Dollar Stretcher: Best use of a tax refund

Marco Eagle

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Best use of a tax refund

Dollar Stretcher

Instead of blowing your tax refund, put it into your IRA as a 2017 contribution. Not only will you be boosting your retirement fund, but you'll also be reducing your taxes a year from now.


Spring car cleaning

My car floor mats take a beating in the winter. About this time of year, I run them through the washing machine on the delicate cycle. I lay them out in the sun (yes, welcome back sun!) to dry. I’ve been doing this for years, and they look just like new.


Organic produce warning

Thoroughly clean your organic produce just like you would any other produce. The fact that it’s organic doesn’t mean that no pesticides were used. Pesticides made from plant by-products are acceptable. Even if no pesticides were used, a good cleaning is always a healthy idea!


Finding a low mileage used car

A great place to look for a low mileage used car is in senior communities. Go to 55-plus communities to see if they have a bulletin board. Seniors tend to treat their cars well. Often, they're garaged. Many drive Accords, smaller SUVs, and minivans. Often, they'll give you a reasonable deal, too.


Homeowners' insurance claims

I learned something from a recent insurance claim. First, it’s much easier if you have copies of receipts and pictures of what was stolen. Second, don’t give up if they turn you down at first. It seemed pretty clear to me.

I had a police report and a list of things that they took, but my first attempt was turned down. I submitted it again and this time I got a check.

I don’t know why but maybe they just figure that people will give up if they have to try to collect more than once.


Why buy used

Before he died, my grandpa gave me some advice. He said that I should never buy new if I can buy used. I don’t do it every time, but on some things like cars and furniture, buying used has saved me serious money. For instance, buying a two-year-old car saved me about $7k. I can still drive it seven to 10 years without expecting major repair expenses if I maintain it properly. The same thing is true with furniture. Instead of shopping at a retail furniture store, we shopped on Craigslist. We found a beautiful bedroom suite that some people who were moving wanted to sell. We found out when they were moving. Then we waited until three days before their move to make an offer for the suite. They were happy to have it sold, and we got a great deal. Anytime I’m about to make a big purchase, I think of grandpa.

He was a wise man.


Living large? Not!

I love those tiny house shows. It’s incredible how creative people can be when they don’t have space. Living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment is similar. I can’t afford to accumulate a bunch of stuff. Every month, I try to find something that I can either put on Freecycle or sell on Craigslist.

I’ve been in the apartment for 2 1/2 years, and I have all the space that I need. One big advantage is that a two-bedroom apartment would cost between $150 and $200 more per month. That’s all going into my retirement fund.


My credit freeze

My credit card spending was getting out of control. It wasn’t just one or two cards. I kept applying for and getting more cards. Finally, I decided to place a ‘credit freeze’ on my account. I contacted all three credit bureaus. You can find them online. I asked them to refuse any requests for credit. That meant that if I did apply for a card, I’d be turned down. I still needed to quit using the cards I already had, but at least, I wasn't compounding the problem with more cards.


Ready to buy

Last week at work, someone in our department was complaining that their car payments were too high. The payments were for a new car they had bought last fall. Once they had to start making payments, it was a bigger problem than they expected. When we bought a car three years ago, we avoided that problem. We estimated the payment. For six months, we transferred that amount from our checking account into an account that we created for the auto buy. After six months, we were sure that we could make the payments comfortably, and we had six months of payments saved up in case we ran into trouble. We bought the car we wanted, and the payments haven't caused us any problems.


My shopping partner

My friend and I both used to do “shopping therapy.” If we had trouble with our kids, our husbands or work, we’d go shopping together. Then we both ended up in credit card trouble. After we got our credit cards paid down, we made a pact. Neither of us would go to the mall, a department store, or Walmart by ourselves. We would go together. We bring a list of the things that we have to buy, and we don't buy anything that isn't on the list. We hold each other accountable. Our plan has been working well for nearly a year now.


You never know

You never know when old friends and co-workers will come in handy. I spend time on Facebook and Twitter. I use social media mostly to keep up with the people I know but don't get to see often. I thought it was just entertainment until I lost my job. I posted that I was unemployed and looking for work on Facebook and tweeted it too. I also asked if anyone had any suggestions or leads for me. A woman that I used to work with had moved on to a different firm and let me know that they were looking for someone.

With her help, I got an interview and the job! I still look at Facebook and Twitter as entertainment, but I won't forget how helpful they were in finding a job.


Spring home maintenance

I always use daylight savings time as a reminder for spring home maintenance. Not only do I change batteries and test our smoke detectors, but I also replace A/C filters and pour a little bleach into the A/C drain lines to keep them clear. As it warms up, we won't need much heat or A/C for a few months, but it's good to know that my bills will be lower when we do crank up the A/C.


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