Holiday Gas Prices: How to Save

Holiday Gas Prices

The holiday season has begun and many people will be traveling to see friends and family for Christmas. That being said, with the average American spending close to $830 celebrating Christmas every year, you’ll want to trim cost wherever you can.

Holiday gas prices can be ridiculous. Many oil companies and gas stations will bump their prices for gas up around the holidays because more people are traveling (just like they do over the summer). This year gas prices aren’t as high as they have been in recent years but they aren’t extremely low either.

Higher Holiday Gas Prices

Holiday Gas Prices

According to this chart from GasBuddy.com, holiday gas prices last year were just slightly below what they are now. At this time last year gas prices sat right around $2 a gallon nationwide. This year the national average gas price is between $2.14 and $2.25 per gallon.

While holiday gas prices are a bit higher this year, they are much lower than they were a year and a half ago. In June of 2015 gas price peaked at nearly $3 a gallon. Comparably, traveling this year may be more expensive than last but you can cut your holiday gas prices by using the GasBuddy app.

Discovering Holiday Gas Prices With GasBuddy

Approximately 100 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more this Christmas to visit friends or family. Holiday gas prices being a bit higher can hurt your Christmas budget this year. However, there is a tool that can help you save on gas this holiday.

As my boyfriend and I sat down and discussed some holiday-related expenses we thought about the possibility of visiting some of our family over Christmas. His mother lives in Minnesota, grandmother in Tennessee and other family members live in West Virginia. My out-of-town family lives in Florida and Pennsylvania. We both live in North Carolina. We didn’t want to spend money flying so Minnesota was out almost immediately (a 23 hour drive that would take at least two days). That is when I discovered GasBuddy.

GasBuddy is a website and smartphone app that you can use to discover the cheapest gas prices in your area. You can also use it to map out a trip and estimate how much money you’ll need for gas to drive there and back based on average gas prices in the places you’ll drive through.

The app and website will give you average price-per-gallon by state and city. Additionally, the app will also let you map out a trip and give you an estimated overall cost for your trip. The app will also alert you when you are getting close to a gas station with cheaper gas prices.

Safe Holiday Travels

Although saving money on gas when traveling for the holidays is important, it is not more important than your safety. If you want to travel by car to save money on flying be sure that the driving conditions are safe enough for travel. Additionally, check to be sure that fuel stations on your route will be open over the holidays to insure you don’t run out of gas and don’t forget to carry a blanket, flashlight and other emergency items in your car just in case.

Here’s to safe and cheap holiday travels!

Photo:  TORLEY 

What is the Dow Jones?

business-1730089_640The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) or the ‘Dow Jones’ for short, is arguably the most recognized and significant of the US-based stock indices.

Harboring thirty of the stock market’s most prominent publicly-owned entities, the index was formed by Dow Jones & Company co-founder Charles Dow, and today includes brands such as Coca Cola, Nike, IBM, and Intel; household names even to non-investors.

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My Kind of Christmas: Gifts for Dental Hygienists

wpid-img_20130830_100750.jpgI’ve been a little occupied lately (as of writing this post, still awaiting baby 2.0…) but as evident by the busyness in the stores, Christmas is in full force. I accidentally went to the store last Friday and couldn’t figure out why it was so busy, not remembering it was Black Friday. I was actually embarrassed to find myself a part of it. I was ignorant though and truly had forgotten (though should have figured it out when I realized something we had been looking for was on a super sale). I’m happy that this pregnancy has forced one thing, to be prepared for Christmas early this year. It’s nice to sit here in the beginning of December and know I’m totally done outside of wrapping, and a few food items that have to wait for obvious reasons.

Since my husband and I bought our house, we haven’t done a lot for each other in terms of Christmas and now that we have kids, it’s definitely more about them (proper thing) but we still do something small. Every year it’s a struggle because I’m an uber practical person and like my gifts the same way yet he doesn’t think buying me a new broom is a fun gift. Being a dental hygienist though opens up a whole plethora of gift ideas for him to get. If you’re fortunate enough to have one in your life and are looking for a gifts for dental hygienists, I can help!

Dental Themed Jewelry

Ok, I know it’s cheesy but there’s something kind of cute about little teeth earrings or a tooth fairy necklace. Dental themed jewelry is great gifts for dental hygienists. I traditionally don’t wear much beyond my wedding rings and simple earrings but every now and then I do break out my sterling silver ‘teeth earrings’ and have fun with it. If you’re looking for a gift for dental hygienists, and unsure what to get, it’s probably a safe bet. We all secretly kind of love anything dental related, jewelry included.

Massage

Working in dentistry is HARD. It doesn’t matter if it’s the dentist, the assistant or the dental hygienist, it is physically demanding work. Years of awkward positioning and bending to accommodate patients makes one sore and if you really want to wow the dental hygienists in your life, a massage would make an amazing gift for a dental hygienist.

Dental Themed Christmas Ornaments

Our family Christmas tree is an eclectic collection of ornaments from trips and memories made. I love it. My tree wouldn’t be complete without at least one dental themed ornament though. I have two and love them both. Check out local craft fairs or a site like Etsy.com if you’re looking for a perfect Christmas tree ornament as a gift for a dental hygienist, they’re guaranteed to love it.

Whether you have a dental hygienist in your life or are simply looking for a gift for dental hygienists in general (I know I’ve personally been given a few great gifts from patients over the years), these are a few good starting points. The only other idea I can suggest as a gift for dental hygienists would be chocolate, we always love and appreciate chocolate, we just brush really well afterwards!

Retire Sooner by Drinking Less Coffee

a-cup-of-coffee-399478_640by Edward Dressel

As a recent graduate or young professional, your retirement is probably one of the last things on your mind. As you start out in the post-college world you will have a new job, new responsibilities, perhaps student loans to pay off but there are compelling reasons to keep your eye on retirement, even as a young professional.

Savings that you make now for retirement have the power of time and compounding working in your favor, which can make little contributions now turn into large balances in retirement.  Would you be willing to give up some minor things now if it meant a secure retirement in the future?  Let’s look at a scenario that may be common for many of you.

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Don’t Go Into Debt With Your Holiday Spending

holiday spending
Christmas is just around the corner and many people are beginning to stress about their holiday spending. It is important, however, not to go into debt trying to make everyone happy this holiday season.

Many people go into debt trying to live up to Christmases past.

Many people go into debt purchasing gifts for Christmas, myself included. Usually the reason for this is because they are trying to live up to Christmases past. If you had a great year financially and it is followed by a tough financial year you may feel like you are lacking when it comes to gifts for Christmas. Do what you can, don’t stress about living up to last Christmas or the Christmas before.

Don’t overdo it… Buy what you can afford.

If you can’t pay cash for (or pay off in full) what you want to buy this Christmas, don’t buy it. There are plenty of programs, like Layaway at Walmart and Kmart, that can help you make payments on items if you really want them. This is a much better alternative than racking up credit card debt celebrating Christmas. Remember, the gifts you buy will bring joy to others, however, if you ruin your credit buying them you will resent having purchased it in the first place.

Don’t max out any credit cards you can’t pay off in full in January.

I am totally guilty of doing this. I was a 20-year-old who absolutely LOVED Christmas and had been approved for a Discover credit card, Amazon.com credit card and a PayPal credit card. All three of which were maxed out the first Christmas I had them. I bought my boyfriend at the time an Xbox, games and a number of other items. My grandmothers and grandfathers, brothers, mother, dad and dad’s wife all got great presents as well. However, I was not able to pay all of that off for almost a year (with interest) and it ended up dinging my credit score more than it helped it.

Christmas can help your credit score… If you do it right.

A few days ago I heard a friend of mine say that she takes out a loan for holiday spending every year. To me this was astounding (and it may seem odd to bring up in a posting about not accruing debt this Christmas)! How could someone take a loan out and repay it every single year just for Christmas. She says that taking the loan out insures that her family, including her three children, get what they want every year for Christmas.

The loan, as she explained to me, is relatively small $2,000 to $3,000 each year. It has actually helped her credit score tremendously and she is able to “do” Christmas to the fullest.

Whatever your plans for holiday spending are this year, make sure that you are fully aware of your finances and don’t overspend/rack up debt to have a nice Christmas. After all, the season is about enjoying friends and family, not gifts.

Photo: Jim Lukach

Financial Literacy Month: Games to Teach Kids How to Count Money

Source: Flikr

Financial literacy awareness is so important. Like most things, I believe the earlier you start, the better your chances of success are, especially in terms of education. My daughter may only be four but we’ve already been active in trying to educate her on financial matters. To make it fun though, there are things, like games to teach kids how to count money, which make it more fun and entertaining. She thinks we’re just playing but we’re actually teaching her useful, everyday financial tools.

November, being financial literacy month, is the perfect time for me to talk about various games we’ve used to teach kids how to count money, ones that we’ve had success with. I really do believe that playing these silly games is making a difference in my daughter’s life now and more importantly, in the future, when she’s independent and away from the financial protection of her parents. I want her to avoid some of the mistakes we’ve made and learn from our past.

Games to Teach Kids How to Count Money

There are three different things we do or games we play that help teach our kids how to count money. The first is simple, piggy banks. We currently have two piggy banks on the go. One to save and one to spend (adding a third ‘’to give’’ is also a good idea). My daughter understands that when they get full, she will either be able to spend or save (ie deposit into a bank account) its contents. We give her coins, usually just a few cents at once in various coinage and allow her to decide what goes where. Though she doesn’t quite understand the value of a quarter, she is old enough to understand when we tell her it is worth more than, say, a dime. Once we go through the explanation of denominations, she counts her different coins, dividing them between her piggy banks. How she divides the money really depends on her mood. Sometimes she’s all for saving and other times she has something in mind and decides to put almost all of it in spending. We let her decide.

Another useful game to teach kids how to count money is actually quite fun. For it we use monopoly money and allow her to ‘’buy’’ things. We don’t need to use monopoly money, real cash would work too, but we really are making a game out of it. We’ll give her 10 $1 bills and allow her to buy objects of different values. I will go to the dollar store and pick out a few decent toys/stickers/treats and apply values to them. They will be valued in such a way that she could never afford to buy everything at once teaching her not only to count the bills when ‘’paying’’ but that you can’t necessarily have it all. We’re at the point now though, at 4.5 years we can start to give her real cash and actually buy something from the store itself. I’ll give her $2.00-$3.00 and go into the store explaining what she can and can’t buy with her counting her coins.

One of the best games to teach kids how to count money, in my opinion, is to buy a toy cash register. One was given to us when my daughter was about two and she still loves playing with it. There are toy coins that go into various slots and she’s at the point now of counting the denominations on the coins (1,2 or 3) and adding them in her register. She will usually sell us things, and we have to buy them from her fake store. Most of the time it’s food that she sells, like the grocery store, but the main point is that she is counting the money to give to us and helping us decide if we have enough money to buy what the object is.

There are a ton of games to teach kids how to count money out there. Pinterest has a mecca of ideas but these are a few we keep going back to and seem to be working for us.

How did you come up with creative ways or games to teach kids how to count money? Either your own kids or others close to you?

The Average Cost of Thanksgiving Dinner: Ways to Save

Average cost of thanksgiving
This year is the first in quite some time that the average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner dropped. Last year the average price of preparing a Thanksgiving meal sat just above $50 and now it sits at $49.87 (a 24 cent decrease from the 2015). It may not seem like much but celebrating the day may be a little less costly than usual.

These figures have been decided for a family of 10. The menu for the family of 10 includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and coffee with milk. That is a pretty impressive menu and only costs about $5 to feed each person at the table for the holiday. If your guest list is a little smaller you could end up spending even less celebrating Thanksgiving this year.

The Cost of Thanksgiving Dinner

Why did the cost of Thanksgiving drop this year?

Well, according to Investopedia, farm prices of turkeys throughout the United States have dropped from recent years. This is probably the key reason that the overall price of the holiday meal has dropped. A 16-pound turkey only costs about $22.74 this year, which is spectacular compared to previous years. Plenty of retailers have also offered shoppers incentives for purchasing freak or frozen turkeys as well.

Other costs have declined as well. Milk prices dropped to a national average of $3.17 (the lowest they’ve been in six years). Pumpkin pie filling prices also fell to about $3.13 a can. Rolls, pie shells and cranberries have also all seen price drops this holiday season.

While the overall cost of holding a Thanksgiving dinner may be a little lighter on your wallet this year, there are still plenty of ways you can save. Keep these ideas in mind when you prep for your Thanksgiving meal tomorrow:

  • Don’t buy name-brand items – Butterball and name-brand turkeys are more expensive. Other items, like rolls, pies, etc. are also cheaper when they don’t have a name plastered on them.
  • Hold a potluck – Having others chip in will cut your overall cost greatly. It is also a fun way to get to try your friends’ and family’s cooking.
  • Be creative – You don’t have to have a “traditional” Thanksgiving feast. Serve something a bit cheaper. It’ll be just as good and even better for your wallet.
  • Scale your celebration down – Don’t invite everyone you know over for Thanksgiving. Keep your celebration small. It will help your budget.
  • Wait until after Thanksgiving – If you are looking to be a little less traditional you may want to think about holding a “Friendsgiving.” You can hold a dinner after Thanksgiving and get discounted items (turkeys will be marked down). This is a great way to still celebrate the holiday without the cost.

However and whenever you decide to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday you should remember that it is not all about how big or expensive your celebration is. What matters is showing your appreciation for your friends and family and spending time together.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo: Neil

Christmas on a Budget: Easy Homemade Christmas Gifts

pepermint foot soakSince my daughter was born I’ve been doing what I can to keep Christmas costs down. This is even truer now that I’m on maternity leave again with baby #2 on his way. I’ve always felt that Christmas gift exchange should be more for children than adults, and now that we have a child I really wanted the focus to be on her and not among the adults in the family. Having said this, I love giving people gifts so I’m my own worst enemy. This is where easy homemade Christmas gifts come into play. I can keep costs down and still satisfy that gift-giving itch.

There are a ton of easy homemade Christmas gifts that you can make. The options really are limitless. I will say though, in the past I have made the mistake of trying to make an easy homemade Christmas gift only to have it cost way more than this actually buying something so do your research first!

This year my daughter and I have made a list of things we plan on making and a detailed list of what we need to get in terms of supplies. If you’re looking for a few easy homemade Christmas gift ideas, feel free to steal our plans!

Ornaments

I don’t want to give out specific details of what we plan on making just in case one of our recipients happens to read this, but we have three different ornaments in the works this year. I love handmade ornaments and they happen to be a very easy homemade Christmas gift that anyone can attempt because there are simply so many options. One of our ornaments will be 100% toddler made (we’ll see how it turns out) while the other two are legitimate, pretty ornaments that if they turn out, people will look forward to hanging on their tree. To make the three types of ornaments I estimate we’ll spend a total of less than $15 in supplies. Not bad for five different gifts!

Baked Goods

This can be an easy homemade Christmas gift only if done right. Baking can be extremely expensive and it’s easy to get carried away. That said, baking is still often cheaper than buying something but definitely do your homework on this one before committing to something. My sister and I bake every year, a whole day of whipping up our favorite creations. This will be the first year that we haven’t done it since we were teenagers. Having a marathon baking session while either 9 months pregnant or just recovering from having a baby isn’t my idea of a good time though. Every year we spend about $60 in ingredients ($30 each) and about another $10 in gift packaging. We divvy up our goods between about 12 people/families in total with a final cost of less than $6 each.

Spice Jar Creations

I haven’t decided if I’m doing this again this year or not, but have done it in the past. If you have access to a bulk spice store (or bulk section in grocery store) you can make a really great, easy homemade Christmas gift and you probably don’t even know it. Last week I was in my grocery store looking for a single spice and was shocked to see a small bottle of steak seasoning was almost $7. You can make a lifetime supply for $7 if you’re inclined to and you should because it is so easy. What I love about this easy homemade Christmas gift is that there are so many options and you get a good reaction out of people. They’re genuinely excited to try what you’ve come up with. You can dress the gift up in a few ways too with packaging choice and make a very inexpensive gift look quite fancy. If you haven’t done this before it really is one of my favorite easy homemade Christmas gift ideas because there are a ton of combinations out there. A simple Google search of homemade spice combinations or borrowing a library book will give you limitless options for what you want to create in your little spice jars so give it a try.

There are so many easy homemade Christmas gift ideas out there it’s worth a look into. Too often do we get carried away and spend a ton of money on store bought gifts but with a little effort (and I do mean very little effort in some cases) you can make a beautiful and easy homemade Christmas gift that will be appreciated much more than anything bought at a store.

How to Move Out at 18

How to Move Out at 18

It seems like people are moving out of their parent’s homes earlier and earlier. Many people try to move out of their parent’s house at 18 and head to college. According to some Reddit forums, many people move out of their parent’s home between the ages of 18 and 24. Some kids are moving out even sooner.

If you’re thinking of moving out here are a few tips on how to move out at 18:

Get a Job

Obviously, before you even think about moving out of your parents house make sure you have a job and be sure that it is a reliable one. If you are looking to move out on your own you should expect to pay $900 or more a month for an apartment, which means you should gross $2,500 a month or more (depending on your other bills). You will also need to be able to verify employment and provide check stubs.

If you are planning to move out with a roommate be sure you know their employment situation and know that they aren’t about to quit or lose their job any time soon. Being jobless is one way to fail at moving out at 18.

How Much Should You Save to Move Out at 18?

There are a number of things you should think about when it comes to how to move out at 18 and how much money you should save to do so. You will have to not only think about the cost of rent but also the cost of groceries, utilities, apartment insurance, furniture and any other miscellaneous costs that will come up (packing supplies, moving trucks, etc). You should save up to three months of your rent and utilities and be sure to save for unexpected costs as well.

Set Up a Budget and Know Your Limits

Before you move out you will want to set a budget. To be able to successfully set up a budget you will have to think about your monthly income, how much rent will cost you, how much utilities will run for you, how much insurance will cost, what your monthly bills are now and also add in groceries for yourself and other miscellaneous items (shampoo, dishwasher liquid, etc.). If you are only making $2,000 a month or less it isn’t likely you’ll be able to successfully move out without a roommate.

If you are moving out with a roommate you will want to make clear what items you two will split and which things will remain separate. Usually when you live with someone rent is split, utilities are split and sometimes the food bill will be split. These are all things you should discuss with your roomie before you move in together.

Don’t Forget to Enjoy Living

When you are making a budget for yourself don’t forget to budget in some entertainment. If you are trying to move out at 18 it is a huge adjustment. You will suddenly have all your own bills and have to pay for items you didn’t have to pay for before. If you make your life solely about paying those bills you will likely fail at moving out. You will eventually cave and spend money you don’t have doing something fun. You are still young. Be sure to budget some fun into your life.

Know That You’ll Probably Fail (Maybe More Than Once)

I have not-so-successfully moved out of my parent’s house three times and am in the middle of embarking on my fourth. The likelihood of you “getting it right” the first time isn’t great. Most people fail the first time and have to move back in. If this happens to you, don’t beat yourself up about it. Take the experience and learn a lesson from it so that next time you are able to successfully move out of your parent’s home.

When did you move out? Did you succeed the first time? 

Photo: Emma Jane Hogbin Westby

Encouraging Toddler Independent Play Without Breaking the Bank

I’ve officially been on maternity leave for two weeks; although I think I’ve been busier in the last two weeks than had I been working full-time. My mommy sense is that I will go into labour early and I want to try to get as much done as possible before that happens. This includes prepping for baby as well everything Christmas related. It’s been fun! We originally pulled Maria out of daycare to save on costs while I was off work. She was now stuck at home with mom, running errands and totally reliant on independent play.

I really didn’t think this would be an issue. She’s always been great at independent play but something has been different. She’s growing tired of being home with just mommy (and soon to be baby boy) and looking for more stimulation. Thankfully she’s old enough to understand that mommy isn’t trying to ignore or brush her off, but that I have a lot going on physically (there will be no playground chasing like her friends would be doing) and that mommy and daddy really need to get everything prepared. We’ve been balancing her independent play time with some quality family and friend time too which seems to be keeping her happy. Having said this, if I’m to expect her to primarily be relying on independent play (again, nine months pregnant, busy and soon to have a newborn) I have to supply her with some supplies and preparation. Here are a few ways I’ve been encouraging her independent play time (with or without other toddler friends) and not spend a ton of money.

Plan Play Dates

Most all of my friends with children are working full time. I have one other friend currently on maternity leave so we will be capitalizing on our overlapping time off together to get our two toddlers together and play. They’re both four and have at least three years between them and next sibling so are quite used to independent play time. My friend and I have planned cheap dates for the girls which allow them to play independently (though, together in this position) while we do what we need to do. In our current situation, I capitalize on the time usually resting a bit with kiddo being preoccupied, and my friend feeding/taking care of her new baby or just having a break from being her toddlers only entertainment.

These play dates don’t have to be anything special. The beautiful thing about toddlers is that they can be pretty easy to entertain. We’ve done totally free independent play dates such as playground meet-ups which usually involves meeting (with coffee for momma) and letting kids run around for an hour or so together, or something like going to each other’s house for the kids to make crafts or just play.

Free Community Events

Now that I’m off, I have some time to see what’s going on in our community for my daughter to participate in. In the last two weeks we’ve already gone to the library where she had some independent play time in a different atmosphere (same toys as home for the most part but suddenly they’re more fun when they’re not actually yours?) and looked into free events such as introduction to flamenco dancing for toddlers. With Christmas approaching there will be quite a few things for us to do with free toddler craft classes and things like Christmas book readings. Getting out of the house will be nice.

Dollar Store

I won’t lie, I love the dollar store and frequent it more than I care to admit. The dollar store is what allows me to get things done while my daughter is having independent play and craft time at home. At least once per week we head to the local dollar store to gather new craft supplies. Usually simple things like stickers, craft paper or coloring pages. For just a few dollars she has hours of independent play time. We’ll spend a few minutes together each week looking up fun things to do on toddler craft websites and kiddo has tons of fun executing what she finds, she’s become very competent with using scissors in the last few weeks!

It would be easy for me to pay upwards of $50 per day trying to keep my daughter entertained outside of the house but we simply can’t afford to do that while I’m on maternity leave. Encouraging independent play for my daughter is what is keeping us both sane and my budget intact!