Friday, July 30, 2010

How to Save Money At Starbucks

Americans love drinking coffee but love drinking Starbucks even more. Americans have even become addicted to Starbucks. Americans who never drank coffee now go to Starbucks to drink coffee or some variation. The Starbucks marketing team is great to have that kind of affect on people but how has it affected you?

For the past several years Starbucks has dominated the coffee industry but now have a little competition from companies like McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts. This is especially true now during the slow economy. Americans are most conscious of their spending and some are making a great effort to live below their means and reduce their spending on extra treat such as Starbucks.

In January 2010, Starbucks increased their prices in certain areas and customers are not happy about the price hikes. Some customers have skipped the Starbucks and opted for coffee from Starbucks competitors.

Some Starbucks lovers are buying their Starbucks from other retailers such Safeway, Kroger, Walmart, Target, CVS as or online at sites such as or

The average price of one cup of Starbucks coffee costs $5.50 and in one year that equals to $1,375. If you buy a complex or specialty coffee with extras you could pay up to $9 for one cup. What would you do with that extra money?

Although Starbucks now offers an instant coffee for $1 you can still get coffee cheaper at the grocery store or buying in bulk at discount stores such as Costco or Sams Club. If you buy coffee from the grocery store a 27.8 ounce can of ground coffee can range from $7.39 to $10.99. Costco sells 18 – 2.5 ounce bags of coffee or 45 ounces for $42.03. Compare that with 1-12 ounce bag of Starbucks ground coffee for $9.99. If you love coffee here are some ways to save money.

1. Regular Coffee – Drink regular coffee instead of Starbucks. Remember what you did BS (before Starbucks) - you drank regular coffee. People seem to be addicted to Starbucks as though they never drank regular coffee. Unless you have several shares of Starbucks stock which earns more money each than you spend a month at Starbucks skip it. Every once in a while splurge on a cup of Starbucks but don’t make it a daily habit.

2. Short Cappuccino (Short Cap) – Order a short cap which is only available by request. It is smaller and costs less than the “Tall” Cappuccino.

3. Starbucks Regular – Buy the Starbucks coffee instead of a latte. You can save approximately $1.50.

4. Pairing – Starbucks sometimes offer customers options when purchasing a latte and a desert. Ask about their "pairing" specials. You can save approximately $1.00-$1.40.

5. Substitute Latte – Order 1-2 shots of expresso or macchiato in a large cup and fill with milk. You can also use half-n-half instead of milk in the macchiato. You can save approximately $.50-$1.20.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What the Financial Reform Means for You

President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection financial reform bill on July 21, 2010. President Obama stated that there will be no more tax-funded bailouts for the financial industry.

The law permits the FDIC to borrow taxpayer money from the Treasury temporarily to help cover the costs of closing large banks that would have to pay the Treasury back over time. The law will allow the government to eliminate and split up companies that may weaken or threaten the economy.

The law will require regulators to look for risks in the financial system and will create an independent consumer protection agency, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection within the Federal Reserve to write and enforce new regulations regarding credit and lending.

Companies will have to meet tougher standards. However, there will still be different standards for different types of companies: for credit unions, thrifts, state-chartered banks, etc. The law will require the Treasury department to monitor insurance companies which are currently regulated by the insurance commission of each state.

The law will make the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency the only regulator for U.S. based banks with branches in more than one state. Previously, the Office of Thrift Supervision oversaw these banks.

The law will require banks to have more capital (money that is readily available) and regulators will decide how much capital banks must have to cover unexpected losses.

The law will require that brokers offering personalized investment advice must act in clients' best interests. The law will hold brokers to the same standard that financial advisers already must meet.

The law will allow regulators to monitor credit card companies and banks. The law will require credit bureau agencies to be more accountable. The law will allow regulators to limit the fees retailers pay when consumers make purchases with debit cards. The law will allow the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection to write rules and eliminate products it feels are unsafe, such as interest-only mortgages. Investors will be able to sue agencies for ignoring risks.

The law will let shareholders of public companies to provide input on the pay packages for top executives. They will be able to vote to approve or disapprove of pay packages. The law will ban bonuses for brokers which were based on the cost of a mortgage. Brokers gave borrowers higher rates and mortgages even when lower rates were available based on credit history.

The law will require that lenders verify that a borrower can afford their mortgage and may be fined if they fail to review a borrowers' income and credit history.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Where to Find a Job

The unemployment rate has dropped to 9.5% which indicates that 14.6 million Americans are still out of work. In some cases those who previously worked one job now have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet if they want to survive in this economy.

Others are sitting back waiting for a job to magically appear or are in denial believing that they will be able make the salary they previously did or close too it. Still others have lived above their means – bought overpriced home, luxury cars, and lived the fairy tale lifestyle they dreamed of and are now paying the price.

Americans who have always lived below their means do not feel the effects of the recession as much others but are aware that wanting certain luxuries in life comes with a price - unless you are wealthy which is defined as being able to live comfortably for at least five years without working.

According to a Manpower survey more employers plan to increase hiring efforts starting in July 2010. The areas that have the most promising job opportunities are: Washington DC, Greenville, SC and San Antonio TX. Other areas that have promising job opportunities are: Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, Troy, NY; Memphis, TN; Milwaukee, Madison, WI; Wyoming, Grand Rapids, MI; Houston, El Paso, Baytown, TX; Carlisle, Harrisburg, Wilkes, Philadelphia, Camden, Wilmington, PA; West Des Moines, Des Moines, IA; Baton Rouge, LA; New Jersey; Delaware; Maryland; Salt Lake City, UT; Raleigh, NC; Alexandria, Arlington, VA and West Virginia.
Detroit Michigan which was hit hard by the auto industry failure and Las Vegas, Nevada have the least promising job opportunities.

According to the Conference Board, in May, Washington DC was the only area where the number of job vacancies was greater than the number of unemployed residents. The management consulting firm Accenture plans to hire 7,000 people in the U.S. and an additional 43,000 worldwide by August 31, 2010.

To improve your chance of getting hired: do research on the company, ask questions at the interview, take training classes or get a college degree. The job market is much more competitive now and you will have to do more than just have good interview skills to get hired.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tax Cuts and How They Affect You

President Bush implemented tax cuts several years ago and some of those tax cuts you have enjoyed in the past will end this year.

Currently the standard deduction in 2010 for married couples is $11,400 which is twice that for single filers, $5,700. In 2011, the standard deduction for married tax filers will be reduced to approximately $10,000 which may cause higher taxes for lower and middle income couples.

There are currently 6 tax rate brackets as defined by the IRS: 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35%. A proposal is set in place to reduce the rate brackets to five: 15%, 28%, 31%, 36%, and 39.6% which will cause all Americans to pay more in taxes in 2011 if implemented.

The current federal rate on long-term capital gains (an increase in the value of an investment or real estate that gives it a higher worth than the purchase price and the gain is not realized until the asset is sold. A capital gain may be short-term or long-term and must be claimed on your taxes) is 15%.

In 2011, a phase-out rule could eliminate up to 80% of income for itemized deductions for charitable donations, state and local taxes and mortgage interest for those in the higher income brackets. The phase-out rules begin for those filers who have adjusted income over $170,000.

In 2011, another phase-out rule will cause some filers to lose out on personal exemption deductions if your adjusted gross income exceeds $250,000 for joint filers; $168,000 for single filers or $210,000 for head of household.

In 2011, the maximum rate on gains will increase to 20%. The maximum rate on dividends (a distribution of a portion of a company's earnings to its shareholders) will increase to 39.6%.

Filers in the 10% and 15% tax bracket get a break this year and get a 0% rate on long-term gains and dividends. However in 2011, they will pay 10% on long-term gains and 15% and 28% on dividends.

Be sure to visit the IRS website to learn about all the tax cuts and how they will affect you and your family to be sure you don't owe money at the end of the year and are not missing out on some deductions.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

6 Ways to Save Money on School Supplies

It's that time of year again. You have to think about buying school supplies for your children which can be stressful and costly. Children are not aware of how much things cost and want the latest gadgets their friends have so they don't feel left out. Many stores are having great back to school sales.

Don't let your children pressure you into buying things they don't really need. This year try to buy more needs vs. wants and explain to your children that the family has to stuck to a budget and may not be able to buy extra things that they previously were able to get.

Buy things that they absolutely need for school. Talk with your children before going school shopping and set expectations. Let them know what you are going to buy so they won't be disappointed or thrown a tantrum when you refuse to buy something they want.

Have your children create a list of mandatory supplies that are needed for school. Do an inventory to see if you have any school supplies left over from last year. Determine what clothes your children can still fit comfortably and make a list of things they need. Prioritize the list in three categories: Need Now, Need in 2-4 months, Need in 5-7 months, Need When School Ends. This will also help budget your money and help you find other ways to get supplies for school if you don't have the cash to get everything you need.

Here are 6 tips to save money when shopping for back to school supplies and clothing.

1. Tax Free: Take advantage of tax free days in your state to buy school supplies and school clothes for your children.

2. Sales: Go to yard sales and dollar stores to find bargains. Shop at wholesale stores like Costo, Walmart, Target, Walgreens or Sam's Club to get great discounts.

3. Clothes. You can buy clothes from a thrift store, consignment shop or discount store such as Walmart or Target. Kids grow quickly and their clothes generally don't last or fit them throughout the entire school year. This will save you money and you kids will still remain fashionable. Buy clothes and shoes if possible at least one size too big so your kids can get more wear out of them.

4. Network: Mention to family, friends, co-workers and neighbors that you are going school shopping. They may be able to provide money savings tips for buying school supplies or may have extra supplies they can give to you for free.

5. Comparison Shop: Search the internet for reputable websites that sell school supplies at a discount price and purchase items before school starts to get the best deals. Shop at stores that honor competitor prices and coupons.

6. Budget: Create a budget for mandatory school supplies (pens, paper, pencils, erasers, notebooks, composition notebooks, rulers, compass, etc.) and save some additional money for unexpected school expenses that may pop-up after school starts such as additional supplies needed for classes, school trips, etc.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ignoring a Debt May Land You in Jail

It is not a crime to owe company money unless it's the IRS. Laws such as the Fair Debt Practices Collection Acts were implemented to protect consumers from scandalous, immoral and illegal practices of companies but recently these laws have been bypassed and courts and now sending consumers to jail for owing a debt. Companies are increasingly using the courts to send consumers to jail. This is another example of companies abusing the system and getting away with it.

One woman in Minnesota was arrested after visiting with her mother because she missed a court hearing for an unpaid debt. Arrest warrants against debtors have jumped 60% over the past 4 years. Not every warrant results in an arrest, but in Minnesota many debtors spend up to 48 hours in cells with criminals.

Attorneys for consumers state that these type of arrests are increasing in many states, including Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas, Arizona and Washington, fueled by a slow economy, high consumer debt and a growing collection industry that buys outstanding debts any means possible to get the money owed. Getting locked up for an outstanding arrest warrant related to a debt depends on where you live, laws vary state by state and enforcement is inconsistent.

Some consumers have to remain in jail until they come up with the minimum payment for the debt. Debt collectors are abusing the legal system and using it to intimidate people and the legal system is allowing it. Debt collectors feel that they are doing nothing wrong.

If the consumer has been unable to pay the bill previously, they certainly won't be able to get the money to pay the debt after being sent to jail. You are sent to jail for the arrest warrant for not appearing in court, not because you owe a debt. Consumers are not charged with a crime but could be held in a jail cell with criminals.

Unfortunately, taxpayers are paying the bill for arresting and putting consumers in jail for outstanding debts. In Minnesota some judges set bail for the amount owed to the debt collector and in some cases for those who owed as less than $90.

Debt Equities LLC, Portfolio Recovery Associates and Unifund CCR Partners, Inc, Encore Capital Group, Resurgence Financial, Capital One Bank, Lakes Gas Co., Forest Lake Propane and Debt Equities are some of the largest companies that follow this practice. In some cases, consumers after receiving a notice to appear in court are required to fill out a financial disclosure to list all of their bank accounts and any assets which allows debt collectors to garnish their paycheck or bank accounts.

In many cases the debts are more than 4 or 5 years old and are purchased from companies for a few pennies on the dollar. Automated phone dialing systems are used to contact the consumers. Debt collectors cannot tack on extra fees and interest to the original debt owed unless the state law allows it. Telling a consumer that they will go to jail for failing to pay a debt is a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

In many cases, paperwork is not properly filled out and consumers are not notified that they have an outstanding arrest warrant which is against the law. You must be properly notified of the warrant. When you get to court be sure to let the judge know that you were never notified of the outstanding arrest warrant and the case should be thrown out of court. If not, seek legal advice.

One company that is trying to change legislation against debt collectors is Legal Aid. Contact your state congressman to ask them to change the laws to prevent creditors and debt collectors from sending consumers to jail for failing to pay an outstanding debt. Here are 6 tips to avoid getting a warrant and what to do if you receive one.

1. Read documents sent from collectors. You may not remember if you owe the debt or not but you can request a "debt validation" and the company by law is required to provide proof that you owe the debt. One you receive proof, work with the company to setup a payment plan. Don't provide the company with a check or bank account information because they will use this to garnish your paycheck.

2. Summons. If you get a summons to appear in court this means that you are being sued by a debt collector or creditor. The summons can be hand delivered or sent by mail and does not require that it is filed in court first.

3. Respond promptly. Respond promptly to a summons either admitting or denying the debt and providing proof to support your response. Send the information to the company who sent the summons and send a copy to the court clerk along with the case number. Send both copies certified mail with a return receipt.

4. Admittance. If you admit to the debt, and are unable to make the court date, don't ignore it. Ask to have the date changed. Make sure you get a letter in writing with the new date, if not, contact the court prior to the original date to make sure they know you responded to the notice.

5. Statute of limitations. Know the rights for collecting money on outstanding debts by finding out the statute of limitations in your state. In some states, debt collectors cannot request judgments after 5 or 6 years.

6. Seek legal advice. If you are unable to hire a lawyer, ask the clerk of the court about volunteer or pro bono attorneys who can specialize in collection account cases to assist you.

Monday, July 12, 2010

15 Ways to Save on Energy Costs This Summer

Summer time is one of the most expensive seasons when it comes to energy costs. No two summers are ever the same. This summer has turned out to be a hot one. Many people who are without air conditioning are making frequent trips to the doctor and emergency room from heat exhaustion, dehydration and dizziness. Even if you stay in doors you can still get dehydrated by not drinking enough fluids. Besides trying to keep your body cool, you also need to keep your home and car cool. If you don't have air conditioning in your car try to get it. This helps keep your body temperature cool and prevents accident due to heat stroke when driving.

Another way to stay cool is by doing periodic checks on your air conditioning in your home or condo to make sure it is working properly. Nothing is more miserable than being in a hot home. Here are 15 ways to save on energy costs this summer and stay cool.

1. Limit use of the oven. Using the oven in the summer time will make it harder to keep your home cool. Try cooking on top of the oven to save money on electricity. There are tons of recipes that help you prepare foods normally cooked in the oven on top of the oven.

2. Microwave. Limit the use of the microwave. Food loses its taste and nutrients when cooked or warmed up in the microwave. Purchase a portable grill such as the George Foreman grill or similar devices which reduces the amount of time it takes to cook food.

3. Dryer. Try drying clothes using full loads or air drying clothes to save money.

4. Electronics. Turn off all electronics when not in use. A color television uses 100-300 kilowatts per year. If you have multiple televisions in your home this adds up in electricity costs. If you are out of the room for more than 20 minutes turn off all electronics.

5. Computers. You can turn off your computer when not in use or leave it in standby mode. Energy Star has free energy efficient programs for computers that will help reduce energy usage.

6. Thermostat. Set your air conditioner thermostat to 78 degrees F. Don't adjust the air conditioner to try and cool off your home faster because this only uses more energy. If you need additional cooling use a portable fan or ceiling fans. Don't place lamps, televisions or computers near your thermostat. The thermostat can sense the heating coming from the appliances and will run longer than necessary.

7. Blinds. Keep blinds and curtains closed during the summer to block the sun rays coming into your home. When the sun goes down, open your windows to cool your home naturally. Turn your air conditioner thermostat down during this time. Once the outside temperature starts to rise again adjust your thermostat to keep your home cool.

8. Lights. Don't turn lights on if your home gets natural sunlight. Keeping lights off also keeps your home cool. Turn lights on only when necessary but don't sit in the dark unless you really want to.

9. Plant trees. Plant shade trees in your yard to help save on energy costs.

10. Insulate. Seal any leaks or cracks around and inside your home and insulate your attic floor.

11. Windows. Install storm windows to save on energy costs.

12. Garbage Disposal. Run cold water in your garbage disposal which helps get rid of grease.

13. Appliances. Buy energy efficient appliances and light bulbs to save on energy costs.

14. Refrigerator. Keep your refrigerator at 38 - 40 degrees F. Keep your freezer at 5 degrees F.

15. Washing clothes. Wash clothes in warm or cold water and rinse in cold water. Warm or cold water gets whites just as clean as hot water.

Friday, July 09, 2010

The BP Oil Spill and Gas Prices

British Petroleum (BP) is one of the largest oil companies in the world. For now, many economists say that the BP oil spill will not have an impact on gas prices. The oil rig that exploded was an explanatory rig and the current oil supply is high which is an indicator that gas prices will not increase. However, the oil spill could interfere with shipping lanes by disrupting the ability of oil tankers to get crude oil to refineries.

The oil spill could slow the growth of offshore oil exploration and drilling which could have significant price impacts in the future. Stricter regulations that could be imposed in the future could also slow the pace of growth of offshore drilling and increases gas prices in 2011.

Oil is produced at a rate of 200,000 gallons a day. The oil spill will not affect our oil reserves because it would take 208 years to deplete the U.S. oil supply. The Obama Administration has currently banned deep-water drilling which could decrease the current oil supply.

Our existing oil reserves contain more than 362 million barrels and each barrel contains approximately 42 gallons of oil. Oil refineries in the U.S. are running at 88% capacity so oil is not affected right now. There is also a large supply of foreign oil.

Oil prices will probably increase at the end of 2010 or the beginning of 2011 as a result of the current oil spill because output will decrease.

The BP oil spill has hurt its 10,000 distributors of gas most of which are independent dealers. BP plans to give distributors a discount which in turn will trickle down to independent dealers. If you are concerned about gas prices you could buy a hybrid or electric car such as the Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt or Ford Transit Connect Electric van.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

How the BP Oil Spill Affects the Seafood Industry

Those living in the south have for years enjoyed getting fresh seafood year around. Since the BP oil spill in April that has changed dramatically. The Gulf of Mexico provides 67% of the U.S. oyster supply. Louisiana is the country's top producer of shrimp and oysters which ships out 30% of the seafood in 48 states. More than 80% of all seafood purchased in the US is imported most of which is farm raised. Fishing, shrimping and harvesting oysters has been banned in the Gulf of Mexico.

The oil spill has caused a decrease in the supply of seafood and an increase in costs. Since the supply has been decreased, oysters have been obtained from other areas but cost more. The oil spill has caused supply that was locally bought to now be sold out of state causing some suppliers to use frozen seafood instead of fresh seafood.

This has caused unemployment for many fishermen, processing plans, seafood markets, grocery stores and restaurants. Some oysters have been removed from the menus in New Orleans and surrounding area restaurants.

Some fish packing houses in Virginia get their oysters from the Gulf of Mexico which due to the oil spill supply has decreased by 60%. Oyster prices of seafood retailers have increased and in some cases have doubled in price. Shrimp prices have also increased.
In North Carolina, vendors are estimating that prices of mackerel may increase up to 300% or $20 a pound by the end of this summer.

Effects of the oil spill have even reached our nation's capital, Washington DC. Some restaurants will increase their raw bar surcharge by up to $3, especially for restaurants that promote Cajun, Louisiana dishes or Gulf seafood.

Some restaurants have not been affected and are still able to maintain their seafood supply but the scare of the oil spill has caused some consumers to skip going out to eat. Many seafood restaurants near the Gulf of Mexico and surroundings areas have had to change their menus and offer items such as steak, chicken and beef instead of seafood.

Oyster prices from the Gulf Mexico have jumped to $55-$80 a gallon. In Mississippi, prices for oysters and shrimp vary daily. The price of shrimp has jumped from $4.99 to $5.99 a pound and oysters have jumped fro $15.99 to $18.99 a pound. Fisheries off the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are closed while some off the coast of Texas and Florida remain open.

Some shrimp boat captains are leasing their boats to BP to help clean up the oil spill which is also a reason why less shrimp are being harvested.

Hopes remains for the seafood retailers who can get their supply from the Northern states such as Alaska and Boston. Consumers will also have to be concerned about price-gouging by vendors trying to take advantage of the oil spill. The oil spill will affect the seafood industry for many years. The shrimp and oyster harvest for next year is may already be damaged.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Financial Reform - Keep Your Fingers Crossed

Your complaints have been heard. On June 30, 2010, the House approved a bill to implement financial reform. The bill authorizes financial industry regulators to impose restrictions on large financial companies that are in trouble and will create a way for the government to liquidate failing companies that will be at no cost to taxpayers, which is very similar to the process the FDIC uses for liquidating banks that have failed.

Regulators would have more options to impose restrictions on the largest financial companies which could help smaller banks have more competitive advantages. The Senate will vote on the bill after the July 4th recess. If the bill is passed this will be a historic moment in the financial industry.

To ensure the Senate passes the bill contact your senators at You can also thank you your house of representatives for passing the bill at