What To Buy In July

by Tyler on July 22, 2014

With summer winding down for some, and just getting started for others, the month of July offers a unique opportunity to score deals, if you know what to buy in July.

Some things are fairly obvious, like summer clothes and fruits and vegetables.  Other items may seem counterintuitive, like vacation rentals and certain electronics.

Let’s look at each one individually.

Computers.  More specifically, laptops, which are getting a run for their money from the growing popularity of tablets.  Personally, I still like having a laptop for any hardcore writing (the virtual keyboards on a tablet screen and keyboard cases just aren’t the same).

July offers a sweet spot in laptop deals because retailers are gearing up for back-to-school while looking to make room for newer models.  I often find the next-to-most-recent models perfectly suitable, but be sure to check the specs before making a buying decision just because it is a good deal.

Produce.  The other day I was in our local grocery store and saw corn on sale for $0.30.  I picked up a couple dozen ears, blanched them and then stored them in our freezer.  This winter they will make a tasty side dish that I only spent $7.20 and a little time to stock up on.

The same could be applied to summer fruits and other vegetables.  I really would like to do more canning, and this would be the perfect time to practice with things like strawberries, blueberries and blackberries at a fraction of their offseason prices.

Summer Clothing.  Here lately I have been buying most of my work shirts via eBay.  I have discovered that I can generally find very good deals on button down shirts at a fraction of the department store costs.  In fact, just last week I found a gently used Chaps polo shirt for $9.50.  It retails for $60.00.

Having said that, July is the time when many retailers start looking to make room for the fall and winter fashions, and you can generally find some good sales on summer clothing.  The longer you wait, the poorer the selection, but the better the deals.

It’s often a balancing act between waiting for rock bottom prices, but not waiting so long that there is nothing in your size, or nothing you would wear remaining on the shelves.

What about you?  Do you have something in particular that you like to stock up on in July?  Any deals you can share with the rest of us?

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I read an alarming statistic today over at The Crux about the state of savings in America.  Much is made about our collective debt, but we rarely hear much about our collective savings. Unfortunately, it seems that is because we have so little squirreled away for that proverbial rainy day.

“According to a telephone survey from the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute and the market-research company Greenwald and Associates, 36% of American workers have less than $1,000 in savings.”

Depending on your own financial situation, you may find the subjects of that survey rather foolish for keeping so little in the bank. On the other hand, if you have ever lived paycheck to paycheck, you know just what it’s like to not have any extra for savings, much less a $1,000.

Maintaining a basic emergency fund is essential to financial well-being, and we must, as a society save and invest more for both our long-term and short-term needs. If you find yourself in the 64% of people without $1,000 in the bank, start saving a small amount each paycheck – even $20 adds up over time.

The next time you receive a raise at work aim to put half of the percentage increase in savings.  You will still enjoy a modest increase to your paycheck, and you will be putting a little distance between you and the next inevitable emergency.

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How to Prepare for Severe Weather

by Tyler on April 27, 2014

Showers and May flowers are not the only thing April brings in the Midwest and Southeastern United States.  April also means the increased chances of severe weather.

This week, weather forecasters are calling for this year’s first major outbreak of tornadoes.  Forecast models are predicting the potential for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms from Nebraska to Georgia.

There are a few things you can do in advance to secure your property and your person.

7 Actions to Take Ahead of a Tornado Outbreak

1. Store or lock down outdoor items.  Things like pool chairs and umbrellas will essentially become missiles in a tornado. So will lumber and firewood.  Store any loose materials or furniture indoors until the threat has passed.

2. Move valuables to higher ground and secure them.  Flooding rains often accompany severe thunderstorms.  If you are in a flood plain, consider moving valuables out of basements and to the main level of your home (or a second story, if you have one).  Also consider adding a heavy safe and bolting it to your floor or concrete slab.

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3.  Have cash on hand.  A couple years ago, in the Alabama tornado outbreak that left several dead and many thousands homeless, I remember reading articles of stores only accepting cash because power and credit card networks were down.  It’s a good idea to have some cash on hand to pay for gas and groceries should your town take a direct hit from a tornado.

4. Buy a weather radio.  We have a couple weather radios, including a hand-crank weather radio, which is great because it doesn’t require batteries.  Weather radios will keep you informed as the tornadoes approach, and give the all clear when the storms have passed.

5. Fuel up vehicles.  Now’s not the time to be coasting home on fumes.  If a tornado damages your local power grid it could be days before pumps are operating again.

6. Have food and several heat sources on hand.  Several years ago we were hit by a tropical storm that maintained its strength hundreds of miles inland.  We lost power for four days.  Peanut butter and jelly is good for the first day, but believe me, you will cherish a hot meal cooked on a grill or camp stove.  You will also need to think about eating up refrigerated food early on before it spoils.

7. Have a family-wide disaster readiness plan in place.  If storms are scheduled to hit during the day, chances are family members will be separated.  Be sure everyone in your immediate family has a rendezvous point, and a secondary rendezvous point in case the first one is destroyed.

Photo by Mike McCune via Flickr

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Is Now A Good Time To Buy A New Car?

by Tyler on March 2, 2014

If you are in the market for a new car this may be the time to act.  Economics 101 reminds us that there is an inverse relationship between price and supply.  That is, when supplies increase, often times prices decrease.  That’s exactly what’s happening with the current auto market.

Increased Inventory

Several factors have conspired to lower demand for new cars, thereby increasing inventories for many dealers.  Weather has played the most significant factor.  After all, who wants to go new car shopping in 10 inches of snow?

car-dealershipYou can use this glut of inventory to your advantage.  Auto makers and dealers are offering some sweet incentives to attract buyers to take some of this inventory off their hands.  Be sure to do your homework before you step foot on the lot.

Manufacturer websites are a good place to start.  For instance, Chevrolet.com has a deals and offers page which lists financing deals (Financing?  No thanks; I’m paying cash for my next car), rebates and incentives.  If a deal strikes your fancy, you can click “View Inventory” to see vehicles in your local area.  Other manufacturers offer a similar service on their website.

Low Rates

Those looking to finance a deal on a new car will find financing rates still fairly low, but one would have to expect them to increase over time as changes in monetary policy will cause borrowing rates to rise.

Locking in a low rate now can save you a significant amount for a large purchase such as a car, but keeps the terms as short as possible – no one should pay on a car loan for 72 months, in my opinion.  If you need that many months to buy a car you cannot afford it.

Tax Returns

For many, this time of year brings the promise of a tax return.  If you receive a large return this year, I’m hoping the first thing you will do is adjust some forms with your payroll office so you don’t get a large return next year.  After all, why give Uncle Sam an interest-free loan all year?

The second thing you should do, if you are in the market for a new car, is use some or all of that tax return cash towards the purchase of a new(er) car.  Don’t expect dealers to be pleased to hear you will be putting down a large down payment, or paying cash outright.  Dealers and manufacturers make a lot of money on financing, and they are all too happy to sign up for 60 months of payments.

Keep your preferred payment method to yourself until after you’ve been quoted a bottom line price.

Remember that buying a new car is usually more expensive than buying a quality used car.  If you have a hang up about buying a used car, remember that all cars are “used” immediately after they are driven off of the dealership lot.

You must judge every deal on its own merit, and not perceive a new car to always be more expensive than a used card, and vice versa.

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I spent a lot of time as a child camping with my grandfather.  He taught me basic survival skills that I have actually put into practice on more than one occasion.

As a father, I want to pass these same survival skills on to my children, but like most people, I’m stuck in suburbia without much land to drop us into a real-world survival scenario.  Lesson one:  improvise.

7 Critical Survival Skills You Can Teach Kids in the Backyard

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1.  How to make water safe to drink.  Fill and empty water bottle with (clean) tap water, but pretend it was just scooped out of a stream and you are unsure if it is safe.  Discuss the various ways to make water safe – boiling it, adding chemicals, etc.  Rig a camp stove or fire and bring the water to a boil for 3 minutes.  Allow it to cool and then share it with the kids.

2.  How to build a solar still.  Now that kids know how to purify water they’ve already found, teach them a way to manufacture water on their own clean water.  Dig a hole a couple feet deep in a sunny area.  Put some green, broken vegetation in the bottom around a clean, empty vegetable can with a wide funnel in the top.  You can also pour some dirty water in the hole to speed things along.

Place clear plastic (I like to use a painters drip cloth) over the hole and secure the edges with rocks or soil to form a fairly air tight seal.  Place a rock or two in the center of the plastic, directly above the cup and funnel underneath.  Leave the still working through the hot afternoon and check it later than evening, or first thing in the morning.  There should be a little pure, clean drinking water in your cup.

3.  How to make an improvised shelter.  Tent camping in your backyard can be a lot of fun.  Unfortunately, if you are in a survival situation, you may not have a tent available.

Teach your kids how to make a simple lean-to shelter.  If you don’t have a lot of trees on your property, imagine a fence or the side of your house is a ridge pole (the top line of your shelter where you will lean long tree limbs, boards, etc. to form your roof.  Cover your roof with some vegetation and crawl inside.

For bonus points, turn on the sprinklers and see if your lean-to occupants stay dry.

4.  How to use a manual can opener.  Do not take this idea lightly.  I’m sure many adults would struggle using a manual can opener.  If you become ill, or worse, and your kids had to fend for themselves from your stocked pantry, would they know how to crack into the cans?

5.  How to apply basic first aid.  Make this lesson age-appropriate.  Obviously, you don’t want to discuss how to seal a sucking chest wound with a six year-old.  Keep it simple with the little ones.  Show them how to rig a simple sling, or splint a sprained ankle.  Discuss infections and the important of wound care.

6.  How to teach basic weapon safety using Airsoft guns.  I’m a big fan of the newer Airsoft models that look and action like their real-world counterpart.  They provide a less-than-lethal introduction to the basics of weapons safety.  Remind kids that Airsoft weapons can do damage as well, and make sure to emphasize the four rules of gun safety:

  • Treat any weapon as if it is loaded
  • Do not point it at anything you aren’t willing to destroy
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until the target is in your sights
  • Be sure the target has been identified

7.  How to build and start a fire.  When it comes to building a fire, nothing beats waterproof matches or a lighter.  The first step of preparedness is to secure those waterproof matches and lighters, because there is really no substitute for them.

The second-best thing to have on hand and know how to use is a fire steel rod and some mechanism for throwing a spark into a dry tender bundle to get a basic ember started.  That becomes the basis for your larger fire.  Show the kids how to build a lean-to fire, a tee-pee fire, and a log cabin fire, all different ways of building your fire.

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