Tag Archives: Painless ways to save

Tax tip – read the instructions!

Pile of coins

Copyright 2016 Sweet Doll Designs

I know by writing this post, I will be revealing myself as a major dorko, but here goes, anyway 😉

While Accounting is my profession, I am not, nor do I ever have the desire to be, a tax accountant.  Having said that, I always prepare my taxes by hand, check my work on Turbo Tax, then I file my tax return through the mail.  I do this partly so that I fully understand how my taxes are being calculated and partly because I don’t want to pay Turbo Tax to file my returns for me.

Over the years of filling out my 1040 form myself, I’ve discovered that the IRS includes really helpful line-by-line information in the form’s accompanying instructions.  With that in mind, here’s my big tax tip that will only take a few minutes, but has the potential to save you money:

Read the 1040 form instructions!

Specifically the section on Adjusted Gross Income, which can be found if you scroll down to page 31 of this pdf document: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i1040gi.pdf.  Dorko alert: I read through each of these potential deductions carefully to see if I qualify for any of them.  By doing so, I found that I qualified for one – you may be pleasantly surprised that you do, too!

There are only 13 possible deductions in this section, so it won’t take you long to read the instructions.  Examples of popular deductions are: student loan interest, tuition and fees, IRA, HSA, moving expenses, and alimony paid, to name a few.

It is also worth your time to read the Tax and Credits section found on page 38 of the same pdf document: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i1040gi.pdf.  There are only 7 credits to read about, so again, it won’t take much time.  In this section are credits such as: retirement savings contributions credit, residential energy credit, child tax credit, and education credits, to name a few.

I have always found that reading the IRS-provided instructions while filling out my taxes has been very helpful and well worth my time.  Also, if I have any questions when reading the instructions or am not familiar with a referenced form, I just quickly look it up on the IRS website.  I know it may seem scary, but the IRS website is really very easy to use and understand, helpful, and informative!

Good luck with your tax returns this year!  Remember to file by April 18, 2016.

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today: Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a tax deduction and a tax credit?  A deduction is taken before calculating your Adjusted Gross Income (otherwise known as your AGI).  Your taxes are calculated on your AGI less the itemized or standard deduction and less your exemptions.  On the other hand, credit provides a dollar-for-dollar reduction of your tax due, since any credits are subtracted from the tax amount due.  A deduction isn’t better than a credit and vice versa, but it’s important to be sure you claim all available deductions and credits if you qualify for them! (Source: https://www.irs.com/articles/tax-credits-vs-tax-deductions)

Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to be tax advice.  For answers to your specific tax questions, please consult a tax professional.

Holiday planning – Start your list

Copyright 2014 - Sweet Doll Designs
Copyright 2014 – Sweet Doll Designs

I don’t know about you, but this year has flown by for me!  Now that we’re in October, it’s officially the last quarter of 2014!  That got me to thinking that the Holidays are just around the corner – now is the perfect time to start planning for them.

I know, you might be thinking that it’s not even Halloween yet, so why should you think about the holidays now?!  Well, it’s because the Holidays will be here before we know it and we need to start getting prepared so that we don’t have to run around like crazy and spend more money than necessary to get ready at the last minute.

When you start planning for the Holidays this far in advance, you have time to buy gifts on sale, pay for regular processing and shipping charges (instead of rush fees and overnight shipping), and save money a bit at a time so that you don’t have to charge all your purchases on your credit card.  Now is the perfect time to use the $5 bills you’ve been saving, or even consider using the change you’ve rolled.

To start, just sit and think about your favorite holiday experiences.  Are they with family?  Do they involve special menus?  Do you enjoy sending out special Holiday cards?  Have you started thinking about what to buy for your family and friends?

If you answered yes to being with family, does visiting them involve travel?  If it means plane travel, start looking at plane tickets and consider booking your flight now before the prices start to skyrocket.

If you enjoy making special food for your family get-togethers (even if it’s bringing a side dish to Nanny’s house and not cooking the entire meal), start thinking about what you want to make this year and write down the ingredients list.  If possible, estimate the cost of the ingredients you’ll need and start putting that money to the side.

If you’re planning on sending out a picture Holiday card of your family, go to the park and play around with taking fun family photos together.  Also go on the website of the company you’d like to create your card to see how much they will cost.  Start putting that money to the side.

Now start thinking about the presents you want to give to people this season.  Remember that they don’t always have to be store-bought.  Think creatively!  Maybe you can knit a pair of socks for Nanny to keep her feet toasty warm this winter.  Or maybe Mom would like a framed photo of a beautiful flower that you took this Spring.  It’s not a bad thing if you buy all your presents from the store, either.  My point is that it’s a good idea to start thinking now about each person on your list and what gift they might appreciate receiving.  Then do a little research to determine how much each gift (or the materials to make the gift) will cost.  You guessed it, put that money to the side, too.

I’ve created an Excel spreadsheet to help you organize your Holiday gift list.  If you’d like to receive this free resource, please fill out the form below.

Remember that you’re just starting these lists and they can be tweaked between now and the Holidays.  But it’s helpful to start getting prepared now!

Ok, now go back to planning your Halloween costume! 🙂

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today – Over $220 million worth of poinsettias are sold during the holidays! (Source: http://fun.familyeducation.com/december-holidays/history/35012.html)

Money saving tip – Soap

Copyright 2014 - Sweet Doll Designs
Copyright 2014 – Sweet Doll Designs

As you know, soap is an important part of our lives.  Using it frequently helps us to stay clean and healthy.

I have a quick money saving tip for you about soap.  Consider buying shampoo when it goes on sale for really cheap – for example, sometimes V05 goes on sale for less than $1.  Soap is soap, so you can use this shampoo in your soap dispensers around the house.  You will still get clean and you’ll have even more scents to choose from!

If you’re using foaming soap dispensers in your house, you can still use this trick.  Make your own special foaming soap by cutting it with water.  I use a ratio of 1/2 water to 1/2 soap, which works beautifully!

You can also use this inexpensive shampoo as body wash, dish soap, and other household cleaning soap.  The sky is the limit!

I hope you find this money saving tip to be helpful!

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today – There is more Monopoly money printed in the US each year than actual US currency.  In 2013, there was $30 Billion of Monopoly money printed, as compared to $974 Million of actual US currency (Source: http://www.cnbc.com/id/41375422/page/5)

Budgeting 101 – Vacations!

Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park Copyright 2014 - Sweet Doll Designs
Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park
Copyright 2014 – Sweet Doll Designs

We are now in prime vacation season, so I thought we could talk about budgeting for vacations.

When you decide to go on vacation, it is best to plan several months in advance so that you can make out a savings plan for your trip.  Are you able to put aside $50 – $100 per month toward your next vacation?  If you can’t swing this amount, consider saving your $5 bills as we discussed, or even save your $1 bills.

In the $5 bill post, we talked about saving the bills for gifts for your loved ones.  You can also use this money toward your vacation.  You can decide to use this money however you’d like.

If you are saving in small increments like this, you’ll probably need to save for a longer period of time, depending on how much you’ll need for the particular vacation you’ve chosen.  Don’t forget about visiting our nation’s treasures – National Parks.  They are beautiful, interesting, educational, and often budget friendly.

Let’s say you’ve decided to visit Yellowstone National Park (pictured above).  You might start by researching accommodations.  You have the option to stay inside the park, or you can stay in the surrounding area, which might be slightly less expensive.  Have you ever thought about staying on a Dude Ranch?  They’re lots of fun.  Anyway, write down around how much your accommodations will cost.

Next, research how much travel costs are to get to that area.  Compare the prices of flying into different airports in the area – one may be less expensive than the others.

Other items to remember to budget for are: car rental, gas, food, and souvenirs.  With all this pricing information, you can determine approximately how much you’ll need for your vacation.  Then divide that number by the number of weeks until your scheduled vacation to know how much you’ll need to save each week.

Saving for your vacation might take longer than just going on vacation and putting everything on your credit card to pay off later.  However, you’ll be happy that you took the time to determine your budget then regularly put money to the side so that you can truly enjoy your vacation without any money worries!  Have fun!

Happy decoding!

Fun fact for today – Andrew Jackson, seen on the $20 bill, actually preferred using coins instead of paper currency (Source: http://blog.lendingclub.com/the-us-dollar-bill-50-fascinating-facts/).

Painless ways to save – $5 bills

Copyright 2014 - Sweet Doll Designs
Copyright 2014 – Sweet Doll Designs

A few months ago, I met my friend for brunch.  We hadn’t seen each other since my wedding last year, s­o we spent some time catching up on each other’s lives.  We started talking about easy ways to save money, and she told me about one of the methods she uses – saving her $5 bills.

This method is pretty simple.  Anytime you receive a $5 bill as change, put it to the side in your wallet.  When you get home, of course record it on the Where’s George website (see last week’s post about this fun website!), and put it in a special envelope in your dresser drawer, or wherever it will be safe (see a picture of my $5 envelope above).

Now, you may find that this is not necessarily the easiest thing to do in the world.  I certainly didn’t when I first started this technique.  Since I’d much rather save my money than spend it, I don’t allocate much to myself to spend each week – just enough for entertainment and groceries (for more information on my weekly cash allowance, click here).  So even though $5 doesn’t sound like much, each time I received a $5 bill as change, I missed it from my weekly allowance!  However, after using this technique for several months, I’m now used to it and I don’t miss the $5 bills as much.

Soon after starting this technique, I found that I accumulated a bunch of $5 bills pretty quickly!  My friend uses this money to pay for Christmas presents for her family, which is what I intend to do this year.  I have also used the money for birthday gifts for my family and friends.

This is a great way to easily save money to either deposit in your bank account, or to buy gifts for your loved ones throughout the year.

If saving $5 is too difficult in your budget right now, you can always save all the $1 bills you receive as change instead.  Once you get comfortable with that, you will be able to work your way back up to $5 bills.  Don’t forget to also keep the change!

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today – The first $5 bill was issued in 1861, but it did not have Abraham Lincoln’s portrait on it.  It was not until 1914 that his image was printed on the $5 bill.  (Source: http://www.ehow.com/about_6522725_interesting-5-dollar-bill.html)

Painless ways to save – Keep the Change

Copyright 2014 - Sweet Doll Designs
Copyright 2014 – Sweet Doll Designs

Last week, I promised that I would give you tips on painless ways to save.  Here is my first one!

Whenever you can, pay for your purchases in cash.  The key is to pay only with whole dollars, and not with change.  You might put your change in a fun change pouch for the time being, then empty the change you collect into your favorite piggy bank (I have 3 – pictured above!) and periodically roll your change and deposit it in the bank.

I roll my change about once each quarter and I usually have about $40 – $60 in change to deposit in my account!   That means that over the course of the year, I’m saving roughly $160 – $240 just because I pay for my purchases only in whole dollars and save my change.  That’s not too shabby!

In order to get into this habit, it works best if you give yourself a weekly cash allowance.  I give myself an allowance for groceries and entertainment each week (I pay for gas with my credit card because I earn cash back points for that).  Giving myself a weekly allowance in cash not only helps me with this savings program, it encourages me to think carefully about my purchases (I find it really easy to overspend when using a credit card).  For example, do I really need that extra package of cheese, or do I have enough food in my cart to last me for the week?  These are things I think about when I make a final decision about my purchases before walking up to the checkout counter.

Paying in whole dollars and saving the change is a great savings program for adults and kids alike!  This could be a great way to help teach your kids how to save part of their allowance.

If you are averse to carrying around cash for some reason, many credit and debit cards have a similar program.  I’ve heard of some programs where the credit card company will round-up your purchase to the nearest whole dollar and put the difference in a savings account for you.  I’ve heard of other programs where if you use your debit card for purchases, the bank will automatically move $1 from your checking into your savings for each debit card use.

The bottom line is to use the program that works best for you in your current lifestyle.  The point is to get into the habit of saving!  And if you can do so without noticing the “pinch”, so much the better!

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today – In 2012, Americans spent almost $2.1 billion on Easter candy!  That’s a lot of chocolate bunnies and jelly beans!! (Source: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/eastercandy1.html)