Dollar Stretcher: Before you leave on vacation ...

Marco Eagle


Coconut palm tree with vintage effect.

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I enjoy taking on various DIY projects at home. It feels great to fix something that I knew nothing about a few days ago. Sometimes, however, I get in over my head. I’ve found a way to solve that too. I call the union hall for the appropriate trade. Often they can refer an apprentice to help finish the job. Sometimes a regular union member will come along to supervise, but even if they do, the hourly rate is less than on a regular service call. I save money and the apprentice gets needed experience and some income.


Easy emergency fund

Here’s an easy way to find money for your emergency fund. Since I get paid every two weeks, I have my monthly budget planned around using both paychecks to cover my expenses. A couple of times per year, I get three checks in the same month. When that happens, I take the extra check and put the whole thing into my emergency account. My monthly expenses are covered and so are those unexpected bills that happen.


Ask the butcher

Does your grocery store have a butcher on site? If so, you want to make friends with him/her. I frequently ask mine which meat cuts he recommends for value. Sometimes he'll tell me that they have some extra from yesterday's special or something that they have too much of that he can give me a discount on. Getting to know him has made a big difference in my family's diet. As a single mom, I have to watch my budget carefully. Buying our meats at a discount helps us to eat well when I don't have much to spend.


Before you leave on vacation ...

Before your vacation, use your phone to take pictures of your driver's license, passport, a list of your credit cards, and the inside of your suitcase if you're flying. If anything gets lost or stolen during your trip, you'll have proof of what was there. Two years ago, I lost my bag, including my driver's license. Fortunately, I had a picture of the list of phone numbers for my credit cards, so I could keep anyone from using them.

I couldn't replace my driver's license until I got home but figured if I got pulled over I'd show them the picture of my license to prove I had one.

It still wasn't something I'd wish on anyone, but it could have been much worse to be 1300 miles from home without anything.


Shopping the edges

Most of us shop the grocery store aisle by aisle. That way, we don't forget anything on our list. I've learned that the healthiest and cheapest foods are on the outside aisles and in the back of the store. Therefore, I now avoid the aisle with the freezer that holds all the microwave dinners. I still hit a few in the center like the one that has bags of rice and pasta and the condiments. I find that cooking from scratch takes a little more time, but it keeps both my family and my budget healthy!


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Last minute hotels

We take a car trip each summer. We had been booking our hotel for the next night a day early. For instance, before bed on Monday, we would reserve a room for Tuesday night. However, one night last year, we got in late, and I didn't have time to make a reservation. The next day, we were busy, so I didn't get a chance to find a hotel until after 6 p.m. I found that many hotels will drop rates in the late afternoon or early evening if they have empty rooms. Rather than let a room sit empty, they're happy to have it filled even if they don't get their full rate. Therefore, I now wait until about 6pm and use my phone to see what's available online. I've also learned that if I call a lesser chain and get a price, many of the more expensive chains will meet it if I ask. There is nothing like getting a Marriott discount that puts it in Motel 6 price range.


Giving money gifts in retirement

Just a word of caution about giving away money during retirement years.

Check with your local Department of Human Services office to see what your state policy is on transfer of assets. If your circumstances change and you need financial help with nursing home care or even home health care (in some situations), you could be penalized. All states are different, although the state I'm in looks back five years from date of application.

I'm definitely not trying to discourage giving, but be careful not to cause harm to yourself in the process.


Cooking for one

Cooking for one or two people can be hard. Unless you pay up for special small packages, it seems that most things are meant for four or five people. I've found a way to overcome some of that. When I buy veggies, I prep and freeze them on cookie sheets. The next day, I place them in freezer bags in an amount that would work for my wife and me. I do this for carrots, berries, and any other veggies that will freeze.


Concrete patio repair

Our concrete patio has developed a few cracks. It's nothing serious, but it's just enough to be noticeable. I thought about trying to patch it, but I didn't think that the patches would look much better than the cracks.

Then I saw where someone had painted their patio to look like flag stones!

I cleaned it really well and then laid down a base coat of gray. Onto that, I used an old rag to add some brown color. Finally, I added the lines that defined each stone. I did them in a real dark brown and made sure that they ran right where my cracks were. It's only been a few weeks, but I'm getting compliments from everyone that sees it!


When to begin Social Security

My husband and I weren't sure when we should begin collecting Social Security. We knew that the longer we waited the more we would get each month. It turns out that it's about eight percent more. We spoke with a financial planner who told us to think about whether we really needed the money right away and to think about how long we might live. He also reminded us that one of us could start collecting while the other delayed and that one could collect 50 percent of the other's benefit instead of their own benefit if that would pay more.


Saving for vacation

Every year about mid-March, I begin to collect gift cards for vacation. It gives me a chance to save, so we don't put the entire trip on our credit cards. I watch for special deals. Sometimes I can find $50 restaurant cards for $40 for a chain that we would eat at anyway on the road. I look for anything that we would be buying during our trip. This year, we're looking forward to seeing the Grand Canyon by car. Can't wait!


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