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Travel for Less: Save Money On Your Summer Vacation

As Phineas and Ferb – two of my daughter’s favorite animated TV characters – like to say, there are 104 days of summer vacation. How are you going to spend it?

If you’re like me, your summer plans probably include a family vacation. Whether your destination is across the globe, across the country, or just across town for an increasingly popular stay-cation at the grandparents’ house, saving money and finding ways to travel for less are probably high on your “must have” list. But how can you make sure you’re getting the most bang for your proverbial buck? There are gazillions of travel websites out there, all touting travel advice to help you travel for less: but how do you know which ones are right for you?

I’ve already done the research for you. Here are my top 10 travel websites for all your vacation needs.

Flights

Getting to your destination is half the battle these days, especially with the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas encroaching on the $4 mark. The 2,000-mile round trip drive from Cleveland, Ohio to Orlando, Florida can cost between $350 and $400 in fuel costs alone – far more than the cost of a single airline ticket between Cleveland Hopkins and Orlando International airports. That means it actually might be more affordable – and far less time consuming – to fly instead of drive.

  • Bing’s airfare prediction tool acts as a free travel agent. All you have to do is enter the information for the flight you want, and Bing does the rest. The site not only tracks fares for you, it also gives you predictions regarding when flights for your desired route will have a price drop, based on historical data and complicated algorithms. Bing claims its airfare prediction tool is accurate 75 percent of the time, saving the average air traveler $50.
  • While travel websites like Travelocity and Expedia track ticket prices on larger airlines, they don’t always represent the little guys. That’s where Which Budget comes in. This site monitors airfares for smaller airlines, whose routes aren’t always tracked by the bigger travel websites.
  • Yapta helps ensure you don’t pay too much for your trip, by protecting your pocketbook both before and after you book your flight. Like Bing, Yapta uses historical data to predict price drops for certain airline routes. If you do book a flight and the price for that route later drops, they work to refund you the difference.

Hotels

Your hotel is likely to take a bigger chunk out of your travel budget than any other single element of your vacation. Just like airlines, hotels have slow seasons where they are more likely to dramatically drop the price of a night’s stay. But remember – the brand name hotels like Holiday Inn, Hilton, and Marriott aren’t the only ones out there.

  • What Yapta is to air travel, Tingo is to hotel rooms. When you book through Tingo, you’re guaranteed to get the lowest price out there. Tingo promises that if the price of your room drops, they’ll refund you the difference – unlike Orbitz, you’ll get that money back whether another customer books the same itinerary or not.
  • Want different hotels to fight for your business? That’s what BackBid is all about. This travel website allows you to register your upcoming hotel reservations and travel preferences, then sends the information – anonymously – to your current hotel’s competitors. The result? Hotels undercutting one another to win your reservation – and the ability to travel for less.
  • Everyone’s heard about the large hotel chains, but there are plenty of smaller chains and individually operated boutique hotels that offer stellar service at rock-bottom prices. Hotel Sweep examines the nightly rates for hotels large and small, finding the fairs directly on the hotel’s own website, where many hotels record their lowest rates.
  • Thought hostels were a European travel fad? Think again. Hostelz.com bills itself as the world’s largest database of hostels, providing rates for facilities in more than 9,000 cities worldwide. Staying in a hostel is a great way to save huge amounts of money.
  • While HomeAway has become the flagship for the new home swapping travel craze, it’s just the tip of the iceberg of travel websites that offer this service. FlipKey, Airbnb, and VRBO (a subsidiary of HomeAway, which focuses on vacation home rentals, instead of primary residences) all offer home swapping rental information as well.

Other Travel Websites

Looking for help managing your money or travel points? That’s where my last two travel websites come in. These sites don’t necessarily promise to help you travel for less; rather, they work to help ease those headaches associated with traveling.

  • Can’t keep track of your HiltonHonors points? Not sure how many frequent flyer miles you’ve collected? Sign up for a free account with Award Wallet. This site tracks reward points for credit card companies, hotel chains, and airlines.
  • If you’re looking for a one-size-fits-all credit card that makes traveling a breeze, look no further than the PenFed Premium Travel Rewards card. Backed by American Express, this credit card – a product of Pentagon Federal Credit Union – is loaded with plenty of perks. Airfare purchases nab you five points for every dollar you spend, plus you’ll earn 20,000 points (a $250 value) when you spend at least $650 during your first three months as a cardholder. This card – which carries a respectably low APR and boasts no annual fees – is ideal for international travel, since you’ll never pay a foreign transaction fee when using it.

There you have it – my top 10 travel websites (with a bonus site or two thrown in for good measure).

Which websites do you rely for travel advice, or for steals and deals when you need to travel for less?

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Disney World’s Best Kept Secret

About a year and a half ago – after my family’s first trip to Walt Disney World – I wrote about the pros and cons of becoming Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members. Ultimately, the initial buy-in (at the time, roughly the price of a new, small sedan) proved to be too much, and my husband and I passed.

Now, we’re just a few months away from our second Disney World vacation, and this time, I’ll be taking advantage of most of what the DVC has to offer. “How’s that?” you ask; didn’t I say no to the pricey membership?

I did. But, as it turns out, that doesn’t mean you have to pass on staying at the Florida resort using DVC points.

Renting DVC Points

As I was planning our upcoming trip, I focused on Disney’s moderate and value resorts. Even during the summer travel season, a basic room at one of these hotels is going to run you less than $200/night, which was doable for our budget. Still, I couldn’t help but be jealous every time one of our friends announced that they too were going to visit Mickey and his friends, and shared that they’d be staying at one of Disney’s deluxe properties. Yes, this mom definitely wanted to keep up with the Jones’, but didn’t want to pay the heft price tag, either.

Then one friend filled me in on her secret: renting points from existing DVC members. Here’s how it works:

Say an existing DVC member knows they won’t be going on a vacation this year, or needs some fast cash to cover expenses. Disney allows them to rent their DVC points to you. You purchase the points, they make the reservation in your name with Disney.

Now, I bet you’re wondering: isn’t that a little risky? What’s to say they’re not going to take the money and run, and you get to Orlando with no place to stay?

I had the same concerns, so I started doing a little bit of research on my own. I soon learned that there are several 3rd-party companies – several of which are both BBB and “Mouse-Approved” – that act as a middle man between DVC members and potential guests, like me. After reading dozens (and dozens) of reviews, I narrowed these companies down to my two favorite: DVC Rental Store and David’s Vacation Club Rentals.

Planning Your Trip

Both of these sites have easy to use reservation calendars, that let you check the availability and the cost of your Disney World vacation. For my dates, I received the following quotes*:

  • Disney’s Boardwalk: $1560 for 6 nights
  • Disney’s Key West Resort: $1220 for 6 nights
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas: $1140 for 6 nights

* Note, I received several quotes for more expensive Disney properties; these were the 3 that were the “best bargains.” *

Now, let’s be clear: when you stay at a Disney property using DVC points, you won’t be staying in a typical room. Rather, you’ll be staying at a villa. Usually, this means you get slightly more square footage in your room, plus what Disney considers a “kitchenette” – a small fridge, microwave, and extra sink, allowing you some versatility in your meal planning.

Out of the above hotels, not only was Animal Kingdom the best deal, it was also the one I knew my young children would enjoy the most. When I compared the quotes from the rental agencies to Disney’s prices for the same dates – which included a 25% discount on the Animal Kingdom Lodge – I learned that I would save roughly $700 using rented points. In fact, the Animal Kingdom quote through the rental companies was $100 less than I’d pay to stay at one of Disney’s moderate resorts for the same dates! What’s more, I could still take advantage of the Disney Dining Plan (I’ll write a review about that after my trip; I’m curious to see if it will be a good value) through the rental companies, as well as all the other advantages of being an “on property” guest of Walt Disney World.

Have you ever rented points to stay at Walt Disney World? Do you think it’s something you’d consider? Why or why not?

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Furnish Your House For Less

I’d love to prove to everyone I’m a true frugalista, and say that when we moved from the Dirty South to the Midwest, we kept all our existing furniture. After all, it’s significantly cheaper to use furniture you already have to decorate your home rather than furniture shopping for new stuff. But if I told you that, I’d be lying.

Since moving in to our new home, we’ve updated the furniture in four entire rooms. Everything in our son’s bedroom, home office, kitchen, and family room is new (well, kinda). Some purchases were out of necessity; my son outgrew his crib and needed a big boy bed, for example. But in the majority of cases, our new home furnishings were purchased simply because we wanted to update.

So, if I:

  • Don’t have a ton of money in our discretionary budget.
  • Don’t have a Money Settlement to cash in.
  • Don’t want to get yet another side hustle.

What’s a girl to do to furnish her home?

Etsy

My mother insists on calling this site “E-T-S-Y” – spelling out the name, a la ESPN – rather than pronouncing it as though it rhymed with the woman’s name “Betsy.” But however you choose to say it, this site is AWESOME.

While you can find big, handmade or reclaimed pieces for sale on this site, it’s not the best place to furnish your home if you’re looking for couches, bedroom sets, and dining room tables. But if you’re looking for the special accents that make a house feel like a home – things like mismatched kitchen chairs, a hand-woven rug, custom pottery, or any and all types of wall art – this is your place. And, I’ve found, the prices are incredibly reasonable, especially when you consider that the majority of the products for sale on Etsy are handmade, rather than mass-produced.

But my favorite part about this site is that I feel like I’m helping support someone’s cottage industry. Sure, I might not be doing business with a local entrepreneur in my home town, but I am buying from a small-scale operation instead of a big box store. And with that “small-scale” experience comes BIG customer service; I’ve become a repeat customer at one particular “shabby chic” store on Etsy, and now the shop owner regularly gives me 10% off or free shipping on my purchase.

Consignment Shopping

I’ve always been a fan of buying things second-hand, but now, I’m more into buying things “on consignment” than ever before. We found a great consignment furniture store in our town, which has proven to be a treasure trove. A good consignment shop is picky about what they take, ensuring that the goods they display are all sturdy and made with integrity.

My husband and I had spent the better part of three months looking for the perfect end table for our living room. We were looking for a truly unique piece, but just couldn’t find exactly what we were looking for. Then one day, we walked into our favorite consignment shop, and saw it – a gorgeous, octagon-shaped table that was just the right height… but it was the wrong color. No worries, though: our consignment shop employs an expert in chalk paint, who was able to overhaul our table to our exact specifications for a fraction of the price of having the whole thing custom made. Now, it looks like a really high-end piece, even though we paid second-hand price for it.

But buying consignment – or merely second-hand – doesn’t have to happen in a brick-and-mortar store. You can troll thrift stores in your area, visit rummage or consignment sales sponsored by local groups like churches or women’s clubs, or even the burgeoning number of online groups that allow you to shop via Facebook.

Borrowing

My aunt is currently in the process of trying to sell her house, and wanted to temporarily declutter. So I ever-so-graciously offered to hold on to her upright piano and a gorgeous cedar chest. Now, I won’t be able to “borrow” these pieces forever, but for now, they’re allowing me to “try out” a few different pieces in my home without having to purchase them.

Reclamation Projects

When we lived in the South, we had something called “bulk trash day.” That was the one week of the year when our city’s sanitary department would take large items, without prior arrangement. The result? Everybody in the city would toss their sofas, old tables and chairs, and rusted patio furniture to the curb… and the “scavengers” would come. They’d come in pickup trucks, towing trailers, and in one unusual case, with a full-sized uHaul van. They’d pick up all our “trash,” and before long, it would turn up in local second-hand stores, suddenly somebody’s “treasure.” (We saw this happen firsthand to a few of our items!)

Now, before you think, “Gross! Why would I want to take somebody’s trash off the curb?” let me say this: if the item is in good structural shape, it can be salvaged. Upholstery and padding can be replaced; table tops can be sanded; chairs can be painted. My husband and I did this with our very first kitchen table, and it lasted us seven years! Just look beyond the reality of a piece, and look at its potential.

What creative ways have you used to furnish your house for less?

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Turning part of your home into an office

So, you have decided to turn part of your home into a working office. Maybe you have an existing business and realise that cost-savings can be made from working from home. Or maybe you are starting up from scratch?

Either way, there are considerations.

Funding an office conversion

If you are fortunate enough to have your own capital reserves that will fund things such as the putting up of partitions and upgrading your technology infrastructure then that’s fine.

If not, you may be faced with one of two options – borrowing money and adding it to your existing mortgage or taking out some form of business loan.

While adding to your mortgage may be perfectly viable, it will of course have the possibly undesirable effect of meaning your loan is effectively repaid over very many years.

On the other hand, you may be worrying that a business loan will involve you in lengthy administrative procedures, applications and visits to your local bank branch.

Innovative ways to fund your office development

If you are looking to borrow a sum of money, your local bank is no longer the sole source of funds.

There are numbers of online providers of business loans who might be only too willing to help.  They also might be capable of responding to your request very quickly indeed – and obviously without the need for any personal visits or interviews.

Some people contemplating moving their business activities into their home get a little nervous about the thought of applying for this type of loan.  That might be particularly true if you have little previous experience of borrowing money for business purposes.

The good news is that the internet sites of modern loan providers are typically extremely informative.  You can get an idea of how they are set out from Everline’s website though there are many others you can also look at in order to get a feel for the characteristics of the marketplace.

These sites with their numerous options are extremely useful and particularly so for those who aren’t immediately familiar with borrowing.  It might be well worth your time having an initial look.

It is important though that you keep in mind at all times that borrowing money has cost involved and you should be clear that you understand what that cost is and are sure of your ability to pay it.

If you are a start-up, some funding options will not be available to you, as ideally, at least 2 years’ worth of accounts are usually required by a prospective lender.

Your working environment

Some people make the mistake of simply sticking a desk in the spare cupboard and assuming that the job’s done.

In practice, in terms of your productivity and even your health, this is typically a significant mistake.

So, design a working area that takes into account things like natural light and your own creature comforts.  Be prepared to spend money in order to achieve that. After all, you are going to be spending the bulk of your week at your desk!

Be practical but keep economy in mind

Of course, even if you are productively using some business borrowing, it might be unlikely to be the case that you will be fortunate enough to have an unlimited budget.

Surprisingly, some extraordinary transformations of home areas into extremely practical offices can be achieved for relatively small sums of money.

There are plenty of such tips available on the internet and it might be sensible to research them thoroughly.

Take the family with you

One of the biggest sources of family friction can arise when a much used area of the house is suddenly annexed by one person and unilaterally designated as being their office!

It’s obviously important that once your office is set up, your privacy in there and that of your documents/technology is respected.

So, consult your family in advance and try and take them with you on your construction plans.

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Facebook: The New Craigslist?

I don’t know about you, but Craigslist has always given me the creeps. Sure, I’ve been able to sell some stuff on there – most notably, a very well-used breast pump for a tiny fraction of what I paid for it – but for the most part, I’ve avoided the site like the plague. Headlines like this - Craigslist Killer Sentenced To Death – don’t help. I mean, how do I know that the seemingly well-intentioned “working mom” I’ve been emailing with isn’t going to kill me over a pair of size 4T Gymboree overalls?

But in today’s economy, selling stuff online is basically a way of life. After all, why would you go through the trouble of setting up and advertising for a garage sale so you can wake up at 6am on a rainy Saturday morning, just so people can turn up their noses at your outdated china pattern? Why spend hours sorting and tagging dozens of pieces of children’s clothing for a consignment sale that will only pay you 50% of the sale price? Seems like a gargantuan waste of time to me.

So when a friend of mine invited me to a new place to sell stuff online – on a site I, admittedly, already spend way too much time – I was curious.

And that curiosity turned into addiction – the healthy kind. Here’s how.

Facebook Sell, Buy, & Swap Groups

My friend’s invitation was a link to join a closed group on Facebook for parents in our area. The group’s only purpose is to facilitate the sale and purchase of unwanted merchandise. The group I joined – which was limited to only women living in 5 neighboring towns – was a closed group; administrators would only add new members if they came with a referral from an existing member. In other words, we’re all like one giant game of “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” – everybody, tangentially, at least, knows everybody else. It’s a huge network, too; currently, there are 2,200 of us in the group.

The “Rules” of the Game

My Facebook group has a pretty strict set of rules that regulate how the group operates. It comes with a series of abbreviations – things like ISO (in search of), NIL (next in line), and OBO (or best offer) – that took some serious getting used to. But all that protocol – as well as the exclusivity of the group – means that it’s a very orderly place to search for and sell items.

Now, not all of these online groups come with such copious codes of conduct; in fact, I’m also a member of two other, similar groups on Facebook that let you sell stuff online without any regulation whatsoever.

Like Charlie Sheen, I Am “Winning”

Since joining this group, I’ve managed to free up a lot of storage space in my closets. As my husband joked (at least, I think he was joking), “If it’s not nailed down or you’re currently wearing it, Libby’s going to sell it.” Here’s just a sampling of what I’ve sold:

  • A coffee table we bought more than 7 years ago, used (and abused) copiously, then sold… for $50
  • All the cloth diapers my son no longer uses (he’s potty-trained, HOORAY!), as well as potty seats and one of those potty-training books that makes the sound of a toilet flushing when you press a button. The whole kit’n'caboodle went for $100
  • A deep freezer we’d never even bothered to plug in since moving into our new home 8 months ago. We used it for 5 years, then sold it for $50

Could I have sold all these things for more money? Maybe – if I was willing to put in a heck of a lot more elbow grease – but here’s the best part: all I had to do to unload these items was take a picture, post it, and collect the cash when the buyers came to pick them up.

I’ve also made several purchases, too. Most notably, I’ve bought my son’s entire wardrobe for the next year-plus from three separate sellers. I’ve nabbed 2 pairs of brand new shoes, a dozen tops, a few sweaters, half a dozen pairs of shorts, another half-dozen pair of pants, and a jacket all for $43. And a lot of this stuff still has tags on it!

And You Can “Win” Too

So, as one of my friends who lives in another state asked me, “How can I find a site like this one?” Well, I can tell you with certainty that I did not stumble across a one-of-a-kind goldmine: there are Facebook groups like this in almost every city.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Log on to your Facebook account (and if you don’t have one, seriously???  Even my mother has joined…)
  2. Use the search box at the very top of your home page to look for groups containing words like, “Buy and Sell” or “Mommies Sale,” along with the name of your town, or other towns in your immediate area.
  3. See if the groups are open or closed. If they’re open, you can request to join on your own – but keep in mind that fewer rules may mean less security for you.
  4. If the group is closed, search the group’s members to see if you are already friends with anyone. If you are, send a message to that friend, requesting that they add you to the group.
  5. Read all the group’s rules. Each one operates on its own devices, and if you don’t follow their protocol, they can – and will – kick you out.
  6. Be honest. Nobody wants to be told they’re getting a new, unopened set of Disney Princess dolls, only to discover that the seller’s daughter got chewing gum caught in Sleeping Beauty’s hair.

That’s it! I hope you have as much success – and fun – as I have with my Facebook swap & sell group.

Have you found any other sites that are great alternatives to Craigslist when it comes to buying, selling, and trading household goods?

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Frugal Emergency Kit: First Aid

In a crisis, bad will go worse. For this, we have first aid Kits. A fully furnished first aid kit bought at a store can be pricey. There are many ways to stock an excellent kit, without spending your bank account.

First, know what you’ll need. Clark County, NV recommends your kit contain the following:

  1. Emergency medications and prescriptions
  2. Extra hearing aid batteries, if needed
  3. Extra eyeglasses
  4. Aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever
  5. Laxative
  6. Sterile adhesive bandages in varying sizes
  7. Safety pins
  8. Adhesive tape
  9. Latex Gloves
  10. Sunscreen Gauze Pads
  11. Sterile roller bandages
  12. Scissors
  13. Tweezers
  14. Thermometer
  15. Liquid anti-bacterial soap
  16. Disposable hand wipes
  17. Needles
  18. Petroleum jelly or lubricant
  19. 2 tongue blades
  20. Antacid
  21. Saline solution, if needed
  22. Medicine dropper
  23. Anti-diarrhea medication
  24. Rubbing alcohol
  25. Antiseptic wash
  26. Ipecac syrup
  27. Activated charcoal
  28. Dust/ventilation masks

I also recommend athletic tape, instant ice packs, allergy medication (such as Benadryl), something like neosporin, a brace for any weak joints you possess, a mouth guard in case of CPR, and an emergency mylar blanket in case of shock.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the list. It’s 35 items, plus or minus anything you can think of. Some of the items may already be in bulk in your medicine cabinet, easily parceled into an emergency kit. If you remove medication from it’s packaging, put it in something you can label with the name, unit of measurement (i.e., 25mg capsules), the batch (in case of recall), and the expiration date.

Now that you’ve checked off what you have, arrange your list by priority, and divide it into up to four sections. Each week, you are responsible for obtaining the items in each section, creating a full kit inside of a month.

I think you should also consider putting a small first aid kit (antiseptic, bandaids, and gauze) in every individual’s emergency kit, over and above the household one.

Your first stop is your local dollar/99 cent store. The random brand “neosporin” that costs one dollar works just as well as the four dollar name brand. They usually have a wealth of random first aid supplies, but they rotate and you may not be able to find it the next time. My second favorite locale is our Big Lots. For those of you who don’t have one, it’s a closeout store, where retailers send their season’s ends. They have really good deals, many under a dollar. Their selection is also never the same twice.

When all else fails, you can still go to a grocery or drug store. Look for sales, and utilize rewards to maximize your dollar.

If you’re careful with you dollars you should be able to purchase a complex first aid kit for under $50, far better than the limited kits, and far less expensive than the”complete” kits.

One last tip, I look for coupons on first aid supplies, and purchased two mini-first aid kits, like the ones I recommend for your individual kits, for $1.50 each.

Your safety is worth your dollars, but don’t spend what you don’t have to.

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5 Cheap Solutions To Improve Your Home Security

It was our first winter in our new house, and I had homeowner fever. Thrilled to no longer be living in an apartment – surrounded by noisy neighbors on all sides (left, right, up, down) – I embraced home ownership and everything that goes along with it. So I placed a refurbished red rocking chair on my front porch, and put some Adirondack chairs surrounding an above-ground fire pit on the back patio. Every night as I walked our new puppy – a housewarming gift from my parents – down the street, I’d look adoringly at our new home.

Then we were robbed. And I’ve never been able to look at my house – or my neighborhood – the same way again.

The Crime

It happened in the middle of the night while my husband and I were sleeping. Back then, we didn’t have kids, so we slept rather soundly – maybe that’s why we didn’t hear the people on our front porch, taking the rocking chair; maybe that’s why we didn’t hear them out back, stealing the patio furniture; maybe that’s why we didn’t hear them peel out of our driveway, only to discover the evidence (the burnt rubber of tire tracks) the next morning.

I was so distraught I called in sick to work. Even though the robbers hadn’t breached the security of the house itself, the fact that they’d taken our stuff from our yard left me feeling short of breath. Maybe I was naive to think that just because something was on my property, tucked next to our house, that it was safe. But after that night, I vowed never to be the victim of a property crime again. Here are five cheap solutions we found to improve our home’s security.

Home Security Solution #1: Changing The Locks

This should be your first step to improve your home’s security. In hindsight, it’s something we should have done the first week we moved in to our house, not months down the road after a close call. You can either hire a locksmith to do this for you, or simply do it yourself. The hardware is readily available at big box stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Walmart, and the process is simple enough for even the most inexperienced weekend warrior; it can cost you as little as $5 a door, although you will get what you pay for, so a higher-quality (and more expensive) knob is worth the price.

In addition to changing the locks on all our exterior doors, we also got rid of the old deadbolts, along with their interior latches. Instead, we replaced them with key-only deadbolts. Now, in order to unlock those deadbolts – whether from the inside or the outside – you need a key. Since a few of our exterior doors have windows right next to them, we felt this was an important aspect of home security and well worth the $8-$15 a door it cost to buy and install the new deadbolts.

Home Security Solution #2: Adding Motion-Sensor Lighting

When we moved in, the exterior lighting on our home was broken. We’d never bothered to replace it, which gave the robbers an advantage – a veil of darkness. The very day of the crime, my husband and I bought two motion-sensor lights: one for the fixture above our garage door, and another for our back patio. Combined, they cost about $50; my husband was able to install them himself. The key to this home security solution? Be sure to turn the lights on, otherwise they’ll do you no good.

Home Security Solution #3: Put The Outdoor Furniture Inside

Outdoor furniture may help create outdoor living areas, but they can also put your home at risk. How? A chair on your front porch can be used to help gain access to elevated first floor windows; a patio table can help someone get on to a low-rise roof. Even a child’s toy left outside can help break a window and gain someone entrance to your home. The police officers who came to our house after the larceny told us that if we planned on replacing the stolen furniture, we should make a habit of bringing it inside every night.

Home Security Solution #4: Reprogramming Your Garage Door Opener

Don’t think improving your home’s security means you have to buy a whole new garage door unit. Instead, just reprogram the garage door itself – buying a new clicker is optional and, depending on the brand  you have, maybe even unnecessary. My husband was able to reprogram our garage door opener in about five minutes at no cost.

Home Security Solution #5: Activating The Security Alarm

When we’d purchased our house, it already had a security system installed. Not thinking we’d need it, we never bothered activating it. Instead, it was just a nuisance, telling us now and then that the back door was ajar in a mechanical voice.

After the larceny, though, I quickly saw that security system for what it was: a tool to keep us safe. We contacted several security companies in the area until we found one that promised to waive the reactivation fee and give us a discounted rate. For the next three years, we paid just $15 a month for monitoring service. During that time, my husband starting working overnights – as a sheriff’s deputy, ironically – and having that alarm gave me peace of mind when I was alone with the kids at night.

Even if you can’t afford to have a fancy security system installed by the pros, there are smaller, simpler alarms on the market that you can install yourself. Then, just call a security company to do the monitoring for you. And if you already have a security system, remember to set it not only every time you leave you house, but at bedtime, too – after all, you’re paying for the service, you might as well let it work for you.

Reader, which cheap solutions do you have for improving your home’s security?

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There are a lot of decisions to make when you set up a new business, and one of the most important is your point of sale software. You will be interacting with this software every time you make a sale, and it touches nearly every part of your business, from inventory to bookkeeping. Get this decision right and you can save hours of time and piles of cash. Get it wrong and you will lose time and money while fighting with your software. Here are some key things to think about when research your POS software.

Easy to Use

You will be using this software a lot, and so will all of your employees. This software will be involved in every customer transaction, and the speed and smoothness of those transactions will have a lot to do with whether customers come back for more. Your point of sale software needs to be easy and intuitive to use. If you need to spend hours to teach yourself how to use the basic features or to train your staff in how to use them, you’re going to waste a lot of time. You’ll also risk confusion and lost sales. If a software package isn’t easy to use, move on to other options.

Forward-Looking

Technology changes so fast that you have to be sure your software will keep up. The best point of sale software packages are already looking toward what comes next, maybe before you even hear of it. When you research software packages, look for signs that the developers are keeping in touch with new trends and developments in payment systems. When a new payment method starts being popular, you want to make sure you’re ready to use it right away. The right point of sale software will have you covered.

In-Depth Reports

All point of sale software should have basic reporting features to give you sales and inventory data. But deeper levels of reporting can help you analyze your business in new and profitable ways. If you have reports which show you data about your margins and pricing effectiveness, you can tweak your pricing for maximum profit. Finely-grained data about sales will show you what is selling best when so you can plan for the future, and it can also show you what product lines are not performing well and need to be changed or dropped. Having good data is vital to solid growth.

Security of Data

Your customers entrust you with their personal financial data, and you need to make sure that data is kept secure while you process transactions. Your own financial data is just as important to protect. Your point of sale system needs to take security very seriously. Make sure that strong encryption is used on all data and that customer credit card numbers are not stored in the system. The developers of your system should stay on top of security developments and release updates as soon as possible in response to any potential security problems.

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3 awesome things to do when you retire

Retirement is just as personal as personal finance. Every person has a different plan and road map to get to that destination. Some folks are working their tails off now, 50, 60, 70 hour weeks to make as much money as they can so when they finally do retire, they can just do nothing all day. Personally, I’d prefer to enjoy now and tomorrow :)

But whether you can enjoy these now or have to wait a few years till retirement, these activities are worth doing sometime in your life.

Disney Anything!

Disney is a leader in entertainment for many reasons. The catchphrase, “I’m going to Disneyland!” has lived on so long because it’s actually one of the coolest places to be. But Disney has done far more than just Disneyland, which is updated regularly to be better and better. The Disney Cruise Line is one of the best especially if you do attend with children. The food is phenomenal and every ship comes staffed with Characters from all your favorite Disney movies. Even if you’re not a fan of Disney, a Cruise is still one of the funnest ways to get away. 

Travel Abroad

Traveling to another country at some point in your life will change the way you see the world and I’ve rarely heard of it changing your life in a negative way. But don’t just take the tourist route, actually get out there and live like the locals do. See the world from some else’s perspective. Enjoy the things they enjoy, the foods they eat and the activities they do every day. Most people regret not traveling more when they are unable to do so, so get out there now and see the world!

Service

When you retire, you’ll most likely find you have more time than you know what to do with especially if you follow the traditional route of working crazy hours when you’re younger. With retirement you’ll also have an abundance of life experiences. One great way to spend some retirement time is giving back in the form of service. Service may not sound like a ton of fun, but it sure can be and here’s how:

Help others in an area you’re knowledgeable of or passionate about. Find young people interested in what you did your entire life and mentor them. Share your mistakes and help others learn from your life. Get involved in communities you want to see flourish and make that happen.

Life is too short to not enjoy every minute that you have.

One tip to having your cake and eating it too is, make sure your retirement funds are well tracked and paying what they should. What I mean by that is, get organize with your retirement planning. If you’re disorganized over the course of your life, with your retirement planning and accounts, you may be forgetting about money that could be funding your retirement adventures. Suncorp can help find lost superannuation.

What do you plan to do when you retire?

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Over 15 million people become victims of financial identity theft in the United States alone each year. With an average of $3,500 being lost in each reported case, studies have confirmed that this equates to a total of over $50 billion, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Taking the various steps necessary to keep yourself and your financial identity protected is imperative in order to make sure that you do not become one of this year’s victims.

Keep a Close Eye on Your Credit Report

Keeping a close watch on your credit report and score, in addition to your monthly statements, is an essential part of the process that should never be ignored or overlooked. Studies have confirmed that over 60 percent of consumers have never received a copy of their credit reports, according to Experian. If you do not focus on regular credit monitoring then you are leaving yourself open and vulnerable to the world of identity thieves that may be using and abusing your financial identity in a number of different ways. Paying attention to the content of the report instead of just the score will allow you to search for discrepancies and errors that need to be corrected.

Check Monthly Statements

The Internet has been able to enhance the efficiency of computers and mobile devices when it comes to creating a paperless environment, especially when it comes to receiving bills, letters, and even marketing materials from local businesses. However, it is imperative to never allow this helpful efficiency to become a detrimental hazard when it comes to keeping up with your banking statements. Take the time to review them thoroughly in order to check for banking errors and unauthorized transactions. In addition, make sure that you save and store these confidential statements in a safe place. Cyber criminals and experienced hackers target these types of statements specifically when they compromise email accounts and online profiles of their identity theft victims.

Become a Fan of the Shredder

If you do not already own a shredder it would be in your best interest to buy one as soon as possible. Do not fall into the trap of believing that simply tossing your bank statements, medical bills, and other confidential paperwork is enough. You would be shocked to find out just how many cases of identity theft have been caused simply because a thief hunted through the garbage of their victims literally banking on them making this fatal mistake. Along with regular credit monitoring, make sure that you shred all confidential documents before directing them towards the nearest trash bag.

Do Not Use Weak Passwords

Even though they are very easy to remember, especially when dealing with a wide variety of online accounts, weak passwords are also easy for identity thieves and cyber criminals to target. One study that was published in the Trustwave Global Security Report showed that 80 percent of security breaches and identity theft cases in 2012 alone were caused by weak passwords. Stay away from using commonly used passwords, including “123456” and “password.”  Keep in mind that if your password is easy to remember, then it might also be easy to hack and steal.

No Need to Wait for Hindsight

While it is very true that hindsight is usually 20/20, you should not have to wait to find out about the detrimental effect of identity theft the hard way. Fight against becoming a statistic by focusing on following these key steps to protect your financial identity. Regular credit monitoring, strong passwords, studying monthly statements thoroughly, and using a shredder wisely, will make it rather simple for you to achieve your goal.

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