Monthly Archives: April 2015

Four Tips For Saving Some Money On Your Next Vacation

7956463764_ee8a14ac1b_zVacations don’t have to break the bank, and with a little planning and organization you can enjoy yourself while saving money.

The extra money you save on your vacation might even allow you to extend your stay a few extra days or buy extra gifts for friends and family for when you return.

Most people lose money on a vacation through a lack of planning. The most expensive aspects of a vacation are transportation, booking hotels, tours and food. If you can employ some basic tips to cut costs on these areas, you’ll have more money to spend on sightseeing activities.


If you’re driving your own car, you can save a substantial amount of money on the cost of a taxi or other forms of transportation. Unfortunately, driving a car in a big city also means high parking fees and the hassle of trying to find parking in busy tourist areas.

One way to cut fees is to use your car to get you to the destination and visit remote attractions only. Once you arrive, go to the train or bus station and inquire about an all-day pass to get you easily around town during your stay.

Avoid taking taxis as much as possible and you can save enough money for an extra meal each day.

Booking Hotels and Tours

The real secret to booking a hotel is to simply book early enough. Hotels fill up the closer you get to the reservation data.

While most people know that you can save money by booking in advance, if you purchase all of your airfare, tour packages and hotels in one package, you stand to save a significant amount of money.

For example, mid-April is a prime time to visit Kyoto in Japan. If you try to book a hotel for those dates, you’re going to end up spending a hefty sum of money if you can find accommodations.

The Shinkansen is a bullet train that travels at super-high speeds across Japan. If you book a package through a tour company that sells Shinkansen tickets, you can often get your transportation costs, a one- or multi-day sightseeing package and a hotel for less than what you would pay for the hotel by itself.

Envelope System

Before you leave for your vacation, create envelopes for all your money. It may sound silly, but create an envelope that has the money for your lodging, transportation, souvenirs and any attractions you wish to see.

Create separate envelopes for your food and miscellaneous budgets, and make sure to create one for each day. On each day of the trip, pull out the money from your food and miscellaneous budget and put it in your wallet or purse.

If there is left over money at the end of the day, you can put it aside or add it to the next day’s funds. This will help you stay on budget and control your spending.

Never Take the First Offer

When you visit an attraction, or a sight-seeing event there are often booths and other stores lined up waiting to take your money. If someone offers you a discount on their product, the chances are good it’s because they know further on down the road is another store that sells their product for less.

Don’t take the first offer on anything you see, and you’ll likely save money. Remember that most people lose money on souvenirs and purchases simply because they don’t know what’s available.

If you take the time to look around and don’t get pressured into buying anything, you can make the right decision about how to spend your funds.

Photo: Kevin Dooley / CC 2.0

Fly by the Seat of Your Pants for a Memorable Family Vacation

Travel - family with camping car on the road

MJ Plaster

Go against the flow. It’s fun, it’s budget friendly and you’ll have unique tales to tell when you get home. You’ll also make friends of like-minded strangers.

Rules of the Road 

  • Three- or four-day getaways – The pause that refreshes when you get away to chill instead of micromanaging your vacation Griswold style.
  • Drive, don’t fly – If you’d rather stick needles in your eyes than fly, drive to a spot close to home. You’ll save money, and you’ll have transportation at your destination.
  • Avoid peak travel times – What’s the difference between the week before “a holiday weekend” and a normal weekend? Price! If you leave Thursday night and return Monday night, you avoid peak travel times on the road as well. Can you say “hassle-free”? The week before and after the Fourth of July are the worst in both price and crowds.
  • Avoid hotels – Find an apartment or home rental (including beach rentals) for the less than the cost of a hotel room on TripAdvisorVR, AirBnb or HomeAway. Check reviews before reserving accommodations. If you’re off the beaten path, look for small inns and B&Bs along your route.
  • Eat where the locals eat –Bring food from home or drop into a grocery store to save up to $50 a day on breakfast. If you’re in a city, find the best food trucks for lunch, but check with the locals because food trucks come and go. Check out TVFoodMaps and click the Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives board to find extraordinary food—served with a side of hospitality and local charm—at ordinary prices. We call that “manna from heaven.”
  • Vacation allowance – The kids will rob you blind on vacation given half a chance. Dish out a daily allowance for meals and snacks, and let them keep whatever is left. Hat tip to Reader’s Digest for this Nobel Prize-worthy vacation tip. Download their Insider Secrets for an Amazing Vacation.
  • Go retro – Give the kids a taste of pre-Internet life. Find a drive-in theater, and stop by a soda shop—one that serves real Coke floats and milkshakes. The kids will probably curse you under their breath as you enter, but they’ll thank you after they have a taste.

Summer Destinations for Families, Couples and Singles

  • Key West – Where Jimmy Buffett’s “Mother Ocean” intersects with Hemmingway. Summer is the season of deals in Key West, and you can catch the annual Hemmingway Days celebration in July.
  • Coastal Maine – The land of lighthouses boasts more than 60 lighthouses dotting the rocky coast along Maine’s Route 1. Maine has no shortage of festivals during the summer: Windjammer Days, Great Falls Balloon Festival, and The American Folk Festival, all with free admission.
  • Newport, Rhode IslandTwo worlds collide in Newport in the summer—the famed Newport Summer Festival (Friday general admission tickets run $15) and the summer cottages of the early Robber Barons that rival the Palace of Versailles and Highclere Castle, featured in Downton Abbey.
  • Nashville, TennesseeYou don’t have to visit Nashville during the annual CMA Country Music Festival (formerly Fan Fair). You’ll find live music all across the city and in the neighboring city of Franklin. Gatlinburg, the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, is 3.5 hours east of Nashville; trust me, you’ll want to hit the Smokies during the week for exhilarating, outdoor scenery.
  • Festivals and events – Spend a day or several at a festival—hot air balloons, music, garlic, arts and crafts, blues, jazz, Shakespeare and beach festivals. Some offer free admission, and all serve up food, fun and entertainment. Start your search at Fest300 and filter by location, type, etc.
  • Scenic All-American Roads and Byways – Get off the Interstate to explore hidden jewels and make it a journey with no destination in mind. Even .gov gets it, “America’s Byways are gateways to adventures where no two experiences are the same.” Explore America’s scenic roads or byways, including historic Route 66, the Blue Ridge Parkway that winds through North Carolina and Virginia, the breathtaking Pacific Coast Highway and its sister road on the other coast A1A and many more.
  • Wineries – St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath, and a glass of wine.” You’ll find wineries in all 50 states, and most are kid-friendly, offering food, picnic sites, entertainment and often artisan food products grown at the vineyard along with tours and wine sampling. Search by state.

The key to a memorable, budget-friendly vacation is spontaneity. Leave your cares at home, and fly by the seat of your pants. Try it once, and you’ll be hooked. Who knew saving money could be so much fun.

Keeping Your Teen’s Dream Night From Becoming a Budget Nightmare

Group of Friends Being Videotaped at School Dance



The following are several helpful tips for you to implement this prom season. By following these suggestions, you will ensure your teen’s dream night doesn’t become your budget nightmare.

Make and Budget and Stick to It:

It only stands to reason that in order to prevent yourself from going over budget paying for your teen’s prom, you should have a predetermined budget. Sit down, go over your finances, and decide what you are willing or able to spend. The average cost of a prom night can range anywhere from $700 to $1,400. However, you don’t have to spend anywhere near that much if you follow the tips listed below that reveal how to save on each aspect of the special night.

Save on the Dress:

Before you say yes to a dress that your daughter just has to have, consider the following easy ways to procure an affordable dress:

  • Rent: Today you and your daughter have an excellent alternative to buying a dress, thanks to sites like RentTheRunway. Sites like these allow you to rent designer frocks for a fraction of the cost. In fact, you can get your daughter a fabulous dress for approximately 10% of the retail price. Now that is a big savings. After the big night, simply return the dress. Since your daughter likely won’t wear the dress more than once anyway, this is a perfect way to save some money all the all important prom dress.


  • Buy a Versatile Dress: As mentioned before, most of the time, a prom dress isn’t worn more than once. However, if you make a point to select a dress that is versatile and can be worn again, then you can justify spending a bit more on the dress. Select dresses that are plain, so they are appropriate for other events, such as weddings. Then, utilize jewelry to dress it up some.


Get Thrifty With the Tux:

Perhaps you are on the other side of this event and have a son. You also likely wonder how to reduce your spending. Thankfully, there are a couple of ways you too can save some money. Read below to learn more:


  • Buy a Suit: Although the traditional attire of the prom for guys has been tuxedos, there is no rule that states that this has to be the case. Therefore, purchase a high-quality suit for your son to wear to the prom, and then he will have it to wear again on other occasions. This makes the investment more worthwhile.


  • Get a Group Rate: Some tux rental companies will offer group discount rates if more than a few young men all need to rent tuxes at the same time. Therefore, encourage your son to team up with his friends and hopefully receive a discount from the tux shop as a result.


Minimize the Cost of Hair and Makeup:

An updo and professionally applied makeup for your daughter can run you upwards of $100, conservatively. Therefore, it is smart to try to save some money in this area, when possible. Consider using a cosmetology school for hair and makeup. These schools have students who are often very capable. However, since the students are still in training, the cost is considerably less than going to a regular salon for hair and makeup. Note: It’s important to do a practice run before the big day regardless of where you go for hair and makeup. 

Lose the Limo:

A limo is a popular and impressive way to arrive at the prom. Unfortunately, it also is pricey. Therefore, think outside the box when it comes to prom transportation. Have your son or daughter borrow a classic car from someone you know who would be okay with this arrangement. If you can’t find anyone who is willing to let your teen drive their expensive classic car, which is understandable, offer to play the role of chauffeur and take on the responsibility yourself. On the off chance that your teen refuses to let you drive them, arrange for another responsible party to drive them instead. Arriving in a beautiful classic car is unique, and if you can acquire it for free or very cheap, it is better on your budget as well. If your teen insists on a limo, ask them to get a group together and share one limo so the per person rate isn’t so high.

Forget the Formal Photos:

Unless your teen ends up marrying whomever they attend prom with, which is unlikely, any formal prom photos will be relegated to the bottom of a storage box in future years. Therefore, another way to save on prom costs is to forgo the formal photos. Instead, take photos with your phone or a nice camera. They will likely turn out better anyway, since they will be candid shots instead of posed photos.

The prom is a magical night for your teen, a dream night if you will. However, your son or daughter’s dream evening doesn’t have to turn into a budget nightmare. If you follow the helpful tips listed above, you will ensure you are able to fund your teen’s prom without going bankrupt.   




Link to Rent the Runway:

Buying Vs. Leasing A New Car: What Makes More Sense Financially?


There is nothing more exciting than driving off the dealer’s lot in a brand new vehicle. However, before you can take the keys and drive home, you have to determine whether or not to buy the car or lease it.

Let’s take a look at a few of the factors that need to be considered before making such an important decision.

How Much Can You Afford to Spend?

If you don’t have a lot to spend each month, it may be best to lease the new vehicle. This is because the monthly payment is almost always lower when you lease as opposed to buy the vehicle.

However, you may need to pay a security deposit and an acquisition fee when you lease a vehicle that you don’t need to pay when you buy a car outright. Those who have a trade may be able to put their trade toward some or all of the money that needs to be paid upfront.

How Many Miles Do You Drive Each Year?

Those who drive more than 12,000 miles a year should consider buying instead of leasing. In most cases, the lease allows you to drive 12,000 miles a year before charging as much as 20 cents per mile or more after that.

Therefore, it could actually cost you more to lease if you have a long commute or travel regularly for any reason. The good news is that you may be able to prepay for additional miles if you think that you will need them.

How Long Do You Plan to Drive the Car?

Drivers who want to drive the latest model may want to consider a lease because they can simply turn in their current vehicle when the lease expires.

Whether you decide to buy or to lease, you get the same manufacturer’s warranty, which can be important if you want or need something that is reliable. As a general rule, if you don’t plan on driving the car for more than three years, opt for the lease.

Do You Know What You Want to Buy?

At any time during a lease, you can trade in the vehicle if you find something that you really want. You can also try to transfer the lease if you decide that your current driving arrangement isn’t working out.

When the lease expires, you can decide to buy the car at its residual value if you like it and can afford to keep making payments. By purchasing the car, you agree to pay for it until you sell it, trade it or make the final monthly payment.

Therefore, you are often better off leasing if you aren’t sure that you are ready to commit to a particular vehicle.

There is a lot to think about before deciding whether you want to buy or lease a vehicle. For those who aren’t ready to commit or can’t afford to make a large monthly payment, a lease may be the best decision.

However, if you plan on driving the car for a long time and rack up the miles each year, buying is probably the better option.

Photo: Joe Ross / CC 2.0

Without These Five Products, Your Startup is Doomed


Casual People Meeting At Industrial Office

Deciding to start your own business is exciting and scary. You may have dreams of becoming the next big thing in your niche, but if you go into it unprepared you will crash and burn quickly.

Most start-ups fail due to lack of funding, but without a solid foundation and clear understanding of your customer base, a start-up can never get off the ground.

An often overlooked part of a solid foundation are essential business products that help with preparedness. Without these five products, your start-up is doomed from the get-go.

A Business Plan Kit

When I started my own business a few years back, I had no idea business plan kits existed.  I also had no idea why I would need one. Because I never put a clear vision for my business on paper, I restarted and changed direction three times, costing me valuable time and money.

A business plan kit helps you define company values, set forth a funding plan, marketing plan, launching plan, and more. All start-ups and established companies need a business plan regardless of business type.

Accounting Software

I remember taking my receipts and putting them into a pile thinking it would be easy to figure out my income and expenses once tax time came. It only took one time of sifting through mounds of unorganized receipts for me to understand what a mistake I had made.

You do not need to be an expert in accounting, but you do need to understand the basics. Luckily basic accounting software can teach you those basics and keep your finances organized. Choose a program that is accessible on both your computer and a mobile device. That way you can enter expenses on the go. When first starting out, there are several excellent free products out there. You can always upgrade to a paid version down the road.


Printers that can do it all are not expensive, and they are a necessity for any new business. You want to be able to print, scan, copy, and fax when needed. You also want to be able to choose black and white or color.

When a new business is just starting out, money is tight. Being able to print your own business cards and letterhead can provide professional quality business essentials while saving lots of money.

Social Media Products

Part of launching a successful new business is creating buzz around the business. Many new entrepreneurs have a great idea that could make them a lot of money, but once they launch, all they hear is crickets. Why? They didn’t market their business properly through social media.

Free products like Hootsuite can help you identify the people with the most influence in your niche. Once you know who they are you can begin to build a relationship through social media. You can also schedule your own tweets and posts to go out regularly through the day. A shout-out by someone with influence in your niche can sometimes bring more business than paid advertising ever could.

Email Marketing Products

Without an email marketing plan, it is difficult to be successful. Basic plans are inexpensive and bring a lot of value for the cost. Not only do they give you a database for communication with potential customers, but also they give you an avenue for marketing funnels and more advanced methods as you grow.

There are free products out there but beware. If you do not have a program with a double opt-in and auto responder, you could easily violate anti-spam laws. You usually need a paid version to add these features.

There are many other products you can utilize to prepare for a successful start-up, but these five are essential. As you grow, you will learn more successful ways to market your business while keeping accurate records.

In the end, all that matters is delivering what the customer wants. Learn as much as you can about their desires and fears, and then utilize social media and other means of marketing to get the word out that you have what they need. Most importantly, deliver on your promise, and you will be a success story among the many start-ups doomed from the start.

5 Routine Home Maintenance Tips to Save Money and Aggravation

Spring Cleaning Just Ahead Green Road Sign with Dramatic Clouds,

By MJ Plaster

No one wants to do it or pay for it, but a dollar saved on home maintenance is not a dollar earned; it can be many dollars lost. Follow along and mark your calendars while you learn a few tips the pros and salespeople would prefer you didn’t know.

  1. Keep drains clear – I recently had a clogged kitchen sink drain that nothing—from vinegar, baking soda and boiling water to sulfuric acid—would clear. After the plumber snaked the pipe for $80, he told me to squirt a little dish washing liquid into the drain and run hot water for a minute after I finish washing dishes every day to keep fats from solidifying and clogging the pipes. For a few pennies a day, it should keep the pipes clear indefinitely.One day I saw this odd-looking thing called a Zip-It at Ace Hardware. With $4 added to my tab, I headed home, squirreled it away, and forgot about it until my bathtub drain started to slow. I shoved the Zip-It down the drain into the trap. When I tried to remove it, it didn’t budge—not an inch. It was an OMG moment—what’s this going to cost when the plumber comes? So I pulled harder, and harder, until bit by bit, I removed the device along with a huge wad of gunky, shoulder-length, brown hair. The drain opened, and that $4 piece of industrial-strength plastic has removed the “same time next year” date with the plumber from my calendar now that I use it every month without fail.
  2. Change or clean heat and a/c intake filters – Bob Vila says, “The primary purpose of a filter is to protect HVAC equipment, not to improve indoor air quality, as many homeowners have been led to believe.” Vila also warned that filters that are “too good” at keeping the air clean can also damage HVAC systems. If you want cleaner air, buy an air filter, don’t upgrade your HVAC filters. To keep my intakes clean, I purchased one permanent filter and one disposable filter for each intake, and I use the disposable filters each month while I clean the permanent ones. Today’s permanent filters cost only about three time the cost of a disposable filter, so after three months, you’ve made your money back and eliminated monthly expenditures on filters. If you have pets, vacuum the grill covering the intake once a week. Flying fur from longhair pets can block the grill and obstruct the exchange of air in a week.
  3. Protect your water pipes – Invest a dollar in a Styrofoam cover for each outdoor faucet. Install them at the same time you disconnect and store your hoses for the season. And when you get a hard freeze, don’t even entertain the thought of saving a few cents by not letting your water drip indoors. You’ll be sorry when the pipes burst and flood your home.
  4. Replace fire alarm batteries – Many smoke detectors operate with 9-volt batteries. Who stocks those at home? No one! A few years ago, the battery in one of mine died during an ice storm—beep, beep, beep at an ear-piercing level—for days. But what if the battery is still good? Change it anyway. While you’re at it, change the batteries for your fan remote controls each spring and for your gas and electric fireplaces each fall.
  5. Clean you gutters and downspouts – Last fall, I didn’t have the gutters and downspouts cleaned. Big mistake—one day during a week long, below-zero-degree cold snap, I heard something that sounded like someone playing a xylophone on the patio. A huge icicle caused by runoff from the gutter had broken off and landed on a small table with a glass top and shattered the glass. I was lucky; it could have hit someone in the head and caused a bad injury.

Everything except cleaning your gutters and downspouts takes just a few moments of your time; there’s no excuse for letting these little chores go unattended. When you do need help on a major home maintenance problem, before you plunk down your hard-earned money, always fire up your favorite search engine to find out if there’s an easy solution. You might just get lucky.

Four Companies That Should Be Role Models For Your Startup


All the famous companies that we are all very proud of today and those that every unemployed person wants to work for were once start-ups.Today in the stock markets some of them are considered as blue chip companies while others are rated among Fortune 500 companies.

Some of the companies that have now grown to become global brands had to start somewhere. A number of them some of which are now worth billions are said to have been launched from makeshift headquarters, coffee shops, and relatives’ garages as well university living rooms.

Some of the incredible examples of companies that start-ups should look at include;


Steve Jobs and Steven Wozniak were good friends in high school. They both happened to have a strong interest in electronics. Jobs and Wozniak had this desire to come up with personal computers that they would sell to their friends and close relatives.

It all started in the year 1976 when Woz designed what would come to be referred to as Apple 1. Jobs was excited by the idea and being the marketing genius that he was he took Apple 1 to the marketplace. The reception was incredible.

The story of Apple is an interesting one especially the fact that it had to deal with already established names in the industry like BIG Blue.

The age of Jobs and Wozniak too should offer motivation to start-ups and show them that they should not wait until it’s too late to try and make an idea a reality.


Google is the leading search engine globally. It was founded by Stanford University students Larry Page and Sergei Brin in the year 1998.

It was while they were at Stanford in 1996 that Page and Brin began the process of developing a search engine called BackRub. In the year 1998, they set up their first data center in Page’s room.

Page and Brin were motivated by the fact that their fellow Stanford alum David Filo had founded Yahoo years earlier, they made a decision to start a company as well as looking for investors.

Today Google is used by almost every internet user globally and is rated as one of the most successful companies globally.


It started small in Seattle in the early 70’s. Howard Schultz while on a trip to Milan Italy visited the espresso bars and was greatly impressed. He decided to implement the model in Seattle, and immediately everybody become coffee crazy.

Starbucks has since expanded from a single coffee shop and has now opened thousands of its retails all over the world.


It was founded in the year 1865. Gradually is has grown to become one of the biggest communication and information technology companies in the globe.

However, Nokia started small producing leather footwear called Galoshes. It’s in the year 1987 that they introduced Mobira Cityman 900 their first handheld phone.

There are other compelling stories of companies like Facebook that was started by Mark Zuckerberg while he was still in the university. Some of the other companies that startups should look at include; Alibaba, Yahoo, and even Toyota.

In general, the challenges that faced entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, who was a co-founder having to leave Apple and go and try out other start-ups like Next and Pixar, demonstrates to start-ups the need to forge forward even when they experience failure.

The prosperity of such companies has been associated with the fact that they make products that are well thought, superior quality, and designed to be simple to use, which should be the guiding principles for any start-up out there.

Photo: Marco Pakoeningrat / CC 2.0

From Nothing to Something: My Small Business Success Story

Small tree, plant  in the hand

Jurissa Ayala

Running your own show is no picnic. You have no one to report to, sure. You can work in your pajamas while eating too many pancakes. Any time you feel like it, you can take a yoga break. Or a Big Bang Theory break. I won’t lie, that’s all pretty awesome.

There are some downsides to owning a small business, however. When you are self-employed, you report to you. Which means that sometimes your boss is a lazy slob who won’t demand that much of you. Who might make excuses for your poor behavior or let you cut work more often than you should. Plus, your boss has only as much experience as you do, and that can really hogtie you.

It took me more than seven years after graduating college to consider myself a “success.” This is partially due to a lack of determination to get there, and partially to a number of mistakes I made. By sharing them with you, I hope to reduce the time it takes you to find your own success. Ready for a crash course in small business life? Put on your helmet and let’s get started.

Mistake #1: I Went to College Too Soon. Then I Did It Again

I was always a good student, and the occasional C in Chemistry didn’t stop me from getting into one of the top programs in my state. Because school came easy, I never really tried that hard. Nor did I question whether it was “worth it” to spend time and money on college when I was still finding myself. Too bad for me.

When I graduated with a degree I would never use, I shrugged my shoulders and found jobs that didn’t thrill me: first in insurance sales, then at a bank. I used the money to pay rent and party, and started looking for another path only when banking made me so miserable it was starting to ruin my life. I chose teaching, and got another expensive degree that didn’t pan out due to a bad economy. Then I went to school for journalism. Finally: something I loved. It only took me an extra four years and untold student loans to get there.

Mistake #2: At First I Didn’t Stick With Anything

Even after receiving my master’s degree in journalism, I found it hard to settle down. School was so easy for me: I got better grades than most of my peers with my eyes closed. Naturally I assumed this would translate to my career, and was spectacularly disappointed when it didn’t.

No one cared that I was smart, or that my teachers liked me. They just wanted to see results, and I didn’t have any. My dreams of being a world-famous writer and author soon evaporated. I was crushed and lost, and only after a year of soul-searching did I finally settle into the less-glamorous but better-paying world of freelance copy writing. I had finally found something I was good at and loved … and it paid the bills too. Add two years to the clock.

Mistake #3: I Thought Success Came Before Hard Work

At the beginning, I was convinced I had to find a glorious gig to in order to really apply myself. Once I took care of my ego, I reasoned, the hard work would feel natural and the success would come.

The opposite turned out to be true. Once I took a deep breath and accepted that there would be no glory for a long while – perhaps ever – I was able to settle into my day job with a joy and willingness I’d never before experienced in life. It came naturally, fitting into the flow of my life well enough that I was able to care for my tow children at home and keep up full time work. My world became perfect. It only took one more year.

Key Takeaways:

  • Consider waiting on college until you’re sure you know what you want to do
  • Prepare yourself for hard work at the outset, and do not expect success before you put in a lot of long, inglorious hours
  • Stick with it, even when it sucks
  • Consider talking to someone in the line of work you hope to go into to find out what it will be like and ensure you’re prepared
  • Have a positive attitude! No, really! It will totally help

As a small business owner, I now write for clients all over the world. I set my hours, I sleep in, I play with my kids … and I work hard. I’ve transitioned from the nothingness of endless ego drain to the true fulfillment of hard work and a quiet personal success.

Next up? I might take a sewing class. But it probably won’t be glorious.


Secrets and Tips to Save You From The Stress of Auto Maintenance


Auto Mechanic

By MJ Plaster

“A car is the most expensive purchase most Americans make. More Americans buy cars than buy houses. They feel like their car is a member of the family,” said Johnny Whitaker, retired auto-industry insider and consultant. He shares his top 15 tips below.

  1. Read the owner’s manual – “I’ll bet you’ve never taken the owner’s manual out of your glove compartment,” asked Whitaker. “This is the No. 1 mistake car owners make. Everything you need to know is in that manual, and you can save a fortune on car maintenance if you’ll just read the manual and do [with a few exceptions below] what it says.”
    When he set up Cadillac service departments at dealerships across the country, he saw mistakes everywhere that would have been avoided if car owners had read the manual.

What Everyone ‘Knows’ About Car Maintenance Might Be Wrong

Whitaker disagrees with some ‘conventional wisdom.’ He made no bones about saying that what he says might differ from conventional wisdom, but he’s not telling you anything that he doesn’t do with his own cars. For example:

  1. Oil Changes – Today’s manufacturers often suggest oil changes every 5,000 miles. Some new cars come with one or more years’ worth of free oil changes. “If you were a car manufacturer, would you want to eat the cost of oil, filters and labor every 3,000 or every 5,000 miles,” Whitaker asked. “I still change mine every 3,000 miles,” he added, “because the only change is that manufacturers are saving millions by raising the mileage.”
  2. Oil – “Never, under any circumstances, use 10W40 oil. It turns to a gel under heat.” He uses 10W50 year-round.
  3. Tuneups֪ – When I asked how often to get a tuneup, he said, “What’s THAT? What century are you living in?” Modern cars don’t require what used to be known as a tune up—tweaking the engine. Who knew!
  4. Tire rotation – “I always rotate tires back to front, not in the X formation. Once a tire starts to wear, you will not correct it no matter what you do. If you rotate in the X formation, you’re changing the direction the tire normally goes, and it could ‘sling a ply,’ which could cause more uneven wear. Tire places are in the business of selling tires, not rotating them.”

Common Car Maintenance Mistakes and Assumptions

  1. Car vibration – When a car vibrates, people assume it needs a front-end alignment. “It’s usually the wheels, tires and/or balance,” said Whitaker.
  2. Oil filters – People often try to save money by changing the oil without changing the filter. Whitaker’s standard reply: “Well, how about you just save your bath water, and bathe in that for a week?” He also cautioned against using generic filters because they can cause problems.
  3. Brakes –Most people think that when they hear a squeal as they apply the brakes, they need new brakes. That squeal indicates a glaze on the brake pads, and it does not mean you need new brakes. If you hear the squeal when you’re not touching the brake, and it goes away when you hit the brake, that’s the warning indicator that you need new brake pads.
  4. Brake pads – “Spend some money on brake pads. Don’t cut this corner. At a dealer, the standards are enforced, and the warranties are honored,” said Whitaker.
  5. Leaks – Did you know that leaks can be deadly? He said, “Think about it. What happens when oil hits a hot manifold? It can catch fire. Take care of leaks.”
  6. Air conditioning – If it sounds like your compressor has died, your air conditioner might just need some coolant and/or you might need some new hoses.

Tips for Saving Money on Car Maintenance

With labor costs running around $100 an hour, here are a few simple preventive steps:

  1. Air Conditioning – Run your air conditioner during the winter once a month for 20 minutes to lubricant through the system.
  2. Windshield washer fluid – It’ll cost you an hour of labor plus parts when the tank is full of fluid but it doesn’t spray on your windshield. Add 1 teaspoon of powdered laundry detergent to each tank of fluid.
  3. Gas – If your car requires premium, use it. Shell and Amoco have an engine-cleaning additive in their premium gas.
  4. Windshield wipers – When you think you need to change your windshield wipers, try this first: If the wipers are still soft, spray a little household ammonia on a paper towel and clean the wipers. Then clean your windshield with some ammonia to remove road grime.

Whitaker said, “Unlike home maintenance, you can’t use a calendar for car maintenance. Treat your car with care, but don’t go looking for trouble [like flushing fluids] unless there is a problem. When you try to fix a nonexistent problem, they will break something 90 percent of the time.”

Is It Time To Ditch Your Bank?


The banking industry has never been as competitive as it is at this current time. This competitiveness creates an advantageous service and financial environment for consumers.

When a customer encounters a situation in which they believe that their bank is not providing them with the type of service or products they desire, they have the option to switch to a bank that offers products and services that are more in line with their expectations.

According to J.D. Power and Associates, approximately 9.6 percent of banking customers have switched banks over the past 12 months. This figure is on the rise, being significantly higher than the 8.7 percent from last year.

While the reasons that customers give for leaving their bank differ, there are certain indicators that are clear signs that it is time to leave your bank. Additionally, this move should be made expeditiously.

There are two key elements that are at the core of determining if it is time to ditch your bank, and they are the security associated with your money, and the level of satisfaction you are consistently experiencing.

Financial Strength

The financial strength of a bank is extremely important in providing security for the funds that are deposited by their customers.

Although the FDIC insures up to the first $250,000 per account holder who is a part of an FDIC-insured bank, no one wants to have to go through the process of filing a claim for their money. This is why customers should check the financial strength of their bank periodically.

This can be done by checking the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp’s website. This will allow you to confirm if the bank is maintaining its FDIC insurance.

If your bank is not maintaining its FDIC insurance, this should send up an immediate red flag. This means that if your bank should go under, you could lose all of the cash and certificates that you have deposited with the bank.

Excessive Fees

Currently, there is a push by larger banks to increase revenue by raising fees. These fee increases are an attempt to offset losses that have been incurred as a result of a loss in credit card fee revenue, which is a direct result of some significant regulatory changes.

This means that customers from some of the major banks will more than likely begin to see some changes in fees on checking accounts, ATM usage, debit cards, online banking and more.

All banks will vary in the fees that are charged for these services, however, traditionally, local banks have lower fee costs, and they may actually waive some of the traditional fees charged by larger banks.

Lifestyle Changes

Another important element that impacts customer satisfaction is convenience.

Maybe you are in a situation in which your bank no longer fits your lifestyle. Initially, your bank was ideal, providing operating hours and locations that effectively serviced your needs and preferences; however, certain changes in your life has created a number of conflicts that make your bank less attractive.

An example would be switching to a job that require you to travel substantially. If you are banking with a local bank with limited locations, this could present a problem. Finding a national bank might be more beneficial to your new lifestyle.

The same is applicable to banking hours. If you have a situation in which you are consistently leaving your office at 6:30 p.m. or later, the chances are that your bank’s branch office will be closed.

This is an instance where switching to a bank that can better accommodate your schedule might be in order.

Photo: Bryan Rosengrant / CC 2.0