Financial Self Help Blog

How I Sent My Kid to College Without Using Any Loans


When I became a parent, one of my goals was to send my child to college. My husband, Todd, agreed with me that starting a college savings fund would be a good idea.

But things changed after Todd was diagnosed with a serious illness. We no longer had extra income; we were just struggling to get by. Putting aside money for college was not an option.

I didn’t think too much about paying for Chelsea’s college tuition until her freshman year of high school. I made an appointment with the counselor to get some information for us – how Chelsea could best position herself to qualify for scholarships – and the counselor gave me some information on the average cost of a four-year education. It was much higher than I thought. The counselor advised me not to worry and to continue to support Chelsea in being an honor roll student involved in other activities.

Eventually, Chelsea made a list of schools that she wanted to attend and how much it would cost to go to each. The amount that Todd and I could contribute each year was very small. It was the equivalent of what the cost of books would be. I wanted Chelsea to be able to go to college, but the costs were crazy.

Todd and I helped her fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Filling it out together showed Chelsea how much her dream school would cost in comparison to how much it takes to run a household. Some parents might think it’s too much for a child to know, but we wanted her to learn about the real world from us, not someone else.

We received the results back for her aid package and it was so disappointing. She didn’t qualify for any grants. It was all loans. Chelsea wasn’t sure about what career she wanted, and I couldn’t in good conscience help her sign off on a loan that could keep her a slave to debt for years to come. There had to be a better way.

Through some research, we discovered that Chelsea’s high school, our church, and other community organizations offer scholarships. She applied for these scholarships as well as admission to a community college and a local public university. She also applied to some of the “dream schools” on her list.

After long discussion, and getting a glimpse of the money situation, Chelsea made some smart choices. She decided to attend school for her first two years at a community college, and those first two years were paid for in full. Without the pressure of paying tuition, she maintained great grades, so well that she landed a transfer scholarship at the public university, where she transferred for her final two years of school. She also worked all four years, and was able to save that money for tuition funds. The money that she wasn’t spending during those first two years at the community college was a big savings that she eventually used to pay on her tuition during her third year.

The cost savings on where she attended school was huge: she decided to live at home all four years. The school she transferred to for her junior and senior years wasn’t on the “dream schools” list, but it was one she grew to love. Both schools had transfer agreements so she was able to make the move easily.

While my original plan had been to pay for Chelsea’s education, her hard work has made me truly grateful.

Equally important is narrowing down which colleges have the best prices. According to a study from FTB, here are the most desirable states to go to college

Here is a nifty college locator tool that lets you check rates, student population, etc… for all online colleges in each state. I found that my state really seemed to have pretty high tuition:

Programs & Colleges

Saving Money by Cutting Monthly Expenses


When it comes to becoming wealthy, many people focus on making more money, but saving the money that you already have is just as important. One way to save money consistently is to cut the amount of money that you spend on your monthly expenses. Lowering the amount of monthly obligations you have makes it possible to set aside money for savings and eventually have more financial security.

Start out the process by looking at the expenses you have going out each month. Get a list of the things that you pay for every month and the costs associated with each one. Then go through each expense as if you were using a fine-toothed comb. Look at every expense individually and determine if there is anything that you can do without. For example, if you are paying for a subscription to a movie rental service, you could potentially get rid of it and be fine.

Then look at the items and determine if there is any way that you could reduce some of the items. For instance, if you currently pay for the most expensive television package, you may be able to save money every month by reducing the package to a more affordable rate.

In some cases, you may be able to save money by switching your services to a different provider. For instance, if you currently have a cell phone, you might be able to get the same service for a cheaper rate. Sometimes, people pay for things that they do not need with their cell phones, simply because it is a habit. Spend some time shopping around and see if it would be in your best interest to switch over to another provider. Sometimes, this one step could save you money every month without forcing you to sacrifice quality.

One expense that everyone has each month is that of groceries. If you feel like you may be spending too much on groceries, you are not alone. Many people throw away money on groceries because they don’t know how to shop. If you’ll spend a few minutes looking through the Sunday paper or looking online, you can usually find a coupon for something that you need to buy anyway. These coupons can really add up and help you save money each month.

By taking the time to implement each one of these steps, you could significantly reduce your outlay each month. Then, even if you can’t increase your income, you can still start saving money.

Personal Finance – Saving Money


Produce and Bread Bargains at the Flea Market

Shopping for bread, bakery and produce at the local flea market can save families hundreds of dollars annually, but care must be exercised.

Small businesses and individual entrepreneurs make deals with grocery stores and bakeries to buy day-old bread and bakery. The keyword here is day-old.

Most of the packaged bread seen at flea markets is already old. As a general rule, avoid buying this bread. The key is to look for the expiration date on the package. If the bread is already three or four days past the expiration date, walk away. Most likely, mold and mildew is starting to form.

These sellers of bread store these items in trucks and trunks, where it’s exposed to the extremes of weather. The bread gets heated and cooled as it sits overnight in a vehicle. Moisture forms to make ideal conditions to encourage mold.

Bread that’s a day or two past the expiration date is okay. Look for moisture inside the wrapper. Bread in a dry wrapper should be fine. It should be eaten immediately or stored in the refrigerator or freezer. The cost of this bread should be no more than a dollar per loaf.

The same is true of bakery goods.

Smart shoppers can save a bundle buying fresh produce at a flea market. In general, root crops such as potatoes and onions will likely be good.

Soft produce like lettuce, strawberries and peppers tend to spoil faster. Shoppers can still find bargains here. If a seller has a bin of soft avocados, he’ll likely want to move them fast. Offer a dollar for four, and there’s delicious avocado dip for a few days.

It’s the same with strawberries. Offer fifty cents a quart. The seller will be happy to make any money, and these strawberries can be sorted out to select the best berries.

The fall is an ideal time to store up on yummy nuts for the winter. Buy nuts in the shell as they’ll stay longer when stored properly.

Some farmers, though, overprice their items, thinking that the produce is really fresh and commands a high price. Walk away from this high-priced produce because it can bought at the grocery store much more cheaply, and it will be just as fresh.

The key here is to visit the produce stands near the end of the day. Bargains galore in bread, produce and bakery can be found at a good price.

Saving Money on Groceries


Everyone has to eat, making groceries an essential part of every budget. Learn how to keep your family full for less with these money saving tips.

Set a Budget
Track your grocery store spending for several weeks to determine about how much you spend on groceries during an average week. If your goal is to spend less on groceries, lower your weekly expenditure amount slightly, and make this your new grocery budget. Set aside this amount of money for each week in a given month, either physically, using cash and envelopes, or mentally.

When you go to the store, the money you set aside is the maximum that you can spend for the month. If you go over budget one week, the money must come out of another week’s stash. Likewise, if money is left over one week, it can roll over to the next week. Once you become comfortable spending slightly less each week, continue to gradually lower your budget until you reach your ideal budget.

Buy Only What You Can Use
Purchasing a 10 lb bag of grapefruit seems like a great way to stay healthy. However, if you can only eat half of the grapefruit before they start going soft, it is a waste of money. Be aware of expiration dates and your family’s rate of consumption when shopping.

Stock Up During Sales
When your favorite non-perishable items are on sale, take advantage of the low price and buy enough to last until the next sale. Typically you’ll need to buy enough to last for six to eight weeks. As always, check expiration dates before buying.

Use Coupons
Check the Sunday paper, mailings and printable coupon sites to find coupons for many food items. Coupon blogs can help you match these coupons with sales at local grocery store sales.

Check Out Markdowns
Many stores have a clearance sections where they place day-old baked goods, soon-to-expire meat and discontinued items for a discount. Check this section to see if you snag an item you typically use for less. Meat, bread and other items can be frozen to extend their lives.

Shop Only Once a Week
Planning out one weekly shopping trip, while avoiding stopping by the grocery store on a whim, helps to prevent impulse buys. Make a list and think about meals before you go to the store to avoid forgetting items.

Saving Money on Your Food Bill: What You May Not Know


Many people spend far more than they need to on their monthly food expense. You may already know that you spend a lot of money going out to eat at restaurants regularly, and that regular cup of coffee you get at the local coffee shop doesn’t help your budget either. So if you are looking for ways to save money on your personal budget, you probably already have plans to cut down on those meals, snacks and drinks out at restaurants.

What you may not realize is that you can actually cut down your food expense even further by making smarter selections at the grocery store. Many people believe that buying in bulk saves money and that buying items at popular discount or bulk item stores saves money. You may also think that buying generic items is always more cost effective than buying brand names. These ideas may be true in some cases, but they are not always true. In fact, in some cases it is far more cost effective to buy the smaller size of certain items just as sometimes the brand name product is the better deal. Of course, without having a lot of time and a calculator on hand, it may seem pretty difficult to determine just which items you should buy to save money at the grocery store.

So just how do you know which items to buy at the grocery store? The fact is that if you look just a little more closely at the price tag labels on grocery store shelves, you will see a small figure that is far more important than the sales price. This figure is often located in smaller print in one of the corners of the price tag. It will show the cost per ounce, cost per unit, or some other similar unit of measurement. When you look at this figure, you can very easily tell which item is the cheaper buy. This trick works across all brands, and it also makes it easy to determine if in bulk is really a great deal after all.

One last tip to consider when shopping at the grocery store is that grocery stores will alter their prices periodically. So avoid the habit to buy the same item over and over. Instead, get into the habit of doing a quick scan to look for the most cost effective buy to make on that specific day. As you might imagine, it is far easier to do this price comparison when shop at non-peak hours such as earlier in the morning, later in the evening, or on weekdays if possible.

Catching Cost Creep in Homeowner’s Insurance Bills


Homeowner’s insurance is frequently a requirement for those who use mortgages to finance the payment of their homes or they live in areas where catastrophic risk exists, such as flooding. In many cases, people receive the bill annually and accept it as a necessary evil for owning the American Dream. However, in some cases that cost can be reduced significantly.

Standard homeowner’s insurance policies are written up combining a number of coverages, similar to an automobile comprehensive policy. Each subset of the package covers a different type of risk or provides and adjustment based on the known information about the property. These factors change over time, depending claims filed, the age of the house, and the market for rebuilding a similar house after a disaster.

When a consumer receives his annual invoice, the summary page will frequently total how much needs to be paid for the new year of coverage. While all the detail is provided in attached pages, it frequently is not spelled out clearly or even mentioned in the summary. As a result, a smart homeowner should start with a comparison to last year’s bill.

The first thing one will likely notice is that the new bill is higher than the old one. Insurance providers have a habit of sticking in new costs and if the bill is paid the homeowner accepts the changes. But this is not always a requirement. By comparing to the previous year’s bill a homeowner can quickly see what changed. A few pages in, the package will detail how the total cost was arrived at. Comparing side-by-side will reveal which items were adjusted higher and which new items didn’t exist before. The savings can be in the hundreds of dollars.

With this ammunition a homeowner can then call his insurance provider and question the changes made. More often than not, many changes will be associated with ambiguous reasons such as “market adjustments,” “inflationary factors,” and probably the most truthful, “operational cost increase.” Homeowners don’t have to agree to these and can request them to be removed. The insurer will argue about some loss of coverage but if a house is worth $250,000 it usually won’t need $600,000 of coverage.

Keep in mind, some polices are priced per government rules and cannot be changed. Flood insurance and earthquake insurance are typical examples. To score savings on these coverages, a homeowner must choose to reduce total coverage if possible.

How to Save Money on Car Insurance


Car insurance policies are something that the majority of people have to deal with at some point. This is an expense that is unavoidable if you drive a car. While it is an unavoidable expense, does not necessarily mean that you cannot save money when buying it. Car insurance doesn’t have to be expensive.

One of the best ways to save money on car insurance is to shop around and compare one policy against another. If you simply choose a car insurance company because your parents used that car insurance company, you may not necessarily be getting the best deal that you could get. If you shop around, you can be sure that you’re getting the best deal on your car insurance.

Many car insurance companies make it possible for you to get quotes online without even giving any of your personal information. Some sites even allow you to compare the rates of multiple car insurance companies at the same time. You may also call agents in your local area and ask for quotes on car insurance. Most agents will be able to give you a quote while you’re on the phone. If not, the agent can usually call you back shortly with a quote.

When you compare are insurance companies, make sure that you are comparing similar policies. Not every type of car insurance provides you with the same premiums. For example, one policy may have a $100,000 liability insurance limit while another has a $300,000 limit. Obviously these two different policies would most likely have different premium amounts. If you do not compare similar policies, you may end up making a mistake when it comes to choosing the right policy for you.

Another way to save money on your car insurance is to consider bundling your coverage with other types of insurance. For instance, if you own a home, you may be able to get both your car and homeowners insurance from the same company. By doing this, the company may give you a discount on the rates for both products. If you can bundle even more insurance products with the same agent, you can usually get a certain percentage off.

Don’t overlook online-only insurance companies when trying to save money. Some people prefer to go with a traditional insurance company so that they can deal with an agent. However, this often leads to missing out on a better deal elsewhere.

Saving Money on Regular Groceries


People don’t think much about grocery shopping as a major source in personal savings. However, given that food consumption and vehicle fuel are the two of the largest expenditures in a household every month aside from a mortgage, any savings on those costs can mean big dollars over time.

There are two ways to score ongoing, significant savings on groceries: joining a local store’s member club and the extensive use of coupons. Fortunately, the two can be exercised simultaneously.

Most grocery chains today use some kind of membership for their customers to gain additional savings beyond just counter price mark-downs. This offering of greater reductions comes at a price, however. Customers have to provide their personal identification information and allow their shopping to be tracked, usually with some kind of an electronic swipe card with a unique member number. Doing so allows the grocery store to then collect the data and make decisions on what products will sell better and which ones should be removed. In return, customers can realize 10 to 30 percent additional savings on select items.

As a second method, traditional coupons from manufacturers also provide grocery savings. However, shoppers typically have to meet the requirements of the coupon. This may involve buying a particular brand or number of detailed items. The nice feature is that such coupons can many times be added on top of each other or onto grocery store membership savings. As a result, an item costing $3 may end up being sold for a final charge of 75 cents.

With the Internet, obtaining coupons now is far easier than before. Historically, people had to wait for the Sunday newspaper to get coupons. Now, a consumer just has to sign up at one of many coupon sites that already have affiliations with manufacturers. Doing so gains access to many of the same coupons in the newspaper, and access is sent weekly right to a personal email account.

To maximize such savings, consumers that buy in bulk realize serious benefits. Grocery items that are canned or packaged for long-term storage work best as they can be stored and don’t go bad if not used right away. If planned right, it’s not uncommon for some customers to see their grocery bill reduced from 30 to 40 percent in a visit. Add up these savings to 12 months in a year, and it means hundreds of dollars that can now go to other needs.

Grocery savings don’t all happen in one day, but if a person makes grocery savings a steady goal serious money can be saved over time.

Do You Know How Much it Costs to Drive a Car?


Most of us are on a tight budget and need to be very careful about how we spend our money. Using coupons, taking advantage of “Buy One Get One Free” offers at the grocery store, or waiting for an item to go on sale, are all perfectly acceptable ways to try to save a little money. Saving a few dollars on groceries or getting a new pair of shoes for half price is great, but if you really want to save some serious money, take a look at what you are paying to own the car you drive.

According to the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were 11,580,000 new passenger car and light truck sales in 2010. Every day, thousands of people walk into a new car dealership, find the car of their dreams and sign an agreement to finance the vehicle for the next 4 years. What will that car really cost you each month for the next 48 months until the car is paid off?


You walk into the Dealer and negotiate 100% financing. Including tax, tag, and other associated costs, you agree to finance a total of $20,000. The terms are 4% interest for 48 months. You drive the car an average of 12,000 miles per year and your vehicle gets 20 mpg on a good day.

Following is an estimate of the average monthly cost of ownership.

Monthly Car Payment …………………… $450
Car Insurance ……………………………. $100
Gasoline …………………………………….$150
Maintenance and Repairs ……………….. $50

Total Average Monthly Expenses ………$750

For the chance to drive a new car for the next 4 years, you will pay approximately $36,000 ($750 x 48 mo.). At the end of 4 years, accounting for depreciation, the vehicle will be worth roughly $10,000. Thus, it actually cost you $26,000 or about $540 per month to drive the vehicle 48,000 miles. Stated another way, you are paying roughly .54 for every mile you drive.


1. Buy a used car for cash and avoid paying finance charges.

2. Buy a used car and you will not take as big a hit on depreciation

3. Consider taking public transportation at least some of the time.

4. Consolidate your trips. Do all of your chores once or twice a week. Don’t drive unless you must.

5. Move closer to your job. Move to the city and get rid of your car altogether. Taking a cab once in a while is cheaper than owning and maintaining your own car.

Save Money This Spring by Growing Your Own Vegetables


For the budget minded, the monthly grocery bill can give you nightmares. The amount the average family spends on their groceries each month is enormous, and a large portion of that money is spent on fresh produce. Produce has a short shelf life, and often times, it is shipped over long distances. This means that grocery stores charge a premium for fresh fruits and vegetables. This is an area in which Americans refuse to reduce cut their spending. No one wants to be accused of feeding her family an unhealthy diet. Fortunately, there is another way. During tight financial times, people turned to the land to feed their families, and there is no reason that method will not work today.

Growing a garden is a great way to reduce the overall monthly grocery bill. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on vegetables a month, you can spend ten dollars on a selection of seeds and have fresh from the ground vegetables all throughout the spring and summer. Imagine the savings. Of course, growing a garden does require work on your part. Ground and water will make anything grow, but in order for your garden to be bountiful, you will need to get a little dirty.

The good news is. You do not need to have an enormous garden to supplement your family’s grocery bill and save money. You are not replacing a grocery store. You are supplementing and reducing your dependency on expensive grocery store produce. If you live in Maryland, you will not be growing oranges and lemons. You will still need to buy those at the store, but you can certainly grow lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers.

As a budget-minded person, you know how you spend your money down to the last penny. Look a little deeper. The next time you are at a grocery store, take the time to write down exactly what you buy in the produce section. When you get home, look those items that you spend the most on up and see if they will grow in your area. Then, add up your potential savings. For most people, seeing it right there in black and white is enough for them to be firing up the tiller and sharpening the hoe.

Enthusiasm is a great thing, but planning is better. There are many resources available to those who wish to reduce their grocery bill by beginning a kitchen garden. Take the time to read about what you will need to make your garden successful and do not overextend yourself. Start small and dream big. You will be amazed at the amount of money you can save with just a small garden space, or even a few potted tomato plants.