5 times to leave landscaping to the professionals

It's easy to become overwhelmed with the various costs that pop up when you're a homeowner. Things like furnace/AC Repair, having to put on a new roof, and annual maintenance can take a bite out of your savings account -- and leave you wondering why you ever stopped renting in the first place.

That's why it makes sense to save money and take care of certain home maintenance projects yourself. But, is that always the best idea?

Can I Quote You on That?

My husband and I sure thought so earlier this year. It all started when we got a quote for bed-edging, existing plant and grass removal, a pre-emergent treatment, ground-cover installation, and mulching in the front and back of our home.

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More about...Home & Garden, Frugality

How to deal with expensive friends

No matter what I do to prevent it, spring budget creep always seems to take hold this time of year. Sometimes it seems as if the dollars start flying out the door the second the temperature starts to rise. And although I budget for all of our known expenses, the extra expenditures still add up -- and hurt.

Part of our creep is a product of spring clean-up -- mulch, new plants and flowers, and vegetable garden start-up. But the rest? It's all social -- neighbors inviting us over for cookouts, dinners out and card parties. Warm weather stuff.

Still, as much as it pains me to beef up our entertainment budget in warmer months, there is a part of me that enjoys it. When we moved to a new town and neighborhood last year, we started our journey without any local friends. And as many of you know, it can sometimes be difficult to make real, true friends once you reach your 30s.

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More about...Frugality

Cheap luggage or expensive luggage?

It's spring! Don't you just feel like hitting the road? Well, maybe you do if you don't travel for a living.

Either way, luggage. I've had my fair share of experiences with luggage over the years. Lost luggage, broken luggage, matching luggage -- you name it. Currently, I travel with a non-descript, black roller that I can barely distinguish from anyone else's. I bought it for $49 at Target in 2008. It replaced a smaller roller that lasted two trips and cost all of $19. (No wonder, right?)

I can get away (haha) with a $49 roller because I don't travel a lot these days. If anything, it's a weekend jaunt to visit family and friends every six months or so. I expect I will have to buy something new later this year because one of the wheels is shot and it wobbles when I walk too fast.

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More about...Travel, Frugality

Caring for your garden tools

"Spring has sprung," as they say in my little corner of the Midwest. Our magnolia tree is in partial bloom, the daffodils and hyacinths are in full bloom, and most trees are starting to bud. I love this time of year!

If you have been missing J.D. Roth's garden posts, I plan to share periodic posts with a gardening theme. Speaking of gardening, some of our garden has been planted, the flower beds have been cleaned up, and the old grass in our pastures has been burned off. Yes, spring is here, and you know what that means: time to break out your gardening and lawn care tools!

Taking care of your garden tools

Your garden tools represent a sizable investment that, if properly maintained, can last many seasons and help you produce delicious, low-cost meals.

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More about...Frugality, Home & Garden

How to save money on family vacations

Earlier this month, my little family of four embarked on a much-needed spring getaway to the Caribbean. I'm sure that doesn't sound frugal at all, but rest assured that it was. After a year of planning and a whole lot of strategizing, we were able to book that particular trip for what amounted to a boatload of hotel loyalty points, a bunch of airline miles, and around $700.

I know that isn't cheap by any means, but it was a good deal when you consider the fact that our trip price included round-trip airfare for four, a six-night hotel stay at an all-inclusive resort, transportation, and tips. Pretty sweet.

Still, this whole travel-with-kids-on-a-budget thing is getting infinitely more difficult. We used to be able to travel anytime -- off-peak, off-season, and last-minute. But now that my oldest daughter is in school, we are stuck planning our budget travel for the school breaks that take place during spring, fall, winter, and summer. Needless to say, the school schedule sure does throw a wrench into my plans.

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More about...Frugality, Travel

What to do when you can’t find a job?

For the last few months, I've been talking about various aspects of job-hunting. But what do you do if you can't find a job? OK, you can start with cutting your budget to the bone and applying for public assistance programs if you are eligible. But what next? Well, as with many things, the short answer is: It depends. On what, you may ask? Here's what I came up with:

  • Are you currently unemployed, underemployed, or employed and just looking for a better opportunity?
  • Do you have any debt? How much? What kind (a mortgage, consumer debt, student loans)?
  • How big is your emergency fund? Do you have any other liquid reserves?
  • Do you have a significant other or other loved ones (including parents or adult children) who are currently earning and/or with whom you can share expenses?

To pick randomly from the list above, an unemployed person with no debt and a beefy online savings account who is married to a high-earner living in Small Town, USA may actually be in a better situation than someone with a full-time job, lots of debt, and no emergency fund who is single and stuck in a lease on a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.

Everyone's situation is different, so take my suggestions on what to do if you can't find a job with a grain of salt (and a side of no judgment). That said, here are some strategies for those who are wondering if the recession is over, where are the jobs?

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More about...Career, Budgeting, Frugality

How to use coupons effectively

I like saving money -- but it has to be easy. And spending hours clipping and organizing coupons, or planning epic shopping trips based on my coupon stash is not easy. Most of the time -- if I clip coupons at all -- they end up floating around the bottom of my purse, expired. Instead, I usually choose to save in other ways.

Yet, there are coupons. And there are people who use coupons. And then there are the people who USE coupons … in a big way. No matter what our method, there is room for all of us to save with the coupon game and then to put those savings in our savings account to go to work on our next goal.

Why (and why not) use coupons

Why use coupons? To save money. Simple. Continue reading...

More about...Frugality

How to save money on dental bills

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, around 108 million Americans go without dental insurance during any given year. And since paying the full weight of dental care is often out of the question for those living on low incomes, many people simply choose to go without or get by with as few cleanings and check-ups as they possibly can.

However, if you do have out-of-pocket funds with which to pay, you already know how quickly cleanings, fillings, and basic dental care can take a bite out of your budget. After all, a typical dental filling can cost anywhere from $100 to $200, a cleaning can cost upwards of $200, braces can cost $5,000 to $6,000, and so on.

Obviously, one of the easiest ways to save on dental care is to have a dental insurance policy for your family. The bad news is, many employers don't offer dental coverage to their employees, even at a cost, and the dental plans commonly sold on the open insurance market can be of questionable value.

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More about...Health & Fitness, Frugality, Insurance

How to raise a frugal child

Sometimes you find clues of your kids' financial education progress in the strangest places.

"Dear Santa" - began my seven-year-old daughter's letter, published in our local newspaper - "May I have more money? I will save it to buy a house or car." (I know. I still can't believe she wrote it, either.) "I want for my brother a horse that is real..." and "For my baby brother; he needs more clothes. Can you bring my Mom and Dad more money to buy food?" (Uh, what?)

So the letter ended with her first name, but since her school is so small and her name is slightly unique, most of our friends and family knew who had written the letter. Within a few days, I got a text asking whether we had enough to eat at our house, in addition to many in-person comments. We even got a note in the mail with $5 telling us to buy a couple of loaves of bread. I thought it was funny how this got so distorted, but I wondered if I had somehow passed on the wrong message to our kids.

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More about...Frugality, Planning, Psychology

Get a good workout without a gym membership

Recently, my sister and I were discussing our love/hate relationships with exercise when she told me something that struck me as funny. Apparently, she has trouble convincing herself to jog as long as she should, so she devised a plan.

"When I know I'm not very motivated, I'll have my husband get in the car and drop me off a few miles from home," she said with a snicker.

Once dropped off, she had no choice but to push through whatever issues she was trying to overcome that day, she explained.

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More about...Health & Fitness, Budgeting, Frugality