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Hi, I’m Ben and this is my personal finance blog! You can learn more about my site here or you can jump right into the juicy stuff by reading my family’s own detailed debt free success story (which has formed the foundation of this site). Please consider signing up for my free email updates!

Let’s be honest. When it comes to conversations about personal finance and getting ahead, most people just roll their eyes and move on. As individuals, we don’t care about our financial future when we can get instant gratification NOW. If you’ve been reluctant to start taking control of your finances like we were, then here are 5 simple things you can do right now to get started.

1) Keep Track of Your Spending:

If you’re not tracking your daily expenses in a checkbook registry or computer based program, you’re treading in very dangerous waters.  With online bank accounts offering real-time account information, many people have stopped worrying about reconciling their ATM and Check purchases in a checkbook registry.  Maintaining a check book registry to track your expenses (like my free Excel Based Checkbook Registry), not only helps you catch errors with your bank, but it also helps bring to light your spending habits.  You never know what you’ll learn about your spending habits until you start tracking were the money is going.

2) Review Your Credit Reports:

Reviewing your 3 major credit report files (Transunion, Experian, and Equifax) is essential to make sure there are no mistakes on your credit file and to ensure no one has opened an account in your name. For more information on how to receive your free annual credit reports (mandated by US law), check out my article on how to get your free annual credit reports.

3) Set Financial Goals:

No matter what stage of life you’re in, you need to set financial goals and develop a financial plan to achieve them.  Whether its saving for a down payment on a new house, paying off your credit card, or setting aside money for your retirement, you’ll never achieve your financial goals if you go through your life waiting for your goals to find you.

4) Set Up A Budget:

Once you get a hold of your spending, you can follow my step by step guide to getting started on an easy budget that captures your monthly living expenses and helps you set additional money aside for achieving your other financial goals.

5) Review Your Monthly Bills:

If you read my article the other day about the secret expense affecting your personal finances, you might remember the part about paying for goods and services we’ll never use.  Review your monthly bills (mobile phone, cable, internet, etc.) and looks for features you’re paying for that you don’t use.  After reviewing the insurance policy for my wife’s iPhone ($10/Month), we realized that it simply wasn’t worth it to pay so much per month and still have a huge deductible to pay if we needed a new phone. If you can cut back just $80 in utility expenses each month, that’s like getting a $1,000 tax fee bonus each year!

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Hi, I’m Ben and this is my personal finance blog! You can learn more about my site here or you can jump right into the juicy stuff by reading my family’s own detailed debt free success story (which has formed the foundation of this site). Please consider signing up for my free email updates!

No matter how hard I try, I can never remember to bring my reusable grocery bags to the grocery store!

plastic grocery bag meme

This meme pretty much captures how I feel.

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Hi, I’m Ben and this is my personal finance blog! You can learn more about my site here or you can jump right into the juicy stuff by reading my family’s own detailed debt free success story (which has formed the foundation of this site). Please consider signing up for my free email updates!

When it comes to saving money and paying down debt, most financial gurus will tell you the same thing until their faces turn blue:

You either need to earn more or spend less money (or both).

In a nutshell, this is basically what personal finance boils down to. But…when you dig a little further…there is another factor out there that is equally affecting your ability to get ahead financially.

Depreciation: The Secret Factor Affecting Your Personal Finances

depreciation chartAs I explained in a previous article about the cost of buying a new car vs. buying a used car, depreciation alone can eat up a significant amount of your family’s income and savings rate.

Consumable Type Purchases: Most of the items we buy on a daily basis are “consumables” that are either used up or of no value after we use them.  Examples of consumable purchases include food, gas, personal care products, and entertainment (going to the movies, golfing, amusement parks, etc.).   Once these items are used up or “experienced”, they no longer have any value.  With the possible exception of donating used clothing and other items to charity.

“Asset Type” Purchases: On the other hand, there are plenty of “asset” type items we buy that we eventually sell or “trade in” after a certain period of time.  My previous article discussed depreciation on cars, boats, ATVs, recreational vehicles, but depreciation can also affect things you buy like furniture, artwork, sporting items/gear, and collectibles to name a few.

While its true that most of these items (a car for instance) are an essential part of everyday life for most people, its worthwhile to consider the affects of depreciation to limit your exposure and reduce this “hidden cost” on your finances.  The more of these “assets” you own, the more money you are loosing each year in depreciation.

How to Minimize the Affect of Depreciation on Your Finances:

1) Buy Used:

Buying used means that the seller has already taken the biggest hit on depreciation, this is true for cars but it is also true for just about everything else you buy too (real estate and collectible items being exceptions).  This is certainly true on cars, furniture and sporting equipment (like golf clubs or downhill skis).  The better deal you can negotiate on the sale price (whether new or used) the less you’ll have to worry about depreciation.

2) Buy Quality:

It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes you can come out ahead by spending more money for a particular high quality item.  For instance, you could buy a brand new table from discount furniture retailer like Ashley Furniture or Bob’s Discount for $1,000  that you couldn’t give away after 10 years or so of use.  On the other hand, you could buy an antique or high quality used table for the same price or slightly more.  The difference is (if you wanted to) you could probably sell the antique table for the same price (if not more) than you originally bought it for.

3) Don’t Buy More than You Need:

While many of the newest features on cars, electronics and other items seem cool, many of them end up not being used or fully utilized.  When it comes to selling your car or trading it in on a new model, you won’t get anywhere near what you paid for the extra accessories, options or gear.  The same is true for sporting equipment, unless you’re a world class downhill racer, you probably don’t need to pay an extra $500 for the latest boots or aerodynamic ski poles.  But, that choice is always up to you.  I’m just trying to save you money.

This may seem all too obvious for some people, but for me, considering the depreciation costs of new items helps me to appreciate the total value of item I am about to purchase.

 

 

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Hi, I’m Ben and this is my personal finance blog! You can learn more about my site here or you can jump right into the juicy stuff by reading my family’s own detailed debt free success story (which has formed the foundation of this site). Please consider signing up for my free email updates!

If you’re not participanting in your company’s 401(k) plan, there is a very good chance you’re leaving free money on the table from your employer. Thanks to provisions within the US Tax Code, many companies will match your contributions up to a certain percentage of your salary and allow you to defer paying taxes on contributions until you take the money out down the road in your retirement years. But chances are you already knew this…

SO WHY ARE AMERICANS SO LAZY ABOUT RETIREMENT?

According to the US Department of Labor, millions of eligible employees have still not enrolled in their companies 401(k) programs (up to 30% of all eligible employees according to their study). This is simply unacceptable.

ENROLL IN YOUR 401K PLAN ALREADY

401(k) automatic enrollmentsThe Problem With Automatic 401(k) Enrollments

Even if you were automatically enrolled when you hired on with your company (under US law you now must “opt out” of your 401(k) upon hiring instead of opting in), there is a good chance that your contribution percentages and investment options are not as optimal as they should be.

At a minimum, you must make every effort you can to contribute enough money to your 401(k) plan to get the full contribution match from your employee (ITS FREE MONEY). However, if you want to have even a remote chance at a comfortable retirement, you should set aside at least 10%-15% or your earnings toward retirement.

Another problem with Automatic Enrollment programs is that sometimes your money isn’t really “invested” in anything, instead it sits in a money market account (basically a savings account) earning a minimal amount of interest.

As far as investments are concerned, most 401(k) service providers (Fidelity, Vanguard, etc.) offer targeted age appropriate mutual funds that adjust the risk of your retirement accounts based on your age and how close you are for retirement. As you get closer to retirement, the fund managers will invest less of your money in stocks (risky) and invest more money in bonds (less risky).

The irony about this whole thing is that anyone reading all the way to the end of this article probably already knows all this, but hey…if I can help one person better prepare for their golden years, then writing this article was worth it.

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Hi, I’m Ben and this is my personal finance blog! You can learn more about my site here or you can jump right into the juicy stuff by reading my family’s own detailed debt free success story (which has formed the foundation of this site). Please consider signing up for my free email updates!

In today’s personal finance analysis, I decided to compare the cost of buying a new car versus buying a used car.  In other words, how much more are you paying for the excitement of that “new car smell”.  The results are shocking.

For my new vs. used price comparison I chose the Honda Pilot as my subject vehicle since Honda’s have a very good reputation for holding their value over time and the 2011 and 2015 are nearly identical in design and performance (you can see subtle differences in the pictures below).

2011 pilot vs 2015 pilot

8 different vehicle expenses were looked at in my cost of ownership comparison including Purchase Price, Interest Costs, Sales Tax, Insurance, Excise Tax, Depreciation, Registration Fees and Maintenance.  The results of the price comparison are summarized in the graphic below:

new vehicle vs used vehicle cost comparison

Based on our example above, you can see that it will cost you nearly twice as much to buy a new vehicle vs buying a nearly identical one that 4 years old.

Purchase Price:

The largest expense in my comparison is obviously the actual purchase price of the two vehicles. The used purchase price was based on current asking prices in online classifieds and the new car purchase price was based on an estimate from the online vehicle pricing site True Car.

Loan Interest:

Another reason buying a new car is more expensive than buying a used car (something that most people don’t think about) is the fact that you’ll pay more in interest on a more expensive new car than you would on the cheaper used model.

Sales Tax:

If your state has a sales tax like mine, you’ll also pay more in taxes on the more expensive new vehicle.

Insurance:

I was actually surprised with this price comparison, but according to my auto insurance company (USAA) the cost of insurance for a new car versus a used car is actually not that different.

Excise Tax:

If your state doesn’t have excise tax you’re super lucky! Unfortunately, if you live in a state like Maine, you’re going to pay a lot more money in excise tax over a 5 year period on a new vehicle than if you bought the used vehicle. In Maine, your excise tax costs bottom out at around $150 after a vehicle is 4 or 5 years old. For newer vehicles like the 2015 Honda Pilot in our example, you’re required to pay a set 2.2% tax on the present value of your vehicle each year. In our case study, you’re looking at an additional $1,700 over a 5 year period in excise tax alone for the excitement of driving a new car off the loan.

Depreciation:

Another factor to consider is the depreciation of new vehicles versus depreciation on a used vehicles. New vehicles tend to depreciate in value much faster than used vehicles. Depreciation values in our example are based off actual prices of vehicles that are for sale that are 5 years older than each of the vehicles in our price comparison.

Registration Fees:

In most states, your registration fees (not including excise tax) are going to be about the same.

Maintenance:

Proponents of buying used vehicles will often cite the cost of maintenance as a reason not to buy used cars. As you can see in our example, you can certainly expect to pay more in maintenance costs for a used vehicle, but certainly not enough to offset the other expenses of operating a new vehicle.

Should You Buy a New Car or a Used Car:

I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy a new car.  As a matter of fact, my family and I bought a brand new Honda Pilot in 2011 (one of the reasons I chose it as an example in my comparison) and we don’t really have any regrets.  I’m just pointing out these price comparisons so you can be a more informed shopper when it comes to buying your next new or used car.

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Hi, I’m Ben and this is my personal finance blog! You can learn more about my site here or you can jump right into the juicy stuff by reading my family’s own detailed debt free success story (which has formed the foundation of this site). Please consider signing up for my free email updates!

Getting started on a family budget can seem like a difficult task, but the actual process of setting up a family budget is relatively straight forward (read my tips for starting an easy family budget here).

personal finance meme budgetsThe problem, of course, is sticking to the budget once you and your partner have agreed to the “final” numbers.  It seems like something “always” comes up along the way and the budget gets blown.  Once the budget is blown we get frustrated and go back to our bad money habits.

Here’s some of the biggest factors affecting the success of your budget and some tips to help you stick to your spending limits.

1) Agree On the Budget:

If you’re putting together a family budget, its important that you and your spouse/partner agree to the process.  Its inevitable that one of you will likely be a little more “passionate” about reducing expenses than the other so it is important to be honest about each  of your expectations so reasonable compromises can be made.  The more communication you have when establishing a budget, the higher the chances of success.

2) Set Realistic Spending Targets:

As I mentioned above, if you’re not successful with your budget from the start there’s a good chance you’ll get frustrated and give up.  Be realistic about how much you spend each month on groceries, eating out, gas, entertainment, etc.  Remember, budgeting doesn’t have to be perfect and you’ll likely make several tweaks to your financial plan over the first few months as you get a better idea what you actually spend your money on.

3) Look at Upcoming Expenses:

Another reason people have trouble sticking with their budgets is because they don’t budget for periodic expenses that come up from time to time  (like buying a replacement vehicle, paying winter heating oil costs, buying new car tires, replacing the rough, etc.).  You might be going along fine with your budget and then one month you’re hit with a bunch of expenses you should have planned for (but didn’t).

4) Establish a Goal (Why are You Budgeting Your Money?):

Last, but certainly not least, you need to have a goal in mind for establishing a budget.  What is it that you are working towards?  What are your financial goals?  Having an “end game” in mind when it comes to budgeting will help you stay motivated in your financial journey and help you and your partner stay focus and increase your success in sticking with your budget.

As I mentioned above, it not necessary that you stick with your budget down to the very last penny.  The point is that you’re moving forward with a plan that involves you and your marking making informed decisions on how you spend your money.  How fast you move forward is up to you and your partner in coming up with a budget that balances your desires to pay down debt and establish financial security, while still being able to enjoy life.

 

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Hi, I’m Ben and this is my personal finance blog! You can learn more about my site here or you can jump right into the juicy stuff by reading my family’s own detailed debt free success story (which has formed the foundation of this site). Please consider signing up for my free email updates!

College rankings play an ever increasing role in where high school students decide to attend college.  Whether they admit it or not, college and university officials salivate over the reports each year in hopes that their respective institutions moved up on “the list”.

When a college does move up on the list, top administrators issue press releases pontificating their success.  Of course, when a college moves down on a rankings list, its always because of a “flaw” in the ranking algorithms.

US News and World Report, Forbes and Princeton Review each have their rankings and guides on which colleges they perceive  to be the “best”.  While these guides and offer a lot of valuable information for prospective college students, they usually only end up determining which school is the most “prestigious” or “exclusive”.  But unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily help people out when they get into the “real world”.

college memeRecognizing that some people aren’t worried so much with “prestige” and “exclusivity”, Money Magazine set out to find which schools simply offered the best value and the best return on investment (ROI).  What they discovered in their analysis was very surprising and illuminated colleges that many people probably have never have heard of.

Instead of focusing on meaningless exclusivity factors like “acceptance rates” and “% of alumni who donate each year”, Money Magazine simplified the rankings process into three equally weighted areas: Quality of Education (subjective), Tuition Cost (objective), and Alumni Earnings (objective).   You can find their results and the rankings of the 50 “Best Value” Colleges here.

However, I still wasn’t completely satisfied with the rankings guide.  What I wanted to know was which colleges offered the biggest return on your investment when rated solely on cost and average starting salary of graduates and eliminated the subjective “quality of education” out of the equation.  Using the  data from Money Magazine’s report, I was able to come up with the following rankings of which colleges offer the highest expected salary upon graduation compared the cost of the 4 year degree.  Enjoy!

colleges ranked by return on investment roi

*The score used in the above college rankings was calculated using the expected “early career” salary divided by the estimated cost of the respective college’s 4 year degree.

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Hi, I’m Ben and this is my personal finance blog! You can learn more about my site here or you can jump right into the juicy stuff by reading my family’s own detailed debt free success story (which has formed the foundation of this site). Please consider signing up for my free email updates!

How Much Can You Afford to Spend on a Boat

Buying a boat is a very expensive proposition.  Not only does it cost a lot to buy a boat, boats are also much more costly to maintain and operate compared to a car or truck (fuel, insurance, storage fees, repairs, routine maintenance, marina fees, etc.).  Older boats are less expensive to buy but your maintenance costs are going to be even higher (in most cases).

So how much should you spend on a new or used boat?  There are many variables to this decision, but here are some basic rules of thumb to to help you decide how much you should spend on a boat without taking too much risk on your family budget planning.

1) Never Borrow Money to Buy a Boat

boat expense memeThis suggestion is probably going to make quite a few people upset, but I’m just going to throw it out there.  Owning a boat is very expensive and the last thing you’re going to what to deal with is making payments on a boat during the cold winter months while your boat is stored away in a garage somewhere or sitting outside your house in a snowbank (trust me on this).

Another issue with boat loans is that eventually you WILL have a major repair that will need to be made on the boat (trust me on this).  There’s few things financially more discouraging than making a monthly payment on boat that doesn’t run and/or having to pay for a large boat repair job on top of your regular monthly boat loan payment.

Don’t be in a position were you own a boat but you can’t afford to enjoy it.

Another thing that makes boat loans so appealing is that you can get boat loans with 10 year or 15 year repayment periods.  These extended boat loans of 120 or even 180 months mean you’re going to pay a “boat load” of interest over the course of the loan.

Example: A $100,000 boat with no money down would be $1,000 a month for 15 years at 8% (boat loan interest rates are generally higher than auto loans).  Not only would this payment be a steep burden for most people, but you’d end up paying almost twice as much for the boat because of the interest payments.  Banks will almost always lend you more money than you should ever borrow.

But Isn’t Interest on Boat Loans Tax Deductible:  It is true that interest on boat loans is tax deductible if the boat meets certain requirements and you consider it a “second home” (basically, the boat needs to have a kitchen, sleeping area and a toilet).  But as I’ve mentioned many times in the past, you should never finance something for the purposes of writing off the interest payments.

2) Boats Depreciate in Value FAST:

In a previous article about buying a new car, I introduced the concept of “depreciation tax” and how you want to reduce (as much as possible) the value that your vehicles depreciate in value each year because that is money you’ll never get back.  In that article, I suggested that the total value of all your cars, trucks, SUV, ATV, Boats, RVs, etc. should not exceed more than half of your family’s annual salary.  If you do, you’ll likely be loosing a HUGE amount of money each year to depreciation.

If you have $30,000 worth of vehicles sitting in your driveway, chances are next year the value of those vehicle will be around $25,000.  That $5,000 in depreciation ends up eating a large part of your income (8.3%). 

New boats are particularly at risk for loosing a large percentage of their value over the first couple years of ownership.  This is one of the reasons why my wife and I decided to by a used boat.

3) Don’t Go All-In with your first Boat Purchase:

The best advice I can possible give regarding the purchase of a boat is to rent a boat a few times to make sure your family is going to want to use the boat frequently.  If you have your heart set on buying a boat and feel it is a reasonable financial decision for your family, start off small and pay cash for an inexpensive used boat first.  The last thing you’ll want to do is realize your family quickly loses interest in boating (or no longer has the time due to sports, work, etc.) and your $30,000 upside down on your boat loan and you have 8 years left to pay on the loan.

If you save up an pay cash for a boat (you can get a really decent used boat for under $10,000) you can slowly move up to bigger boats as your budget and seamanship skills increase.

Don’t be that guy at the marina with the $100,000 speed boat who doesn’t even know how to safely maneuver the boat away from the dock!

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Hi, I’m Ben and this is my personal finance blog! You can learn more about my site here or you can jump right into the juicy stuff by reading my family’s own detailed debt free success story (which has formed the foundation of this site). Please consider signing up for my free email updates!

Reality Check: How Much Car Can You Afford

How much can you really afford to pay for a new or used car?

Calculating how much you should spend on a new or used car is a very important step in budgeting and financial planning.  Believe me, when it comes to monthly car payments and affordability, banks will let you borrow far more than you should ever think about borrowing.

bmw memeIdeally, you should save up and pay cash for a used car.  Not only will you avoid paying interest on the loan, you’ll be in an excellent position to negotiate a good price on the car (especially if you’re buying a used car in a private party sale) and avoid the swift depreciation that comes with driving a new car off the lot.

The problem for most people is they usually end up replacing their current car unexpectedly without saving up an adequate amount of money in a car replacement fund.  Cars break down, families get bigger, job commutes get longer, gas prices increase, there are many reasons people justify needing or wanting a different vehicle.

If you’re wondering how much car you can afford, here’s a few general rules of thumb to help you decide if you’re buying more car than you can afford.

1) AVOID 60 Month, 72 Month and 84 Month Auto Loans:

Never get more than a 48 month term on your car loan.  The problem with car loans that are stretched out over 72 months or even 60 months is the car depreciates in value so quickly that the buyer typically owes more on the car than the car is actually worth over the first 4 or 5 years of the loan.

Compounding this problem is the fact that most people don’t keep their cars any longer than 4 years and they end up trading their car in on another new car and roll that “negative equity” into their next car loan (and this viscous cycle goes on and on…). Paying back your car loan over 5 or 6 years will keep your monthly payments low but chances are you’re spending way too much on a new or used car if this is the only way you can keep the payment within your monthly budget.

But What About 0% Interest Loans, are they a Good Idea:  In my experience, 0% interest loans are usually offered in lieu of taking a cash rebate discount up front.  If you can get a 0% interest loan on a new car (0% loans are not available for used car with the exception of some certified pre-owned models)  for the same price you would have paid in cash, then “technically” you could come out ahead by taking the 0% interest loan and investing the remaining funds in a certificate of deposit, money market account, or low risk mutual fund.  But lets face it, most people don’t have the discipline to do this. Instead, the money gets wasted on other things.

2) Buy Within Your Means and the Effects of Depreciation:

Another financial rule of thumb when it comes to buying your next car is that the total value of all your vehicles (cars, boats, atvs, motorcycles, RVs, etc,) shouldn’t add up to any more than half your annual income.  In other words, if your household income is $60,000 the value of all your “toys” shouldn’t be anymore than $30,000.  Any higher than this, and you’re losing too much in depreciation each year in relation to your income.

If you have $30,000 worth of vehicles sitting in your driveway, chances are next year the value of those vehicle will be around $25,000.  That $5,000 in depreciation ends up eating a large part of your income (8.3%).  You’re basically paying an 8.3% “tax” in depreciation every year (maybe now you’re starting to see why you’re not getting ahead financially).  The higher the value of all your vehicles, the higher this depreciation “tax” and the less money you’ll have left over to save for retirement, paying off your house, or saving for you child’s college.

3) Monthly Payment Affordability:

In a perfect world, we’d all buy the least expensive cars possible that fulfilled our transportation needs (but we know this is not reality).  As I mentioned above, you need to be very careful with monthly payment amounts on automobile loans.  Dealerships work hard to get you to focus on a monthly payment by asking you what you’re comfortable paying each month.  Once they have this number they’ll often try to pad their profits by packaging a lot of extras into the loan (extended warranties, document fees, loan origination fees, window etching, fabric protection, etc.) and then stretch the loan out over as many years as possible to meet your monthly payment target.

Keeping that in mind, you still need to have a reasonable monthly payment especially if you take the high road getting a shorter term auto loan (48 months or less).  My suggestions is to take a hard look at your monthly budget and figure out how much discretionary income you have left over at the end of the month and what you’d be comfortable paying each month.  A general rule of thumb (if you can’t pay cash) is to spend no more than 5% of your monthly gross income on car payments.  If you earn $2500 in income per month, your car payment shouldn’t be any more than $125.  If you make $10,000 per month, your car payment shouldn’t be any more than $500.

Good luck in your car shopping and please feel free to leave comments in the form below!

 

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Hi, I’m Ben and this is my personal finance blog! You can learn more about my site here or you can jump right into the juicy stuff by reading my family’s own detailed debt free success story (which has formed the foundation of this site). Please consider signing up for my free email updates!

Cheap Halloween Costume Ideas for 2014

If you’re looking for inexpensive Halloween costume ideas, here’s a few cheap suggestions to rock Halloween in 2014 on a frugal budget!

As you’ll see in some of the examples below, you can make some very unique creative costumes with items that you may already have lying around your house or apartment.

green jacket costume ideaMaster’s Champion Green Jacket Costume:  I would imagine that there aren’t too many golfers who haven’t dreamed of winning the Masters Golf Tournament.  This costume might take a little bit of work, but if you can find a cheap green sport coat or suit jacket on eBay or your local thrift store, you can easily pull off this golf themed costume on the super cheap.  You can print out your own August National logo to put on the pocket or you can go the extra mile and buy one of the “official” August National Golf Course patches on eBay (among other places). Wear the jacket over a sport/polo shirt and khaki pants and you’ll be good to go.

master's golf caddy costumeThe Master’s Golf Tournament Caddy Costume: When combined with the Green Jacket Master’s Champion costume above, this make a great costume if theme theme of the party is dynamic duos.  Traditional Master’s Caddy uniforms are nothing more than a white pair of coveralls with the player’s last name written out in block letters on the back, an Augusta National Golf Course logo on the front right breast and a random number on the left breast (I believe this is the player’s registration number).  Anyway, these are one of the most easily recognizable sport assistant uniforms in sports and would go very well at a sports themed party or paired with the Master’s Champion costume above.

duct tape costume ideasDuct Tape Apple iPod, Crayon, Etc. Costume Ideas:  With a little imagination, you can make virtually any kind of costume you want with the various colors of duct tape available for sale today.  Duct tape is a really good medium for making a variety of group costumes like these ladies have done with their iPod costumes.  Other popular uses of duct tape for costumes include Crayola Crayons, Skittles, Soda Bottle Dresses, etc.  Just Google “Duct Tape Costume Ideas” to learn how to make some inexpensive duct tape costumes.

cheap costume ideasBag of Jelly Belly Jelly Beans Costume:  Who isn’t familiar with these delicious little treats?  This is simple costume can easily be put together at the last minute by grabbing a couple packs of colored balloons and a large clear plastic trash bag.  Extra points if you print out a jumbo sized Jelly Belly Bean Logo and use it as a tag!  This costume is quick and easy to make is appropriate for older children and adults (obviously we don’t want youngsters running around with bags on their heads.

cheap costume ideas1Computer Geek Error Code 404:  Here’s a funny costume for the computer savvy folks out there (just be warned, most people won’t get the joke).  This punk took a plain white t-shirt and wrote “Error 404 Costume Not Found”.  Those of you who aren’t familiar with or don’t recognize the Error 404 computer code, it is the code you get when you try to access a webpage on the internet that doesn’t exist or has been deleted.  Not only is this costume make an understated play on your geeky side, it is probably one of the cheapest and easiest last minute costume ideas you can make.

inexpensive costume ideasLego Pieces Costume:  How to make your own Lego piece costume.  While Lego inspired costumes can be done very cheaply (you can usually reuse old packaging from around your house), they will take a little time to pull off.  In this particular example, you have a Lego piece made out of a large box with some tin cans glued on to the front.  The Costume is finished off with a coat of high gloss spray paint (paint the costume you or your child’s favorite color).  Extra points if you find some solid colored clothes that match the spray paint.

inexpensive costume ideas1Nuclear Fallout Technician:  Another cheap and easy costume idea that you can usually pull together on short notice involves a yellow rain slicker suit.  You can usually by them at Walmart, Target or Home Depot.  Simply print off a large nuclear fallout logo from your computer and past it on the front and back of the slicker suit jacket.  Add a cheap dust mask and you’re ready to go.  Extra points if you can find an old metal detector or similar electronic device to carry around with you (mimicking a Geiger counter).

quick halloween costume ideasGrape Vine Costumes:  Here’s another fun and super easy costume to make.  Similar to the jelly bean bag costume above, all you need to do is blow up some green or purple grapes and attach them to a similarly colored clothes.  Black or dark brown tights work the best to finish this costume off.  You can even go all out and make a green beanie hat with leaves coming off it to complete the look.

frugal halloween costumeNASA Rocket Scientist:  This costume idea uses a pair of blue or white coveralls that you can find online or at home improvement stores.  Once you have your coveralls, you can print off whatever logos you want from your computer and attach them to you coveralls (its a good idea to laminate the logos to ensure they last, you can use clear plastic tape if you don’t have a lamination machine).  Once you have the logos you want, you can finish the suit off by decorating some fancy belts, pockets, and suspenders with black electrical tape.  You can also order cheap NASA patches off the internet too if you have the time.

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diy ant killingIn the past I’ve written quite a bit about professional pest exterminators and whether or not services like Orkin or Terminix are worth it. Not too long ago, my wife and I decided that we would try doing our own DIY pest control around our house to see if we could save some money (pest control service contracts can cost $500 to $1000 per year depending on what region you live in and what services you require).  After nearly two full years of experimenting with various do it yourself pest control products, here is what we found actually works.

Does BORAX Actually Work to Kill Ants:

By far, the biggest problem in our area was several different species of ants.  The first thing we tried in our attempts to kill ants was some simple BORAX detergent booster that you can buy a virtually any grocery or discount department store.  There are plenty of more “potent” ant killing products available but we wanted to start with what we perceived was the “safest” product for our family and pets while still getting the job done.

After reading a few DIY article on the internet, we decided that we would try a mixture of 1 part sugar and 1 part Borax (boric acid).  Boric acid has long been one of the leading recommendations for do it your self extermination of ants.

The Results:

The Results of our first DIY ant killing bait with 1 part sugar and 1 part Borax was not successful at all.  In fact, if anything there were more ants than ever before.  Even after a few weeks with this particular recipe there were still ants crawling all over the place.

New Borax Ant Killer Recipe:

boraxAfter a little more research, we learned that our mixture of 1 part granulated sugar and 1 part Borax was likely not working because the sugar granules were too large and could easily be separated out from the Borax by the ants.  Instead, it was recommend that we try mixing the Borax with confectionery (powered) sugar.  The borax and powdered confectioner’s sugar would bond better and increase the chances of the ants consuming more of the Borax and taking enough back to the queen ant to kill her as well.

We tried this new recipe and it was definitely more successful than using the granulated sugar, but we still had ants crawling here and there.  My wife and kids were not pleased and we were just about ready to call back the expensive professional exterminators (we rarely saw any ants when we hire professional exterminators) but I convinced them to give me one more chance at killing the ants myself.

Borax and Jelly:

After my previous failed attempts at DIY ant killing I had one last chance to kill the ants before my wife was going to call in the professionals to take care of our problem.  One day while vacuuming around the house, I stumbled across a half eaten apple that one of my kids had left under the couch.  There must have been a dozen ants crawling all over the yucky apple core.

Since we lived in Maine, I wondered if the ants were specially attracted to apple juices since this was the predominant fruit in the area.  As my last attempt to kill the ants, I took about a quarter cup of apple jelly and mixed in 2 table spoons or so of Borax (boric acid).  I scooped teaspoon fulls of this thick new pasty ant killing concoction on to little tin foil boils that I made and placed them around the house where we had seen ants (under the refrigerator, base board heater, near the trash can, mud room, laundry room, etc.).

Within a half hour of setting the bait around the house I began to see ants “swarming” around a few of the apple jelly bait traps I had set.  I wondered if I had just gotten lucky and caught the ants at the right time.  But, after another week or so, I stopped seeing ants altogether.  Another week went by, and we still didn’t see any ants.  In fact, over the last 2 months, I have only seen one or two ants in the whole house (probably came in on our clothes or one of the kid’s toys…).

There’s no guarantee that apple jelly is going to work for everyone, but it certainly did the trick at my house Maine.  If it doesn’t work, perhaps trying using jelly of fruit that is naitive to your particular area (orange, grape, strawberry, etc.).  Good luck.

If you live in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin or Wyoming, I’d live to hear about your do it yourself ant killing techniques below.  Good luck!

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