Monday, October 31, 2016

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Halloween Savings

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Halloween Savings: Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, even though my parents did it on the cheap. When my brother and I were little, they&...

Halloween Savings

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, even though my parents did it on the cheap. When my brother and I were little, they'd splurge on a big pumpkin, which my father would carve into a scary Jack-o-Lantern. That was the extent of our Halloween decorations. Later, when we kids lost interest in pumpkin-carving, my mother bought a little plastic lighted Jack-o-Lantern from K-Mart to display in the front window. It could be brought out every year, and there would be no more wasting real pumpkins.

I always wanted to be a witch for Halloween, but my mother never saw the need to spend money on costumes. I could either be a gypsy, a princess, or a hobo, using old clothes and accessories we found around the house. When I finally grew up and left home, I went out and bought myself a witch costume. But my parents' frugality rubbed off on me; I've used the same witch costume year after year. In fact, I still wear that hat when handing out candy to trick-or-treaters.

There can be a happy medium between extreme cheapness and overspending on holidays like Halloween. Here are some tips to minimize costs and still enjoy yourself:

          Costumes: Make your own, or buy timeless characters that can be reused for more than one year to stretch out the expenditure. Avoid flammable fabrics and masks or hoods that impede vision. Make sure garments don't drag along the ground, and that the kids wear comfortable shoes and follow basic safety rules when out trick-or-treating. A trip the emergency room can blow your budget.

Decorations: Some people like to go all out and one-up each other for the neighborhood's "best decorated" title, which is great if it gives you pleasure. To reduce costs, invest in big-ticket items that can be reused year after year. Keep safety in mind when placing decorations in your home or yard, and use adequate lighting. Medical bills and lawsuits take the fun out of holiday festivities.

Pets: Keep your pets indoors on Halloween so they don't get spooked or tormented by pranksters. And ensure the candy stays out of their reach, especially chocolate, which can be toxic. Vet bills for catastrophes within your control add unnecessary expenses.

Candy: Don't buy more than you need. Know yourself and your relationship with candy. If your resistance is strong and you can manage temptation, stock up in advance when it is on sale, and freeze it if you have to. Most candy keeps for a while, so recycle candy collected during the year and add it to the Halloween stash: packaged after-dinner mints, candy thrown at parades, etc. If you know you'll eat any candy that's in the house, wait until the last minute to purchase it. Or give out quarters, for no extra calories and no waste whatsoever.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

What tips do you have for Halloween savings? I would love to hear your comments.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Stop Wasting Food, Save Money

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Stop Wasting Food, Save Money: My mother used to insist that I clean my plate at every meal. No exceptions. "There are starving children in China who would love to h...

Stop Wasting Food, Save Money

My mother used to insist that I clean my plate at every meal. No exceptions. "There are starving children in China who would love to have what you're eating."

"Then let's pack it up and send it to them!" would often be my smart-aleck retort.

I'm no longer a member of the "Clean Plate Club" and as a Lifetime Weight Watchers member, I have learned that always cleaning your plate can be detrimental to a weight-loss plan. But I am cognizant of how much food we Americans discard every day. And also, how much money the average person could save by not wasting so much food.

Walk through any restaurant and observe how much food is left on customers' plates, ready to be thrown away. Most restaurants serve more than the average patron can eat. So we either gorge ourselves on the surplus calories or leave enough behind to feed a homeless family.

But very few servers look down on diners who ask for "a doggy bag"; in fact, they dispense with the euphemism and willingly bring you a box so you can take home your leftovers for tomorrow's lunch.

Whenever I go out to eat, I immediately assess the food on my plate and determine what I'm going to eat at the restaurant, and what I'm going to take home. The soup and the salad should probably be consumed there. The steak can come home. If I just start eating without making a plan, I risk reaching that point of no return, where there is not enough left on my plate to bother saving. Then my choice is to overeat, or let perfectly good food go to waste.

Not only do we throw away a lot of food in restaurants, but on average, 30% of the food in our refrigerators never gets consumed. Think of the money you could have saved if you had never bought that food!

If your family won't eat leftovers, learn to cook less. If you do have food left over, put it away promptly, store it where it won't be overlooked, package it in useful portions, and label it correctly, so it stands a better chance of being eaten before it spoils. Instead of going out for lunch and spending ten dollars, why not heat up a piece of last night's lasagna?

Have a plan when you go grocery shopping, so you avoid impulse buys that don't fit into your menu. Just because you have a coupon for something, or an item is on sale or cheaper per ounce in the larger package, doesn't mean it's a bargain if it will sit in your refrigerator or on your shelf until it rots.

Organize your storage spaces so like items are grouped together, and the oldest expiration date gets used first. That way, you're less likely to purchase something you stocked up on last month and forgot about.

By shopping, storing, and cooking smarter, as well as making efficient use of leftovers, you can reduce your food budget without depriving yourself of anything. And more will be left for those starving children in China!

What tips do you have for eliminating food waste? I would love to hear your comments.