • Instead of picking up fast food on your way home, or ordering pizza when you get home because you're too tired or stressed to cook, buy some convenience foods at the grocery store when you shop and save them for times like this. Frozen pizza and other dinners may be more expensive that cooking from scratch, but they're usually cheaper than eating out.

Only some of these may apply to you or maybe none of them do. The idea is to think hard about how you can substitute or get the item differently to save money. If you embrace living frugally, you will be able to come up with ideas that fit your situation.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Frugal living: where to start?

I get questions about frugal living and many of them are the same, so I'm going to try to answer a few of them in the next few posts. The most frequently asked question about frugal living is simply, "Where do I start?"

You start where you are. Overly simplistic? Maybe, but let me explain.

Some people ask their question in the form of a wish list. "I want to get out of debt and buy a house. Where do I start?"

Others say, "I just want to quit living paycheck to paycheck. Is that even possible? I don't make much money so what can I do?" 


Both of these people need t start where they are, and neither of them know where they are, so that's the first step. Find out where you are. Frugal living isn't about magic or wishful thinking. It's about getting a grasp on your life. It's about controlling your money instead of letting it control you.

Anyway, if you're not sure where you are, how can you get away from it? So start here:

Track your expenses every day for at least a week. All of them, from a cup of coffee to the mortgage payment. Don't overlook anything because it's a small amount. Every penny is important for this.

Look over your expenses. Sometimes this is all that's needed to open your eyes to where you are wasting money. If not, separate them into categories, like bills that need to be paid, impulse purchases, things bought from guilt (office party, gift for someone you've ignored, etc,). Make your own categories as you sort through your records.

Now comes the fun part. Pretend that you had access to only 75% of the money that you spent during that week. What would you have eliminated? This will give you a look at the things that are unnecessary expenses.

Now you know where you are and you can get to work getting to where you want to be. Cut out the unnecessary expenses and pay off bills with it or put it in a savings account.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fire King and Quaker Oats

I'm beginning to wonder if the title of this blog is a misnomer. I do enjoy frugal living and writing about it, but since I'm semi retired (again!), former interests have taken a larger part in my life. It's been fun, being able to bake a loaf of bread when I want to, planning a garden more thoroughly, knitting bed socks and blankets and rummaging through thrift stores for favorite treasures.

Some of these favorite treasures are collectibles, mostly from the 20th century. I enjoy Depression Glass and marketing history, among other things, so I thought, "Why not?" Why not write about that, too? I couldn't find a reason not to, so I did. :)

The Story of Fire King from Anchor Hocking

Quaker Oats Premiums Through the Years

Maybe that will give you a clue as to why I love to shop at thrift stores. Besides clothing, books and more modern household items, they can be great sources of collectibles to keep, give as gifts or sell. Why not?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Should College Students Have Credit Cards?

Should College Students Have Credit Cards?

Brian Jenkins, a member of the BrainTrack writing team, contributes feature articles that offer great advice for college students. For more information, check out BrainTrack's Facebook page.

Many college students see a credit card as a piece of plastic that let's them buy whatever they want. They don't think about the debt they're piling up. College students should realize that by using a credit card they're taking out a loan that has to be repaid. Also, people without an established credit history might pay the highest interest rates, and that group usually includes students.

Qualifying for a Credit Card

People under the age of 21 can't obtain a credit card unless they have an independent source of funds to pay the bills or a parent cosigns the application. The parent has to provide written permission before the credit limit can be raised.

If a parent cosigns the application, then they're jointly liable for any debts their child piles. If this happens, the parent's credit gets harmed along with their kid's if they don't pay the bills on time.

Problems with credit cards, including late or missed payments, stay in a person's report for seven years. A credit report is needed to buy a car or apply for an apartment lease. Also, many employers review a prospective employee's credit report.

Is your college student responsible enough to have a credit card? Will he damage his credit report by not making payments on time? One option is to make a deal with your kid that a credit card can only be used for emergencies.

Sallie Mae Report

Check out the following information before you cosign a credit card for your college student:

According to a 2009 report by Sallie Mae entitled "How Undergraduate Students Use Credit Cards":

  • College seniors graduate with an average credit card debt of over $4,100.
  • Almost one-third of undergraduates put college tuition on their credit card; an increase from 24 percent in 2004.
  • About 92 percent used credit cards to pay for school supplies, textbooks, and other direct education expenses.
  • 84 percent of undergraduates have at least one credit card. On average, students have 4.6 credit cards.
  • Many college students use credit cards to live beyond their means and more than three-quarters have incurred finance charges by carrying a monthly balance.
  • According to the survey, sixty percent of students were surprised at how high their balance had reached.
  • 40 percent stated that they charged items knowing they didn't have the money to pay the bill.
  • Just 17 percent stated they regularly paid off all credit cards each month.
  • 84 percent of undergraduates reported they need more education regarding financial management topics.

This report by Sallie Mae underscores the importance of parents educating their college students about using credit cards wisely.

Marie O'Malley, director of consumer research for Sallie Mae and author of this study, said, "too many students are at risk of overpaying for college by pulling out credit cards to pay for text books or even part of their tuition bill, instead of using less expensive financial aid to cover these items."

Reasons College Students Should Have a Credit Card

The length of a person's credit history is a factor in their credit score. If your child doesn't get a credit card until he's 21, it probably increases the cost of borrowing money to buy a car when he's 23 or so.

College students can use one or two credits card with a low credit limit to establish a credit history. However, students that take out student loans may actually begin their credit history at age 18.

Prepaid credit cards are a good idea for college students. However, they function more like debit cards and they won't help establish a good credit history.

College students should be aware that their credit record can have a lasting impact on their lives. Should you cosign a credit card application with your child? Your college student's financial maturity is an important factor when determining if they should have a credit card.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

High and low in the grocery store

Did you ever have to stand on your tippy toes to reach your favorite brand on the top shelf? There's a reason for that. Grocery stores (and other stores; I won't just pick on grocery stores) display the most expensive items, and the ones with the most impulse appeal, at what is eye level for most people.

Surprising? It shouldn't be. We need to be aware that all stores do everything they can to get us to buy as much as possible every time. That's the name of the (marketing) game and we play it whether we know the rules or not.

Products on the lower shelves often appeal to children, which is a good incentive for keeping children in the shopping cart! Generic products are often down there, too, so they don't compete directly with brand name products which are, of course, at eye level.

The next time you go into a grocery store, compare the prices of the items on the lower shelves with those on the middle to upper middle shelves, then compare those with the prices of items on the very top shelf. Do it in several different areas of the store and see what you come up with.

Friday, February 11, 2011

In a hurry for a meal?

Don't stop by the hamburger joint or the pizza place... this is better:

Healthy and Fast Food

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How to Make Your Own Kitchen Cleaners

Guest post from Bailey Harris. Bailey writes about insurance and other topics for the Home Insurance Blog.
 If you are concerned about the health of your family, the environment and your budget, why not make your own kitchen cleaners? We all have a cupboard full of dangerous toxins and wasted money. It only takes a few simple non-toxic items and a couple of empty spray bottles to make your own cleaners. Not only will you be making your household eco-friendly, you will also save a considerable amount of money. There are six basic ingredients needed to make all of these cleaners, and you probably have most of them in your household already.
Floor Cleaners
There are many different recipes for homemade floor cleaners. I will give you directions for a basic all purpose floor cleaner. All you need for this all-purpose floor cleaner is a 1/2 cup of white vinegar and 2 gallons of hot water, mix these in pail or bucket well, mop once with the solution and once with water to rinse. Add essential oils such as orange, lemon, or lavender for a great scent and to help to cut the grease.
Oven Cleaner
All you need to remove those stubborn grease stains from your oven is three simple ingredients and a little time. Mix 3/4 cup of baking soda with 1/4 cup salt and a 1/4 cup of water in a bowl to form a thick paste. Dampen the inside of the oven with a wet cloth and apply the paste. Let it sit overnight. In the morning wipe clean with a damp sponge. You can use a steel wool pad for hard to clean spots.
Clogged Drains
The first step of getting a drain unclogged is to remove as much water as possible and plug the drain on the opposite side. Pour  a 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain followed by a 1/2 cup of vinegar, let it sit for 10-15 minutes, then pour a pot of boiling water down the drain. You should not try this if you have already used commercial cleaners; it is possible that they will have a bad reaction.
Microwave Ovens
Cleaning your microwave oven can be extremely easy and low cost. You will need to mix 2 tablespoons of baking soda and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave 3 minutes or until boiling. Let it sit in there a couple minutes, and then wipe clean with a sponge or paper towel. Not only will this clean your microwave, it will also deodorize it.
All Purpose Spray
This all purpose spray can be used on just about any surface in your kitchen. You will need 2 tablespoons of baking soda, 1 quart of warm water, and a clean spray bottle. Put the ingredients in the bottle and mix it up. Although this is a great cleaner it is not a disinfectant.
Disinfectant All Purpose Spray
This is a great spray cleaner to use on kitchen surfaces such as cutting boards, garbage cans, counters, and walls. This spray does not work well on glass, the oil causes striking. Mix 3-5 drops of natural dish soap with 15-30 drops of tea tree oil and 2 cups of water in a spray bottle. Clean away. This spray also works to destroy mold and mildew.



Saturday, February 5, 2011

Inexpensive automobiles. Why not?

Why can't we manufacture cars that almost everyone could afford to buy new and many could buy without having to finance them? India does. Check out the Tata Nano and the Bajaj Auto. Both of these are under $3,000 in cost. Why?

Why not? Maybe we have too many government controls, too much union power and too much greed. Possible answers? I think so.

I'm sure some of you will disagree. Some of the standards these automobiles are built to may not comply with the standards enforced in the US. The low price would mean that Detroit would either have to make some drastic changes or go out of business - or get more government funding. These are things to be considered.

Still... if it's possible somewhere else, why isn't it possible here? It wouldn't even have to be done all at the same time, but if the automobile manufacturers would start to move in that direction instead of adding more and more bells and whistles and charging more and more... maybe they'd sell more.

And maybe more people would have more jobs making more cars and selling more cars and cleaning showrooms and transporting new cars and... just maybe.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The future of food... is it here?

Ok, I'm worried. Or beginning to worry. Food prices are still going up and there are many reasons for them to continue to rise. One is the weather. You don't have to look very far to see extreme weather. Snow measured in feet instead of inches, droughts that hang on and on, floods, tornadoes in places that don't get tornadoes.

And then there is the threat of diseases. Blights, fungi and bacterial problems are beginning to plague monoculture megafarms. Loss of seed variety, encouraged by Monsanto and GMO practices, add to the threat. It's becoming more and more difficult to maintain heritage seeds - seeds that are needed to ensure the continuation of food crops.

Crop failure, no matter what its cause, can be disastrous now more than ever, because we live in a global world.  Preferring local food can be seen as backwards and nonproductive.

What product prices should we be most concerned with? Start reading the labels on your shelves because those products very probably contain some of these.

Wheat  - bread, rolls, cookies, cake... pizza dough, cabbage rolls and the hundreds of items that use wheat and/or gluten.

Corn  - popcorn, sweet corn, corn meal, corn flour, corn starch, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup... this affects the cost of literally thousands of products.Corn has almost doubled in the last 6 months or so.

Soy is another one that has seen rising prices. Not just in soy sauce or soy milk, soy is found in many, many products.

But maybe you've heard this before? In 2007, there was great concern (although much of it behind closed doors, they tell us) about rising food prices and possible shortages. Food prices did rise, but not so much that we didn't adjust and go on. Will it be that way this time?

I don't know, but I'm hearing rumbles that I never heard before. Rumbles of crucial food shortages, of hunger increasing, of government programs not being able to keep up, of food banks having to turn away people. Do you think our government will tell us if there was a serious food shortage? No way... people panic. People act stupid when they fear anything, and the government knows it.

Hunger and food riots have always happened somewhere else... not here in the USA. We have lots of cheap food... don't we? I believe the near future may tell us a different story.

Pay attention to the overall picture and watch your food budget closely.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Enjoying the fruits of my labor

I try to make it happen more often than not: A meal grown from my own garden or gotten by means other than go-to-the-store-and-buy-it. This time it was pinto beans grown in last year's garden. I put in a little turkey ham (cheaper than pork ham and considering that I can't eat pork...), and a little ham/smoke flavoring bought at the local salvage grocery for almost nothing.

With the beans, I had cornbread with the cornmeal made partly from corn I grew year before last and partly from popcorn that didn't want to pop well. I also used buttermilk from butter I'd made a couple of weeks ago. The teaspoon of baking powder it took came from a canister I'd found marked 'way down - an unusual find.

Along with beans and cornbread, there were greens. Wild greens, gathered from my back yard last year.

I also fried a pan of Jersualem artichokes, growing like weeds from a half dozen roots I planted about three years ago. I will never run out of those.

And butter, homemade. And ice tea, homemade.

I didn't add up the cost; somehow that would have spoiled the effect. I am happy to know that so much of the meal came from the labor of my own hands and not from some grocery shelf.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Gardening in January

So. It's mid January, the seed catalogs are piled high, the grow light is... oops, forgot to turn it on this morning. There, now. The grow light is encouraging a few onions and lettuce for now. Next year, I'm going to use it for herbs when it gets too cold outside. The other grow light - the one that's supposed to hang on something when I don't have anything to hang it on, will be used for starting seedlings for the garden soon. I lay it over bricks to get it the right height. Necessity is the mother of invention, right?

But this summer I plan to try to create a system similar to the one I got for Christmas which is the one I'm using now. It's a frame with a hanging light that can be adjusted over a planter.

Yeah... I can garden in the dead of winter. ;)

So far, I've just been looking at the seed catalogs, but sooner or later, I will try to plan where to plant what. With a limited area, I have to be pretty creative at times, but so far, so good. I already have most of the seed that will be needed this year, but of course, I gotta try something different now and then.

Frugal take on a garden is all that good food. It can be cheaper than the grocery store kind and it's a whole lot better.

Ways to make a garden more frugal:

  • Container garden in castaway containers.
  • Make your own compost. 
  • Hoe and pull weeds by hand. 
  • Try no till gardening
  • Make your own special fertilizers
  • Water by drip irrigation instead of overhead

Want to talk about it? It's time!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Are Travel Credit Cards Really Worth It?

You’ve probably noticed a huge surge in commercials for travel credit cards over the last few months. It seems as if every airline and hotel chain out there is trying to get you to apply for their credit card. Although these promotions are tempting, the cold hard truth is that travel rewards credit cards won't save money for most people. Let me explain…

Almost all of them have annual fees

First and foremost, very few of these travel cards are free. Sure, they may have a promotion that gives you no annual fee for the first year, but after that you will probably be stuck paying $60 to $100 or more just to keep the card. Think about it – if a credit card has an annual fee of $100 over the course of a decade you will have paid $1,000 just to have it!

Rewards/benefits are specific to one airline or hotel

Typically if you want the best benefits, you have to go with a credit card that is affiliated with a specific airline/hotel. The problem with this is that very few of us always fly the same carrier or stay at the same hotel. Most of us just go with whoever is cheapest at the moment when we are booking a trip. However if you have a United Airlines Mileage Plus card, for example, you may feel compelled to fly United even if they cost a few bucks more for a given flight. I know several people who do this – the ironic outcome is that their card that was meant to save them money is actually causing them to spend more money than they otherwise would!

You’re paying for benefits you don’t use

Personally, I believe a good chunk of annual fees are nothing but profit for the bank, but a portion of these fee do go to pay for cardholder benefits. Now if you use the benefits all the time then you could get your money’s worth. For example, my Citi Thank You Premier card makes sense for me personally because I use the travel benefits all the time... but for most people it wouldn’t be a good choice. If you have a card and you rarely take advantage of its benefits then you are definitely getting the short end of the stick.

Let me give you an example… a lot of folks sign up for the Delta credit card because of its first checked bag for free. That saves $50 per roundtrip so if you fly Delta multiple times per year it is probably worth it. On the other hand, if you only take a vacation once every year or two, you will be reaping $50 in free luggage in exchange for paying $95 per year just to have the darn card.

Rewards on regular spending are average
The typical travel rewards credit card may give double or triple points on purchases from its affiliated airline, but only one point per dollar on all other spending. If a bulk of your spending is with that affiliated airline/hotel, then great! However for the average Joe or Jane, only a tiny percentage of their spending will be on airplane tickets or hotel stays. So essentially, they will be getting closer to 1 point per dollar on average (and if that’s all they’re going to get, there’s plenty of credit cards that offer that for free).

Most travel credit cards are geared towards big spenders

With almost every airline credit card on the market, you will need to spend $25,000 to $50,000 just to earn yourself one free roundtrip ticket. For the average American, it could take years to spend that much… all the meanwhile they will be paying that annual fee. The math on a lot of these cards just doesn’t make sense unless you make a high volume of purchases.

Conclusion?

Travel rewards credit cards only make sense for those that either (a) travel a lot, or (b) spend a lot. If you don’t fall into one of those categories, you would probably be better off with a good no annual fee cash back credit card instead.

This post was written by guest blogger Michael, the founder of CreditCardForum. On a personal note, he uses the Citi Thank You Premier card but only because he lives on the opposite side of the country as his family, and hence, flies back frequently to see them. He stresses that the card’s $125 annual fee would not make sense for the vast majority of people.