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Skillful negotiation is a great way to save money — if you do it right.

Unfortunately, I’m not very good at it. Confrontation and conflict make me uncomfortable, so my goal is usually to complete the deal as soon as possible. But that didn’t stop me from trying to at least teach the basics of negotiation to my son.

Having completely made the move to PC gaming, my son no longer wants his Xbox. Together, we assembled the console, accessories, and games for a photo to put on Craigslist. Based upon what other Xbox systems were selling for, we priced his package at $200.

We had our first potential buyer less than 24 hours later.

The Offer

The gentleman offered us $150 cash for the system. I explained to my son that he was emphasizing a quick sale with cash, in hopes of appealing to our desire to unload the system quickly — as well as get the system in his hands before other buyers could respond.

It almost worked.

The Counter Offer

I barely got through my explanation before my son was telling me to accept it. I then asked him to think about what the chances were that someone else would offer him more than $150, or even full price. I suggested we counter with $175, to which he agreed.

The Deal Falls Through

The following morning, the gentleman responded that $150 cash was his final offer. After talking with my son, we decided to decline it.

It’s now been over a week, and we haven’t received any additional interest in the Xbox.

My son is getting frustrated, but I keep reminding him that he doesn’t need the money. He’s simply trying to sell the system since it is only going to decline in value. We can wait for a buyer to give us full price, or decrease the asking price in a week or two.

I’m not the best negotiator, but I do know that the key to getting what you want — whether you’re buying or selling — is patience. If the offer isn’t what you’re looking for, move on; another one will come along eventually.

Have you ever tried to teach someone the art of negotiation?

This article originally appeared on MoneyNing.com. Let us know what you think (or read what others thought) here.

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It’s not enough to teach your children the basics of personal finance. Nobody will deny that it’s crucial that young people be taught how to manage their money and resources, however it’s also important to nurture their creativity and emotional intelligence to help them grow up to be creative, resilient adults who can weather any storm.

Exposure to the fine and performing arts is important for all children, not just those who show signs of being artistically gifted. All of these experiences will add to your child’s bank of inner resources and help them grow emotionally and intellectually.

The good news is that even parents on a tight budget can provide a childhood full of the arts with a bit of planning. Here are a ten suggestions:

1. Visit your local library. Libraries not only have a wealth of wonderful literature for children, but also music and films that parents can borrow. Most libraries have a resource center for parents and early childhood educators filled with books and other instructional materials that detail activities that incorporate art, music, dance and wordplay.

2. Ask around to find the best places to buy art supplies in your area. Dollar stores can be a good source of some arts and crafts supplies, however some of the materials might be very low quality and frustrating to use.

Most larger areas will have teacher supply stores where you can buy paints and paper in bulk and save. Stock up on crayons, pencils and papers during back to school sales.

3. Get on the e-mail newsletter list of local museums, galleries and performing arts centers or follow them on Facebook/Twitter to get the scoop on low or no cost activities. Many offer a limited number of pay what you can performances, family days or special demonstrations for the community.

If friends and family members ask for gift suggestions, steer them in the direction of experiences for your child. Depending on their budget and prices in your area, you could suggest tickets to a play or musical performance, classes or lessons, a session at a local paint your own piece studio or an annual membership to a museum or gallery.

Don’t think you are limited to professional level exhibits and performances, either. Take your child to an older cousin’s school play or high school art exhibit. Look at the art in local coffee shops and take a minute to listen to street musicians before going on your way.

4. Music and dance lessons can be expensive. Local community centers, places of worship or colleges might offer lower cost alternatives or charge on a sliding scale. If you can’t get discounted lessons, find out if buying used instruments and/or other gear is an option. Be sure to understand how much notice you are obligated to give if you decide to cancel and the instructor’s policy on missed lessons.

5. Make your own art supplies at home. If your children are old enough to help, be sure to include them in the fun. Here is a instructional book on how to make your own play dough, gak/flubber, sidewalk chalk and paints.

6. Spend plenty of time outdoors and let your child have plenty of time to putter and observe. Do take the time to talk to your child about what they see, point out interesting and beautiful things but also take a step back and let them experience the joy of scratching the ground with a stick and daydream.

7. Turn off the TV. Television not only encourages children and adults to be passive consumers of entertainment but it can also promote materialism and obesity. A little planned viewing is okay, but screen time should be limited and monitored for children.

8. Choose toys that promote creative play like blocks and lego bricks over things that only do one thing. Help your child keep them well organized and instruct them to only bring out a few things at a time and to tidy up before pulling out the next things. Giving a child reasonable boundaries can help them not feel overwhelmed by a pile of toys and art materials and encourage more imaginative play.

9. Ask a lot of “what if”, “why” and “what do you think would happen if”questions and don’t be so quick to jump in to correct them or provide the right answer. Children should be encouraged to ask questions and to not be ashamed that they don’t know something. The stupidest question is the one you don’t ask because of pride or shame.

10. Let your child see you enjoying your hobbies and trying new things. Children want to emulate their parents and will learn from your example that you don’t have to be perfect at things to give them a go. Just as importantly, if you let your well run completely dry, you won’t be the best parent you can be. Make sure to devote some of the family’s resources to nurturing your creative side, too.

If you are a parent, how do you encourage your children’s creativity while keeping on budget? Does anyone have any memories of how their parents encourage their creativity without spending a lot of cash?

This article originally appeared on MoneyNing.com. Let us know what you think (or read what others thought) here.

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With all things having to do with your financial future, it makes sense to start saving as early as possible. This is true of college as well.

If you plan to send your child to college, now is the time to start saving up. College tuition keeps rising, and by the time your child is ready to attend school, there’s a good chance your child will be drowning in debt if he or she is solely relying on student loans to make ends meet. You’ll have to help your child pay for college some other way.

One of the best things you can do is start saving now, and to consider using a 529 account for the purpose.

The Power of Compound Interest

A 529 college savings plan is a popular choice for many parents looking to help their children save up for college. This is because you can put the power of compound interest to work on your behalf. A 529 plan allows you to invest money, and as the assets appreciate in value, the amount you have for college increases as well.

Compound interest works best when you have a longer time frame, though. If you have the money in the account for between 15 and 20 years, you are likely to see better performance overall than if you frantically try to save up for three to five years. Plus, over time, the markets tend to even out, and lose the volatility you often see with short-term investing. The longer you have your money in an investment account (as long as you choose the right type of funds), the better you are likely to do over the long haul. Starting a 529 plan when your child is just a baby can be a great way to put the power of compound interest to work on your behalf.

Reap the Tax Benefits

It’s also possible that you might be able to reap the tax benefits associated with investing in a 529 plan. Some states (but not all) offer a tax deduction on the state income tax return. There’s no federal benefit, but if you live in certain states, you might see a tax advantage anyway.

Also, the money in the 529 account grows tax-free. That means that when your child withdraws the money for qualified education purposes, he or she won’t have to pay taxes on the money. (If the money is used for something other than a qualified purpose, taxes apply.)

Mistakes to Avoid with a 529 Plan

It’s important to be careful about how you proceed when planning the 529, though. Ownership of the account matters when it comes to taxation on the earnings, as well as when it comes to how much financial aid your child qualifies for.

There are many other pitfalls you want to avoid with a 529 plan. JJ Montanaro from USAA offers some insights on mistakes that you should avoid with a 529:

Do You Have a Plan for Your 529?

According to Montanaro, you can’t just open a 529 and have it turn into a success. You need to have a savings plan in place. Figure out how much you need to put in the plan to succeed, according to your goals. Since we plan to pay for living expenses and books, we have a different goal amount than if we were trying to pay for tuition as well. Decide what your goals are, and base your savings plan on what you expect.

Who’s the Account Owner?

It’s important to make a distinction between the owner of the account and the beneficiary of the account. This is a big deal when determining financial aid. You could reduce your child’s ability to qualify if they own the account (and the assets). Montanaro points out that this can also be an issue for grandparents who want to help out. “Grandparents are well-intentioned when opening a 529 for their grandchild, but this approach could have a negative impact on the amount of financial aid your child qualifies for,” he says. “Parents and grandparents should understand all the implications of how a 529 is set up.”

Is It a Backup Emergency Fund?

It can be tempting to raid a 529 when you run into some financial difficulty. However, your child’s 529 shouldn’t be used as an emergency fund. Montanaro says that there are tax penalties that come with withdrawing the money for non-qualified education expenses. As a result, you could end up in bigger trouble. Plus, now you’ve reduced the amount of money available for your child to use at college, and you can’t replace the missed opportunity of the interest that the capital isn’t earning.

Should You Quit When Your Child Starts College?

Finally, Montanaro warns against quitting when your child starts college. You can still make contributions to your child’s 529 throughout college. “Parents can earn tax-free money that can be used for future education expenses like textbooks and tuition,” he says. Plus, if your plan and state allow it, you might even be able to receive a tax deduction for continued contributions (there is no federal tax deduction for 529 contributions). For those who uses up everything they saved in a 529 plan before their children graduates, the benefits beats the pants off even the highest yielding savings accounts.

Make it a point to learn the ropes of the 529 plan. You might be surprised to discover how effective it can be at allowing you to build up a college fund that can benefit your child (and maybe even you) down the road.

This article originally appeared on MoneyNing.com. Let us know what you think (or read what others thought) here.

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You’ve always purchased whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. It’s part of your mentality: you “deserve” to have the things you want because you work so hard.

Adding another $100 to your credit card bill thinking you’ll “pay it off” with your next check is perfectly normal. Um, what about the other $10,987 you said that about?

Nothing’s changed, and you’re feeling increasingly worse the deeper you fall into debt. The problem is, the worse you feel, the more you want to spend to make it better.

Trust me. It never works that way.

Instead of making yourself feel better, you’ve bought more guilt, and that’s always expensive.

$12,764 later, you don’t know what else to do with yourself, and it hurts. You can’t stop spending.

Here’s the thing, though. You can, starting the second you change your mind.

You’ve heard the saying, “Change your mind, change your results.” It’s true. When you truly believe you’re above your spending habits, you can control them. They no longer dictate when your money leaves your wallet, since that’s left to your common sense.

Meditation can help you change your mind and facilitate better decisions.

Meditation Leads to Mental Change

There’s a new phenomenon sweeping the world that can help you transform your thoughts. Only, it’s not new; it dates back to around 1500 BC.

The earliest written records of meditation started with Buddhists and Taoists, who recognized the inherent power of the mind. The tradition of harnessing that power continues today. Only now, you’ll find it discussed — not only in yoga — but in businesses, schools, and child development classes.

Scientists have determined that meditation changes the brain physiologically — increasing the density of gray matter in the brain stem and thereby increasing the folds in the brain and cortical thickness. Simply put, the benefits of meditation range from, but aren’t limited to, faster information processing, better judgment, and less pain.

We once thought that meditation only calmed the mind, but studies now show that the benefits are farther reaching.

How to Curb Bad Spending Habits with Meditation

If you want to increase your brain’s capacity, make better decisions, and curb your worst spending habits, these five steps are a great start.

1. Find a mantra or chant that resonates with your goal.

For example, if you want to start thinking through your decisions better, you might try something like, “Gained materials means lost money” or “I’m happy where I am.” The specificity of your mantra doesn’t matter, but you must determine the words that reflect your goals and help you feel empowered.

2. Repeat your mantra each morning as you wake.

With traditional meditation, you’ll need to sit silently, with your back supported, as you control your breath and repeat your mantra, maintaining your focus for at least five minutes. As you learn to calm your mind, you can work your way up to 15 minutes. The key is to resharpen your focus once you recognize that your mind has started to wander.

3. Repeat your mantra throughout your day, as needed.

Try practicing it in the same sitting position. If you can’t, then focus on your breathing as you repeat your words of peace, wherever you are. I’ve found that chunks of 25 repetitions scattered throughout my day really help to return my mind’s focus when the hustle and bustle of business begins to strip it.

4. Repeat this before sleep.

You should be in the same sitting position for a minimum of five minutes.

5. Meditate before social situations. 

To bolster efforts, make sure you take a moment to meditate before going out with friends, shopping, or eating out. Extra meditation will help your brain focus on the goal of better spending habits before you leave.

When starting your meditation practice, it’s important to be patient. Though all this talk of rewiring your brain makes it sound like you’re flipping a switch inside your decision-maker, in reality, it’s more like digging new tunnels of thought. It usually takes about 40 days for meditation to show signs of changes in your thought patterns and actions.

This isn’t a quick fix method, but it does work.

Have you ever tried meditation? Has it worked for you?

This article originally appeared on MoneyNing.com. Let us know what you think (or read what others thought) here.

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Yoga does much more for you than just provide relaxation and stretching. You improve your posture, flexibility, and strength while increasing your ability to concentrate, focus, and decrease blood pressure.

The benefits of yoga even extend to better self-esteem and improved relationships, so it is easy to see why it is so popular.

The real problem that most people encounter with yoga is the price. A single drop in class can run you $20 or more. Monthly memberships vary in price as well and even triple digit pricing is common in some parts of the country.

Luckily, there are other alternatives, and most of them are going to be less expensive.

1. Check Out the Gym

If you already belong to a gym, start by looking in to the classes offered. Many gyms offer yoga classes, and for an individual who is relatively fit and coordinated, this is a good way to try out yoga without making an additional financial commitment. Take some time to find out if the teacher is experienced and can alter poses in order to meet your specific needs.

2. Call the Community Center

Because yoga has become so popular, you may even find it at the local community center. Classes, even on a drop-in basis, are much less expensive in this environment than they are at an established yoga studio.

3. Check Out and Buy Videos

There are many good yoga videos that you can use. The local library will, no doubt, have a number of such DVDs, and if you find a couple that you like, purchase them.

Websites that offer discounted DVDs make such videos very affordable, usually less than $10, and if doing the same routine gets old, buy a few and rotate through them.

4. Barter for Lessons

Unless they are working for a franchise yoga studio, most of the teachers I know are willing to barter for private lessons. If you have a service you can offer, chances are you can make some sort of arrangement.

5. Try Free Trials or Discounted Classes

Many yoga schools offer a week or two of free classes. This is a good way to try out a school without spending any money. If you don’t attend regularly when you are getting free classes, chances are you won’t when you are paying. If you really like the program, find out how you can get the best deal for your money.

Another option is to ask about discounted classes. Sometimes studios will discount the price of beginner classes. You get the opportunity to see the poses demonstrated at a slower pace, get to ask questions, and learn your limits without the stresses of trying to keep up with a knowledgeable group.

6. Consider a Membership

While the monthly membership may be, say, $150 if you attend on a daily basis, it may very well be cheaper than just paying to drop in every day.

Figure out the per-class price you would pay with a membership, and compare it to what you are paying currently.

Remember to evaluate the contract with regards to what is required to terminate your membership so you don’t end up penalized if you quit after a couple of months.

Yoga can be a lot of fun, and if you learn to work within the system, reasonably priced as well.

More tips can be found with the How to Save Money on Everything ebook. Check it out for free with a free signup of the frugal email newsletter.

This article originally appeared on MoneyNing.com. Let us know what you think (or read what others thought) here.

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Creating a budget is never easy, as it can take months or even years to perfect the process. And on top of that, life is always changing so a budget that worked a few months ago might not necessarily work now.

In fact, even the most detail oriented person often have a hard time creating a budget that works. If you overspend and the budget fails, it isn’t necessarily for a lack of trying.

One of the most common reasons people find budgeting so hard is because there are so many different expenses to keep track of. The big ones, like housing and food, are obvious. But there are so many little things we forget about that can derail a budget from the start.

The next time you evaluate your budget, consider these six expenses that people often forget:

1. Celebrations

It seems like every week, we’re always celebrating something. From birthdays to weddings to holidays, our schedules are jam packed with these social events.

However, we often forget that these celebrations come with hefty price tags. Gifts, travel costs, and party attire can add up quickly. Not accounting for these items can really throw your budget off.

For example, if you know you have a few weddings coming up in the next year, make sure to set aside funds to cover any associated costs. Also be sure to increase your budget during the holiday season to account for gifts and travel.

2. Pet Care

We love our pets, but there’s no denying that caring for them gets expensive. We tend to only think of pet care expenses in terms of things they use everyday, like food, but any pet owner knows that there are many other major costs associated with our furry friends.

Health care, including regular veterinary visits, are a big one. Grooming and pet sitting is another. These are expenses for your pet that may not happen every month but they’re regular enough that you should include them in your budget.

3. Coffee

Any good budget will include a category for food and dining, but don’t forget to include your coffee in there as well. We all know how much a cup of coffee can cost – anywhere from $2 for a regular cup to $6 for a latte.

It’s something many of us can’t live without and it definitely adds up. Whether you make your own or go to your local Starbucks, make sure you understand how much you’re really spending on your coffee addiction every month.

4. Home Maintenance

Owning a home is a dream to many, but when that dream finally comes true, many first-time homeowners are unpleasantly surprised by the cost of home maintenance. Aside from utilities, and minor repairs, there are many recurring expenses, such as lawn maintenance and weather proofing that homeowners forget. Expenses like these drive up the cost of owning a home considerably.

5. ‘Me’ Fund

When we’re trying to stick to a tight budget, we often forget about ourselves. If you’re trying to cut your budget, spending on things we enjoy is likely the first expense to go.

Don’t underestimate the value of having a ‘me’ fund, though. It can be anything, from a night out or a pedicure, but doing even something small from time to time can drastically improve your mood and increase your productivity.

6. Emergency Fund

The one thing people most often forget to account for is an emergency fund. This is also the most important. With all that’s going on, saving up for a rainy day is probably the last thing on your mind.

But as with life, you never really know what can happen, and you need an emergency fund to protect you from whatever life throws your way.

Your budget should include a portion to set aside for emergencies. Many recommend that you have 3 months of expenses on hand at any given moment. You can decide the amount you’re comfortable with and slowly save up for it. Just remember to make this a priority.

David’s Note: You can also account for the easy to forget expenses by looking at last year’s budget to estimate this year’s outlay. For instance, our family always spends quite a bit more during the summer months due to kids being out of school and also during December when we donate more to clarities, pay property taxes, and buy gifts. By looking at the total, you don’t have to remember every single expense you’ll need to budget for because you have a general idea of the total amount of money you can spend.

What is one thing you often forget to budget? Let us know in the comments below.

This article originally appeared on MoneyNing.com. Let us know what you think (or read what others thought) here.

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The statistics are in. Freelancing is topping the charts as the country’s go-to source for work. In recent years, sites like Elance, oDesk, and Guru cornered the market with freelancers looking for and accepting the lowest paid work out there.

Now things are finally changing.

During the course of the last year, the average rate on Elance was $28 an hour — almost four times the nationally accepted minimum wage. That makes freelancing a fantastic way to make money in your spare time, if you have expertise that someone is looking for.

Why Should You Freelance?

Freelancing is a contract-based business you can run on your own and in your own time. Have to work a full-time job? No worries. Need something where you can call the shots? This is it. Freelancing will be as lucrative as you make it. If you have time to bury yourself neck-deep, you’ll make more money. If you don’t, you’ll pick up a little side cash to help pay the bills.

Plus, if you freelance, you’ll typically choose something you love and are good at because, well, that’s how you’ll make the most money in the least amount of time. And if you love it, it won’t be too much like work.

Can You Freelance?

So many people assume they have nothing to offer as a freelancer. Yet, the reality is that everyone is unique, with a talent of some kind that could surely help others. Once you know what that talent is and the unique angle you can offer, it should be relatively easy to find a niche and snuggle comfortably into it.

Once you know where you fit in, you can start earning that extra side income you’ve always wanted. A handsome one, at that — especially if you get good enough at what you do to bring in that $28 per hour.

If you have one or two extra hours a day, you can squeeze in some freelance time. You’ll have to give up a few TV shows or get up a little earlier each morning, but you’ll be bringing in money on your own terms and in your own way. You can’t beat that.

What’s Your Specialty?

Are you a good storyteller? Maybe you can help others tell their stories. Are you a master at art? Web design is exploding. Love to write magazine articles? Learn how to pitch to magazines. If you’d rather work in person than online, what about photography?

There are loads of freelance categories out there. Find one that suits you and get on it.

Where Do You Start?

Start with a website: a good design, some great copy, and a LOT of patience. Those high pullers on Elance didn’t sit on their couches wondering what to do; they got up and figured it out. They researched and studied and perfected their talents. They don’t rely on people to come to them; they get out on those sites and bid.

Which brings me to another point.

How Can You Manage Your Time?

You’re going to be working in your spare time, so you’ll need to make sure you know exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it. If you have a plan, all you have to do is execute when it’s time to get to work. That’s how things get done and bank rolls are built.

Bidding takes time. Set yourself a schedule and stick to it. Use an hour a day to perfect your craft, and an hour to bid. Learn from your mistakes. Each bid is a chance for you to grow yourself and your freelancing business. You won’t do it right the first time, and maybe not the 21st. But, you will do it right eventually. As long as you’re aware of your mistakes, you’ll be able to fix them the next time.

Freelancing is an art — and in today’s day and age, is taking on a whole new meaning. It’s the perfect way to shift from wasting time to making money.

What can you turn into a freelance gig this weekend?

This article originally appeared on MoneyNing.com. Let us know what you think (or read what others thought) here.

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When it comes to measuring financial progress, many of us figure that if we could just have more money, then we’d be rich. But does making more money make you rich?

What is Rich?

One of the biggest debates in personal finance has always been what actually makes someone rich. To a certain extent, we can probably agree that where you live makes a big difference in whether or not you feel rich. After all, the cost of living someplace like San Francisco is much higher than living in Idaho. Take two people living in these two places with the same salary for example. On paper, the two people should have the same amount of money, but because San Francisco costs a lot more than Idaho, the person living there will have less disposable income.

Even if the San Francisco resident makes more than the Idahoian, there’s still a chance that he may have less disposable income, just because expenses in Idaho are vastly cheaper due to location. In our theoretical example, San Francisco salaries may be higher, and be “wealthier” in terms of income, but it’s a different story when it comes to how much is left over at the end of the month. Making more money may not translate into having that money to spend on what we want, or having more money to put aside for the future or retirement.

Expenses That Drain Away Wealth

On top of that, it is worth noting that how much money you have is about more than your income and where you live. There are other things that drain your wealth. Some of these include:

  • Debt: This is a big one. If you have debt obligations, you are paying interest to someone else, rather than using that money to build a nest egg or spending it how you want. I have known people who make more than $150,000 a year, but are so saddled with debt that they feel themselves quite poor, unable to make ends meet.
  • Your house and/or car: Many people I know are house poor. They decided to get a big house, and now struggle to make ends meet. We have a more modest home, and since we didn’t get the biggest house we “qualified” for, our housing costs are only about 1/5 of our monthly income. That’s less than the “suggested” 1/3, and certainly less than some people I know who have monthly housing costs of almost 1/2 their income. The same goes for getting an expensive car, whose payments and insurance can suck up large portions of monthly income.
  • Kids: Sure, kids can bring a great deal of joy into life, but they can also be expensive. My husband’s parents had three kids, and they were able to put more aside than my own parents, who had five kids. Children can cost money, and your salary might not go as far if you have kids.
  • Pets: While pets can be fun to have around, they, too, can get expensive.

As you might imagine, there is nothing wrong with spending your money on things that are important to you. However, in some cases you might be spending enough that even an income that would seem to make you “rich” only barely covers your obligations. In my mind, “rich” is being able to buy what you need now, save for the future, and spend a little on things that you like. Having a higher income won’t make you rich if you don’t know how to manage your money.

And what should you do if you don’t feel rich? First, start by measuring your financial progress and making sure you are making headway year after year. Are you making strides with your finances? Are you better off now than you were in the past?

Unfortunately, many people feel as though they are doing worse today. There hasn’t been a recession in practically a whole decade, but the reality is that many people are still struggling. In fact, according to data shared by the American Institute of CPAs, three out of four adults in the United States believe that they are worse off or about the same financially as they were a year ago. That means that about 75 percent of Americans don’t feel as though they are making financial progress.

Boosting Your Finances

If you feel as though you are stuck in a financial rut, it is possible to get out. According to the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, there are four main things you can do to help feel better about your finances, and even improve them as a result:

Control your day to day expenses: In a lot of cases, we feel like things are just happening to us. The truth, though, is that it’s possible to feel better about the situation by taking control. Look at your daily expenses and identify what can be cut out. Take charge. Look through your budget (or even just make a budget) and figure out what you want to do with your money. Taking back control can be a helpful step as you move forward with your finances.

Fund your retirement: You can feel better if you start putting money toward the future. Take the initiative now to step up your retirement account funding. You can start with as little as $100 a month. You can have it automatically deducted from your paycheck, or even open an IRA at an online discount brokerage. As you start building your nest egg, you’ll feel more confident about your future, and you’ll be improving that future as well.

Pay off debt: Create a plan to pay down debt, including student loans. Look at your debt, and start with the high interest debt first. After that’s taken care of, you can start focusing on your student loans. Not only can you benefit financially from paying off debt, but you can also feel good about your situation. You might be surprised at how much the stress of debt weighs down all aspects of your life. Become debt free, and you will feel less financial stress.

Medical bills: Take a look at your situation and see if you can get health insurance to help deal with bills. The state run exchanges can help you find affordable care if you qualify. Additionally, you can save up in an emergency fund or open a Health Savings Account (if you are eligible) to help you save up for these costs. Knowing that you are preparing for the future can take a load off and help put you in a better financial situation.

Make sure that you regularly check your progress so that you are ready for what’s next with your finances. You’ll be happier, and you’ll have a better financial situation long term.

This article originally appeared on MoneyNing.com. Let us know what you think (or read what others thought) here.

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My wife and I recently got back from our honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. We stayed at an all-inclusive resort, where all of our food and drinks were covered in the price of the room. Of course, this luxury came at a cost, as the nightly rate was quite high. If you stay at a resort or a hotel on vacation, how do you choose where you stay? Is the all-inclusive option a large factor?

Pros of Having Almost Everything Included

The biggest advantage of an all-inclusive hotel is convenience. My wife and I were able to order room service, drink anything out of the mini bar in our room, and go to any restaurant without worrying about getting a bill. This removed a lot of hassle and allowed us to order food and drinks without thinking about the cost. Not having to worry about tipping after every meal was also a plus. (For some, a huge plus.)

Many all-inclusive resorts offer a number of restaurant options. On our honeymoon, my wife and I had nine restaurants from which we could choose. They were all included, so we didn’t have to do any cost comparisons and instead went where we wanted.

Cons Are Present, Too

The biggest negative for all-inclusive resorts is the cost of entry. Not only do you pay for the food and drinks, but you also pay for the convenience these plans offer. For my wife and me, the cost of the all-inclusive was just over $130 per day per person. Even with all the food and drinks we ordered, I doubt we met that amount.

Another con can be the quality of the food. With all-inclusive, you aren’t usually going to get first class food. The food we ate was very good, but not incredible. The number of options was also limited. Since there’s no payment per meal, there isn’t a huge incentive to offer a lot of options or really exquisite meals.

Which Do You Prefer?

Many travel spots are starting to offer all-inclusive options, as people are becoming more receptive to the idea of paying everything up front. My wife and I found our vacation to be very stress-free, as we never even had to carry our wallets. We decided that it was a good value based solely on the convenience factor.

If you’re searching for a hotel or resort for vacationing, check to see if an all-inclusive option is offered. If you’re looking for a worry-free vacation, all-inclusive may be a good idea. If you’re looking to save some money on food and drink to spend elsewhere, or have very fine tastes, it may not be right for you.

David’s Note: I like all-inclusive resorts, because worrying about the cost of every item is no way to enjoy a vacation (something I’m prone to do!). But be careful though. Last time I was on a week-long cruise, I came home 7 pounds heavier. Don’t over-consume just because everything is free!

What’s your experience with all inclusive resorts and hotels?

This article originally appeared on MoneyNing.com. Let us know what you think (or read what others thought) here.

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Have you ever read an article on how to save money on groceries only to find out that most of the tips are based around making all of your meals from scratch?

Yes, I totally agree that the best way to have a low grocery budget is to make all of your bread, yogurt, and more from scratch, while eating more bean-based meals. However, this advice is hard to follow if you don’t particularly like spending time in the kitchen.

I don’t hate cooking, but it’s something I would prefer to not to spend a lot of time doing, while still providing healthy meals for my family.

Here are a two tips to save money on groceries, even if you hate cooking.

1. Look for Fast Alternatives

I’ve discovered that the more I limit my grocery bill, the more I end up spending on fast food. I would feel guilty for paying more for a bag of chopped onions, frozen bell pepper strips, or healthy meats prepared in a sauce.

Then I realized that even though I might pay $15 for a 2-lb steak in a mushroom sauce (something that’s easy for me to make myself), it still ends up being cheaper than eating out at a restaurant. Just getting two combo meals for my husband and I costs $12-15, and there are no leftovers. Whereas the steak package plus a side of frozen vegetables cost less than $18 but ends up being stretched to one dinner for us and two lunches for him.

I’m not saying to go hog wild at the grocery store, but if you struggle with eating fast food a lot, then look for easier meal ideas, even if they cost more. I would rather increase my grocery budget by $100 then to waste $200 on fast food each month just because I keep getting in a dinner rut.

2. Experiment with Systems

My go-to system is doing an entire month’s work of prep and then putting all the ingredients into the freezer. When you’re ready to make a meal, just pull everything out and cook it.

This may seem like a big task to take on if you hate cooking, but I’ve found that prepping or cooking all of my food in one day leaves me time to focus on other things. Plus, when I do freezer cooking, my kitchen stays much cleaner for the rest of the month.

Experiment with prepping all your food for the upcoming month. Or prepare everything on Sunday night before the week starts so you’re not running behind the rest of the week. Try buying food that can be used in multiple recipes, or repurposing last nights leftovers into a new and delicious meal.

Pay for Meal Planning

If you really hate cooking because you can’t ever think of any healthy meal options, then try paying for a simple menu planning service that gives you a printable shopping list and easy to follow cooking instructions.

Some great sites to check out are:

I’ve personally used 5dinners1hour.com and was pretty happy with that program. I ended up paying less than $50 for the groceries and had all of my meals made in just over an hour. I liked about 75 percent of the recipes we ate, too. I think all of these sites will help you save money and spend less time cooking, but you just have to stick to it.

I will probably never be one of those ladies making a homemade chocolate cake on the weekend or trying adventurous recipes. But I’ve learned not to feel guilty that I hate baking, hate cleaning the kitchen constantly, and hate reading recipes.

However, I don’t let my disdain of cooking keep me from making three meals a day for my family, even if it means I spend more on frozen brown rice and pre-washed and chopped vegetables.

Do you hate cooking? How do save money without cooking everything from scratch?

This article originally appeared on MoneyNing.com. Let us know what you think (or read what others thought) here.

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