Taking Baby Steps

Posted in General Tips, Personal Finance on November 1, 2010 by slee1983

Originally posted on April 10, 2009 at: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=94246915929 (must be on my friend’s list to view)

If you’re swimming in debt and/or dealing with low income because of bad decisions in the past and job loss or simply not enough hours at work or not enough pay for the hours you do work, you may not be able to do everything you’re ‘supposed’ to do in regards to your finances, but it’s important to make ‘baby steps’ towards the solution. It’s also important to have a game plan which will lead to a light at the end of the tunnel.

Some baby steps you can do right now are:

1. Create a budget (See ‘Figure out what you’re spending’ and ‘Setting up a budget in Excel (bi-weekly Paydays)’): Your goal is to meet all your obligations with the income you have coming in. These obligations include the minimum payment on your debts (credit cards and any loans that you are required to pay, look into interest relief for student loans to see if you qualify), the monthly bills such as hydro, internet, bank fees, and phone, and required variables such as groceries, some entertainment (if you don’t have it, you will go nuts), clothing (this can be cut down to just laundry money if you use a laundromat).

2. Reduce costs: Call and ask about lower interest rates. The worst they can say is ‘no’. Cancel or switch to a lower plan for non-essential services that you pay i.e. Cable TV, gym membership, cell phone (if you’re currently in contract with any of these, ask about the possibility of switching to a less costly plan). If you signed up for one of the ‘energy savings plans’, call to ask about canceling. The termination fee is often not put on your Hydro bill, but sent separately, and they may be willing to lower or waive the fee if you are dealing with hardship due to job loss (because of how bad the economy is). If you do have to pay the fee, you can break it up over a few months since you know your hydro won’t be cut off (if the fee is sent separately). Check with your hydro provider (North Bay Hydro, Hydro One, etc) and find out what their kwh charge is and make sure it’s less than what you’re paying for the ‘energy savings plan’ otherwise there’s no point in cancelling it.

3. Shop with a list. As much as possible, plan what you’ll make and buy groceries accordingly.

4. Take your variable amount out in cash. When the cash is gone, stop spending. Make a goal of not spending ALL your cash too: put change or unspent $ from one category aside in a piggy bank, jar, or even just an envelope… that way it’s there when you need it (if you suddenly run out of something or forgot to add something to your grocery list). This will help you avoid putting consumables on a credit card.

5. Avoid doing things you really can’t afford. This includes going on trips or paying for things you hadn’t planned on (i.e. group lunch at work. See ‘How to say ‘no’’ for more examples and tips on what to say).

The other part of this is to have a game plan. If you’re just getting by now, even if you stop using credit, you can (and probably will) end up in big trouble later. You need to find a way to bring in more income so you can accelerate debt payments and setup an emergency fund.

Some possibilities include:

1. Go (back) to school: train for another career or upgrade your skills to allow for promotion in your current job.

2. Start your own business: Turn a hobby or anything else you’re good at into income. You will have to spend money on advertising and may have to purchase equipment or software to do what you need to do but there are grants and loan programs for this. If you’re interested in starting your own business, make sure you go into it with your eyes open. Research, Research, Research. It’s also a good idea to have some of your own money to put into it. Start it part time on the weekends if you can, so you can keep your current job. If you’re making more in your business than where you’re working (or have the ability to if you have clients lined up if you only had more time to serve them), then you can look into reducing your hours at work (going part time) or quitting altogether.

3. Look for a new job: The economy is bad right now. That’s a fact. But it will recover, and there will be jobs. You can start looking for a job now (go to the job bank and/or monster and/or workopolis) and even send out resumes but DO NOT QUIT YOUR CURRENT JOB. I can’t stress that enough. Even if you’re making minimum wage with variable hours, it’s better than no wage and no hours. Keep your job while you’re job hunting, but be open to new opportunities. If you want to take a job in another town/city/province/whatever, you will need the money to move. You also need to look into the cost of living in the new place. Have a game plan for when you get there: can you afford to rent a house/apartment already? Or will you be renting a room? Take a look at the cost of food (look up grocery flyers online) and try to find out how much living in the new place will actually cost you. An increase of $20,000 a year won’t mean much if your cost of living is double (or more) what you’re paying now.

4. Volunteer. This will allow you to gain more experience and add more to your resume. It also allows you to network with a group of people you may not have known otherwise. The networking and experience could lead to a new job or a promotion. In the meantime, you’re helping out people that need help.

*Edited on 11/11/2010 to add formatting and links to other blog posts

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How to say ‘no’

Posted in General Tips, Personal Finance on November 1, 2010 by slee1983

Originally posted on April 7, 2009 at: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=93314015929 (must be on my friend’s list to view)

One of the hardest thing when sticking to a budget is saying ‘no’ to the little things: when a friend/co-worker/family member asks you to go out to eat, pitch in cash or a specific item for a party, get a gift for an event you didn’t know about until the last minute, or take a vacation out of town you can’t possibly afford to take even if you save up for the next 12 months because you’re barely getting by on what you have.

You like your friends/co-workers/family members (presumably) and you no doubt want to say yes. You want to hang out with them. You want to be there for them and do things with them. But if doing so means you have to use a credit card (and can’t pay it off), dip into savings, or go without something you NEED (i.e. groceries, not paying a fixed bill), you need to say ‘no’.

So how do you say ‘no’ and still have friends/people who will talk to you?

First: explain that such things aren’t in your budget. Say you need at least 2 to 4 weeks notice before a party or anything else requiring money or a contribution of some sort. This allows you to plan for the event and set aside part of your ‘entertainment’ budget to cover anything you’ll need. When it comes to eating out with friends, try to limit it to once a month. If it’s something you just can’t afford to do, say so. Finances are tight for most people most of the time. Your friends should understand. If they don’t want to take ‘no’ for an answer, suggest that they pay for your part then (don’t offer to pay it back if you really can’t afford it); your friends will either pay up because they really want you to participate, or they’ll ‘get it’ and realize that THINGS COST MONEY.

Second: Offer an alternative. Instead of eating out, have a potluck (make something you had planned on making for yourself anyway and bring it). If you’re asked to bring something specific to a party and don’t have it/would have to spend money you don’t have to spare on it, offer something else you can provide easily. Make a gift with things you already have on hand. Instead of going on vacation, find fun ‘free’ or ‘cheap’ things you can do in town.

Sticking to your budget shouldn’t mean that you have to avoid your friends, but it may mean getting a little more creative about how to spend time together. Take a look at the “Entertainment for little to no $” Note for more ideas at what you can do for little to no money.

If saying ‘no’ is hard, just try to remember, your friends like you too (presumably) and they should understand if you explain that you’re trying to keep on a budget.

*Edited on 11/11/2010 to add formatting and links to other blog posts

Why credit makes you stupid

Posted in Debt, Personal Finance on November 1, 2010 by slee1983

Originally posted on April 6, 2009 at: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=86375405929 (must be on my friend’s list to view)

I know you probably like to think of yourself as an intelligent human being (I like to think about myself that way too) but there is something about access to credit that makes us complete idiots when it comes to purchases.

Credit has made you stupid if:

1. You’ve used a credit card and not paid it off. Doing this adds up to 20% (or more with a store credit card) on top of your original purchase price per year that it stays on your account. Keep it on there for just one month (to the point it incurs interest charges)? You’ve already added 1.67% to your purchase price. Don’t forget, that’s 1.67% of the price of whatever you purchased AFTER TAXES… so it’s not 1.67% of $100 (Which would be $1.67), but 1.67% of $113 (which would be $1.89). The difference can really add up.

2. You’ve used a credit card to purchase consumable goods (and not paid it off). If you’ve used your credit card for food, clothing, or anything else that was gone/destroyed/whatever before it was paid off on your credit card, then it was not a very wise decision. To put things into perspective: I have approximately $8000 in credit card debt and actually have maybe $800 to $900 worth of the goods that I purchased with them. The $800 to $900 worth of goods is based on the purchase price, by the way… I’d be lucky to get $300 to $500 for what I actually own.

3. You’ve taken a cash advance on a credit card. This is a BAD idea. Interest starts accruing right away most of the time plus most cards have fees on top of the interest they charge for doing this. The most common fee is $2.00 or $2.50 but MBNA charges more. My worst offense for this was borrowing money to pay my rent, twice. Those advances are still technically on my cards, I’m sure of it.

4. You’ve purchased something you don’t need on credit. Hey, I’ve done it too. I purchased a Christmas tree, lights, etc. one time my credit limit got increased. Another time I went out to dinner, bought some books and a video game.

5. You’ve purchased more of something or something more expensive on credit. I’m sure I’m guilty of this, but I can’t think of a specific personal example. The mortgage/real estate industry is probably the biggest enabler of this one: Mortgage companies will ‘pre-approve’ you for a certain amount which you may or may not be able to reasonably pay back depending on if/when interest rates go up and how that effects you, and then the real estate agent will take over and try to sell you a house that is listed at the maximum amount you’re allowed to borrow, or maybe more. Have in mind what YOU want… whether you’re buying a house or a bag of flour, and don’t pay more than you have to.

6. You’ve paid just the minimum payment. If you have a starting balance of $1000 and are paying 19.99% per year, by my calculations, it will take you 26 years and 4 months to pay it off. Paying approximately $3075 in interest charges (on top of your $1000 balance, so you’d pay approximately $4075 in total). This assumes a minimum payment of 2% of the balance owing or $10.00, whichever is greatest (these are common terms for credit cards). If you assume the minimum balance payment is actually 3% or $10.00, whichever is greatest, it would take 10 years 11 months and you would pay approximately $990 in interest ($1990 in total paid). This is much better than the 2% minimum payment but you’d still be paying for almost 11 years on things that will probably be broken, sold, misplaced, or otherwise consumed in the first 1 to 5 years. PLEASE NOTE: both calculations assume you stop using the card… if you constantly bring the card back to its limit, you will literally never pay it off.

7. You have a negative net worth. If all the stuff you ‘own’ – purchased on credit and/or for cash – has a market value (what you could sell it for) less than what you owe, you have a negative net worth. You can take your mortgage and/or student loans out of the equation. If you’re still in the negative, something’s wrong there. In regards to student loans, the loan amount can be offset by what YOU’RE worth: what your current gross annual income is or, if you’re not working, what it should be if you were working. If you owe more in student loans than what you are or could be making, it wasn’t the best investment. This doesn’t mean don’t go to school, it just is a way to put things into perspective. In regards to mortgages, your debt is offset by the value of your home. If your mortgage is less than or equal to the value of your house, you’re okay. If your mortgage is more than the value of your house, you’re in trouble.

8. You have used a payday loan place more than once. I read once that they are not allowed to charge more than 59% per annum (in Canada) including their all of their little ‘fees’ but I don’t know how well they are actually regulated. Even at 59%, a $100 advance for two weeks would mean a repayment of $102.27. If you pay it off in 2 weeks and take out another $100.00 (because you were short last pay day, now you’re short again), you’re paying another $102.27. If you do this consistently for 26 biweekly periods, you will have paid approx $59.00 in interest. Sure, it’s only $59.00, but what could you do with that extra $59.00? Put it in savings? Paid it towards some other bill/form of debt? Had a nice dinner out? Most people don’t just borrow $100 either. Using the same scenario with $300 borrowed bi-weekly, you’d pay $177.00 in interest.

9. You have ‘hocked’ the same thing more than once. If you need money and you go to the hock shop to sell something, sell it. DO NOT GET IT BACK. If you’re short this month, you’ll probably be short next month when you buy it back plus interest. The trick here is to only sell things that you don’t want or need anymore that the hock shop or pawn shop will actually take. Don’t buy them back and for goodness sake, don’t pay ‘extra’ to have them held for an extra month because you can’t afford to take it back this time. You know what you can do with the extra $25 (could be more or less) you’re paying to purchase it back or hold it over for another month? Pay it towards whatever bill or problem that got you to that point where you needed to sell something in the first place.

10. You’ve used a ‘rent to own’ place. The products sold at such places are usually WAY more expensive than similar products in a regular store. You may be tempted to ‘upgrade’ and get the bigger TV because of the low weekly/bi-weekly/monthly payment. You may also be tempted to get something you hadn’t planned on because of the low weekly/bi-weekly/monthly payment. They only way these are even remotely a good idea is if you actually NEED something NOW (and don’t have any other way to pay for it) and you can pay more than the suggested payment. This will let you pay the item off faster and reduce what you have to pay in total.

If you have access to credit, it’s very tempting to use it. The trick is to think long and hard about each purchase, whether you are paying cold hard cash or whipping out the Visa. Think: Want vs. Need. A need is something you absolutely have to have to survive: Food, shelter, clothing, furniture, and some entertainment. A want is something in excess of what you need to survive i.e. if you already have a closet full of clothing you don’t wear, you don’t need any more, although you may want more. You may want to eat out, but you have perfectly good food at home (or can spend the cash on buying some groceries). You may need a new fridge, but a $300 used should be just as good as a $1500 one if you don’t have enough $ to spare.

Personally, I want to own my life, not owe my life, and that’s why I’m making an effort to use credit as little as possible in the future and working to pay down my debts.

*Edited on 11/11/2010 to add formatting

Entertainment for little to no $

Posted in Cost Cutting Tips, Personal Finance on November 1, 2010 by slee1983

Originally posted on April 4, 2009 at: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=85566220929 (must be on my friend’s list to view)

Here are some entertainment things you can do for free or for very little money:

1. Go for a walk. Take a friend and/or some music.

2. Go to a local park or beach with a friend or your family.

3. Window shop. Go to your local mall or favorite store and leave your money/credit cards/debit cards at home. Take a look at things and just enjoy seeing what’s new. If you want to have a ‘purpose’ for this non-shopping trip, check out prices on something you might want to purchase in the future.

4. Potluck Dinner with friends. Once or twice a month, get together at a friend’s place (or invite them to yours if you have room) with some other mutual friends and everyone can bring one item for dinner. This is a way to have a good meal and gather with friends at the same time and it’s much more cost effective than a meal at a restaurant.

5. Drink at home with friends. Alcohol can be a major money drain. It is much cheaper to purchase alcohol from the LCBO than by the bottle or shot in a bar. That being said, it can be easy to over spend on alcohol. If you normally drink with friends, skip the bar and have a Bring Your Own Booze night. If everyone brings their favorite alcohol and shares, there should be plenty to go around. Note: PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLY.

6. Board games. I know they might not seem all that exciting but it can be fun to sit down with your family or a group of friends and play a trivia game or even a rousing game of shoots and ladders. If you don’t have any board games, prowl yard sales for second hand versions of the classics or get creative and make your own.

7. Card Games. If you don’t have a deck of cards, you can pick one up for $1.00 plus applicable taxes at your local dollar store. If you don’t know any card games, you can look up rules of some common games online or talk to your friends and ask them to teach you their favorite game. Want to make things ‘interesting’? Try playing Penny Blackjack. It’s blackjack, but you bet pennies. Don’t have an over abundance of pennies? Try using buttons, beads, or anything else you have on hand. Note: PLEASE GAMBLE RESPONSIBLY.

8. Facebook. In addition to connecting to friends, there are TONS of games and applications on facebook that you can use to amuse yourself.

9. Free Game Trials. Sites like HP Games and Big Fish Games allow you to play ‘casual’ computer games for anywhere from ‘1 hour’ (big fish) to ‘until you close the game’ (HP Games, there is some other criteria).

10. Rent Console Games. With new games for the various consoles ranging between $30 to $60 or more, it is more cost efficient to rent a new game to try it out before you put down that kind of money on it. Also, if you rarely play your games, it may be more cost effective to rent, rather than buy, them.

11. Visit your local public library. Libraries carry books on just about any subject you can think of, but that’s not all. Many Libraries (including the North Bay Public Library) have DVDs, CDs, and access to the internet for public use. For the low, low fee of nothing (most of the time) you can get a library card and take home hours of entertainment. Just be sure to bring things back on time to avoid late fees.

12. Watch the videos/DVDs you already have. Instead of renting or buying a new movie, watch something you’ve had for years and haven’t watched in a while. Also, if a new movie comes out that you want see, rent it first to be sure you want to own it. If you do want to own it, check a few different sources to find the best price.

13. Trade or sell old stuff. To get discounts on movies or books, bring titles you don’t want any more to your favorite store. If your favorite store doesn’t give a discount or credit for your old books or movies (or they don’t give you much), try the hock shop or having a yard sale and using the money you receive for buying or renting movies/books.

14. Pick a hobby and blog (or write a note) about it. I don’t know if you will find it fun, but I’m certainly enjoying my new obsession.

15. Play word games. Such as the alphabet game: Requires 2 or more people. Person 1 says a word (let’s say ‘apple’) and Person 2 must say a word that starts with the last letter of the word Person 1 said (so let’s say ‘elephant’) then it’s Person 1’s turn again (so how about ‘tennis’?) and so on an so fourth until you are sick of playing or cannot think of any more words. It’s generally considered ‘cheating’ to use names (i.e. ‘Robert’ ‘Michael’).

I’m sure there are many more ways to entertain yourself for little to no money but I can’t think of any right now. Hopefully that’s given everyone a few ideas though.

*Edited on 11/11/2010 to add formatting

Getting a lower interest rate on debt

Posted in Cost Cutting Tips, Debt, Personal Finance on November 1, 2010 by slee1983

Originally posted on April 4, 2009 at: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=85362675929 (must be on my friend’s list to view)

There are ways to get lower interest rates that shouldn’t affect your credit score at all (as long as you qualify for them). Check with the bank to see the low rate options.

Most banks require an annual fee to get the lower interest rate card and is ‘worth it’ if you’re going to be carrying a balance for a while. For example: the Visa Classic Low Rate at RBC is 11.9% and has an annual fee of $20.00. The regular Visa Classic at RBC is 19.5% with no annual fee the 7.6% difference can make up a savings of much more than the $20.00 annual fee if you have a starting balance of $1000 and pay back $20 (by my calculations, you’d pay $190.74 in interest @ 19.5% but only $112.19 @ 11.9%. That’s a savings of $78.55 in interest, $58.55 once you count in the annual fee. Calculations will be off depending on when fee comes into play. Should be accurate if you slap on an extra $20 that month to cover the fee)

Scotia bank has the Scotiabank Value VISA card at 11.49% plus an annual fee of $29.00 and the No-Fee Scotiabank Value VISA card at 14.99% (no annual fee). So you have 2 options for lower interest rates depending on what you’re looking for. Do the math and figure out how much you’d be saving before deciding on a card.

The wonderful thing about low rate cards at your financial institution: if you call and ask about it and you do qualify for it, the bank will often just send you the new card and transfer the balance themselves… no work on your part.

It is important to call and talk to a representative because you may not be qualified for ‘another credit card’ with the company but you may be qualified to change to the lower interest rate card.

If you qualify for a line of credit at your bank, you can pay off higher interest rate credit cards with it since a line of credit is usually lower interest (take a look at the interest rates to be sure).

If you can’t get a line of credit or the low rate cards offered by the credit card companies you’re with, look into a consolidation loan. These are ONLY a good thing if you can get a lower interest rate than what you’re already paying.

If you have credit at different % rates, find your average interest rate by adding up all your debt and then dividing individual debts by the total amount to get your % of total debt for each creditor. Then multiply the % of debt by the interest rate you’re paying to that creditor. Do this for all creditors and then add up the result to get the average interest rate.

i.e.

Using this example, any interest rate under 19.29% would be acceptable but there is one card that already gets 11.90%. If we take that card out of the mix we would have

So now we’re looking for a consolidation loan that would be under 15.78% to actually make it worth it. If the interest rate is under 11.9%, you can consolidate all debt, but if it’s above 11.9% keep the low interest card as is and consolidate the rest.

The important thing with the low rate credit card with annual fee is that it’s only a ‘good deal’ while you’re carrying a balance. If your goal is to pay off your debt entirely, cancel or change the type of card once you’ve done that.

*Edited on 11/11/2010 to add formatting

*Edited on 11/15/2010 to add charts in picture format

Exercise on the cheap (all year round)

Posted in Cost Cutting Tips, Personal Finance on November 1, 2010 by slee1983

Originally posted on April 3, 2009 at: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=85080610929 (must be on my friend’s list to view)

1. Go for a walk. No really, I mean it. It may not be the most exciting thing ever but walking can be great exercise. Bring some music (walkman/portable cd player/MP3 Player/Portable radio) and wander aimlessly or pick a destination. Do you have a movie that needs to go back? Take a walk and drop it off (works best if you didn’t rent it from the store below you or something like that). Bring a friend and chat while you walk. You could pack a couple of sandwiches and walk to a park for a picnic. We’re at that magical time of year where the snow is more-or-less melted and the picnic tables are available but the parks aren’t overrun by people. When the weather’s bad, go to the local (indoor) mall or just a big department store and wander around for a while looking at things. 1 hour looking at things in a store = 1 hour of walking… and you didn’t even break a sweat.

2. Go jogging. Not for everyone, but if you enjoy jogging/running you should have no problem finding some place you can do so where you live.

3. Go hiking. Even if you’re not all that into nature, a hike on a trail can be very relaxing and rewarding. Bring lunch with you and a friend if you can (otherwise, you might want to bring a cell phone, just in case) and just enjoy nature.

4. Day pass at a gym or community center. You get to use the equipment and maybe even swim in a pool without the cost of a full gym membership. This is the better option for going to the gym unless you actually use the gym enough times per week that the cost per day used is cheaper. Keep in mind that most gym memberships require a 1 year (or more) commitment that you must continue to pay regardless of how much you use the facilities unless you are unable to work out due to injury.

5. Alumni benefits. Did your college or university have a workout room? As an alumnus (graduate) you may still be able to use it without paying anything or by paying a lower fee than the general public. Additionally you may be able to get discounts at various businesses in town. See if you can get a discount at any of the gyms because of where you went to school (or where you work).

6. Play sports with friends. If you like sports, you don’t HAVE to join a team. Get together with a bunch of friends once or twice a month and play baseball, soccer, hockey, or whatever you like to play. If you have kids, why not play sports with them?

7. Use work out equipment you already have. You know that exercise bike that’s collecting dust in the corner? The yoga mat that never gets used? Did you buy the Wii Fit and never use it? Well, then this is time to make use of that equipment or sell it so you can use the space to do jumping jacks.

*Edited on 11/15/2010 to add formatting

Saving on shopping

Posted in Cost Cutting Tips, Personal Finance on November 1, 2010 by slee1983

Originally posted on April 3, 2009 at: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=85053760929 (must be on my friend’s list to view)

Here are some hints and tips on saving on shopping trips:

1. Coupons: Although I don’t use them very often myself because I don’t get flyers that have them, and I often buy generic which can be cheaper even if you factor in the coupon value, these can be a good value IF (an only IF) they are for goods or services you usually buy or have been REALLY wanting to try (as a one time thing).

2. Comparison shopping using flyers and/or online: Can help you determine where the cheaper deals are on what you want to/have to buy but may not show ALL of the things you’re looking to buy.

3. Reconnaissance mission: *Mission Impossible Theme* Go to the stores you’re considering shopping at BEFORE you do your actual shopping (if you’re shopping on Monday, go between Friday and Sunday because you’ll get to see what’s on sale) with your shopping list and write down pricing for all the things you’re planning to buy. Go to at least 2 different (but similarly priced) stores. When you get home, see where things are cheaper and, when you go shopping, get each item at the store that it was cheapest at.

4. Pick a cheap store: If you’ve done comparison shopping before and noticed that most of your grocery list was cheapest at one particular store, it may be more beneficial in terms of time and travel costs to just get everything at that store.

5. Bring your own bags: This is particularly important when using stores that make you pay for bags. If you know what you’ll be buying, plan out how many bags you’ll need and add 1 or 2 more (just in case). Bringing your own bags not only cuts costs at places that make you buy them, but they help the environment because there are less plastic bags being sent to landfills.

6. Buy Generic: This should be a no-brainer but lots of people still buy brand name stuff when the generic is just as good if not better. I’m not saying NEVER buy brand name, but be selective about what you buy that is brand name.

7. Buy in Bulk (some things): Before visiting a bulk store like Costco or even the Bulk Barn you should visit your favorite grocery store and find out how much you USUALLY pay for the unit price of things like meat, pasta, etc. Sometimes the bulk stores are a great deal, sometimes they just give you MORE but it’s at a higher cost per unit than what you’d normally pay. Bulk Barn –style stores are good if you want a certain amount of the product in question. It is also good for keeping the good under budget (i.e. Say you want $5.00 worth of skim milk powder: Divide $5.00 by the unit price to find out how many lbs you can get and then measure out that amount). Be warned: the pricing at bulk barn – style stores is often cheaper than grocery stores, but not always. The ability to choose exactly how much may be enough to make it worth the extra costs.

8. Bake/Cook: Prepackaged meals/snacks/etc. are very convenient but also often very expensive. If you haven’t already, stock up on: flour, baking powder (Did you know you can substitute 2 units of baking powder to 1 unit of baking soda in recipes? No need to keep them both on hand), Cocoa, Sugar (white and brown, use the Splenda version if you’re health conscious enough to pay double or more for it), Chocolate Chips (or other kinds of chips), and anything else you need to make all sorts of cookies and/or cakes. Also make sure you have lots of rice, pasta, and potatoes (optional). Any one of these three ingredients can be the star of almost any meal. Research quick meal ideas and make up food in the morning or on weekends to be brought for lunches away from home.

*Edited on 11/15/2010 to add formatting