How to Save Money on Kid’s Toys

Have you ever walked into a family’s playroom so overflowing with toys that there wasn’t a place to walk? It’s scenes like these that make the CEO’s of the big toy companies smile.

Kiddie Consumers
An article in the International Business Times last month reminds us that the toy companies are depending on our kids for their growth. Since I’m interested in using toys to engage and educate my son rather than line the pockets of toy makers, I asked around for some ideas at a family get together last weekend.

Recycle Your Toys
As a parent of a nine-month old, I’ve learned that kids have a short attention span and move from one toy to the next pretty quickly so you need to have a wide variety available. However, your toy box can only hold so many toys before overflowing into your living room.

The simple tip I picked up was to take out older toys as new ones are added and store the old toys out of site for several site for several months. Once your kid tires of the toys they’re playing with, re-introduce the boxed up toys and put the current toys into storage. This should greatly reduce the number of brand new toys you have to buy while keeping your kids interested with “pseudo” new toys.

Avoid Commercials
This tip was from a mother of a two and five year old so I don’t know at what age it stops becoming effective but I imagine its value fades as they get older. I did get another tip from Jenn at Frugal Upstate in a comment on my Teaching Kids the Value of Money post.

Jenn mentioned that she avoids television channels that bombard kids with advertising, such as Nickelodeon, in order to cut down on the “gimme” effect. Toy companies love to tell kids they “have” to get the newest toy. Cut the commercials out of the loop and kids might want fewer toys, makes sense to me.

Saving Money
Re-introducing toys as new and reducing your kid’s exposure to advertising can help lower the costs of providing entertaining and educational toys for your children.

Honda’s Free Oil Change May Cost You Hundreds

If you own a Honda, you can get a “free” oil change on April 7th at your local Honda dealer during their annual car care day. Free is nice, however, there’s a reason Honda is giving away oil changes free of charge.

No Strings Attached?
The flyer I received in the mail offers a 40 – point inspection that includes a “thorough examination” of your engine, brakes, drivetrain, suspension, and steering components by Honda-trained technicians that result in a “detailed report of your vehicle’s condition”. Now you know that somewhere in that 40 – point inspection those Honda technicians are going to find something they think needs fixing.

I attended this event last year for the free oil change and left with a long list of recommended maintenance items. I’m not a car guy so I called a family member that knows auto mechanics and went through the list to see if anything was important. Then I took the list to a local repair shop and had them correct the ones that really needed work for a much lower price.

Watch Your Wallet
Honda is not going to give away free oil changes for nothing. They know the likelihood is that you’ll end up paying for some type of auto work that will more than cover the cost of the oil change. In addition, they don’t change your oil when you’re there. Instead, Honda gives you a voucher for a free oil change that you can redeem at a later date.

Keep it Free!
So stop by your Honda dealer to get your car checked out and your free oil change voucher on 4/7. Just beware the long list of items they’ll hand you after the 40 – point inspection and make sure you don’t forget to redeem your oil change coupon!

How Absentee Landlords can Save Thousands of Dollars with One Simple Change

Managing a rental property from a distance can be a challenge for an absentee landlord. An important tip is to make sure the company that holds the mortgage for the rental property has your home mailing address on record as point of contact. If that’s not the case, make the change and avoid the unfortunate tale that follows.

Policy Changes
Some relatives of mine own a rental property in another state. Due to a policy change, their mortgage holder stopped withholding property tax as part of their escrow and no longer paid the property taxes. The company sent notification of the change to the rental address but my relatives never received the letter.

Unpaid Taxes
When the taxes hadn’t been paid, a certified letter was sent to the rental property address notifying the property owners the taxes were due but once again my relatives did not receive the letter.

After a period of time the government foreclosed on the home and sold it to a real estate investor. When the current tenants received notice they had to move out they notified my relatives something was amiss. This is a property that they had owned for about 20 years and had appreciated tremendously in that time so they did everything they could to get the property back.

Expensive Lesson
After spending thousands of dollars in legal costs and a great deal of time, the buyer finally agreed to sell the property back to my relatives, plus fees, due to the circumstance of the original sale. The morale of the story is that keeping your home address as the point of contact for your mortgage company can save absentee landlords a lot of time and a lot of money.

9 Tax Mistakes to Avoid

I recently received an email from LL over at Tax Information about a timely topic, mistakes that people make when it comes to dealing with the tax man. The article lists nine tax mistakes and also talks briefly about how you can correct mistakes that have already been made. Here are the topics that are discussed, check out the article for details:

  • Math errors
  • Overlooked deductions
  • Overlooked documents
  • Tax form errors
  • Refunds
  • Deadlines
  • Not thinking about taxes all year round
  • Not thinking about taxes at all
  • Falling for tax scams

The article ends appropriately, reminding us not to slack off on managing our taxes once tax season comes to an end. In other words, its always tax season but most people only worry about it in March. Don’t be one of those people :)

Personal Finance Week in Review – Rock Chalk Jayhawk

Finally, the Kansas Jayhawks have made it back into the Elite Eight! There is an exciting weekend of basketball ahead of us, enjoy! On the personal finance front, here were some good articles this week.

Jeremy at Generation X discusses a morbid but necessary topic, the cost of dying and continues his 24 signs you could be in financial trouble series.

Henry reminds us that even rich guys like Yao Ming like to save money.

Sun has a nice comparison using UPromise and BabyMint to help save for college and Flexo reminds us that we can actually use Upromise to pay for our own student loans.

Digerati Life lets us in on foolish money moves that have cost her more than $1000 each; hopefully we can avoid making these ourselves.

Trent at The Simple Dollar gives up 17 tips for getting our dream job.

Lazy Man is focusing on peer-to-peer lending on Prosper this week and addresses some common Prosper complaints.

Golbguru continues his look at investing in gold, covering some of the important concepts in gold price.

As interest rates drop, Nickel talks about when to refinance your mortgage.

Have a good weekend!

Teaching Kids the Value of Money

Our third grade niece spent a few days with us recently and got me thinking about kids and money. Our little guy isn’t a year old yet so he’s too little to understand the value of a dollar. Although I do occasionally remind him as he lays on the changing table that if he had better bladder control we’d save money on diapers :)

I know what kids learn in the early years of childhood is crucial to their mental development. I wonder what age is the right time to begin developing their financial skills. I don’t want to bore my son to death with talk of compound rates of growth and debt-to-asset ratios but on the other hand I want to make sure he is financially knowledgable and responsible.

I ran across an article in Business Week last night, The Five Rules of Money for Children, that gave five basic money principles to instill in your kids.

1. A penny saved is a penny earned.
2. Stick to the budget.
3. Learn the power of interest.
4. Stay out of debt.
5. Giving back is the best gift.

Just think, if everyone had learned these concepts at a young age what a different situation our country would be in financially. I’ll do my best to pass these onto my son, I only hope that he’ll listen to his dad :)

How to Ace a Job Interview

Job interviews are a tough nut to crack. You have a short period of time to convince total strangers that you’re the right candidate for them. Follow the tips below and your interview may end with a job offer.

1) Be Humble
No one likes a pompous ass! A recent mistake I’ve witnessed is trying to exude confidence but instead coming across as a cocky know it all. Be sure to convey your knowledge and experience but don’t turn them off by acting as though you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to your industry.

2) Be Google-Proof
The inevitable question always follows an interview, “Has anyone Googled them yet?” Don’t share anything online that you wouldn’t want a prospective boss to know. I know of several cases where a promising applicant ruined their chances of being hired by details they revealed on their website.

3) Be Honest
If you don’t know the answer to a question, just say so. If they ask you to rate yourself on certain skills, keep it real. Otherwise they’ll probe further and you’ll lose credibility once they break through the facade.

4) Know Yourself
My boss always asks some variation of the question, “What 5 words best describe you” or “What 5 words would your previous boss use to describe you.” Who do you think comes across better, someone who can list off their strengths right away or someone who stares at the wall trying to figure out how to explain who they are? Make sure you can back your up claims, read the next tip for more on this.

5) Always Know Why
An answer to a question often leads to another question. If you make a claim about yourself or your skills, make sure you can explain your answer to the interviewer. If you say “Java is the best development language hands down” but can’t come up with a reason for your opinion then you’re just full of hot air.

6) Share the Love
It’s important to figure out who the decision maker is in a group interview and sell yourself to them. However, avoid addressing all your answers and face time to them. What if you picked the wrong person? Or what if the boss will only hire based on a consensus from the team? For example, after a recent interview, our boss left it up to the three team leads whether we wanted the candidate.

7) Keep Skeletons in the Closet
Beware questions like “Describe your worst job ever” or “Tell me about a bad experience you had with a co-worker or customer and how you handled it.” Keep the answer short, to the point, and free of bad mouthing. Rambling on about your former boss or complaining about a previous co-worker puts a negative spin on things and may bring up questions in the minds of your interview panel.

8) Curb Appeal
Show off your skills. Provide a link to your web-based portfolio before the interview and make sure you reference it during the interview as well. You’ll have a limited amount of face time; give your prospective employer a chance to review what you’re capable of both before and after the interview.

9) Go on the Offensive
End the interview with questions of your own. In addition to answering your questions it reminds the interviewers that you’re a valuable asset who is evaluating them as well. Suddenly they are trying to sell themselves to you, not a bad way to end the interview.

10) Make a Connection
Make use of any personal details you pick up on during the interview. As you shake everyone’s hand on the way out bring up these tidbits and it will stick in their head. Wish them well with their new baby son Joshua or good luck on their upcoming project. They’ll notice your attention to detail and by human nature will appreciate the kind gesture.

There you have it, 10 tips to help you nail the interview for the job you always wanted.

For more in-depth tools and tips to help you ace the interview be sure to check out the Job Interview Success System and The Ultimate Job Interview Answers Guide.

College Tuition Costs Gone Wild – An Apology Letter to My Son

College is a lot of fun, a lot of work, and costs a lot of money. The work makes you smart, the fun builds life long friends, and the student loans will follow you around for years.

Times Have Changed
I hope you decide to attend college someday and experience all it has to offer, except the loans of course. The academic, athletic, and leadership scholarships that I earned didn’t cover the cost of my degree but your grandparents were able to cover the rest of the bill. I’m sad to say, I don’t think your mother and I will be able to offer the same assistance to you.

High Cost of Higher Education
College tuitions costs are out of control and who knows how high they’ll be once you’re off to school. We started saving money in a 529 plan before you were born but I’m afraid it just won’t be enough. You’re so much fun that we plan on having more kids. With the cost of tuition today we just won’t have the money to pay for all of your educations.

Making Tough Choices
We are making choices that you may not agree with. We’ve been saving heavily in our retirement plans since we were married, at the expense of a college fund, because you can get a loan for college but we can’t get a loan for retirement. We also recently decided to have your mother stop working to stay home to raise you. Although this cuts back on the money we can save for your schooling we hope that this extra love and care will help you develop into a well-balanced person, for whom student loans are no obstacle to success.

Our Support
The legacy of zero student debt that your grandparents left us was amazing and I apologize for not being able to pass the same onto you. This may all sound a little discouraging but don’t worry, we won’t leave you high and dry. After all, you are our son.

We have been saving for your college education and will continue to do so. We’ll do our best to balance funding your schooling with all the other costs of life. We’ll help you develop skills that may someday lead to scholarships and most importantly, we’ll be there for you no matter what road you take, whether it leads you to college or some other path in life.

P.S. In state tuition is much cheaper. Go Mizzou!

Warning! Your Tax Information May be Vulnerable to Identity Theft

A recent Computerworld article, Photocopiers: The newest ID theft threat, alerts us to the potential role photo copiers can play in identity theft, especially during tax season.

Copying Your Identity
Newer photo copiers contain hard drives that store the information we make copies of. Most people, myself included, don’t think twice about copying private information on public copy machines because we don’t realize the personal data can be stored on the copier. This is even more of an issue during tax season as people copy document after document for their tax returns.

Security Holes
According to the article, the danger arises because many photocopiers are on a network and open to attack via modem when default passwords aren’t changed. We’re lucky if the copier at my office even works, let alone have been setup to use a more secure password.

Health Data at Risk
I see flexible spending account participants at risk as well as tax filers. I photocopy my receipts before mailing them in for reimbursement so I’m revealing personal health data as well as financial information.

Low Tech Identity Theft
There were several times in college where I needed to photo copy items such as credit cards, passports, or my Social Security card. There was always a line of people waiting behind me to use the copier in the student center so I was always in a rush. On more than one occasion, I accidentally left the last item in the copier once I was finished. Luckily an honest person turned it in but in the wrong hands I could have fallen victim to identity theft.

I think I’ll start scanning my tax forms and receipts in at home as opposed to making copies at Kinkos or at work. It will be a pain but when it comes to personal health data and financial information, it seems better safe than sorry.

Personal Finance Week in Review – The Big Dance Edition

March Madness is upon us with more games than you can watch at once but I still found time to read some interesting personal finance articles this week.

Sun talks about using ETF’s in your investment portfolio and Jim has another Devil’s Advocate post, Invest in Your Company. Some reasons he gives for buying stock in the company you work for are that you understand your company better than others and you often get an employee discount on the stock price.

Money Stress
SVB gives us some insight on preparing for stressful financial situations in our life. If you have money woes you can always turn to my 10 Ways to Reduce Money Stress post.

Lazy Man warns us that perfectionism can get in the way of progress when you’re an entrepreneur. I read an article the other day that said good companies or websites are “always in beta” or always trying something new. Don’t delay getting started on your idea because it’s not quite right. Throw it against the wall and see what sticks!

Social Security
Jeremy describes where our social security contributions go, other than down the toilet. He asks the important question, “Will you ever see a benefit from the money you’ve been putting into these programs?”, not likely in my opinion.

Credit Cards
Tricia reminds us to take advantage of credit card services such as email alerts and credit card usage monitoring in Use the Resources Your Credit Card Gives You.

Mighty Bargain Hunter brings up a sad but important subject, how to plan for an inheritance. A key point is not to count on it, don’t make decisions assuming you’ll get an inheritance. What happens if you don’t?

I went on a rant this week about the perils of buying too much stuff and Henry put together a clever chart depicting how the more stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you.

Free Stuff
Golbguru is having a reader appreciation contest where he’s giving 4 lucky readers “anything they wish for”. All you have to do is leave a comment to enter, there are 12 entries so far so the competition is heating up, contest ends Thursday, 29th March.

That’s a wrap for this week in personal finance, if you ever run any articles that are worth a mention just let me know. Have a happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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