Tag: savings

How to Save on School Supplies

Back to school season can be as expensive for parents as it is exciting for students. Once the initial letdown of the end of summer vacation wears off, many kids are excited to return to school, where they can see their friends, study their favorite subjects and participate in extracurricular activities.

Parents of school-aged youngsters may share in that excitement while also knowing that back to school season can stretch their budgets. One of the ways to salvage those budgets is to save on school supplies. Fortunately, there are several ways parents can do just that.

· Be patient. Shopping early can save shoppers money in many instances, but parents may benefit by exercising patience when it comes to buying school supplies for their children. Teachers often give students lists of supplies they will need for each class, and parents who wait to receive such lists can avoid spending money on items their kids won’t need. Even if you wait it out, you may be able to get a head start, as some teachers may post supply lists on school websites, while others might email lists to parents before back to school season hits full swing.

· Take inventory. If you have more than one child, chances are you already have lots of school supplies around the house. Dust off kids’ backpacks and study areas from last school year to determine which supplies you need to buy and which you already have. Going forward, encourage kids to store their supplies in a predetermined area once the school year ends, as this will make next year’s inventory that much easier to examine and assess.

· Spend more now to save later. While inexpensive supplies can be hard to resist, such items likely won’t withstand the test of time, forcing you to spend time and money each year buying replacement supplies. Paying more now for certain items, including stronger backpacks and more highly rated calculators, may end up saving you money in the long run, even if the initial pill is somewhat tough to swallow.

· Use technology to your advantage. Department stores and businesses that sell school supplies, such as pharmacies and office stores, may or may not discount too many items once back to school season hits full swing. But savvy parents can still find deals by using technology to their advantage when shopping for school supplies. Download apps like RetailMeNot to your smartphone and enable its updates so your phone essentially notifies you of any discounts the moment you walk into a given store. If you don’t receive any updates, search for discounts via the app or the Internet as you shop. Chances are strong that there are deals to be had, even if you don’t learn of the deals until you arrive at the store.

School supplies can be expensive, but parents can employ several strategies to save on school supplies now and in the future.


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Planning for a Fun, Successful Celebration

Celebrations are a large part of people’s lives. Many people commemorate key moments – from birthdays to anniversaries to graduations – with parties. While celebrations may seem like a fine idea, there’s no denying that throwing a party where everyone has fun requires a lot of work.

When planning a party, hosts must consider a number of factors, including their budgets. While guests are a key ingredient to fun, successful parties, hosts can take the following steps to further increase their chances of throwing a bash to remember.

· Start planning early. A party-planning checklist can help hosts stay organized and ensure that even the smallest detail isn’t forgotten. Writing ideas down on paper and having a tangible checklist can make it much easier to organize a party.

· Pick a theme for cohesion. Party themes need not include something over the top, such as costumes. The right theme can be as simple as choosing a color scheme or uniting element that connects all of the components of the party. Once you have a theme in mind, you can start compiling all of the details and supplies, which can make shopping easier and more efficient.

· Create a festive atmosphere. Think about the ways you can enliven the atmosphere to make it more inviting for guests. Appeal to guests’ senses by employing lighting, sound and scents. One easy way to set the tone for the party is to have a well-thought-out playlist that’s timed to coordinate with the elements of your party. Keep music low at the start of the party and during the meal to facilitate conversation. As the party progresses, increase the volume of the music and select music with an upbeat tempo.

· Create a guest book. Give guests the opportunity to share their sentiments no matter the event. Place a guest book where guests can easily see it, and encourage them to jot down a few words for the guest(s) of honor. This can serve as a nice memento in the years to come.

· Offer a self-serve bar. A self-serve bar cuts down on the work hosts must do. Be sure to keep an eye on guests’ alcohol consumption, and have a plan in place to help guests who might overindulge. Keep the contact information for local taxi companies handy just in case a guest needs a ride home.


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Natural Ways to Reduce Lyme Disease Risk

The great outdoors can be a wonder to behold. Parks, nature preserves or even some time spent in the backyard can help men, women and children reconnect with nature.

While there is plenty to enjoy about the great outdoors, certain hazards are lurking. Ticks can be both a nuisance and a danger, potentially contributing to illnesses like Lyme disease. Recognizing the dangers of ticks and how to avoid tick bites can help people reduce their risk for contracting Lyme disease.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that, after hatching from eggs, ticks must eat blood at every stage to survive. It can take up to three years for a tick to complete its full life cycle, meaning it needs quite a few hosts to feed on.

Ticks are part of the arachnid family, but unlike spiders, ticks attach to the skin of an animal and suck its blood. Ticks can be found just about anywhere, but they tend to gravitate toward wooded areas or tall grasses, which offer them protection and good vantage points to find an animal host. Dog owners have no doubt encountered ticks in their lifetimes, as ticks are routine problems for dogs that are not properly protected. But ticks also prey on humans.

Ticks are and their bites are relatively painless, which can make it difficult for people to detect when they have been bitten. Many tick bites are harmless and do not require treatment. However, if bitten by a tick that is carrying Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, people may need to take an antibiotic to prevent any lasting health effects. As a result, people should always visit a doctor when bitten by a tick.

Pesticide repellants are some of the more effective and well-known methods to prevent tick bites and subsequent side effects. Many repellants can be used without negative side effects, but those who prefer to go a more natural route can take the following precautionary measures.

· Watch habitats. Steer clear of grassy, wooded and brushy areas. Ticks also prefer humid conditions.

· Stick to trails. Stay on trails when hiking or walking to avoid brushing up against areas where ticks may be hiding out.

· Wear proper clothing. Light-colored clothing makes it easier to spot ticks that may have made their way onto a person. Tuck pants into socks, as ticks tend to climb onto hosts from the ground up. Bare ankles provide easy access.

· Protect hair and heads. Wear a hat and/or keep long hair contained so that it isn’t an attractive hiding spot for ticks.

· Shower immediately. After coming in from areas known for ticks, shower and launder clothing immediately. While showering, do a spot inspection looking for ticks on your body. Remember to look in hidden areas like under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, on the back of the knees, in and around the hair, between the legs, and around the waist.

· Clean up the yard. Make your yard less habitable to ticks by mowing the grass regularly and removing leaf litter and trim shrubs. Also, use wood chips or gravel to serve as a barrier between lawns and wooded areas of the property.

· Use natural oils. Ticks may not like the smell of garlic, lemon, eucalyptus, lavender, and rosemary, among others. Dotting your body with these infused oils may make you less attractive to ticks.


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Tips for Grilling the Perfect Burger

Hamburgers are a staple at backyard barbecues. Though burgers are a relatively simple food, mastering the technique to grill burgers is no small feat, as there is more to great grilled burgers than simply firing up the grill and dropping down a patty.

· Choose fresh ground beef that has a decent percentage of fat. The fat-to-lean meat ratio should be around 20 percent fat to 80 percent meat. Spend a little more to get freshly ground meat that has not been previously frozen.

· Don’t overwork the burgers with a lot of handling. This will warm up the fat in the burger, which causes it to emulsify and could make the meat rubbery.

· Reconsider adding a lot of herbs, spices or add-ins to the burgers, as such items can detract from the flavor of the meat. Extra herbs and spices also may require extra mixing, which can lead overhandling.

· Push a dimple into the top of the burger, which will help prevent the burger from expanding upward and out while cooking and rounding out in the process. The dimple will keep the top of the burger flat, which facilitates easy topping.

· Make sure the grill is hot. Burgers do well with high heat and will cook relatively quickly.

· Resist the urge to push down on the patty with your spatula. This will cause the juices to spill out and may result in a dry, tough burger.

· Let burgers rest before serving. This lets the juices redistribute throughout and makes for a moist and tasty first bite.


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Master Magical Marinades

Grilled foods boast inviting flavors that put many diners on the lookout for second helpings. Quite often the magic behind grilled meals lies in the marinade used to give foods that flavorful kick.

Marinades can be used to enhance the flavor of meats, vegetables and poultry. While marinades add flavor, they also may be responsible for some other benefits in grilled foods.

Marinades add flavor

Defined as a savory acidic sauce in which food is soaked to enrich its flavor, marinades help break down fiber and tenderize certain foods. The base of many marinades include vinegar, lemon juice or wine, and marinades can be enhanced with spices, oil and herbs.

It’s important not to let foods sit in marinades for too long, as any alcohol, acid or salt in the mixture can chemically “cook” the food in a process known as “denaturing.” Adhere to timing recommendations when using store-bought marinades, and keep such guidelines in mind when using homemade marinades as well. Many may tell you to let foods sit no longer than four hours. Marinades with citrus juices may require even less time for flavor to penetrate.

The timing of marinade use also will depend on the foods being marinated. Delicate items, such as seafood, may change with regard to texture or color in a matter of minutes.

It’s important to always marinate foods in the refrigerator. Food left sitting out on a counter – even when it’s in a marinade – invites the growth of bacteria. If a recipe calls for marinating at room temperature, continue to marinate in the refrigerator, but extend the length of time you marinate. This helps to prevent foodborne illnesses.

When marinating, use plastic or glass containers so the marinade does not cause a chemical reaction, which may occur if you marinate foods in metal containers. Discard all marinades for raw meats and poultry when the time comes to cook the foods, as leftover marinades may contain bacteria that makes them unsafe to reuse on other foods.

The nutritional benefits of marinating

In addition to flavor, marinades may improve the nutritional value of grilled foods. In 2008, researchers at Kansas State University discovered that marinating meat in antioxidant-rich spice blends can reduce the risk of forming heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, by more than 80 percent. HCAs are harmful, cancer-causing compounds that form when food chars over an open flame at high temperatures. Marinades must be rich in spices to have any HCA-busting properties.

Marinades are a secret weapon in the creation of tasty, tender and healthy foods. They come in quite handy when grilling, and add an extra dose of flavor when cooking over high heat. TF167209

How Families Can Make the Most of Festival Season

Summer is synonymous with many things, including festivals. Music fans love the festival circuit because it gives them a chance to see many of their favorite musicians in a single place while simultaneously enjoying the great outdoors. Foodies enjoy festival season because they have the opportunity to try a variety of new foods in a single day or weekend without having to travel far and wide.

Festival season also tends to be family-friendly, providing families with numerous chances to spend quality time together. Festival season is even more enjoyable when parents take the time to plan their visits so their Saturday or Sunday afternoons at festivals go as smoothly as possible.

· Do your homework. Festivals tend to offer an array of entertainment and cuisine, and that can be a lot to digest all at once. Parents can ensure they get everything they want out of a festival by studying the festival schedule and offerings ahead of time rather than arriving and trying to take in everything at once.

· Bring supplies. Conditions can be unpleasant during summer festival season, when rising temperatures and long lines can try families’ patience. Bring enough sunscreen to ensure no one gets sunburned, and explore the festival guidelines in advance to determine what you can bring onto the festival grounds. If it’s permissable to bring water onto the grounds, bring enough to keep everyone hydrated. In addition, bring hats and sunglasses as well as bug spray to keep potentially pesky insects at bay.

· Explore transportation options. Festivals can attract considerable crowds, and families who want to avoid being stuck in traffic should explore their options with regard to getting to and from the festivals they plan to visit. Use public transportation where available. Public transportation can help families avoid potentially costly parking fees and relieve parents of the stress of navigating traffic jams. If public transportation is not available, look for free or low-cost parking lots in the vicinity of the festival.

· Consider the viability of strollers. Parents who typically transport their tots in strollers may want to reconsider taking strollers to summer festivals. Large crowds can be difficult to negotiate with strollers in tow, and parents may find strollers more frustrating than functional at popular festivals. If you must bring a stroller, leave the large jogging stroller at home in favor of a compact stroller that’s comfortable for kids and easy to push through crowds.

Summer festival season tends to be family-friendly, and parents can take certain steps to ensure the coming festival season is even more enjoyable.


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Your DIY Wedding Guide

As the cost of the average wedding continues to rise, it’s understandable that couples ready to tie the knot may be seeking any and all ways to save money.

While some aspects of a wedding are better left to the professionals, others are prime for a little do-it-yourself cost cutting. Couples should just be sure they have the skills and resources available to handle portions of their weddings on their own. Otherwise, the cost savings may be negated by trial and error. The following are some areas that may be a good fit for couples looking to try their own DIY techniques.

· Floral centerpieces: While floral bouquets and boutonniéres are probably best left to professional florists, couples may want to try making their own reception table centerpieces. Such centerpieces can be simple displays of fresh flowers in vases or more intricate designs. Test out any ideas prior to the wedding. Remember to keep arrangement height in mind. You do not want to obscure the views of seated guests.

· Cake: Ask a pastry chef or bakery to make you a small cake that can be used for cake-cutting traditions and photo opportunities, but have your own cake available to serve. Sheet cakes are much less expensive than more intricate tiered cakes, but they can be just as delicious. Guests may not even know the difference if the cake is sliced and served out of the reception site’s kitchen. Purchase the cake or make it on your own.

· Invitations: Professionally designed invitations can look beautiful, but not everyone has the budget for embossing or engraving and expensive paper stock. Thanks to graphic design and page layout software, computer-savvy couples can design and print their invites right from home. That makes it easy to create a new invitation if you miscounted or if you have a last-minute addition to the guest list.

· Favors: Create favors that work with the theme of your wedding and make them yourself. These can be candles, fruit preserves, soaps, baked goods, or anything else that appeals to you. The cost of making them in bulk may turn out to be less than purchasing manufactured items. Plus, guests get to take home something that came directly from you.

· Video: Enlist a friend or family member to capture the wedding and after-party on video for you. You can use video-editing software available through popular apps to piece together your own wedding video memento.

Couples about to tie the knot can become more hands-on in wedding planning and execution. By handling some of the work themselves, couples can save a considerable amount of money. A do-it-yourself approach also may foster feelings of pride in a job well done.


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How to Build Your Wedding Budget

Couples engaged to be married have a lot on their plates as they begin planning their weddings. Whereas tradition once demanded parents of the bride pay for a couple’s wedding, nowadays more and more engaged couples are completely or partially financing their own nuptials. That means prospective brides and grooms must develop wedding budgets that won’t ensure their first act as Mr. and Mrs. is paying down debt.

In its 2015 Real Weddings Study, online bridal resource The Knot found that many couples still receive substantial financial support from their parents to pay for their weddings. The survey found that, on average, the bride’s parent’s contributed 44 percent of the overall wedding budget in 2015, while couples financed 43 percent (the remaining 13 percent was financed by the groom’s parents and additional sources). Couples who hope to follow that formula or pay for their weddings on their own can heed the following tips to build wedding budgets that won’t break the bank but will still ensure a day to remember forever.

· Examine your collective finances. Few couples know the details of each other’s finances before getting engaged. While some may still hesitate to share their personal financial information upon getting engaged, an open and honest discussion and examination of each person’s finances is the only way to develop a realistic wedding budget that both partners can live with. Once couples know what they can contribute, they can then consult their parents to determine if their mothers and fathers are intending to contribute.

· Develop a preliminary guest list. A preliminary guest list can give couples an idea of how large and expensive their weddings will be. According to the Real Weddings Study, the average cost per wedding guest in 2015 was $237. While that cost can vary greatly depending on geography and other factors, couples should keep that figure in mind when drafting their guest lists. If need be, keep costs down by trimming the guest list so it includes only close family members and friends.

· Don’t count on gifts. Many couples justify runaway wedding budgets by telling themselves that they will ultimately get the money back via wedding gifts. While many guests will give financial gifts, counting on such windfalls is a recipe for accruing debt. Do not build potential wedding gifts into your wedding budget. If you do so and your expectations fall short, you could be facing considerable debt upon returning home from your honeymoon.

· Gather quotes before choosing where to tie the knot. Where couples get married will have a great impact on how much money they will spend on their weddings. For example, the Real Weddings Study found that, in 2015, the average wedding in Manhattan cost couples slightly more than $82,000, while the average Alaskan wedding cost just over $17,000. Venues within the same city can vary greatly with regard to pricing and offerings as well, so couples should give themselves ample time to gather quotes and find an affordable venue they like.

· Build extra costs into your budget. When determining a budget you can live with, remember to include a little extra for unforeseen costs. Weddings are large undertakings, and it’s reasonable to expect some unforeseen costs to arise. Building such costs into your initial budget will make these unforeseen circumstances that much easier to handle.

Budgets can help couples stay on track and avoid debt as they plan their weddings.


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How Bulk Cooking Can Make Meals Easier

Healthy family meals can get lost in the shuffle of busy schedules. Convenience may win out when parents are short on time, and it’s hard not to be enticed by the ease of fast food or the lure of frozen foods. While these options are certainly fine on occasion, there is a more nutritious solution for time-crunched families.

Planning is a big part of enjoying a homecooked meal, and cooking in bulk can help families enjoy more homecooked meals. By thinking ahead about meals, you can more easily enjoy homecooked dinners than if you were to wait until the last minute to think about what’s for dinner.

If bulk cooking is a foreign concept, the following are some resources to help you along.

· Get started by browsing cookbooks, online recipes or speaking with friends and family members about their favorite meals, especially those that may be popular with younger eaters. Concentrate on a specific meal each day. Dinner is the meal many families hope to share, as breakfast and lunch are often eaten outside of the home. Make a list of the ingredients that go into your family’s favorite meals, selecting recipes that use many of the same ingredients.

· Wait until you have a free schedule and ample time to go to the store to shop for all of your supplies. Have a list on hand and check off each item as you find it. Cooking in bulk also means you can buy in bulk. Very often bulk-size foods are discounted, saving you both time and money. Shop for the staples that are needed for most meals, including fresh herbs, cheese, spices, oil, and whatever flavorings your family finds most appealing. Large bags of rice and potatoes also are handy to have available.

· Take advantage of warehouse club membership fees or manufacturer or store coupon deals on multiple buy specials. Buying jumbo-sized packages of food makes more sense when you intend to cook in bulk.

· Clean out the refrigerator and freezer, as you will need plenty of room to store your ingredients, and later, your prepared meals. Figure out when you will be doing the cooking so you know what will need to be refrigerated or frozen once you return from the supermarket.

· Establish a dedicated cooking day. Many bulk cookers cook on the weekend. You may be able to have a spouse or friend take the children for the day so there will be no interruptions.

· Gather all items that need to be chopped or sliced and set them aside. Leave ample time to chop or slice, which can take a lot of time. Use all of your available cooking resources, such as the grill, stovetop, oven, and slow cooker, at once. Then just drop the ingredients in as necessary.

· Have plenty of freezer-safe storage containers on hand. Divvy up the meals into containers and label clearly. Now each day of the week you have a fast meal that can be heated up in no time. Fresh bread and a salad may be the only other components you need.


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Creative Ways to Cut College Costs

The cost of college tuition continues to increase, and college graduates are feeling the burn of that trend when the time comes to begin repaying their student loans.

According to an analysis from higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Cappex, an online resource for students seeking college scholarships, members of the class of 2016 will graduate with an average student loan debt of just over $37,000. That projection, which was based on federal student loan data and variables including tuition inflation, would be an all-time high. Things are not much better in Canada, where the 2015 Graduating Student Survey by the Canadian University Survey Consortium estimated the average member of the class of 2015 graduated with $27,000 in debt.

Though many prospective college students are beginning to question if college degrees are worth taking on the kind of debt many students must take on to continue their educations after high school, statistics still indicate that college graduates have far greater lifetime earning potential than men and women who enter the professional arena with only high school diplomas.

So what can prospective college students do to avoid graduating without tens of thousands of dollars in debt? The answer might not be so difficult.

· Apply to tuition-free schools. Many students and parents might be surprised to learn that there are several tuition-free schools. Admittance to these schools is competitive, but students considering equally competitive, high-tuition alternatives might make strong candidates for admission to tuition-free schools.

· Apply to fixed-tuition schools. If tuition-free schools are not an option, students can save money by applying for admittance to fixed-tuition schools. Such schools guarantee that the tuition students pay in their freshman year will not increase during the ensuing three years. (Note: Tuition may increase if a student needs a fifth year of schooling.) That can lead to considerable savings, as many schools’ tuitions increase dramatically in just four years.

· Begin at a two-year college. Two-year colleges typically charge considerably lower tuitions than four-year colleges and universities. Students who want to save money may benefit by enrolling in a two-year college out of high school and getting all of their prerequisite courses out of the way at a more budget-friendly cost. When considering this option, make sure credits at the two-year college fully transfer to the four-year school students hope to enroll in after earning their associate’s degrees.

· Remain in-state for undergraduate degrees. In-state tuition at public universities remains a considerable bargain over out-of-state tuition or tuition at private universities. Students planning to do postgraduate work might benefit by enrolling in in-state public universities and saving their money to finance their postgraduate educations. Students who hope to attend a public university in a state that borders their home state may be eligible for a border waiver, which grants them in-state tuition even though they attended high school outside of the state.

Attending college has never been more expensive, but students and their parents can explore various options that can help reduce the cost of college tuition.


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