i The Frugal Law Student | Frugality

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Blog for Bites

Written by Mike

Although it may seem a bit out-of-context blogging for meals can actually be a great starting point. For those who are seeking alternatives to high-priced recipes, usually found in mainstream recipe books, a good blog-spot can be worth more than a barrel of high-end recipe cards. On the contrary, and for the general purpose of seeking out low-budget foods, you may find a treasure-trove waiting to be discovered.
Simply searching the right phrase can lead you to mountains of easy, inexpensive recipe alternatives. Thousands of bloggers have dedicated their time to reinvent “cooking on a dime”. Sites such as ‘Cheap Eats’ have tons of archived goodies waiting for the average chef to devour. One of the best parts is the flexibility that comes with today’s interactive recipe blogs. Not only can you find exactly what you need to feed your family in a pinch but the tricks of the trade are included free of charge. The blog-spots that I have visited have such great recommendations along-side their recipes. The comments enable the reader to see what others are saying, as well as displaying different variations of the original recipes. Pictures are generally posted, if not in the original recipe then at least by one of the adventurous chef’s, in order to display a recipes appearance and alternative spreads.
You may find that blogging can be a very interesting way to “meet & greet” with others who have the same tastes and preferences as you do. Individual circumstance such as vegan/vegetarianism, diabetics, gluten-intolerance, and so on can lead many people to a host of accommodating blogs. Specific dietary needs can be seemingly impossible to those who are affected. Diabetics and gluten-sensitive individuals may feel as though they can’t enjoy tasty meals, much less tasty and inexpensive foods. When it comes to dietary specifications you need not fret over tasteless and expensive meals; blogs have made this a worry of the past. I recommend that everyone sit down for at least ten minutes and search for recipe-blogs that fit their tastes and preferences. I have scavenged several online search engines for almost every dietary preference and sensitivity imaginable only to find accommodating and delicious alternatives for every one of them.
If you have some trouble beginning your search I recommend that you use the search engine’s ‘related searches’. Every search engine offers related searches and they can be very helpful when choosing the wording of your search. An example for vegetarians would be to look-up “cheap vegetarian recipes” then scope out the blogs pertaining to the results. You want to find a blogging community that focuses on your dietary preferences. Once you find one that suits your needs you’ll have everything you need to create inexpensive, wholesome meals.

What To Do With Those Loan Refunds…

Written by Tony Marrone

Most of us have the great burden of having to finance our own higher education, and based on the rising cost of private graduate education, many law students are graduating with student loan debt reaching or exceeding the $200,000 mark.

The demanding course-load most law students endure makes it difficult (read: impossible) to go to school and work full-time. In order to help pay monthly expenses and survive with a decent standard of living during law school, I depend on my student loans refund at the beginning of each semester to help the fiancee and I survive.

The question is, how should you allocate the funds?

The Frugal Law Student’s Guide to Getting the Most From Student Loan Refunds

  • Step One: Budget your refund. You’re going to need to decide at the outset how much of your money you can allocate to expenses each month, and make sure your total expenses are less than your refund. I personally use You Need A Budget, I like the fact that it works on both Mac and PC (I use a MacBook, but the fiancee uses a Gateway and an HP). Whatever you decide to use, you won’t get far into the semester if you haven’t budgeted at the outset.
  • Step Two: Place the bulk of your money in a high-interest savings account. ING is running a promotion where you get $25 instantly placed into your account, when you open an account with an initial deposit of $250. (See link here). I use ING because I like their customer service. There are certainly plenty of other banks out there that offer higher interest rates.
  • Step Three: Take advantage of opportunities for free money from banks for opening accounts. The math is simple here: if ING is offering $25 for you to open an account by depositing $250, and Etrade is offering $25 for you to open an account by depositing $100, and you have well over $1,000 in your checking account “doing nothing”, go ahead and open an ING and Etrade account. Most of the promotions only require you to keep your cash in the bank for 30 days if you decide later to close the account.
  • Step Four: Only borrow what you need to live on. I’m not advocating you max-out your Grad Plus and Stafford loans so that you can invest your money in a 4% savings account. Based upon the time-value of money and the high-interest rates we pay on education loans, borrowing more than you need is a losing proposition. Even if you borrow excess money through your loans and invest aggressively and are successful, you’re really only talking about a nominal return, not even taking account the true value of the money you are borrowing (i.e., adjusting for inflation).

You need to plan ahead and be conservative when deciding how much money to borrow to finance your education costs. However, it is even more important to store the borrowed money wisely (not in canisters or buried inside your mattress) so that you can ease the pain that will later be brought on by high-interest rates during repayment.

15 Minutes Could Save You 15% or more…

Written by Tony Marrone

On your next cell phone, cable, internet or home phone bill.

Like any good frugal law student, I’ve been crunching the prospective numbers for 2008 and determined that I pay far too much for all of the above services. In light of the upcoming wedding and our desire to be in a new house before graduation next year, it seemed that it was time to dust off the old negotiating tactics and take to the phones.

Cut Back on Your Cable/Internet/Home Phone Costs
First up on the list was good ‘ole Time Warner. The media conglomerate has been charging a monthly fee which hovers dangerously close to fraud-like levels. After haggling with the representative and vowing to switch my cable/internet/home phone service to a DirectTV/Verizon Fios combination, I finally was rewarded by having my monthly bill reduced 27% and only giving up four HD channels we never watch.

Streamline your Cell Phone Bill
After conquering Time Warner, I moved on to Verizon in an effort to lower our wireless bill. I chose to take a non-confrontational approach with the Verizon representative. After a brief review of the usage numbers, we were able to reduce our monthly cell phone bill by approximately 22%. However, when I asked if she could throw in some free text-messages for the next couple of months, the representative admitted that if I had called and threatened to cancel my service, she could have done this no problem. Who says it pays to be kind?

Eliminate Pesky Old Accounts via Technicality
Finally, I was prepared to begin what I felt would surely be a battle to cancel two old Sprint PCS lines that have been hanging around. BFP posted today about cashing in on a great offer usually only distributed to Sprint employees. Unfortunately, the great offer is not available to existing Sprint customers, and the two lines remaining of what used to be my family plan are not eligible for conversion to the cheap SERO plan.

However, there is a loophole for all of you wanting to get out of your Sprint contracts without paying the hefty $200 early termination fee. Sprint sent a letter to its current customers about fee changes effective January 1, 2008. What Sprint does not disclose in the letter is that the cancellation of the Federal E911 fee of 40 cents per line and the Federal Local Number Pool and Portability fee of 15 cents per line and the addition of the two new fees actually results in a “net increase in fees”. Technically under most contracts, the net increase in fees creates a loophole which allows you to cancel your contract and forces Sprint to waive the Early Termination Fee.

After I went back-and-forth with the representative, she agreed I was right, and could get out of the two-line account and save the $400 in Early Termination Fees, but would have to call back when I received the bill in order for her to apply the credit. I made sure to get the representative’s identification number before I hung up.

All told, with a little bit of time on your hands and the willingness to have customer service representatives try to convince you why only Time Warner can deliver you the best in high-speed internet or ESPN HD service, you can successfully trim your cable/internet/phone budget by at least 20%. That’s not bad for just 15 minutes…

Tax Refunds Will Be Delayed: Plan Accordingly

Written by Tony Marrone

If you’re like me, you would be monitoring the mail every single day waiting for the W-2 from your summer employer. The painful memory probably still creeps into your mind, you opened your first summer paycheck to find that the federal government had taken their share from your meager earnings. Thankfully, most students do not have much income, even those among us with cushy summer associate positions, so we are likely to receive most of the money withheld from our payroll check back this time of the year when we file our taxes.

However, as I noted at my other blog, The Taxman Cometh the IRS is experiencing serious delays in updating its computers to accommodate several forms that were revised at the end of the year, one of those forms being the Education Credit Form 8863 that most students will fill out in order to reduce their taxable income and qualify for a tax rebate.

What you should plan for if you are usually timely with your taxes (because you want the cash back) is to not be able to even file your federal returns until February 11th. Then, the IRS is cautioning that any rebate may take several weeks longer than usual to process.

There is good news amidst all this inconvenience, and it involves saving money. If you are in the habit of purchasing TurboTax or some other tax-preparation software each year in order to navigate through the myriad of deductions and exemptions you claim when filing your taxes, do not purchase the software this year. If you earned less than $54,000 in 2007, the IRS will help you file your taxes for free at their website. This should save you the cost of purchasing the software (generally at least $30) plus the fees the software providers charge in order to file your returns electronically (generally at least $20).

The pitfall with this plan is that most states that have income taxes (like New York) do not offer a corresponding free filing for state taxes. I recommend using an inexpensive tax preparation software; Complete Tax is the cheapest I could find ($14.95 with free e-filing).

The lesson in all of this is that students should definitely take advantage of the FreeFile offer by the IRS, but don’t count on your refund coming to your bank account electronically within 10 to 14 days. The delay could extend several weeks or months, depending on when you file your taxes.

Are Coupons Worth Your Time?

Written by Brett McKay

One personal finance tip that you see pop up over and over again is to clip coupons. Some people claim to save hundreds of dollars each month just by clipping coupons. There’s an entire site dedicated to helping consumers get the best deal on their groceries using coupons.

I don’t clip coupons for groceries. Never have and I’m not sure I ever will. I’ve tried clipping coupons on Sunday, but usually give up after 5 minutes. I just don’t think it’s worth the time investment. Here’s a quick break down why I think clipping coupons is a waste of time.

Coupons for stuff I don’t buy. Every time I’ve sat down to look through coupons on Sunday, I mainly find coupons for stuff I just don’t buy. I haven’t eaten a Lunchable since 4th grade, so I’m not interested in getting two for the price of one. We have to remember that coupons aren’t printed because food manufacturers want to help out our budget. Coupons are a marketing strategy to get consumers to purchase something they wouldn’t buy in the first place. I’ve also noticed that coupons get issued for stuff that’s already overpriced to begin with. I can save 15 minutes of my time and save the same amount of money buying the generic brand than clipping a coupon for the name brand.

Coupons can increase travel time. Some coupons are valid only at certain stores. Instead of doing your grocery shopping in 45 minutes in one store, in order to get the good deal with your coupon, you might have to drive across town, extending the amount of time of your errand. In addition to wasting time, the extra driving to get the deal wastes expensive gas. After you factor in the cost of gas, the extra effort to get the good deal will probably be mitigated.

Extra clutter. Clipped coupons means just one more thing to keep track of. I’m really trying to reduce the amount of stuff in my life and extra pieces of little paper floating around won’t help. I’m sure many people have established awesome systems to organize their grocery coupons. If it works for them, more power to them. Personally, I don’t think establishing such a system would be worth the time investment.

While I don’t clip coupons for groceries, I will clip coupons for restaurants. Restaurants offer great deals in the Sunday paper. My wife and I have had several cheap date nights thanks coupons from restaurants. Our favorite breakfast place, IHOP, often has coupons in the paper for buy one meal get the other free. You can’t beat that.

What do you all think? What’s been your experience with coupons? Any suggestions on making coupon clipping worth it? Drop a line in the comment box. I’m looking forward to you suggestions!

Image by BigFreaky

6 Painless Ways to Save $100 a Week

Written by Brett McKay

Some people just aren’t ready to take the plunge into full flung frugality. If you’re not ready to take the plunge, here’s a quick list of 6 painless things you can do to save $100 bucks and get your feet wet for frugal living.

1. Stay in one weekend a month. A night out on the town can easily set you back $50. Restaurant, drinks, and a movie all add up. Instead of going out, buy a frozen pizza and a liter of soda and check a movie out from the library. You can have just as much fun without having to spend so much money.Savings:$50
2. Skip Starbucks once a week. There’s a reason why Starbucks is a successful company-their coffee is super expensive. A cup costs $4 and if you’re like most people, you’re probably picking up a $3 pastry to go with your joe. If you can’t live without Starbucks in the morning, try to go at least one day without stopping by. Make your coffee at home or just drink the coffee at work.Savings:$7
3. Buy no-name brands at the grocery store. I’ve written about when to go name brand and when to go generic before. Buying generic can save you a ton of money at the grocery store. There usually isn’t a difference between the store brand and the name brand except for the packaging. Savings:$20
4. Brown bag your lunch once a week.Eating out everyday is killing your budget. A lunch at a simple burger place will cost you at least $6. Instead of heading out with your co-workers, bring you own lunch. Not only will brown bagging it save you money, it will also help your health. Restaurant food is full of unhealthy calories.Savings:$6
5. Skip the vending machine for a day.The last time I went to a vending machine I was shocked how much things cost now. A soda is $1.25 and a bag of donuts costs more than a $1. If you make more than one trip a day, you can easily spend $3. Bring your own snacks from home. It costs less and is healthier.Savings:$3
6. Set aside $10 a week.Each week make it a goal to find $10 that you can put somewhere so you can’t spend it. This can be pretty easy. After you break a $20, take $10 and set it aside. Piece of cake.Savings:$10