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Cedar Point Blogger

Wednesday
Apr022014

50 Smart Things To Spend Your Tax Refund On

Here are 50 smart things to do with your tax refund this year.

1. START AN EMERGENCY FUND

Approximately 28% of Americans don't have an emergency fund. If you fall into this group, take some or most or all of your tax refund and start an emergency savings account.

2. GET MARRIED

It can take years to save up for a wedding. Whether it's your own wedding or your child's wedding, a tax refund can cover some of the expenses.

3. TAKE A FEW CLASSES

If you're not happy with your job, use your refund check to take additional courses that can help further your career and result in a bigger paycheck.

4. OPEN AN IRA

For a comfortable retirement, don't rely solely on your 401(k) or Social Security. Use the money from your tax refund to start an individual retirement account.

5. MAKE AN EXTRA MORTGAGE PAYMENT

One extra principal payment a year can reduce your mortgage loan term by years — as much as eight years on a 30-year mortgage. Use a portion of your tax refund to make an extra principal payment and eliminate this debt sooner.

6. PAY OFF CREDIT CARD DEBT

If you're paying a high interest rate, it can take years to pay off your balance. But if you drop a lump sum on your cards after getting your tax refund, you can become debt-free faster.

7. PAY DOWN YOUR CAR LOAN

If you're close to paying off your vehicle loan, use your tax refund to wipe out the balance and free up cash each month. Or use some of your tax money to pay down your balance, which can reduce your auto loan term and eliminate negative equity.

8. TAKE A WEEKEND TRIP

Everyone deserves a break to recharge and relax their mind and body. Use some of your tax refund to enjoy a few days at a relaxing destination of your choice. (See also: Affordable Weekend Getaways)

9. START PREPARING FOR A FAMILY

If you and your partner are thinking about starting a family in the near future, this money can go towards your future nursery. Deposit the refund into a dedicated savings account, and only use these funds to purchase a crib, a dresser, a changing table, and other baby supplies.

10. FURNISH YOUR HOME

Furniture is expensive; and if you've recently moved into your first place or a new place, you might have a few empty rooms. Your tax refund can go toward buying a bedroom set, a living room set, a dining room set, or other furnishings for your home. Many retailers offer discounts around tax time — take advantage of them.

11. TAKE CARE OF MEDICAL NEEDS

Unfortunately, some people defer medical care because they can't afford the cost of certain appointments or procedures. Put your tax refund money to good use and make essential doctor appointments to protect your health.

12. SAVE FOR GIFTS

Set aside a percentage of your tax refund and prepare early for the holiday shopping season.

13. BUY NEW WINDOWS

If your old, drafty windows drive up your home's heating and air conditioning costs, use your cash to buy quality ones, which ultimately reduces your energy bills.

14. SAVE FOR A DOWN PAYMENT

A down payment and closing costs are two of the biggest obstacles to homeownership. If you receive a sizable tax refund each year, save this money, and you might have enough to purchase a place after a few years.

15. DONATE IT

Maybe you already have everything you want and need. Give back to your community or an organization and enjoy the happiness of giving.

16. SAVE UP TO PAY CASH FOR A CAR

If you're hoping to pay cash for your car, save your tax refund for a few years and avoid a car payment.

17. GET A WILL WRITTEN

Some people put off estate planning because of the cost. However, untimely deaths are a reality; and the sooner you prepare, the better.

18. BUY LIFE INSURANCE

If you have a family, a spouse, and debts, you can't afford to go without life insurance. Plus, the death benefit can cover the cost of your burial and funeral.

19. BOOST YOUR HOME'S VALUE

Put the cash toward updating your kitchen or bathroom, or installing new flooring. These increase your home's value, helping boost your profit when you're ready to sell.

20. START A BUSINESS

The money from your tax refund can provide startup capital to get a new venture off the ground. Use the money to purchase supplies, advertise, create a website, and purchase business cards. (See also: How to Start Your Dream Business)

21. BUILD YOUR EMERGENCY FOOD SUPPLY

Increase your supply of canned and other non-perishable foods. A stockpile comes in handy if you experience financial hardship and can't afford to grocery shop, or if you need to reduce your food budget.

22. BUY AN ENGAGEMENT RING

If you've held off proposing because you didn't have cash to buy a ring, now is your opportunity to pop the question and move forward with your life.

23. PURCHASE NEW APPLIANCES

Does your dishwasher, stove, refrigerator, or washing machine give you problems? Home appliances aren't cheap, but a tax refund can provide the funds you need to upgrade to a newer model. Tax time discounts will shave the cost and the energy efficiency of this year's models will show up in lower energy bills.

24. MAINTAIN YOUR CAR

Getting a car repaired is certainly cheaper than buying a new car. Your tax refund can go toward large automobile expenses, such as a new engine, transmission, and other costly repairs.

25. UPDATE YOUR WARDROBE

If you have a closet full of clothes that are in good condition, it doesn't make sense to blow your tax refund on new attire. But if your clothes are old and worn, and you desperately need a few new pieces, use your tax refund to get the items you need.

26. EXPLORE A HOBBY

Do you wish to learn an instrument or perhaps take up a hobby, such as drawing or dancing? Your tax refund can pay for lessons. (See also: Awesome Money-Making Hobbies)

27. REFINANCE YOUR HOUSE

A mortgage refinancing can lower your interest rate and monthly payment, but it also involves closing costs and fees. Use your tax refund to pay these mortgage-related fees.

28. PREPAY YOUR SUMMER VACATION

Get a jump start planning your summer or dream vacation. The earlier you book airfare, hotels, and ground transportation, the more you can save.

29. HELP YOUR FAMILY

If a relative needs financial assistance, give or lend some of your refund.

30. BUY A SAFE FOR YOUR HOME

Filing important papers in a cabinet or drawer is risky, as they can be stolen or damaged in a fire. Purchase a fire and waterproof safe for your home and protect your documents.

31. PAY OFF A 401(K) LOAN

Funds in your 401(k) can come in handy if you buy a house or experience economic hardship. Since you have to repay a 401(k) loan, use cash from your tax refund to replenish your retirement account sooner.

32. HELP YOUR KIDS START SAVING

Get your children into the habit of saving money at an early age. Open a savings account or a certificate of deposit for your child. (See also:How to Raise Financially Independent Kids)

33. VISIT A FAMILY MEMBER

Not everyone can live within close vicinity of their relatives. If your family lives in another part of the world or country, your tax refund can allow for more frequent visits.

34. HIRE A FINANCIAL PLANNER

If you don't know much about personal finance, working with a financial planner can get your money on track. These professionals can assist with various aspects of financing planning, from retirement planning to investment planning.

35. THROW A SURPRISE PARTY

Do something special for someone you love. For example, give your grandparents or parents a 50th wedding anniversary party, or throw your child a graduation party.

36. SAVE FOR DAYCARE EXPENSES

Once you receive your tax refund, deposit this money into a special account and only use it to pay your child's daycare expense over the next year.

37. IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE

If you don't have the best health insurance plan, use your tax refund to acquire better health insurance — perhaps a plan with a lower deductible and copay, or more coverage.

38. GO TO A SPA

There is nothing wrong with having a little fun with your tax refund. Spend the day at a spa getting a relaxing massage, manicure, or pedicure.

39. BUY A BIKE

If you're looking to add more activity to your life, and possibly reduce your transportation costs, buy a bike.

40. MAKE YOUR HOME MORE ENERGY-EFFICIENT

An energy-efficient home translates into big savings down the road. Your tax refund can go toward the purchase of solar panels, a new roof, a programmable thermostat, and LED light bulbs. (See also: Best Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs)

41. PREPARE FOR AN EMERGENCY

If you live in an area prone to hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, the money you receive from the government can go towards a disaster kit. Purchase a generator for your house, and other supplies like a hand crank radio, a first aid kit, emergency blankets, extra chargers, multi-purpose tools, and flashlights. (See also: Items You Might've Forgotten in Your Emergency Kit)

42. HIRE A PERSONAL ASSISTANT

Between work, family, and life, there isn't always enough time in the day. If you're running on empty and you need help throughout the day, use your tax refund to hire a personal assistant.

43. UPGRADE YOUR CELLPHONE

An unreliable cellphone won't help you in an emergency, and it doesn't project a professional image if you run a business. Upgrade to a phone with features you need, such as calendars, email, etc.

44. PAY OTHER TAXES

If you receive a federal tax refund, use this money to pay any state taxes you might owe, or personal property taxes.

45. PREPAY A GYM MEMBERSHIP

The initial cost of joining a gym isn't always cheap. Not only is there the monthly fee, there's a startup fee or down payment. Get a membership with part of your tax refund and start a healthy routine. Use a bigger part of your refund to pay for an entire year — and ask for a prepay discount.

46. RENT AN APARTMENT

Are you ready to move out on your own? Use your tax refund to pay a security deposit.

47. GET ORGANIZED

If clutter dominates your home or office, work with a personal organizer to get your life in order.

48. ENJOY AN ELEGANT EVENING OUT

Some people never have the opportunity to enjoy a night out on the town. Grab your significant other or a best friend, and treat yourself to fine dining and maybe a bottle of champagne.

49. SAVE FOR YOUR KID'S COLLEGE EDUCATION

Whether your kids are young or teenagers, it's never too early or too late to start saving for their college education. Depending on how much you receive from the government, one refund check might pay for a semester of school.

50. START A GARDEN

Organic fruits and vegetables purchased at the grocery store can break your budget. Start a garden in your backyard and eat healthier for less.

What smart things do you plan to do with your income tax refund? Please share in comments.

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Monday
Mar172014

Spring Cleaning Twitter Party: March 18, 2014 @ 9 PM #SpringSavings

Spring cleaning: do people really do it, or is it all a huge conspiracy? Come find out, and share tips for making spring cleaning (if it is indeed real) as painless and frugal as possible! Plus, we have $300 in prizes to give away!

Join us on Tuesday, March 18th at 6pm PT/ 9pm ET in the #SpringSavings hashtag on Twitter!

Hosts: @mommyswishlist @savewshellie @savingsmania @sawickis

Prizes and sponsors: (2) $50 Amazon gift cards courtesy of Savings.com, (1) $100 Amazon gift card courtesy of Savings.com, (1) $100 Target e-gift card courtesy of Savings.com.

 

Monday
Mar172014

Consumer News: Amazon Prime Price Increase

Amazon.com has just announced that existing Prime members will now pay $99 per year on their annual renewal date and Amazon Student members will pay $49. If you are an existing Prime Member, you will be receiving an email from Amazon sometime today with this announcement and the date that your membership is set to renew.

 

Sunday
Mar092014

Buying in Bulk: Shopping Tips

Here are some great tips on how to shop bulk and save money:


Compare prices

Make a list of the items you might buy in bulk, or the ones you know you’ve seen at your favorite retailers, and visit each store to compare. Write down the prices for the bulk buys, and also write down the cost of buying the same item as a single. Then, do the same search online, and make sure to take shipping costs into account.

Do the math
Divide the price of the bulk package by the number of individual items in the package. For example, if there are 12 paper towel rolls for $9.99, each one comes to about 83 cents a roll. 

The bulk math is a tool you can use for any kind of purchase.

Then take that $.83 figure and compare it to what you’d pay for a single roll.

Then do the math for a three-pack or a six-pack of the same item, and bingo — you know if bulk pricing for that item, from that store, or which bulk item from which store, is worth your while.

If you have a coupon for the item, remember you’ll save more per unit if you use the coupon for a non-bulk purchase.

Be realistic about storage 
No matter how great a deal is on any product, you first need to make sure you have space to store the items.

If you’re in a small apartment, you might want to keep your bulk buying to a minimum — unless you have other small apartment friends who want to split the bargain with you. Or, get creative. No one says you can’t store extra toilet paper next to your dishes in the kitchen cabinets if you have the space.

If you have a larger home with a basement or a garage, or even a second freezer, buy away if the price is right.

Be realistic about expiration dates
We know that misunderstanding “use-by” dates and plain-old expiration dates leads to lots of waste.

But still, bulk food can go bad, so use common sense when you buy. Those delicious looking loaves of bread that you can get three-for-one and those half-priced veggies aren’t worth the extra money if you can’t eat it all before it spoils.

There are times when bulk perishables make sense. If you buy a gazillion tomatoes, for example, and you plan to head home to make a few jumbo pots of sauce that you can freeze, that’s great. We don’t advise trying to freeze the tomatoes. Okay, well, you can freeze tomatoes, but that’s one bulk buy on which I’ll take a pass.

Bulk Specifics
So what is a good deal? Like we said, you have to shop around and do the math. Here’s the lowdown on some common items sold in bulk packaging.

Meat: When all that uncooked protein is on sale, you can save a bundle. Just make sure you have a plan to prepare it, or you have a very large freezer. But you can’t just chuck the meat in the freezer in the supermarket’s packaging. Take some time to store your mass meat the right way.

Paper products: It’s one of the most commonly bulk-packaged products, and it all depends on the math. Just don’t count on the bulk packaging as a promise of lower per-unit pricing.

Diapers: These are almost always cheaper when you buy in bulk, but we repeat: do the math. Costco regularly offers coupons in the flier for $ off diapers.

Prescriptions: If you take any regular prescriptions, ask your doctor for a prescription for a 90-day supply rather than just 30 days. You’ll save on co-pays, and you’ll find some pharmacies have a cheaper per-pill price for bulk buys. Also, note that you don’t need to be a member of Costco nor Sam’s Club to get prescriptions filled at their pharmacies.

Big-ticket items: If you’re traveling and need train or plane tickets, or if you’re buying seats for a sporting event or Broadway (or other) show, you can find group discounts. Hotels will do the same. You can save 15 percent or more.

Insurance: It’s a different form of bulk pricing. If you insure your home and your car with the same company, you’ll get a discount.

Source: Consumerist.com

Sunday
Mar092014

What To Buy (And Avoid Buying) in March

FIRST, WHAT TO BUY…

There are plenty of awesome holidays this month. March 4th is Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday and Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Day in the UK). In the UK, Mother's Day is Sunday, March 30th. And we also have the spring equinox on March 20th. Let's take a look at some of the bargains that accompany them.

1. Chocolates, Chocolates, Chocolates

Something the stores never want hanging around are seasonal items, especially edible ones. Valentine's Day may be long gone, but the stores still have plenty of goodies on the shelves. And they want to get rid of it quickly! You'll see 90% savings on perfectly good boxes of chocolates and other candies, and all because they're in heart-shipped boxes and flowery red packaging. It's silly, but it's good for your wallet. (See also: 15 Reasons to Eat More Chocolate)

2. Frozen Foods

March is National Frozen Foods month. Who knew? That means you'll see a ton of great coupons in the circulars and discounts in stores. If you have space in your freezer, now is the time to use it up. Or grab yourself a cheap freezer off Craigslist and stock it up! Remember, these foods can last a year or more, but the deals don't ever last that long. (See also: Make-Ahead, Freezable Hot Breakfasts)

3. Intel-Based Laptops

If you need a new laptop for school, college, the workplace, or just to have around the house, now is the time to check out deals on Intel-based laptops. Now, there are several types of Intel processors, from the older Ivy Bridge and Celeron models, to the newer Haswell versions. Strangely enough, the better deals seem to be on the Haswells, so if you have $500 to spend, you can get a fast and reliable Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, or Sony laptop with a Haswell Core i5 or Core i7 processor.

4. Big Screen TVs

It won't be too long before 42" LCD TVs are given away free with boxes of cereal. Seriously, every year big screen TVs get cheaper and cheaper. A few years ago, a 60" 1080p LCD TV would have set you back a few thousand dollars. This year, you will get change out of $800. And those 4K TVs are also going to drop in price, too. If you have plans for a home theater, this is a great month to buy, especially if you're expecting a tax refund.

5. Luggage

Now's the time to stock up on travel gear. If past performance is any indication of how things will go this year, luggage and baggage deals kick into high gear in March. New luggage models (do people really care about the trendiness of their suitcases?) come out now, so old models are priced to move. From retail stores like Sears and Walmart to online retailers like eBags and Amazon, you should find yourself some sweet bargains. Hopefully, flights will be just as good to you. (See also: Packing Secrets From a Pro Traveler)

6. Snow Gear

If you like fresh powder, there's still time to enjoy it while wearing some snazzy new gear…and it doesn't have to cost full price. Just like last month, there are deals to be had on those big winter jackets, snow boots, hats, and all sorts of other stuff designed to keep the icy weather at bay. These deals won't last too much longer, so grab them now.

7. St. Patrick's Day Merchandise

Once again, the green beers will be flowing on March 17th — St. Patrick's Day. And as soon as the sun sets on the 17th, the stores start discounting St. Paddy's Day merchandise with a determination that would make the Little Engine That Could jealous. In the past, Target has quickly and massively discounted the green gear. Remember, until the 17th you won't see many deals, but after then you can scoop up the bargains and stock up for next year. (See also: Ways to Serve Potatoes on St. Patrick's Day)

8. Amazon Prime 

If you've been debating an Amazon Prime membership, now could be the best time to jump on it. Over the past year, changes have been made to Amazon Prime that have made it less of a deal than it used to be. For instance, the change to "add on items," which were once free to ship with Prime, but are now only shipped free if included with an order that brings your total over $25. Rumors have it that Amazon is going to hike the rates by 50% or more. Get in now, and enjoy free two-day shipping and a massive library of free TV and Movies to stream whenever you want.

9. Seeds and Plants

Of course, with frost and hard ground to contend with, you won't be planting a whole lot right now. But you can order what you need now and save 50% or more on seeds that will make your garden grow. (See also: Guide to Container Gardening)

10. Silverware and China

Wedding season is not until June. Christmas is over. The stores want to get some of their silverware and china stock cleared. If yourplates, bowls and cutlery are looking a little past their prime, now is a great time to refresh them all. And remember, the old ones can be donated to charity for a family that really needs them.

WHAT TO AVOID…

There's a lot of flimflam in March too. It starts at the beginning of the month with Oscar Night 2014, and let's not forget Daylight Savings Time on March 9th — one hour of sleep lost, one extra pot of coffee on Sunday. Let's see what we should be looking to avoid this month.

1. Sexy Lingerie

It's not the same as candy; lingerie is lingerie, and it is still popular despite Valentine's Day being over for another year. When it comes to sales, most lingerie stores follow the lead of the biggest and most infamous — Victoria's Secret. And as their semi-annual sale is in June, you should hold off on your shopping until then.

2. Xbox One Systems and Games

The Xbox One is still a hot item, but the discounts are coming in April. Now that the rush is over for Christmas, and the big fans have already picked up their systems, sales are on the decline. Microsoft doesn't want to see the PS4 gaining any more market share, and the best way to combat that is with discounts. Keep your eyes peeled, but don't buy anything just yet.

3. Spring Apparel

Spring is not just around the corner. But the stores have a different story. They're stocking up for spring right now, and they have no plans to offer any kind of discounts just yet. Spring gear is still priced at or close to the recommended retail price. Wait a month or two, and those prices will come down just in time for you to get a month or two of good use out of everything you buy.

4. New Smartphones

The latest models are everywhere, and they're full price. By all means use this time to start looking around for models you'd like to have, but hold your horses. Give it a few months and those full price phones will start falling in price.

5. Gym Memberships

If you're a regular at the gym, you should have seen the New Year's rush die down by now. But, it's far from over yet. People are still trying to fulfill that resolution to get fit, and gyms are not struggling to make their numbers. Wait a few more months. Once the sun is shining and people can run outdoors, they'll start hitting you with offers.

Are you planning to make any purchases in March? Where are you finding deals?

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Tuesday
Mar042014

SweetSwaps Twitter Party- March 4, 2014 #sweetswaps

We are so excited to be teaming up with Splenda, to bring you delicious ways to sweeten your life with Splenda! 
You can visit  www.365SweetSwaps.com for tips and recipes. Throughout 2014, SPLENDA® Brand is dishing out 365 ways to swap sugar for SPLENDA® Sweetener Products to save calories all year long!

The Motherhood is teaming up with SPLENDA® Sweetener Products for this fun Twitter party to share SPLENDA® 365 SWEET SWAPS™ tips and recipes! Join us to hear recipes, tips and other simple lifestyle changes that can lead to big results over time!

The Twitter Party is on  March 4, 2014 at noon ET. 

Twtvite: http://twtvite.com/sweetswaps to RSVP

Hashtag: #SweetSwaps

Prizes: Prizes will be randomly awarded to five participants who answer the trivia questions correctly. Each prize includes a $50 Visa Gift Card and an assortment of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products! Prizes limited to U.S. participants only.

Hosts: @TheMotherhood, @TheMotherhood25, @CooperMunroe and @EmilyMcKhann


You will learn, for example, that experts recommend that women consume no more than 6 tsp. of added sugar daily, but the average American eats 22.2 tsps! 

Replacing Sweets with Healthier Treats

  • Replace "like with like". This is a common phrase you'll hear from me, because I believe that we make the transition to healthier choices easier when we find better alternatives that are similar to things we already like. This is an old post with a bunch of sweet tooth ideas that are just a little bit different.
  • Learn to use fruit as a dessert. Think fruit crumbles or cobblers, lightly poached peaches, homemade apple sauce, fresh berries with cream, fruit salad, or fruit smoothies. One of my very favorite desserts is apples in a crumble dessert, with a dash of cinnamon.
  • Choose savory grains instead of sweetened ones. Sometimes a slice of warm bread and butter can satisfy as much as a sweet treat. Yes, it is made with grains which are still carbohydrates, but the effect on our body is so much better.

Use Less Sugar in General

  • Cut back on the sugar in your recipes. Start to cut back just a bit, perhaps 1/5 or 1/6 the amount, then 1/4, 1/3, even 1/2. See at which point you really start to notice a difference. Over time, you will likely find that you enjoy the less-sweetened version!
  • Be purposeful about cutting meals out of your regular routine that include sugar. If you usually eat a lot of pancakes with syrup, or muffins, or even things like sweetened baked beans, try cutting out one or more of those meals each week. Substitute with something more protein or veggie based instead.
  • Try other more complex flavors instead of just going with something sweet. Add fresh or frozen fruit, nuts, coconut, etc. to your oatmeal instead of just honey or brown sugar. Play around with various fresh fruits to add more natural sweetness to smoothies. Use nut butters and a sprinkle of cinnamon instead of jam on toast.
Friday
Feb212014

Review: Fiber One Fruit Snacks

As a family, getting enough fiber is something that we all struggle with. So when we got the opportunity to try the new Fiber One Fruit Snacks, we took it! We all loved the fruit snacks and will be making them part of our healthy eating routine. They are the best fruit snacks I've ever tried!
Friday
Feb142014

Recall: Graco Car Seats

Graco has recalled 11 models of Graco Child Car Seats (not infant) sold from 2009 to 2013 are being recalled due to the buckles not unlatching properly, making it difficult to remove the child from the seat. This increases the risk of injury in a crash, fire or other emergency when a speedy exit from the vehicle is required. Graco did mention in this article that they are offering an improved replacement harness buckle to affected consumers at no cost. Go here for more details on this recall.

The recalled models include:
Cozy Cline, ComfortSport, Classic Ride 50, My Ride 65, My Ride with Safety Surround, My Ride 70, Size4Me 70, Smart Seat, Nautilus, Nautilus Elite, and Argos 70.