Movies on the Cheap


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Walt Disney has said it will lose $190 million on movie, “The Lone Ranger” this quarter.

While you won’t personally experience that sort of loss by going to a dud movie, you can still avoid feeling ripped off from paying top dollar at the movies when there’s a way around it.

Here are some ways to search for discounts at the movie theater:

Can’t find the movie you like at the library? Tired of renting movies, or watching NetFlix on your computer? If you have kids, or want a retro-experience, try a drive-in theater. Search on-line for a drive-in near you.

If you’d rather drive home without that popcorn smell, check out your local movie houses. You can catch a matinee, or weekend show. If you’re a senior, student, or military and show I.D., you can often get a discount. An AAA card will sometimes get you in for less, too. with the movie theater. If your company participates in an employee discount program, you may be able to get discount tickets through the Human Resources department. Living near Costco has perks beyond the availability of getting pallets of Cheetos. Movie tickets are often at least 20% less expensive at Costco than they are at the movie ticket window.

If you go to the same movie theater on a regular basis, ask if they have a loyalty program, or if they sell tickets in bulk at a discount? Do the math for loyalty programs: You earn one credit for every dollar you spend, and when you reach 150 credits, you get a free small popcorn. To keep this real easy, say you buy two tickets at $10 each. That’s $20 toward 150 credits ($150). This means you’ll need to buy fifteen movie tickets before getting your free small popcorn (the cost of half a movie ticket.) If you are a movie buff, and go to the same theater, then think of the popcorn as a token thank you—nothing else.

Occasionally, there will be a free advanced screening in town. Check on-line, your local media. You’ll pay, and pay more for any service charge for ordering on-line, or special movies like 3-D, or IMAX shows.

Some deal sites on-line like Groupon, and LivingSocial occasionally have movie bargains. My issue with sites like these is that people often spend more than they would originally in order to save money, and often, they get a bargain, then don’t use what they bought.

Go have fun, but spend your money consciously. That goes for you, too, Disney.

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Pick a number and save


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Let’s say at the end of the month you have an extra $267 after expenses and your regular saving. If you spend it all, you may wish you didn’t after the fact. If you save it all, you may feel saving is punishment, and that you never get to have any fun. If you don’t have a regular savings plan, this could get you used to the idea, and hopefully edge you closer to making it part of your life. This is a start, but should not replace the idea of regular savings.

Every paycheck, pick a round number and put that into savings. Let’s say you decide to put $200 of the $267 as additional savings this month. The $67 is to spend any way you decide. Next month, you may have $302 left over. You may decide to save $100, and spend the left over $202. Remember, the $100 is in addition to your regular savings—it’s “extra” so don’t beat yourself up for having fun with the rest.

I have several savings accounts. One for a car, one for travel, etc. When I have “extra” money, I may chose one of these accounts, or my financial freedom account—which eventually ends up in an IRA as the amount grows.

The key is to save first, spend second.

Ways to be a better saver of money


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According to Rand Corp. economists, in a study on money saving behavior from August 2012 to March 2013, people who wrote their money saving goals down saved 64%. People who did not write down their goals saved 53%. In this study, savers were given money and some of the savers were asked to write the following: “I am a good saver. I will commit myself to achieving my savings goals.” A third group in the study were those assigned to an account where they could not withdrawal any money over the next six months. That group saved even more than the other two.

If you want to save more, write it down, or share it with a trusted friend or family member. It seems to be the act of pledging to be a better saver that makes a person better at saving. People want to have their words and deeds match, especially if others know about a goal. Another sure way to set you up for success is to have some of your savings hard to get to.

Savings? Words matching deeds? Accountability? There’s an app for that! Yep. If you can’t come up with your own motivation to save, there’s an app and website Stickk.com by Yale behavioral-finance experts. With this app you can create a contract and share it with others. You can even include a penalty if you slack off. The penalty can be something like authorizing a credit card payment to a charity. Stickk.com has found that users who do share their goal with supportive people and chose to elect the penalty, have a success rate of 80%, while those who keep their goal of savings private succeed nearly 40% of the time.

People Who Feel Poor Take More Risks


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Meir Statman is a finance professor at Santa clara University. According to Money magazine, he’s one of the most influential experts in behavioral finance (how your emotions and beliefs affect your decisions about money.) Statman thinks America needs to move from the polite nudge of encouraging people to save for retirement, to perhaps a push, and maybe even a shove.

Statman states, “People who save end up supporting non-savers.”

I’ve seen it. The parent who saved all their life, and their kids who are in constant need of support. Finally, the kid moves in with the parent. The agreement is for the adult child to put aside money, to build a nest egg while the parent helps them out. That’s not always how it goes. The adult child gets new clothes, travels, and spends time with their buddies doing activities that cost money. The parent has lost the deal, and most likely, the adult child has little money saved, even with their bills being paid.

People who are savers will save with a push. Just a nudge will do. They get the concept of needing money to function in this money-barter system we as humanity have agreed upon. More than half of the population, however, seems to be in crisis mode. They have no plan. They go for instant gratification rather than saving for something, especially retirement, which seems so far off, and so vague. What does “retirement” mean? For some it’s only about big vacations, or living a long time. And people will justify their lack of saving with, “I don’t travel.” “I won’t live forever.” “I’ll re-marry rich.” Oh, really? And then they meet the person they want to spend the rest of their live with. That person has saved money (for one), likes to travel, plans to live into old age, and isn’t rich (by the non-saver’s standard.)

Here’s what Statman proposes: Set a low minimum (8%) for a mandatory savings plan off one’s income. Other countries such as Israel and Australia set 15%. This would be on top of social security. People scream foul. They say it’s paternalistic. But, if they’re not saving, they’re relaying on others to carry them. By having a mandatory savings program, people are prevented from temptation now, to have it later.

Let’s say someone is honestly, super tight on money. Don’t start at 8%, but start somewhere! So many people say they can’t. It’s not the guy who socks away $10,0000 every couple years who comes out ahead. It’s the guy who consistently socks away $50. or $200. a week.

Statman says, “When people are feeling poor, they are willing to take more risks. You can have two people each earning $100,000 a year: One of them says, “This is plenty.” The other feels behind. That one is more willing to risk losses in the hopes of reaching his or her aspirations.”

Meir Statman’s 2011 book is: What Investors Really Want

The Average Cost of the Prom


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A new Visa survey says this year’s prom will on average cost $1,139.

WHAT?!

The survey didn’t break the spending down, but it includes dresses, tuxes, shoes, prom tickets, limousines, hotel or after dance events, corsages, jewelry, hair, makeup and extras.

In the last two years, prom cost has gone up 40 percent. As usual with this type of event it’s the lower income households that are being hit the hardest, and unfortunately, they are spending more money on the prom than those who can more easily afford to. According to the Visa survey, families with income less than $50,000 are planning to spend $100 more than the national average on prom. Single parents are spending double the amount of married parents ($1,563 versus $770.)

Of everything I’ve read and heard on this subject, Nat Sillin, Visa’s head of financial literacy, put it best. “It’s [the prom] become a social arms race. It’s an opportunity for parents to engage their teens and have a conversation about budgeting.”

I applaud Sillin’s comment, and am amazed to read and hear parents saying, “I never thought I’d have to spend so much” and “How am I going to afford all of this?” You do not have to spend so much. A choice is being made. You’re supporting your child in their financial illiteracy by spending their college money, or whatever else spending $1,100 could help ease your mind. Some say the prom is the new wedding, since people are getting married later. Okay. . . the average wedding is now $20,000 and many couples either start, or go further into debt. So, maybe in that since, the prom is the new wedding.

Full disclosure. I didn’t go to my prom. I wasn’t dating anyone, and saw the prom as something for those in serious relationships. Yet, I thought those in serious relationships were nuts to spend tons of money playing let’s dress up and pretend, and be part of the stories flying around school the following week.

Instead of prom, four of us—two guys and two girls —all friends, went bowling. None of us were bowlers, but we wanted to go out and have fun. We had a blast.

If you’re a parent of a teen who will be prom age next year. Start talking now. Start talking about values, money, and choices. To put a $500 dress on layaway while some of it goes on credit card, some paid off by check, and some by family pitching in, is mind boggling to me. Is a $500 dress worth it? That’s just the dress. Do you really need a limo? $800 shoes? (I heard a guy bought them.)

$1,139 could be a month or two of rent; a semester of books; an Alaskan cruise or a flight overseas; a down payment for a car — or, yes, one high school event called the prom.

The Question: To Save? To Spend?


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There are savers, and there are spenders. Some need to lighten up; Some need to shape up. It’s all about your goals; your priorities. If you’re feeling a pinch that’s lasted a bit too long, reward yourself for the saving you’ve been doing. That doesn’t mean throw money into the wind, it means take a breather. AND it doesn’t have to cost much—if anything.

If you’re serious about saving for something, but  also really need something enjoyable to do in the near future, it’s time to get creative. Here’s one of the many websites I found when I search “Free fun things to do” http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2008/07/17/100-things-to-do-during-a-money-free-weekend/

If you are going to spend money rather than save it, just be sure you do it consciously. Going out on the town for a couple drinks? Then leave your credit card at home. Bring $20 with you. When you’re out, it’s time for drinking water. You may find if you let the bar tender know you’re the designated driver, and give them a good tip in advance, they’ll treat your request for water with a lot more respect than someone who’s just taking their time and not tipping. You could also ask your friends to pay for your non-alcoholic drinks. (If I were your friend, I’d go for that, but I’d hold you responsible to tip the bartender well.)

It’s Not the Recession – It’s You.


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I’ve heard from people their life’s been effected by the recession. With a bit more information, I learn they still have their job, their house or apartment—and their lifestyle of spending. “But gas prices are so high!” Yes. “That store doesn’t  have discounts like they used  to.” True. These do have some impact. But these aren’t elderly folks on fixed income telling me their sad story. These are adults with Smartphones (not just a phone for an emergency.) “Well, I don’t have a landline.” Well, if you’re paying $100.00 a month for a phone and worried about your budget, you may want to do some homework and look at the cost comparison. No, it’s not convenient. Neither is being in debt.

Do you buy bottled water? Beer? Soda? You know you pay .05 cents on each can/bottle for a recycling fee, so why not take the empty ones back to a recycling center. If there’s one close to you, consider it. You won’t get rich off it, but you could think of it as helping the environment, or, as half the cost of a gallon of ice cream! I’m not advocating “dumpster diving” but as someone who lives close to a recycle center, I see the value. Environmental and financial. I take my receipt to the grocery store (they give a grocery receipt instead of cash here.) I feel I’ve made “ice cream money” and saved some money at the store. When I have 2-3 garbage bags full, I turn them in. I hate clutter, and feel $3 – $7  is great for any trip to the store, and no junk on my patio. (Please, oh please tell me even if you don’t collect money for recycling, that you recycle.)

If your kids like to collect cans and bottles, have them wear gloves. Bees and wasps love that sweet, sticky smell on soda cans, or even water bottles if the weather’s been real hot and dry.

Bottoms up!